Complexities and Continuities: The Religion of Ancient Egypt
Religious aspects were of great importance for the Ancient Egyptians. Nevertheless, they had no single and joint system of religious beliefs. Ancient Egypt was notable for being a rambling group of beliefs and practices that differed according to social class and location. In spite of this, the tradition had a strong impact on their religion that made them resist the changes. Ancient Egyptians had no questions about their beliefs; they did not want any changes in their surroundings and society. They aimed to imitate those conditions and traditions they believed were created before them. Herodotus claimed that the Egyptians, compared to other people, were more religious. Moreover, Egypt became the image of heaven that combined all the forces in it, and some Egyptians even believed that it became the temple of the world.
One of the strongest traditions was of the Divine Kingship. It was the creed that the Pharaoh played multiple roles, one of which was the role of a political leader, and the other was the role of a God. The Ancient Egyptians associated Pharaoh with Horus, the son of the God of the Sun. According to their ideology, he was known as Osiris after his death and used to assist the Egyptians in the afterworld. Owing to their creed, the Pharaoh was remarkable for an enormous mass of power. Besides that, the priests in Ancient Egypt were also very influential. When people were living well, they usually believed that the priest and Pharaoh were taking care of that. If people had troubles, they immediately accused the Pharaoh and the priest of inefficiency.
Ancient Egypt was famous for its polytheistic religion; however, there was one short time when it was monotheistic. The religion of Ancient Egyptians included 700 various gods and goddesses. Furthermore, it was ordinary for deities to merge to create a new deity. In addition, the Ancient Egyptians were convinced that from childhood, people were surrounded by some power that influenced their destiny. Demons of fate accompanied them during all their lives and even after their death.
According to Pyramid Text written in 1466, Ancient Egyptians believed there was a time when blankness and nothingness ruled Egypt. They were convinced that the sky, the earth, the death and the gods did not come into the world. The process of creation was of big importance to Egyptians. One of the biggest beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians was the idea of the afterlife. They strongly believed that the physical body should be kept to make a place for its spirits to live in the afterlife. As a result, the Ancient Egyptians started to perform mummification to keep the body. Additionally, they started to build large pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs.
As it was mentioned above, Ancient Egypt religion had a lot of gods and goddesses. Each local area had its God or deity. Mostly they were depicted with the human body and animal head. In most cases, their outlook expressed their behavior and features of character. For instance:
- There were also four sons of Horus:
He was the principal God of the dead and the afterworld. He was usually shown as a mummified man wearing a white crown with ostrich feathers and holding a crook. On occasion, his skin happened to be green or black, symbolizing vegetation and fertile earth.
He was the God with the jackal head responsible for mummification and embalming. In addition, he was the guard of the dead and a guide in the underworld.
She was the mother of the God of the sun, Re and the Goddess of hunting and welfare.
He was a dwarf. He was famous as a god of household and a family protector. Strangely enough, artists usually show him facing forward more than in profile.
She was the Goddess of war, discord, demolition and disaster. Her name originates from the Egyptian word “sekhem”, which means “powerful”. Due to her violence, she was portrayed with the head of the lion.
She was the opposite of violent Sakhmet. She was gentle, calm and generous. Compared to the Goddess of war, she was represented with the cat’s head. She used to secure homes and pregnant women. Furthermore, she tended to exalt the power of the moon.
He was the God of the sky and Osiris’s son. He was the true personification of the divine kingship. He was depicted with the falcon’s head and was very powerful. The rulers of Egypt wanted to take after Horus at all costs, so they constructed numerous falcon statues all over Egypt.
1. Imsety, depicted with the human head, who was the protector of the liver;
2. Hapy, portrayed with the head of a baboon, the preserver of the lungs;
3. Qebehsenuef, illustrated with the falcon’s head (as his father) and was responsible for the intestines;
4. Duamutef, portrayed with the head of a jackal and the stomach-keeper.
He was the God of the moon and wisdom and made the laws for other Gods. Moreover, he was a mentor and helper for the spirits of dead people lost in the netherworld. He was usually portrayed as a baboon, ibis or a man with one of the heads of those animals.
She was the sister and wife of Osiris and the role of the Goddess of protection.
She was the sister of Osiris and Isis, and she was taking care of the dead.
