Worship and Sacred Rites


“the Egyptian priests … were considered by the Egyptians as philosophers, … they chose Temples as the places in which they might philosophize. For to dwell with the statues of the Gods is a thing allied to the whole desire, by which the soul tends to the contemplation of their Divinities. And from the divine veneration indeed, which was paid to them through dwelling in Temples, they obtained security, all men honoring these philosophers, as if they were certain sacred animals. They also led a solitary life, as they only mingled with other men in solemn sacrifices and festivals. But at other times the priests were almost inaccessible to any one who wished to converse with them. For it was requisite that he who approached to them should be first purified, and abstain from many things; and this is as it were a common sacred law respecting the Egyptian priests. But these [philosophic priests], having relinquished every other employment, and human labors, gave up the whole of their life to the contemplation and worship of divine natures and to divine inspiration; through the latter, indeed, procuring for themselves, honor, security, and piety; and through contemplation, science; and through both, a certain occult and esoteric exercise of manners, worthy of antiquity.

For to be always conversant with divine knowledge and inspiration, removes those who are so from all avarice, suppresses the passions, and excites to an intellectual life. But they were studious of frugality in their diet and apparel, and also of continence and endurance, and in all things were attentive to justice and equity. They likewise were rendered venerable, through rarely mingling with other men. For during the time of what are called purifications, they scarcely mingled with their nearest kindred, and those of their own order, nor were they to be seen by anyone, unless it was requisite for the necessary purposes of purification. For the sanctuary was inaccessible to those who were not purified, and they dwelt in holy places for the purpose of performing divine works; but at all other times they associated more freely with those who lived like themselves. They did not, however, associate with any one who was not a religious character.

But they were always seen near to the Gods, or the statues of the Gods, the latter of which they were beheld either carrying, or preceding in a sacred procession, or disposing in an orderly manner, with modesty and gravity; each of which operations was not the effect of pride, but an indication of some physical reason. Their venerable gravity also was apparent from their manners. For their walking was orderly, and their aspect sedate; and they were so studious of preserving this gravity of countenance, that they did not even wink, when at any time they were unwilling to do so; and they seldom laughed, and when they did, their laughter proceeded no farther than to a smile. But they always kept their hands within their garments. Each likewise bore about him a symbol indicative of the order which he was allotted in sacred concerns; for there were many orders of priests … .[Porphyrios of Tyros, On Abstinence, IV]


Priestess of Hathor as a standard-bearer of Hathor
XIII century BCE; now in the Museum of Fine Arts of Budapest…


Iunmutef-Priest (representing Horus the Child) with the traditional sidelock of youth; from the “House of Eternity” of King Horemheb in the necropolis of Memphis


Iunmutef-Priest (representing Horus the Child) with the traditional panther/leopard skin and with the sidelock of youth, offering incense to the Gods; from the Temple of Horus at Behdet


priestess and chantress of Hathor wearing a floral wreath and holding an Hathoric-sistrum;
now in the cairo museum…


seated statue of the Chantress of Hathor, Nehy; in her left hand she holds the Sistrum; ca. 1250-1230 bc, now in the Walter Arts Museum…


Ankhefkhonsu, ‘wab-Priest of Amon-Ra King of the Gods’ and ‘Scribe of Amon-Ra’, and his wife Djemut, ‘Chantress of Amon-Ra King of the Gods’ and ‘wet nurse of Khonsu the Child’, seated before an offering table;
below, Ankhefkhonsu and Djemut are represented kneeling one facing the other, and flanked by two Ankh-signs (the symbol of Life). Detail from the interior of the coffin of Djemut, XXI-XXII Dynasty (X-VIII century bc), from Uaset-Thebes; now in the vatican museum…


Priest in a leopard skin cloak with an image of Osiris on his skirt;  dated to the XXV Dynasty (the Dynasty of the Kings of Napata), ca. 712–664 bc
Over the leopard skin is inscribed his name:
“God’s Father, God’s Beloved, . . .Haty. . . .”
Now in the Metropolitan Museum…


statue of a Priestess of Isis; Graeco-Roman Period


Ritual in honor of Isis Priests and priestesses jointly perform a bloodless rite: the priests carry a bucket (situa) and sprinkler (aspergillum); the priestess carry distinctive jugs with long spouts(From Stabiae, mid-1st century CE Naples, National Archaeological Museum.)

