Ancient Egyptian Religion
Religion was central to ancient Egyptian culture. Many concepts and beliefs about divine influences in the world intersect with modern categories of not just religion, but also medicine and magic. Throughout much of ancient history Egyptian religion was polytheistic, meaning it recognized many gods and goddesses, as well as a variety of other divine beings. Not all of them were equal in significance. Some rose to the status of state deities and received national attention during certain periods of history, while others received devotion mostly in local or regional areas, or only in very specific stages or circumstances of life. The major god of state during the Old Kingdom was the sun-god, Re (also Ra), though it also witnessed growing popularity of the underworld god of the dead, Osiris. It was during the Old Kingdom that kings started added “Son of Re” as one of their royal titles. They were thought to be divine also. The histories surrounding one god or goddess might vary somewhat from one region to the next or from one time period to another. Ancient Egyptians pictured envisioned gods and goddess as a variety of forms. The most common variants of a single deity were a human form, an animal form, and a form that combined human and animal components – most often a human body with an animal head. However, divine forms could include many combinations of human and animal parts. Major deities formed family groups, usually trios of two parents plus a child. While names of Egyptian gods and goddesses appear in hieroglyphic text during the Old Kingdom, visual depictions of them – such as statues and carved images – were not common outside of royal or temple settings. But it is clear that many fundamental aspects of Egyptian religion were in place and continued to developed through the Old Kingdom. Since a lot of Giza tombs date to the Old Kingdom, these tombs and the goods in them tend not to depict deities. In later times, deities were shown in more areas and on more objects. For example, amulets placed with burials were intended to protect deceased Egyptians and assist in them in reaching the eternal afterlife that they believed awaited them. Another example is a special kind of figurine that came into use much later. Called ushabtis (also shabtis or shawabtys), they show a deceased individual in the form of the god Osiris: mummified, with arms crossed over the chest. The ancient Egyptians believed that they might be called on to do work in the afterlife, just as in life. These figurines, they believed, could magically take their place and do the hard labor for them (in Egyptian, "ushabti" means "one who answers" the call to work).