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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Egyptian Religion, Ancient

O Egypt, Egypt, the land that was the seat of divinity shall be deprived of the presence of the gods. There shall not remain more of thy religion than tales, than words inscribed on stone and telling of thy lost piety. A day will come alas when the sacred hieroglyphs will become but idols. The world will mistake the symbols of wisdom for gods and accuse great Egypt of having adored hell monsters.

HERMES TRISMEGISTUS

No prophecy has ever proved so true.

INTRODUCTION

For centuries Ancient Egyptian religion remained a mystery to the Western world, hidden in its hieroglyphs, yet spelled out in the imposing grandeur of Egypt’s monuments. Even with the decipherment of the hieroglyphs little was revealed of the Egyptian famed wisdom so praised by the Greek writers; Western scholars, conditioned by extreme rationalism, or Christianity, were completely unprepared for a totally different vision expressed through symbols which had lost all meaning. Thus to take a very simple example, who could understand such phrases of ch. 42 of the Book of the Dead as translated by Wallis Budge in 1899:

I am he who hath no power to walk, the great knot who is within yesterday. The might of my strength is within my hand.

A more modern translation, from the French translation, at least gives a clue:

I am the motionless one, the great knot of destiny which lies in yesterday. In my hand lies the destiny of the present.

The third level of meaning of the hieroglyphs which gave their spiritual significance was completely missed. Fortunately since the second half of the 20th century more “enlightened” Egyptologists, some acquainted with the Upanisads, others with the Rosicrucian tenets, or the Kabbalah, have penetrated somewhat deeper into the labyrinthine sanctuary of the ancient Egyptian mind.

Helena P. BLAVATSKY was in this respect, as in many others, a pioneer. Her remarks and hints on Egyptian religion are scattered through The Secret Doctrine, some in Isis Unveiled and various journals, and gathered together in the Collected Writings.

For clarity sake, we should keep in mind the several main sources of religious documents as they spanned long periods of development of civilization and thereby of religious interpretation, unfoldment and thinking:

  1. The Pyramid Texts, the earliest inscriptions superbly engraved on the walls of chambers inside the pyramid-tombs of 5 kings from the 5th to the beginning of the 6th dynasty at Sakkara, which scholars date back to the Old Kingdom (from about 2300 to 2175 BCE); these religious incantatory texts are thought to have been compiled from much older texts long before the unification of Egypt by Menes.
  2. The Coffin Texts, or Books of the Justification for the Other World, which cover the sarcophagi of the Middle Kingdom (approx. 2200-2800 BCE), forming the link between the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead, some of which have recently been recognized as initiation texts for the living in preparation for the great transition.
  3. The Book of the Dead, misnamed for The Chapters of Coming Forth By Day, the greatest papyri collection of religious texts of which three versions exist. All treat of questions of life and death, of preparations for after death states.
  4. The Shabaka Stone (preserved in the British Museum), a copy on a black basalt stone of an ancient drama played out by the gods, giving out the cosmogony and theology of Memphis wherein Ptah, the Creator God, creates by the power of thought what was conceived in his heart.

Other records such as the Book of “The Two Ways,” The Book of Am Dwat or “What is in the Beyond” and the so-called Wisdom Literature, bear witness to Ancient Egyptian religious philosophy.

“The esoteric teachings in Egypt and India,” writes H. P. Blavatsky. in The Secret Doctrine “were identical” (SD I:672), and thus a knowledge of one helps to understand the other. It is the basic ignorance of the initiatic stand of most of the sacred texts and the inveterate habit of taking every text literally that has militated against a real understanding and thereby translation of Egypt’s spiritual message.

The exoteric dogmas may often have been altered, the esoteric never . . .

The Egyptian priests have forgotten much, they altered nothing.

Hence

. . . the sacred immutability of the primitive truths [was] revealed only during the mysteries of initiation.

