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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