Egyptology

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The ancient Egyptians conceived man and kosmos to be dual: firstly, the High God or Divine Mind arose out of the Primeval Waters of space at the beginning of manifestation; secondly, the material aspect expressing what is in the Divine Mind must be in a process of ever-becoming. In other words, the kosmos consists of body and soul. Man emanated in the image of divinity is similarly dual and his evolutionary goal is a fully conscious return to the Divine Mind.

Space, symbolized by the Primeval Waters, contains the seeds and possibilities of all living things in their quiescent state. At the right moment for awakenment, all will take up forms in accordance with inherent qualities. Or to express it in another way: the Word uttered by the Divine Mind calls manifested life to begin once more.

Growth is effected through a succession of lives, a concept that is found in texts and implied in symbolism. Herodotus, the Greek historian (5th century B.C.), wrote that

the Egyptians were the first to teach that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing then coming to birth; and after passing through all creatures of land, sea, and air (which cycle it completes in three thousand years) it enters once more into a human body, at birth.

The theory of reincarnation is often ascribed to Pythagoras, since he spent some time in Egypt studying its philosophy and, according to Herodotus, “adopted this opinion as if it were his own.”

Margaret A. Murray, who worked with Flinders Petrie, illustrates the Egyptian belief by referring to the ka-names of three kings (The ka-name relates to the vital essence of an individual); the first two of the twelfth dynasty: that of Amonemhat I means “He who repeats births,” Senusert I: “He whose births live,” and the ka-name of Setekhy I of the nineteenth dynasty was “Repeater of births.” (The Splendour That Was Egypt)

Reincarnation has been connected with the rites of Osiris, one of the Mysteries or cycles of initiation perpetuated in Egypt. The concept of transformation as recorded in the Egyptian texts has been interpreted in various ways. De Briere expresses it in astronomical terms: “The sensitive soul re-entered by the gate of the gods, or the Capricorn, into the Amenthe, the watery heavens, where it dwelt always with pleasure; until, descending by the gate of men, or the Cancer, it came to animate a new body.” Herodotus writes of transmigration, i.e., that the soul passes through various animals before being reborn in human form. This refers not to the human soul but to the molecules, atoms, and other components that clothe it. They gravitate to vehicles similar in qualities to their former host’s, drawn magnetically to the new milieu by the imprint made by the human soul, whether it be fine or gross. It is quite clear from the Book of the Dead and other texts that the soul itself after death undergoes experiences in the Duat (Dwat) or Underworld, the realm and condition between heaven and earth, or beneath the earth, supposedly traversed by the sun from sunset to sunrise.

The evolution of consciousness is symbolized by the Solar Barque moving through the Duat. In this context the “hours” of travel represent stages of development. Bika Reed states that at a certain “hour” the individual meets the “Rebel in the Soul,”  that is, at the “hour of spiritual transformation.” And translating from the scroll Reed gives: “the soul warns, only if a man is allowed to continue evolving, can the intellect reach the heart.”

Not only does the scripture deal with rituals assumed to apply to after-death conditions — in some respects similar to the Book of the Dead — but also it seems quite patently a ritual connected with initiation from one level of self-becoming to another. Nevertheless the picture that emerges is that of the “deceased” or candidate for initiation reaching a fork offering two paths called “The Two Paths of Liberation” and, while each may take the neophyte to the abode of the Akhu (the “Blessed”) — a name for the gods, and also for the successful initiates — they involve different experiences. One path, passing over land and water, is that of Osiris or cyclic nature and involves many incarnations. The other way leads through fire in a direct or shortened passage along the route of Horus who in many texts symbolizes the divine spark in the heart.

In the Corpus Hermeticum, Thoth — Tehuti — was the Mind of the Deity, whom the Alexandrian Greeks identified with Hermes. For example, one of the chief books in the Hermetica is the Poimandres treatise, or Pymander. The early trinity Atum-Ptah-Thoth was rendered into Greek as theos (god) — demiourgos or demourgos-nous (Demiurge or Demiurgic Mind) — nous and logos (Mind and Word). The text states that Thoth, after planning and engineering the kosmos, unites himself with the Demiurgic Mind. There are other expressions proving that the Poimandres text is a Hellenized version of Egyptian doctrine. An important concept therein is that of “making-new-again.” The treatise claims that all animal and vegetable forms contain in themselves “the seed of again-becoming” — a clear reference to reimbodiment — “every birth of flesh ensouled . . . shall of necessity renew itself.” G. R. S. Mead interprets this as palingenesis or reincarnation — “the renewal on the karmic wheel of birth-and-death.” (Thrice-Greatest Hermes)

The Corpus Hermeticum or Books of Hermes are believed by some scholars to have been borrowed from Christian texts, but their concepts are definitely ancient Egyptian in origin, translated into Alexandrian Greek, and Latin.