The priests “. . . preserved in their rituals and dogmas the principal teachings of the secret doctrine.” (SD I:312)

COSMOGONY

The first steps in examining an ancient religion take us to its cosmogony. Here HPB tells us:

In the Egyptian Papyri the whole Cosmogony of the Secret Doctrine is found scattered about in isolated sentences, even in the “Book of Dead”. . . . (SD I:674)

Every ancient theogony . . . from the Aryan and the Egyptian down to that of Hesiod — places, in the order of Cosmogonical evolution, Night before the Day (SD II:59).

— night representing the state of repose, undifferentiation, timelessness, hence The Secret Doctrine’s pralaya as in the Hindu texts. Of such a state before creation, which the Stanzas of DZYAN describe negatively in terms of what is no longer, the Egyptians also had an inkling, for anything that exists must have a beginning and therefore an end. The creation is referred to as the “first time” implying the first event in a series. Outside “existence” is a state of “non-existence,” limitless, timeless, unchanging which enfolds the limited, but ordered existence, a state which was described as “when . . . had, not yet,” similar to the Babylonian Enuma Ellis:

When the heights of heaven and the earth beneath had not been named, when Apsu, their Father and Tiamat, their Mother, still mingled their waters when no field or marsh was formed and no gods had been called into being. . . .

For the Egyptians also there was a time when Earth and sky had not yet come into being and “there was not announced the name of anything,” etc. (Papyrus Berlin 3055), a view in full agreement with the first Stanza of Dzyan. Differences are perceptible when it comes to detailed analysis. For example, though the Non-Existent implies the undifferentiated oneness, it also means by comparison with the Existent, inertia, stagnation, unconsciousness. But as a living counterpart of the Existent, it can overflow, invade the Existent, for instance at the unconcious level, among human beings in sleep, in nature, in floods. Although it threatens ordered existence, it offers, during human sleep, an opportunity for revitalization, rejuvenation. The task of the gods and pharaohs is to keep the existent ordered, defined, active and organized and hold the Non-Existent at bay. All this was worked out by E. Hornung in his Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: the One and the Many, 1971 (translated from the German into English in 1983). The Non-Existent is obviously the inexhaustible pleroma, or Waters of Space of the Vedas, the Nun of Egyptian cosmogony.

For the initiated priests as for the esoteric doctrine, creation was an emanation, a transformation of the infinite matrix into a limitation, a measure of it; the emergent active deity, Atum is “within his limit” and, as described in a Pyramid Text, he is “the serpent whose coils delimit the creation,” so Rundle Clark expresses it in his Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt (p. 51). Out of the primeval ocean of space (Nun), Atum arises, his “outer coils” being the limits of the world:

I am the outflow of the Primeval Flood, he who emerged from the waters.
am the “provider of attributes” serpent with its many coils.
am the Scribe of the Divine Book which says what has been and effects what is yet to be. (Pyramid Text, 1146)

Powerful archetypal images here encapsulate the significance of manifested existence. The Secret Doctrine’s Root-matter appears here in the “primeval flood,” Nun, in the “Provider of attributes,” i.e., of potentialities waiting to be realized; it pulsates in the “Scribe of the Divine Book,” the Logos or Word incarnate in matter that shapes this primordial substance and inscribes all things in the Book of Destiny.

One of the esoteric tenets of The Secret Doctrine whereby

. . . Deity . . . is . . . “the EVER BECOMING, as well as the ever universally present, and the ever Existing.” . . . a perpetual, never-ceasing evolution, circling back in its incessant progress through æons of duration into its original status — ABSOLUTE UNITY. (SD II:545)

finds an echo in Atum of the Heliopolitan cosmogony: “he who completes himself,” who emerges from the timeless Nun to become the traverser of millions of years whose motion whirls chaos into creativity, whose manifestation heralds life, light, substance, consciousness, whose “becomings” are symbolized by the scarab — khepri — to be fully expressed in the Solar Deity Re.

The Waters of Space were to be described in the Coffin Texts as

In the infinite, the nothingness, the nowhere and the dark.

