Ancient Egyptian Religion

Ancient Egyptian Religion
Religion guided every aspect of Egyptian life. Egyptian religion was based on
polytheism, or the worship of many gods. The Egyptians had as many as 2,000 gods and
goddesses. Some, such as Amun, were worshipped throughout the whole country, while
others had only a local following. Often gods and goddesses were represented as part
human and part animal.
For example, Horus, the sky god, had the head of a hawk, and body of a human.
They considered animals such as the bull, the cat, and the crocodile to be holy. Their two
chief gods were Amon-Ra and Osiris. Amon-Ra was believed to be the sun god and the
lord of the universe. Osiris was the god of the underworld. Stories about him revolved
around the idea of immortality. Gods were immortal but humans are not. Osiris was the
god that made a peaceful afterlife possible. The Egyptian "Book of the Dead" contains
the major ideas and beliefs in the ancient Egyptian religion. Because their religion
stressed an afterlife, Egyptians devoted much time and wealth to preparing for survival in
the next world.
The Egyptians had many tales about how the world began. According to one
legend, it started with an ocean in darkness. Then a mound of dry land rose up and the
sun god Ra appeared. He created light and all things. Another version has the sun God
emerging from a sacred blue lotus that grew out of the mud, while a third version has him
appearing as a beetle on the eastern horizon.
Temples were considered to be dwelling places for the gods. They were
everywhere. Each city had a temple built for the god of that city. The purpose of the
temple was to be a center by which men had communication with the gods. As the priests
became more powerful, tombs became a part of great temples.
The priests’ duty was to care for the gods and attend to their needs. The priests
had many duties such as funerals, teaching school, supervising the artists and works, and
advising people on problems.
Death and Funerals
The Egyptians saw death as a transitional stage in the progress to a better life in the next
world. They believed they could only reach their full potential after death. Each person
was thought to have three souls. For these to function properly, it was considered
essential for the body to survive intact. The entire civilization of Ancient Egypt was
based on religion, and their beliefs were important to them. Their belief in the rebirth
after death became their driving force behind their funeral practices.
When a person died, the priests recited prayers and a final attempt was made to revive the
deceased. The body was then washed and purified in a special shelter. The body was then
taken to the embalmer’s workshop. A cut was made in the left side, and all the organs
were removed and stored in containers known as canopic jars. The body was then packed
with a salt called natron to preserve the body for a period of forty days. After the forty
days had passed, the insides were filled with cloth and natron. The body was wrapped in
bandages with jewelry between the layers. A portrait mask was placed over the head of
the deceased by the Chief Embalmer, who wore a jackal mask to represent the god
Anubis. The wrapped body, or mummy, was put into a coffin.
Burial Tombs
After a period of about 70 days, in which the mummification process took place, the
mummy was placed in a decorated coffin. Furniture, carved statues, games, food, and
other items useful to the next life were prepared to be buried with the mummy. The last
ritual performed by the priest on the mummy was called the “Opening of the Mouth.”
This ceremony was to magically give the deceased the ability to speak and eat again, and
to have full use of his body. After placing the mummy in the sarcophagus, the tomb was
What is polytheism?
What is immortality?
Why did Egyptians prepare for survival in the next world?
What is the “Book of the Dead”?
What were the priests’ jobs?
How is religion important to Egyptians at their death and funeral?