Ancient Egypt: Religion and Gods

The ancient Egyptian religion was polytheistic and believed in several gods and goddesses who controlled the humans, natural and the supernatural worlds. The worship of gods touched all aspects of their lives from politics, social life and the afterlife. They believed in different gods for pregnancy and childbirth, agriculture, politics and kingship, death and judgment. The gods were usually arranged in a family way consisting of a father, a mother and a child. In this culture, religion was vital and thus, the lives of ancient Egyptians were shaped by religion.

Anubis was the son of Osiris and Nepthys. His wife was Anput and his daughter was Kebechet.  El-Sadeek et al. writes that he was also called Anpu meaning “to decay” and was the ancient Egyptian god of the dead which made him very popular in the culture of the people. He was represented as a jackal headed deity with the body of a man. Anubis was pivotal in ancient Egyptian history for his role of presiding over the embalming process and accompanying kings to the afterworld. Throughout history, his association with death is depicted. He was often reflected with epithets like “Lord of the sacred land” and “He who is upon His mountain” As the inventor of embalming, he presided over the embalming of Osiris and later labeled the “conductor of souls”.

His role involved “weighing of the heart” by placing a heart on one end of the scale and a feather on the other. The god Thoth then recorded results determining whether the dead king could enter the afterworld. This was a concept in the ancient Egypt where souls are judged. Westerners referred to Anubis as “He who is in the place of embalming”. He was sometimes identified by the Greco-Roman world with the Greek Hermes in the composite deity Hermanubis. His popularity is usually depicted in the Egyptian art. The Anubis shrine contains His famous statue which was discovered in the famous Pharaoh Tutanhamun’s tomb. Whereas the modern depictions of Anubis portray him as a satanic figure, he was revered in ancient Egypt as a judicious god. He was most revered in Upper Egypt where his cult believed that by worshipping him one would be protected in the afterlife and receives a fair judgment. He is believed to curse those who disturb the dead.

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Represented as the devourer of the dead, Ammut is assigned as a demon and a sinister goddess of the underworld who is the patron of death and execution. Ammut Is depicted with crocodile head, legs and torso of a lion and the back and rear legs of a hippopotamus. According to Richardson (2011), the ancient Egyptians believed that Ammut devoured the physical representation of the soul that wandered to climb the ladders of heaven known as the Ba. Ka was the other part of the soul and contained the soul’s full force. A combination of the Ba and the Ka produced a full spark of divine life. By Devouring the Ba, the dead were left with a fragment of a soul and this scared the ancient Egyptians as once Ammit devoured a soul, the soul was believed to be restless forever hence “second death”.Ammit lived near the scales of justice in Duat, which was the Egyptian underworld or sometimes stand next to a lake of fire.

Another ancient Egyptian god that was popular was Bast or sometimes referred to as Bastet. In Deaver, (2014), she was the daughter of the sun god Re, and was worshipped in the form of a lioness and later as a cat. The ferocious nature of Bast was ameliorated in 1500 BCE after the domestication of the cat. She is believed to be a native to the Bubastis in Nile river delta and had an important cult in Memphis. She is represented with a cat’s head carrying an ancient percussion instrument the sistrum in her right hand with a breastplate in her left arm and a small bag over her left arm. She is depicted to wear ornamented dress. Her cult was popular in Italy by the Romans in Pompeii, Ostia, Nemi and Rome. They wore small figures of cats as amulets.

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Ma’at in the ancient Egyptian religion was the daughter of the sun god Re and was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom. She represents the personification of truth, justice and the cosmic order. She was vital in the ceremony of judgment of the dead as the heart of the dead was balanced with Ma’at or her hieroglyphic, the ostrich feather as a test of conformity to proper values. Ma’at was a divine order created for a specific purpose of reaffirmation and ascension of each new King in Egypt. In setting the order, the king played the role of the sun god, which was the god with the closest link to Ma’at. She is depicted to stand at the head of the sun god’s bark as it travelled from the skies to the underworld. The principles underlying the kingship and the Ma’at were fundamental and lasted to the end of Ancient Egyptian history despite some criticism and reformulations.

In ancient Egypt, pregnancy and childbirth was a sacred affair. Tawaret was a goddess that protected women during pregnancy and childbirth.  She is portrayed with a head of a hippopotamus, lion’s arms and legs, crocodile’s tail and back and breast and stomach of a pregnant woman. Abbotts writes that whereas other ancient gods in Egypt were worshipped in their temples, she was worshipped by people in their own homes as they wore her amulets and kept them in their houses.

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In summary, it is evident that the ancient Egyptians worship had direct influence on how they lived their lives and conducted affairs. Brier & Hobbs (2008) writes that their Life on earth was seen as a path to eternal journey and in order to continue that journey, they were required to live a life worthy of it. Religion also impacted their daily happenings such as the rising and setting of the sun was explained through religion. Gods were modeled after humans as they lived and died, and transitioned to other states of lives. Consequently, it is true to say that life in ancient Egypt was shaped by their religion.

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