How did the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks worship their Gods?

Nov 2016
13
Celestial Palace
As far as Egypt was concerned I know the priests performed rituals in the temples to keep Maat and the commoners would do something outside the temple walls, and the commoners just had a small shrine inside their houses; but how did they pray and worship? This isn't just for the Egyptians btw, I'd like to know about how any peasant of the Ancient Mediterranean world worshiped and prayed to their gods. Did they join their hands and ask for stuff? Would they sing praises a certain amount of times each day? Did they offer food to the idols in their small shrine? Also, how exactly were these shrines built?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Ancient Egyptians tent to show their palms to the deity [the statue of] or to the Pharaoh. Generally they did it raising the arms, but not to much [the palms were at the level of the head]. During the period of Amarna, the gesture was slightly different: they showed the palms to the sun ... so towards the sky [the palms were horizontal, while in front of a statue the palms were vertical]
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
This is what I mean:


About their liturgy, their rituals and their religious habits I will be back this night.
 
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Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
3,047
Crows nest
As far as Egypt was concerned I know the priests performed rituals in the temples to keep Maat and the commoners would do something outside the temple walls, and the commoners just had a small shrine inside their houses; but how did they pray and worship? This isn't just for the Egyptians btw, I'd like to know about how any peasant of the Ancient Mediterranean world worshiped and prayed to their gods. Did they join their hands and ask for stuff? Would they sing praises a certain amount of times each day? Did they offer food to the idols in their small shrine? Also, how exactly were these shrines built?
The Egyptian rituals were so complex that they make the most elaborate Catholic and Orthodox rituals look plain in comparison. Daily life in a temple was a continuous service to the god with overlapping "shift changes". Every single action undertaken in the temple was a ritual that required purification. Every person who entered the temple was a priest of some description, for example a workman coming to repair a door bolt would need to be purified and he would have the title of Pure-Priest. The door bolt itself is a sacred object with the eye being the eye of Horus and the bolt being the finger of Seth. So the simple act of repairing a door bolt becomes for the Egyptians a ritual act, an act of worship. In a Catholic or Orthodox church, on entering, the believer may cross themselves or genuflect. The Egyptians had no congregation, no worship in quite the way we are familiar with, and to get to the point of a priest coming face to face with the statue of the god in the holy of holies would have required multiple rituals of opening doors, incense rituals and music and singing. And to show the level of detail they engaged in, even though everybody had been purified and were wearing clean white robes, and the floor of the temple had been purified by priest-cleaners who had themselves been purified, as the chief priest made their way deeper into the temple, even their footprints would be purified, even though everything and everybody was so clean that I doubt any footprints would be seen.

I think I have set the scene as to what happens, in general terms and leaving large gaps, the washing of the god's statue and dressing it, and the ritual meal, before what we would see as an act of worship even takes place. At this point I will leave the "purified" floor to Luke as he has offered to return to this subject later today, and there much more to this.
 
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AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
As first contribution I would add a brief paragraph about the priests who served in the temples.

The context was well different from what we can imagine.

The First Servant of the God [let's keep in mind this definition] was the chief of the clergy of a temple. His role wasn't to pray, he literally served the God, that is to say he executed rituals and he took care of the divine presence [also collecting and presenting offers to the image of the deity].

The term "hem-netjer" is erroneously translated "High Priest" [making a not contextualized translation], actually it meant "servant of the God" [well known in KmT was the first hem-netjer of Amun who reached a power not so different from the one of a king].

Under the hem-netjer there were inferior "servants" [priests] divided into two categories: the ones who executed the rituals and the ones expert of scriptures.

An aspect of the hem-netjer to be underlined is that, administrating real richness, they were real administrators and keepers of records [temples had a remarkable surplus to manage, generated by the offers and the activities run on their soils and in their compounds]. About this, they were similar to the medieval Catholic clergy [which administrated real estates, economical activities …].

Regarding what they said during the rituals, we’ve got a few texts from the Old Kingdom [overall the pyramid texts, but they are obviously focused on the figure of the Pharaoh, more than on common people, but we can keep them as good indication].

