Many ancient observers have commented on the devout nature of ancient Egyptians. Hardly a day went by apparently, without a religious event of some sort. They were a thankful people always ready to express their gratitude to their gods. Ritual in the temples was a fine art with a great many people helping to make the experience deep and profound.
Today our finest minds have split the atom, travelled to the outer planets and constructed an internet system that is inspired. We were no less clever in our ancient past when great minds were working on the refinements of worship. Geniuses of ancient times worked hard to provide the props for a passionate experience of divine drama. Had there been award ceremonies in those days, the Egyptians would have won all the Oscars!
In the four months of the year when the farmland flooded, temporarily redundant labourers were employed on fabulous building projects producing pyramids, magnificent city temples and palaces. Divine architecture was a national pre-occupation and even today, crumbling and unpainted, these buildings still hold a charge. In their heyday when they were properly maintained and freshly painted they would have been electrifying.
The interiors were no less impressive. The way to an inner sanctum was through a series of sealed doorways designed to stimulate a rising climax and a feeling of exclusion and secrecy. Beautifully painted murals directed the supplicants towards a magical otherworld until they eventually arrived at an inner chamber or womb. Within this holy of holies was the sealed shrine containing the statue of the deity about to be reborn for communion. This was always accompanied by perfume.
In a country with high temperatures, perspiration and body odour was a constant factor in temple gatherings so the use of incense was essential to maintain an experience of divinity. Frankincense and myrrh were widely used and this exquisite scent would produce a feeling of holiness by association. Egypt was famous throughout the known world for producing the finest perfumes and many gorgeous varieties were available. The distillation of alcohol was not known until the fourth century BC, so scent was extracted by steeping in oil to obtain essential oil. This essence was then blended with other additives using great skill.
There is a theory about ‘anointing’ that suggests an altered state of mind where “The Anointed One” would receive enlightenment and divine experience. What were they anointed with I wonder? The skills of apothecaries were highly refined and hallucinogens and other mind altering ingredients wouldn’t have been overlooked. Opium and hashish were widely used. Is it possible that perfumes were also enhanced with these emotional intensifiers and called enchantments? Or love potions?