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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Ancient Egyptian Religion – Rituals, Prayers and More

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Herodotus wrote in 5th century BC that the Egyptians were one of the most religious people and he was not wrong. The Egyptian religion was a combination of believes and practices which include magic, science, medicine, herbology, mythology, spiritualism, the belief in a higher power and of course, the belief in life after death. During the life on earth, people were expected to uphold the principle of ma’at (it also refers to the goddess Maat or Ma’at, shown holding the feather of truth) or as it known today, harmony.

Egyptian Gods

The Egyptian religion was polytheistic. The word netjer (god) described a much wider range of beings than the deities of monotheistic religions, including demons. The Egyptian religion was based on the principle of heka (magic) personified in the god Heka, who had always existed and participated in the act of creation of the gods and the world. He was the god of magic and medicine but also he was the power of magic enabling the gods to function and the power for humans to communicate with the gods. Egyptians believe that at first, there had been nothing but Nu (dark water of chaos). Out of Nu rose a hill, known as Benben, where the god Atum stood in the presence of Heka. Atum feeling lonely mated with his own shadow, spitting out Shu, the god of air, and vomited Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. They left their father and set off to create the world. After being long gone, Atum started to worry, so he removed his eye (later known as the Eye of RA, Udjat eye or the All-seeing eye) and sent it to search for them. Shu and Tefnut returned to Benben with Atum’s eye. Atum was so happy that he shed tears of joy, which gave birth to a man and a woman.

Because they had nowhere to live, Shu and Tefnut mated and gave birth to Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Net and Geb fell in love, but Atum found this unacceptable, so he pushed Nut high up into the heaven. Geb and Nut could see each other but could not touch. Nut was already pregnant by Geb and gave birth to Isis, Set, Nephthys, Osiris and Horus, the five earliest gods. These gods gave birth to the rest of the other gods. Also, it was believed that Nut give birth to the sun every day. A sun which would die every time at sunset.

Each god had his own role, power and protection and some sort of myth that explained the background of that particular god. One of the most important gods were Amun, Mut and Knons (Khonsu). Amun was a local god at first but after uniting Upper and Lower Egypt, Amun, Mut and Khons from Upper Egypt replaced Ptah, Sekhment and Khonsu of Lower Egypt. Amun became the supreme creator god or the Sun god (symbolized by the sun), Mut was his wife, goddess of the sun’s rays, and their son Khons, the god of healing and destroyer of evil spirits.

Osiris (a god of the underworld and the dead), has an interesting myth added to him. Namely he was tricked and killed by his brother Seth (the god of evil). Isis (this is the Greek name, the Egyptian name is Aset or Eset, which meant goddess of different things, all from the goddess of mothers, the goddess of women and fertility, to nature or protector of the throne) brought Osiris back to life but he was incomplete because a fish ate part of him, so he could not rule on earth anymore. That is the reason why he was sent to rule the Underworld. His son Horus (the god of the sky, whose one eye was the sun, and the other was the moon) fought with Seth for eight years and after defeating him, restored harmony to the land.
Other gods in Egypt are Anubis (god of mummification), Aten (form of the god Ra), Seshat (goddess of writing and measurements), Tawaret (god protector of pregnant woman), Sobek (Nile god), Thoth (god of writing and knowledge) and many others.


The biggest sin in Egypt was ingratitude because it threw the person out of balance, which eventually led to other sins. So, been in harmony was very important. These beliefs gave birth to rituals such as The Five Gifts of Hathor, where one by counting on his fingers would name the five things one is the most grateful for. One could name anything; family, children, animals, threes etc, and the five fingers on his hand would serve as a reminder. The soul was considered to consist of nine parts: Khat-physical body, Ka- one’s double form, Ba- human-headed bird which could travel between earth and heaven, Shuyet- the shadow, Akh-the immortal transformed self, Sahu and Sechem- aspects of Akh, Ab- the heart, Ren- one’s secret name. At death, Akh with Sahu and Sechem appeared before Osiris in the Hall of Truth. In the presence of forty-two judges, one needs to recite the Negative Confession, a list of sins one claims to have done. After that his Ab (heart) is put on a scale. If his heart is lighter than a feather, he is allowed to go to paradise. If one’s heart is heavier than a feather, than that person is thrown to the floor and devoured by Ammut, a gobbler, a monster.

Tombs in Egypt are originally simple graves dug into the earth. They latter evolved in mastabas, a rectangular tomb that enlarged in a step pyramid. The pyramids became very important in Egypt, as they were the royal tombs, the eternal resting place of the Pharaoh. The dead body was put into a sarcophagus, which was constructed to protect the deceased with both symbols and practical protections. A line of hieroglyphics run vertically down the back of the sarcophagus, representing the backbone of the deceased, was thought of providing strength to the mummy.

A list of spells was used to help the soul of the dead travel to the afterlife. These spells are found in the “Egyptian Book of Dead” dated c.1550-1070. Other found texts are the Pyramid Texts, the oldest religious texts in Ancient Egypt, dating from c. 2400-2300 BC, and the Coffin Texts c.2134-2040 BC.

Life on earth was seen as only one part of an eternal journey, and in order to continue that journey after death, one needed to live a life worthy of continuance. Many people think that Egypt was a culture obsessed with death, however, the Egyptians were fully concerned with life.

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