Dualism is a feature in many societies. A characteristic that has influenced the political, religious, economic and social systems in many civilisations. There have been some civilisations who adopted dualism in their political system. This is the case of the Incas for example, who had two people on the highest political pyramid. There were two heads reigning the Tahuantinsuyu or the Empire, as we like calling it in Europe.
Other societies adopted dualism in their religious beliefs, or their economical systems. Egypt was one of them. It was a society in which dualism impregnated their political, religious, cosmological and cultural system. It was felt everywhere. It was an important part of this wonderful civilisation, which was felt on their structures and on their whole life philosophy. Dualism seemed to have formed part of this culture since the beginnings. Dual signs are found in inscriptions, drawings, sculptures, palaces… since its birth. But is this right? Did it exist since the beginning? Why and how was adopted dualism in Egypt?
To start looking at this characteristic of Egyptian society we have to go back to the Neolithic. This was a time when changes on weather conditions transformed huge areas of African soil into dessert. These changes made whole populations move towards the proximities of the Nile River. These changes transformed also the way of living for those groups, swapping from nomadism to agriculture. Once they inhabited the closeness of the river were able to live from agriculture. They increased populations, bigger groups were formed, and those groups started having some sort of political organisation around a leader. With the time and the increase in political power by certain monarchs such as Scorpion for example, regions were annexing to each other forming bigger human groups under the same leader. The complexity of some of these groups increased and states were created.
However, the complete unity of the Nile was not accomplished at first. There was a time when the Nile was divided on two differentiated areas, the lower and the upper Nile. The Upper part of the Nile was controlled homogeneously by one monarch while the Lower part was controlled and divided into various states, each governed by a different leader.
The time for Menes arrived. He might have been the Pharaoh that brought together both parts of the Nile into one united land. The conquest might have been accomplished by few monarchs and therefore Menes might not have been the only one to achieve unity of such a huge area, but what it has been found on inscriptions, monuments and other archaeological sites is that he was the first Pharaoh to be “lord of the Upper and Lower Egypt”.
The achievement was not a matter of just conquering an area. It was more of transforming the mind and the religious and cosmological beliefs of the human groups living on that area. On the times of Menes dualism, as institution that governs and unites heterogeneous areas into one united Empire was essential. The introduction of dualism aimed at accepting Upper and Lower cultures with their differences. A dual system that made people feel that the division of the country was synonym of decadence and that the union was signal of endurance and triumph.
It has been found written hieroglyphs that tells about the “land of Upper and Lower Egypt”, of the “lord of Upper and Lower land”. There were emblems such as the white crown or the vulture Nekhbet, which were part of the Upper Egypt. Then, provably on times of Menes, emblems were created for lower Egypt such as the red crown and the cobra Wadjet. These emblems are found in inscriptions as part of the same message, like a dual system of symbols that represent the land of the Pharaohs, the monarchical dualism. This dualism was felt in many other areas such as in governmental offices for example, which were divided on upper and lower parts. The shrines were also divided on two parts, having an area for the Upper and the lower land. Each part had their own religious beliefs and Gods, who were respected.
Obviously this dualism was also felt on the Gods and their representations. The Pharaohs were conceived and born from Horus and Set, two gods that complemented and conflicted on this dualism of creation. At times these two Gods appeared representing Lower and Upper Egypt. These two gods were harmoniously combined to form the Pharaoh, who was also a God, an essential part for the equilibrium of the Cosmos.
On the mythology about Horus and Set they are not complementing themselves, but they are in a constant conflict between them. This conflict may reflect the conflicts that encountered the Upper and the Lower part of Egypt. A conflict that was reflected on its myths. There was a constant fight in which Horus was always the winner and in which Set was dominated but never surrendered. It was this conflictive but complemented power that governed Egypt and was reflected somehow in their mythology. Like giving a sense to their historical conflicts. The South governed but needed the North. Egypt had to be a united, regardless of their differences.
The festivities reflected also this dualism. These rites and festivities combined references to the North and south parts of Egypt too. Even the creation of Memphis, the capital of Egypt, reflected this dualism. Initially the city was named “white walls”. It had though parts painted in red and some parts painted in white.
Dualism became a stamp of their culture and gave Egypt an identity in which to sustain its civilisation for three millenniums.
Based on the book “Kingship and the Gods” by Henri Frankfort.
Images found on:
http://www.pintorest.com and www.britannica.com