Yu-gi-oh! and Egyptian Religion

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Yu-gi-oh!, the cause of my middle school obsession with ancient Egypt and the staple of my childhood. Yu-gi-oh! was created by Kazuki Takahashi and started off as a manga series. Both the show and manga centered around high school loner Yugi Mutou and the spirit of his prized Millennium Puzzle. The spirit of the Millennium Puzzle is a pharaoh who has no memories and whose history was all but wiped from history. Because of this, many aspects of the show and manga are based off ancient Egyptian culture.

-the first page from the manga

The first page of the manga actually is an ancient Egyptian relief of Anubis playing a dangerous game with a human while he points up at the Millennium Puzzle and the caption speaks of an ancient Egyptian game called the Shadow Games which decided one’s fate. The Shadow Games are a prominent feature of Yu-gi-oh! and in both the manga and season 0 (also known as the first anime), the Pharaoh (also known as Yami Yugi) uses them to punish wrongdoers because if the wrongdoer lost he or she had to face a penalty game, which was essentially a messed up manipulation of the mind (or death but no big deal).

The Millennium Items

The Millennium Puzzle is also one of the main features of the series. Playing off the “curse of the mummy,” the manga says it was found by a team of British archaeologists at the beginning of the 1900s and when they found it, they were all either cursed with death or mental torment about the Shadow Games.

-Yugi shows the yet to be completed Millennium Puzzle to Anzu (called Téa in the English version of the show)

-Yugi shows the yet to be completed Millennium Puzzle to Anzu (called Téa in the English version of the show)

In the regular show (also known as the second anime), the discoverer of the Puzzle was changed to Yugi’s grandfather who wasn’t cursed afterwards but had to go through many traps in the tomb to get to it. The Millennium Puzzle starts off as pieces kept inside a gold box decorated with hieroglyphics. Yugi can’t read hieroglyphics but he believes that if he solves the Puzzle, he’ll be granted a wish (spoiler alert: the wish is for friends).

So early on, the manga establishes that it is about Egyptian mysticism, which is only fueled by the Puzzle then releasing the spirit of the Pharaoh once it is put together. The Millennium Puzzle also acts as the Pharaoh’s home, which is fitting since it is shaped like an upside down pyramid and the inside is styled like a tomb. The inside of the Puzzle where the Pharaoh resides is also a dangerous maze and serves to portray the Pharaoh’s confused state of mind about not knowing who he is. 

-the Millennium items. The Millennium Puzzle featured in center. (Picture courtesy of yu-gi-ohfanon.wikia.com)

But the Millennium Puzzle isn’t alone. There are six other Millennium items and they all have special powers of their own. The Millennium Eye gives the possessor the power to read minds. The Millennium Key gives the user the power to “unlock” people’s soul rooms and let the user look inside and control them if the user so chooses. The Millennium Scales are used to judge people’s souls. The Millennium Ring acts as a compass and gives the wearer the power to find whatever he or she seeks.The Millennium Rod can control minds and the Millennium Necklace lets the wearer glimpse into the past or future. Explained in the last season of the show, the Millennium items were created by the Pharaoh’s father with dark magic in order to lock up and control the Shadow Games. Their creation came at a devastating cost though, ninety-nine humans had to be sacrificed. This genocide of a whole village is what caused the Pharaoh’s ultimate nemesis to be put on the path of revenge. In ancient Egypt, only the Pharaoh and the priests and priestesses could possess the Millennium items to ensure that they were used for good but eventually in the present, some fell into the hands of the wrong people and were used to summon and send people to the Shadow Realm.

The Afterlife

The concept of the afterlife is interesting in Yu-gi-oh! Since it is so heavily influenced by ancient Egypt, one would think that the concept of the afterlife would follow but it doesn’t…at least not entirely. The Shadow Realm mentioned earlier is comparable to Hell but for the living. It could be summoned during games to make it a Shadow Game and the loser’s soul would be trapped there forever or until they were freed.

-the Pharaoh and Yugi. Yugi is the modern day version of the Pharaoh as a kid. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

And since Yu-gi-oh! was created by a Japanese man, the concept of the afterlife was also influenced by Buddhist beliefs. Many of the characters in the show, especially the Egyptians who hold the Millennium items, are reincarnations of their past selves—the priests and priestesses who held the Millennium items in the first place. Yugi is actually the modern day version of the Pharaoh as a kid and his frenemy Seto Kaiba is the reincarnation of the Pharaoh’s cousin who he once fought against. This idea of reincarnation emphasizes the connections between the characters and that history is bound to repeat itself. And some characters that have died face the afterlife differently too. The Pharaoh and his nemesis Yami Bakura are spirits attached to a Millennium item, playing off the “cursed artifacts” belief. Shadi is a spirit from ancient Egypt that in the show, is there to protect the Millennium items and the Pharaoh. And the Dark Magician is the spirit of a sorcerer who combined his ba with his ka, which in Yu-gi-oh! is an Egyptian Spirit Monster. He then became a playable monster that is loyal to the Pharaoh. However, the

-the gates of the afterlife opening to let the Pharaoh pass. (Picture courtesy of youtube.com)

-the gates of the afterlife opening to let the Pharaoh pass. (Picture courtesy of youtube.com)

Egyptian idea of the afterlife is established too. At the very end of the manga and show, the Pharaoh remembers his name and is able to enter the afterlife where he rules as Pharaoh once again. In the manga, the Egyptian belief is more prominent.

