[Page 3] THOSE
who have studied the question are generally agreed amongst themselves that the cradle of the Egyptian people
must be sought in the interior of the Asiatic quarter of the world at some very remote period. It has been
proved beyond the possibility of doubt that upon the first appearance in history of the Empire of Menes, the
first Egyptian king, the nation already possessed an established Mythology, a fact not without significance
for those who are not prepared to believe that: " Mythology is a peculiar disease of the mind which grows
up at a certain stage of human culture". We also find that very, very long ago this ancient people were
in possession of architectural secrets and mathematical knowledge never surpassed: and, as I believe the Egyptian
Religion to have been primarily formulated by the Divine Wisdom of its priest-initiates, it will perhaps form
a useful prelude to our consideration of the subject if I instance a few facts which go to show that the knowledge
of Ancient Egypt was a reality and no delusion. Commencing them with one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient
World, I will venture to draw attention to the comments of an eminent British architect upon the construction
of the Great Pyramid, a subject, no doubt familiar, but which well serves my purpose. The author of the " History
of Architecture" thus writes: —" No one can possibly examine the interior of the Great Pyramid
without being struck with astonishment at the wonderful mechanical skill displayed in its construction. The immense
blocks of granite brought from Syene: — a distance of 500 miles — polished like glass, and so fitted
that the joints can hardly be detected. Nothing can be more wonderful than the extraordinary amount of knowledge
displayed in the construction of the discharging Chambers over the roof of the principal apartment, in the alignment
of the sloping galleries, in the provision of ventilating shafts and in all the wonderful contrivances of the
structure. All these too, are carried out with such precision, that notwithstanding the immense super-incumbent
weight, no settlement in any part can be detected to the extent of an appreciable fraction of an inch. Nothing
more perfect mechanically has ever been erected since that time, and we ask ourselves in vain, how long it must
have taken before men acquired such experience and such skill, or were so perfectly organised as to contemplate
and complete such undertakings". I need not here refer to the controversy which has raged about the age
of this Pyramid; suffice to say it is generally considered to be older than 4,004 B.C.
Mons. Chabas, a French Egyptologist, in a treatise on an Egyptian [Page 4] text, makes the following observation: — "I deduce this important fact that 4,000 years ago the Egyptians knew that the earth moves in space and did not hesitate to attribute their knowledge of this fact to generations which had preceded them by many centuries".
The Baron Taxtor de Ravisi tells us that several papyri and inscriptions which have been discovered, prove to us beyond all doubt that the science of mesmerism, somnambulism, and contingent knowledge, were industriously cultivated by the Egyptians, who were perfectly well acquainted with these now occult sciences.
Herodotus considered the Egyptians even in his time to be "by far the best instructed people with whom he was acquainted, since they of all men store up most for recollection".
There is no need, however, to dwell further on other facts which could be similarly adduced in support of the case for the wisdom of the Egyptians.
We are then face to face with another consideration, which is that in ancient Egypt — contrary to the practice obtaining in our own day scientific — and religious knowledge went hand in hand, the priests being the custodians of both. The principles of Astronomy, Architecture, Geometry and other learned branches of human knowledge were regarded as divine, and as having a direct bearing on religious philosophy, being made the subject of initiation. It will thus be at once seen that spiritual developments were not hampered by materialistic prejudice, and that this condition of unity in religion and science was peculiarly favourable to the best results in both directions. It is therefore certainly reasonable that these priests, whose scientific attainments were so undeniable, should be credited with an equally keen perception in the domain of religious philosophy, and that we should be very careful indeed that we understand the attitude of the learned Egyptians themselves towards their religion before we attempt to criticise it.
That religion is the oldest vehicle of the Secret Doctrine, or of any doctrine, of which we have historical trace, and its study affords features of special interest alike to Jew and Christian: for the priestly lore of Egypt was the source of the inspiration of Moses, as is covertly laid down in the Pentateuch when it is said that the Israelites borrowed jewels of gold and jewels of silver from the Egyptians, while it is easy to trace the moulding influence of the Egyptian faith on the Christian symbolism.
In the earliest times of which we have record the Egyptian religion seems to have existed in its purest form, and, "at one time the Egyptians were said to have temples without sculptured images". "Not only the Egyptians", says H.P.B., "but every Nation of the earth began with temples devoid of idols and even of symbols. It is only when the remembrance of the great abstract truths and of the primordial wisdom taught to [Page 5] humanity by the dynasties of the divine kings died out that men had to resort to mementoes and symbology".
Whenever one talks about the "Religion of Egypt", the question which will naturally arise is, which religion are you talking about ? Is it the religion of the rabble, or that of the learned people; the religion of the fourth dynasty, or that of a later period ? Maspero estimated that since the earliest Egyptian period of which we have record down to the latest at least thirty different religions have had their day. This conclusion is arrived at owing to the variation of the symbolism which has from time to time been in vogue. The author of the "Secret Doctrine" however, believed that Maspero went too far in making the statement alluded to and, while it is no doubt true that the religion of the learned was not the religion of the multitude, it is hardly reasonable to assume that the variation of the Egyptian religious symbolism necessarily indicated a variation in the Egyptian mysteries, which latter must be regarded as the source of Egypt's religious inspiration. "The Egyptian priests may have forgotten much, but they altered nothing, owing to the sacred immutability of the primitive truths". And it is in this spirit that I will ask you to follow my subsequent remarks.
