Ancient Egyptian Religion

Ancient Egyptian religion was an important part of everyday life for all Egyptians (rich and poor), they built a great many temples and had shrines in their homes. The term used to describe ancient Egyptian theology is Polytheism, which means that they believed in many Gods.

Gods were not only formless entities with certain roles - but the Gods were also the forces of nature, the elements, and the characteristics of certain powers. Some Egyptian Gods merged with foreign Gods too. And despite the hundreds of different deities and rituals, somehow everyone got along!

Egyptologists have organized the ancient Egyptian religion into two categories: State and Local/Household.

Ancient Egyptian Religion Gods

The local or household deities were worshipped in the home. Depending on locale, family, needs and preferences; the average Egyptian would choose the most suitable deities and build a household shrine for them. There were no formal cults or temples dedicated to these Gods.

The state religion is what was practiced by the Pharaoh and the temple priests. The temples built to worship the state Gods were not open to the public.

The Pharaoh was thought to have direct access to the Gods.

One of his primary duties was to act as the intermediary between them and the people of Egypt.

Priests had to worship and make offerings to the Gods to keep the forces of chaos at bay. Much of these offerings came from the taxation of the working class.

In the 3rd dynasty, Egypt had experienced 7 years of famine because the annual floods did not come on time and were very low. The people held king Djoser responsible since it was part of his job to appease the Gods in order to bless the land.


Worshiping Like An Egyptian

Ancient Egyptian Religion God

As I mentioned earlier, the ancient Egyptian religion was divided into State and Household religion. The actual daily practices for both are very similar, involving the caring for the Deities' statues.

The Egyptians held daily services to attend to the statue of the God by washing, clothing, and anointing it with perfumes.

The statue was offered food and drink placed at its feet, which he/she takes "spiritual nourishment" from. The leftovers were eaten by the people.

Other than offerings, there were also prayers and incantations recited to the deities. There were also festivals and spiritual texts in their names.

The Egyptians believed that these services were necessary to sustain the Gods that in turn sustain the universe.

You scratch my back, I scratch your back. Very practical :-)


Meet Maat

Ancient Egyptians believed that the Goddess Maat (click on the link to see her full page) was present in everything they did. She was the force that regulated nature, the cosmos and the actions of the Gods and mortals.

She was also the main feature of the weighing-of-the-heart ritual in the Hall of Judgment in the Egyptian afterlife.

And since she was also the concept of truth, justice, law, order and balance - the Egyptians prayed to her during court of law sessions.


The Chosen Ones

Although the king of Egypt was considered divine, and pharaohs were given God status in life and in afterlife - they were not the only humans that were worshipped.

The people of ancient Egypt also worshipped their dead - deceased family members that became Akh.

Akh (meaning "effective being"), had the power to affect the living. They could do harm to people (like give sicknesses) or good (like influence the Gods in their favor).

The dead only became Akh if they had proper funerals and their living family made daily offerings to them. These family members would then worship the dead and ask for their support and help.

This practice was named the ancestor cult.

Other highly-revered and famous Egyptians were deified and worshipped by many; they were not restricted to the ancestor cult.

One such deified Egyptian was the very well-known Imhotep.


Then And Now

Regardless of the details, the ideas behind the practices can be seen throughout the world until today.

Offerings to God(s) progressed from live sacrifices, to foods and treasures, and now to forms of charities and missions.

Honoring the dead has also progressed from pyramid tombs and offerings of gold - to luxurious coffins, grave stones and fresh flowers.

Prayers and chants are still central to the spirituality of many people today, although the content varies widely.

I just wish that modern Egypt could learn to tolerate different beliefs just as the followers of the ancient Egyptian religion did.

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