Monday, 20 February 2017


“All religions must be tolerated, for every man must get to heaven in his own way.” - Epictetus 

Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals, which were an integral part of ancient Egyptian society. It centered on the Egyptians’ interaction with many deities who were believed to be present in, and in control of, the forces of nature. Rituals such as prayers and offerings were efforts to provide for the gods and gain their favour. Formal religious practice centred on the pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who was believed to possess a divine power by virtue of his position. He acted as the intermediary between his people and the gods and was obligated to sustain the gods through rituals and offerings so that they could maintain order in the universe.

The state dedicated enormous resources to Egyptian rituals and to the construction of the temples. Individuals could interact with the gods for their own purposes, appealing for their help through prayer or compelling them to act through magic. These practices were distinct from, but closely linked with, the formal rituals and institutions. The popular religious tradition grew more prominent in the course of Egyptian history as the status of the Pharaoh declined.

 Another important aspect was the belief in the afterlife and funerary practices. The Egyptians made great efforts to ensure the survival of their souls after death, providing tombs, grave goods, and offerings to preserve the bodies and spirits of the deceased. The religion had its roots in Egypt’s prehistory and lasted for more than 3,000 years. The details of religious belief changed over time as the importance of particular gods rose and declined, and their intricate relationships shifted.

At various times throughout Egypt’s history, certain gods became preeminent over the others, including the sun god Ra, the creator god Amun, and the mother goddess Isis. For a brief period, in the theology promulgated by the Pharaoh Akhenaten, a single god, the Aten, replaced the traditional pantheon. This short period of monotheism was rapidly quashed and the return of polytheism lasted until Egypt’s decline as an imperial power. Ancient Egyptian religion and mythology left behind many writings and monuments, along with significant influences on ancient and modern cultures.

Over the next few months, every Monday, I shall be featuring a series of posts, which will look at Ancient Egyptian mythology and the many deities and demons associated with this ancient civilisation and its religion.

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