An Ancient Egyptian Approach for Modern Psychology

Psy­chol­o­gy today offers a wide spec­trum of modal­i­ties for guid­ing the sub­con­scious and the instruc­tion of the con­scious. There are many school of psy­chol­o­gy which base their the­o­ries on the sole func­tion­ing of the mind. There are also holis­tic or trans-per­son­al prac­ti­tion­ers that say the mind does not act sep­a­rate­ly, but is always in inter­ac­tion with the body and the spir­it. What becomes evi­dent is a fun­da­men­tal psy­chol­o­gy ver­sus a spir­i­tu­al psy­chol­o­gy. Let’s look at that aspect of psy­chol­o­gy, which stud­ies the mind and behav­ior in rela­tion­ship to a par­tic­u­lar body of spir­i­tu­al knowl­edge, by exam­in­ing a psy­chol­o­gy much old­er than Freud or even Socrates.

In ancient Egypt we find a modal­i­ty or prac­tice, a way of life rich in this syn­the­sis of body, mind and spir­it. Ancient Egypt was a dom­i­nant coun­try and its cul­tur­al cen­ters were both eccle­si­as­ti­cal­ly and polit­i­cal­ly all-pow­er­ful. It’s dynas­tic lega­cies and for­eign ruler ships pro­vid­ed Egypt with a long and instruc­tive his­to­ry. For the con­text of this paper we will draw from the dynas­tic times of Egypt, ca. 3100–300 B.C.E.

Jon Manchip White describes the basic char­ac­ter of the Egypt­ian peo­ple as serene, indus­tri­ous and dis­ci­plined. He claims that they must have been one of the least neu­rot­ic civ­i­liza­tions in his­to­ry. They were secure, sta­ble and sen­si­ble con­cern­ing their abil­i­ties toward life. As White put it, the Egypt­ian “put him­self in tune with the rhythm of the Uni­verse as it had been estab­lished by the gods.”

When an Egypt­ian expe­ri­enced ques­tions of self-doubt and analy­sis, he went to his priest. These were not the usu­al min­is­ters we find today, who hear con­fes­sions, dole penances and offer prayer. They were mul­ti­fac­eted physi­cians, philoso­phers, archi­tects, astronomers, math­e­mati­cians, arti­sans and dream inter­preters; and they gave coun­sel with a wide base of knowl­edge. By 3,000 B.C.E. their philoso­phies were already firm­ly estab­lished. The Egyp­tians rec­og­nized a divine order, estab­lished at the same time of cre­ation; this order is man­i­fest in nature, in the nor­mal­cy of phe­nom­e­na; it is man­i­fest in soci­ety as jus­tice; and it is man­i­fest in an indi­vid­u­al’s life as truth.

The con­scious­ness of the peo­ple or their intel­li­gence lay in “the way of the heart” and all judg­ment of one­self was weighed against the “feath­er of truth.” In essence, they knew upon death to the body, that their soul would meet with the great God Osiris, who would observe the bal­ance that the indi­vid­ual had achieved dur­ing his or her life. If he were “true” or had lived a life of “ma’at” or bal­ance, he would enjoy an after­life. The Egypt­ian firm­ly believed in per­pet­u­at­ing his God-like qual­i­ties for a tru­ly long-lived soul. The Egypt­ian was con­cerned with kar­ma and good deeds. Thus, it was not a threat that pro­pelled the per­son on in the care of their soul, such as pos­si­ble damna­tion, but rather as a desire to do well and right by his Gods and Goddesses

One of the pri­ma­ry sim­i­lar­i­ties between ancient Egypt­ian psy­chol­o­gy and its mod­ern coun­ter­part in transper­son­al psy­chol­o­gy is that there are no sharp bound­aries between their philoso­phies and their behav­ior. Through the analy­sis of the ear­ly dynas­tic peri­ods of Egypt, Frank­fort’s (1961) The Intel­lec­tu­al Adven­ture of Ancient Man stat­ed that, to the Egypt­ian the vis­i­ble and tan­gi­ble phe­nom­e­na with­in his exis­tence was not only super­fi­cial and tem­po­ral, but also blend­ed with the pro­found and eternal.

