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The importance of the afterlife in the ancient egyptian society

Theology[ edit ] The beliefs and rituals now referred to as "ancient Egyptian religion" were integral within every aspect of Egyptian culture. The Egyptian language possessed no single term corresponding to the modern European concept of religion.

Ancient Egyptian religion was not a monolithic institution, but consisted of a vast and varying set of beliefs and practices, linked by their common focus on the interaction between the world of humans and the world of the divine. The characteristics of the gods who populated the divine realm were inextricably linked to the Egyptians' understanding of the properties of the world in which they lived.

Ancient Egyptian deities The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus, in order from left to right The Egyptians believed that the phenomena of nature were divine forces in and of themselves. The Egyptians believed in a pantheon of gods, which were involved in all aspects of nature and human society. Their religious practices were efforts to sustain and placate these phenomena and turn them to human advantage.

Conversely, many natural forces, such as the sun, were associated with multiple deities. The diverse pantheon ranged from gods with vital roles in the universe to minor deities or "demons" with very limited or localized functions. Instead, these depictions gave recognizable forms to the abstract deities by using symbolic imagery to indicate each god's role in nature. His black skin was symbolic of the color of mummified flesh and the fertile black soil that Egyptians saw as a symbol of resurrection.

This iconography was not fixed, and many of the gods could be depicted in more than one form. However, these associations changed over time, and they did not mean that the god associated with a place had originated there. For instance, the god Monthu was the original patron of the city of Thebes.

Ancient Egypt Afterlife Beliefs.

Over the course of the Middle Kingdomhowever, he was displaced in that role by Amun, who may have arisen elsewhere. The national popularity and importance of individual gods fluctuated in a similar way. The Egyptians often grouped gods together to reflect these relationships.

The Afterlife in Ancient Egypt

Some groups of deities were of indeterminate size, and were linked by their similar functions. These often consisted of minor deities with little individual identity. Other combinations linked independent deities based on the symbolic meaning of numbers in Egyptian mythology ; for instance, pairs of deities usually represent the duality of opposite phenomena.

One of the more common combinations was a family triad consisting of a father, mother, and child, who were worshipped together. Some groups had wide-ranging importance. One such group, the Enneadassembled nine deities into a theological system that was involved in the mythological areas of creation, kingship, and the afterlife.

This process was a recognition of the presence of one god "in" another when the second god took on a role belonging to the first. These links between deities were fluid, and did not represent the permanent merging of two gods into one; therefore, some gods could develop multiple syncretic connections.

  • Field Museum — diorama of Egyptian mummification process;
  • This ideology evolved in the Fifth Dynasty;
  • There'd be jewelry, clothes, makeup, and lots and lots of food and wine and beer.

At other times it joined gods with very different natures, as when Amun, the god of hidden power, was linked with Rathe god of the sun. The resulting god, Amun-Ra, thus united the power that lay behind all things with the greatest and most visible force in nature.

In particular, this is true of a few gods who, at various times in history, rose to supreme importance in Egyptian religion. These included the royal patron Horusthe sun god Raand the mother goddess Isis. The theology of the period described in particular detail Amun's presence in and rule over all things, so that he, more than any other deity, embodied the all-encompassing power of the divine.

Instances in Egyptian literature where "god" is mentioned without reference to any specific deity would seem to give this view added weight. However, in 1971 Erik Hornung pointed out that the traits of an apparently supreme being could be attributed to many different gods, even in periods when other gods were preeminent, and further argued that references to an unspecified "god" are meant to refer flexibly to any deity.

  • For instance, the general ideology associated with the path to the underworld was believed that as night overshadowed the land, the deceased would begin their journey;
  • Some groups had wide-ranging importance;
  • So we often have mummies with big holes in their chests where the robbers took away the heart scarabs;
  • Texts consisted of spells, and images consisted of deities and the daily life of Egyptians, and much more information that is invaluable;
  • Others were burned as kindling or wood, because there aren't that many trees in Egypt.

He therefore argued that, while some individuals may have henotheistically chosen one god to worship, Egyptian religion as a whole had no notion of a divine being beyond the immediate multitude of deities. Yet the debate did not end there; Jan Assmann and James P.

Allen have since asserted that the Egyptians did to some degree recognize a single divine force. In Allen's view, the notion of an underlying unity of the divine coexisted inclusively with the polytheistic tradition. It is possible that only the Egyptian theologians fully recognized this underlying unity, but it is also possible that ordinary Egyptians identified the single divine force with a single god in particular situations.

