Ancient Egyptian Religion
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
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 coffin.
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
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