Looking at Walter Scott’s translation of Poimandres, it states that “At the dissolution of your material body, you first yield up the body itself to be changed,” and it will be absorbed by nature. The rest of the individual’s components return to “their own sources, becoming parts of the universe, and entering into fresh combinations to do other work.” After this, the real or inner man “mounts upward through the structure of the heavens,” leaving off in each of the seven zones certain energies and related substances. The first zone is that of the Moon; the second, the planet Mercury; the third, Venus; fourth, the Sun; fifth, Mars; sixth, Jupiter; and seventh, Saturn. “Having been stripped of all that was wrought upon him” in his previous descent into incarnation on Earth, he ascends to the highest sphere, “being now possessed of his own proper power.” Finally, he enters into divinity. “This is the Good; this is the consummation, for those who have got gnosis.” (According to Scott, gnosis in this context means not only knowledge of divinity but also the relationship between man’s real self and the godhead.)

Further on, the Poimandres explains that the mind and soul can be conjoined only by means of an earth-body, because the mind by itself cannot do so, and an earthly body would not be able to endure

the presence of that mighty and immortal being, nor could so great a power submit to contact with a body defiled by passion. And so the mind takes to itself the soul for a wrap

In Hermetica, Isis to Horus, there is the statement:

. . . . For there are [in the world above, two gods] who are attendants of the Providence that governs all. One of them is Keeper of souls; the other is Conductor of souls. The Keeper is he that has in his charge the unembodied souls; the Conductor is he that sends down to earth the souls that are from time to time embodied, and assigns to them their several places. And both he that keeps watch over the souls, and he that sends them forth, act in accordance with God’s will.

There are many texts using the term “transformations” and a good commentary on the concept by R. T. Rundle Clark follows:

In order to reach the heights of the sky the soul had to undergo those transformations which the High God had gone through as he developed from a spirit in the Primeval Waters to his final position as Sun God . . .” — Myth-And-Symbol-In-Ancient-Egypt

This would appear to mean that in entering upon physical manifestation human souls follow the path of the divine and spiritual artificers of the universe.

There is reason to believe that the after-death adventures met with by the soul through the Duat or Underworld were also undergone by a neophyte during initiation. If the trial ends in success, the awakened human being thereafter speaks with the authority of direct experience. In the most ancient days of Egypt, such an initiate was called a “Son of the Sun” for he embodied the solar splendour. For the rest of mankind, the way is slower, progressing certainly, but more gradually, through many lives. The ultimate achievement is the same: to radiate the highest qualities of the spiritual element locked within the aspiring soul.

The Occultic Brotherhood

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Millions upon millions of years ago in the darkness of prehistory, humanity was an infant, a child of Mother Nature, unawakened, dreamlike, wrapped in the cloak of mental somnolence. Recognition of egoity slept; instinctual consciousness alone was active. Like a stream of brilliance across the horizon of time, divine beings, manasaputras, sons of mind, descended among the sleeping humans, and with the flame of intellectual solar fire lighted the wick of latent mind, and lo! the thinker stirred. Self-consciousness wakened, and man became a dynamo of intellectual and emotional power: capable of love, of hate, of glory, of defeat. Having knowledge, he acquired power; acquiring power, he chose; choosing, he fashioned the fabric of his future; and the perception of this ran like wine through his veins.

Knowledge, more knowledge, and still greater knowledge was required by the maturing humans who looked with gratitude to the godlike beings who had come to awaken them. For many millennia they followed their guidance, as children lovingly follow the footsteps of their mother.

As the ages rolled by, a circulation of divine instructors succeeded these primeval manasaputras and personally supervised the progress of child-humanity: they initiated them in the arts and sciences, taught them to sow their fields with corn and wheat, instructed them in the ways of clean and moral living — in short, established primeval schools of training and instruction open and free to all to learn of things material, intellectual, and spiritual. At this early period there were no Mystery colleges: the ancient wisdom was the common heirloom of all mankind, for as yet there had been no abuse of knowledge, and hence no need for schools kept hid and sacred from the world. Truth was freely given and as freely accepted in that golden age. (H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings)

The race was young; not all were adept in learning. Some through past experience in former world periods learned quickly and with ease, choosing intuitively the path of spiritual intellection; others, less awake, were good though wayward in progress; while a third class of humans, drugged with inertia, found learning and aspiring a burden and became laggards in the evolutionary procession. To them, spiritual apathy was preferable to spiritual exertion.

