Ancient Egypt - Religion and Belief Systems
information from Mr. Donn's website on Egypt -
The ancient Egyptians worshiped a whole bunch of gods, over 2000 of them. Their gods were very unique.
In the ancient world around the Mediterranean, most civilizations had gods that looked like people, at least sort of like people. This was not true in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptian gods had animal heads or green bodies or something that set them apart from people.
In the ancient world around the Mediterranean, most civilizations were afraid of angering their gods. This was not true in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians were not afraid of their gods, or at least, not of most of them. People prayed in the temples for what they wanted. But if they did not get it, they might give the temple statue a little whack with a reed, to let the gods know how disappointed they were. The ancient Egyptians were practical. They knew they could not get everything they wanted. They totally believed that the gods were on their side.
In the ancient world around the Mediterranean, most civilizations built many temples to honor their gods. But each temple honored only one god. This was not true in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians worshiped over 2000 gods. There were many cities built along the Nile River. These cities built many temples. But temples were used to honor one or more gods, usually many gods. The statues in a temple were called temple gods. You could pray to the temple gods. The temple god would get the word to the god you wanted to reach.
Egyptian gods gallery
More gods and goddesses
Meet the Egyptian gods
What is a creation story?
A creation story is a story about how that civilization was created, how it started. In ancient Egypt, there are several creation stories.
Creation Story #1: One ancient Egyptian creation story features the lotus flower, the flower that is used a great deal in ancient Egypt art and design. The ancient Egyptians believed that the entire universe was called Nun. Nun was made of nothing but water – a vast ocean. Out of Nun, there emerged a lotus flower together with a single mound of dry land. What do you think the dry land was called? If you guessed Egypt, you're right! Out of the lotus flower bloomed the sun god Atum.
Creation Story #2: In another ancient Egyptian creation story, the god is not called Atum; he is called Ra. Each night, the lotus blossom closed, tucking Ra in for a safe and warm night’s sleep. In the morning, the lotus flower opened so that Ra could come out and play.
Creation Story #3: One of the most popular creation stories in ancient Egypt was the Legend of Isis and Osiris.
The Legend of Isis and Osiris
Once upon a time, when the earth was new and everything was just beginning, the earth was covered with water. An egg floated on the water, just one egg. When that egg hatched, Ra was born. Ra did not want to spend his time floating around, doing nothing, so he flew into the sky and became the sun.
Ra dried up much of the water and made the land. Ra was lonely, so he made a wife. He named her Nut. Ra made many gods and goddesses to keep him company. He put them all to work. His children were very busy running the world. Still, they took time out to have children, because children were glorious things to have! Soon, there were many gods and goddesses. Ra was the father or the grandfather or the great-grandfather of them all!
All children are glorious, but to Ra, one child was especially important. That child was his grandson, Osiris. Osiris had a brother named Set. Ra thought Set was okay, I suppose, but his favorite by far was Osiris. To show Osiris how much he was loved, Ra made Osiris the first Pharaoh of Egypt. Osiris married Isis, his one true love, and the king (Osiris) and queen (Isis) settled down quite happily with their son (prince) Horus.
Set was terribly jealous. Why should Osiris be named Pharaoh and not him? In a fit of anger, Set killed his brother Osiris, and chopped him into little pieces. He threw the pieces into the Nile River. Set was sure he would get away this murder. But you know how rumors spread. Isis soon heard what Set had done.
Isis managed to gather the pieces of her beloved Osiris. She brought these pieces to her good friend Anubis, the jackal-headed god. Anubis was very clever. He managed to put the pieces of Osiris together again. But he did not have the power to bring him back to life, so that Osiris could retake his place beside his beloved Isis, and rule Egypt as king.
When the great Ra heard about it, he was furious. He gave Osiris a new job, an even better job. He made Osiris the god of the dead, which was the most important job of all. Osiris could rule over the land of the dead, and be dead himself. In fact, he would have to be dead to enter the land of the dead. So things worked out very well, or so Ra believed.
When the young prince Horus heard what his uncle Set had done, although he was still only a boy, he tracked down his uncle Set and murdered him.
Isis was grateful to her friend Anubis, and to her son Horus, and to her grandfather Ra. But nothing anyone could do would bring Osiris back to her. He would dwell forever in the land of the dead, and she would live forever in the land of the living. Isis knew that she would never see her beloved husband again.
In honor of the god Osiris, the kings (pharaohs) of Egypt carry a crook and a flail, the signs of Osiris. The crook especially became the sign of rulers. The crook looked a great deal like a snake and was made out of wood. They used wood because wood was scarce. That made it even more special.
From then on, and even today, once each year Isis travels to the riverbank. Remembering, and dreaming, tears fall from her eyes. That is why the Nile River rises each year, to bring life to everyone and everything along the Nile. When Isis cries, the Nile will rise! And that is a very important thing.