Sunday, February 12, 2012

Understanding Egyptian Religious Philosophy

written by Eleanor L. Harris
From the earliest times, magic was developed largely by the Egyptans in relation both to the dead and the living. The belief in magic is older in Egypt than the belief in God. Egyptian religion was grounded in a firm and active belief in the importance of magic. Ancient Egyptians believed in, and aspired to use, the power of magical amulets, spells, scrips, names, and intricate ceremonies.

Religious Philosophy
The Egyptians did not maintain a universal system of religious belief. Dogma did not exist. There were no holy texts defining strict religious doctrines requiring conformity. In polytheism, there was tolerance. The ancient Egyptians were peaceful, kind, and very aware of family values. Their religious dealings re­flected this in that there were no persecutions in the name of religion.
Egyptians revered and respected all of natural ex­istence. They did not attempt to persuade or force non­Egyptians to worship their deities, nor did they de­grade the beliefs of others. In fact, the Egyptians were open-minded and receptive to other cultures' belief systems.
Ancient Egyptian religion is puzzling to a degree; it resembles Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in that it pro­pounded a belief in a central god, the Creator, but it was also polytheistic. Whether polytheism grew from monotheism in Egypt, or monotheism from polytheism, will remain a mystery. The evidence of the pyramid texts shows that, already in the 5th Dynasty, monotheism and polytheism flour­ished side by side.
While the ancient Egyptians had a pantheon of gods and goddesses, they believed in one central god who was the Creator, invisible and eternal. This one god cre­ated all in existence. This god was divine, but had lived upon the Earth and had suffered a cruel death at the hands of his enemies. He had risen from the dead and had become the God and Pharaoh of the world beyond the grave. This god was Ausar.
The following outline of beliefs taken from native re­ligious works, some calculated to be between six and seven thousand years old, describes the basic composi­tion of Egyptian religious philosophy:
· A central god, the Creator;
· A company of gods and goddesses possessing humanlike emotion and human-animal characteristics;
· Divine truth, order, and judgment;
· Divine battle between Order and Chaos;
· Resurrection;
· Immortality.
From primitive times and well into more civilized peri­ods, Egyptian religious beliefs remained much the same. The Egyptians were immaculate record keepers and very conservative in maintaining early traditions. New in­sights gained with the passage of time were merely added to the main body of beliefs.
Order and Chaos at War
The Egyptians believed the forces of primal chaos posed a continuous threat to the world. The creation of the world had occurred in conjunction with the creation of social or­der and kingship, and the harmony of the universe could be preserved by practicing the principal of maat; divine truth, justice, and order. The principal of maat was the ba­sis of the Egyptian religion, and was symbolized by the goddess Maat. She reigned over the equilibrium of the uni­verse, the divine order of all things, and the regular cycles of the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the seasons, and time itself.
Although it was clear these chaotic forces had been tamed, only the deities could protect and defeat the eter­nally present threat of chaos.
The Nine Bodies: A Religious Theory
Egyptians believed that humans and other living crea­tures consisted of nine "bodies." These nine bodies de­fine why the Egyptians believed that it was possible to invoke a creature's life force into a statue, and thereby gain the creature's power. They believed in ghosts and apoparitions, which were made possible by the existence of the "ka"body, and the "khu"body. Through different bodies, the Egyptians communicated with the dead, projected out-of-body, assumed other creatures'power, and enjoyed other abilities that youcan share today.
Most lists of the parts of the Egyptian concept of the Soul include the following: The Khat: the Sahu: the Khaibit: the Ab: the Ren: the Ka: the Ba: the Khu: and the Sekhem.

Here is a short overview of the bodies:
The ht, jrw, Khat, Sha and Shat:
In the Ancient Egyptian tradition the individual is seen as being composed of several different bodies or energies, each of which interact to some extent with the others. The first of these to be considered is the physical body itself. In life this was frequently referred to as the ht or the jrw meaning "form" or "appearance." This emphasizes the body as the physical form in which someone appears effective in life. After death, however, the body was referred to as the Khat, also known as the Sha or Shat, meaning that which is corruptible. Each of these terms, both for the living body and corpse, imply at once the body is both a receptacle for higher energies, yet is subject to the forces of impending aging and decay (Naydler 1996.188-189).
The Ka:
The Ka is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to describe for there is no clear modern translation for this word. Essentially it appears to mean "double" as well as "vital force" and is a clear reference to a part of the individual that transcends the death of the physical body. Egyptologist Richard Wilkinson explains that "in all periods it is used as a term for the creative and sustaining power of life" (Wilkinson 1992.49). The Ka also came to be seen as a symbol of intellectual and spiritual power (Lurker 1980.73). As such, the essential meaning behind this concept is one of vitality and energy inherit in all living things. The hieroglyph for the Ka is two arms raised almost as if mirroring each other. This glyph, used as an amulet, was worn to preserve the life force of the wearer (Lurker 1980.73). Interestingly, after the physical body, it is the Ka that is closest to the physical world and is the essence of the self that absorbs the energy of the offerings left during ritual and at the tombs.
