Ancient Egyptian Priests

The role of the priest in Ancient Egypt was very important for the Egyptian society.  The Egyptians believed that most of the gods lived inside the temples.

The priests, unlike the regular citizens, were allowed to approach the gods inside the temple, where the regular citizens were only allowed to pray outside of the gates, in the court or at their homes.

The priests were allowed to enter the temple and to pray and reach out to the gods.  The priests were allowed to do this because they were considered to be sacred.

The priests had the main role of taking care of the gods.  In our society, the priest goes to the people to teach them and to tell them about how they should act, but in the Ancient Egyptian society, the people were not taught how to act and they were not taught about the gods because they automatically believed the roles of the gods as being real and they did not have to be taught this.

The people knew that in order to reach the afterlife that they must act good and they did this without being taught by the priests.

Even though there were times that the priests were put into the job as priest, oftentimes, the Pharaoh was the one who chose the priest and chose who got to be in the priesthood.

Sometimes, the priests were born into the job because their father or their father’s father were priests before.

The Pharaoh had the choice to move or raise the priest and sometimes the priests were moved to different temples or were sometimes given even higher power.

There were also priests that worked only part time and these priests were called “lay” priests.  These priests had regular jobs as well as a job as a priest and sometimes this was popular in small communities.

There were most of the time four of these lay priests and they took turns and were rotated working one month in the temple and three months at their regular jobs.

The priests were required to do and act certain ways in order to serve the gods.  They had to be pure so that they could come before the gods with a pure heart.

They were made to wash their bodies at least twice a day, shave their bodies and their heads and wear clean linen that was only made from leopard skins.

There were many daily rituals that the priests performed and one of these were that they had to offer materials and do ritual magic services to the god to make sure that the god would continue to go throughout the community to take care of the people and to make sure that it was peaceful.

The priests were called servants of these gods because they brought harmony by taking care of these gods.

The priests would enter the temple and they would perform different rituals.  In the morning time, the priests would go in the temple and break the seal and light a torch so that he could walk the gods.

He would then anoint the statue that the god lived in and would use oil or perfume to anoint the statue so that the gods would remain happy.

The priest would say prayers, light incense and wash the statues.  They would also offer different offerings to the gods such as bread, fruit, clothing, jewels and sing hymns.

In the evening, the priest would be required to walk backward out of the temple, and by doing things differently, the priest knew that he would upset the gods, so he followed these rituals each time he entered the temple.  He would then wipe away his footprint and seal the temple until the next day.

Having a job as the priest was considered very high and important and many rich people would try to get this job.

The priest was important because if he did not take care of the gods then the gods would not take care of the people or meet their needs.  The priest was paid well because his job was so important.

Facts about the Ancient Egyptian priests:

  • The most common title for a priest was “Hem netjer,” this meant “servant of god.”
  • A priest that was appointed to the temple was called a “career priest.”
  • The priest read sacred texts while in the temple.  This ritual was called “Kher heb.”
  • If the priest did not say the sacred text perfectly, it would offend the gods.
  • Priests lived a normal life, marrying and having children.
  • When the priests went to enter the temple, they washed in a cistern that was at the temple.  The water was known to rinse off the dirt but also to transfer energy to the priest.
  • The priest was not appointed to please the people but to pay the gods respect and give the gods gifts for what they had done for the land.
  • When the statue of the gods was cleaned, it was sometimes dressed with linen in red, white, blue and green colors.

Q and A

  • Q: The Egyptians believed that most gods lived where?
    A: The Egyptians believed that most gods lived inside the temple.
  • Q: What was the main role of the priest?
    A: The main role of the priest was to take care of the gods.
  • Q: Were regular citizens allowed to pray inside the temple?
    A: Only the priests were allowed to pray inside the temple.  Regular citizens were allowed to pray outside the gates or in the court or in their homes.
  • Q: Why did the priests have to wash, shave, wear certain clothing in order to enter the temple?
    A: The priests had to be pure in order to enter the temple and not to upset the gods.
  • Q: Would the priest do different rituals in the morning and evening?
    A: The priests would follow certain rituals, the morning times were generally the times to clean and perfume the statues, change them and to make sure that they prayed and worshiped the gods.  In the evening, the priest would close up the temple and prepare it for the next day where he would do the ritual again.