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Ancient Egypt
Introduction > Religion in the Lives of the Ancient Egyptians

Cult of the Gods
The deities required food, drink, clothing, and rituals of purification to sustain them as the protectors of mankind against the forces of chaos. These needs were met in the course of rituals performed before a cult statue of the god that was thought to provide an abode for the deity's soul. Although no complete example of such a cult statue has been identified, the Restoration Stela of Tutankhamun describes the Amun statue as "his holy image being of electrum, lapis lazuli, turquoise and every precious stone." In theory, the king, as the highest priest of the land, approached the sanctuary where the statue stood three times each day (in actuality, the high priest of the temple, accompanied by choirs of temple singers and ranks of other priests, substituted for the king). He opened the doors of the shrine that enclosed the statue and performed purification rituals. The cult statue was washed, anointed with perfumes, and dressed in clothes and necklaces. Food and drink were laid before the image of the god for divine sustenance. After a suitable interval for the god to consume the offerings, they were removed and reverted to the temple staff.

Processions of the god were an important feature of the cult. During festivals the statue of the god was removed from his or her sanctuary and placed in a portable shrine which was, in turn, placed on a boat. These ritual craft could be quite large; indeed, the texts from Tutankhamun claim that it was carried by eleven pairs of priests. The sacred boat processions might circumambulate the temple or make a pilgrimage from one temple to another, accompanied by temple personnel and local residents who sang, danced, and acclaimed the god.

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Figure 2: King Ramesses III.  »

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