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African and Egyptian Religious Beliefs



African and Egyptian Religious Beliefs in E. A. Wallis Budge's Osiris Sir E. A. Wallis Budge's book Osiris; The Egyptian Religion Of Resurrection gives one of the most detailed comparisons of African and Egyptian religion to be found anywhere. Budge had always contended that the ancient Egyptians were African to the core and this bothered many scholars of his day who advocated an Asian origin for Egyptian civilization. Listed below are some of the more striking links uncovered by Budge.

The widespread belief in a single creator God, immortality, transmigration of souls and transubstantiation (partial residence of God in amulets). The Moon, rather than the Sun, is associated with the Supreme God among the ancient Egyptians and among peoples living along the Nile, Congo and Niger. Budge notes that the New Moon festival is found all over Africa and is commonly associated, as it was in ancient Egypt, with the remembrance, by kings and commoners, of their sins, and by prayers for protection from evil spirits. He cites examples such as the Mendi, Tshi and Ilogo and various peoples in Sudan and Tanganyika.


The importance of the cow as the most sacred of animals is found in ancient Egypt and in many parts of Africa especially among the peoples living along the Nile and in the Great Lakes region. Of particular importance was the sacrifice of a bull(s) at the funeral of the deceased. The sacrifice of two bulls at funerals is detailed in "The Opening of the Mouth." The Egyptian rite involved offering the heart of one bull to the mouth of the deceased or to a statue of the deceased. The hide of the other bull was used to wrap the corpse. Both rituals were believed to impart the powers of the bull (which represented Osiris) to the dead ancestor. Budge gives numerous examples of the sacrifice of a bull during African funerals. Among many Nilotic peoples the bull's hide is placed at the bottom of the grave.

In Egypt, offerings were made to ancestors in the form of meals placed on stone slabs in the ancestor's tomb. Budge notes that stone slabs were used for the same purpose among the Buvuma.  The offering of meals to ancestors in spirit houses is widely found through much of Africa and Budge cites examples among the Bakonjo, Basukuma, Makarakas and in East and West Africa. Deification of ancestor heroes is a common practice in much of Africa. Budge notes that Osiris in the form of Khenti-Amenti stands as the ancestor god of Egypt while Isis is the ancestor mother goddess. He notes the uncanny resemblance between the widespread African practice of giving birth in the "bush" to a bas relief found at Philae. Among Africans, birth in the bush is done in solitude with the father and the shaman waiting from a comfortable distance until after the delivery. The relief at Philae shows Isis in a stylized papyrus swamp suckling Horus. The papyrus would thus stand here for the "bush." Standing on either side of Isis is Amen-Ra, representing the African father, and Thoth, representing the African shaman. Budge thinks the symbols found under Isis could represent the placenta and blood associated with child birth. Interestingly, Budge cites a passage in which Isis speaks of her loneliness during labor, which mirrors the African tradition of giving child birth in solitude. Specific examples are given from Uganda and the Sudan. Amulets are seen as partial residences for ancestral spirits in ancient Egypt and throughout Africa. Budge notes that the "fetish" quality of amulets, often stressed by Western observers, is secondary to the importance of communion with the ancestors.

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The beetle and frog are amulets of new life in both ancient Egypt and modern Africa. In predynastic Egypt, Budge gives evidence of the practice of consuming the bodies of slain enemies. This also appears to have persisted, to some extent, even into the dynastic period. Passages are cited relating how King Unas of Sakkara obtained supernatural powers through eating human flesh. The same story is repeated in the pyramid of Teta in the VI dynasty. The practice of consuming one's slain enemies and the consequent powers gained survived among some African peoples in Budge's day. However, Budge goes overboard in giving citations of cannibalism in medieval and modern Egypt and Africa. In many cases, such events were driven by hunger during famine or war and have little to do with the concepts illustrated from ancient Egypt.

In ancient Egypt, slaves and others were often put to death at the funerals of kings and important people. Budge cites the same practice at the funerals of chiefs in Sudan, the Gold Coast, Benin, along the Niger and Congo and elsewhere. The resting of coffins on human heads in Sudan is linked to a similar practice illustrated on the tomb of Seti I. The tall hats and horned crowns worn by African chiefs resemble the White Crown and horned crowns worn by Osiris. Examples are given among the Bayanzi, Imbangela, Lomani, Lulongo-Maringo, Bangala, N. Ngombe and Alunda. Two ostrich feathers decorate the White Crown of Osiris. These feathers are worn by various peoples in Africa also. The plaited beard common in old Egyptian art is quite common in various parts of Africa. Budge cites examples among the Makarkas, Mpungu, Fang, Bayanzi, Lunda and Luba. The "scalework" on the body of Osiris is thought to be related to the body painting or tatooing found among various African peoples particularly those in the Sudan. Budge notes that both modern Africans and ancient Egyptians practiced preservation of the dead body: "The Egyptians removed the intestines and brain, and embalmed the body with great skill, and then swathed it in linen, and laid it in a coffin or sarcophagus.

