Religion has always been a strange but brightening subject of surprises and discussion, especially when comparing and contrast two different faiths. The path down that road is a rough one ahead with many twists and turns. From rituals to the concept of souls, Christianity and Ancient Egyptian Mythology can seem quite different, but these two faiths are actually rather close.
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Wep Ronpet to New Year’s Day, it can all seem as though it is being repeated. The cultures may be extremely different, but the faith is not. Prayer is a large part of any religion. In Christianity, prayer can either be private or as a community, depending on preference and can be done by yourself or by a priest. Many religious is a good mix of private and community prayer, instead of one or the other. Many formal things must be done by a priest including most Baptisms, Communion, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Christians have a similar ritual to the cleansing bath of the Ancient Egyptians but it is usually a once in a life time thing that can be for any person, not just a member of clergy.
Baptism, which can be done at any age, is a ritual that many Christians consider important for a relationship with God to be healthy. A priest can either use the immersion tradition, which submerges the person under water fully, or they can pour holy water on top of the person’s head. Baptism is seen as a way to get right with God, even though this contradicts the New Testament which says work is not needed to gain salvation. The symbolism of baptism is quite clear. When a person gets immersed in the water, they are showing the picture of Christ dying but when they immerge, it is said that they are rising with Him. It is shown as a picture of rebirth that marks an outward sign of an inward change. As much of a tradition it is, many believe baptism is overemphasized and not needed for salvation. Communion, or the Eucharist, is considered one of the most sacred rituals in Christianity. It is seen as a remembrance and celebration to Jesus Christ. The ritual itself is simple but rather important to most Christians throughout the world. The bread and wine are thought of as the body and blood of Christ. The presence of Christ is made spiritually real in and through them, because they are unchanged elements that are used as symbols in communion. In Christianity, sin is prevalent theme in the faith that can be offset somewhat by Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession.
Confession is a ritual that helps people cope with sin and also gain guidance and advice in their time of need. Christian scholars say that human nature is weakened by the Original Sin. This inclination to evil is the consequence of this weakness. For Egyptian Mythology, not many records show as to how the commoners worshipped, but there are many good guesses as to what they did and their involvement in their religion. Temples were not open for commoners, because of their impurity, but the priests would hold small rituals outside for the general public. Some communities even had local temples made of mud bricks with a chosen priest or priestess to serve the deity. Temples also had offering boxes so people could offer gifts in return for protection and favors. Priests and priestesses in Ancient Egypt had daily rites that had to be done and what they had to do depended on their gender and their hierarchical status. Regardless of gender or status, all priests and priestesses had set taboos and traditions dictating what they could or could not do. These taboos did not allow the eating of fish, as it was seen as a peasant’s food, or the wearing of wool, as all animal products were unclean. All priests and priestesses had to have all body hair shaved off, mainly for cleanliness (Pinch 2002). Bathing in a sacred, or blessed, lake was an essential tri-daily ritual for priests of many beliefs, especially for the Ancient Egyptians.
Only priests were able to gain access to the lake, or oasis, so the water would stay pure for them to bath before prayer or meditation. It was meant to cleanse any impurity from the priest to get them ready to present offerings to the Gods. Ancient Egyptian priests held an ascetic life that was controlled to what foods they could eat, sexual contact, clothing, and even bathing (David 2002). As alike Christianity and Ancient Egyptian Mythology are in rituals and worships, their holidays are almost completely different from each other. For example, Christians celebrate Easter Sunday as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, three days after his death on the cross. The actual crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday, the Friday just before Easter. Jesus paid the penalty for sin, which granted everyone who believed in him eternal life. Easter marks the end of Lent, a 40-day fasting period that prepares one for Easter. Easter was actually of pagan origins so it is now thought of as the Resurrection Day among many Christian churches. Christmas is thought of as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ by the Virgin Mary, on December the 25th. Modern people celebrate Christmas with traditional symbols like the Christmas tree and Santa Claus. Though, like Easter, Christmas owes its origin to pagan celebration but was appropriated by Christians as a way to win more souls.
Christmas trees are an example of that, as it is sometimes explained as a pagan ritual during the Winter Solstice which used evergreen boughs in pagan tree worship. Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, is the popular image of Christmas now that symbolizes the giving of gifts among family and friends (Hinnells 1997). Wep Ronpet, or Upet Ronpet, means Opening of the Year in the Ancient Egyptian language. It is the equivalent of New Year’s Day and was celebrated as a national religious holiday in Egypt in that time. The flooding of the Nile and the Dog Star, Sirius, rising about the horizon before dawn marked the New Year for the Ancient Egyptians. Wep Ronpet is regarded as Ra’s birthday, the main Sun God. The flooding of the Nile was often thought to be caused by the tears of Isis who wept for Osiris, her murdered husband. Another tradition involved the Vengeance of Sakhmet. The Vengeance of Sakhmet is known by the Book of the Divine Cow, a sacred text hidden in the tombs of pharaohs. According to legend, Ra, when ruling on Earth, found that some human plotted against him so he sent Sakhmet to punish the humans. She slaughtered the rebels, but continued he killing and threatened to wipe out humanity. The other Gods filled a hole with red colored beer so she would mistake it as blood. Once she drank it, she went unconscious and humankind was saved.
To commemorate the myth, Egyptians would drink red beer during Wep Ronpet. The Festival of Sokar is an ancient celebration that rivaled even that of Opet. The celebration took place in the fourth month of the Egyptian civil calendar and lasted for six days during the interval of days 25 through 30. The festival grew to be even longer because of its importance dealing with the God of the Underworld, Osiris and his link to the archaic powers of Memphis, which was the ancient capital of Egypt that united both Lower and Upper Egypt. With all of the history we have on Ancient Egypt, it is known that Sokar predated the unification of Egypt and Egyptian history itself. The festival of Sokar was a somber celebration and was associated with Osiris, who was dead by the central day of the festival (David 2002). Most religions teach that there is some form of life after death. In Christianity, the soul is a part of a person that goes to heaven or hell after death. In that belief, the soul is a piece of a human that is immortal and conscious. Most scholars believe that the immortality of a soul was brought up by Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle because of their theories of the soul. Socrates explained that the immortal soul is rewarded for good deed or punished for evil deeds, which pre-dates any Christian ideologies.
The Ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. The Ib, or heart, was one of the most important parts of a soul because it was believed to be the seat of emotion, thought, will, and intention. The Ib was the key to the Afterlife, because it was weighed with a feather of Ma’at to decide the person’s fate. The Sheut, or Shadow, was always present from the belief that a person could not exist without a shadow. The Ren, or Name, was the part of soul given to the person at birth and they believed that it would live as long as that name was spoken, which is why cartouches of royals were made. The Ba was everything that made an individual unique, like a person’s personality. The Ka was the part of the soul that held the vital essence that tells the differences of a living and dead person. The Ancient Egyptians believed the Ka was the part of the human that need sustenance. Mummification was developed to preserve the body so that the Ka and Ba could come back to a body and rejuvenate energy to go back into the Afterlife (Pinch 2002). Even though these religions seem very different, there are still a large number of similarities that can be found. From holidays to rituals, the surprising truth is that they are more similar than different. The culture differences between the Christians and Egyptians are what make the difference between the holidays, rituals, or concept of the soul, not their religion.
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