THEOSOPHY, Vol. 15, No. 7, May, 1927
(Pages 316-321; Size: 19K)
(Number 16 of a 59-part series)
CIVILIZATION AND RELIGION OF EGYPT
WHEN broke the dawn of that civilization in Egypt whose wondrous perfection is suggested by the fragments supplied to us by the archaeologists? Alas! the lips of Memnon are silent, and no longer utter oracles; the Sphinx has become a greater riddle in her speechlessness than was the enigma propounded to the king of Thebes; the Pyramids still keep their secrets unbroken through the lapse of centuries. It is these vast and timeless monuments which make Egypt to us "the land of mystery." How came Egypt by her knowledge? From whom did she learn her wondrous arts, the secrets of which died with her? She sent no agents throughout the world to learn what others knew; but to her the wise men of neighboring nations resorted for knowledge. We have to seek in the religion of Egypt the key to all her mysteries; also have we to seek in the kinship of Egypt and India, the source and inspiration of her wisdom.
Just as in the case of Persia and China, modern historians are blinded by their Christian biblical chronology to her immense antiquity. We have to go back to another race than the Aryan -- to the Atlantean race of giants, and even to the Lemurians, to find the origin of those records in Egypt of a civilization passed and gone before the great builders of the pyramids came on the scene. For Egypt is far older than Europe as now traced on the map, and Atlanto-Aryan tribes began to settle on it when France and the British Isles had not risen from the ocean bed. The Delta was far later in formation than Southern Egypt, but even it has been inhabited as firm and fertile land for more than 100,000 years. The Great Labyrinth was in ruins at the beginning of history; Thebes was in ruins when Memphis, founded by Menes, was the capital city; an ancient book of Hermes describes some pyramids as standing on the seashore, the waves dashing against their base -- now they stand amid the arid vastness of desert sands. The Great Pyramid, even now untouched by time is, according to the Denderah zodiac, more than 78,000 years old. This planisphere on the ceiling of one of the oldest Egyptian temples, with its mysterious three Virgins between Leo and Libra, has found its dipus, who understood the riddle of its signs and justified the truthfulness of the Egyptian priests who affirmed that even since their first zodiacal records were commenced, the Poles had been three times within the plane of the ecliptic. This means that three sidereal cycles of 25,868 years each have passed.(1) The civilization of Egypt is untold ages old. Never was there a time when it appears to have been in its infancy, but all her arts and sciences were ever in full flower.
Herodotus, the Greek born about 500 B.C., called "The Father of History," is scoffed at by modern historians as being "unreliable," but we shall do well to note what he says the priests told him when they showed him colossal wooden statues of their kings -- 345 in all, inscribed with their names and annals, including the super-human kings who reigned before their first human sovereign; that no one could understand or write an account of these super-human kings unless he had studied and learned the history of the three dynasties that preceded the human. And they traced the origin of these dynasties to a period of the earth's formation which geologists say was millions of years ago! The priests referred to these pre-human reigns as the dynasties of the Gods, Demi-gods, and Heroes or Giants. It was these Great Beings who left "everlasting monuments to commemorate their stay."
Since we have found similar Divine Instructors -- Dragons of Wisdom -- in Persia and China, all teaching the same doctrines, there must have been a common source of Wisdom. That was India -- though not the India of today. Great India once included Persia (Iran), Tibet, Mongolia, and Great Tartary. There was an upper and a lower India, and Hindustan was once called Æthiopia. So these various peoples must have come originally from one center and were of one root, though various in the color of their skin -- white, yellow, red and dark. It was from India that the eastern Æthiopians came into Egypt, bringing their civilization with them -- all the knowledge of the Atlanteans, though they had no Atlantean blood in their veins -- under their first great human king, Menes. In a Hindu work it is stated that "Under the reign of Visvamitra ... in consequence of a battle which lasted five days, Manu-Vina ... being abandoned by the Brahmins, emigrated with all his companions ... to the shore of Masra." Unquestionably this Manu-Vina and Menes were identical. Masra was the name of Cairo, which to this day is called Masr and Masra. If this occurred 4,100 B.C. as historians claim, it was long after many of the pyramids had been built. However, the ancient knowledge of a by-gone race now again flowered in the land under Menes.
