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Last Updated: 27-Mar-2003

Egyptian Monotheism (The ONE) and Polytheism (The ALL)


The Ancient Egyptians believed in One God who was self-produced, self-existent, immortal, invisible, eternal, omniscient, almighty, etc. This One God was never represented. It is the functions and attributes of his domain that were represented. These attributes were called the neteru (pronounced net-er-u, singular: neter in the masculine form and netert in the feminine form). The term, gods, is a misrepresentation of the Egyptian term, neteru.

When we ask, "Who is God?", we are really asking, "What is God?". The mere name or noun does not tell us anything. One can only define God through the multitude of his attributes / qualities / powers / actions. This is the only logical way, because if we refer to, say, a person as Mr. X, it means nothing to us. However, once we describe his attributes and qualities, we then begin to know him. A person who is an engineer, a father, a husband, ... etc. does not have poly-personalities, but rather a mono-personality with multiple functions/attributes. For the Ancient and Baladi Egyptians, the concept of God is similar.

To know "God" is to know the numerous qualities of "God". The more we learn of these qualities (known as neteru), the closer we are getting to our divine origin. Far from being a primitive, polytheistic form, this is the highest expression of monotheistic mysticism.

The One Joined Together

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. As such, Ra is often incorporated into the names of other neteru (gods) such as in Amen-Ra of Ta-Apet (Thebes), Ra-Atum of Onnu/Annu (Heliopolis), Ra-Harakhte, ...etc. The solar energy of the sun is only one of numerous manifestations of Ra. That Ra is not just the sun (only a singular form), was also confirmed in the following verse from the Story of Ra and Auset (Isis), in which Ra states,

I have multitude of names, and multitude of forms.

The Image of God

So many phrases are being used throughout the world, which consistently state that the human being is made in the image of God, i.e. a miniature universe; and that to understand the universe is to understand oneself, and vice versa.

Yet no culture has ever practiced the above principle like the Ancient Egyptians. Central to their complete understanding of the universe was the knowledge that man was made in the image of God, and as such, man represented the image of all creation.
Accordingly, Egyptian symbolism and all measures were therefore simultaneously scaled to man, to the earth, to the solar system, and ultimately to the universe.

The logical (and only) way to explain anything to human beings is on human terms and in human form. As such, the complicated scientific and philosophical information was reduced in Ancient Egypt to events-in human images and terms.

Picturing the Divine Powers

In order to simplify and convey the scientific and philosophical meanings of the neteru (gods/goddesses), some fixed representations were utilized. As a result, the figures of Auset (Isis), Ausar (Osiris), Amen, Heru (Horus), Mut, etc., became the symbols of such attributes/functions/forces/energies.

These pictorial symbols were intended merely to fix the attention or represent abstract ideas, and were not intended to be looked upon as real personages. As the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Egyptian symbolism could be compared in some sense to modern day caricature. Caricature uses symbols (such as Uncle Sam, Russian bear, British bulldog, etc.) to represent concepts, ideas, nations, ...etc. A symbol reveals to the mind a reality other than itself. For the informed, the cartoon can reveal, in legitimate symbolic form, the totality of a given situation, in the eyes of the individual cartoonist. For those unfamiliar with the cartoonist and his/her choice of symbols, the cartoon will be total nonsense.

Practically all figures on the walls of Egyptian monuments are in profile form, indicative of action and interaction between the various symbolic figures. A wide variety of actions in the figures are evident in the numerous Ancient Egyptian buildings.

A chosen symbol represents that function or principle, on all levels simultaneously-from the simplest, most obvious physical manifestation of that function to the most abstract and metaphysical. Without recognizing the simple fact about the intent of symbolism, we will continue to be ignorant of the wealth of Egyptian knowledge and wisdom.

In Egyptian symbolism, the precise role of the neteru (gods/goddesses) are revealed in many ways: by dress, headdress, crown, feather, animal, plant, color, position, size, gesture, sacred object (e.g., flail, scepter, staff, ankh), etc. This symbolic language represents a wealth of physical, physiological, psychological and spiritual data in the presented symbols.

Animal Symbolism

Egyptians' careful observation and profound knowledge of the natural world enabled them to identify certain animals with specific qualities that could symbolize certain divine functions and principles, in a particularly pure and striking fashion. As such, certain animals were chosen as symbols for that particular aspect of divinity.

