Bes

besThe most common lucky charm to be worn in Ancient Egypt was an image of the god Bes. This ugly, diminutive deity did not belong to the higher echelons of the great gods, but was immensely popular amongst the people. Probably African in origin, Bes may represent a pygmy wearing a lion mask and a plumed head-dress; he is also unusual in that he is shown full-faced rather than in profile, as was the convention in Egyptian art.

Known for his kindliness, Bes progressed from his role as protector of sheep and shepherds to presiding over revelry, dancing and inebriation (many of the Bes charms show the merry little god with a musical instrument). Marriages were also linked with the pygmy deity and he was associated with aiding women in childbirth; Bes is shown on the walls of the temple of hatshepsut in Western Thebes in the scene depicting the birth of the great Queen.

As Bes was the guardian of children, he became the mortal enemy of serpents, scorpions or any creature that could do his charges harm.

Source: Chronicles of Ancient Egypt by Jonathan Dee

Photo taken by Hajor, December 2002 Released under cc-by-sa and/or GFDL.

The Opet Festival

On first impression, Ancient Egyptian society may appear morbid, centring on mummification and the afterlife, but nothing could be further from the truth. The inhabitants of the Two Lands viewed the celebration of life as complementary to the ritual of death. The Opet, or Heavenly, Festival in particular, was a spectacular excuse to loosen the bonds of propriety.

The festival occurred in the second month of the season of Akhet, or July by our reckoning, and lasted from two to four weeks. It coincided with the helical rising of the exceptionally bright star Sirius, or Sothis as the Egyptians knew it, identified with the goddess Isis. This, in turn, marked the annual flooding of the Nile which was vital for agriculture and survival. It was also believed to represent the fathering of the Pharaoh by the mighty Amun-Ra himself.

From the Great Temple of Karnak the processional boat of the god Amun would be brought out bearing his image. Likewise a boat was carried from the nearby temple of Mut the Mother. When the two met on the avenue of the ram-headed sphinxes it signalled rejoicing, drunkenness and wild abandon as temple offerings were redistributed amongthe people.

At the climax of the festival the King entered the dark and shrouded inner sanctum of Amun where mysterious rites enabled him to take on aspects of eternity before returning to his people as a living god.

Source: Chronicles of Ancient Egypt by Jonathan Dee

Maat

maatThe concept of Maat was central to Ancient Egyptian thought. Often simply translated as justice, Maat actually expresses the proper order of the universe, right thinking, correct action and the regulation of time and space. It has hints of social propriety, the pyramidical nature of interaction between people, the respect that is due to a father, the duties one should show to a son. It encompassed the majesty of the Pharaoh and the loyalty that is owed to him by a subject, as well as his duty to protect and nurture his people. There is no doubt that pharaohs believed that they ruled under the auspices of Maat.

Maat was personified as a goddess from earliest times. A daughter of Ra, Maat came into existence as the cosmos was born. She can be thought of as a female equivalent to wise Thoth; like him, a regulator of the seasons who keeps the stars in their proper courses. She is usually portrayed wearing an ostrich feather on her head, or simply as the feather itself. It is in this form that she is central to the judgement of the dead. It is she who is set in the balance against the heart of the deceased to measure whether he was “justified” in life or not. The place of judgement in the underworld, where Osiris sits, is known as the Hall of Maat.

Though there are few temples to Maat she was widely honoured, so much so that the chief minister of the Pharaoh was given the title High Priest of Maat.

Source: Chronicles of Ancient Egypt by Jonathan Dee

Priest, Politician and God

crook&flailThe word pharaoh comes from the Egyptian per-aa, which meant great house of palace. It later came to mean the man who lived in the palace, the ruler. Pictures and statues show pharaohs with special badges of royalty, such as crowns, headcloths, false beards, screptres and a crook and flail held in each hand (see left).

The pharaoh was the most important person in Egypt. As a god-ruler, he was the link between the people and their gods. He therefore had to be protected and cared for. The pharaoh led a busy life. He was the high priest, the chief law-maker, the commander of the army and in charge of the country’s wealth. He had to be a clever politician too. The ancient Egyptians believed that on his death, the pharaoh became a god in his own right.

Pharaohs were generally men, but queens sometimes ruled Egypt if the pharaoh was too young. A pharaoh could take several wives. Within royal families it was common for fathers to marry daughters and for brothers to marry sisters. Sometimes pharaohs married foreign princesses in order to make an alliance with another country.