Atenism During the New Kingdom the pharaoh Akhenaten abolished the official worship of other gods in favor of the sun-disk Aten. This is often seen as the first instance of true monotheism in history, although the details of Atenist theology are still unclear and the suggestion that it was monotheistic is disputed. The exclusion of all but one god from worship was a radical departure from Egyptian tradition and some see Akhenaten as a practitioner of monolatry rather than monotheism, [16] [17] as he did not actively deny the existence of other gods; he simply refrained from worshipping any but the Aten.

Ancient Egyptian religion

Under Akhenaten's successors Egypt reverted to its traditional religion, and Akhenaten himself came to be reviled as a heretic. It had existed since the creation of the world, and without it the world would lose its cohesion. In Egyptian belief, Ma'at was constantly under threat from the forces of disorder, so all of society was required to maintain it.

On the human level this meant that all members of society should cooperate and coexist; on the cosmic level it meant that all of the forces of nature—the gods—should continue to function in balance.

The Egyptians sought to maintain Ma'at in the cosmos by sustaining the gods through offerings and by performing rituals which staved off disorder and perpetuated the cycles of nature.

1. Egyptians Believed Death Was Only a Temporary Interruption to Life.

Throughout the linear passage of time, a cyclical pattern recurred, in which Ma'at was renewed by periodic events which echoed the original creation. Among these events were the annual Nile flood and the succession from one king to another, but the most important was the daily journey of the sun god Ra.

The two were separated by Shu, the god of air. Beneath the earth lay a parallel underworld and undersky, and beyond the skies lay the infinite expanse of Nuthe chaos that had existed before creation. Each day, Ra traveled over the earth across the underside of the sky, and at night he passed through the Duat to be reborn at dawn. One was the gods; another was the spirits of deceased humans, who existed in the divine realm and possessed many of the gods' abilities. Living humans were the third category, and the most important among them was the pharaoh, who bridged the human and divine realms.

Pharaoh Egyptologists have long debated the degree to which the Pharaoh was considered a god.

Saving body and soul

It seems most likely that the Egyptians viewed royal authority itself as a divine force. Therefore, although the Egyptians recognized that the Pharaoh was human and subject to human weakness, they simultaneously viewed him as a god, because the divine power of kingship was incarnated in him.

He therefore acted as intermediary between Egypt's people and the gods. For these reasons, he oversaw all state religious activity.

He was identified directly with Horus, who represented kingship itself, and he was seen as the son of Ra, who ruled and regulated nature as the Pharaoh ruled and regulated society.

  • Were many mummies destroyed in the search for amulets in their wrappings?
  • Living humans were the third category, and the most important among them was the pharaoh, who bridged the human and divine realms;
  • The deceased's body was now represented by the coffin as it held a shape and was decorated with features that resembled the individual inside it;
  • This elaborate ritual involved purification, censing burning incense , anointing and incantations, as well as touching the mummy with ritual objects to restore the senses -- the ability to speak, touch, see, smell and hear;
  • In Egyptian belief, Ma'at was constantly under threat from the forces of disorder, so all of society was required to maintain it.

By the New Kingdom he was also associated with Amun, the supreme force in the cosmos. In this state, he was directly identified with Ra, and was also associated with Osirisgod of death and rebirth and the mythological father of Horus. They believed that humans possessed a kaor life-force, which left the body at the point of death.

In life, the ka received its sustenance from food and drink, so it was believed that, to endure after death, the ka must continue to receive offerings of food, whose spiritual essence it could still consume. Each person also had a bathe set of spiritual characteristics unique to each individual. Egyptian funeral rituals were intended to release the ba from the body so that it could move freely, and to rejoin it with the ka so that it could live on as an akh. However, it was also important that the body of the deceased be preserved, as the Egyptians believed that the ba returned to its body each night to receive new life, before emerging in the morning as an akh.

In this judgment, the gods compared the actions of the deceased while alive symbolized by the heart to Ma'at, to determine whether he or she had behaved in accordance with Ma'at.

The Importance of an Afterlife

If the deceased was judged worthy, his or her ka and ba were united into an akh. Often the dead were said to dwell in the realm of Osiris, a lush and pleasant land in the underworld. Over the course of the Middle and New Kingdoms, the notion that the akh could also travel in the world of the living, and to some degree magically affect events there, became increasingly prevalent.