In the Hermopolitan theogony these were to be differentiated to assume the shape of Eight Genii of the Deep, four male, four female, who formed the primeval Egg of the universe from which emerged the Solar Deity. We should never take these archetypal images literally as most people do. The egg is both symbolic and representative of the universal egg-like forms from which life issues, of the human aura, and of those states of existence, unconscious, half-conscious, conscious, etc. (See SD I:359 ff on the symbol of the egg and p. 556 on the Golden Egg with its positive and negative poles.) The Solar deity Re is the Word manifested as his hieroglyph implies, hence LOGOS, hence the three symbols in one: Atum-Khepri-Re; Atum, the primal mover, its becomings, its full manifestation as the Word radiating light. This succinctly expressed the Egyptian idea of the manifested threefoldness of the divine Principle of Life, subsequently represented by the trinities of Father-Mother-Son in the theological centers — Heliopolis, Hermopolis, Memphis, Thebes.

HELIOPOLITAN ENNEAD

The Heliopolitan cosmogony is of fundamental significance to any understanding of Egyptian religion. Its gods enshrine in their symbols a host of ideas, functions and secret doctrines. From Atum-Khepri-Re unfold Shu-Tefnut, from these Nut (Sky) Geb (Earth) who give birth to Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Each of these couples has a son: Horus and Anubis.

Shu and Tefnut, or the “Divine Twins” often depicted as the “Double Lion,” represent esoterically the expanding and the contracting forces of manifestation which HPB calls “. . . the dual Force or power of the two solar eyes, or the electro-positive and the electro-negative forces” (SD I:673 fn.). For HPB Shu is the “solar force,” she calls him “the god of creation” (SD I:75, fn). However, he came into his own hegemony only during the Middle Kingdom period, long after the unification of Egypt. Shu is very complex and so far no Egyptologist has fathomed out his nature. One sentence is quite clear:

I am he . . . who transmits the word of the Self-generated demiurge to the crowds (Coffin Text 324a).

showing that the status of “transmitter of the Word” has now passed to Shu, while Re as Atum-Re remained the Presiding Deity. As agent of creation the Double-Lion becomes agent of resurrection, assimilated to the two pylons that guard the entrance to Egyptian temples where occurs the daily resurrection of Re.

But it is in his consort Tefnut, the lioness headed on whom HPB is silent, that the greatest mystery is concealed — the formidable cosmic power known to the Hindus as shakti kundalini. The epithet wps (in its feminine form wpst) signifying flame is frequently applied to Tefnut, goddess of flame. In the temple of Philae Tefnut is depicted as a uraeus with the head of a lion on top of which sits the solar disc flanked by the horns of Hathor. Strange but highly significant combination of occult symbols, it has never been fathomed, for it reveals while concealing Tefnut’s secret nature. Note that the uraeus is the Eye of Re which he sends among humans as avenging destructress in the legend of the near destruction of mankind. Tefnut represents the transformative, purifying but also destructive power of the great universal energy that underlies earth and human beings, that energy also embodied in Hathor, the “House of Horus,” the beneficent Hathor that suckles the pharaoh but is also capable of destruction, and in Sekhmet, the lioness headed goddess of war and of medicine. If we recall that (a) it is only when the kundalini-shakti becomes activated in a purified body and is raised through the various centers of power or chakras‚ destroying all impurities, to the highest chakra that cosmic vision is granted, and that (b) the human eye is the most occult of our senses, then the legend of Re’s Eye that sees and knows all and can destroy all, and the equation Eye-Uraeus-Flame may yield their esoteric significance. To these three symbols, plus the horns of Hathor in the temple of Philae iconography, are added the lion and the solar disc which bespeak power and cosmic rulership, the universal shakti power. The rajas quality of the lion implies activity, passion, rage; it stirs the static quality of matter towards a full expression of its potentiality. Esoterically, the solar lion is linked to the zodiacal sign of Leo, a tremendous powerful link which, so far as human beings are concerned, signifies self-assertiveness working towards self-consciousness working towards vaster horizons of supra-consciousness. All these symbols fuse in one mighty cosmic insight, wherein the Eye of the solar Deity appears as his Cosmic Power and his Cosmic Gnosis, forewarners of his Cosmic Will.