The intimate connection of Egyptian theology with astronomy at once raises the question, which has been from time immemorial the subject of much discussion, whether the Egyptians were or were not the fathers of astronomy. On the other hand, it is said that the Chaldeans were the earliest and most profound cultivators of the science of the stars. The Babylonian tablets lead us to the belief that astronomy, and with it the sphere and the Zodiac, were introduced by the Accadians before 3,000 B.C. Our knowledge of the subject, however, mainly depends upon traditions handed down by many, that one or other is the oldest people in the world, with the oldest civilization, and that they both have long cultivated astronomy.
Bunsen observes that the high antiquity claimed by the Egyptians for their calculations rested on solid grounds, inasmuch as Aristotle mentions them before those of the Babylonians. Of course in more ancient times the science of astronomy did not exist as we know it — it was inextricably blended with astrological notions, and these no doubt had a powerful and moulding influence upon Egyptian theology.
As to the sacred animals, there is no doubt that they had a profound significance, having their origin in the celestial constellations. Laplace tells us that "the names of the constellations of the Zodiac have not been given to them by chance: they embody the results of a large number of researches and of astronomical systems". Lucian says that "it is from the divisions of the Zodiac that the crowd of animals worshipped in Egypt have had their origin". The gods of Egypt, were especially sacred to [Page 6] certain stars or. constellations: "Has not each star its own peculiar activity or energy ? " asks Marcus Aurelius, "nevertheless all these differences are combined with one another so as to form the universal harmony of Nature".
No nation has ever resorted to the use of symbols more extensively than the Egyptians, deifying the various aspects of Nature and of Nature's forces with a wealth of imagination perfectly unique in the world's history. It cannot, however, be overlooked that while to the instructed eye of the initiate into the Egyptian mysteries a symbol ever remained a symbol: still in later years the greater portion of the people, who were ignorant, fell into the grossest idolatry, and by worshipping the sacred animals and treating them as Gods covered their rites with ridicule and mockery. Cunning stories were devised by the priests about the Gods, and their mythology presents very many points of interest for the student of Theosophy " When therefore", says Plutarch, "you shall hear the fables the Egyptians tell about their Gods — their wanderings, cutting to pieces, and many such-like mishaps, you ought . . . not to suppose that any of them happened or was done in the manner related. For they do not really call the dog 'Hermes', but the animal's watchfulness, sleeplessness and sagacity make it appropriate to the most sagacious of the Gods". The only possible interpretation of the Egyptian religious, productions is that they were symbolical, and that the more intelligent of the people themselves so regarded it has been amply proven. "The manifold forms of the Egyptian pantheon were nothing", says Deutsch, "but religious masks of the sublime doctrine of the Unity of the Deity communicated to the initiated in the Mysteries". And another authority tells us that the Gods of the pantheon were "only manifestations of the one being in his various capacities". In other words the forces of Nature were ceaselessly personified as aspects of the Supreme, in exactly the same way as Theosophy teaches that all the forces known to science have their origin in the vital principle, collectively the one life of our solar system. [“Secret Doctrine”, Volume 1, Page 591] In this connection the following remarkable lines occur in an ancient hymn in adoration of the Supreme: —
There is no building that can contain Him !
... Unknown is His name in the heavens,
He does not manifest His forms !
Vain are all representations of Him!"
Turning our attention, however, to the pantheon itself, we find that the Egyptians attached a special value to the idea of the Trinity. Thus Suidas relates that the Oracle of Serapis addressed Pharaoph Thulis in the following terms: — "God, the Word and the Spirit which unites them, all these Three are only one, which is the Supreme whose power is eternal. Man, adore and tremble, or you are more to be pitied than the animal [Page 7] deprived of reason". This utterance is, a pretty striking formulation of Christian, doctrine of the Trinity.
As pointed out in the "Secret Doctrine", nearly every theogomy has has had a primary, secondary and tertiary evolution of gods — and there seems good reason for the idea that this was the case with the gods of Egypt.
According to Herodotus, the Egyptian divinities were, divided into three classes, or orders, and those three orders, present a considerable resemblance to the numbers 3, 7, and 12, which play so prominent a part in mystic doctrine.
It is not within the scope of this paper to discuss the possible meaning , which the "three elements", the "seven planets” and the "twelve Zodiacal Signs" possess, or may have possessed, in the celebration of the Mysteries in ancient Egypt. Those Mysteries undoubtedly contained the real key to the Egyptian religion; as was in fact admitted by Plutarch, Herodotus, and others who were reputed to have been initiated into them. Of what actually took place at their celebration we know practically nothing, except indeed what may be gleaned by a careful and of necessity, intuitive, study of a few fragmentary writings upon the subject: — the fact being that no one who, actually was in a position to speak positively on the subject dared to commit anything to writing.
Those mysteries were of two kinds, the greater and the less. The former were devoted to Osiris and Serapis, and the latter to Isis. Apuleius makes the following statement concerning his initiation into the mysteries of Isis, warning the curious reader at the same time to believe what is the truth. He says, " I approached the confines of death, and having trod on the threshold of Proserpine I returned therefrom, being borne through all the elements. At midnight I saw the Sun shining with its brilliant light. Behold, I have related to you things of which, though heard by you, you must necessarily remain ignorant".
The First Order of Gods referred to by Herodotus consisted of eight divinities; they were especially associated with the elements of the ancients, over which they presided. Renouf refers to a remarkable hymn which is put into the mouth of the Gods of the elements, eight in number, four male and four female. These eight Gods are mentioned in the 17th chapter of the "Book of the Dead" — they are the divinities of the City of the Eight, a somewhat obscure expression explained by Blavatsky as having reference to the two cubes of good and evil. This chapter speaks of a time when there was no firmament and states that these were the Gods of Hermopolis; in other words, when Chaos disappeared and the elements were formulated under their presidency.