Mankind as a whole progressed rapidly in the acquisition of knowledge and its subsequent use. Some obviously wrought evil — others good. What had been latent spirituality now became active good and active evil. Suffering and pain became nature’s most merciful method of restoring the heart to its primeval instinct, that of spiritual choice. As mind developed keener potentialities and the struggle for mental supremacy overcame the spiritual, the gift of intellect became a double-edged weapon: on the one hand, the bringer of spiritual awareness and undreamed of intellectual ecstasy; and on the other, the wielder of a weapon of destruction, of horror and, in the worst cases, of deliberate spiritual wickedness — diabolism. As H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

The mysteries of Heaven and Earth, revealed to the Third Race by their celestial teachers in the days of their purity, became a great focus of light, the rays from which became necessarily weakened as they were diffused and shed upon an uncongenial, because too material soil. With the masses they degenerated into Sorcery, taking later on the shape of exoteric religions, of idolatry full of superstitions, . . . — The Secret Doctrine  

Nature is cyclical throughout: at one time fertile in spiritual things, at another barren. At this long-ago period of the third root-race, on the great continent of Lemuria, now submerged, the cycle was against spiritual progress. A great downward sweep was in force, when expansion of physical and material energies were accelerated with the consequent retardation and contraction of spiritual power. The humanities of that period were part of the general evolutionary current, and individuals reacted to the coarsening atmosphere according to their nature. Some resisted its down- ward influence through awakened spirituality; others, weaker in understanding, vacillated between spirit and matter, between good and evil: sometimes listening to the promptings of intuition, at other times submerged by the rushing waves of the downward current. Still others, in whom the spark of intellectual splendor burned low, plunged headlong downstream, unmindful of the turbulent and muddy waters.

As the downward cycle proceeded, knowledge of spiritual verities and living of the life in accordance with them became a dull and useless tool in human hearts and minds. Such folly was inevitable in the course of cosmic events, and all things were provided for. Just as there are many types of people — some spiritual, others material, some highly intelligent, others slow of thought — so are there various grades of beings throughout the universe, ranging from the mineral, through the vegetable, animal, and human kingdom, and beyond to the head and hierarch of our earth.

During these first millennia the spiritual head and guardian of the earth had been stimulating wherever possible the individual fires of active spirituality. Gradually as knowledge of divine things became abused by those strong in will but weak in morality, truth was increasingly veiled. The planetary watcher now felt the need of selecting a band of co-workers to act as bodyguard and protector of the ancient wisdom. Alone a handful of spiritually illumined human beings, in whom the divine fervor burned bright, acknowledged wholehearted allegiance to their planetary mentor — the spiritual hierarch of humanity. Through long ages certain individuals had been watched over and guided, strengthened and tested in innumerable ways, and those who passed the test of self-knowledge and self-sacrifice were gathered together to form the first association of spiritual-divine human beings — the Great Brotherhood. As G. de Purucker elaborates:

Then was formed or established or set in operation the gathering together of the very highest representatives, spiritually and intellectually speaking, that the human race as yet had given manifestation to; . . .

. . . the Silent Watcher of the Globe, through the spiritual-magnetic attraction of like to like, was enabled to attract to the Path of Light, even from the earliest times of the Third Root-Race, certain unusual human individuals, early forerunners of the general Manasaputric “descent,” and thus to form with these individuals a Focus of Spiritual and Intellectual Light on Earth, this fact signifying not so much an association or society or brotherhood as a unity of human spiritual and intellectual Flames, so to speak, which then represented on Earth the heart of the Hierarchy of Compassion. . . .

Now it was just this original focus of Living Flames, which never degenerated nor lost its high status of the mystic center on Earth through which poured the supernal glory of the Hierarchy of Compassion, today represented by the Great Brotherhood of the Mahatmans, . . . Thus it is that the Great Brotherhood traces an unbroken and uninterrupted ancestry back to the original focus of Light of the Third Root-Race. — The Esoteric Tradition  

Hence the elder brothers of the race remain

the elect custodians of the Mysteries revealed to mankind by the divine Teachers . . . and tradition whispers, what the secret teachings affirm, namely, that these Elect were the germ of a Hierarchy which never died since that period” (Secret Doctrine)

— since the foundation and establishment of the Great Brotherhood some 12 million years ago. From this center for millions of years have been streaming in continuous procession rays of light and strength into the world at large and, more specifically, into the hearts of those whose lives are dedicated to the service of truth. From this Fraternity have gone forth messengers, masters of wisdom, to inspire the grand religions of the past, and they will continue to send forth their envoys as long as mankind requires their care.

