On priesthood, from: “The Spirit of Ancient Egypt” by Ana Ruiz

The entire civilization of ancient Egypt was based upon religion, and the laws and beliefs deriving therefrom. Potential priests underwent heavy training and discipline to become “servants of the gods.” […] In fact, most priests inherited their position from their fathers. It was the priest’s duty to be completely knowledgeable in all matters of religion and to maintain the temple in good order.
[…] Several levels existed among the priesthood. The priests themselves were known as Hem Neteru, “servants of the gods.”
It was not the duty of a priest in ancient Egypt to proselytize on behalf of the gods, nor to counsel or see to the moral welfare of the citizens. His duty was to care for the deity, as a servant of the gods. […]
The most common order within the priesthood was known as the Uab or Wab (meaning “pure”) priests. These holy men worked in the smaller temples as opposed to the major temples such as those in Karnak, Abu Simbel and Denderah. The temples contained outer courtyards where the required offerings could be left and where a small pool was available for the purification ritual that was crucial to performing the sacred duties of the Uab priest. These men were responsible for purifying and cleansing the statues, the temple’s possessions, and offerings. All that came before the deity’s image, in the form of the statue, had to be thoroughly purified with natron, water and incense.
A priest who was also well versed in the arts of magic was known as Hery Seshta, meaning “Knower of Things.”
Another level within the priesthood was the Sem priests, who were dedicated to performing mortuary rituals. […] The Sem priest was recognized by the panther or leopard skin draped over his spotless white linen robe.
Kher-Heb was the title bestowed upon the Lector Priest who read the ritual texts and sacred scrolls at religious ceremonies and at the head of the priestly processions.
The Sunu were the priests who practiced protective magic. The priesthood included musicians, teachers, sculptors, embalmers, physicians and dream interpreters. Priests of Uast, in particular, were regarded as sages and were often consulted in matters of divination. Some priests specialized in astronomy, which was used to measure time and the movements of the planets and constellations. This duty was crucial in matters such as agriculture, architecture, medicine, setting the calendar, planning festivals and calculating the Nile’s annual inundation.
Women from noble families served as priestesses (known as Hemet-Neter, meaning “Wife of God”) and evidence exists that women were part of the Egyptian priesthood as far back as the Old Kingdom. Some Egyptologists have stated that by the 23rd Dynasty, priestesses were almost equal to their male counterparts in terms of number and status. However, this is unlikely as their role seems to have been restricted during the Middle Kingdom, to that of temple dancer, singer, and musician, as these women were often illustrated in funerary reliefs.  A priestess who possessed the powers of a medium was known as Rakhet. Some priestesses were also dancers, singers and musicians, including sistrum players who performed for the gods. On special occasions, drums, cymbals, harps and flutes were played, as these musical instruments were believed to please the deities.
[…] With the exception of the High Priests, priests and priestesses were only required to serve about three months of the year. This was done on a rotating basis, and they lived inside the temple while performing their priestly duties. The remainder of the time they lived normal lives, working at their profession while raising and taking care of their families. Some servants of god were placed on a rotation schedule where they devoted a week out of every month to the temple. Even High Priests maintained families outside the temple.


Quoted from: “The Spirit of Ancient Egypt” © Ana Ruiz 2001

Leave a Comment