The next, or Second Order of Egyptian Gods, was composed of twelve divinities, concerning which the same author tells us that: "The [Page 8] Egyptians were the first who fixed the number of their Gods as well as that of the months of the year at twelve". This of course identifies them with the Zodiacal Signs.
The Gods of the Third Order consisted of seven divinities, as identified by Bunsen, being the Isis, Osiris and Horus group in its various aspects.
Of all these Gods, however, Osiris and Isis alone were worshipped throughout Egypt. They were respectively the Sun and the Moon, associated by the ancient Egyptians with the right and left eye respectively.
Subsequently the Gods were enormously multiplied — a fact which is easily understood upon the theory that the broad division of the Zodiac preceded its subsequent re-division into the Decanates and lesser sections of the Zodiac. Not only every day of the week, but every hour of the day and night had its presiding genius. Many of these divinities were popularly supposed to have once lived and reigned amongst men, owing, no doubt, to the great reserve maintained by the initiates respecting the "Theology of the Decani".
The Egyptian mythology centres around the story of Osiris, Isis and Horus, which was at all times most popular and well received. No other fiction possessed such a human interest as this, nor indeed was susceptible of so extended an application. Osiris was said to have been a divine being who once descended upon the earth and took upon him the form and nature of man. He reigned over the Egyptians, teaching them the art of cultivation and giving them laws, and subsequently left the care of the Kingdom to Queen Isis and set forth to communicate the secrets of civilisation to other nations and travelled over the whole world civilising it. "A being perfectly good, he ameliorated mankind by persuasion and good deeds”. Isis here represents Egypt, and Osiris the Sun. During his absence, his brother, Typhon, conspired against his throne, and having taken seventy and two men into the conspiracy (an allusion to the seventy-two quinaries or sets of five degrees in the Zodiac) these invited Osiris on his return in the month of November to a banquet, and Typhon produced a chest or pastos inlaid with gold promising to give it to any person then present whose body it should fit. Osiris laid himself down in the chest, when the lid was immediately closed and he was cast into the Nile. The body of Osiris was tossed about by the waves, and finally cast on shore at Byblos in Phoenicia, at the foot of a tamarisk tree. Typhon while hunting swine by moonlight also came across and recognised the corpse, which he thereupon tore into fourteen pieces. Isis, mourning the loss of her consort, searched for his body, which she found and bewailed — the passionate cry of Isis to Osiris forming the national hymn of Egypt — and the body recovered was brought back in triumph to Egypt, where it was committed to the tomb. Afterwards Osiris came from the Shades to Horus, his son, to train [Page 9] and exercise him for war in order that he might avenge his father, and the legend relates that Horus fought and overcame Typhon and bound him in chains. Thus runs the great mythological history of Egypt, and it is worthy of note that Plutarch, who was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries, seeks to establish an entirely theosophic and spiritual interpretation of this myth — an explanation, that is, which transcends the merely astronomical. A word, then, upon its Theosophic aspect.
Osiris was the son of Saturn and the Earth, symbolising primordial matter and infinite space. This, says Blavatsky, shows him as the self-existent and self-created God, the first-manifesting Deity, or what is known in Theosophy as the "Third Logos", and she proceeds to explain that — more humanly speaking, Osiris also symbolised the dual Ego, the divine and the human, the cosmico-spiritual and terrestrial. As the Logos, he is the synthesis of the seven hierarchies which compose mankind, and thus especially symbolizes spiritual humanity, and, in his opposite aspect, terrestrial humanity; while it is to be remarked that in Egyptian ritual he is both a lunar and a solar deity. The various members of the Osiris family, which it is important to remember were really only his aspects, were, according to the legend, born in this order: after him came the Elder Horus, variously referred to as the brother and son of Osiris. Isis came third, Typhon fourth and Nephthys fifth, while the Younger Horus, as it were, crowns that emanation. In other words, the Supernal Trinity reflected itself, thus constituting the perfect hexagram, the symbol of creation, which with the Egyptian Ankh, the symbol of life placed in the centre, and the equally Egyptian Serpent, "whose name is millions of years", surrounding it constitutes the seal of the Theosophical Society. "The Egyptians", says Dunlap, "distinguish between an elder and younger Horus: the former the brother of Osiris; the latter the son of Osiris and Isis". "The first", says Blavatsky, "is the idea of the world remaining in the demiurgic mind", born in darkness before the creation of the world. The second Horus is this idea going forth from the Logos becoming clothed with matter and assuming an actual existence". I should here mention that Horus is frequently represented poised on a lotus flower rising from the water. Typhon is radically the reverse aspect of Osiris, the two together symbolizing what Plato termed "the same and the other" — light and dark — good and evil. Typhon thus symbolizes humanity incarnated, and in this connection I would observe that Typhon was not originally evil, but became so later; while the account of his cutting up Osiris into fourteen sections refers to the seven dual aspects, terrestrial and divine of the rays of the Logos and their correspondences, the seven cardinal virtues and the seven capital sins, to the fourteen lokas, the divisions of Mount Meru, etc.. Wiedemann says that "the dead Osiris [Page 10] came to be regarded as the type of all souls and things in whose bodies the power of re-creation yet remained". Plutarch says that Typhon symbolised that which is subject to passion, and it is curious in the light of this fact to find that his symbolic colour was red. Isis who was especially associated with Nature, was variously represented as the mother, wife and sister of Osiris, by whom she was said to have been espoused before she was born. This was the marriage of the Heavenly Man with the Virgin of the World. Isis, whose dual aspect was Nephthys, was especially associated with the moon as well as the earth. Amongst all the Egyptian deities, however, there is not one who fills a more important place than the benevolent deity Horus, i,e., the younger Horus. This Horus is really the renewed aspect of Osiris, and may be explained in Theosophical conception as "the higher self". He is termed the "Beloved of the Sun, the Offspring of the Gods, the Subjugator of the World". As the Sun in the horizon, he is termed Harmachus, which esoterically means the risen God, and his symbol is that of the mysterious Sphinx. We read in an old papyrus, that "The soul which dies like Osiris rises, again like the Sun", sufficiently showing the symbolic; nature of all reference to the orb of day. At the time of the winter solstice (our Christmas), the image of Horus in the form of a small newly-born infant, was brought out from the Sanctuary for the adoration of the crowds. He is thus the prototype of the Christ of the Gospels and, in the story of his struggle with Typhon, the Kamic principle, born of the darkness and of his glorious apotheosis, we see the symbolic history of every regenerate son of the Sun, who has answered the riddle of the Sphinx, understood the great illusion, and abandoned the heresy of separateness from the divine.
