In order to fully understand the reign of Akhenaten, we first need to travel back in time, to the reign of his great grandfather Tuthmose III, founder of the Rosicrucian movement. This was originally a group of mystical scholars, of both sexes, which formed part of a wider organisation known as The Great White Brotherhood. It is unclear as to exactly when the Brotherhood was formed, but according to Rosicrucian records, many of the rules and regulations appear to have been formulated by this King. At the close of his reign, in 1447 BC, 39 men and women sat on the High Council of the Brotherhood at the Temple of Karnak, many of whom were aspects of the various Ascended Masters that we know and work with today. Tuthmose III was himself an aspect of Kuthumi.
The aim of the Brotherhood was to bring together the wisest men and women of Egypt to discuss and preserve the great knowledge that they had attained. It could therefore in some ways be seen as a school of philosophy. Students from around the ancient world flocked to Egypt in order to study these philosophies and truths under the directorship of the Brotherhood.
Several mystic schools in Egypt and throughout the Middle East were united under these auspices, assuming different names in different locations. Two of these were the Essenes and the Rosicrucians. Some of their members were healers and physicians, whilst others studied and translated the ancient texts. For these purposes, two principal centres were maintained, one at Lake Moeris in Egypt, where Ascended Master El Morya was born, and one in Palestine, near the Dead Sea. In addition to this, for many centuries they maintained a great library and school of learning near Mount Carmel.
After the death of Tuthmose III, succeeding Pharaohs continued as Grand Master of The Brotherhood, through to Amenhotep IV. Amenhotep, who was one of El Morya’s many incarnations, was better known as the so called heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten.
Tuthmose III successor was his son Amenhotep II, and he in turn was succeeded by Tuthmose IV. Shortly before his coronation, the young Tuthmose IV went hunting at Giza, and fell asleep within the shadow of the Sphinx. There he had a dream, a vision of the Divine, which identified itself as Ra Horakhty, an aspect of the Sun god.
The Sun was divided into four different aspects. At dawn, as he rose, he was known as Khepri. As he rose higher throughout the morning, he was known as Ra Horakhty. When the Sun reached its full noon day height, it was known as the Aten. In mid afternoon, when it set it became Atum. The King seems to have been profoundly touched by his experience with Ra Horakhty, feeling as if he had been literally reborn as the very son of God himself.
Some time afterwards, he visited his wife Mutwemweia and conceived a child, who was to become Amenhotep III. The young Prince was looked after and tutored by a variety of different courtiers. Chief among these were a couple known as Yuya and Thuya. They had several children of their own, who were to play an important role in Egyptian history; two boys known as Aye and Anun, and a daughter named Tiye.
Amenhotep III ascended the throne at the age of around seven years, and within a short space of time was married to Tiye, no doubt at her parents instigation. The young King was richer than any other before him, and ruled over a vast and prosperous empire bequeathed to him by his ancestors. Once she reached puberty, Tiye began to bear him a succession of children, who must surely have been told of their grandfathers revelations. The King himself commemorated the event in his own way, by carving images of the Sun god within the Temple at Karnak. It was not the Sun as Ra Horakhy that he drew though, but rather the midday aspect, known as the Aten. In the meantime, he continued to venerate the other traditional gods, in particular the ever present and powerful Amun.
Little is known of the King’s eldest son and heir, Prince Tuthmose, who disappeared towards the end of his reign. Subsequently his brother, Amenhotep IV, ascended to the throne. He seems to have been a charismatic and highly intelligent young man with somewhat unusual ideas, clearly influenced by those of his grandfather. His greatest supporter was his uncle, Aye. Aye and his wife Teye had a daughter Mutnojme, who later married Horemheb. Teye is also listed as stepmother to another girl named Nefertiti, most probably Aye’s daughter by a previous marriage. Nefertiti of course ultimately became Amenhotep IV’s wife.
In year 27 of his reign, Amenhotep III presented his son as co-regent at the Temple of Karnak, under the throne name of Neferkheprure Waenre. Amenhotep III continued to rule Lower Egypt from his Palace at Thebes, while his son was made regent of Upper Egypt with his own court and set of officials.
Soon after his coronation, the young King was sent southwards to Nubia to celebrate his father’s 30 year jubilee. There he founded a small settlement called Sesebi, where for the first time he was free to express his religious ideas, and loyalty to the Aten.
He eventually returned to Thebes to rejoin his wife and daughter, determined to establish his own city dedicated exclusively to his chosen god. With the jubilee celebrations finally over, he then sailed northwards to find a suitable site, accompanied by his chief ministers, among them Aye. Arriving at a desolate cliff ringed plain, the heart chakra of Egypt, he swore to build a magnificient city dedicated to the Aten, which today is known as Amarna. It was at this stage that he changed his birth name to Akhenaten.
It has often been said that he forbade the worship of other gods, yet evidence suggests that this was far from the case. Although the central Temple of Amarna was dedicated to the Aten, this was common practise throughout the country, as settlements worshipped their own local gods. In fact, when the city was excavated, virtually every house was decorated with images of a multitude of other gods, suggesting that the Aten was worshipped alongside these other deities, which he must surely have been aware of.