Nut and Geb represent Sky and Earth, contrary to most cosmogonies where Heaven is Father and Earth Mother. As starry vault Nut enfolds the universe like the heavenly vault. For HPB Nut is the feminine aspect of Nun, the ocean of space. A painting in a tomb shows the sun at dusk as having entered her body and the 12 hours of the night inscribed as 12 suns in it; at dawn Nut gives birth once more to the sun. Like all Great Mothers, Nut is the Encompasser who takes back into herself her children, as represented in the inside lid of a sarcophagus wherein the dead were laid to repose in her embrace.

Geb is the Earth, the impregnator, also time, as his sign, the goose, means time. This hieroglyph yields the sound gb‚ but there is another word for goose, sa as well; hence the derivation Geb, or Seb. Most Egyptologists favor Geb, HPB uses Seb. Sa as goose also means “egg” as well as “son of.” The egg, sa, in which occurs the mystery of life and, at the cosmic level, the birth of the universe, becomes sa, the goose, the “living heir” and “son” within the limit of time.

In a well known iconography Nut is seen arching her elongated body like the sky vault over Earth, Geb. She is held up by Shu in a gesture of separation. A detailed examination and interpretation of this highly symbolic representation may be found in Geoffrey Hodson’s Illuminations of the Mystery Tradition, 1992. Here Nut represents prakrti, the all containing, all-productive source of all universes, while Geb is purusha active within prakrti, hence Nut’s body arched over him. Shu is Fohat that binds and separates and both Geb and Shu are embraced within Nut, purusha being the inside and prakrti the outside of One principle, “Absolute substance” (op. cit. p. 50-1).

The myth of Osiris-Isis and their son Horus, is too well known to need retelling. However, certain aspects should be clarified. Osiris is a complex god, concentrating in himself divine, natural and human characteristics. The “dismembered fertility” god who “renews himself,” the god at the top of the stairs, the god of transformations and resurrection, the impulse to evolution, all these facets are embodied in Osiris: he who embraces life and death, birth and rebirth, is archetypal cosmic man, also reflected in Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalah, in Purusha of the Rg Veda.

Osiris, entombed in a coffin astray over the Nile, reached a tree that expanded around the coffin, was doubly entombed, until found by Isis who released the body, brought it back sufficiently to life to conceive a son, Horus. Seth, the adversary, represents matter’s (illusory) fixity, its tendency to confusion and disruption; he stands for storm forces and those forces of involution, resistance, friction, constriction that imprison the human soul. The symbols give away the meaning of the story. Seth finds the body and fragments it into 14 pieces which Isis and Nephthys find and reassemble. This sacrifice of the man-god, the fragmentation of his body, recalls the Purusha’s fragmentation, in the Rg Veda, that all might be. Osiris and Seth represent the polarities of the human being, spirit and matter; the sacrifice of divine life through embodiment in matter brings about the conquest of matter; a death and a becoming through matter and the ultimate triumph of the spirit. Osiris’s death shows the way to self-fulfilment, Osiris is man’s hope or resurrection, hence Osiris becomes the judge of human souls in the beyond and with him every justified soul must be identified. Through the gateway of the Still-Heart (Osiris) the soul must pass, divesting itself of veil after veil for thus only can it awaken to the higher consciousness. So the justified soul exclaims:

I have come to see him that dwelleth in his divine uraeus face to face.

Thou art in me and I am in thee and thy attributes are my attributes.
(Book of the Dead. Ch. LXIV. 19, 20)

The ultimate end of Osiris, hence of all justified souls, is described in the Book of the Dead. “How long shall I live?” asks Osiris of Atum: the answer is:

You will live more than millions of years, an era of millions, but in the end I will destroy everything that I have created, the earth will become again part of the Primeval Ocean, like the Abyss of waters in their original state. Then I will be what will remain, just I and Osiris, when I will have changed myself back into the Old Serpent who knew no man and saw no god. (Book of the Dead, ch. 175)

— back to the primordial changelessness and oneness of the Absolute. To this Rundle Clark, in his Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, remarks perceptively:

When all differences have disappeared, he (Atum) and Osiris, the transcendent and the emergent forms of deity, will be reunited in the universal primordial form of life, the original Serpent, the form in which divinity existed before the coming of gods or men. The final fate, then, is to return to the primordial unity. Here we see Egyptian thought reaching out to a concept very like that of the Upanishads. (p. 141)

indeed to that of the ageless gnosis, which shows how “the esoteric teachings of Egypt and India were identical” as Blavatsky stressed.

