Rituals & Beliefs for the Egyptian Sun God

Depictions of Re connected him to the falcon god, Horus.
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Very few deities are as closely associated with ancient Egypt as the sun god, Re. There's a good reason for this: one of the major creator gods, Re's journey across the sky every day reflected the Egyptian aspiration for eternal life. With strong ties to the pharaoh and rebirth, there were many rituals connected to Re that involved everyone from pharaohs to priests to lay people.

1 Re

The ancient Egyptian sun god, called alternately Re or Ra, was believed to travel across the sky in his golden bark during the day. At night, he traveled through the underworld where he had to battle evil forces like the serpent god Apopis so he could be born again as the new day began. Re was also one of the major creator gods. At the beginning of the world, he rose out of the ocean of chaos onto the primeval hill, where he formed himself and eight other gods.

2 Pharaohs' Re Ritual

Starting from the fourth dynasty on, the Egyptian pharaohs had a special relationship with Re. They were called the "Son of Re," served as the major intermediary between the Egyptian people and the gods, and were the only people who could "see" Re. The pharaoh's major responsibility was to offer Maat, the embodiment of universal order and harmony that sprang from Re, back to Re in a ritual that reflected the cyclical nature of life and the cosmos in ancient Egypt.

3 Diurnal Ritual

Diurnal, or rehearsal of life, rituals took place in Egyptian temples on a daily basis. At sunrise, an officiating priest offered Maat back to Re on the pharaoh's behalf. The statue of Re was then removed from its shrine inside the temple so it could be purified, dressed in clothes and anointed. It was then returned to the shrine, locked inside and ritually fed. Meanwhile, throughout the day and night, priests would sing hymns to repel threats against Re and protect him on his journey.

4 Beautiful Feast of the Valley

Every year at the start of summer, the sacred statue of Re would leave its shrine in the temple at Karnak and take a tour of shrines along the west bank of the Nile in what was called the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. This was the only time the average Egyptian had the chance to "see" Re, even though the statue itself was hidden behind screens. As in the god's myth, the statue of Re traveled in a golden bark through the Nile River Valley, visiting the funeral temples of deceased pharaohs and the shrines of other gods.

Natasha Brandstatter is an art historian and writer. She has a MA in art history and you can find her academic articles published in "Western Passages," "History Colorado" and "Dutch Utopia." She is also a contributor to Book Riot and Food Riot, a media critic with the Pueblo PULP and a regular contributor to Femnista.