Ancient Egyptian Religion

The Ancient Egyptian
Religion guided every aspect of Egyptian life. Egyptian religion was based on
polytheism, or the worship of many deities, except for during the reign of Akenaton. The
Egyptians had as many as 2000 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.
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 Re
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
scarab beetle on the eastern horizon.
Temples were considered 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 cosmic
center by which men had communication with the gods. As the priests became more
powerful, tombs became a part of great temples. Shown below is a typical temple flood
plan with the purposes of each section given.
The priests duty was to care for the gods and attend to their needs. The priests had many
duties such as funeral rites, 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, the "ka," the "ba," and the "akh." 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 called an ibu. The
body was then taken the wabet, which was 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 for a period of forty days. After
the forty days had passed, the insides were filled with linen or sawdust, resin and natron.
The body was wrapped in bandages with jewelry and amulets 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 Anubis. The wrapped body, or mummy, was put into a
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