Many of the objects in Glencairn's Egyptian Gallery are organized around religious themes like Egyptian Gods, Egyptian Mythology, and Mummy Magic. In addition, miniaturized dioramas illustrate Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife. One diorama, The Embalmer's Art: Mummy, Myth, Magic, shows a large embalmer's workshop at the end of the New Kingdom. As time went on more and more people were mummified, and the process must have become like an assembly line. But mummification involved more than just embalming; it was primarily a religious ritual that re-enacted the myth of Osiris, a legendary king who was murdered and dismembered by his evil brother Seth. Osiris was later re-assembled, wrapped with bandages, and magically revived to become the ruler of the dead. Similarly, each Egyptian man and woman hoped to become an "Osiris" in the next life through the process of mummification.
The core of Glencairn's Egyptian collection was formed in 1878 when Bishop William Henry Benade (1816-1905), Chancellor of the Academy of the New Church, was traveling abroad. Benade purchased about 1,300 (mostly small) artifacts from an Italian Egyptologist named Rodolfo V. Lanzone, who worked for the Egyptian Museum in Turin. At this time Benade wrote to a friend, "these things will make the beginning of a Museum for the Academy." Benade was interested in the objects because of their religious significance; the collection was comprised mainly of bronze statuettes of gods and goddesses and a wide variety of magical amulets.
Most of Glencairn's larger objects were purchased in the 1920s and 30s by Raymond Pitcairn. These pieces include both reliefs and sculpture in the round. Some exceptional objects include an Old Kingdom "spirit" door from the tomb of a priest of King Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid; a colossal head of a Ptolemaic Period priest named Horemheb, who may have been an Egyptian saint; and an extremely well-preserved granite libation bowl of the New Kingdom. The libation bowl was used for pouring out liquid offerings to the gods in a religious ritual. It features a beautifully sculpted figure of a woman kneeling over a small offering table carved into the bowl's rim. The Egyptians believed that by presenting such offerings they were not only increasing the presence of gods with men, but also keeping their dangerous side at a distance.
Click here to download a PDF article about the history of Glencairn Museum's Egyptian collection. Written by Ed Gyllenhaal, curator of Glencairn Museum, this article traces the origin and development of the ancient Egyptian collection at Glencairn, and sets it within the context of early New Church (Swedenborgian) interest in ancient religions. It was originally published in Millions of Jubilees: Studies in Honor of David P. Silverman, Zahi Hawass and Jennifer Houser Wegner (eds.). Supreme Council of Antiquities (Cairo, 2010), 175-203.