The bearing of the Horus myth on Christianity is very remarkable. The Virgin and Child were perhaps as familiar, if not more so, to the Egyptians, than they ever have been to Europe during the so-called Christian era. The child Horus being designed through his struggle with the powers of darkness to be the deliverer of mankind, whose interests were especially identified with his as "the avenger of the Eternal laws of right", and a very curious Greco-Egyptian Gnostic seal shows Christ with the attributes of Horus treading upon the crocodile of evil, and holding above his head the sacred symbol of his name, a fish. It is, moreover, not without a certain significance that we find Horus boasting that he has the strength of Apophis, whom he has overthrown, and it is noted by Blavatsky as a confirmation of the tenets of the Secret Doctrine, that in the ritual we find the glorified soul saying that he has found shoo, the Solar force, in the eradication of his evil mature.
I have already referred to the fact that esoterically all the gods and goddesses of Egypt were but aspects of the One life. According to the [Page 11] Secret Doctrine, man's every physical organ and psychic and spiritual function is a reflection, so to say, a copy on the terrestrial plane of the model or prototype above, and we find that with the ancient Egyptians the different members of the body were divided up and dedicated to the various, deities. "There is not a limb of him without a god," says the?. "Ritual"; while the division adopted in modern astrology is the embodiment of the same idea, for all the deities had an astrological aspect.
The whole basis of Egyptian thought was moulded on the Universal belief in man's spiritual-nature. As the number Three was regarded as especially sacred to things divine, so they referred the number Seven especially to humanity. Herodotus tells us that the people themselves were divided into seven distinct classes, while the septenary constitution of the spiritual man was with them a cardinal doctrine. Whether or not the universal veneration of antiquity for this sacred number Seven was due to the astronomical feature of the Seven Stars of the Great Bear, or to some astral history associated therewith, does not appear clear. But we learn that the Egyptians divided the face of the sky by night into seven parts; the primary heaven being sevenfold, and that the same system was pursued by the ancient Aryans, from whom no doubt the Egyptians got their knowledge on the subject. The nomenclature of the seven Egyptian principles varies a good deal which is due to two reasons: — first, because the real views of the initiated are not at all obvious; and, second, perhaps owing to the lack of a sufficiently mystical appreciation on the part of our Egyptologists. Gerald Massey has tabulated seven Egyptian souls, as he calls them, which readers of the "Secret Doctrine" will find compared with the Theosophic septenary, and the analogy is no doubt clear and unmistakable, though, so far as I am aware, no two writers agree in the septenary they give. In the "Book of the Dead", however, it is easy to recognise the astral body or shade, the vital force or prana, the animal principle and the triform ancestral soul The astral body has greatly puzzled some of our Egyptologists, owing, it need hardly be said, to their ignorance alike of Western Hermetic and of Eastern Theosophy. Renouf points out that the "Book of the Dead" treats the shadows as though they were something substantial! an idea which is evidently overpowering to the modern mind.
Perhaps the most careful analysis of the Egyptian views of the constitution of man is that established by Wiedemann, who indicates seven distinct principles or parts which went to make up the complete human being. These he successively names and describes in the order in which each of the principles in question is restored to the defunct in measure as he triumphs over the symbolic trials and tests through which the soul had to pass his journey te the other world. The first of these was called the [Page 12] Ka, which was immortal and in fact the entity in its highest aspect —. Renouf describes it as the genius, a "sort of spiritual double of each individual", and upon quitting terrestrial life the defunct had to become reconciled with his Ka, his elder brother living in the light. In the human sense this is of course the "Higher Self". "O", cries the defunct in the "Ritual", "that in the dwelling of the Master of Life I may be reunited to my glorified Soul". It is here worthy of note that the Egyptians attached enormous importance in their magical rites to the pronunciation of their secret Deity names, and generally on the power of sound vibrations, and it is probable that the Hebrew traditions about the true pronunciation of the Great Name, were originally derived from Egypt. Wiedemann remarks that this principle, viz., the Ka, or Genius, was the substance and personification of his word. This recalls a passage in Revelations, whose symbolism is essentially Egyptian, "And he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself and his name is called the Word of God”. All the gods had their Ka or genius, and in further explanation of this idea Wiedemann makes the curious observation that, for instance,ארנ י would be the Ka of יחוח. Amongst the other principles mentioned by Wiedeman it is especially noteworthy that as the astral body was considered the basis of the physical so another vehicle is spoken of as that of the supernal man.
This vehicle idea, if I may so call it, is very much en evidence in the Egyptian productions, where we frequently find mention made of the Sun in his boat, the Soul of the Sun, etc.. In fact it is pretty clear that this conception was always involved wherever and whenever individual consciousness was to function.
