The ancient Egyptians are famous for synthesizing various powers or ‘gods’ into complex composite forms, such as Amun-Re or Re-Horakty, as well as combining deities into related dyads or triads like Osiris, Isis, Horus. The tendency to combine in this way resulted in such proliferation over the course of ancient Egyptian culture, that it can seem difficult to correlate with either the world’s monotheistic religions, or strict logic with its own linear reasoning. Yet ancient Egyptian ideology exhibits an ingenious flexibility of thought and expression that we can learn much from today.
Part of the problem with understanding ancient Egyptian ideology is in the very use our language, and the tendency of modern, western cultures to automatically separate and perpetuate a secular/sacred, science/religion split. In contrast, the ancient Egyptians did not even have a word for ‘religion’ per se, yet according to the ancient historian Herodotus were “religious far beyond any other race of men”‘ (Histories Book II, section 35.). But such an assessment reflects a bias and projection consisting of both a) his own interpretation and b) a Greek cultural construct, rather than an accurate understanding of ancient Egyptian thought and its underlying holistic philosophy.
The very word ‘god/god(s)’ commonly used to translate ntr/ntrw and address the apparent multiplicity of forms and ideas embedded in the ancient Egyptian worldview is incomplete and thus inadequate for a variety reasons. 1) it automatically relegates and limits such conceptions to our own perceptions of religion or myth 2) removes such ideas from the realm of early cosmology or philosophy which concerns natural phenomena to which they also belong 3) conjures up associations with polytheism, some of which are incorrect and irrelevant.
For instance in the doctrine of Iwnw (called Heliopolis by the Greeks), the power of the sun was at the core of their ancient ideology. The name Heliopolis (the city of the sun) that we still use today, was the name assigned by the ancient Greek,s while Iwnw was referred to as ‘On’ in the Bible. Yet the sun itself which the Egyptians called ‘Re’ also represented the visible manifestation of ultimate power in the world. In contrast, Amun the primary acknowledged power in Thebes (southern Egypt) is the name of the invisible or hidden supreme source. The composite Amun-Re therefore references both.
The Osiris, Isis, Horus trinity signifies among other things the god-king/father, goddess-queen/mother and son of god/intermediary/pharaoh. Yet in addition to divinity, Osiris, Isis & Horus also incorporate such abstract conceptions as transformation, the power of the throne and rulership. In the other case mentioned above, Re-Horakty references both Re and the aspect of ruler (Horus, symbolized by the falcon) of the two horizons (Hor-akty).
Another difficulty in accessing the ancient Egyptian holistic worldview, is that concepts are also largely expressed in symbolic, relational terms, with its own mode of logic. Even though the hieroglyphs were deciphered in the 19th century, and with this accomplishment the ability to translate texts, the rigid, linear mindset of constantly segregating ideas into discrete compartments must be relaxed in order to enter the symbolic reasoning areas of the psyche in which multiple interrelations are drawn between things.
However, the ability to think in symbolic terms is embedded in the psyche itself, as revealed by such disciplines as Jungian psychological theory and Joseph Campbell’s comparative literature, each of which drew upon other interdisciplinary multicultural disciplines including anthropological, archaeological and historic research. Together, all have contributed enormously to a better understanding of recurrent archetypal psychological themes and motifs as part of the inner language of the psyche. Such research has demonstrated that symbol/image making is a universal and inherent faculty of humankind, with multiple layers of meaning and a different mode of reasoning that must be investigated on its own terms.
Might contemporary cultures not be willing to learn something and benefit from ancient Egyptian perspectives…an age-old culture which endured for an astounding 3,000 years, and which left monumental, amazing legacies that still tower over us today? Indeed, the Great Pyramid is the only one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World still standing.
So why not learn from the ancient Egyptians, and combine or commute such ideas as God-Allah-Brahman or Energy-Kosmos-Nature across interdisciplinary and cultural lines of communication in an attempt to reach and establish common ground for discourse and understanding? Or after the tradition of ancient Egypt, maybe even build a temple or monument which includes texts as well as the symbolism or imagery of combined ideologies – a contemporary monument dedicated to acknowledging multiple ideas and beliefs in a gesture of peace, inclusion, and creating a shared vision?
The Ancient Art of Holistic Thinking is dedicated to a) unlock the holistic paradigm underlying ancient Egyptian philosophy b) revealing a dialogue with ancient Greek thought and c) demonstrating parallels with other multicultural holistic ideologies, ancient or modern. Far from being just ancient history, the holistic paradigm espoused in both ancient Egyptian & Greek wisdom is of utmost relevance to various concerns we have today.
If you’re interested in studying these ancient philosophies from a holistic perspective, the upcoming book release is due later this year, and online classes will be available in January. Sign up for the newsletter below to be notified first when registration for classes begins, as well as to receive special discounts. Explore the site further for more content or to learn more about the author or company. Also, if you enjoy what you’re reading click like below, or leave a comment if any ideas or thoughts are sparked and you’re so inclined. Thanks for visiting!
- Study Egyptian Holism: The Ancient Art of Holistic Thinking (artofholisticthinking.com)