In mythology it is the ram-headed Neter Khnum who fashions the Ka of each individual. One text from Luxor shows the prince Amenhetep III on a potter's wheel with his Ka as Khnum creates these, while the Goddess Hwt-Hrw looks on bestowing life in the form of an Ankh on the young prince (Lurker 1980.74). John Anthony West states that the "Ka is the power that fixes and makes individual the animating spirit" (West 1985.64). In this context we can see that the Ka becomes the bridge between the spiritual self and the physical realm.
In examining the texts it quickly becomes clear that the Neteru themselves were felt to possess a Ka. Egyptologist Dimitri Meeks explains that the vital force that the ancients ascribed to the Ka acts in such a way as to give each Neter the ability to take creative form infinitely (Meeks 1996.71). Because of this ability, it was this essence, the energy of the Neter's Ka, which was felt to temporally inhabit statues and other magical images during ritual. Further this concept helps to explain how a Neter may express itself, making its presence felt in any number of places at the same time.
The Ba:
From the Ka we move on to the closely related doctrine of the Ba. Most Egyptologists refer to the Ba as being similar in meaning to the modern concept of the soul. However, this is an understatement. In fact, it is best understood as meaning "spiritual manifestation." In the earlier Egyptian texts the term Ba was used to signify the esoteric or hidden essence of the Neteru (Lurker 1980.31). In this respect it isn't uncommon to find one Neter as representing the spiritual manifestation of another. We see this in such examples as Ausir being perceived as a Ba of Ra, the Benu bird as a Ba of Ra, and the Apis Bull as the Ba of Ptah (Lurker 1980.31, Wilkinson 1992.99). In such cases these representations give us a clue into the deeper nature of the Neteru being discussed in the texts.
In relation to the human experience Richard Wilkinson explains that "the ba was a spiritual aspect of the human being which survived - or came into being - at death, and which was imbued with the fulness of a person's individuality" (Wilkinson 1992.99). In this regard the Ba of an individual is portrayed in Ancient Egyptian religion as having the head of a human and the body of a bird - usually a falcon. In practice it is this form, this spiritual body of the individual/magician, which travels between the different worlds or spiritual realms.
When considering the Ba in relation to ritual work it becomes obvious that the Ba of a Neter is its ability to manifest in a variety of forms. For example, it was believed that a Neter could appear as any number animals (Wilkinson 1992.99). Hence we see the association of a variety of animal forms to any particular deity. In this respect too we find that like the Ka, the Ba of a Neter can take form in and through the statue used in ceremony. So, in essence, during ceremony the Ka, being the creative - sustaining power of life and double of the Neter; and the Ba, as the spiritual manifestation of the Neter, merge as one within the statue. In the temple of Dendera we find a text which illustrate this ritual practice. In the "pure room" an image of Nut is carved in the ceiling along with representations of the twelve hours of the day. Here, at the appropriate ceremonial hour, the statue is revealed in order that, as the accompanying texts explain, the "ba-soul might unite with his image" (Meeks 1996.195).
In addition a reoccurring theme emerges in many of the ancient texts; the realization that, whether for the Neteru or the individual, the uniting of one's Ka with one's Ba are essential for the being's effectiveness (West 1985.64). For, as Egyptologist A. Lloyd explains "Essentially, the Ka is the individual's vitality, the Ba the capacity for movement and effectiveness" (Lloyd 1989.117-133). These two concepts, the Ka and the Ba, play the greatest role in our understanding of ritual work and the use of magical images.
The Akh, Khu and Sahu:
Before moving on to further discussion of ritual there are several other Ancient Egyptian concepts that will aid you as you develop in your practice. One is the Akh, sometimes referred to as the Khu. This term means "transfigured spirit," the "shining one" or "luminous one." Beyond the Ba this spiritual body is one's higher spiritual self, the immortal spirit or, as the Ancient Egyptians explained, that part of the person that is "imperishable" (West 1985.65). Egyptologist A. Lloyd explains that the Akh "differs in character from all the other entities as it represents the total person in a state of beautitude and power beyond the grave, i.e., nothing less than the deceased reconstituted and placed in all respects in a position where he can function according to the Egyptian concept of the blessed dead" (Lloyd 1989.117-133). From here the highest state being, known as Sahu to the Ancient Egyptians, may be attained. Sahu is, in essence, a union with the Neteru; a merging with the divine. This is the ultimate goal of the magician following the Ancient Egyptian path.
