Atenism was Egypt's state religion during the reign of Akhenaten. The religion considered Aten - the sun disc - as the supreme and only god, a radical departure from traditional beliefs.

I realize Atenism only lasted for a few years and probably didn't have enough time to provide answers to all fundamental questions. However, placing the sun as the supreme god immediately raises the question: What happens at night? Where does Aten go?

Did Atenism provide an explanation for the absence of the sun disc in the night sky?

  • 1
    You've read the Great Hymn to Aten, right? There are several mentions of "darkness" and "setting" in there that could prove fruitful, although nothing like an explicitly reasoned out theology of course.
    – Random
    Feb 5, 2018 at 23:36

2 Answers 2


Atenism offers a very good example of the exclusivity of presence. We find it in the moment of dawn and dusk.

The religious ideas with which Akhenaten grew up were those of the New Solar Theology. It is to be found in hymns and rituals and in the Books of the Netherworld of Dynasty. At its core is the daily course of The Sun, which guarantees the continued existence of the cosmos. The Sun god renews his creation every morning, but he also descends nightly into the netherworld, where his resurrecting light wakes the dead to new life in the depths of The Earth.

The entire cosmos is dependent upon light and the sight of the god, but this light must be continually regenerated in the darkness; it must overcome dangers and hostile forces whose most powerful embodiment is the great serpent Apopis/Apep/Apophis. These menacing forces are defeated, and the New Solar Theology reflects a deep trust in the reliability of The Sun.

However, by identifying the diurnal phase of the daily cycle of The Sun with the universal deity (Aten), Atenism was incapable of dealing with something very important to the ancient Egyptians: a good afterlife. The nocturnal phase was not present. The netherworld and Osiris were left out of the picture, although the Duat was mentioned. The Aten "rested" in the West and as it were immediately "dawned" in the East, from "horizon" to "horizon".

Akhenaten and the Religion of Light by Erik Hornung, translated by David Lorton

ancient Egyptian readings by Wim van den Dungen

Great Hymn to the Aten

Akhenaten: history, fantasy and ancient Egypt



An Analysis of the Pharaoh Akhenaten's Religious and Philosophical Revolution

An honors thesis for the Department of Anthropology

Laura Taronas Tufts University, 2012.

p. 16/pdf (p. 14 in article)

"...The third stanza of the Great Hymn discusses the nature of the world during the nighttime. In this passage, the darkness of night is strongly equated with death and in this sense the absence of the Aten means the absence of life on earth. According to traditional solar theology the sun god would descend into the underworld at night in order to care for the deceased. This is in stark contrast with Akhenaten’s vision of the night, in which the Aten is completely absent and the dead are completely overlooked. The Aten does not visit the realm of the dead, but instead it simply rests. Therefore, this stanza of the Great Hymn demonstrates that there is no conception of the netherworld in the traditional sense within Atenism. It is not clear from the Hymn if there exists an underworld at all and if it is a normal element of death. This segment of the Hymn also introduces the idea that the world is structured around what can be viewed with the human eye. At night when the citizens of the world are asleep they possess no cares or desires and “were they robbed of their goods, that from under their heads, people would not remark it.”39 In this example, Akhenaten is suggesting that because the eye does not see the event, it is not something that should worry the individual...."


Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World by Gerald Massey

p. 261 - The “Aten” of the so-called disk-worship was an ancient form of Har-Makhu, god of the double horizon. This, however, was not a worship of the solar disk. The disk was but an emblem of the circle made by Aten as the god of both horizons. His was a compound type of godhood, in which the mother was dual with the son who was her child on one horizon and her bull or fecundator on the other. The word Aten, from At, was an ancient name for the child. Horus-Behutet, god of the hut or winged disk, we take to have been the earliest form of Aten. This is the solar god who crossed from the horizon west to the horizon east upon the vulture's wings, which were an emblem of the motherhood. The “hut” was a dual emblem of the divine infant and the mother as bearer of the child. As the bird she carried him over the intervening void of darkness where the Apap lay in wait. Thus the godhood of Aten consisted of the mother, her child, and the adult male or bull of the mother, in a cult which preceded that of the fatherhood of Atum-Ra. The glory of Aten as the power that is doubled on the horizon of the Resurrection was the object of regard in this religion, not the disk.

  • 3
    This is a good answer. I'm not sure why it received a downvote. Please consider undeleting it.
    – yannis
    Sep 23, 2019 at 8:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.