Thanks to Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I’ve started thinking about how many other books and movies use mythology and ancient religions as jumping off points for their stories. Since Greek mythology isn’t my strong suit, I’ve decided just to cover my favorites. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there are some included.
There are some theories that suggest that the pyramids could not have been built by humans without help; they must have been built by aliens, who are represented in the Egyptian religion as Gods and Goddesses. The pyramids apparently line up with the belt in the constellation Orion, suggesting importance of these stars for one reason or another. Some say that this puts them in an optimal place for an observatory. While this hardly proves the pyramids were built by aliens, it is interesting.
And this idea has served as the jumping off point for Science Fiction writers. The movie The Fifth Element is based in Egyptian mythology, and the idea of alien influence. The movie begins in Egypt in 1914, right before the start of World War I. An archeologist is examining hieroglyphs that tell the story of a great evil and a divine light, produced by a fifth element. The priest who protects this information is about to kill the archeologist and his assistant (they know too much) when the aliens return to take the fifth element and its stones to protect them from the coming war. They tell the priest to pass down the information, for their return, as generations have before him.
While The Fifth Element doesn’t use any myths specifically, according to the director commentary all of the hieroglyphs used in the movie were either already there (as in, original Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs) or copies of hieroglyphs from other places in Egypt; leading credence to the Orion theory.
Other Science Fiction uses specific myths, as well as the aliens theories. In the original movie Stargate, Dr. Daniel Jackson is brought in to translate a set of hieroglyphs that other Egyptologists have been unable to solve (Dr. Jackson was chosen because he was the most outspoken in his belief that aliens built the pyramids as landing platforms, and they were in fact older than believed). He realizes that they aren’t hieroglyphs, but constellations; the first one he recognizes is Orion.
The movie’s main deity is Ra, the God of the Sun (one of the most important Egyptian Gods). The planet they travel to is called Abydos, which was the capital of Ancient Egypt during the Nineteenth Dynasty. This theme of using Ancient Egyptian names is repeated in the TV series, as races, other planets, and even the metal the Stargate is made out of: Naqada (a town on the Nile, the name is Egyptian for “gold”. The series expands into a dozen other Gods and Goddesses (as well as other ancient religions, but more on that later). The aliens, called the Goa’uld, transplanted civilizations from Earth to other planets in the galaxy, posing as their Gods and using them for slave labor and “hosts” (the Goa’uld are snake or wormlike aliens who attach to the spinal column of the human and control their body). Since Ra is killed at the end of the movie, new “Gods” must step up in his place. Throughout Egyptian history, different religions fought for supremacy as Pharaohs from different regions of Africa (Ethiopia, Nubia, Kush, Egypt, and others) ruled the various dynasties of Ancient Egypt. As a result, Gods and Goddesses came in and out of popularity depending on the ruler.
This is reflected in the power struggle of the Goa’uld and their followers in Stargate. First we meet Apophis, who is the Egyptian demon Apep (he’s Apophis in Greek). Apep was the embodiment of darkness and chaos; the perfect protagonist. Throughout the series we also meet Heru’ur (Horus-Heru’er means “Horus the Elder”) God of Sky, War, and Protection; Seth, God of the desert and Chaos; Anubis, Guardian of the Underworld, Hathor, Goddess of Love and Womanhood, and Osiris (who chooses a woman as his host, although he was male in mythology).
Anne Rice also used an Egyptian myth as the basis for the origin story of her vampires. While there is no myth exactly like the one Rice uses, the closest is the legend about Isis and Osiris. Osiris ruled Egypt, but was killed by his jealous brother Seth, and dismembered. His body was scattered across Egypt. Isis searched for the pieces of his body and resurrected him. Osiris became the God of Eternity and Night; the perfect deity for vampires. Before the Twelfth Dynasty, Osiris was also considered the spirit of Becoming, because after death you entered into a new life -the world of the undead.
Beginning in The Vampire Lestat and ending in Queen of the Damned, the story of how vampires were born unfolds. When Queen Akasha orders two witches punished for their barbaric ways, a spirit exacts revenge for the sisters by harassing Akasha and her king, Enkil. He tortures them nearly to the point of death, and then enters Akasha’s body, joining with her soul as it leaves her body and becoming something new. Akasha then bites Enkil and drinks his blood, then feeds him her blood, and they become the first vampires. Rice also describes the introduction of mummification rituals and the banishment of cannibalism, providing more parallels to the Osiris myth, which provides the first rules for the practice in Ancient Egypt (the way Isis resurrected Osiris) as well as the origin of agriculture, since Isis gave the Egyptians wheat and barley.