It is also worthy of remark that two of the septenary principles refer to the heart — not the physical heart but rather the heart of the Soul — these are called respectively the Ab and the Hati, and are considered as the intelligence and the power of executive of the Soul. The Ab or (spiritual) intelligence was the conscious motor of being and the only responsible part of the whole septenary, and it alone is represented as weighed on the great day of final judgment, this event taking place in the presence of the other parts or principles, which, however, are punished or rewarded only as participating parties. The importance attached to the heart is a great feature in the Egyptian esotericism, and one of the chapters in the "Book of the Dead" is especially concerned with the preservation of the heart. "Do not take this heart from me", says the deceased, "for this my heart is the heart of the Great One. . . . I am the germ". The second death spoken of in the "Ritual" consisted in the loss of the heart, which thus involved the annihilation of the soul.
Then we come to another curious feature, viz., that the Egyptians
recognised seven senses, and in this connection I take much pleasure in [Page 13] quoting
from a well-known Egyptologist, who says: "We have vainly searched
the Egyptian texts for passages corresponding to those of Greek and Latin authors concerning the five senses
of Nature, and the persistence which we have put into this work will be readily understood, when we say, as we
do, that we are persuaded by induction, comparison, and sequence of doctrine that the Egyptian philosophy admitted
seven senses". According to the Western view, the five senses are those of touch, sight, hearing, smell,
and taste. The modern materialistic systems, however, deal only with direct external perception of physical things,
and entirely ignore any internal perception, to which category the two extra senses referred to belong. Wiedemann
describes these two extra senses under the respective terms of "psychique" and "metaphysical", which
adequately express the sixth and seventh senses of the Secret Doctrine.
Great confusion has reigned in the minds of Egyptologists as to the real nature of Egyptian teaching concerning the Metempsychosis. This appears to be due to an insufficient appreciation of the difference between the exoteric ritual and the teaching of the priests. We thus find a well-known French scholar saying that: "The justified soul had to retake its own body at the resurrection of the dead, and that it was only the condemned souls, who, after having suffered their punishment, were obliged to incarnate in another body". But we learn from the "Secret Doctrine" that "Resurrection with the Egyptians never meant the resurrection of the mutilated mummy, but of the soul that informed it, the Ego in a new body". “The ancient Egyptians, ”says Herodotus, “believed that when the body is dissolved, the soul enters into some other animal, which is born at the same time, and that after going round all the animals that inhabit the land, the waters and the air, it again enters the body of a man, which is then born”. And we find in the "Ritual" an expression to this effect, "I am the crocodile whose soul comes from men". All this has a curious bearing on Theosophic teaching, according to which the life atoms of Jiva or Prana do actually go through a series of transformations not only during the life of the body but after death, and after endless transmigrations may under certain conditions be once more drawn together and go to form the outer shell of the next incarnation. Wilkinson shows that the priests taught that " dissolution is only the cause of reproduction . . . . . nothing perishes which has once existed, but things which appear to be destroyed only change their natures and pass into another form".
Closely connected with this subject is the interesting inquiry as to why the Egyptians embalmed their dead. The statement of Herodotus, to which I have referred, does not lend colour to the idea more or less received now-a-days that the motive which originated this practice consisted in a belief that the soul of the deceased would eventually return to inhabit his [Page 14] former body — and there is no proof in their writings of any such idea. Such was the care and skill with which the mummies were preserved, that if a piece of mummy be macerated in warm water, it will recover the natural appearance of flesh, and if it be then exposed to the action of the air it will putrefy. (Pettigrew, "History of Mummies") In these circumstances it is reasonable to suppose that the religious preservation of the actual physical corpse in this way would have the effect of preserving a magnetic chain or link with the departed entity — otherwise non-existent — and even have had the effect of preserving the astral of the deceased. Indeed there is a curious passage in the "Ritual" where we find the defunct begging that Toum (an Egyptian Deity symbolizing what is termed in Theosophy "Fohat" or cosmic electricity) should give him the breath from his right nostril, in order, as Blavatsky puts it, that he might live in his second form. Those who have studied the Philosophy of the Tatwas at all, or, as it is called, the "science of breath", will remember that the positive polarity of the body is associated by the old writers with the breath from the right nostril — a fact which had evidently not escaped the Egyptian initiates. The idea, however, as to the post mortem passage of the soul through the various animals of the elements during a cycle of 3,000 years was symbolical. It is probable that, like most of their notions, it had an astrological basis, referring to certain Zodiacal revolutions supposed to intervene between any two incarnations.
In the "Ritual" we find it stated that "the Osirian i.e., the deceased) lives after he dies like the sun daily; for as the sun died and was born yesterday, so the Osirian is born". This simile is of great value because it proves that the cardinal doctrine of the reappearance of the Ego, or in other words incarnation and excarnation, was the chief cause of the Egyptian adoration of the sun.
Studied in the light of the unity of the Great Law, these periods of incarnation and excarnation find their correspondence in the larger lives of worlds and even of universes, when they are called Manwantaras and Pralayas — the Great-day-of-Be-with-Us, an expression used in the "Secret Doctrine" to signify the ultimate re-absorption of the monad into its primeval essence, is an idea which finds its exact parallel in an expression used in the "Book of the Dead", which in its translated form is rendered as the" Day-of-Come-to-Us". H. P. B., in commenting on this, draws attention to the fact that "as in the exoteric interpretation of the Egyptian rites the soul of every defunct person, from the Hierophant down to the sacred Bull Apis, became an Osiris, was Osirified, so the Secret Doctrine had always taught that the real Osirification was the lot of every monad only after 3,000 cycles of existences".