The “kher heb” [lector priest] had the role to read the sacred text
during the rituals. The magical myths surrounding the hieroglyphs and the sacred scriptures gave to the kher heb a remarkable social status. The main ritual they performed [in front of the statue of the God] was to recite the scriptures exactly as they were, word by word. But he never recited on memory: an error would have been an offence to the deity! He read from a written text.

About purification, we know that the priests shaved their body and used natron to clean it. They were not allowed to wear leather or wood [only line, substantially].
 
Nov 2016
13
Celestial Palace
Thanks for all the answers so far guys, but I was more interested in how a commoner would personally worship their gods. Also, let's not limit ourselves to Egypt alone. I'm also interested in Greece and Mesopotamia
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
3,047
Crows nest
As, in Egypt at least, the ordinary people could not read or write, then they had no scripts to guide worship. I would suggest that day to day worship for them was the same as it was for a Greek or a Roman, in that they had a household shrine with an image of a god which they would keep clean and give offerings to it. What form of words they used we cannot really know, and I would think it was at the level of superstitious "Oh Bes please let me not die in childbirth", or "Oh Sobek please let me not be eaten by a crocodile today". It would not be so different to what many people still do all around the world. As they had no church as we know it, there was no formal worship as we recognize it. Formal worship was the preserve of the priests and the king, and the closest the ordinary people came to a great religious service would be the festivals, such as the Opet festival, where the images of the gods were carried in procession from their temples, something that still happens today in some parts of Christianity of course. But for the people this, while being a profound religious experience for them to see the god, was also a holiday and an excuse for a lot of drinking. They had a lot of gods and a lot of festivals....
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The Egyptian popular religion has left well less traces than the "state religion" [as it's obvious].

A second problem is that what we know about that popular religion comes from texts produced by the wealthy part of the population [the one who followed the state religion], so that we cannot be totally sure about its accuracy.

There were three traditional ceremonies connected with three very important moments of the life: the birth, to give a name, the death. Then there were traditions about interpretation of the dreams, interrogation of oracles and attempts to control the deities using magic [but this, usually, required to pay someone who knew how to do]. Before of New Kingdom personal prayers weren’t so common, then they became a real daily activity. An other common activity was to bring offers to the temples of the preferred Gods.
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
3,047
Crows nest
A second problem is that what we know about that popular religion comes from texts produced by the wealthy part of the population [the one who followed the state religion], so that we cannot be totally sure about its accuracy.
A good example of this is the Deir el-Medina settlement. So often on documentaries, and even in books, this site is put forward as representing "ordinary" Egyptians, yet as we know, it was a "gated" community of the highest level artisans, who were literate and articulate. It is rather like an archaeologist three thousand years from now finding the remains of a modern gated community of professional architects, engineers and artists, and proclaiming them to represent all ordinary people, while ignoring the remains of humble suburban or inner city dwellings of shop or factory workers. Certainly the residents of Deir el-Medina were ordinary humans, and so very like us today, but a long way from being representative of the real ordinary Egyptians.
 
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specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
3,411
Australia
Ancient Egyptians tent to show their palms to the deity [the statue of] or to the Pharaoh. Generally they did it raising the arms, but not to much [the palms were at the level of the head]. During the period of Amarna, the gesture was slightly different: they showed the palms to the sun ... so towards the sky [the palms were horizontal, while in front of a statue the palms were vertical]
What do you think about this idea as the origin of the pose ;

The palms are more sensitive to warmth when they are cold (say, in winter ) so at dawn people (and supposedly baboons * ) would face the sun and hold their palms out to it, so the Sun shines on them, the underarms and sides of body. Then one can actually feel the Sun's power entering your body.

* I used to have a pic of a group of baboons doing this on a rock outcrop at dawn , cant find it now.

The 'Amarna pose' ? < shrug > .... everything was 'weird then' ( maybe , at Noon in Amarna they were trying to shield themselves from the sun with 'umbrella hands ' :D - no , no need to say what you think about that one ) .

there is this though



https://imgur.com/gallery/RYui7