Egyptian religion – Gods of ancient Egypt

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Weighing the souls of the dead: Egyptian religion

Egyptian religion: Weighing the souls of the dead

Polytheism and Egyptian religion

As in the rest of Africa, the people of ancient Egypt were polytheistic throughout the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. That means that they believed in many gods. Some of these gods were Ra, Anubis, Seth, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Egyptians worshipped these gods with animal sacrifices and with incense and many processions where people carried the image of the god from one place to another. Ancient Egyptian religious rituals took many different forms.

Anubis weighed your soul when you died

People believed that all of Egypt belonged to the gods, and that the Pharaoh was the representative on earth of the gods, or maybe a kind of god himself, and so everything in Egypt sort of belonged to the Pharaoh. They thought that when you died, Anubis would weigh your soul against a feather, and if your soul was heavier than the feather (with bad deeds), you would be punished. They imagined that after you died you went to a new world, just like this one, and so they put into your grave everything you would need in the next world.

Monotheism and Akhenaten

But, as in Mesopotamia, there was also a little monotheism in Egypt. During the New Kingdom, the Pharaoh Akhenaten (ah-ken-AH-ten) started a new worship of the god Aten, and he seems to have wanted people to believe that Aten was the only real god, or maybe the only god worth worshipping. After Akhenaten died, people went back to worshipping Anubis, Isis, Amon, and Osiris again, as they had before.

Greek influences on Egyptian religion

The Persians invaded Egypt in 539 BC, but that doesn’t seem to have made any difference to Egyptian religion. The Egyptians just kept right on worshipping their own gods. But the Persians prided themselves on giving people religious freedom. When Ptolemy took over Egypt in 323 BC, that did make a difference. Under Greek rule, the Egyptians did begin to worship some Greek gods, although they kept on worshipping the old Egyptian gods as well. Also at this time, Greek people in Athens began to worship the Egyptian goddess Isis. They learned about Isis from traders sailing over from Egypt.

When the Romans conquered Egypt in 30 BC, again the Egyptians kept on worshipping their own gods while at the same time continuing to worship the Greek gods, and adding on some Roman gods as well. If someone is powerful enough to conquer you, after all, it might seem smart to worship their gods!

Christianity comes to Ancient Egypt

But little by little some people in Egypt began to convert to Christianity, and by the time of the Great Persecution in 303 AD, many Egyptian people were Christians. After the Roman Emperors became Christian and the persecution ended, most of the people of Egypt seem to have converted to Christianity. This is the time of the great conflict between Arius and Athanasius, a good deal of which took place in Alexandria, in Egypt.

The first monasteries were in Egypt

Around this time, the idea of the hermit, which probably started with Buddhism, came to Egypt. Holy men and women would leave their families, their jobs, their farms, and travel out into the desert beyond the Nile, and stay there devoting themselves entirely to Christ. When there got to be a lot of these hermits, they started banding together, and these are the first monasteries (the first monasteries had both men and women).

Islam comes to Egypt

But with the coming of Islam to Egypt in the late 600s AD, most Egyptians soon converted from Christianity to Islam. Some Jews living in Egypt remained Jewish, and some of the Christians remained Christian – these Egyptian Christians are called the Copts, today. But since 700 AD most people in Egypt have followed the Islamic faith.

Learn by doing – Drawing the Afterlife
More about Egyptian Mummies
And more about Weighing Souls
More about Osiris

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian gods:

Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, by Leonard Fisher (1999). For younger kids.

Make This Egyptian Mummy, by Iain Ashman (2002). A project for kids.

The Egypt Game (Yearling Newbery), by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (reprinted 1985). A great kids’ story about kids who pretend to be Egyptian gods and goddesses.

Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, by John Baines, David Silverman, and Leonard Lesko (1991). Pretty hard going, but it will tell you everything you need to know about Egyptian religion.

Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet, by Nicholas Reeves (2001). Reeves used to be a curator at the British Museum.

Coptic Egypt : Christians of the Nile, by Christian Cannuyer (2001). Clear, easy, with lots of pictures.

