Ancient Egypt: Egyptian history, religion, and spirituality

The Spirit and Flesh Sacred Texts Online Library: world religion and spirituality, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Gnosticism, Alchemy, Paganism, and more.


Of all the great civilisations known, the oldest is that of Egypt, which - recent discoveries have shown - exceeds in age even ancient Sumer, which developed in the Mesopotamian basin in the fourth century before Christ, and flourished right up until Alexander the Great's  conquest in 332 B.C.E.

For some time Egyptian civilisation as thought to have began when the King (or Pharaoh) Menes unified the separate Upper and Lower Kingdoms along the Nile in 3100 B.C.E.  Menes was said to have founded the first of thirty-one  dynasties (this is the traditional number, according to the enumeration of the late (4th Century B.C.E.) Egyptian priest Manetho.  The precise number of dynasties - especially some of the minor ones - has however been disputed by modern scholars. Moreover Manetho, who was forced by the Greek invaders to write a chronology of Egyptian dynasties, puts the 1st dynasty at 3200 b.c., while Champollion puts the 1st dynasty at 5867 b.c..e. Of course most scholars chose to go with Manetho's version.

Recently however earlier archeological remains have been found, pushing the date for the earliest dynasties back some centuries. Announced at the Cairo Debate (Jan. 1999) & to the public Dec. 1999, archaeologist Renee Friedman found a full blown writing system among the pre-dynastic necropolis in Heirokinopolis from 3,500 B.C. Also found there, the earliest example of alphabet writing, much earlier than the Sumerian writing system.

Also recently announced, but found in 1977, "Dynasty O" was found in Abydos with writing much earlier than anything in Sumeria. This writing was tax collection notes of the 2 Lands, indicating unification much earlier than the supposed 1st dynasty King Narmer. In Kusco (on Sudan's edge) there was recently found a hieroglyphic script 200 yrs before Egypt's 1st dynasty that tells of earlier monarchies. There is also Napta Pya, a settlement in the Nile desert found by Univ. of Texas in 1974. This settlement has very large stone workings and among them a small stone calendar (described as a "miniature Stonehenge", because the stone configurations are exactly the same as the one in England), dated around 7,000 B.C.

In a fertile strip of land barely 20 kilometres (12 miles) at its widest, and 500 kilometres (300 miles) in length, nourished by the waters and nutrients of the life-giving Nile, the Egyptians built pyramids and temples to extraordinarily precise proportions - a precision that would be remarkable even with today's technology - and developed an incredibly sophisticated occult knowledge of the after-life state.

From the sixth century before Christ onwards, during which time this mighty civilisation  had already been in decay for several centuries,  Egypt served as the source of spiritual and occult  wisdom for the more intellectually sophisticated  world - the Greek civilisation of the North-West  Mediterranian -  much as today the more sensitive  people of the materialistic and technological West  look to India as the source of spiritual nourishment.  Philosophers, historians, and teachers -  Pythagoras, Herodotus, Plato, to name just the best-known - journeyed there to learn the ancient wisdom  and sciences, where they looked upon a civilisation  as ancient then as the Classical Greek and Roman period is to us today, and returned to the Hellenic world with their knowledge.

The ancient Egyptians had a  profound insight into the various principles that make up the individuality.  Ancient Egyptian belief referred to a number of souls that together constituted the individual.  According to the funerary texts, man is composed of a mortal body, kha, and at least three subtle, immortal or at least able to survive bodily death) elements, the ka, ba and akh (see above diagram).  These are sometimes translated as "double", "soul" and "spirit", but these Western terms do not really give the full nuances of the concepts implied.  What is more, in addition to the ka, ba and akh, there are further principles, so that one is left with a bewildering array of different psychic and spiritual principles. 

Khat or Kha - (a fish) - the physical body, the corpse, something which is liable to decay, and can only be preserved by mummification.

Ka - (a pair of upraised arms) - the double, image,  character, disposition, or individual ego, which is  created with, or even before, the physical being.   Originally the daimon or genius or spiritual double  of the pharaoh, which guided him in life and protected him in death; it later became the human presence which remains in tomb, and partakes of funerary offerings; an abstract individuality or personality which possesses the form and attributes of the man to whom it belongs.  The Ka has the following powers:

  • Can wander about at will.
  • Is independent of the man and can dwell in any statue etc of him.
  • Can eat and drink. Great care would be taken to ensure clean food and drink.

