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Egyptian Religion and Cosmology

The following passage on Egyptian theology is by Lucy Lamy (the daughter of the famed Egyptologist R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz) in her superb book Amazon com Egyptian Mysteries.  I have interspersed a few of my own comments in different font:
"The oldest known [Egyptian] religious texts, the so-called Pyramid-Texts, are found in the burial chambers of the royal pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties. Consisting of long vertical columns of hieroglyphs engraved into the stone walls, these inscriptions have the central purpose of facilitating the king's ascension into the heavens and his return to the side of his father, the Supreme God, where he will live eternally in the form of a pure and luminous spirit (akh).

The One, the Eternal, can be defined only through his countless qualities, which alone are nameable [this same understanding is also found in Neoplatonism, Sufism, Tantra, Kabbalah, and elsewhere].  These names then represent the active functional principles, the Neterw, cosmic or vital powers which find expression as the genesis of the world unfolds. Thus, through the invocations addressed to these powers - not gods but 'divine entities' or divine attributes
[Ms Lamy here follows most Egyptologists - e.g. Wallis Budge and others, who, coming originally from an exoteric Western Judaeo-Christian background, are very much limited to a monotheistic approach. Even in esoteric monotheism like Judaic Kabbalah and Sufism we find the same thing, the dependence on this idea of a single supreme personal God (I am not talking about the impersonal and transpersonal Absolute here). I would suggest this is a one-sided and unnecessarily narrow approach to the original Egyptian position. it may well be that both the monistic and polytheistic positions are correct and complementary. If this is so however, then the Egyptians would be much more likely to be monists along Hindu or Neoplatonic lines (one Supreme - many "aspects" = "gods"), rather than along Judeo-Christian-Islamic lines (one God, with many "powers"). Yet at the same time these aspects - certainly some of them, probably most, possibly even all - can also be approached and equally correctly understood along polytheistic/pagan lines, as indicated by the generic Pagans and Neopagans approach. Speaking personally, I myself have absolutely no qualms in calling the Neters gods. Jung, incidentally adopted a similar position when referring to the archetypes of the collective unconscious, which he equated with "gods"]
- we can reconstitute the general outline of a cosmogony which was probably already very ancient by the time of the Pyramid Texts. This cosmogony is frequently recalled in the texts of all periods, but was never further developed.
[a better approach would be to understand the Egyptian family of religions in the same way as we see the Semitic religions or the Indian religions - they are distinct religions but still share a common understanding of reality, divinity, and the cosmos.]"
[Lucy Lamy, Amazon com Egyptian Mysteries; Art and Imagination Series, Thames & Hudson, 1981, p.8]

There are four great Egyptian religions, and doubtless many more minor ones, which shared (as in the Hindu family of religions) overlapping mythologies, theologies, and iconographies.  All adopt a more or less Henotheistic/ Kathenotheistic approach.  It is wrong to consider them as strict polytheism as in the Homeric pantheon.  These four religions are as follows:


Heliopolis Theology (Atum) Memphis Theology (Ptah) The Hermopolis theology (Thoth) Theban Theology (Amun-Ra)
Heliopolis Theology Memphis theology Hermopolis theology Theban theology

An aberrant attempt at strict Monotheism was represented by the Pharoah Akenaten's attempt to institute a worship of the sun disc (Atenism) and oppression of all other religions.  This did not catch on.




Some themes

The Egyptian Concept of the Soul and the After-Life | Kheper | Some Quabalistic Comments on Anubis and other Egyptian Gods - Tony Bermanseder







books Books, DVDs and Web Links Web links

web pagephotos Egyptian Religion

web page NOTES ON EGYPTIAN RELIGION by Vincent Bridges

web page Ultimate Resource of Egyptian Gods - links to different pages on Egyptian gods

Wikipedia Ancient Egyptian religion - Wikipedia pages




In Association with Amazon.com

book Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt : The One and the Many by Erik Hornung, John Baines (Translator)

book Gods of Ancient Egypt by Barbara Watterson






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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 17 July 1998, last modified 10 October 2005