by Emily Teeter & Douglas J. Brewer
Because the role of religion in Euro-American culture differs so greatly from that in ancient Egypt, it is difficult to fully appreciate its significance in everyday Egyptian life. In Egypt, religion and life were so interwoven that it would have been impossible to be agnostic. Astronomy, medicine, geography, agriculture, art, and civil law--virtually every aspect of Egyptian culture and civilization--were manifestations of religious beliefs.
Most aspects of Egyptian religion can be traced to the people's observation of the environment. Fundamental was the love of sunlight, the solar cycle and the comfort brought by the regular rhythms of nature, and the agricultural cycle surrounding the rise and fall of the Nile. Egyptian theology attempted, above all else, to explain these cosmic phenomena, incomprehensible to humans, by means of a series of understandable metaphors based upon natural cycles and understandable experiences. Hence, the movement of the sun across the sky was represented by images of the sun in his celestial boat crossing the vault of heaven or of the sun flying over the sky in the form of a scarab beetle. Similarly, the concept of death was transformed from the cessation of life into a mirror image of life wherein the deceased had the same material requirements and desires.
Origins and nature of the gods
It is almost impossible to enumerate the gods of the Egyptians, for individual deities could temporarily merge with each other to form syncretistic gods (Amun-Re, Re-Harakhty, Ptah-Sokar, etc.) who combined elements of the individual gods. A single god might also splinter into a multiplicity of forms (Amun-em-Opet, Amun-Ka-Mutef, Amun of Ipet-swt), each of whom had an independent cult and role. Unlike the gods of the Graeco-Roman world, most Egyptian gods had no definite attributes. For example, Amun, one of the most prominent deities of the New Kingdom and Late Period, is vaguely referred to in secondary literature as the "state god" because his powers were so widespread and encompassing as to be indefinable.
To a great extent, gods were patterned after humans--they were born, some died (and were reborn), and they fought amongst themselves. Yet as much as the gods' behavior resembled human behavior, they were immortal and always superior to humans.