Servants to the GodsBeliefs
What: A Group of Servants: Men were called Hemnetjer or Priests with a Hemnetjer Tepi in control. Women were called Hemet-netjer with a Hemetnetjer Tepi in control
When: Established in the Early Dynastic Period but developed in the Old Kingdom
Why: To ensure each Deity was supported physically as well as spiritually
Ma’at: The harmony and balance that controlled the values in the World which was controlled by the intrinsic force of magic: Heka
Heka: When the population followed the Pharaoh in observing the Ma’at, then this ensured that the Gods and Goddess’ could establish the Heka to maintain order in the World. To ensure each Deity was supported physically as well as spiritually, it was invested into its own Statue which was housed in the inner sanctum of that God’s or Goddess’ Temple
How did they serve?
Throughout most of Egypt, either the Hemnetjertepi or Hemetnetjertepi was the only person allowed in the Deity’s presence. In the Middle Kingdom, a Hemetnetjertepi could pose as the God Amun’s Wife and become an equal to the Hemnetjertepi of Amun in Karnak Temple, Thebes.
To differentiate between the Priestly Orders, the Servants dressed differently depending on which Deity they supported within the Temple they were assigned to. Their function was only to service the Deity, not to service the followers of the Deity.
Lower Temple staff were split into 5 Phyles which was then sub-divided into 2 divisions, which were each required to work one month in ten. Women and Men could serve a God or a Goddess, but this often-followed gender roles.
The higher hierachy of the Temple staff were usually retained on a continuing basis. What we would today refer to as full time rather than part time or seasonal workers.
Typically, the Hemnetjertepi or Hemetnetjertepi was assigned by Pharaoh and performed the most important rituals and managed the administrative business of the Temple.
Servants had to be pure in the eyes of Ma’at in order to serve the God or Goddess
Meaning that they:
- washed at least twice a day in the sacred pools that can still be seen at Temple sites
- wore only the cleanest linen or leopard skin clothing and never wool or leather as animal products were considered impure
- the Hemnetjer shaved off all of their body hair, to rid themselves of lice and to be totally pure
- some were prohibited from eating fish
An Idea of what the Daily Rituals in a Temple were like
The Servants performed secretive daily rituals in each Temples throughout Egypt
Lighting the Fire Ritual: meet before dawn in a sacred room close to the Inner Sanctum and re-enact the Dawn by lighting a fire in a brazier.
Drawing the Bolt Ritual: door to the Inner Sanctum was unlocked and the Hemnetjertepi or Hemetnetjertepi would enter to wake the Deity by anointing the Statue with sacred oil and perfume. The Deity is then dressed in ceremonial clothing and painted. Offerings of food and drinks were then served by lesser Hemnetjer
Ritual to purify Water and Incense
Ritualised offerings would be made in outer Shrines in the Temple. These were often in the form of music, dance and the recital of hymns for the Deity to listen to
Closing the Bolt Ritual: door to the Inner Sanctum was completed once the Deity had been returned and dressed for the night period
An Idea of Temple Hierarchy
Hemnetjer & Hemetjertepi – Inner Sanctum role directly with the Deity
Sem priests – Embalmed the deceased, officiated Mortuary Rituals and conducted Funeral services
Hour Priests – Astronomers who kept the diary and worked out the lucky and unlucky days for the Deity and the Pharaoh. They may be asked to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh, under which wars were started as these were seen to be undertaken at a fortuitus time for the Gods
Heryheb or Cheriheb – Scribed religious texts, instructed clergy, and recited the Heka
Scribes – Writing magical texts, issuing royal decrees, keeping and recording the funerary rites
Swnw – Physical Medicine Doctor & Sau – Magical Doctor
Cult singers Musicians & Dancers – Perform the Rituals for the Deities in the main Temple arenas
Ka-priest – Performs daily offerings at a tomb of the deceased on behalf of the family
Kitchen staff and Janitors – Prepared and delivered food and drink for the Deity and the Temple community
Lay Magicians – Community Role: counselling, magical arts and healing & Wab Priests – Essential but mundane tasks of taking care of the Temple complex
How did the general populace use the Temple?
Significant numbers took gifts to Temples to request intervention on their behalf or to thank the Deity for such an intervention already performed. Gifts were in many forms. From food and drink, amulets, monetary gifts to parcels of land. They would not be allowed to enter in too much of the Temple as this was forbidden. Although some Servants served as Judges for the local people and they may bring them in to the first courtyard in order to assess their case.
Temples would celebrate their Deity with Festivals throughout the year. This was when the local population were involved on a personal level with the Deity’s statue directly.
Unlike today’s major religions, Temples were not for use by the population and they could not enter them past the first Courtyard, and even then, they were only allowed inside to give offerings, offer sacrifices and receive aid. There were no religious services of worship and the Priests or Preistesses served the Gods. Not the Populace. The only connection was that the Priests undertook the religious ceremonies that made sure that royalty and the people were seen favourably in the eyes of the Gods.
The populace often had statues of deities within their house, but a Festival allowed them to see the real Gods and Goddesses rather than just a copy of them.
The Priesthood understood that the ritualised “seeing” of the deities by the public at these festivals reaffirmed the strength of the religious culture.
It was also the opportunity for the population to give their thanks for any boons that they had been allowed throughout the year, and to ask for any sacred favours.
Many of the larger and more well-established Festivals involved large processions where one Deity would be taken to visit the Temple of another.
For more information about Festivals, click here or on the image.
Image courtesy of Balage Balogh / Rmn Grand Palais
The larger Temples were major economic hubs and employed thousands of workers to supply food, clothing and jewellery for offerings to the Gods as well as the many priests.
Most Temples owned land which they farmed and then collected the grain. On the positive side, grain surpluses were held by the Temples which then went to feed the people during times of famine.
Looking at the negative, the land-wealth of the Temples of Amun-Ra, Ptah and some smaller Temples covered a total of 1,071,780 arouras, by the New Kingdom, which comprised to roughly 18% of all of Egypt’s arable land.
A factor of the collapse of the central government at the end of the Old Kingdom was the exemption of the Temples from paying taxes, as ordered by the Pharaoh; the subsequent loss of the income for the Royal Treasury left the country cash poor.
This continued through the Dynasties until the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten who saw that the Cult of Amun, especially at Karnak in Thebes, was so wealthy and politically powerful that they rivalled the throne of the Pharaoh.
Egyptologist have voiced that Akhenaten realised the danger of the Amun Priesthood and looked to prevent this through the establishment of monotheism in the form of the God Aten.
But attempting to overturn over 2,000 years of religious tradition and the livelihoods of many of the general populace would prove too much in too short a time, and his son, Pharaoh Tutankhamun quickly abolished his father’s religion and returned to Amun.
The priesthood flourished once more in Thebes and the manipulations of the Servants of the Deity evolved and have been scribed as crimes of bribery, usurpation of property, destruction of evidence and the support for powerful patrons over those with a lower political standing.