The Egyptian Temple in Space and Time
The Egyptian temple functioned in both spatial and temporal dimensions. Spatially, the temple stood at a crucial point or fulcrum between different worlds or spheres – between heaven and earth, human and divine, chaos and order. For the Egyptians most of these concepts were spatially related, just as the desert signified chaos and the fertile land of Egypt harmony and order. The temple’s location, design, decoration and functions all mediated between these polarities and established harmony, security and balance where would have been none of these things in its absence. Temporally, the sanctuaries and shrines of the gods and kings also acted as a fulcrum which balanced the present and the past, the uncertain future and the ordered security and maat of original creation […]
I have chosen this quote because I’m currently re-reading The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt and I can’t seem to get enough of this book. The chapter Temple Symbolism – from which this quote is taken – is my particular favourite. I think temples and their symbolism is a subject often not given enough attention by many modern practitioners – which to a very high degree it makes sense. We are mostly individual practitioners with individual practices, often very different individual practices, worshipping different Gods or just trying to uphold maat on a day-to-day basis. The modern world is incredibly different from the ancient world and the logistics alone of coming together and building a temple with all its proper alignment, functions and roles would be close to impossible. **
However, this doesn’t mean that we should completely disregard temples – even in an individual practice. There’s much that can be learned from and adapted to suit that.
The quote continues:
Yet the Egyptian temple was not viewed as a perpetual motion machine – a perpetuum mobile – which would guarantee security and harmony forever. Just as Egyptian theology accepted the notion that gods themselves could – and would – eventually die, and that the world would finally revert to the chaos from which it originally arose, so the temple was viewed theologically as a machine which was not immune from breakage and which, through ritual and mythology, symbol and festival, must be carefully guarded as it was operated, and strengthened as it was used.
Quote is from The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt by R.H Wilkinson, pg. 76
** Please understand I’m not talking about the modern temples which have been built in modern days – the endeavours of those involved in building and maintaining them are worthy of respect, admiration and even gratefulness. Even individual shrines and altars are temples, in the way that they are most definitely sacred spaces. Here I’m strictly referring to the ancient notion of ‘temple’ and everything it entailed.