I now come to the consideration of a feature in Egyptian literature [Page 15] which presents many points of interest to Theosophists. I refer to the magical writings. These at first glance are generally of the most extraordinary character and must necessarily present altogether impossible aspects to the average materialistic mind of the West. The whole principle upon which this development turns is closely connected with the occult side of Nature, and requires for its comprehension a due appreciation of spiritual possibilities. The Egyptian magic taught that the intimate union between the body and the soul could be broken by certain invocations, under which the body fell into a more or less cataleptic condition, and that during this time the soul could travel to a distance, see, hear, and conserve the memory of its experience upon return to the body. The idea also was that the various forces of Nature could be manipulated and caused to intervene and lend aid to effect given purposes both in the circumstances of every day life and of post mortem existence. The ritualistic works containing the formulae in question certainly throw great light upon the way the Egyptians regarded their symbolic deities. The chief efficacy and power of this class of ceremonial lay in the identification for the time being of the theurgist with the Divinity. Sometimes the speaker boldly says "I am Anubis, the son of Nephthys; I am Anubis, the son of Ra; I am Horus, I am Amon, I am Mentu and I am Set", he also derived his authority from the pronunciation of certain words of power. We read in the "Secret Doctrine" that sound is one of the first of the keys that opens the door of communication between mortals and immortals, and the Egyptian mind seems to have been strongly imbued with this idea. In the "Harris Magical Papyrus" we find whole strings of barbarous sounds which were for recitation during the various invocations, though probably the virtue, if any, of such sounds has been entirely lost in the translation. The idea of frightening one God by the terrors of another and more powerful divinity is on the face of it so ludicrous that it effectually disposes of the supposition that amongst so intelligent a people the word which has been translated God could have the significance which has been attached to it in later times in the West, and it is now generally recognised that "the term was applied indifferently to each of the powers which the Egyptian imagination conceived as active in the Universe and to the power from which all powers proceed".
As one out of many classes of Egyptian invocations the following given by Renouf will afford a fairly accurate idea of their nature. The instance in question is one in which a terrible spell is uttered on behalf of a lady in childbirth in order to effect her recovery. The lady is first identified with Isis, the gods are invoked . . . . and told that in case of their non-compliance with the request: "You shall be undone, you cycle of the Gods; there shall no longer be any earth: there shall no longer be the [Page 16] five supplementary days of the year; there shall be no more any offerings to the Gods, Lords of Heliopolis. There shall be a sinking of the Southern Sky, and disasters shall come from the Sky of the North; there shall be cries from the tomb; the midday sun shall no longer shine; the Nile shall not furnish its waters at its wonted time. It is not I who say this; it is not I who repeat it; it is Isis who speaketh; she it is who repeateth it".
The very same kind of threats are spoken of by Porphyry about 270 A.D., as mentioned by Chaeremon, a sacerdotal scribe in the first century, and affirmed by him to be of potent efficacy. "What a height of madness", says Porphyry, "does it not imply in the man who thus threatens what he neither understands nor is able to perform, and what baseness does it not attribute to the beings who are supposed to be frightened by these vain bugbears and figments, like silly children ! " An Egyptian priest of the name of Ab-Ammon is introduced in the work of Jamblichus as replying to the objections of Porphyry. He distinguishes between the Gods, properly speaking, and the δαιμονεϛ, who are subordinate ministers, and he says that it is to the latter alone that threats are used. Although Porphyry was strongly opposed to practical theurgy as dangerous, it is worthy of note that he was eventually convinced by Jamblichus of its advisability on some occasions. In the "Glossary" the definition of Theurgia is given as follows: " A communication with, and means of bringing down to earth, planetary spirits and angels — the 'Gods of Light'. Knowledge of the inner meaning of their hierarchies, and purity of life alone can lead to the acquisition of the powers necessary for communion with them. To arrive at such an exalted goal the aspirant must be absolutely worthy and unselfish". H. P. B. has made the further statement that Theurgia is principally the best and most efficient mode of communication with one's higher ego, through the medium of one's astral body. Porphyry, moreover, mentions in his "Life of Plotinus", a priest of Egypt who, at the request of a certain friend of Plotinus, exhibited to him in the Temple of Isis at Rome, the familiar daimon of that philosopher. Cagliostro, upon whom the mantle of Egyptian mysticism fell in more recent times, when interrogated as to how he effected his wonders, replied by the ancient axiom, "In verbis et in herbis".
Proceeding now to deal more definitely with the doctrines of the Egyptian religion — what it will be asked are the first-hand sources from which that doctrine can be gleaned. The most important is of course the "Book of the Dead", the oldest work in the world — the earliest portions of which were found in the coffin of Queen Mentu-Hotep of the eleventh Dynasty with a self-contained reference in the text itself to an earlier edition of one of the chapters, the sixty-fourth, to the period of King Menkeris, the founder of the Third Dynasty; this fact gives the "Ritual" an indisputable antiquity of between 4,000 and 5,000 years B.C. It is a species [Page 17] of ceremonial ritual originally intended for the use of the defunct himself in his passage to the other world. It is stated by H. P. Blavatsky to be a most occult and profound work, containing many of the fundamental tenets of the Secret Doctrine, which it has been the mission of Theosophy to re-expound to the modern world during the last few years.
Amongst other things, there is a statement of the Egyptian faith, and a long dialogue between the deceased and the personification of the divine light who instructs him, in a chapter called the Manifestation to Light. The peculiarity of this latter portion is its remarkable resemblance to the so-called Hermetic books, which have been sneered at by the cavilling criticism of Western scholars and called Neo-platonic forgeries; no conscientious study of the subject, however, can fail to reveal the fact that this part of the ritual is the source of the inspiration of the Hermetic fragments.
