Religious Beliefs of the Egyptians Essay
Ancient Egypt had a complex array of religious belief systems. Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs can be linked with the environment that they lived in. There are many myths relating to the creation of the world, all these have the environmental representation within them. The life and death cycle of the Egyptians was represented in the patterns of nature. Ancient Egyptians believed in many unique existences in the afterlife. Egyptians greatly relied on the River Nile and its annual cycle which influenced their religious beliefs.
Gods and Goddesses were representations of the environment around them and each God or Goddess looked after a part of their daily lives. Worshiping the sun was a critical element in the Egyptians religious beliefs, however through time, the beliefs of the Egyptians connected to sun god changed as well. There are multiple myths concerning the Egyptian concept of creation. Each myth or story varies slightly but they share a common essential feature. Each of these myths reflect the Egyptians perception their environment. The common environmental myth elements are firstly that the entire earth was covered with water.
This is presented in the environment through the annual inundation of the Nile, in which the Nile valley was covered with water. The second is that an island or mound of land came out of the water. This is presented in the environment that as the flood waters receded small islands or mounds of land appear. Thirdly the first god (Ra) appeared on the island from the water and created life. This is presented in the environment as when the waters recede there is rich silt, from the rich silt left, and new life rose up. There are three main creation myths in the old kingdom: the Heliopolitan myth, the Memphite myth, and the Hermopolitan myth.
The Heliopolitan myth originated from Heliopolis. In this myth, there was seven days in the period of creation. Everything was created by different gods. It was out of Nu or Nun that everything was created, in the beginning there was only water, the water was known as the chaos water, and from this water, the sun god Ra appeared and gave light to the universe. Ra then created Shu and Tefnut the god and goddess of air and moisture. From these gods many more appeared and created earth, sky, the calendar, and finally life.
Figure 1) An Egyptian painting, is of the sun god Ra; it displays him with a sun disk on his head and was painted in C13th B. C. It is evident that Ra is transporting some kind of spirit (wavering effect) through the river Nile to the afterlife; this is evident because it was in scripted in a tomb. The Memphite myth originated from Memphis, in this myth there was a ‘father of the gods from whom all life emerged’, this was Ptah. Ptah came into the universe by finding all the aspects of the universe in his heart then speaking them out loud. Ptah created the gods, cities, food, drink, and everything that Egyptians needed in life.
Figure 2) In this statue it shows the god Ptah, the creator god made from gold found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb. The Hermopolitan myth originated from Hermopolis. In this myth the gods are created before the sun, but similarly there is ‘water’ which is where the god Thoth (ibis) created an egg. He placed this egg on a mound of earth up from the water (ground appearing after the waters recede from the inundation of the Nile) it then cracked and the sun appeared from the egg. (Figure 3) This New Kingdom (about 1550 BC) blue amulet is of the god of wisdom, Thoth in his ibis form.
Through the several explanations of their beliefs of creation, we see how the Egyptians had many different ideologies of creation, and how they differed from an area of Egyptian to another. The environment of the Ancient Egyptians was reflected in their beliefs in life after death and the nature of the afterlife. The cycle of life and death was apparent in the patterns of nature. The cycle of rebirth and reincarnation is evident as the sun had the appearance of dying every evening in the west then in the morning it appeared and was reborn in the east.
The growth and death of vegetation also showed the cycle of birth and rebirth. They believed that these cycles would be repeated in eternity. There were two main earlier beliefs in the late Old Kingdom of the afterlife. One revolved around the god Osiris, the king of the afterlife and god of crops, the other around the sun god Ra (Re). Both these afterlife myths have the essential cycles that have a central figure being death and resurrection. The world of the dead was placed in the west, this is apparent in the fact the sun had the appearance of dying every evening in the west.
In the Middle Kingdom period they believed that the Egyptian body was inhabited by two different souls; these two souls are ka and ba, which are then left in the body after death. Ka and ba are used in life; it is what a person needs to live. Ka and ba need a body to live in when the person goes into the afterlife; this is when preserving the person’s body is very important in the religion of the Egyptians. The Egyptians went through many processes to make sure that the body was preserved through, mummification, tombs and pyramids.
These entire processes highlight the dependence of the Egyptians on their beliefs concerning the afterlife. In New Kingdom Egypt many Egyptians believed that they spend the afterlife in the ‘Field of Reeds’. The ‘Field of Reeds’ bared close features, of the Nile Delta. The Nile Delta had very lush meadows and watercourses. When the River Nile had its annual inundation of water, the flood plains were revitalised with lots of water and new soil, this resembled rebirth. The ‘Field of Reeds’ were to provide those in the after life with food.
The Kings and Pharaohs were believed to spend their eternity in the sky in Ra (Re) the sun gods boat. (Figure 4) This New Kingdom Egyptian painting was in a tomb near Luxor and is named Sen-Nezem, it is named this as it shows Sen-Nezem in the afterlife’s ‘Field of Reeds’. It is also distinct that the other Egyptians there are harvesting their food in the after life. At the top of the painting there is the sun god Ra in the boat which was to carry the Kings and Pharaohs in eternity. The environment of the Egyptians was reflected in the personality of the gods and goddesses.
The universe was controlled by the gods and made by the gods. Gods and Goddesses were representations of the environment around them and each God or Goddess looked after a part of their daily lives. This is evident in the gods for environmental aspects such as the sun, and the Nile River, revitalised land crops and the desert. Most gods took parts of an animal form, and represented their qualities. These animals mostly all came from the environment that the Egyptians lived in and animals that were around the Nile Valley such as the ibis and cobra.
Figure 5) For example, Horus the god of justice and power took on the characteristics of a falcon which was found in the Nile Valley. In this Edfu temple wall carving, it shows Horus on the left with a clear falcon animal component. There are two types of gods, local and state gods. State gods were worshipped throughout Egypt, for example Horus and Ra. However local gods were worshipped because they had connection with Egyptian families, jobs and places, this then gave people more choice on how they were to worship them.
An example of a local god is Anuket; she was a goddess of the inundation of the River Nile. Anuket wore a crown of reeds and ostrich feathers, she was often with a gazelle. Anuket was worshiped throughout Elephantine. (Figure 6) In this Egyptian temple wall carving that is possibly from the temple “Per-Mer”. It shows Anuket with her crown of reeds and ostrich feathers. This demonstrates that each different place in Egypt had different gods to control parts of their lives and the environment around them.
Seth was a god that clearly represented the environment the Egyptians lived in. Seth is portrayed in tales of had to been evil from birth and continued through his life. This representation of him is shown in the environment that he represents. Seth is continually with reference to the desert, and is associated with being the god of the desert. Egyptians believed that the desert was a very inhospitable and dangerous environment, and bursting with frightening aspects. Seth is also associated with many other frightening aspects of nature including wind, rain, storms, and thunder.
The gods and goddesses clearly are represented in the environment the Egyptians lived in and their perceptive view of their environment that influenced their mythology relating to the gods and goddesses. Through the various myths and legends about creation we saw how they reflected on their environment and how, from one area of Egypt to another it altered. The Egyptians are highly dependant on reaching the ‘field of reeds’ in the afterlife, and several environmental aspects were seen in their beliefs of the afterlife especially the cycle of life and death.
Perhaps the most influenced aspect of Egyptian religion is the gods and goddesses. Each god or goddess controlled a part of the environment and daily life. They took on personality traits from the section they controlled and animal elements. These gods and goddesses profoundly influenced the mythology of the Egyptians and were shown in the patterns of nature. The turning tides of the environment proved a pivotal role in discerning Ancient Egyptian culture, in regards to their religion.
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