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Evidence of Africa’s religious heritage

In 1879 an Egyptian worker discovered an opening in the near-ruined pyramid tomb of Unas, at Sakkara (or Saqqara), the famous “City of the Dead” located near the entrance of the Nile Delta on the west bank of the Nile River. Inside he found a series of hieroglyphic inscriptions almost 5,000 years old. These inscriptions came to be known as the pyramid texts, and revealed that at the time of the building of the first pyramids in Egypt, a sophisticated system of astronomy already existed. The pyramid texts contain the first record of human religion, now called the Book of the Divine Light (Pert Em Heru). This written word came long before the writing of other religious texts, like the Bible and the Koran.

Ancient Egyptians, like their Ethiopian ancestors, studied astronomy because for them the stars and planets represented their religion and mythology. The sun was regarded as the One God (Ptah), father of all creation and source of the Divine Light. The moon, known as Mara, was regarded as the mother of the world. The pyramid texts reveal that Africans viewed the heavens as a place inhabited by a hierarchy of Gods, and that the cycles of the sun and moon and the movement of the stars in the Zodiac controlled the cycles of daily life and worship.

This astronomical knowledge was brought into Egypt from the old kingdom of Ethiopia located north of the Great Lakes. The pyramid texts are the first recorded evidence of a written religion and it is thanks to them that we can trace the beginning of human spirituality to this location in Africa.

The translation of the pyramid texts was completed in 1952 by Professor Samuel Mercer, who was a specialist in Semitic languages (ancient languages of North Africa and the Middle East) and Egyptology (the study of Egyptian culture and history) at Toronto University in Canada. So only in very recent history has the meaning of the Book of the Divine Light become know. This is one reason why Africa’s part in the evolution of modern religion has been overlooked.

The practice of religion according to the Book of the Divine Light also helps us to identify how these beliefs have lasted through the generations and still influence traditional cultures today. For instance, the roles of the Rain Goddess and the Rain Queens of Africa, such as the Mudjadji in Limpopo, are closely linked to the ancient African understanding of astronomy and its relationship to human existence. 

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