EGYPTIAN SYMBOLS

 

The religious and esoteric history of every nation was embedded in symbols. . . . All the thoughts and emotions, all the learning and knowledge, revealed and acquired, of the early races, found their pictorial expression in allegory and parable. (SD I:307)

He who can penetrate into the heart of Egyptian symbolism holds the key to the ageless gnosis. A god, to the Egyptian, was a principle that could be named differently according to different spheres of influence and circumstances and could assume various appearances for his devotee.

Monotheism, as prevalent in the last two millennia, did not enter the conception of the Egyptians. In the Wisdom Literature, the repeated mention of “the God” led some scholars into the error of attributing a “special monotheism” to the wisdom teachers. This mention, as Hornung pointed out, could

. . . refer to . . . any god the person being addressed might encounter in a particular situation or “the god with whom you have to reckon in the circumstances” (op. cit. p. 57-8).

Akhenaton chose one outer symbol, the solar disc, to make it the visible and conceivable symbol of the One Sole God, unacceptable to the initiated priests for, in concretizing the One Universal Supreme Cause, it would serve in course of time to degrade the Ultimate Cause of all, whereas the many symbols and manifestations of which no one could claim predominance and exclusivity, served to conceal and protect the Inconceivable Deity from human profanation. This is confirmed by HPB.

No Hermetic work written by Egyptians (vide “Book of the Dead”) would speak of the one universal God of the Monotheistic systems; the one Absolute cause of all, was as unnameable and unpronounceable in the mind of the ancient philosopher of Egypt, as it is for ever Unknowable in the conception of Mr. Herbert Spencer . . . for the Egyptian in general. . . . Every God was the “one living and unique God. . . .” (SD I:674-5)

The Egyptians were wise enough to realize that human beings clothe and name “the God” with their own attributes, so they would never kill some one else for believing in a differently presented deity! As Hornung perceived, gods and men were to the Egyptian mind, in one sense “in the same boat: ‘man’s tongue is the ship’s rudder, and the Lord of All is its pilot,’” for man and god “navigate together” within the limits of the manifested world (op. cit. p. 196) until the end of time when all will dissolve in the Godhead (note ch. 175 previously quoted), a secret doctrine tenet. The gods’ imagery was thus highly symbolic, bringing together multiple levels of meaning lending themselves to different interpretation in which opposites find their place without creating havoc (note the iconography of Tefnut in the Temple of Philae).

The representations of Egyptian gods as humans, or with animal heads, or with animal emblems as head-dress, or simply as animals — e.g., Thoth as an ibis or a baboon, Hathor as a cow, or with a cow’s head — were not meant as illustrations of the gods’ appearance, but as alluding to their nature and functions. In their cosmic functions they are viewed in the human form; in their functional activity within the earthly sphere in animal form; if within the human sphere then the human form is shown with an animal head. Note on the walls of temples ibis-headed Thoth with falcon-headed Horus pouring over the candidate for initiation the waters of life, or ansated crosses. Symbols were also used for humans, e.g., the “crocodile” which HPB claimed was the Egyptian dragon and at the human level represented the fifth principle, manas.

