Religious aspects were of the great importance for the Ancient Egyptians. Nevertheless, they had no single and joint system of religious beliefs. An Ancient Egypt was notable for being a desultory group of beliefs and practices, which had differences 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 did not have any questions about their beliefs; they did not want any changes in their surroundings and society. Their outmost goal was to imitate those conditions and traditions they believed were created before them. Herodotus was claiming that the Egyptians, comparing to other people are more religious. Moreover, Egypt became the image of heaven that combined all the forces in it and some of the 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 was playing the 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, who was the son of the God of Sun. According to their ideology, after his death he was known as Osiris and he 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 the Ancient Egypt were also very influential (Gadalla, 310). When people were living well, they usually believed that the priest and Pharaoh were taking care of that. If it happens, that people had troubles, they immediately accused Pharaoh and the priest of the inefficiency.
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Ancient Egypt was famous for polytheistic religion; however there was one short period of time when it was monotheistic. The religion of Ancient Egyptians included 700 various gods and goddesses. Furthermore, it was an ordinary thing for deities to merge in order to create a new deity. In addition, the Ancient Egyptians were convinced that from the childhood people were surrounded by some power that had an influence on their destiny. Demons of fate accompanied them during all their life and even after the death (Gadalla, 310).
According to Pyramid Text written in 1466, Ancient Egyptians believed that there was a time when blankness and nothingness were ruling over 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 the big importance for Egyptians. One of the biggest beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians was the idea of the afterlife. They strongly believed that physical body should be kept in order 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 up the large pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs (Crystal, 305).
As it was above mentioned, an Ancient Egypt religion had a lot of gods and goddesses. In fact, 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:
- Osiris. 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 in his hand. On occasion, his skin happened to be green or black, symbolizing vegetation and fertile earth.
- Anubis. He was the God with the jackal head who was responsible for mummification and embalming. In addition, he was the guard of the dead and a guide in the underworld.
- Neith. She was the mother of the god of the sun Re and the goddess of hunting and welfare.
- Bes. He was a dwarf. He was famous as a god of household and as a protector of the family. Strangely enough, but artists usually show him facing forward more than in profile.
- Sakhmet was the goddess of war, discord, demolition and disaster. Her name has its roots from the Egyptian word “sekhem” which means “powerful”. Due to her violence, she was portrayed with the head of the lion.
- Bastet was the opposite to violent Sakhmet. She was gentle, placid and altruistic. Comparing to the goddess of war, she was represented with the cat’s head. She used to secure homes and pregnant women. Furthermore, she had a tendency to exalt the power of moon.
- Horus was the god of the sky and the 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 the Egypt wanted to take after Horus at all costs, that is why they constructed numerous falcon statues all over the territory of the Egypt.
- There were also four sons of Horus: Imsety, depicted with the human head, who was the protector of liver; Hapy, portrayed with the head of baboon, the preserver of the lungs; Qebehsenuef, illustrated with the falcon’s head (as his father) and was responsible for the intestines; Duamutef, portrayed with the head of jackal and the stomach-keeper.
- Thoth was the god of the moon and wisdom and also he was making the laws for other Gods. Moreover, he used to play the role of mentor and helper for the spirits of dead people who were lost in the netherworld. He was usually portrayed as a baboon, ibis or a man with one of heads of those animals.
- Isis was the sister and wife of Osiris and the role of the goddess of protection.
- Nephthys was the sister of Osiris and Isis and she was taking care of the dead (Crystal, 193).
The religious rituals concerning the dead were of great importance in the Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were always assiduously preparing for funerals, including the best equipment, traditions and process. The Egyptians were convinced that the 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 the whole life and after the death left the body and took its place in the kingdom of dead. However, the ka was unable to survive without the body. That is why much endeavor was made in order to keep the dead body. To achieve this, the corpses were embalmed and mummified, taking into consideration all the rules and traditions, which were set by Osiris. After the souls of dead leave the tomb they are likely to experience countless dangers, that is why the tombs were provided with the Book of the Dead, which was created for souls to overcome all possible dangers (Crystal, 196).
In addition the Ancient Egyptians were mummifying animals as well as the 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 that they could join them in the afterlife. Secondly, some animals were mummified and put in the tombs together with their owners in order to serve as a feed for the deceased in the afterlife. Finally, the most of the animals were mummified for the separate religious purpose without any relation to the human burial. The thing is that a lot of Ancient Egyptians believed that some species of animals were sacred and they should be kept in the temples. According to their belief, visitors of the temples had an opportunity to pay for seeing the mummies in return for God’s blessing. For instance, cats were sanctified to Bastet, the Goddess who used to take care of the childbirth. The mummified cat in her temple had a 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 (Kinnaer, 99).
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’s figures or mummified cats used to have a big popularity over the territory of Egypt. In addition, coffins were made for some of the cat statues in order to keep the mummified cats. Even cat cemeteries were created all over the Egypt and they were filled with cat mummies, for example in Saqqara, Beni Hasan and Bubastis. In some cases, according to x-ray evidences, the owners were deliberately killing their pets even in quite young age. As a matter of fact, the so called “animal industry” improved considerable employment and also increased the tax income to Pharaohs (Spence, 217).
Egyptian magic was a part and parcel of the religion. A big variety of spells were used in order to protect somebody/something or to establish something. There were restrictions for using them, for example, they were supposed to be performed in temples in accordance with codes. Magic was usually practiced by priests as a part of their everyday responsibilities. Under no circumstances magic was a kind of a business and priests did not make any profit out the spells. Long after such practices, the general public had forbidden to perform magic spells because of their law level of purification and education (Spence, 219).
Magic in Ancient Egypt was used with different purposes. For example, amulets were used for protection of human body or soul from menacing influences. Another reason for performing magic was healing. It was a mean of alternative medicine and it was used only when regular methods of treatment did not work. The last but not the least reason was curses and manipulation. For example, some Egyptians were putting magic spells in tombs with robbers or other criminals in order to punish them in the afterlife (Stone, 139).
Among Egyptians belief one can mention the conviction which was called animism. Due to this belief, Egyptians were convinced that almost every object in the world 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 that this notion also existed after the human death, which is why Egyptians were so sure in afterlife existence (Stone, 145). Another reason of animism existence is the exaltation of the tree. The tree was very vital for Egyptians since, according to the myth about Osiris, it was the place where he was reborn. Additionally, the names of new rulers of Egypt were written on the leaves of acacia tree that made the ruler’s name last forever.
All in all, the religion of the Ancient Egypt was not build on the religious beliefs, but on the cult, duties and practice in order to reach the favor of the Gods. The religion of the Ancient Egyptians had influence over their beliefs through flood, drought and huge harvests that were caused by the gods and goddesses. As a consequence, they were performing prays, sacrifices in order to recompense for their good fortune. Ancient Egyptians also believed in the afterworld where gods had a power to judge.