“All Aigyptians sacrifice unblemished bulls and bull-calves; they may not sacrifice cows: these are sacred to Isis. For the images of Isis are in woman’s form, horned like a cow, exactly as the Greeks picture Io, and cows are held by far the most sacred of all beasts of the herd by all Aigyptians alike.” – Herodotus, Histories 2.41.1

the Sacred Lake of the Sanctuary of the Goddess Nekhbet at Nekheb/Eileithyiaspolis.

“Normally termed ‘Shi-Netjer’ (‘Divine Lake”), but also given specific names, the purpose of the Sacred Lake is both ritual and symbolic. Ritually, the Sacred Lake provides a reservoir for the water used in the rituals of purifications and in the offerings to the Gods, and it is here that the priests bath at dawn before entering the Temples to begin their ritual service in honor of the Gods. Symbolically, the Sacred Lake plays an important role in representing various aspects of the Egyptian Cosmogonic Myths of origin. Because creation have occurred when the Sun God Ra emerged from the Primeval Waters of Nun, the Sacred Lake represents in a tangible manner the same underlying forces of life and creation; and in this way creation is symbolically renewed each morning as the Sun God Ra rises above the sacred waters.”
(from Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Temples Of Ancient Egypt, p. 72)

The “House of the Morning” (“Per-Duat”) of the Temple of Horus at Behdet,
First Hypostyle Hall

In the Per-Duat the King or the Priest of the King (called “Uab-aa”, “the Great Pure One”, or also “Hem-Netjer”, “the Servant of the God”, and representing the King Himself) is purified before performing the celebrations of the sacred rituals inside the Temple.

limestone votive basin dedicated to Hathor; dated to the Dynasty of King Thutmosis III, about 1400 bc, now in the Egyptian Museum of Torino


wooden arm-shaped Incense Burner used for the ritual ceremonies in honor of the Gods, now in the Louvre Museum….


Bronze arched sistrum with Hathor head decoration. From Egypt Late Period, after 600 BC.

“The sistrum continued to be used in Egypt well after the rule of the pharaohs. By the time of the Greek author Plutarch, around the first or second century AD, the arch of the sistrum had come to symbolise the lunar cycle and the sistrum’s bars, the elements. The Hathor heads were interpreted as Isis and Nephthys, who represented life and death respectively.”
R.D. Anderson, Catalogue of Egyptian Antiqu-2 (London, The British Museum Press, 1976)


pair of ivory clappers made in the form of a pair of hands, both decorated with the head of the Goddess Hathor.  From Diospolis Megale/Thebes, dated to the XVIII Dynasty, around 1300 bc, now in the British Museum… “The clappers are joined at the end opposite the hands, and were used as a musical instrument. Clappers were often played together with sistra, harps and pipes. The noise of clapping, banging and rattling was also thought to drive away hostile forces. Stamping, and dancing were used in the same way to banish dangerous spirits.” (Text from the British Museum label)


Gold snake bracelets, signs of the Cult and symbols of Devotion to the Goddess Isis, from Alexandria, I-II century CE


white limestone statue depicting Penshenabu, officer in the “Seat of Righteousness and Truth (the Valley of the Kings)”, offering an altar to Amon-Ra; dated to the New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII-XX (1550-1070 bc), now in the Museum of Torino, Italy. Penshenabu is represented sitting on his heels, and holding before him an altar surmounted by a large head of a ram, symbol of the God Amon-Ra.
There are six inscriptions:
1- “Amon-Ra Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, Who lives in Ipet-Sut (the highly sacred Precinct of Amon-Ra at Uaset, Diospolis Megale-Thebes).”
2- “An offering which the King gives to Amon-Ra, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, Who lives in Ipet-Sut, the Excellent God Who rests in Maat, . . . . of the nobles and of the people of Egypt.”
3- “The Servant in the Seat of Truth, Penshenabu Whose words is right and true.”
4- “Amon-Ra . . . . ”
5- “An offering which the King gives to Amon-Ra, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, Who resides in Ipet-sut, may He give Life, Strength and Health . . . . to the Ka (the spirit) of the Servant of the Lord of the Two Lands, Penshenabu”
6- “An offering which the King gives to Amon-Ra Who shines in the West, the Excellent God Who rests in Maat, may He give a lifetime of goodness and beauty, to follow his Ka, to the Ka of the Servant in the Seat of Truth, Penshenabu.
On Penshenabu’s shoulders are depicted Amon-Ra (on the right), and the Deified Queen Ahmes-Nefertari (on the left).