This effective mode of expression is consistent with all cultures. For example, in the West they use expressions such as: quiet as a mouse, sly like a fox, ...etc.
The animal or animal-headed neteru (gods/goddesses) are symbolic expressions of a deep spiritual understanding. When a total animal is depicted in Ancient Egypt, it represents a particular function/attribute in its purest form. When an animal-headed figure is depicted, it conveys that particular function/attribute in the human being. The two forms of Anbu (Anubis), in the two illustrations shown here, clearly distinguish these two aspects.
Another example is the depiction of soul in Ancient Egypt, which is known as the Ba. The Ba is represented as a human-headed bird, which is the opposite of the normal depiction of neteru (gods/goddesses) as human bodies with animal heads-in other words, as the divine aspect of the terrestrial. The Ba is depicted as a stork. The stork is known for its migrating and homing instinct, and is also known worldwide as the bird who carries newborn babies to their new families. The stork returns to its own nest with consistent precision-hence a migratory bird is the perfect choice to represent the soul.

Common Misrepresentations of the Divinities in Egypt

Egyptians had a confused religious system with an indefinite number of neteru (gods/goddesses).

There are an indefinite number of divinities (neteru), because the Divine has an endless number of aspects/attributes.

There were "minor and major neteru (gods/goddesses)".

A neter/netert (god/goddess) may have a minor role under certain conditions, however that does not make the neter/netert (god/goddess) minor. Neteru (gods/goddesses) are the forces of nature, and no one force is superior to others. A certain natural force can be more prominent, depending on the time and place of its action. For example, the heat of the sun has a major role on a midsummer day, and a minor role on a cloudy/rainy/snowy midwinter day.

A neter/netert (god/goddess) may have contradictory aspects.

"Contradictory aspects" can be interrelated. Take for example the aspect of motherhood, as represented by a netert (goddess). A mother can be tender and can be ferocious, depending on the circumstances. These are not contradictory qualities. Normally, a mother will be tender to her child, but if her child is threatened, she becomes ferocious and will attack the outside threat.

A neter (god) may be represented in different forms or shapes.

The nature of neter/netert (god/goddess) may vary under changing conditions. In human terms, the nature of water is present in different forms:

There were always power struggles between the different "cult centers."

There were neither "political/religious struggles" nor "cult centers" in Ancient Egypt. Western academic Egyptologists, who claim such nonsense, are projecting the history of the church onto the Ancient Egyptian history. The neteru (gods/goddesses) have complementary functions to each other. Since each neter/netert (god/goddess) represents a function, s/he can be found in any temple/tomb/text. A neter/netert may have a prominent (but never exclusive) role at any temple. All temples were of equal importance, and the Egyptian Pharaohs performed the ritual services throughout Egypt at all the temples.

The Egyptians gave a neter/netert (god/goddess) different names.

Names in Ancient Egypt were not just labels. A name was like a short resume or synopsis of the principle. For example, the neter (god) Ra (Re) is described in the Unas Funerary (Pyramid) Texts: "They cause thee to come into being as Ra, in his name of Khepri." Khepri is not just another label/name for Ra (Re). Khepri means coming into being.

There was a shift in power among the neteru (gods/goddesses), associated with "historical events".

The neteru (gods/goddesses) are the forces of nature. There are cyclical variations in nature. Therefore, some neteru (gods/goddesses) were more prominent than others in certain times, not because of "political shift", but because of a shift in the zodiac ages.

Egyptians categorized these neteru (gods/goddesses) into popular and sacred, local and regional, cosmic, universal, major, minor, ...etc.

This is totally unfounded. Neteru (gods/goddesses) represent the different energies/powers that act and interact in the creation and maintenance of the universe. Each situation determines which neter/netert (god/goddess) has a major or minor role.

Egypt went through an "evolution" of religious beliefs, where the nature of the neteru (gods/goddesses) changed over the centuries; they intermingled with outsiders' beliefs, assimilating some divinities (gods/goddesses), but also creating new ones.

This is sheer nonsense, fabricated by western academic Egyptologists, who ignore the facts of the time. ALL early historians of the Greek and Roman times confirmed that the Egyptians are remarkably traditionalist to a fault. For example, Herodotus (5th century BCE) stated in The Histories-Book Two, Section 79, "The Egyptians keep to their native customs and never adopt any from abroad." In Book Two, Section 91, Herodotus states, "The Egyptians are unwilling to adopt Greek customs, or, to speak generally, those of any other country."

Moustafa Gadalla

For more information on the role and function of neteru in the universe, animal symbolism, and explanations of the famous neteru (Ra, Amen, Auset (Isis), Ausar (Osiris), etc.), read:
Egyptian Divinities: The All Who Are THE ONE, by Moustafa Gadalla Egyptian Divinities: The All Who Are THE ONE
by Moustafa Gadalla
128 pages, 5.5" x 8.5"
List Price: $ 8.95 USD (paperback)
$ 6.25 USD (eBook)
Egyptian Cosmology: The Animated Universe, by Moustafa Gadalla Egyptian Cosmology: The Animated Universe
by Moustafa Gadalla
192 pages, 5.5" x 8.5"
List Price: $11.95 USD (paperback)
$ 7.95 USD (eBook)

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