More about Egyptian Mummies
Or more about African religions
More about ancient Egypt
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By |2018-04-26T11:49:25+00:00June 18th, 2017|Africa, Egypt, Religion|24 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Egyptian religion – Gods of ancient Egypt. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 18, 2017. Web. November 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

24 Comments

  1. dan May 18, 2018 at 5:13 am - Reply

    Hi Karen hope your well

    I’ve been looking I to the possibility of the Egyptian God Nu being the biblical noah.
    There is similarities but the Egyptian dynasties predate Noah by a couple of thousand years.
    is it possible that the story of Nu was introduced into an older tradition during the middle kingdom or integrated somehow.

    • Karen Carr May 18, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Hi! Noah’s story comes from an early Sumerian story you can read here: https://quatr.us/west-asia/epic-gilgamesh-mesopotamian-writing.htm, but it is probably also related to Egyptian stories like this one: https://quatr.us/egypt/egyptian-god-ra.htm (scroll down for the story of Sekhmet).

      The name “Noah” does not come from Egyptian; it’s most likely from a Babylonian word “nukhu” meaning “rest”. Sorry I can’t support your theory! But you know hundreds of experts have considered all these possibilities already.

  2. NOoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo April 23, 2018 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Welll… eggytains were very intreseting.

  3. […] Egyptian religion – Gods of ancient Egypt […]

  4. NO April 10, 2018 at 11:40 am - Reply

    OK ok sorry im annyoing you with questions… but why did they stop worshiping the gods? did the romans invade them and they stop doing that.

    • Karen Carr April 10, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      You’re not annoying! I love answering questions, that’s why I do this! Egyptians stopped worshipping these older gods because they became Christians, and Christians were only allowed to worship one god. And yes, one reason they became Christians was that the Roman emperors gradually made laws that required everybody to be Christians. But also, Christianity was new and exciting and a lot of people were into it.

  5. No April 9, 2018 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Last question. do people still Worship that? or believe in that? or is it all forgotten

    • Karen Carr April 9, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      Well, it’s certainly not forgotten – kids still learn about Egyptian religion in school, and professors write books about it. But they don’t believe in those gods, just because they learn about them. People don’t still worship or believe in the old Egyptian gods. Most Egyptians converted to Christianity in the 300s AD, and then most of them converted to Islam in the 600s AD. But there are some neo-pagans who have started to worship Isis again.

  6. Claire Fleming March 28, 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

    I am working on a comparative studies paper for my college class, and I am really struggling on this complicated religion. My first question would be, who founded the faith? Thank you!

    • Karen Carr March 28, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      Egyptian religion’s not like Christianity or Zoroastrianism or Buddhism or Islam where one man heard God speaking and told everyone about it. Egyptian religion, like Greek or Roman or Native American religion, is more a lot of small piedces working together, each piece added by different people over thousands of years. And in any case, most of those pieces were added so long ago that it was before there was writing, so we don’t know who those people were.

  7. NO March 23, 2018 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Question. how the hell do people know “oh this picture is a god, and hes god of the sun”? Do they look at the pics and take a guess? Do they know what the symbols mean?? LIKE tf

    • Karen Carr March 23, 2018 at 11:17 pm

      That’s a great question. The answer is, it’s hard, and often we don’t know for sure. But a lot of the time we do know for sure, because 1) this example, or other examples that look just the same, have their name written next to them in hieroglyphs, or 2) we know stories about the gods from books written thousands of years later and this picture is clearly an illustration of that story. When we aren’t sure, specialists spend years comparing all the images that are kind of like this one, searching for clues. When I say “this is Isis”, I’m summing up the conclusions of experts who spent years working on it.

  8. Sean March 4, 2018 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    i found your info realy intrsesting

    • Karen Carr March 5, 2018 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks, Sean!

  9. WEIRD GUY March 4, 2018 at 1:44 am - Reply

    It’s good

    • WEIRD GUY March 4, 2018 at 1:45 am

      It’s good
      why is the avatar is that

    • Karen Carr March 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

      It’s just the default avatar for WordPress.

    • Karen Carr March 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

      Thank you!

  10. pasdf February 7, 2018 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Hi guy

    • Karen Carr February 7, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      Hi yourself! Thanks for stopping by!

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