Others have claimed that Akhenaten was forced to leave Thebes by the Priests of Amun, yet this does not make sense. For starters, much of the Temple we see today had not even been built. If you remove all the Nineteenth Dynasty buildings that were erected after this time, all you are left with is a relatively small sanctuary, with a set of pylon gates erected by Amenhotep III. The Temple at that time then was not nearly as rich and powerful as we have been led to believe. Even if it had been, the idea of Priests forcing out the King of Egypt is totally untenable, as they depended on him for their very livelihood. If Akhentaten had really wanted to close the temples, then there was very little they could have done to stop him. In effect all he was really doing was what Egyptians had done for millennia, finding a new home in which to house his own patron god. It had to be virgin territory though, with no prior claims from other deities, hence its remote location.
The Aten itself has been described as an omnipotent, androgynous force, symbolised by the rays of the Sun. It was usually depicted as a sun disc, encircled with a snake, from which emanated rays of light. The rays ended with outstretched hands, some of which held Ankhs, the key of life. The King wrote hymns or descriptive poems to his god, remarkably similar to Psalm 104, reputedly written by Moses. This has led many to suppose that the beliefs may have come from outside Egypt. According to Rosicrucian Records, Akhenaten taught and initiated Moses into the Great White Brotherhood and assisted him to lead the Jews from bondage. There are some who believe that Moses and Akhenaten were in fact the same person, but this seems highly unlikely.
What happened needs to be placed in a proper context against the backdrop not so much of Egyptian religion, but of spirituality, for that is what above all else what Akhenaton was attempting to bring back into Egyptian society, the spirituality which had become forgotten, the truth of man’s own divine nature, and of who he truly is.
This was the true message behind the worship of the Aten, the solar disc. He was dressed up as Ra to make him acceptable to those who were not quite ready to embrace this concept fully. A meeting point between religion and spirituality was needed, and that is why this symbol of the sun disc was chosen to provide a reference point which people could more easily relate to.
In its usual aspect, the Aten was seen as merely a symbol for the Sun at its highest point, rather than as a diety in its own right. In the famous Hymn to the Aten, the disc is described as the father of all creation. What Akhenaten was describing then was not the Sun itself, but rather the power behind it. Just as the Sun’s power is omnipotent and all present, so too is the power of God. He was describing a divine creator who is present in all things and all people.
The lifespan of the city was relatively short, and after the death of Akhenaten was rapidly abandoned. He seems to have ruled for just 17 years, the first 12 as co-regent with his father, Amenhotep III, and the last 4 or 5 with an enigmatic figure of whom little is known, Smenkhare. There are some who believe that this may in fact have been Nefertiti, ruling as co-regent under a new name, as the first part of the two figures throne names is the same. Nefertiti was known as Nefernefruaten Mery Waenre, whereas Smenkhare was known as Nefernefruaten Smenkhare. Smenkhare also appears at a time when Nefertiti seems to completely disappear, with no record of her death. This solution however fails to take account of a remarkable discovery in the Valley of the Kings. The most likely explanation is that Smenkhare was son of either Akhenaten himself by a minor wife, or possibly his father Amenhotep III.
In 1907 the American archaeologist, Theodore Davis claimed to have discovered Akhenaten’s tomb, KV55, in the Valley of the Kings. Excavations revealed two wooden doors bearing the name of Queen Tiye. On the right, near an open niche lay a bier where the coffin had once stood. The bier had collapsed, throwing the coffin off, and jerking to the lid to one side, revealing the mummy within. When the bandages were unwrapped the arms were found to be embalmed in a pose normally reserved for Queens, with one folded across the chest, and the other by the side. The body was therefore tentatively identified as Queen Tiye. DNA tests on a lock of Tiye’s hair from the tomb of Tutankhamun have since proved though that the mummy cannot be hers.
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, Professor of anatomy at the Cairo School of Medicine examined the bones, and claimed that they belonged to a male, aged around 25 years at the time of death, far too young for it to have been Akhenaten considering the length of his reign.
RG Harrison from the University of Liverpool re examined the remains in 1963. After extensive investigations, it was found that the skull bore a striking resemblance to that of Tutankhamun, believed by some to have been Akhenaten’s son. The measurements of the 2 skulls were found to be identical, leading Harrison to conclude that the two bodies must have been related. The jury is still out as to exactly who the mummy is, but its male gender, combined with its age, would point very much to Smenkhare.
In the meantime, Akhenaten’s intended tomb has been discovered at Amarna. It is impossible to state with any certainty as to whether he was ever buried here, although fragments of his sarcophagus, together with shabti figures were discovered, suggesting the strong possibility. The body however has never been found, and in my opinion is not likely to be, as I believe it was ultimately destroyed, to prevent it from becoming a religious icon. The sense I got during my own visit to the tomb was completely devoid of any feeling or energy at all. It was almost like walking into a brand new building that never been used.
After the death of Smenkhare, the boy King Tutankhaten, who later changed his name to Tutankhamun, was appointed successor. Within ten years he too was dead, possibly at the hands of assassins. Tiye’s brother Aye, Akhenaten’s greatest supporter then ascended the throne himself, until four years later he too died, without an heir. After this Egypt was placed under effective military rule by the next Pharaoh, and ex Army General, Horemheb. He attempted to erase all memory of Akhenaten’s rule and the so called Amarna Kings, altering our entire perception of this era in the process.