The religious rituals concerning the dead were very important in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians consistently prepared for funerals, including the best equipment, traditions and process. The Egyptians were convinced that human life included several psychical parts, the most crucial of which was ka. They believed that Ka was the clone of the body that traveled with it throughout its life and, after death, left the body and took its place in the kingdom of the dead. However, the ka was unable to survive without the body. That is why much endeavor was made to keep the dead body. To achieve this, the corpses were embalmed and mummified, considering all the rules and traditions Osiris set. After the souls of the dead leave the tomb, they will likely experience countless dangers. That is why the tombs were provided with the Book of the Dead, created for souls to overcome all possible dangers.
In addition, the Ancient Egyptians were mummifying animals and people. They had three vital motifs for that. First of all, some animals were the favorite pets of their owners, and by mummifying them, they hoped they could join them in the afterlife. Secondly, some animals were mummified and put in tombs with their owners to feed the deceased in the afterlife. Finally, most animals were mummified for separate religious purposes without any relation to human burial. The thing is that a lot of Ancient Egyptians believed that some species of animals were sacred and should be kept in the temples. According to their belief, visitors of the temples had an opportunity to pay to see the mummies in return for God’s blessing. For instance, cats were sanctified to Bastet, the Goddess who used to care for childbirth. The mummified cat in her temple had the power to assist with childbirth and to secure children. The ancient Egyptians were convinced that sacred animals could show the future and give answers to certain problems.
The cat was one of the most sacred animals in Egypt between 4000 and 3500. However, they were treated both as house animals and vermin killers. A huge variety of cat figures or mummified cats used to have a big popularity over the territory of Egypt. In addition, coffins were made for some cat statues to keep the mummified cats. Cat cemeteries were created all over Egypt and filled with cat mummies, for example, in Saqqara, Beni Hasan and Bubastis. In some cases, according to x-ray evidence, the owners deliberately killed their pets even at a young age. The so-called “animal industry” improved considerable employment and increased the tax income of Pharaohs.
Egyptian magic was part and parcel of the religion. A big variety of spells were used to protect somebody/something or to establish something. There were restrictions for using them; for example, they were supposed to be performed in temples by codes. Priests usually practiced magic as a part of their everyday responsibilities. Under no circumstances was magic a business, and priests did not profit from the spells. Long after such practices, the general public had forbidden to perform magic spells because of their low level of purification and education.
Magic in Ancient Egypt was used for different purposes. For example, amulets protect the human body or soul from menacing influences. Another reason for performing magic was healing. It was a means of alternative medicine and was used only when regular treatment methods did not work. Last but not least, the reason was curses and manipulation. For example, some Egyptians put magic spells in tombs with robbers or other criminals to punish them in the afterlife.
Among Egyptians’ beliefs, one can mention the conviction, which was called animism. Due to this belief, Egyptians were convinced that almost every object has its soul and personality. This idea found its inception with the phenomenon of sleep. They claimed that people while sleeping, stay inside another being that existed simultaneously with people. They called it the notion of another self. They thought this notion also existed after human death, which is why Egyptians were so sure about the afterlife. Another reason for animism’s existence is the exaltation of the tree. The tree was vital for Egyptians since, according to the myth about Osiris, it was where he was reborn. Additionally, the names of the new rulers of Egypt were written on the acacia tree leaves, making the ruler’s name last forever.
All in all, the religion of Ancient Egypt was not built on religious beliefs but on the cult, duties and practice to reach the favor of the Gods. The religion of the Ancient Egyptians influenced their beliefs through floods, drought and huge harvests caused by the gods and goddesses. Consequently, they were performing prays and sacrifices to repay for their good fortune. Ancient Egyptians also believed in the afterworld, where gods had the power to judge.
1. Crystal, Ellie. Book of the Heavens: Ancient Egyptian Texts, 2004.
2. Gadalla, Moustafa. Egyptians: The Most Religious. Tehuti Research Foundation, 2004.
3. Kinnear, Jacques. Anubis: Gods and Religion in Ancient Egypt, 2004.
4. Spence, Lewis. Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt. Kissinger Publishing Company, 1997.
5. Stone, Barry. The Deities of Egypt: History and Philosophy of the Ancient and Modern World, 2004.
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