Egyptian Philosophy II — Reincarnation and not-so-much-Polytheists

My first post on Egyptian Philosophy recalled the importance spirituality had on Ancient Egypt’s everyday life. If for some other civilizations the religious practices and rituals were channels to achieve moral truths, in Egypt, the religion was so developed and adopted that it was the origin of those moral standards followed by the society. There was simple no strict separation between the divine and the human.

In that sense, it is necessary to understand that Religion presented an alliance between the moral and metaphysics aspects of spirituality. The purpose of Religion on that society was the evolution of the people and the liberation of the soul. By striving to be pure and following the moral rules, a just and harmonic life was obtained, thus the spirit was considered free.

The creed on Reincarnation was a main axis for this system of spiritual beliefs. Life on Earth was understood as just a passage and not the whole human experience. This passage presented ordeals and lessons to be learned, which were renovated as many times as necessary until our learning. Our human experience was just the mean to obtain the spiritual growth.

As Onchsheshonqy expressed: “Do not spin on circles just to not be immobile. Do not groan when striked just for the fear of being punished. He who faces with bravery a disgrace will not feel all the rigor of its misfortune”. The right mindset was favorable for the learning process demanded for the spiritual evolution.

There are many papyrus that survive today and express these beliefs. Many of them are called Book of the Dead, which actually was never a one singular piece. According to many of those writings, the physical Death was just an passage to the spiritual and eternal realm.

Papyrus from the Louvre Museum, Paris

After death, it was believed that the Dead would descend to an underworld where a profound evaluation of the mistakes and successes of that life period would occur. Many symbols represent that process of evaluation (Osiris’ Judgment as well as facing demon beasts, gates and mountains), aspects that influenced many following mythologies such as the Greek and Roman.

Those symbols stood for an internal process within our own soul where ourselves conducted the self evaluation. The standards for that evaluation were expressed at the Papyrus of Ani. Ani presents a list of 42 sins such as robbing, lying, adultery, remorse, deceit, murder, eavesdropping, among others.

On that sense, the importance of Justice for that society is clear. Another sign is the myth of Osiris, the most complex and well structured Egyptian myth that survives today. The myth present the murderer of Pharaoh Osiris by his brother Seth and the widow Isis’ search for the dismembered body, followed by the mummification of Osiris’ found body and the conception of their son Horus. Horus, in turn, kills Seth in revenge for his father’s death and becomes the Pharaoh.

That narrative inspired Egyptian embalming practices, which sought to prevent and reverse the decay that follows death. Also, the killing of Seth by Horus as karmic revenge for his father, represents the values of justice, the maintenance of the natural order and implies that any dead person can reach a pleasant afterlife.

Osiris being embalmed by Anubis

Many Egyptian myths present anthropomorphical deities such as Osiris, Isis, Horus, Anubis and Seth. Those narratives and other pieces of Egyptian Paintings led to the conclusion that the Ancient Egypt was a polytheist society. But the close examination makes clear that, for example, that Osiris and Seth were presented as the two opposites side of good and evil, light and darkness, order and chaos. They were symbols for the duality of reality, not so much different from the Christian belief system.

Each god represented a force of nature and many papyrus present specific rituals to take place for that aspect of that divine forces. Among the gods, complex interrelationships reflected the interaction of the divine forces they represented. Even the syncretism between deities was common, with myths describing the fusion of gods in a composite deity, representing the occurance of natural forces (rain and sun, for example).

However, every god represented a different aspect of a One God, which was self-produced, self-existent, immortal, invisible, eternal, omniscient. The confusion emerges from the fact that this One God was never represented artistically, just its several functions and attributes:

In Ancient Egyptian traditions, Ra represents the primeval, cosmic, creative force. The Litany describes Ra as The One Joined Together, Who Comes Out of His Own Members. The Ancient Egyptian definition of Ra is the perfect representation of the Unity that comprises the putting together of the many diverse entities, i.e. The One Who is the All. The Litany of Ra describes the aspects of the creative principle: being recognized as the neteru (gods) whose actions and interactions in turn created the universe. As such, all the Egyptian neteru who took part in the creation process are aspects of Ra. There are 75 forms or aspects of Ra.

Polytheists? Not so much. That divine force had ONE representative on Earth. The Pharaoh was seen as the sole avatar for the spiritual order, the legitimate authority and the guardian of the Ma’at.

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