Ancient Egyptian Religion
As the ancient Egyptian religion was an important part of everyday life for all Egyptians, they built a great many temples and had shrines in their homes. Ancient Egyptian religion was mostly polytheistic, meaning they worshipped several deities.
These deities were believed to be at essence formless, yet had forms as a representation to make it easier to depict and worship them.
Many things were deified in ancient Egypt – from forces of nature, the elements, certain characteristics like strength and fertility, animals and even certain human beings who exhibited supernatural capacities.
Ancient Egyptian religion was not standardized. There was no one specific text or belief system that was applied to the entire population. Even the priesthood was not involved in trying to teach or convert the people into a certain system. Temples were off-limits to the public except on certain occasions.
There was the state religion and the local, or household, religion.
Local deities were worshipped in the home. Depending on locale, family, needs and preferences, the average ancient Egyptian would choose the most suitable deities and worship them. There were no formal cults or temples dedicated to these household gods.
State religion was practiced by the pharaoh and priests. The temples built to worship the deities of the state religion were not open to the average Egyptian.
The pharaoh was thought to have direct access to the gods – and one of his primary duties was to act as the intermediary between them and the people of Egypt.
Worshipping Like An Egyptian
The actual daily practices for both state and local ancient Egyptian religion were very similar. They involved caring for the deities’ statues.
The ancient 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.
The ancient Egyptians believed that these services were necessary to sustain the gods that in turn sustain the universe, kind of completing the circle.
On special occasions, rites and ceremonies of ancient Egyptian religion were performed by the priests and priestesses of the temples that were involved. Some enacted mythical plays, some chanted, some recited incantations, and some performed magical rituals and gave offerings.
Sacrifices were sometimes made for the gods though the meat from the animals sacrificed was usually consumed by the priests.
In some religious festivals, the people were allowed to take part. For example, in the Osirian Mysteries, many Egyptians made pilgrimages to take part of some of the rituals.
Like I mentioned, priests were not really responsible for spreading the message or advising people. Their roles had to do with worshipping the gods in order to maintain divine order in the land and keep a connection with the deities.
Though the pharaoh was high priest, he delegated this position to others as he wasn’t able to perform the many different duties of the high priest in each temple. The priesthood was a hierarchy, and so the high priest was at the top and then after him came many ranks. The lowest ranking priests were those responsible for maintaining or supervising the cleanliness of the temple.
Some priests were scribes that maintained and copied the different religious texts. They were keepers of the sacred knowledge. Other priests did not have to be literate.
Priests were not required to be celibate and actually some handed down their career paths to their sons. The priesthood was available to women as well, with some reaching the very high rank of God’s Wife of Amun, for example, though they were less common than the men.
I’ll get into the priesthood in more detail soon, so keep an eye out for that page.
Though priests were not interacting with the regular ancient Egyptian on a daily basis, they were requested and hired to perform funerary rituals for the deceased whose family could afford it. The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony was one of these very important rituals.
Ancestor Worship in Ancient Egyptian Religion
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 prayed to their dead – deceased family members that became the 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, or ancestor worship.
For more information on the akh, take a look at my page Anatomy of the Ancient Egyptian Soul.
Other highly-revered and famous Egyptians were deified and worshipped; they were not restricted to ancestor cults. One such deified Egyptian was the very well-known Imhotep.
I hope you enjoyed this page on Ancient Egyptian Religion. If you did, please share it with anyone else you think might like it. And if you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll be updated whenever I upload a new page or video.
Thanks and take care!