A Series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 1)
Okay, so way back when this blog first started, I made a poll on my Facebook page and asked if people wanted me to talk about Ancient Egyptian History or Ancient Egyptian Religion first. History won by a nose, and to be frank, I was grateful.
This is because Ancient Egyptian Religion is a BEAR.
Not literally a bear. What I mean is – sorting through it all is really tough going.
So, after finishing my series on Ancient Egyptian History, I stayed away from writing about the religion portion. To be fair, I also wanted to mix things up and not focus on Egypt, Egypt, Egypt, 24/7 if I could help it. Hence my posts on the beginnings of the Jewish faith and Ancient Canaan that have recently been mixed in with my posts on Ancient Egypt.
But, I figured that the time has come now, and as I sorted though some of the (multitude of) topics that fall under this heading, I realized that this series on religion could go on for something near to eternity.
However, I am here to promise you that I will not go on and on for anything near to eternity. That said – fair warning – this is the beginning of another series!
Are you ready?
Let’s dive in.
When I started researching Ancient Egyptian Religion, I have to say that I expected to find a setup similar to the Greco-Roman mythos we learn about in Western Civ classes here in the US. As in, a pantheon that has been pretty well synchronized into a (often) non-contradictory, logically ordered, set of tales, exploits, and characters.
As it turns out, Ancient Egyptian Religion is basically the antithesis of this.
As in, their gods and goddesses literally become each other (while not erasing the other form) at various points and/or specific places of worship in Egyptian History.
Ever heard of Ra, the sun god? Well great. Okay, meet Ra, Atum-Ra, and Amun-Ra. Over here, we also have Atum and Amun.
All were considered gods at one point or another. Depending on the place or time period, Ra and Atum might have been seen as aspects of a single idea, or, in another time, Ra and Amun. Or, in another time period, they might have all been seen as completely different entities.
Further, their mythical narratives are just not set up nicely. As in, I have D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths sitting on the shelf behind me, right this second. It is chock-full of stories and characters that the Ancient Greeks would use to explain their world, history, and heroes.
We have no such thing for Egyptian mythology. I mean, there are some narrative stories that tell how the Egyptians believed the world worked (these could be either complete or, for example, an ongoing story-cycle of a deity who completes the same task over and over to keep the days running), but a lot of the gods and goddesses don’t even appear in them. Further, they contradict each other at times and even the character and personality of the deities is inconsistent from myth to myth.
Further, the function and nature of certain deities changed from region to region. This is an effect of something called a cult center, which we’ll discuss in more detail another post. Basically, the priesthood in a certain city would have a specific version of the Egyptian mythos, but the mythos may have been different in another city (another cult center).
Scholars disagree about whether the fact that we have large gaps in the mythology is a result of the myths being a mostly oral tradition that is now lost, or if this was in fact just the way it was. But no matter the reason, it makes the study of Ancient Egyptian Religion pretty hairy for us.
So, what I plan to do in this series is cover some various aspects of their religion that we have solid knowledge on. For my post next week, we’ll cover some key players in the Egyptian pantheon during the time my story is set (Middle Kingdom). I hope you’ll check it out!
(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)