THEOSOPHY, Vol. 82, No. 8, June, 1994
(Pages 237-240; Size: 10K)
(Number 1 of a 3-part series)
THE ANCIENT WISDOM IN AFRICA
PART I[Except for Egypt, little is known of the diffusion of the ancient Wisdom in Africa. Some evidence of its continent-wide existence can be seen from the following narrative, written by Patrick Bowen who spent many years of childhood and life there. It was published in The Theosophist, August 1927, under the above title.THAT Asia is the source from whence all philosophy sprang is a universally accepted belief; and that Europe is the custodian and preserver of the knowledge originated in the elder Continent will likewise be generally maintained. Few ever consider that Africa also was once the home of a learning as profound as any Asia can show; and few, if any, will believe that such learning remains alive to-day among the inhabitants of the Dark Continent. Yet that such is the truth, I assert, and shall endeavour to make clear in the following pages.
Early in life Mr. Bowen seems to have been recognized for some special qualities by members of a Brotherhood whose Elders were said to be "guardians of ancient wisdom." Evidence is shown of members of the Brotherhood living among the Zulu and the descendants of the old Bantu race of South Africa. Some of Mr. Bowen's travels in central and East Africa were correctly prophesied, even to detours he would make that were not originally on his program and a meeting he would have with one of the "elder brothers." He writes at length of that meeting and continued association with a small community in South Africa. A group quite different physically from surrounding tribes, they resembled the Berbers of North African and Mediterranean regions. This may remind students of the mysterious Todas of the Nilghery Mountains of South India, of which Mme. Blavatsky wrote extensively in her book, The People of the Blue Mountains.
Mr. Bowen accepted an offer by one of the Elders to receive instruction in their ancient teachings, and his education continued for about a year until his work took him elsewhere. A major portion of his account, taken from The Theosophist, will be reprinted here in a series of three short articles. Patrick Bowen is, perhaps, better known for the Sayings of the Ancient One.--Editors]
Many years ago, when I, a boy of ten or twelve years of age, followed my father's wagon through the wild Bushlands of the Northern Transvaal, Portuguese East Africa and Mashonaland, I met and gained the friendship of many Natives -- principally Zulus -- of the class known as Isanusi, a term popularly but improperly interpreted as "Witch-Doctor." Why those men, who with Europeans and even with their own people are always intensely reserved, should have favoured me with their confidence is something I do not, even now, clearly understand...I recall a conversation with one of their number, by name, Mankanyezi (The Starry One) with whom I was particularly intimate...My father had declared his intention of placing me in care of a Missionary, in order that I might receive some education, and learn white men's ways. I repeated his words to Mankanyezi, who shook his head doubtfully on hearing them and said:Your teachers are doubtless learned men. But why do they strive to force their beliefs on us without first learning what our beliefs are?...To show how ignorant they are, I shall tell you what we teach the Common Man...We teach that he has a body; that within that body is a soul; and within the soul is a spark or portion of something we call Itongo, which the Common Man interprets as the Universal Spirit of the Tribe. We teach that after death the soul (Idhlozi) after hovering for a space near the body departs to a place called Esilweni (Place of the Beasts). This is a very different thing...from entering the body of a beast. In Esilweni, the soul assumes a shape, part beast and part human. This is its true shape, for man's nature is very like that of the beast, save for that spark of something higher....For a period which is long or short, according to the strength of the animal nature, the soul remains in Esilweni, but at last it throws aside its beast-like shape and moves onward to a place of rest. There it sleeps till a time comes when it dreams that something to do or to learn awaits it on earth; then it awakes and returns, through the Place of Beasts, to earth and is born again as a child.A year or two subsequent to the talk above quoted...I met Mankanyezi near the Limpopo River. "You go on a far journey," he said after some preliminary remarks.
Again and again does the soul travel through the body, through the Place of Beasts to its rest, dreams its dream and returns to the body; till at last the Man becomes true Man, and his soul when he dies goes straight to its rest, and thence, after a space, having ceased to dream of earth, moves on and becomes one with that from which it came -- the Itongo. Then does the Man know that instead of being but himself, apart, he is truly all the tribe and the tribe is he. This is what we teach....but the belief of us, Wiser Ones, is something far wider and greater, though similar....we know that the Itongo is not the mere Spirit of the Tribe, but is the Spirit within and above all men -- even all things; and that at the end, all men being one in Spirit, all are brothers in the flesh.
"Only as far as the Zambezi," replied my companion [Sarel Du Pont].
Mankanyezi shook his head. "Much farther, I think. You will ere you again see this river visit the Great Lake of the North. To the eastward of that lake, you will visit the springs of another river, and there you will meet one of my elder brothers."
"Indeed," said Du Pont,...how are we to know this brother of yours? I suppose he is not your brother in reality, but merely in the Spirit, as you say all men are?"He is as you say, not my brother in the flesh. I call him my elder brother because he is an Elder in the Family to which I belong, whose members are the guardians of the Wisdom-which-comes-from-of-old. There are many of us -- one at least in every tribe and nation -- throughout this great land. We are of many ranks, from the learner to the Master, and to those Higher Ones whose names may not be spoken. I am a common Brother; he of whom I speak is my Elder....I know him because I have often seen him, though not in the flesh. Often have we spoken together. Do you think the mind of Man can travel only in the flesh?....Some day, perhaps, you will understand.
(To be continued)
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
In Vedic cosmology, as well as in the cosmology of the Dogon of West Africa, the universe is an egg that shatters as it expands to begin its career of unfoldment in time. As an archetypal image of primordial unity, the cosmic egg suggests that there is unity and fragmentation, eternity and time.
The Event, the single action which echoes down throughout all ancient mythologies, children's nursery rhymes, and modern stories: the Fall of the One into the many, the emergence of the physical universe out of a transcendent God, the Fall of the soul into time, the entrapment of an angelic soul into the body...or the Fall of an unconditioned consciousness beyond subject and object into the syntax of thought pounded into form by each heartbeat. The Fall is not only once and long ago; it is recapitulated in each instant of consciousness. The unfallen world beyond time remains as a background to the figured beats of the heart in our world of serial progression.
--WILLIAM IRWIN THOMPSON
THE ANCIENT WISDOM IN AFRICA
(Part 2 of a 3-part series)
Back to the
series complete list of articles.
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".