Of course, to understand the "Ritual", as it should be understood, would involve a thorough knowledge of the various mythological histories which constitute its theme, but the singular fact about it is this: that although that work is so undeniably ancient, the religious teachings formulated include some of the purest and grandest conceptions of the human mind. It proves to us in the most unmistakable manner that the allusions to the Sun as the orb of day, his rising in the East and sinking in the West, with the other kindred references to light and darkness, etc., had a significance very different from that of mere idolatrous worship of the solar disk.
This is well evidenced by an extract from the short résumé of the seventeenth chapter given by Bunsen, where we find the defunct in the character of Osiris, saying, " I am the Sun in its setting: the only being in the firmament. I am the rising Sun. The Sun's power begins when he has set (he rises again, so does the justified spirit of man) .... I am the morning (because / always rise again into existence)."
It is interesting to observe the important part which serpent myths seem to have played at the very earliest periods of Egyptian symbolism. Kneph, the eternal unrevealed God, is represented by a serpent as the emblem of eternity encircling the primeval waters of the firmament — a serpent is thus the symbol of the Soul of the World, but Apophis is also the great evil serpent, the antithesis of the former, symbolising the illusive and fatal attractions of the astral light. These two serpents represented respectively eternity and time, the immortal and the mortal natures. Why, however, should the same symbol be chosen to represent two absolutely opposite ideas ? In the Old Testament we find the same thing — the tempting serpent is the cause of evil in the world, and subsequently the brazen serpent is the emblem of life. This singular duality is traceable in almost all the prominent symbols of Egypt, and has a great bearing upon their mystic significance. The Lotus, as is well known, was a most sacred symbol [Page 18] not only in Egypt but in India; its life is supported in two elements, water and air; it rises up out of the waters daily to meet the rising Sun, and thus came to especially symbolise the dual states of spiritual and' physical life.
In considering the great canon of the Egyptian faith, the "Ritual of the Dead', one is immediately struck by the remarkable difference between this and any other religious book in the world. The "Book of the Dead" is essentially mythological, and like all other Egyptian books of the kind, it assumes the reader's thorough knowledge of the myths and legends. Though, however, most of those legends are no doubt lost beyond recovery, it is still possible for students of the "Secret Doctrine" to trace here and there the outlines of the esoteric lore of the past.
The invisible region into which the defunct immediately entered on quitting terrestrial life was called Kerneter or Hades, and was considered as the borders of Apophis, the evil serpent of the astral nature. Throughout this ancient " Ritual" we find the idea of the serpent as the Soul of the World, and another variety of it, the Apophis, as the evil being, and again and again the soul in its post mortem journey has to arm itself against the machinations of the latter before it is permitted to cross the ancient river and enter into Amenti, the land of the blessed. The Egyptian Hades, or Kerneter, was a subterranean sphere, and at its entry the deceased was dazzled by the glory of the sun, which it sees for the first time since its departure from the body, and breaks forth in joyous praise of the beneficent emblem of the creator: " Hail, Sun, Lord of the Sun-beams, Lord of Eternity, Creator, self-created . . . hail thou who art over the Gods."
A portion of the "Ritual" is taken up with the migrations or wanderings of the soul in Hades, and the defunct implores Thoth to assist him to assume the character of Horus, "the avenger of his father", that "his heart may be filled with delight, and his house be at peace before the head of the Universal Lord". To this petition the deity responds "Let him go", and the rubric adds that the chapter in question being attended to, "a person comes pure from the day he is laid out, and that such an one proceeds from above the earth, he comes forth from all flame; no evil thing approaches him in pure clothes for millions of ages".
The sudden transition, however, from the death of physical life to birth in a new world necessitates what is termed "the reconstruction of the deceased", when his various faculties are restored to him by the Gods. He thereupon triumphantly proceeds to pass out of Hades, exclaiming as he does so, "I never die in the West, I flourish as a Spirit there for ever". From the first step of the great journey to the other world, all sorts of horrible obstacles present themselves, and terrible conflicts succeed each other. The symbolic crocodile of evil who approaches is told to retire, the defunct saying, "I have sat in the birthplace of Osiris, born with him, [Page 19] I renew myself like him". All these grim experiences culminate in the overthrow of the Apophis, and were no doubt symbolic of the post mortem struggle between the kamic or passional nature which seeks to retain the diviner part of the human soul, and so after a series of transformations we find the soul saying unto the true Self, "O great One, I have dissipated my sins — I have destroyed my failings, for I have got rid of the sins which detained me upon earth".
The borders of the Egyptian Hades were bounded by an unknown and fathomless river, which in order to get to the Elysian Fields of Amenti, the defunct had to cross in the boat of the hawk-headed steersman, who conveyed souls across the black waters that separate life from death. The boatman interrogates his passenger, who declares that he has come to see his father Osiris and to fight the Apophis. This reply satisfying the interlocutor, the deceased is bid to "go to the boat which will carry him, he knoweth where". Here a most curious and mystical scene ensues, for each part of the vessel becoming animated, requests the Osirian to "Tell me my name" — i.e., the esoteric meaning of it. The anchor commences, these interrogatories, and is told somewhat significantly that his name is "Lord of the Earth in a box", and then follows the various other parts of the vessel, the river and the elements joining in this curious questioning — and the commentary tells us that if this chapter is known (i.e., esoterically comprehended) the Osirian is given to eat of the wheat seven cubits high, which the servants of Horus reap for him. " Wheat was with the Egyptians the symbol of the Law of Retribution or Kama. The cubits had reference to the seven human principles. One of the divisions of Amenti was the celestial field of Aanroo, covered with wheat, and the defunct are represented gleaning it for the Master of Eternity; some stalks being three, others five, and the highest seven cubits high. Those who reached the last two numbers entered the state of bliss called in Theosophy, Devachan; the disembodied spirits whose harvest was but three cubits high went into 'lower regions'.
