Per Bastemhet

Domestic Religious Practices

with 3 comments

Nehet dropped a link at the Kemetic SIG for an article written about domestic religious practices in Kemet.  While I read it, I’d like to make some notes for myself as a summary so that I don’t have to read all 33 pages next time if I’m trying to look for something.  I’m only including the things I think are relevant to personal practice today.  There is a lot of useful information about the past that might not be as applicable, but still interesting if one decides to read the whole article. 

There are a few things I knew already, such as that they had calendars of lucky and unlucky days, and also had many amulets and images of protective deities, the most popular being that of Hwt-Hrw, Bes, and Taweret, along with ancestors that were familial and also that of deceased royalty.  This makes me think that besides family, one might also include in one’s ancestors people of your culture that made important changes for which you would like to honor them, for example Martin Luther King Jr., or Cesar Chavez.

There were also some texts implies a domestic environment in which invocations and libations occurred.  Dream interpretation was another common practice, and we have a Dream Book dated to the Nineteenth Dynasty belonging to Kenherkhepeshef and his descendents which may be based on earlier writings from a Middle Kingdom text.  There have been found offering formulae and dedicatory texts inscribed on items such as votive stelae, and door and niche frames.

As far as domestic altars go, some chose to build fix installations such as a raised altar or wall niche.  These areas could have served as focal points for rituals or repositories for protective images.   At Deir el-Medina and el-Amarna, a common configuration for altars is the form of stepped pedestals.  Besides modeled representations of deities such as Bes and other female figures, there were also painted representations.  There were also wall recesses with panels painted in yellow and red that were similar to the false doors* where one would communicate with the ancestors.  However a majority of the houses did not have an inbuilt altar, so that would mean they would have been portable.  All tools such as free standing tables, basins, stands, trays, and etc. were found in the houses.

Figurines, especially of domestic netjeru, were in abundance in all periods.  They may have been used as cult images, in healing rituals, as talismans to enhance abilities and attributes, and also for protection.

Of note in ritual practices in domestic settings:

[Ritual practices] drew upon the same set of ritual actions used in temple and mortuary contexts:
presenting offerings of food, incense, liquids, and small objects; conducting rites of purification by means of fumigation and libation; erecting protective images; manipulating metaphysical forces through verbal and physical means; and perhaps sharing ritual meals.

Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Kemetics themselves read from the same liturgy material that priests would read from, since the vast majority (think in the 90th percentile) of Kemetics were illiterate.  Literacy was very much a privilege.  However there were priests who, in the shift rotation of the few months that they would go back to their home towns and perhaps tend to the village shrine would probably, I conjecture, have used that opportunity to give some kind of religious instruction.  To read more about the priests and their jobs, I recommend Sauneron’s “The Priests of Ancient Egypt.”  The article goes on further to say that ritual practice would probably have been irregular compared to the daily service of the priests in that they would do ritual when they were in immediate need.  However since there were statues in the home it is possible, too, that they might have given them daily offering as was done in the temple.  Pattern of ritual and the place of religion in daily life has to be studied more.

At this point the article mentions some acts done to protect the house in the last five days of the year.  From the bottom of page 14 on is a survey of different archaeological sites and what objects they contained that had to do with domestic religious practice.


*More info on false doors can be found here: The Ancient Egyptian False Door: A Tool For Today’s Magician.


Written by Bastemhet

September 12, 2010 at 9:56 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this. I will probably (when I have my glasses again and reading for an extended period of time doesn’t give me eye strain any longer) read the article myself. I find the lack of information about daily devotionals of the population a little irritating, so anything should be helpful.

    If you’re interested in the magical practices, you might want to try Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch. It’s a little dry, but highly intriguing. I’m riveted.


    September 19, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    • You’re welcome! I have the Pinch book and plan on reading it soon. I opted for Robert K. Ritner’s “The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice” first, which you can also find for free here:


      September 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm

      • I really enjoyed Geraldine Pinch’s book. I’ve been an Egypt nerd since I was a kid and I always ended up with the dry-and-tasteless books that put you to sleep. Her book is fascinating and I think you can just about tell that she loves her job. Definite bonus points when you need to learn a subject!


        September 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm

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