view of Busiris/Per-Osiris (“the House of Osiris”) from the “Delight of Ra”, the Solar Temple Complex of Ra built by King NiuserRa (ca. 2420 bc):  in front, the huge Altar of Ra in the Solar Temple; the center element of the Altar has a diameter of 1.8 meters (6 feet), and in front of it (east) there was the Obelisk; in the background, Per-Osiris (west) and the three Pyramids of the Great and Glorious Kings SahuRa, Niuserra, and NeferirkaRa (Ancient Kingdom, V Dynasty, ca.2494-2345 bc )



Model of a Votive Temple Gateway at Heliopolis:  “This reconstruction was worked up from the early Nineteenth Dynasty base of a model Temple gateway in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum (acc. no. 49.183; dated to the 1290-1279 BC) decorated with representations of King Sethi I making offerings. The bottom of this model has been cast from the original and painted brown to match its quartzite stone. The statues, flagstaffs, pylon, and sidewalls, all of which were lost from the original, have been reconstructed to fit the depressions in the base. The result simulates the basic elements of a Temple of the New Kingdom: although this model was found in the Nile Delta, the inscriptions along its base suggest that King Sethi I donated it to a Temple of Ra at Heliopolis.  The model was once replete with a pylon (or gateway), flagpoles, statues of King Sethi I in the guise of Osiris, and four sphinxes flanking the entrance staircase. The reliefs around the base show the King nearly prostrate, making offerings to three forms of the Sun-God: Kheper-Ra (the rising Sun), Ra-Horakhty (the Sun at its zenith at noon), and Atum (the setting Sun). The purpose of the model is unclear. Although it is generally regarded as a foundation deposit or offering given by the King at the groundbreaking for the Temple it represents, it may have served a magical purpose”. 


model of the Temple of Isis at Pompei, Italy



Roman fresco from the temple of Isis in Pompeii.


birds, fishes, and water fowl in the Clapnet,  detail of the scene concerning the rituals of the “Net Hunting” from the south west half of the Great Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amon-Ra at Ipet-Sut


the “ritual journey to Abydos”, scene from the “House of Eternity” of Menna, West Uaset (Thebes, TT69), “Scribe of the fields of the Lord of the Two Lands” during the reign of Thutmosis IV and the beginning of the reign of Amenhotep III.
On the papyrus boat are represented Menna (holding a flail) and His wife Henuttawi (holding a lotus flower), “Chantress of Amon”, enthroned inside a canopy decorated with floral garlands; in front of them there is a table of offerings. At right is represented a man holding a white rod, and at left the helmsman holding the rudder (decorated with the Two Eyes and falcon heads)



“It is a most sacred duty, in the eyes of the Egyptians, that they should be seen to honour their parents or ancestors all the more after they have passed to their eternal home.
And a person may well admire the lawgiver who established these customs, because they strove to inculcate in the inhabitants, as far as was possible, virtuousness and excellence of character, by means not only of their converse with the living but also of their burial and affectionate care of the dead.
Among the Egyptians, since these matters do not belong only to the realm of myth but men see with their own eyes that punishment is meted out to the wicked and honour to the good, every day of their lives both the wicked and the good are reminded of their obligations and in this way the greatest and most profitable amendment of men’s characters is effected. And the best laws must be held to be, not those by which men become most prosperous, but those by which they become most virtuous in character and best fitted for citizenship.”
(quotes from Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, I 93)


Horus and Thoth purifying Tayesmutengebtiu with the sacred water of Life and Strength; right and left, the Two Eyes.
Detail from the coffin of Tayesmutengebtiu, “Lady of the House” and “Chantress of Amon”; early XXII Dynasty, ca. 900 BCE; now in the British Museum…


 Sem-priest (representing the eldest son in the funerary rituals) making offerings to the ‘Chantress of Amon-Ra King of the Gods’ and ‘wet nurse of Khonsu the Child’ Djemut (to the right), and to Her husband the ‘Wab-Priest of Amon-Ra King of the Gods’ and ‘Scribe of Amon-Ra’ Ankhefkhonsu (to the left); below Djemut is represented a mourning and lamenting woman. On the top, the two winged Uraei with the shen-rings of eternal protection, spreading Their wings.
Detail from the interior of the coffin of Djemut, XXI-XXII Dynasty (X-VIII century BCE), from Uaset-Thebes; now in the vatican museum…


lid of a painted wooden coffin in form of a woman wearing tunic and mantle,
from Khemmis/Panopolis; late I century BCE/early I century CE, now in the British Museum…



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