Billeder på siden

of healing disease, devised by the gods and communicated to their representatives, the priests, were not subject to improvement by man, hence they were jealously guarded, preserved, and became traditional. Although the practice in the different parts of the Valley may have varied, influenced by the special religious beliefs of the various healing centers, the information now available does not permit of making distinctions either for place or for possible changes in the course of the widely separated periods of ancient Egyptian history. It is believed, however, that the methods of healing developed in the early centuries were as conservatively followed, without material change in principle, as were the religious beliefs and customs with which they were associated, and of which they were an integral part.

The Pyramid Texts.

The first glimpses of the early civilization of Egypt, furnished by the Pyramid Texts from her oldest monuments, indicate that, in the fourth and third millenniums B.C., she was already far advanced in her intellectual and spiritual development. At that early date Egypt had developed the peculiar beliefs and had adopted the customs and practices which influenced her whole religious career. Although characterized by a strong conservatism for previous concepts, political and tribal rivalries, as well as moral and philosophical developments, played active parts in Egypt's long history, resulting in an unfolding and a fashioning of conceptions of divinity and its powers; and many changes occurred in the religions of the several districts, or nomes, often politically detached, into which the long valley of the Nile was divided. Gods and cults were blended by peaceful combinations or were fused by conquest, with a compounding of names, a disguising of

3 Breasted, A History of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 30 ff.

myths, and a mass of surprising inconsistencies that have bewildered all late observers.*

Egyptian reticence.

The priests were extremely reticent respecting their religion, and such explanations as they made in response to inquiries were in enigmatical terms, hints of halftruths, mystical suggestions, and intimations of symbolism which confused their hearers and served further to obscure the meaning of their religious rites, rather than reveal their sentiments. The Egyptians believed that "words are a great mystery." The 'Divine Books' and the books of the 'double house of life' were sacred, and none but the initiated were permitted to see them; "it is not to be looked at" (Papyrus Leyden, 348, recto 2, 7) by any except him for whom it was intended. "The eye of no man whatsoever must see it; it is a thing of abomination for [every man] to know it. Hide it therefore; the Book of the Lady of the Hidden Temple is its name."" The Egyptians, however, illustrated and liberally portrayed the practical application of their religious beliefs and customs on their monuments; but they were silent concerning their philosophy and theology, while it is doubted whether they ever attempted to formulate theories or to establish principles.

Character of the early religion.

The religion of the Egyptians appears to have had its origin in animism, out of which its polytheistic pantheon is assumed to have developed. From prehistoric times it had grown out of their crude beliefs and, without control or guidance, had evolved the innumerable traditional

* Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, p. 369.

Budge, Egyptian Magic, p. 116; also Baillet, Idées morales dans l'Égypte antique, pp. 72-75.

[blocks in formation]

myths of the many independent deities of the Nile valley. It presented itself to a late observer [Herodotos] as "a religion of innumerable external observances and mechanical usages carried out with such elaborate and insistent punctiliousness that the Egyptians gained the reputation of being the most religious of all peoples." The earliest glimpses of the life of the people, the evidences of the Pyramid Age, show that they were pious and devout (Herodotos, ii, 64), tenacious and sincere in their beliefs, and with a high moral discernment for truth, righteousness, and justice. These sentiments influenced their daily lives, and by such standards they were judged after death. Moral purity and justice in this life gained for them a life after death, in many respects like unto that upon earth.


Egyptian deities.

The recognized religion of the Egyptians was based upon polytheism. Although some Egyptologists find suggestions that a belief which may practically be characterized as monotheistic was ancient when the pyramids were built, more particularly in the cult of Osiris and as early as 3300 B.C., it never gained definite recognition or influence, not even in the ephemeral religious revolution of Aten.10 In their primitive days, the Egyptians had conceived the forces of nature and other influences affecting their lives as living, breathing, thinking beings, revealed and manifested in various forms, as fetishes in wood or stone, or as abiding in animals, birds, and reptiles, so that earth, air, and sky teemed with spirits of all sorts carrying on the works of nature and aiding or obstructing mankind. The Egyptian deities were developed from among

7 Breasted, op. cit., p. 367.

8 Ib., pp. 165 ff.


A. H. Gardiner, "Egypt, Ancient Religion," in EB ix, 52.

Budge, Gods, i, 119, 147; also Breasted, op. cit., p. 6.

these spirits. Mythical tales were conceived concerning them, and they acquired personal traits, qualities, functions, powers, and attributes. Gods for all functions were evolved according to the expanding intellectual, spiritual, and imaginary needs of the people and their leaders; and these divinities had natures like unto those of man, although, with greater powers of concentrating their energies, they were superior to humanity. They had need of food and drink; they had passions and emotions of grief and joy; they were subject to disease and death; they grew old and had the infirmities of age, became enfeebled, tottered, druled, and were helpless; and finally, like man, they went forth to the tomb and were there subjected to the same moral inquisition." Their bodies were mummified and preserved in appropriate tombs; but the spirit of the divinity was transferred to the mummy, or to an image of the god, and dwelt therein, the god or goddess receiving the same homage and worship as before.

Deities incarnate in animals.

Apparently as an outgrowth of prehistoric animistic beliefs,12 the spirits of the divinities were incarnate in the forms of certain animals, birds, and reptiles. As representatives of their respective deities, such sacred animals received homage and developed cultic worship (Herodotos, ii, 65, 66).13 Very early certain other gods and goddesses were conceived as having human bodies with the head of the animal or bird that was identified with them; and the name became a distinctive part of the title of the divinity, as the ibis-headed Thoth (or Thout), the hawk-headed Horus, and the lion-headed Sekhmet." A

11 Maspero, The History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylon and Assyria, i, 151, 162, 225 ff.; also Müller, op. cit., p. 80.

12 Müller, op. cit., p. 159.

13 Budge, op. cit., ii, 345 ff. 14 Gardiner, op. cit., p. 50.

few deities, particularly Osiris and Ptaḥ, were represented with human heads and faces; and it has been suggested that this may be attributable to a possible Semitic origin, or as being examples of the deification of ancient rulers.15 Emblems, often suggestive of their functions, were acquired; and these, together with the animal forms, served to identify the gods in pictorial representations in the tombs and on the monuments. Such characterizations were constant from very ancient times and became distinctive of the divinity, except that in subsequent syncretisms, deities borrowed the heads and emblems of other gods as indicative of additional functions and aspects which they had assumed, although the worship of Osiris, Neith, and Ḥat-hôr, as known in late periods, retained many of the characteristic aspects shown by pre-Dynastic and archaic monuments.

Local deities.

Each political district (or nome), city, and tribe throughout the Nile valley had its own local divinity who bestowed life, health, and prosperity upon his or her people, who was its patron, protector, and ruler, whose divine, sovereign power was recognized, and whose supremacy was upheld against all rivals.1 The real names of the gods were known only to the priests, if at all; they were too sacred to be mentioned, whence the deities received substitute names, some being best known by their home seats, as 'He of Edfu' (Tbôt) or 'She of Dendera' (Enet)." Such deities might be either male or female; and there was usually a consort, possibly a neighboring god or goddess, and a child, making a triad or family of divinities. At the seats of the greater deities, the number asso

15 K. Sethe, "Heroes and Hero-Gods (Egyptian)," in ERE vi, 648. 18 Budge, op. cit., i, 95 f.

17 G. Foucart, "Names (Egyptian)," in ERE ix, 153.

« ForrigeFortsæt »