All chil­dren attend­ed school at the age of four. By ten, they began tech­ni­cal train­ing at what­ev­er they had shown a propen­si­ty for. Some became arti­sans, or went into a trade, some became sol­diers, and still oth­ers bear­ing philo­soph­i­cal inquis­i­tive­ness, con­tin­ued their edu­ca­tion in the out­er peri­style in prepa­ra­tion to enter the tem­ple. Beside sci­en­tif­ic instruc­tion and gym­nas­tic exer­cis­es, they were taught ethics, prac­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy and good man­ners. They were also taught the pow­ers of obser­va­tion as well as the recog­ni­tion of val­ues, both mate­ri­al­ly and moral­ly; and they have had placed on them cer­tain respon­si­bil­i­ties which they had to fulfill.

Pri­mar­i­ly, they were instruct­ed on the phys­i­cal world, and more specif­i­cal­ly on the phys­i­cal body. The func­tions of the organs and parts of the body were ascribed to dif­fer­ent Gods. The inter­re­la­tion­ship of these names giv­en and their sym­bols pro­vid­ed a direct indi­ca­tion of their vital and cos­mic func­tion. The eye, for exam­ple, was extreme­ly impor­tant sym­bol. The right eye sym­bol­ized the sun, the left the moon. They are the open­ing and clos­ing, day and night. The word for eye “irt” basi­cal­ly means “to make” or “to cre­ate.” Ra, rep­re­sent­ing the right eye, cre­at­ed the day or made the night pass into day. So the stu­dent was not only to learn the words and sym­bols of the phys­i­cal body, but also their eso­teric counterparts.

Along with the phys­i­cal under­stand­ing of the rela­tion­ship between the body parts and that of a God, there was also taught the mean­ing of sub­stance and mat­ter, form and forms, num­ber, mea­sure and pro­por­tion. The knowl­edge of the val­ue of mea­sure was need­ed to under­stand the jux­ta­po­si­tion of images; for instance, in wall murals. Schwaller de Lubicz explains num­ber from the Ancient Egyp­tian’s per­spec­tive. “Num­ber begins with the scis­sion of pri­mor­dial uni­ty. Causal uni­ty, itself into two states, the self and the ego, but it requires the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­scious­ness to real­ize that one counts.” Thus begins the con­scious­ness of the ego.

In the hypostyle, the lessons con­tin­ue. The ini­ti­ate was taught three lev­els of con­scious­ness: the automa­tion, which is the “moral being” — the phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and men­tal; the Per­ma­nent Wit­ness, which is the per­son­al­i­ty; and the Spir­i­tu­al Wit­ness, which has the aspect of the incar­nate being or the high­est form of consciousness.

In Schwaller de Lubicz’ words, “There can be no final lib­er­a­tion for any human being with­out attain­ing Uni­ty of Con­scious­ness, in which the Per­ma­nent Wit­ness rec­og­nizes and accepts the guid­ance of the Spir­i­tu­al Wit­ness.” The stu­dent even­tu­al­ly under­stands this and thus elim­i­nates his self­ish aims and obsti­nate opinions.

Along this path, the ini­ti­ate must learn to dis­cern the dif­fer­ence between two types of intel­li­gence. There is the ana­lyt­i­cal, which com­pre­hends cere­bral­ly ideas with acquired expe­ri­ence, and then there is gno­sis or “the intel­li­gence of the heart,” which pro­duces aware­ness upon the sub­tle state of being.

Anoth­er ele­ment of dis­cern­ment is that between a per­ceived real­i­ty and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the per­cep­tion may be illu­so­ry. Only by becom­ing a neu­tral observ­er can this iden­ti­fi­ca­tion become pos­si­ble. The prac­ticed ini­ti­ate, hav­ing expe­ri­enced dif­fer­ent states of con­scious­ness, can even­tu­al­ly and cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fy them. By con­scious­ness it is meant that it is the mea­sure of indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion and it comes from the knowl­edge of the ele­ments of the indi­vid­u­al’s genesis.

