Religion and Culture of the Ancient Egyptians

Stephanie Millsap, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Stephanie Millsap

    Stephanie has taught 6th grade social studies, English/language arts, and reading for over 8 years. She currently supports K - 12 teachers as a literacy leader and trainer in reading and English/language arts for the past 7 years, totaling 15 years experience in education. She has a master's degree in reading education from the University of South Florida and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She also has a professional teaching certificate in K-12 reading, 6-12 ELA, 6-12 social studies, and 5-9 integrated subjects.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore ancient Egyptian culture and religion to understand the influence of ancient religious beliefs on Egyptian architecture, monuments, and artifacts. Updated: 12/06/2021

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Egyptian Religious Beliefs

What are the ancient Egyptian beliefs, and what kind of religion did the ancient Egypt practice? Ancient Egyptians believed in and practiced a complex religious system that required daily rituals, sacrifices, and worship to their gods and goddesses. When a culture worships more than one god, the religion is called Polytheistic, or the belief in more than one god. The ancient Egyptians believed that living by the Seven Principles of Maat, one of their goddesses, meant they could please the gods daily to secure their place in the afterlife. Living by the principles of Maat meant following these seven guiding principles: Justice, Truth, Balance, Morality, Order, Righteousness, and Harmony.

There were thousands of deities, or gods, worshiped in ancient Egypt. The gods and goddesses controlled the natural world, such as the sky, the elements, the earth, and most importantly, the afterlife. Egyptians lives centered on their belief in the control and intervention of the gods in crop production, health, wealth, and happiness.

While historical evidence from Egyptian ruins proves the existence of thousands of gods and goddesses, some Egyptian deities played more significant roles in society than others. The most commonly known Egyptian deities were connected in family groups and had intricate myths associated with their existence, powers, and objects. For example, Horus, the god of the sky, was the son of Isis and Osiris. Isis (also known as Aset) was the goddess of fertility, motherhood, healing, and magic, and Osiris was the god of the underworld and resurrection. Horus was a significant god in ancient Egypt because they believed each Pharaoh became the earthly embodiment of Horus, so the people worshiped the Pharaoh as Horus.

Ancient Egyptian Rituals

Mummification is the most infamous ritual of ancient Egyptian culture. Mummification is a ritualistic embalming practice used to prepare one's body for the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that a person's soul needed to reunite with their body to live on in the afterlife, so mummification became the prominent ritual in their culture to ensure an afterlife for the dead.

Egyptian funerals were for the families of the dead, who would come to mourn the loss of their loved one. Families would view the coffin of the deceased and mourn together. A ritual called "opening of the mouth" was often performed at the funeral before burial to symbolize reawakening the deceased to see, breath, hear, eat, and drink again in preparation for their afterlife.

Another important ritual was the daily worship of gods and goddesses in the temples or places of worship. The temples were dedicated to each god and goddess, and the Egyptians believed the god or goddesses entity would dwell in the temple. Temples were sacred places that only priests could enter to make offerings. Each day priests performed rituals and made offerings of food, clothing, and drink to honor and please the gods. The surrounding farmers would bring a portion of the farming harvest to the temples as offerings to the deities. Every aspect of daily life in ancient Egypt centered on their beliefs in the power and intervention of the gods to ensure they would earn an afterlife.

Egyptian Burial Practices: Mummification & Sarcophagus

Mummification was the first step in the burial process. The embalmers spent many days and paid great attention to details to ensure the bodies were correctly mummified. To be mummified was the only way believed to ensure life would continue in the afterlife for Egyptians. To begin the process, the embalmers would remove the soft tissue organs: the lungs, liver, intestines, and stomach, to slow down decomposition. Those organs were dried in natron and either placed in separate jars called Canopic jars or returned to the body wrapped in linens. Canopic jars have specific animal heads, each representing a god who protects a particular organ. The Egyptians would place the Canopic jars in the tombs with the mummified bodies to symbolize the protection of the internal organs for an ensured afterlife.

Then the body was packed and covered with natron and left to dehydrate for 40 days. After 40 days, the embalmers would wash the body with water from the sacred Nile river and treat the skin with oils to ensure longevity. The body would then be filled with dry materials like sawdust and lathered in fragrant oils before being wrapped in linens from head to toe. Once fully wrapped and ready for burial, protection amulets were placed on the bodies. Commonly found amulets in archeological discoveries include the amulet of Isis, called the Isis knot to protect the body, and the Plummet amulet for balance in the next life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Egyptian funeral like?

The burial practices of ancient Egyptians were complex. To prepare a body for burial and to preserve the body for the afterlife, the body was embalmed through the process of mummification. Mummification was a long process that required over a month to complete. Once a body was ready for burial a funeral was held for the family of the deceased. The funeral included rituals, spells, and good giving to ensure the dead had what they needed for the afterlife.

How did Egyptian bury their dead?

Ancient Egyptians were buried through the ritualistic process of mummification. Mummification is an ancient embalming practice to preserve the bodies of the deceased to ensure their lives would continue in the afterlife.

Why was religion so important in ancient Egypt?

In ancient Egypt, life did not end when someone passed away. Life on earth was the first step in securing an afterlife; therefore, religion played a vital role in the everyday lives of Egyptians by ensuring a continued life beyond this earth.

What was the most important belief in Egyptian religion?

The Egyptians practiced polytheism, the belief in multiple gods and goddesses, pleasing the gods to secure an afterlife was the most important belief in Egyptian religion. To satisfy the gods and goddesses, Egyptians continuously worshiped and made sacrifices to the deities.

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