Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex and beautiful balance of monotheism and polytheism, along with a good dose of pure magic. For the Egyptians there was no such thing as a separation between magic and religion. One ancient writer, Clement of Alexandria, said that "Egypt was the mother of magicians." The power that lay behind all magic was known as heka.
The Egyptians believed in one creator deity who was eternal, omnipotent, self-existent, and incomprehensible to the humans. This unknowable divinity was sometimes referred to by the name neter, the suggested meaning of which includes ideas of "god," "divine," "strength," and "renewal." The polytheism of Egypt manifested in the vast number of local and lesser deities. These deities were considered as the various aspects or attributes of the neter, manifesting in forms that could be visualized and comprehended by the human mind. Thus the goddess Isis was the divine femininity and creative force of the neter, while the god Thoth was the neter’s intellectual force, the god Horus was the neter’s strength, etc.
The Egyptian pantheon is heavily utilized in the Golden Dawn??"more than any other. But in the Golden Dawn, it is the magical aspects of the pantheon, rather than the religious beliefs, that are employed. Another name for a magician is a theurgist or "god-worker." In ancient Egypt, the magician worked magic mainly through a form of self-identification, wherein the theurgist ritually identified himself with a particular deity. In later times this technique would come to be called the assumption of a godform. In the higher grades of the Golden Dawn, the theurgist learns to build up the image of a deity within the mind, and then "step" into it and assume its astral form. To perform this method properly, the magician needs to be balanced and experienced in visualization, vibration, and other psychic skills.
During all Golden Dawn induction ceremonies, the initiating Adepts assume Egyptian godforms in this manner. There is a godform for every officer who participates. There are also invisible stations where certain godforms are merely visualized. The reenactment of this myth represents the initiate’s spiritual rebirth into a greater life. The Neophyte Hall is based on the mythos of the "Hall of Judgment" from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The new initiate symbolically takes on the role of the deceased in the story, passing into the underworld of the god, Osiris, where his heart is weighed against the feather of Truth to determine if he has lived a good life and is worthy of joining with Osiris in the afterlife. The reenactment of this myth represents the initiate’s spiritual rebirth into a life of greater awareness.
Magical talismans had a prominent place in the heka of ancient Egypt. They continue to have a prominent place in the magic of today. In the First Order of the Golden Dawn student learns what symbolism is needed for the creation of talismans. In the Second Order, the student learns how to consecrate and use them.
Another aspect of Egyptian theurgy which would remain essential to magic throughout the long history of the Hermetic Tradition, was the importance given to divine names and words of power. The ancients believed that knowing the secret name of a deity conferred great power to the magician. In Golden Dawn, divine names are vibrated or powerfully intoned in such a way as to be felt throughout the entire body??"a form of voice projection similar to that used by singers. It is not the name or word by itself is powerful??"it is the amount of focus, feeling, and force that magician puts into it. "For by names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened."
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