The scarab beetle is a very common beetle found all over the world. The ancient Egyptians considered this creature to be of significant importance and a sacred symbol in their religion and mythology. To them it symbolized the restoration of life and hope. The scarab beetle became connected with Kheper, an ancient solar deity of the Egyptian religion, because of the symbolism the Egyptians saw in the beetle. Originally serving as amulets for protection and good luck, and a part of mummification, the scarab beetle quickly became a symbol used to guarantee and seal goods and to authenticate documents.
The female scarab lays her eggs in dung and carrion where her young hatch and feed on the dead material until they were ready to surface. However, the Egyptians believed that the new born scarabs arose naturally from the dung and carrion, as if created from nothing. This led the Egyptians to believe that the beetles were created from dead matter; therefore, they represented resurrection, renewal, and rebirth.
As the scarab beetle rolls balls of dung across the ground into their burrow, the Egyptians saw this as the symbol of the forces responsible for the sun moving across the sky. The connection of the scarab beetle to the sun was enhanced by the way the beetle carried the ball between its antennas because it looked like the sun had horns. This was reminiscent of the horns worn by many deities in Egypt.
Kheper along with another sun deity, Atum, were subordinates, to the greatest sun god Ra. Kheper represented the morning sun, while Atum was the evening sun. Ra was the mid-day sun. Although Kheper had no major following devoted specifically to him, it is believed that most Egyptian temples had, inside them, a statue of Kheper. He was primarily represented as a scarab beetle. On funerary papyri and tomb paintings he was often represented as having a scarab head and a human male body.
The Egyptians used scarab amulets as seals and as jewelry to represent Kheper. One of the most popular amulets among royalty as well as common people was the symbol of the scarab. Although a symbol of rebirth, and an important part of the mummification process, it was used for other occasions as well. Documents were stamped with the seal of the scarab to authenticate them. Artisans made scarab jewelry with precious stones and clay. The clay was painted with brilliant colors. The design was considered a good luck charm, and amulets in the shape of a scarab were worn and given as gifts to ward off evil.
The word Kheper means ‘to come into being’ or ‘to emerge.’ It is often found on painted tomb cartouches, as pharaohs incorporated their name unto this to symbolize ‘one who becomes’ or ‘one who is reborn by himself.’