It may be wholesome, because humbling, for us to realize that some of the discoveries, inventions and achievements on which we most pride ourselves as a civilization are but revived again, because recollected, by those among us who once lived in Ancient Egypt. Is our Panama Canal and its lock system a great achievement? One of the Pharaohs made an artificial lake 450 miles around and 300 feet deep, fed by artificial channels from the Nile, with floodgates, dams and locks. Do we think our engineering feats so remarkable when we learn that Menes turned the course of the three principal branches of the Nile so that they could come to Memphis? Do we think our reclamation of desert lands a miracle? 500 miles of desert land were reclaimed above Cairo by these ancient peoples. Do we think our telephones and wireless systems inventions new to the world? The Egyptians had them, as they had railroads and telescopes, and understood the use of electricity.
Egypt is called the birthplace of Chemistry. The science had, in fact, its perfection in Chem -- Chem being one of the names of the country. The Egyptians knew and used poisonous gases centuries before they were used in the great World War; they knew the science of anaesthetics and of fumigations. They had their dentists, their books on anatomy, and such accurate knowledge of medicine that there were specialists -- some for the right and some for the left eye. They apparently had what is termed "osteopathy" in our day: that is, they had a science of healing manipulations, and were able to inhibit and to restore the circulation of the blood. It is well to remember this when we read in our text-books that Harvey first discovered the circulation of the blood in the seventeenth century. They knew the healing power in color and music. Music, in fact, was in a state of perfection among them while their musical instruments of all kinds have not been surpassed by those of our day. They manufactured the finest of linens, and they have never yet been equalled in the art of bandaging. They wove more beautiful tapestries than have since been known; they made paper that is practically indestructible; they knew how to make malleable glass and their art of dyeing is one of the "lost arts." Some of their paintings are bright in their colors as they were 4,000 years ago and as they will be 4,000 years hence. Mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and astrology were at their summit with them. When Galileo was sentenced to imprisonment by the Inquisition in the seventeenth century in Europe for declaring that the earth moved around the sun -- as every schoolboy knows now -- he was simply repeating what the Egyptians knew and demonstrated thousands of years before. Some idea of the size of their temples may be had from the fact that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, if set inside the temple of Karnak, would look like a small ornament in the center of the hall. The blocks in all these great buildings are cemented so closely together that it is impossible to insert the point of a sharp knife between them. There must have been some strange device, or magic unknown to us, which moved the huge blocks weighing from two to fifty tons each to their desired position.
Some Magic, it may be, still lingers within these vast piles, for Madame Blavatsky says that "travelers have brushed against ..... adepts in the silent ruins of Thebes, and in the mysterious chambers of Luxor ... They have been encountered again on the arid and desolate plains of the Great Sahara, as in the caves of Elephanta." And it is also said that within the sombre recesses of these wonderful pyramids were performed the mysteries, and that their walls often witnessed the initiation of members of the royal family. The pyramids are symbols of the Tree of Life. The apex is the root, the link between heaven and earth; the base represents the spreading branches extending to the four cardinal points of the universe of matter. They also illustrated the principles of geometry, astrology and astronomy. The porphyry sarcophagus, which Prof. Piazzi Smyth, of Great Britain, degrades into a corn-bin, was the baptismal font, upon emerging from which the neophyte was "born again" and became an adept. During the solemn ceremony the neophyte was "crucified" -- that is tied, not nailed -- on a couch in the form of the Egyptian cross (the Tau), and plunged into a deep sleep for three days and three nights, during which time the Spiritual Ego was said to descend into Hades (the Amenti of the Egyptians); his body meantime lying in the Sarcophagus in the Kings Chamber of the Pyramids of Cheops. During the night of the approaching third day, it was removed to the entrance of the gallery where the beams of the rising sun, striking him full in the face, awoke the candidate. Then the Hierophant entered and pronounced the sacramental words, addressed ostensibly to Osiris -- the Sun -- but in reality to the Spiritual Ego-Sun within.
So, too, the Sphinx was Harmachus -- Horus (the Sun) in the Horizon, or Christ. As a couchant lion with human head it represents the union of spiritual man with animal matter, from which crucifixion in matter it challenges him to rise and become conscious of himself as Osiris or Horus. Might we not well ponder the ancient formulary in the Book of the Dead, which very possibly in Egyptian bodies, we repeated time and again: "I am Horus, I am Osiris." "I am Yesterday, and Seer of millions of years is my name."