To add to the ini­ti­ate’s intel­lect and behav­ioral ele­ments of gen­e­sis there were sev­en accom­plish­ments and sev­en obsta­cles that helped to devel­op his psy­cho-spir­i­tu­al self. A sense of pres­ence was the first accom­plish­ment of which the indi­vid­ual had to be aware; and more specif­i­cal­ly, the Spir­i­tu­al pres­ence. The sec­ond was to attain great con­cen­tra­tion, for the will must be a strong part of the per­son­al­i­ty. The third was seren­i­ty in achiev­ing this qual­i­ty where one must become “neu­tral” in one’s dis­crim­i­na­tion, which brings a “trans­paren­cy” or a “qual­i­ty of let­ting the light pass.” It is the “illu­mi­na­tion with­in and the radi­ance with­out” (Schwaller de Lubicz, 1981). The fourth is a ges­ture, or rather the knowl­edge of the appro­pri­ate ges­ture in deal­ing with all nature. The cor­rect ges­ture teach­es one the rhythm and char­ac­ter of things. The fifth is silence. The first step in achiev­ing silence is immo­bil­i­ty of thought and no will to action, and immo­bil­i­ty of the body and no will to emo­tion. Schwaller de Lubicz instructs us, “Silence is the void into which the spir­it is drawn.” The sixth accom­plish­ment is thank­ful­ness, which leads to real joy, a vital­iz­ing qual­i­ty. The sev­enth accom­plish­ment is gen­eros­i­ty, which means for­get­ting one­self for the well being of anoth­er. It is the union of the Spir­i­tu­al Self and the Uni­ver­sal Self, when these are brought together.

Now for the obsta­cles: The first, per­son­al con­cern is the strug­gle for con­trol between the ego and the high­er self. Clar­i­ty of thought and con­trol of emo­tions will help devel­op one’s val­ues. A pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with health is anoth­er con­cern. The sec­ond obsta­cle is the wrong notion of prov­i­dence or the plan of des­tiny. The mis­take is to try to bring in a God who would pre­vent caus­es from hav­ing con­se­quences. The third is false pity. It is impor­tant to real­ize the dif­fer­ence between false char­i­ty and arbi­trary pity from “dis­in­ter­est­ed sym­pa­thet­ic altru­ism.” Through the under­stand­ing of this, com­pas­sion is learned.

The fourth obsta­cle is the quest for sanc­ti­ty. This being an extreme­ly dif­fi­cult obsta­cle, fail­ing will at first occur. With these will be expe­ri­enced shame and remorse which will have “the sac­ri­fi­cial val­ue of puri­fy­ing fire.” The fifth obsta­cle is sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, which Schwaller de Lubicz describes as a “spu­ri­ous rela­tion­ship by the imag­i­na­tion between Nature and our­selves.” It is unpro­duc­tive because it is the prod­uct of per­son­al motives and not of con­tact with either nat­ur­al or spir­i­tu­al realities.

The sixth obsta­cle is sat­is­fac­tion. The Per­son­al Wit­ness must con­trol the Automa­ton up from the low­er depths, but the Spir­i­tu­al Self must raise it fur­ther. This can be done if the Ego’s self-sat­is­fac­tion is not held down. The sev­enth obsta­cle is rou­tine. If it is allowed, one los­es one’s own nature. For one must be ful­ly con­scious of one’s aims and find virtue in the des­tiny of his incarnation.

The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and assim­i­la­tion of these qual­i­ties, once under­stood, can then be merged. They will enhance the phys­i­cal, stim­u­late the men­tal and emo­tion­al, and strength­en the spir­i­tu­al. The Egypt­ian names for these are very impor­tant and a very basic under­stand­ing, as here­in giv­en, must suf­fice. The khaib­it is the astral or ether­ic body, and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly acts as the Shad­ow. The Ba is the ani­mat­ing spir­it that gives the breath of life. It has two aspects. One is the Nat­ur­al Soul, which sta­bi­lizes in bod­i­ly form; and the oth­er is the human soul, which is rep­re­sent­ed as a bird with a human head, that comes and goes between heav­en and earth.