Initiation

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Every country has its own methods of preserving the knowledge and tradition of the Mysteries. The degrees are variously reckoned, sometimes four, five, seven, or even ten; but whatever the divisions, during the days of their purity they all honored the one divine purpose of consummating the spiritual marriage of the higher self with the awakened human soul, from which union springs the seer, the adept, the master of life. Through the ravages of time and priestcraft, and the tangle of intrigue and ignorance in which exoteric rites are enmeshed, one perceives the venerable tradition.

In Asia Minor, Theon of Smyrna writes of five degrees in the initiatory cycle:

(1) “the preliminary purification,” because taking part in the Mysteries “must not be indiscriminately given to all who desire it”;

(2) “the tradition of sacred things” which constitutes the “initiation proper”;

(3) the “epoptic revelation,” where the candidate may experience direct intuition of truth;

(4) “the binding of the head and placement of the crown” — a clear reference to the mystical authority received with the crown of initiation to pass on the sacred tradition to others; and, finally,

(5) “friendship and interior communion” with divinity — this was considered the highest and most solemn mystery of all, the complete assimilation of the enlightened mind with the divine self — (Theon of Smyrna, Mathematics Useful for Understanding Plato + Isis Unveiled).

In Persia during the time of Mithraism, when the sun god was honored above earthly things, seven were the degrees, the candidate receiving a name relevant to each stage of interior growth. Using the Graeco-Latin names that have come down to us, the first-degree neophyte was called Corax, “raven” — the dark bird, one in whom the light of wisdom had not yet awakened in great measure. It signified likewise a servant: one who gives of his heart totally before receiving admission into the second degree which was termed Cryphius, “occult”: one accepted as a disciple of esoteric lore; the third was Miles, “soldier,” one who had received sufficient training and purification to become a worker for good. The fourth — Leo, “lion,” emblem of solar power — has reference to the fourth initiation in which the candidate begins the conscious solarizing of the nature through instruction and specialized training. The fifth degree was known as Perses, “Persian,” signifying to the Persians of the time one who was becoming spiritually human — manasaputrized, that is, mind-born. The sixth, Heliodromus, “messenger or runner of Helios (the sun)” is a reference to Mercury or Budha, as messenger between the sun in the cosmos and the sun in man: the bloom of buddhi. The final and seventh was called Pater, “father,” the state of a Full Initiate — (Esoteric Tradition 2:864).

The Hindus likewise had various names for their disciples as they passed from one degree to another. For instance, in one school the candidates received the names of the ten avataras of Vishnu. The first degree neophyte was termed Matsya, “fish”: one yet low in the scale of spiritual mastery. The second was Kurma, “tortoise”: one step higher in evolutionary development. The third degree was called Varaha, “boar,” a further advance in individualization, while the fourth was termed Nara-simha, “man-lion.” This fourth stage marks the turning point between the preliminary degrees of the Lesser Mysteries and the advanced degrees of the Greater Mysteries. This title of man-lion points to the choice demanded of the aspirant between dominance of animal soul qualities and the supremacy henceforth of the truly human attributes. Success in the fourth degree insured the entrance into the fifth called Vamana, “dwarf,” in which the candidate assumed the robes of occult humanhood, though such humanhood was as yet infantile compared to full mastery. Parasu-Rama, “Rama with an axe,” name of the sixth-degree neophyte, suggests one capable of hewing his way with equanimity through the worlds of both spirit and matter. In the seventh degree the disciple becomes fully humanized, receiving the name of Rama, hero of the Ramayana, an important epic of Hindustan. The last three degrees, the eighth, ninth, and tenth, are called respectively: Krishna, the avatara whose death ushered in the Kali yuga some 5,000 years ago; Buddha, whose renunciation of nirvana brought light and peace to a sorrowing world; and the final and tenth, Kalkin or Kalki, the “white-horse” avatara who is yet to come. As noted in the Vishnu Purana, he is destined to appear at the end of the Kali or Iron Age, seated on a white horse, with a drawn sword blazing like a comet, for the destruction of the wicked, the renovation of creation, and the restoration of purity. In ancient symbology the horse also symbolized the sun, hence the tenth avatara will come riding the steed of solar glory to usher in the New Age clothed with the sun of spiritual illumination.

While seven were the degrees usually enumerated in the Mysteries, hints have been given of three higher degrees than the seventh. But so esoteric would these be that only the most spiritualized of humanity could comprehend and hence undertake these divine initiations. Rare indeed are those who become avatara-like; rarer still, “as rare as are the flowers of the Udumbara-tree” are the Buddhas. As for the tenth and last — such has been left unmarred by description.