The Egyptian Neters, Part 1

by Billie Walker-John

Herodotus regarded the Egyptians as the most scrupulously religious of mankind and, as is well-known, Egypt has no end of gods and goddesses. In this series of articles we shall look into not only the oft-studied religion, but also the lesser-known esoteric foundation that lay behind the public face of faith in Pharonic Egypt.

If it is true to say ‘The Greeks had a word for it’ meaning that their language was expressive enough to embrace even the most abstract of concepts – and even some that were not so abstract, then it would be equally true to say ‘The Egyptians had a god for it’. Yet the Egyptians did not call their deities ‘Gods’ but Neters (ntrw). This word is usually translated as ‘god(s)’, but from the Egyptian point of view, this is an unsatisfactory rendering. The ancient concept of Deity was/is greater than our normal modern grasp of the word; it encompassed both the well-known exoteric facade of the religion plus a more elusive esoteric dimension as well. In the modern treatment of this concept, this latter dimension is usually either ignored, considered primitive superstition or misunderstood. Yet even a cursory study of this subject would be incomplete without considering the esoteric or secret dimension. This unseen aspect will often provide both insight and understanding of the Neters that the strictly exoteric cannot.

If the Neters are not gods as such, then what where they? One answer to this can be found in Symbolism, from the Symbolist School which choose to consider as an Egyptian parallel to the Qabalah. This analogy is entirely my own and it is not exact, but there are enough similarities between the two systems to permit a brief comparison. ‘Symbolist’ is the name that has been applied to the writings of R A Schwaller de Lubicz, his wife Isha and others such as Lucie Lamy, John Anthony West and Bika Reed. As the name implies, Symbolism is a medium of interpretation; in this case of the secret wisdom of ancient Egypt. Its modus operandi is through the most Egyptian mode of expression, the hieroglyphs (the sacred writing) plus that other most enduring of ancient Egypt’s achievements, her monuments, ie., architecture. Both the written word and ‘monuments for eternity’ were regarded as eminently worthy channels for expressing what could be conveyed of the esoteric doctrine.

Symbolism’s almost Qabalah-like concept of the universe can be stated concisely as ‘That which is in Heaven, on Earth and in the Dwat’ [1]. This formula provides a framework of Three Worlds – the Celestial, the Terrestrial and an Intermediate World between Heaven and Earth, through which the Divine descended or emanated, the causal powers manifesting as the Neters. In the Terrestrial World, or Earth, the Neters manifest as Nature.

In addition, a Mystery element was further understood by the Egyptian initiates. The Neters were also within humanity – ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within’. A conscious awareness/awakening of this Mystery could be achieved through an effective rite [2]. This was one of the objectives of the priestly sages with their Temple neophytes.

The Three Worlds can be very roughly (and I emphasise ‘roughly’) parallelled with the Tree of Life:

  • The Three Supernals = The Celestial, or Heaven, World
  • Da’ath = The Dwat (or Duat), the Intermediate World
  • Malkuth = The Earth, or Terrestrial World

The ordinary non-sacerdotal Egyptian – the man in the flelds, the woman at her loom, the children tending flocks – were not admitted within the deep interior of the Temples. In such a case, they were not expected to understand the esoteric teachings of the Temples, even though these same people worked directly with the uncomprehended principles and functions represented by the Neters in their daily lives and tasks.

Yet the uninitiated were not excluded from their part in the all encompassing round that was religion in ancient Egypt simply because they could not participate in the Temples rites or teachings. Just as the priests realised different levels of causation and consciousness so, too, were the Neters able to convey instruction on different levels. This is very similar to the way Jesus used parables to address varying states of comprehension in his listeners. In Egypt, the parables were stories about the Neters in their various roles as Dead and Reborn King, Jealous Brother, Faithful Wife, Avenging Son, Arbitrator/Reconciler and so on.

In this way, the greater realities behind these very human stories were accessible to everyone – according to each person’s capacity to understand what was being revealed. The hieroglyphs and temples spoke to the intitiated priest of that which found expression through these channels; to those outside the Temples the same revelations were refracted like light through a prism via the earthed statue or painting or story of the Neters.

In esoteric terms, the Neters are not the lifeless idols they are so often accused of being by the spiritually blind and ignorant. The Symbolist sees these images as reflections of a greater Unseen.

In the second article of this series, we shall see for ourselves how the Neters manifested through the Three Worlds in the god triads in the cities and temples of ancient Egypt, beginning with Heliopolis.



[1] Isha Schwaller de Lubicz – Her-Bak: The Living Face of Ancient Egypt, Vol. I,
Inner Traditions International Ltd, New York, 1978, page 340

[2] Isha Schwaller de Lubicz – Her-Bak: Egyptian Initiate, Vol II,
Inner Traditions International Ltd, New York 1978, page 30