February 27, 2012

Ancient Egyptian Religion and Afterlife Part 1/2

Introduction about Ancient Egyptian Religion
Much is known and has been written about formal ancient Egyptian religion and cults in Ancient Egypt, but the genuine beliefs of the average man are more difficult to identify. Lay people could not enter far into the major temples in order to worship; this was the prerogative of the priests who carried out the set rituals on behalf of the population. Nevertheless,ancient Egyptian religion played a vital part in the everyday life of the Egyptians, for they needed help against the hostile forces of nature which surrounded them and also against machinations of their fellow men. Closely allied with religion at those levels was magic, which was the practical means whereby men could combat these inimical powers.

Religion in ancient Egypt
Although the ordinary person was not allowed to take part in the daily ritual of the State gods, an opportunity for ancient Egyptian religions fervor came during the festivals or coming forth'. When the stature of the deity was carried out in procession, the frenzy that attached itself to the festival of Bast at Bubastis in the Late Period has already been described. In a more serious vein were the mysteries of Osiris a Abydos .these represented the betrayal and murder of the god by his brother Seth, after which there were several days of morning, then followed a funeral procession of the statue of Osiris towards the traditional site of his tomb. At the sire of the murder, the overthrow of Seth and his followers was reenacted, after which Osiris was deemed to have risen again and his image was carried back to the temple amid the rejoicings of the crowd.

At Thebes there were two important festivals, belonging to the god Amun . The first of these was the festival of Opet, in which the statues of Amun , Mut and Khons were taken from their temples at Karnak to Luxor for a 'visit'. They proceeded by divine barque along the Nile, towed by the boats of the king and senior nobles. The procession was a great spectacle and the citizens of Thebes lined the bank for a rare vision of the god. This festival took place at the beginning of he year. Towards the end of the year the statue of Amun was carried across the Nile to the West Bank to visit the mortuary temples of the deceased kings, the ceremony culminating at the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. The procession was eagerly followed by the citizens of the West Bank and was probably connected with the worship of dead ancestors in their funerary chapels.

The Egyptians may not have been able to worship the gods directly in their great temples, but they did have small, local shrines in which they could offer a prayer. A number of shrines to Amun are known to have existed on the West Bank, Including one at Deir el-Medina. In that village there were also shrines to Hathor and to Ptah, patron of craftsmen, and other deities worshiped there were Thoth, Re-Harakhty, Khnum, Isis, Osiris and Anubis, as well as foreign gods such as Qadesh and Astarte. Also prominent was the cult of the local goddess Mertseger, who represented The great mountain of the West Bank known as El-Qurn. Evidence shows that the cult of this multitude of Gods was organized by the villagers themselves, although they could no doubt have afforded to support a resident priesthood. This suggests that it was common practice in small communities for the inhabitants it act as their own priests, as a way of achieving closer contact with their gods.

The Deir el-Medina shrines were open for people to drop in to say their own prayers or make an offering. This commonly took from of a votive stele showing the donor worshiping his chosen deity. Around the god a number of ears were often depicted, to make quite sure that the prayer inscribe beneath was heard. These stelae, belonging to the Ramesside period, bear witness to a great upsurge of piety, or at least an increase in the open expression of personal belief, which had previously been committed to writing. One explanation of this phenomenon may be that most of the evidence comes from Deir el-Medina, a community of exceptionally gifted, literate and comparatively well-off artisans, who were more capable and willing to express their beliefs than others at their level of society. On the other hand, Deir el-Medina has been thoroughly excavated, whereas the majority of other village and small town sites, which might yield similar evidence, have nor.

Deir el-Medina
The prayers on these stelae often take the form of a plea for mercy and recognition of the god's power over mankind for good or ill. Afflictions of the body, such as blindness, are frequently attributed to a god as punishment for some transgression against his might. Such a prayer was uttered by the workman Neferabu to the god Ptah :

I am a man who swore falsely to Ptah , Lord of Truth, and he caused me to see darkness by day. I will declare his powers to those who know him and to those who do not know him, to the small and the great. Beware of Ptah, lord pf Truth. Behold! he does not overlook a person's deed.
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