The religion of ancient Egypt was related to all objects, the art, the architecture, the writing and the structure of the state. Because the secular architecture, such as domiciles and craft shops were made of mud brick, and not built to last over time, we may have a slightly skewed look at the cultural emphasis because the ephemeral structures and artifacts are gone.
   Egyptian Religion had no doctrine, no liturgy and no group of teachings and although the religion went through geographic and chronological changes within the over 3,000 years of its existence, the original ideas were not discarded as the new ones were added. It was very complex, yet very organized. It evolved through a non linear blend and fusion of beliefs that can be confusing to the western mind. This was one of the reason the “rational” Greeks discarded it so readily when they took over the land.
The Egyptian religion was based in nature, and, as evident in the art, the Egyptians were apparently very keen observers of nature, and used plant, animal and solar symbols. However it is important to make the distinction that this was not an animal based worship, and it did not start as animal worship and follow a rational progression through human form. The symbols were used to explain cosmological phenomena in terms of realistic, observable phenomena. The symbols and myths were a way of making simple those things which were not comprehensible.
To make all creation sacred, to see all creatures, plants, cosmos, etc. as an embodiment of God, is a very real and very basic concept; God is all and God is everywhere. Often, phenomena was described several ways. For example, there were several ways of conceptualizing the movement of the sun across the sky:
    1) As a sun disc travelling by solar boat.
    2) As a winged Goddess
    3) As a Goddess stretched across the sky, swallowing the sun at night and giving birth to it each morning.
These are not contradictions, but rather a multiplicity that exists within the religion….part of a “rich tapestry of beliefs.” These three “stories” define different aspects of the cosmos; time, rebirth, source of life, etc. and are not in fact, three stories defining the same phenomenon.

One of the most notable characteristics about the ancient Egyptian religion was the permanence of the beliefs and the continuity through the ages. There were aspects that developed in 3,000 BC “almost out of nowhere”.

   The pharaoh, most Egyptologists would say, was semi- divine. He acquired his divinity through ritual. He was the link between god and man. He was both chief priest and chief ruler. Initially he was the only one who made offerings. In theory, all the people of the society had direct access to him, and could, in theory approach him directly. The name comes from “per-ah”, meaning Great House.

    A single god may assume various forms. Different aspects of different gods were combined, and would appear together. For instance Ra and Horus, combined as Rahorate. There are over 150 manifestations of Amon.

Death/Darkness was to be transcended. The Egyptians had no view of “hell” per se, other than to remain in darkness, out of the sunlight. The soul entered a mirror image of the life that had been lived. The Egyptian view was of rebirth, not reincarnation and there is important to distinguish between these two terms. In a rebirth, the soul stays the same for all eternity. It is not reincarnated as something or someone else.

Egyptologists will speak of the “principle of substitution” to define the principle that an object can function as the thing it represents. For instance, a model of a bakery can function as a bakery in the afterlife. Models were made of servants, tombs were stocked with food, household objects, treasures and offerings. These practices stemmed from the belief in this principle.

It was believed that as long as one was remembered, he could never really die. As long as the name was spoken, a soul will continue to live on. Is this what is happening as we continue to speak the Egyptian names?

“What happened to the soul after death?” The Ka was the spiritual/physical double of the person, the part with an affinity to the physical being and is usually represented in art as a figure with arms on its head. After death this is the part that needs to be fed. Offerings of food are made to the Ka. The Ba , shown as a bird with a human face, was the spiritual energy, the non physical part of the deceased. Both are mobile and live on the mummy at night, and come out into the daylight, travelling up the shafts in the tomb.

The Judgment of the Dead

Egyptian society was extremely moral and had a basic code very similar to ethics that we profess to uphold.
In the weighing of the heart scene, Ma’at represents the incarnation of truth. The Dead stands before her and recites a “negative confession”: a list of things beginning with “I have not…” ) Ma’at also represents the cosmic order of the universe. She controls the rise and setting of the sun, the cycles of the Nile, relations between parent and child. Therefore, an act of lying or nastiness, dishonoring a parent, etc. meant that an aspect of Ma’at was disturbed, and would cause a disturbance in the balance of the cosmos. This meant that each individual is personally responsible for the balance of the universe through their actions. (This is the basis for the current movement beginning in the inner cities, called Maatian Ethics.)
If the heart was so heavy as to tip the scales it would be fed to the devourer (although this event is never depicted). If the heart was light, it meant the soul then became semi divine and united with the sun. Each day becomes a cycle of rebirth.

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Updated March, 2001.