Re was a solar deity, one of the most important gods in the Egyptian pantheon.
According to Egyptian myths it was Nut who gave birth to the sun in the morning; she was the sky, depicted as either a cow or a woman, standing on hands and feet at the corners of the earth. After being born from her in the eastern horizon, the sun god travelled along her body towards the west, where she swallowed him in the evening. During the night the sun travelled back to the east inside her body, to be born again the next morning.
Other versions of the myth tell that the sun travelled through the underworld (or Duat) in the night and in an attempt to combine there traditions the underworld was also thought in the body of Nut, or in that of a second sky under the earth.
Ra travelled in a solar barque (called "The Barque of Millions"), in which several other deities were present; among them Maat, the goddess of order, who guided the course of the barque, and Seth, who (in a positive role, often underestimated) warded off dangers, especially those caused by Apophis.
The importance of Re increased enormously when, in the fourth dynasty, kings began to call themselves "Son of Re"; they were believed to be a manifestation of Re on earth. Shortly afterwards the first Pyramid Texts appeared (pyramid of Unas), from which the prominent place of Re can also be gathered.
In the New Kingdom the worship of Re became all-important, especially in combination with the cult of Amun as Amun-Re. Although by then the god Osiris had become extremely important as a funerary god, the kings concentrated in the funerary texts in their tombs on travelling with Re in his solar boat (Amduat and other funerary "books"). Only during a short interval in the eighteenth dynasty Re (as well as all other gods) were put aside, when king Akhenaten stressed one specific aspect of the solar god, the visible, celestial body, which was personified as Aten.
Re was linked with many other important deities, which led to gods as Amun-Re (the solar creator god), Re-Atum or Atum-Re, and Re-Harakhte. At the same time he was associated with gods who represented the subsequent stages of his course through the sky: Khepri was the young sun at sunrise, Atum was the elder god at sunset. In mid-sky the sun was called Re or Harakhte.
His main cult centre was Heliopolis (Greek for "City of the Sun"; the ancient Egyptian name was Iunu).
Re is mostly depicted as a man with the head of a falcon, on which the sun disk can be seen, usually surrounded by a uraeus snake.