The Wisdom-Religion, veiled from the masses and often distorted by allegory and myth, had nevertheless its own mystery language. This language had its seven "dialects," so to say, each referring to one of seven mysteries of Nature. Each had its own symbolism, so that Nature could be read either in all its fulness or viewed from one of its aspects. The only country in the world whose adept-sons have the knowledge of all the seven sub-systems is India. In Egypt these keys were lost one by one after the fall of Memphis, due in part to the death of the Great Hierophants before they had time to reveal all to their successors, but mostly to the absence of worthy heirs to the knowledge. The many cycles of Egyptian history -- its periods of flower and decay -- may be attributed to the people's devotion to, or disregard of, their country's two great Principles: TRUTH and RIGHT. Yet, in their rituals and dogmas, for those who can interpret them, have been preserved the main teachings of the Secret Doctrine.
In spite of the arduous labors of many Egyptologists, were it not for the work of Madame Blavatsky, who lifted a corner of the veil of Isis for us, we should look at the bewildering prodigality of animal, human-animal, and divine-animal forms, at the multiplicity of strange hieroglyphics and their stranger form of expression, and gain little or no wisdom. When one seeks to discover what the religion of Egypt was, as Prof. Maspero has pointed out, he is confronted by a perplexing number of contradictory statements and theological systems. Just as from the teaching of Christ have sprung some four hundred or more sects in nineteen centuries, so in the five thousand years intervening from the time of Menes to the Ptolemaic period many divergent streams of thought arose. Then, as now, the ideas and worship of the masses were totally different from the concepts held by the educated classes and the sacerdotal caste. True, the esoteric doctrine never altered, but we have only to regard the present day situation in religious thought to infer that the Wisdom-Religion, even in part, was known to or adopted by only a small minority.
When we attempt to study the sacred book of the Egyptians, the Pert-Em-Hru, familiarly known as the Book of the Dead -- in fact a collection of Chapters on the Coming Forth by Day, we meet the same difficulties as confront us in an approach to the Christian Bible. While it is impossible to assign a date to this ritual, it is certain, says the Egyptologist Budge, that it was known before the first dynasty. It was preserved for a long time orally and perhaps not committed to writing before the people began to forget it, or the meanings began to be doubtful. Then, as always, copyists made many errors in transcribing, often misreading the original, also adding comments of their own and other interpolations totally at variance with the original teaching. Thus many versions arose, so that now no two papyri are identical as to number of chapters -- which increased as time went on; no two preserve the same arrangement, and none are complete in themselves. Budge gives three recensions of the Book: the Heliopolitan, used in the Vth and VIth dynasties, found inscribed in hieroglyphs upon the walls of the Pyramids of Sakkara (hence our Pyramid Texts), also written upon coffins of the XIth and XIIth dynasties; the Theban, painted upon coffins and papyri in hieroglyphics, from the XVIIth to the XVIIIth dynasties; and the Saïte, used during the following dynasties, which may be regarded as its last form. In later times it was customary to place a copy in the tomb or coffin of the deceased. While no name is attached to any chapter as its author or reviser, as a whole it was considered to be the work of the god Thot, and thus believed to be of divine origin.
Until the unearthing of the Rosetta stone in 1799, upon which was an inscription both in Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics, scholars possessed no key to the latter form of writing. Since then the work of deciphering has gone rapidly forward, but in the process there has naturally been much uncertainty, much speculation and difference of opinion as to the correct reading. To add to the confusion of the lay reader, no two English translations are alike; there has been a continual change both in the transliteration and spelling of names, so that the student who compares the extracts given in the Secret Doctrine, for instance, with the latest edition of the Pert-Em-Hru by Wallis Budge, or with other Egyptologists, has to orient himself anew again and again.
In view of these difficulties the average reader can get little sense, let alone a system of philosophy, from a perusal of this ancient work. Never does the need of a new type of Orientalist become more apparent than in such an attempt on the part of the reader. One familiar both with Theosophical teachings and the hieroglyphics, would be enabled to give a translation, in general accordance at least, with the original esoteric intent. And again, in the case of translating the words to designate the various principles or "souls" -- the Egyptians recognizing seven -- much indefiniteness exists because the Christian scholar knows but one word for soul, and is thrown back on the New Testament classification of body, soul, and spirit, to which the words "double" and "shadow" are added, but without a true understanding of what they are or a precise application.
Therefore, out of an enormous mass of material, only a few extracts from the Chapters of the Coming Forth By Day can be given, nor can these be sequentially arranged nor dogmatized upon. Nor will any attempt be made to untangle the many combinations of triads and enneads. What follows is for the purpose of arousing the student to make use of the law of correspondence and analogy and fill out for himself what aims to be merely a suggestive outline.
THE GODS OF EGYPT
(Part 17 of a 59-part series)
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ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:
(1) Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, 368; 432-433.
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