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Ancient Egypt: Religion and Mythology

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Ancient Egypt: Religion and Mythology

Religion was the most important part of an Egyptian's existence. In an Egyptian's eyes the life around him, from the annual inundation of the Nile that spelled hunger or plenty for the whole nation, the sickeness of a relative, or the death of his cat, was a ned act of a god. There were hundreds of gods and goddesses in Egypt, watching over every aspect of life and death.

Many Egyptian gods were portrayed as animals, or as human beings with animal heads like Anubis, the god of the dead, because the Egyptians considered all animals to be sacred. Anyone who deliberately killed an animal would be punished with death. Cats that had died would be embalmed and buried in sacred receptacles.

The Egyptian's belief of the origin of the world is able to the way Egypt's land reemerged after the annual inundation of the Nile. In the beginning, there was a watery void

From this void the life-giving sun god Atum (later called Re arose on the first hill of earth- just as the subsiding of the Nile flood causes hills of mud to appear with their promise of life-giving harvest. Atum (or Re) created the goddess of moisture and Shu, the god of the air. Their daughter, Nut, was the goddess of the sky, and her brother, Geb, who was also her husband, was the god of the earth. Despite the blatant evidence provided by this story, inscestual marriages were not widespread in Ancient Egypt. It was only an option for pharoahs who wanted to maintain as much divine blood as possible in their line. By day Re sailed through the air on a boat between the sky and the earth, resting at night in the body of Nut, to be born again each morning.


Nut and Geb had four children. Their first was Osiris., the god of vegetation and the first living pharaoh of Egypt. Osiris believed to be the first pharoah, the first god who was king, in Egypt. Osiris had a son named Horus. Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, the god of evil. Seth cut the body of Osiris into pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. Isis, the protective goddess of women, who was Osiris's sister and wife, found the pieces of Osiris's body and, together with her sister, Nephthys, put him back together through magic. Osiris was thus ressurected, and he became the god of the afterlife, to whom all deceased pharoahs were identified.The son of Osiris and Isis was Horus, the child god, the falcon god, and the living pharaoh. Horus avenged his father by defeating Seth. In doing so, he lost an eye, which was magically replaced by his friend Thoth, another human god with an animal-shaped head. This is another representation of resurrection in Egyptian religion. Thus, the eye is a symbol of protection and resurrection in Egyptian life. Osiris became the god of the afterlife, and is depicted as a mummified king. Horus became the god whom a living pharaoh represents on earth.

Aside from these gods, there were gods that represented ordinary people, such as Ptah, the god of craftsmen, who was created by Re like the other gods. Each region of Egypt had its own special god. Ptah was the local god of Memphis.

Amun Amun was the god of Thebes. When Thebes became the modul of Egypt, he became a national god whom all worshiped. However, since no god was more important than Re, the life-giving sun god and the father of the pharaoh, Amun was merged with Re to become the king of the gods, Amun-Re.

The After Life

The Egyptians believed in life after death. In order to prepare a person for the long and hazardous journey before they could enjoy the pleasures of the afterlife, the body of a dead person was preserved by a process called mummification. The Egyptians believed that when someone died, various spirits were released. One was the life force, called the ka, and the other represented the individual personality of the living person, called the ba. These spirits enabled the dead person to exist in the after life. In order for these spirits to survive, the dead body had to be preserved in a recognizable form.

First, the body was washed and oils were rubbed onto the skin. The internal organs were removed from the body through an incision in the abdomen. The brain was pulled out through the nose and discarded; the Egyptians believed that the brain was useless and that all thinking was done by the heart. The rest of the organs were dried and sealed in canopic jars under the protection of four gods. The body was covered in salt crystals to dry it out. After 40 days the body was washed and stuffed with linen, sawdust, and spices and wrapped in linen bandages soaked in resin. A painted mask was placed over the mummy's face, and amulets and jewels were placed on the body, which was then wrapped a second time. Three coffins were prepared, which were shaped like bodies and fitted into each other. They could be made of clay, wood or stone. Coffins of pharaohs were made of gold and decorated with colored glass. The mummy was placed inside the coffins and they were all put in a large outer coffin. Many of the person's possessions along with items the person would need in the afterlife would be buried with the mummy, such as food, wine, clothes, chairs, tables, headrests, linen, boxes, chests, jewelry, amulets, model boats and model houses. Also, a box of shabtis, or little statues that would do work for the dead person in the Other World, were included with the funerary items.

The funeral procession consisted of the priest who walked in front, waving a censer and sprinkling milk; followed by the bier, or boat-shaped frame which held the mummy, drawn by oxen and decked with flowers. The widow sat beside the bier and two women mourners attended the mummy, who represented the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Next came the important guests, who walked in front of a small sled on which a chest was placed containing the jars that held the organs. At the end of the procession were the professional mourners (women dressed in blue were paid to wail and scream and tear their hair) and the servants who carried the funerary goods and furniture to be placed in the tomb. Once the tomb had been reached, the most important ceremony took place. This was called the Opening of the Mouth, which gave back to the mummy all the functions that had been lost at death. Only then could life be enjoyed in the next world. The mummy was propped up in front of the tomb chapel and the priest touched the face of the mummy with various implements and offerings were made. The mummy was then placed inside the coffins. A copy of the Book of the Dead was placed in the coffin. This book was written on papyrus and illustrated with small pictures. It was a list of some two hundred spells to help the dead pass through the dangers of the Underworld before reaching the paradise of the Other World.

Before entering the pleasures of eternity, the dead person had to pass a test in which Anubis, the god of the dead, weighed the person's heart against Ma'at, the goddess of justice and truth, who was represented by a feather. (In this picture, Ma'at is placed on on the right side of the scale, and she is depicted as a woman with a feather on her lap. Often, however, she is shown simply as a feather) If his good deeds outweighed the bad, the his heart will be as light as the feather. Osiris would welcome the newcomer to the next world. If he fell short in his judegement, his body would be eaten by a monster that was part crocodile, part lion, and part hippopotamus. (These were the three scariest animals to an Egyptian) Then the person would cease to exist, which was the worst possible fate an Egyptian could imagine. If the person was accepted, he would be asked by Osiris to perform some menial tasks, usually those that were agricultural. Wealthy people could afford to have statues, called shabtis sculpted and placed inside their tombs. It was believed that these ures would come to life and do the person's work for Osiris in his stead. The picture at left is King Tut's shabti ure.

The funeral feast was held in front of the tomb, after it was sealed forever.


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