Africa is a vast continent, with many ethnicities, languages, and cultures. The Sahara Desert divides the continent geographically and spiritually. North Africa belongs to the Middle Eastern world, with Islam established as early as the seventh century A.D. Christianity, meanwhile, held the ancient Coptic churches in Egypt; flourished for a long time in the Sudan; and still survives in Ethiopia, the only African kingdom with a Christian state church. Most Africans, however, came from societies with traditional African religious backgrounds, unrelated to Islam or Christianity.
As a whole, African religious traditions combine belief in a Supreme Being with the worship of other gods and ancestors. They use ritual and magic to communicate among human beings, nature, and the gods. In many African languages, there is no word for God, because in their tradition, every thing and every place embodies God.
The rituals practiced in many traditional African societies are considered to be stepping-stones to the ultimate goal of death and the afterlife. There are rituals that guide one through all of the transitional stages of life, such as birth, puberty, initiation into adulthood, marriage, having children, old age, death, and life after death. These rituals allow participants to know what society expects of them in the next stage of their lives.
Despite the universality of belief in a Supreme Being in Africa, formal, church-like worship of God was not widely practiced. Nevertheless, the concept of God is transcendent, and there is a popular myth, told from West Africa to the Upper Nile, which says that He or the sky, his dwelling place, was once much nearer to the earth.
In addition to the Supreme Being, Africans believe in many other spiritual entities, roughly divisible into nature spirits and ancestors. Some of them have both human and natural origins. It is said, however, that in sacrifices offered to other deities, the essence of the gift still goes to the Supreme Being.