Ancient Egypt

1051 words | 4 page(s)

Ancient Egypt is considered to be one of the most developed and mysterious civilizations of the ancient world. Though it fell into decline thousands of years ago, artefacts found on the territory of the once flourishing state still heat the minds of modern scientists. Apart from impressive architecture and rich culture, Ancient Egypt is famous for its unique religious doctrine that did not only aim at enriching people’s spirit and strengthening their faith but also shaped people’s worldviews and controlled almost all realms of their lives. The religion of Ancient Egypt is characterized by the developed pantheon that consisted of hundreds of gods and goddesses and specific vision of the afterlife.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the world was made by spirits that lived in any object in the world, animate or inanimate. This belief triggered the creation of a developed pantheon of male and female gods. According to R. H. Wilkinson (2003), “the number of deities worshipped by the ancient Egyptians was indeed staggering, and almost 1,500 gods and goddesses are known by name” (p.6). A characteristic feature of the ancient Egyptian pantheon is its gender balance. Even in the cosmology myth about the creation of the world, it is mentioned that “the eight primordial deities existed in four pairs of male and female, each associated with a specific aspect or element of the pre-creation” (Wilkinson, 2003, p. 16), namely Water, Infinity, Darkness, and Hiddenness. These eight deities were considered to be the fathers and mothers of the sun god Atum who, in his turn, gave birth to Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. This couple produced the next generation of Egyptian gods, namely Geb, the god of earth, and Nut who was the goddess of skies. Finally, the head of the Egyptian pantheon is completed by Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys, the gods of chaos and netherworld (Wilkinson, 2003). Apart from many gods who were equally respected and worshipped by all Egyptians, there were also many regional deities. Most Egyptian gods and goddesses were anthropomorphic or bimorphic: they either looked like people or presented a combination of traits of humans and animals. More than that, just like people, gods could die and go to eternal darkness.

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Moreover, religion also served as a means of political manipulation in Ancient Egypt. To express their care of gods, ancient Egyptians organized various rituals, festivals, and mysteries, and made numerous sacrifices. The contacts between ordinary people and gods were strictly limited and were established mostly by priests in special temples. Priests were considered to be among the most influential and wealthy people of the state. Pharaohs also played essential roles in the religious lives of ancient Egyptians. In fact, the king was viewed as “the incarnation of the living Horus, the son of Osiris” (Teeter, 2011, p.4). In such a way, Egyptian rulers proved their unlimited power and emphasized that they were the representatives of gods in the world.

The scriptures and paintings found in pyramids also shed much light on the vision of afterlife shared by people in Ancient Egypt. According to E. Teeter (2011), “the Egyptians’ mortuary theology was based on the idea that all those who lived their life morally would be reborn in the afterlife” (p. 120). J. J. Mark (2017) adds that “the ancient Egyptians cultivated a civilization which elevated each day to an experience in gratitude and divine transcendence and a life into an eternal journey of which one’s time in the body was only a brief interlude.” At the moment of death, people had to pass through the procedure of the Weighing of the Heart performed by Osiris, the god of the afterlife. After that, the souls of those who were genuinely righteous went to the Lake of Flowers where they had to meet the Divine Ferryman and pass another test during which they had to prove their righteousness. In case of success, souls moved to the Field of Reeds that was the land of eternal happiness. The quality of people’s afterlife entirely depended on the deeds one committed during their lifetime.

Death was expected to bring social justice: there were no poor or wealthy people in the other world: all Egyptians had to become equal, and only their virtuousness mattered. Such an approach to the concept of the afterlife also had an important political background: promising that all people would be equal in the eyes of gods, Egyptian rulers tried to prevent clashes between the representatives of different social classes. Ancient Egyptians believed that, while their mortal life lasted only for some years, their afterlife would last forever. However, the afterlife was possible just in case people’s bodies were preserved. Consequently, in most cases, the tombs in which people were buried were built of much better materials than the houses they lived in. Moreover, the deceased needed food, drinks, clothes, animals, and even slaves, so that their endless afterlife was full of pleasures. Funeral expenses were tremendous, and, as a rule, people saved money for this ceremony for most of their lives. The wealthiest people were mummified and buried in pyramids decorated by professional painters that guaranteed them a prosperous and comfortable existence.

Summing up, ancient Egyptians created a unique system of religious and mythological views. One of its main elements was a complex pantheon of gods and goddesses that represented different natural objects and phenomena. There were different generations of Egyptian gods, each of them having their history of birth, life, and death. Moreover, a characteristic feature of Egyptian deities was their anthropomorphism that made gods closer to people. The only representatives of deities in the world were Egyptian kings who were considered to be the children of gods. Besides, ancient Egyptians had a unique vision of the afterlife. For them, death signified the transition of a person’s spirit from one word to another. To deserve immortality in the world of eternal happiness, a person’s soul had to pass through several tests and prove its righteousness. Ancient Egyptians believed that, at the moment of death, all people became equal in the eyes of gods, no matter how wealthy or poor they were during their lifetime.

  • Mark, J. J. (2017, April 26). Death in Ancient Egypt. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu
  • Teeter, E. (2011). Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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