-Shadi uses the Millennium Scales to judge the Curator

-Shadi uses the Millennium Scales to judge the Curator

There is an instance of the Weighing of the Heart but it is called a Shadow Game. Shadi flies in from Egypt to punish a museum curator for selling antiquities on the black market. He takes out the Millennium Scales and places the feather of Ma’at in one of the disks. He then proceeds to question the curator and his guilt causes the scale to tip, letting the empty disk with his “heart” touch the desk. Because the curator “lost the game,” his chair turns into Ammit and devours his soul. 

The Gods & Duel Monsters

The existence of the Egyptian gods in Yu-gi-oh! is rather vague. When Shadi arrived in the manga, he introduced himself as a servant of Anubis and in the relief in the beginning of the series, Anubis is portrayed. 

-Anubis from the movie. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

-Anubis from the movie. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

However in the first Yu-gi-oh! movie (which was not created by Kazuki Takahashi), Anubis is not a god but an evil sorcerer who tried to make his own Millennium item so he could overthrow the Pharaoh. He also has two appearances—in Yugi’s vision he has the head of a jackal but in the flesh he’s simply a blonde haired man with a really buff, tanned body. Furthermore, in the manga Shadi also refers to Ma’at during the Weighing of the Heart game and Ammit appears. But in the show, the gods don’t seem to exist. Rather they are just playable monster cards in both the present and ancient Egypt.

The game that the show and manga is known for is Duel Monsters where players pretend they are sorcerers and duel each other with monsters, traps, and spells. Players can either battle each other on a plain table top and let their imaginations run wild or duke it out in either an area or with a duel disk that holographically makes the game come to life. That’s the modern day version that was created by Maximillion Pegasus after he went to Egypt and discovered the ancient game. In ancient Egypt, the game was played by real magicians and the monsters were not simply paper cards but the evil and good kas of human beings trapped within stone slabs. They could be summoned with a DiaDhank (basically an ancient duel disk) during a Shadow Game to inflict real damage.

The Egyptian gods were three of such monsters and only the Pharaoh could summon them with the power of the Millennium Puzzle. So this represents the real Egyptian

-the Creator God of Light, Horakhty. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

-the Creator God of Light, Horakhty. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

belief that the pharaoh could communicate with the gods. The three Egyptian gods—Obelisk the Tormentor, the Winged Dragon of Ra, and Slifer the Sky Dragon—could also with the power of the Pharaoh’s name combine together in order to form The Creator God of Light, Horakhty, who was the most powerful of them all. In real Egyptian mythology, Horakhty is a form of the god Horus that relates to the sun aspect of him and he is at one point combined with the god Ra to make Ra-Horakhty. 

It is never stated in the show or manga where these gods came from and how they came to be trapped within stone

-the Egyptian gods from left to right: Slifer, Ra, Obelisk. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

-the Egyptian gods from left to right: Slifer, Ra, Obelisk. (Picture courtesy of yugioh.wikia.com)

slabs since they don’t appear to be the ka of anyone. But in the present, Maximillion Pegasus made them a part of his game by creating card versions of them. This angered the three gods and everyone working on creating them were attacked by the spirit of the the gods. Only Pegasus was able to finally finish the prototype cards since he had the Millennium Eye but after a nightmare and Shadi’s advice, he gave them to the wielder of the Millennium Necklace to bury in the Pharaoh’s tomb. An attempt to counterfeit the cards was made but using them either resulted in serious injury or death. The prototype cards eventually fell into the hands of Yugi and the Pharaoh and with them they won the title of “King of Games.” The gods never acted up again after the Pharaoh came to possess them, seeming to prefer being owned by him.

There are many more Egyptian related points in the show but these are just some of the aspects of Yu-gi-oh! that are the most important. Though they have their similarities, the ancient Egypt the show and manga portrays is vastly different from real life and mainly focuses on the mysticism of the religion.

(Sources: Yu-gi-oh! by Kazuki Takahashi and Yu-gi-oh! Wikia)

One comment on “Yu-gi-oh! and Egyptian Religion

  1. Wow, the mythical world of Yu-gi-oh! sounds very complex. I was not familiar with it.

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