Ba - (a human-headed bird) - the "soul".  Connected with the ka, in whom or with whom it dwells. In many texts the Ba also lives with Ra or Osiris in heaven.  The Ba seems to be able to assume a material or immaterial form at will; as a material form is depicted as a human-headed hawk.  Although the Ba ascends to the heavenly realms and enjoys an eternal existence there, it can also return to the tomb and partake of the funerary offerings.  Seen bringing air and food down to the body.  Can visit the body at will.

Ab - (a vessel with ears as handles) - the "heart".  Closely associated with the soul; held to be the source both of the animal life and of good and evil in man.  The source of good and bad thoughts; the moral awareness of right and wrong.  Can move freely, and separate or unite with the body, and also enjoy life with the gods in heaven.  Regarded as being the centre of the spiritual and thinking life, and as the organ through which the manifestations of virtue and vice reveal themselves, typifying conscience.

Khaibit - (a fan; an object which intercepts the light) - the "shadow"; Closely associated with the Ba and regarded as an integral portion of the human being.  Like the Ka and Ba it partakes of funerary offerings; and is able to detach from the body, with the power of going wherever it might.  References to the Khaibit are infrequent, and the meaning usually obscure.  It may be that it was a redundant hold-over from an earlier  magical conception of the physical shadow.

Akh, Khu, or Akhu - (the ibis or phoenix) - the "spirit".  Often mentioned in connection with the ba.  The Khu cannot die, and dwells in the sahu (spiritual body).  It is the radiant shining one; the transfigured dead which ascends to heaven and dwells among the gods, or among the immortal pole stars which never set.  As spirit, the akh is the opposite of the perishable body, kha. "Akh is for heaven, kha is for earth", we read in the Pyramid Texts.

Sekhem - the power or form; generally the references are obscure.  The incorporeal personification of the vital force of a man, dwelling in heaven among the Khus.

Ren - the "name", which exists in heaven.  Vital to a man on his journey through life and to the afterlife.  In any psychically (as opposed to spiritually) based magical philosophy - and in this context the Egyptian system is no different - to know the secret name of a person or entity is to have power of that being.

Sahu - (a mummy and a seal) - the "spiritual body"; - forms the habitation of the soul; springs from the material body.  Within it, all the mental and spiritual attributes of the natural body are united to its powers.   A body which has obtained a degree of knowledge and power and has thus become incorruptible; it associates with the soul, and can ascend into heaven and dwell with the gods.  There is an interesting parallel here with the Taoist conception of the "immortal spirit body".

Akenaten's legacy

Amenhotep IV was the tenth or eleventh pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII.  He married Nefertiti and became a fanatic of an ancient Egyptian god named Aten, the god of the sun disc.  He renamed himself Aken-Aten ("he who is of service to Aten.") in honor of the god.  (also spelt Akenaten, Akhenaten, Ahkanaten, Ihknaten, etc).  During Akenaten's reign from 1379 BC, Aten (also spelt Aton) became the supreme god of Egypt.  He also changed the capital from Thebes to el-Amarna (halfway between Memphis and Thebes), city of the cult of the Aten.

Akenaten's reign was not without it's dark side.  He destroyed or desecrated virtually all the temples of the other gods, including Amon, the main god of the dynasty.  He had the word "gods" in plural hacked out of inscriptions.  He even destroyed his father's cartouche because it bore the name of another god, Amon.

On the other hand, the research of R. A. and Isha Schwaller deLubicz argues that Akhenaten did not go against the canon of the inner temple, but that he and Hatshepsut's seemingly deviation was really part of the overall temple "plan". Akhenaten's name until his death was "Akhenaten wa-n-Ra" (Akhenaten first of Ra).

Whatever the truth of things, Akenaten's attempt at reform failed.  After his death the Egyptians returned to their previous culture, and Akenaten's son Tuthankaton (the living image of Aton) changed the religion of the country back to the original beliefs, and changed his own name to Tuthanhkamon (or Tutenkahmun, the living image of Amon)

Akenaten was said to have a deformed hunchback appearance; although that could just be propaganda by his successors.  It is not certain what became of Akenaten's mummy. Some say it was destroyed by the priests of Amon to prevent him from going to the afterlife.

Akenaten has been called the first Monotheist and for that reason is generally seen as a "good guy".  He's even considered to be predecessor to Judeo-Christian type monotheism.  The psychologist Sigmund Freud argued (in Moses and Monotheism) that Moses was an Egyptian who got his beliefs from Akenaten.  Even the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley considered that he was Akenaten in a previous life.




The Spirit and Flesh Sacred Texts Online Library: world religion and spirituality, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Gnosticism, Alchemy, Paganism, and more.