Nut gives birth to the sun – as she does daily – which rises in the far distance, signalling to the world a new day. I am already awake to greet the great, shining disk, having been unable to sleep the previous evening. Nerves kept me from slumber, from any messages my ancestors might have wished to relay to me in my dreams. I hope they would have only sent their well wishes and not dire warnings, as I am to perform my first ritual today.
Outside in the corridors, I hear others stirring, brushing away the fog of rest to begin their work. I take that as my signal to dress, and I retire from my room.
Before I am able to start my own work, I must first purify. Jars of water from the great life-giver await me, and I murmur a prayer to Hapy for his continued gift of the Nile. I bathe, thanking the gods for the life they bestowed upon me. Thanking them for this opportunity to serve for a time, before I must return to my normal occupation. I know that my wife, while proud of my appointment at the temple, eagerly awaits my return home.
Flanked by the other priests, we progress through the long corridor of the temple to the sanctuary, where Our Lord rests. The ceilings and floors of the rooms we pass through close in, losing the precious light of the sun as we near the holy of holies.
My hands begin to shake when the door to the sanctuary is illuminated by the torches we carry, which we then place in the designated brackets on the wall. The door to the sanctuary is barred, bolted so that no one may disturb the god beyond or bring evil upon him in his vulnerable, sleeping state.
The ritual is about to begin.
I stand still in front of the door, praying for strength and sureness. Then I get to work.
I prepare the incense first, setting a censor on the nearby brazier, lit by one of my fellow priests. The smoke quickly fills the space and stings my eyes, the scent of it potent, but I am determined, supplicant, and proud to serve. The incense cleanses me, cleanses the space, allowing us to be worthy to look upon Him.
“It is the king who sends me!” I declare to the god within the sanctuary, nestled behind the sealed door. I slowly, cautiously, approach the door. “Awake in peace!”
The bolts are gone in a moment, as I make quick work of them, one at a time. I then throw the doors open, our continuous incantations and prayers reaching a crescendo. The heart in my chest, the seat of my soul, beats ever faster.
The dim light of my candle flickers on the naos, the shrine cabinet that acts as a resting place every evening.
I surge forward, shaking fingers fumbling for a moment on the doors of the shrine, until I am finally able to open them, revealing the gilded statue within. I gasp at the sight, then prostrate myself on the ground before the shrine of almighty Amun-Re, the Lord of Heaven.
The corridor fills with more incantations, and it is a full beat before I realize my voice is amongst them. My devotion has overtaken me, warmth has flooded my bones, down to the marrow, the love of the King of Kings. My body takes over as my mind gives over to the Divine.
At the closing of the prayer, I press my lips to the cool, rugged surface of the stone floor, then scramble to my feet.
The others bustle into the room, spreading salt on the ground, making it acceptable and pure to place the statue of Amun-Re on the floor. I marvel at the metallic sculpture, lined in gold, decked out in lapis lazuli and other precious metals, truly a masterpiece meant for a god.
We remove the statue from the naos and work to place it upon the salt, intone more prayers, make offerings of incense and water, then I begin preparing the god for his day.
More fresh water is brought inside the room, and I meticulously bathe the statue. This is the closest I have ever been to the Divine, the closest I will ever be. The statue, Amun-Re’s physical body or ka, is inhabited by his divine essence, the ba. The ba was upon the statue even now, having come down from the heavens, as I begin to remove his day-old linen garments, his jewelry, and washed away the slippery unguents. Soon, I finish his purification bath.
The statue gleams. I feel immense pride at my work so far, as the glory of Amun-Re shines like a beacon. My assistants hand me the first of three sets of fresh linens, this one blood red, representing Isis, the great mother. The next set is white, representing the uraeus, the upright cobra, poised to strike, and the symbol of the Divine sovereignty of our land. Lastly, the green linens symbolize the fertility of the Nile, and our dependence upon the living, giving water. All of these linens are wrapped around the statue, dressing the god magnificently.
Only a few more steps and the first of the three daily rites will be completed.
I gladly accept a pot of black kohl, eye make-up, to be carefully applied to the god’s eyes, along with a green tint. My hand trembles and I am forced to take a steadying breath before pushing forward. Amun-Re’s eyes are soon enhanced, his body re-adorned with bracelets and other jewelry. My assistants place his Amun headdress atop his head, tall, golden feathers symbolizing his supremacy above the other gods.
As I place the final piece of his regalia around his shoulders, his great garment, the morning meal is brought in and placed before the god for his nourishment. The smell makes my stomach rumble, but I must wait for my turn to break my fast. It is important the god eat first.
I step back, surveying my work, and I allow myself to smile.
The Lord of Lords is ready for the day, ready for his adoring children of Egypt to pay homage.
I let out a small sigh of relief.
May Amun-Re bless me for the rest of my days.
Written by Jenn Gosselin
Teeter, Emily. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.