The Ka also has three aspects. One is the cre­ator of all the oth­ers; then there are the dif­fer­ing Ka’s of nature (min­er­al, veg­etable and ani­mal,) and third, the indi­vid­u­al­ized Ka of man, which includes his inher­it­ed char­ac­ter. The human Ba of an indi­vid­ual soul, togeth­er with the Ka as the gen­er­a­tive pow­er, pro­duces an enti­ty. Schwall de Lubicz sum­ma­rized it, “thus the Ka is his agent of con­scious­ness, the Per­ma­nent Wit­ness of the trans­for­ma­tion of his being.” The enlarge­ment of con­scious­ness can mod­i­fy the char­ac­ter of his per­son­al Ka until the spir­i­tu­al fac­ul­ties are awak­ened and it makes con­tact with its divine Ka. It was then the aim of all stu­dents to acquire an endur­ing con­scious­ness through a pro­gres­sive com­mu­nion of their phys­i­cal body with their spir­i­tu­al being. The men­tal and the emo­tion­al bod­ies were only tran­si­to­ry and quite often were hin­dered by the body-spir­it union; but one could not have one with­out the oth­er so a con­tin­u­al bal­ance was needed.

Such were some of the teach­ings pre­sent­ed in ste­lae, ostra­ca and papyri, brought through the ages by trans­la­tors for the mod­ern stu­dent and teacher. It is with amaze­ment that we can still today read about what the ancient stu­dent had to do to obtain an under­stand­ing of him­self, how they learned to con­quer their obsta­cles and accom­plish a whole and inte­grat­ed pres­ence of self. It is no won­der that the Ancient Egyp­tians pro­duced such a strong and sta­ble soci­ety for so long a peri­od. It was only through the inva­sions of dif­fer­ing polit­i­cal thought that the edu­ca­tion­al process­es shift­ed. Though those orig­i­nal teach­ings and ter­mi­nolo­gies have changed to even­tu­al­ly pro­duce what is now mod­ern day psy­chol­o­gy, there remains still a human­is­tic approach that mod­ern day behav­ior­ists might find ben­e­fi­cial, should they choose to exam­ine and per­haps embrace.

With­in the fol­low­ing lines of an old Egypt­ian med­i­ta­tion we find the sim­plic­i­ty, exac­ti­tude and beau­ty of their way of thought and how they lead their lives: “Divine law is my word. The divine word is my law. The path is my act. The knowl­edge is the chief of all things. The wis­dom is the empa­thy with all things. The truth is my condition.”


Brun­ton, Paul  A Search in Secret Egypt, Anchor Press, Tip­tree, Essex, 1965

Erman, Adolf  Life in Ancient Egypt, Dover Pub­li­ca­tions, New York, 1971

Fran­jk­fortm, Hen­ri  Ancient Egypt­ian Reli­gion, Harp­er and Row, New York, 1961

Schwaller de Lubicz, Isha  Her-Bak, Egypt­ian Ini­ti­ate, Inner Tra­di­tions Inter­na­tion­al, New York, 1978

Schwaller de Lubicz, Isha  Her-Bak, the Liv­ing Face of Ancient Egypt, Inner Tra­di­tions Inter­na­tion­al, New York, 1978

Schwaller de Lubicz, Isha  The Open­ing of the Way, A Prac­ti­cal Guide to the Wis­dom of Ancient Egypt, Inner Tra­di­tions Inter­na­tion­al, New York, 1981

Schwaller de Lubicz, R.  A Sym­bol and the Sym­bol­ic: Ancient Egypt, Sci­ence and the Evo­lu­tion of Con­scious­ness, Inner Tra­di­tions Inter­na­tion­al, New York, 1978

White, Jon Manchip  Every­day Life in Ancient Egypt, G. P. Put­nam’s Son’s, New York, 1963

Wil­son, John A.  The Cul­ture of Ancient Egypt, Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, Chica­go, 1951

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