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Arts & Culture

Insects In Religion: Sacred Scarabs To Harbingers Of Doom

The dung beetle rolls dung into a ball as food and as a place in which to lay eggs that are later transformed into larvae. Ancient Egyptians saw the dung beetle -- or scarab as they called it -- as a symbol of the heavenly cycle of the sun god Ra rolling the sun across the sky each day and of the idea or rebirth or regeneration.

TheNAT's King Tut Exhibit Prompts A Discussion About Bugs And Religion

TheNAT: King Tut and Sacred Scarabs
Insects in Religion: Sacred Scarabs to Harbingers of Doom
GUESTS: Dr. Michael Wall, TheNAT's Curator of Entomology Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts and Culture Reporter


Companion Viewing

"The Ten Commandments" (1956)

"Cronos" (1993)

"Mimic" (1997)

"The Mummy" (1999)

TheNAT just opened its King Tut exhibit and curator of entomology Dr. Michael Wall says ancient Egypt isn't the only culture to incorporate bugs into religion. Dr. Wall presents a lecture Thursday night called Insects in Religion: From Sacred Scarabs to Manna from Heaven.

While plagues of locust might be the first thing that springs to mind, not all representations of insects in religion are negative. In his lecture Thursday night, Dr. Wall will delve into the natural history of insects to reveal how nature inspired the use of insects in religious scripture and folklore. For the ancient Egyptians, the scarab or as it is now more commonly known, the dung beetle, was associated with the sun god Ra. Ra was seen as responsible for rolling the sun across the sky each day, and transforming bodies and souls. Dung beetles roll dung into a ball for food which also doubles for a brood chamber in which they lay eggs that are later transformed into larvae. So it was this activity that won the scarab a place in ancient Egyptian religion as a symbol of this heavenly cycle and of rebirth and regeneration. Wall said you would be hard pressed to walk through the exhibit and not find numerous scarabs and other insects depicted in the hieroglyphics.

Wall will also speak Thursday night about cicadas in Eastern religion, mosquitos in Native American folklore, spiders in Greek mythology, and much more. Wall looks to find connections between humans and the insect world in order to engage audiences in a more accessible and fun way.

Dr. Wall talks about bugs and movies as well as about the video game The Last of Us that ponders what might happen if the Cordyceps fungus — which makes what are referred to as "zombie ants" — were to jump to humans.


The King Tut exhibit continues through April 2015. The lecture is Thursday night at the NAT at 7 p.m. Tickets for the lecture are $9 for members and $12 for non-members.