The modern African removes the more perishable parts of the body by ways which will be described further on, and dries or smokes the corpse very effectively. He also anoits it with unguents, and wraps it up in much cloth, and then places it in a coffin or on a bier." (p. 90) The mention of the jawbones of the deceased Unas, Re-stau and enemies of Horus in Egyptian texts are explained by the African practice of removing and preserving the jawbones of kings, or using the jawbones of enemies as trophies. Specifially mentioned are the Sudani, Dahomey, Baganda, Ashante and various peoples of Uganda. The Egyptian concept of the ka, meaning"double" has its counterpart throughout wide regions of Africa. Among the Tshi it is known as kra or kla meaning "soul" and as doshi among the Bantu which means literally "double" (as in the Egyptian).

In both Egypt and the rest of Africa, the ka differs from the Western idea of "soul." The ancient Egyptians and modern Africans had the idea of at least three types of "souls" inhabiting each person. The ka is an immaterial double of the physical body that persists after death. The ka though is distinct from the person, and is a type of guardian spirit. The ka in both Africa and ancient Egypt must be cared for after a person dies or the ka itself will perish. Egyptians and Africans made images in which the ka dwelt and to these were offered meals and worship. The sahu or "spirit-body" arose in the "Other World" after one's death. Among the Tshi, the "shadowy person" that comes to live in the "Other World" after death is known as Srahman. Similar ideas were cited amongst the Yoruba, Uvengwa and Baluba. Like the ba, the sahu could perish in certain circumstances. The Egyptians considered the shadow or khaibat as a type of "soul." Similar beliefs among the Nsism, Wanyamwesi, Nandi, and Busuko and in various parts of the Lower Niger, Congo, Southern Guinea and Mashonaland were mentioned by Budge. The khu was the imperishable spirit and had its counterpart in the "dual soul" concept of West Africa.

Nigeria: On the move

The belief in transmigration of the dual soul and shadow was common in Africa. Reincarnation was widely found among the people of the Niger Delta who made a practice of identifying which people in a community were the souls of persons deceased in earlier times. Among the Pygmies, Banza and West Mubangi the spirit was reincarnated in animal form and this type of belief was held by some segments of the Egyptian population. Both modern Africans and ancient Egyptians took care to protect the buried body from contact with the earth, which was seen as contaminating. The African burial usually consists of a deep pit into which a niche is carved so that the body does not come into contact with the earth.

The Egyptian tomb was also built in a pit with a sarcophagus taking the role of the niche. In some African burials the niche was sealed off with stones as with the Egyptian sarcophagus. The Egyptians, like modern Africans, saw the journey to the "Other World" after death as difficult. In both cases, rituals were performed to "open the way" for the deceased. The Egyptian concept of Tuat found its counterpart in the African "God's Town" or "Njambi's Town." The concept of divine kingship linked ancient and modern cultures. Ancient Egyptians and modern Africans both had priests/shamans adept in both "white" and "black" magic. Unlike the Hebrew or Mesopotamian priest, who usually eschewed magical practices, the Egyptian priest's schooling involved learning innumerable magical incantations and potions.

The use of "black magic" by Egyptian priests often resembled practices common in Voodoo. These included the making of wax dolls in the image of specific persons. These wax dolls could be cut and slashed to inflict pain on those persons or burnt to inflict death. In one passage, a wax crocodile was fashioned that turned into the real thing in order to attack the intended victim. Budge notes that spitting had a religious meaning among ancient Egyptians. He found similar beliefs among the Kordofan, Dyur, Barotze, Nandi, Suk, Kytch and Masa. In a somewhat unrelated notice, Budge mentions that Egyptians commonly made figures of steatopygous women. He mentions specifically the dolls and representations at the 4th Egyptian Room in the British Museum. He compares these with the figures of the steatopygous queen and princess of Punt. Budge notes that African cultures, including Egypt, often worship the snake and crocodile. The symbolism of the serpent uraeus is specially noted. The use of multiple "mighty names" among ancient Egyptians was similar to the use of "strong names" among African peoples.