The Egyptians put their faith in what at first glance appears to be a baffling number of devine beings.Although not all had temples, there were the gods of the physical word including the earth and sky ;gods and who embodied abstract elements such as wisdom and love; and gods of specific locations. Thoughout history every town and village in Egypt had a local diety. If the town produced a line of pharaohs, prominence of that local god rose.And so it was in Thebes : the beginning with the New Kingdom arround 1550BC,the local god Amun united with the sun god Ra to reign as the king of the gods, just as the princes of Thebes now reigned as kings of Egypt.The cult statue of Amun-Ra resided in the main temple of state , the magnificent temple of Karnak , the largest temple ever built .Yet like everyone , he enjoyed getting out now and again to visit other temples and shrines that filled ancient Thebes.
For the majority of the population the most direct encounter with this great god of state occurred when his cult statue came out of it sanctuary on the occasion of major festivals. The most important of these was the ?beautiful feast of Opet?, when the statues of Amun , his wife Mut and their son Khonsu were escorted in a great joyous procession down the avenue of sphinxes,2miles [3.2km] long to the temple of Luxor to relive their honey-moon.
It was an event eagerly anticipated .A riot of activity erupted when they appeared at the door of the temple in their ceremonial travelling barques hoisted on the shoulders of priests .Soldiers and citizens chanted hymns of praise, others kneeled in adoration and kissed the grounds .Musicians , Nubian dancers and acrobats performed for the gods, priests clapped their hands and women shook rattles. Along the route specially built chapels filled with offerings provided rest stops the god and priests, while vendors lined the way supplying food to the masses .
Such occasions also provided the opportunity to ask the god for his judgement, for an oracle. As the procession drew near, a petitioner would dash in front of the barque and beg a consultation .If the god agreed , the procession halted to hear a yes or no question posed to the god: ?Will an unpopular foreman be removed from the job? Will a loved one return from a journey safely? Should I buy a cow? Are these things true? A step forward meant yes, a step back no.
If the reply was unsatisfactory , it was possible to consult another oracle or even ask the same god again on another occasion .A papyrus in the British Museum records the remarkable case of Petjau-em-di-amun who was picked out by the oracle as a thief responsible for stealing five tunics .Denying the allegation , he took his own case to another oracle which confirmed the verdict. After appealing unsuccessfully two more times, he finally, after a certain amount of physical inducement , confessed his guilt.
Following an additional one hundred lashes of the cane, he also promised not to retract his confession .Interestingly , it is still remains whether the garments were ever recovered .
It is unlikely that common folk could approach Amun-Ra during such an important time as the Opet festival .There were numerous lesser shrine whose deities could be consulted .Nevertheless , new evidence indicates that the great gods of Thebes came out more often than previously thought .In fact it now emerges that Amun-Ra left his house every ten days ; his destination was a little temple across the river , whose small size belies its impotance .
Kemp,B.J., Ancient Egypt:Anatomy of a Civilization London 1989.
Quirke,Stephen, Ancient Egyptian Religion London 1882.