The Khaibit, Haidit and swt:
One of the more mysterious components of the individual is the Khaibit, Haidit, also the swt all three of which refer to the "shadow" or "hidden" self. Again, Dr. Lloyd explains this was the portion of the person "regarded as an essential part of the living person, [yet] most often connected with the dead." He continues by demonstrating that the shadow "has close affinities with the mummy and is why in temple depictions of the deceased you will find him [the shadow] usually in black (an upright individual darkened in color)" (Lloyd 1989.117-133). In New Kingdom tombs the Khaibit was often portrayed as leaving the tomb with the Ba of the individual. Interestingly this aspect of the self was seen as being protective in nature (Lurker 1980.110). The shadow would seem to correspond closely to modern conceptions of a ‘ghost.'
The Ren:
Finally we need to examine the concept of the Ren, a term which means "name." To the Egyptians naming a thing made it real, definable and part of the temporal world. To know the true name of a person, entity or Neter was to have power over it, for the name contained its owner's complete identity and being (Lurker 1980.83, Meeks 1996.97). For this reason each Neter had a secret name which embodied their power and individuality (Meeks 1996.97). This is clearly implied in the legend of Aset and Ra in which the goddess tricks Ra into revealing his real name to her in order that she may have power over him (Ions 1968.62). As a result we find that many of the "known" Neteru names are titles more than actual names. For example Hwt-Hrw translates as "House of Horus," Nebet Het translates as "Lady of the House," Aset as "throne" and so on. Each of these give us a clue into the nature of the deity being referenced, yet in themselves they are not names so much as titles. Unfortunately we may never know their true names. More than likely this was reserved for the very high priesthood.
The intense significance of names in Ancient Egyptian esoteric thought is further exemplified in the names of the Kings. From the Old Kingdom on the Pharaohs traditionally had five known names, as well as at least one secret name. The three most frequently known to the public were the Horus name, the Praenomen name and the Nomen name. The Horus name is that which equates the King as the Neter Heru. The Praenomen name was given at the king's ascension to the throne and follows the traditional title of Nisw-bity, meaning king of ‘duality' thus king of the ‘two lands' - upper and lower Egypt. The Nomen name is the king's birth name, and is the name which scholars use when referring to the various kings. The other two names that a king would possess are the Two-Ladies name and the Golden Horus name (Collier & Manley 1998.20). In the same respect initiates had both public or known names and at least one secret name. This secret name or Ren embodied the spiritual essence of the individual.
In relation to understanding the energies involved in the ritual use of the statues of the Neteru we find a connection here as well. Once again I would like to turn to Egyptologist Dr. Lloyd who explained that while the Ka was the Neter's vitality and the Ba was its ability to move and be effective it is the Ren which represented the entity's individuality in terms of physical appearance and personality (Lloyd 1989.117-133). It is a being's Ren that contains its uniqueness and distinction setting it apart from others while providing the means to express itself in the temporal world as an entity unto itself. In ritual the use of the various names during the invocations of a Neter are critical as they help to draw the essence of the Neter into the statue being used. Even though many, if not all, of the names may only be titles reflecting an aspect of the Neter's personality, the reality is that you are aiding the Neter's individuality to come through in order that it may express itself through the vehicle of the Ka, Ba and ultimately the statue as the ht - the Neter's body. Through these three vital factors the statue begins to take on a life of its own as a receptacle for the divine essence of the Neter to manifest in ceremony.

The Mysteries of the Egyptian Sun And the first monotheist religion
The Sun had a central position in the religion of the ancient Egyptians. First, it was represented as the golden scarab, Hepri, symbolizing the becoming. Then, the hieroglyph of Sun, the proper god Ra (Re), appeared, as a circle with a point in the middle. A first rank god, Ra personified the Sun as source of vital force, but also as a star implying light as reality and symbol. He was the supreme judge of the Universe. Worshiped in Egypt as the creator and supreme god, Ra had his religious center at Heliopolis ("The City of the Sun" in Greek, Baalbek in Egyptian), located in the south of the Nile Delta. It was also named Atum (Pesedjet in Egyptian, the reunion of the main gods). Ra was believed to have appeared by detaching himself from the primordial chaos or that, closed between the petals of a lotus flower, raised by the waters of the beginning. He went out as the Benu (Phoenix) bird, launched in flight from the pyramidal top of a stone obelisk. That's why the obelisk covered with gold was the holiest object from the temple of Ra at Heliopolis, considered the fecundating ray of the god, hence its hazardous interpretation as a phallic symbol. Ra protected also the pyramids, considered to be solar constructions symbolizing the three ages: child at dawn (Heprer), adult at middle day (Ra) and elder at evening (Atum). At dawn, Ra goes out of the eastern waters, greeted by the cheerful choir of the 7 sacred baboons of the monkey-god Thot, which, woken up by the first light, execute a ritual dance of joy. Then, Ra mounts into the boat of the day and floats until evening, when he gets into the boat of the night, starting to navigate to its end and supporting the repeated attacks of the dragon Apophis, getting out of the depths of the Nile of the skies. Ra is victorious each morning and, at the end of the times, he takes the shape of a fire tomcat killing Apophis. Seeing him aged, people conspired against Ra, supreme ruler of the Earth. Ra consulted the other gods and sent the lioness-goddess Sehmet over the mortals. She is in fact The Eye of Ra, symbolizing the killing power of the Sun through her force and rage. The gods did not want to destroy the humankind. Their aim was just to dwindle the number of the humans, but in her rage and blood thirst, Sehmet did not stop the massacres. Ra then appealed to a trick, flooding her way with a brandy as red as the blood. The lioness imbibed, got drunk and forgot her rage but, when she woke up, she felt offended.
