THE PRIESTHOOD OF ANCIENT
priesthood of Ancient Egypt has a far-reaching and deep history, rooted within
the traditions of Ancient Egypt. Priests (and priestesses) were seen as
stand-in's for Pharaoh; it was their job to keep Egyptian society in good order,
and their mystical attributes take on a secondary role. The priesthood served as
a mechanism to order society, to create a hierarchy, to preserve the culture for
was generally chosen by either the king or attained his/her post by hereditary
means. From this there grew a priestly hierarchy.
were often rotated from position to position within the hierarchy. For example,
a priest would serve in a temple for one month, three times a year. Rotation was
often linked to stringent purity rituals.
of status, there were numerous taboos and traditions which circumscribed
priestly life. A priest could not eat fish (a food ascribed to the peasants), or
wear wool (nearly all animal products were considered unclean), were
generally circumcised (only common amongst males) and it was not uncommon for a
priest to bathe three or four times a day in sacred pools. Shaving of body hair
was common as a purification rite.
top of the hierarchy was the High Priest (the sem-priest), known as the
"First Prophet of God". Old, and wise in years, the High Priest served
as political advisor to Pharaoh and was also political leader for the temple's)
he belonged to. The High Priest was in charge of overseeing magical rites and
came many priests with specialized duties. These tasks included horology,
astrology and healing.
magicians came next. Through their use of magic, they provided a service to the
community of counseling, magical arts, healing and ceremony. Lay magicians
belonged to a large caste within the priesthood called "The House of
there is the rank of Scribe, much prized in the priesthood. Scribes were in
charge of writing magical texts, issuing royal decrees, keeping and recording
the funerary rites (specifically within the Book of the Dead) and keeping
records vital to the bureaucracy. To be a scribe was the highest honour.
status of priestesses was considered equal to that of priests. Priestesses were
mainly associated with music and dancing, although at Thebes, the chief
priestess of Amun bore the title of "god's wife".