The grand event to which these post mortem experiences led up was the judgment before Osiris, into whose presence the Osirian is brought by Anubis, the guardian. The judge of the dead awaits him seated on his throne, surrounded, as by a jury, with a court of forty-two assessors, a class of entities perhaps parallel to the Lipikas, or " Recorders" of the Secret Doctrine. On a raised throne before the Osirian sits the awful judge Osiris, upon whose head are the double crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, symbolising the supremacy of that divinity in the manifested world and the invisible. Behind his throne are the avenging cabeirei, the children of Typhon. Lest the Osirian should quail and be unable to stand before the solemn assembly, the Goddesses Isis and Nephthys, deities of the upper and lower firmament respectively,, support his trembling footsteps, [Page 20] while the four guardian deities of the dead intercede for his protection.
"Now is the Osirian to give an account of his whole former life, and while each of the forty-two assessors accuses him of some flagrant fault, he has to reveal to the questioner his own secret name, and to profess his innocence of the fault alleged". This is the apology or negative confession, and has with reason been called " one of the most sublime and singular ethical formularies in the whole of ancient mythology". The heaven of the Egyptians was not accessible by mere sin-lessness, but was the reward only of active virtue; the Osirian, from the evils he has not done, proceeds to the enumeration of the good which he has performed, and entreats not the clemency but the equity of the judge, concluding a magnificent appeal in the following strain; "O Lords of Truth, I have made to the Gods the offerings due unto them, I have given food to the hungry, I have given drink to the thirsty, I have given clothes to the naked, I have been attentive to the words of Truth, I am pure from all sins, I am free from the curse of the wicked, I have done what the Gods writ upon earth, I have no sins, and no perversion — place me before thyself, O Lord of Eternity, and let me pass through the roads of darkness and dwell with thee for ever".
To such an appeal Karma can only make one response, and the Deity and Assessors jointly addressing the Osirian exclaim, "Go forth, thou who hast been introduced. Thy food is from the eye of God, thy drink is from the eye of God, thy meats are from the eye of God. Go thou forth, O Osirian justified for ever."
What, it will be asked, were the ethical results of such thought and belief upon the Egyptians themselves. In the best days of that race — and it must not be forgotten that Egypt was already in its decadence at the time of the exodus of the Israelites — we find moral precepts of the most refined and elevated character. One writer tells us that the three cardinal requirements of Egyptian piety were love to the Supreme being, love to virtue, love to Man. "I was a wise man upon earth", says an ancient Egyptian, "and I ever loved God". On one of the tombs at Thebes a king sums up his life: — " I lived in truth, I fed my soul with justice. What I did to men was done in peace". The Rosetta stone records of Ptolemy Epiphanies: "He was pious towards the Gods, he ameliorated the life of Man, he was full of generous piety, he showed forth with all his might his sentiments of humanity. He distributed justice to all, like God himself".
We are further told that "tenderness for suffering humanity is characteristic of the nation". Gratefully does a man acknowledge in his autobiography (4,000. B.C.): "Wandering I wandered and was hungry, bread was set before me; I fled from the land naked, there was given me fine linen". It is a glory to a man that " the poor shall make their moan at the door of his tomb". An inscription on a tomb at Beni-Hassan, [Page 21] written about 2,500 B.C., reads: — “I have not oppressed any widow. No prisoner languished in my days. No one died of hunger. When there were years of famine I had my fields ploughed. I gave food to the inhabitants so that there was no hungry person. I gave the widow equal portions with the married. I did not prefer the rich to the poor".
The exhortations to follow learning and love books are continual and the maxims of Ani and others form the oldest edition of the Sermon on the Mount in the world: while in the injunction "save not thine own life at the cost of another" we see the spirit of all the world saviours who have taught men the nobility of soul and the comparative worthlessness of the lower self.
No one can look back upon the developments of Egyptian thought in the past without being immensely impressed with the difference between the constitution and temperament of the Egyptian race and that of the later Western peoples, and one pauses to ask the question why a few thousand years ago the perception evinced by mankind generally of their spiritual nature was so keen and universal then, affording as it does so obvious a contrast with the materialistic tendencies of both science and religion in our own day. It certainly seems as though the divine intuitions of the race have suffered a gradual but unmistakable obscuration, and that the senses of men have become in degree obscured. The further we look back upon the Egyptian civilisation the more spiritually enlightened does it appear and not vice-versa, and the whole contemporaneous testimony of history goes rather to support the conclusion that man has descended from a divine ancestry than the reverse proposition of the Darwinian school. Was the third eye more active then than now ? Probably it was. The undoubted development of the sense of colour with the Egyptian race at its very earliest periods — which is probably unparalleled in any other people — seems to argue for a correspondingly increased psychic activity. While another important element was the presence of initiates in their midst, and the voice these had in the governance of the people. And here it is well to remark that, whatever may be said against the sacerdotal system of the Egyptian priesthood, Chabas and others tell us that initiation was open to everybody who could pass through the necessary tests, without distinction of rank or of fortune, even strangers being admitted. And although it is true that Egyptian religion seems to have lost much of its original purity in the course of ages and became more or less a superstition for those without the pale of initiation, it was nevertheless open to everyone to join this powerful aristocracy of intelligence; and it is no doubt owing to this enlightened, and Theosophic, because brotherly, system that Egypt owed the astonishing vitality of its national life throughout the cycles.
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