Disappointed with the people, Ra retreated on the back of Nut, the cow of the skies. Angry on Egyptians, The Eye of Ra, under the form of the lioness Tefnut, exiled herself in Nubia, a country of black people located on the middle flow of the Nile. Devoid of the Eye of Ra, the kingdom fell into chaos. The gods sent ambassadors to appease Tefnut and bring her home. The mission is accomplished by Thot. The lioness turned into the sacred cat Bastet or, as other variants say, into the cow-headed goddess of the love desire, and returned to Egypt, to everybody's delight. The cult of Ra was very active in Egypt in all times, even when other theological tendencies manifested. In Theba, the political and religious capital of the kingdom, Ra was identified with Amon, a god sustained especially by the great priests. At the beginning, Amon was just an obscure god of the wind. His cult developed quickly at Theba during the Middle Kingdom, when he was worshiped as a god of the air and fecundity. He was represented as a human with an iron crown and ram head, and his assigned animals were the ram and the goose. The soul of Amon was represented as a ram headed Sphinx either, in the snake shaped Egyptian scepter, Kematef. Amon had great temples at Etfu, Dendera, Abydos and Karnak. After chasing off the Hyksos (Semite invaders) in the 16th century BC, Amon turned into the supreme god of the freed kingdom. For centuries, he was imposed as the national god, sustained by his priests turned into pharaohs, who started to call him Amon-Ra. The new syncretic god achieved supplementary attributes, in his honor temples are raised in Theba and especially the Great Temple in Luxor, raised by Amenophis III, when Amon-Ra was called "king of gods, the creator of the Universe, the author of all the things, time conductor and direct master of the Sun, sky and underworld".
After the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom, around 1,450 BC, the autonomous cult of Aton, the solar disk, worshiped as the concrete shape of Ra, emerged. It was represented as a red disk with palmed rays. Under the pharaoh Amenophis IV (1372-1354 BC), the Aton's cult officially replaced Amon-Ra's cult. It was an act of authority of the pharaoh, as priests considered the new orientation a heresy. Amenophis IV, in Egyptian Amenothes ("Amon is pleased") adopted a royal name: Akhenaton (the one over who the benevolence of Aton flows). The introduction of the total cult of Aton was an attempt of instituting a monotheist religion (adoration of a sole god), but both the polytheist tradition (the faith in more than one god) of the Egyptians and the short rule of Akhenaton, just 18 years, hampered the universal and longstanding installation of the monotheism. Akhenaton and his wife Nefertiti built, in 1370 BC, the city of Ahet-Aton ("The Horizon of Aton"), today Tel el-Amaran, aimed to turn into the pan-Egyptian center of the cult of the new unique god. Even if the monotheist cult of Aton did not survive after the death of Akhenaton, it seems that its echoes are found in the Mosaic religion. From an hymn to Aton, one of the psalms of the Old Testament is inspired. If we think further, the monotheist religion of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have something to do with that visionary pharaoh, Akhenaton.
(picture from kemet online website:
Egyptian history/Mythology
Please page over to the following links to get a full overview of the history of Ancient Egypt:
Egyptian Mythology:
Egyptian Mythology:
List of pharoahs:
History of Ancient Egypt:
If you want to know more about Egyptian culture and religion do the following course at Witchcraft college:
Ancient Egyptian Culture:
Egyptian Religion
Pilgrimage your path to the following site to read more about how religion was perceived in Egypt. This site has a book full of different aspects regarding the religion, deities and other aspects of the Ancient Egyptian world.
If you want to know more about how the Egyptians saw the Soul aspect I can advise you to do the following course at Witchcraft college.
Interactive Grimoires: Egyptian soul:

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