WISDOM LITERATURE

This literature reveals the general frame of mind of the educated Egyptian. Intimacy with and trust in the Divine, a search for truth and wisdom show through the epitaphs and inscriptions in tombs. In Old Kingdom names given to persons there is revealed the relation between the person and the “Living One” (onkh), e.g., “The Living one is my Protector"; “I belong to the grace of the Living One.” The certainty that the life beyond is to be desired but worked for and is the acme of a well-spent earthly life, is the belief of the Wise Ones of the Old Egypt whose thoughts are found inscribed in their tombs, e.g.:

The West is the abode of those without fault. Happy is he who arrives there. But none enters therein whose heart is not right in the deed of Maat. There is no distinction there between rich and poor; he only counts who is found to be without fault when the balance and its burdens stand before the Lord of Eternity. None escapes from his verdict, when Thoth . . . sits upon the balance to make a reckoning with each according to what he has done on earth. (Inscription of the priest Petosiris)

This inscription is most instructive in revealing Egyptian beliefs and how these guided their lives. Human beings were exhorted to follow Maat, Truth-Justice-Righteousness- Order. The vision of Cosmic Order as embodied in Maat was also the vision of ancient India, and to a certain extent of ancient Greece. This vision was seen as forming the foundation of cosmos but also, by reflection, that of human society, at least in its ideal. Maat, embodied in the goddess Justice, had been established at the beginning of creation, and as the daughter of Re, outlined for him his daily path. Atum-Re, in the Pyramid Texts, is said to have emerged on the primeval hill “after he had put order, Maat, in the place of chaos.” So Maat rules over pharaoh and acts as a brake to his power, a constant reminder to him and to society of divine order, harmony, justice, these being pharaoh’s task to establish on earth. Pharaoh offers Maat as the token of his just rulership, speaks Maat — “thy speech is the shrine of Maat.”

Maat is good and its worth is lasting.
It has not been disturbed since the day of its creator
whereas he who transgresses its ordinances is punished,
It lies as a path in front even of him who knows nothing.
(From Ptah-hotep Inscriptions)

Surely this is the Egyptian idea of karma. Maat manifests in human society as justice, in maintenance of order; in an individual’s life as truth, integrity. To be true of voice was to live in accordance with Maat’s dictates:

Cool of mouth, friendly and silent, quiet of heart, harmonious of nature, free from passions

Such was the sage of ancient Egypt. Thus, as Hornung puts it

Maat which came from the gods at creation, returns to them from the hands of men; it symbolizes the partnership of god and man which is brought to fruition in Egyptian religion. This partnership, this action and response, is the key to the otherwise inexplicable mixture we find of free will and predestination. (op. cit., p. 215)

From the Instructions for King Merikare we learn that Egyptians believed in after-death life:

Man lives after death and his deeds are placed before him as in a heap. The judges who judge the sinner, thou knowest that they are not mild on that day when they judge the miserable one, in the hour when the decision is accomplished. . . . Trust not in the length of years; they look on the duration of a life as but an hour. Man remains after death and his deeds will be laid before him. But eternity abides . . . and he is a fool who considered the judges insignificant. But who comes to them not having sinned, he will be there as a god, free-striding as the Lord of Eternity.

In the Book of the Two Ways (Coffin Texts VII, 462d-464f) which enumerates the Four Good Deeds which the Universal Lord contrived in his heart while still in the serpent coils (while still unformed), the third deed is of great interest for us humans: “I made every man like his fellow — it was not my decree that they should do evil, but it was their hearts which violated what I said.” Men are equal in value and potentialities and in their divine origin; wrong-doing is laid on them, on their desire-choice.  This implies choice, hence free-will.

This also casts serious doubt on the supposed slavery prevalent among the ancient Egyptians which is, moreover, as good as refuted by the recent excavations (right to the 1990’s) of working men’s villages carried out around the Great Pyramid. Some 600 tombs were unearthed showing working men’s skeletons whose wounds had been well taken care of. A stone register revealed that they were free to take leave for family feast, sickness or other reason. The archeologists and medical team investigating concluded these were freemen, not slaves. Similarly, in a town now named Kahun, papyri archives revealed a highly structured society with people free to leave the city to go back to their original community. Some Egyptologists (e.g., C. J. Bleeker) have completely queried the supposed fact of slavery. The story of the eloquent peasant whose goods had been stolen and who could through his eloquence, reach out to one higher official after another, to Pharaoh himself, and who retrieved his goods, speaks in favor of free citizenship. In these findings and the various articles and books written in the 20th century, we have moved a long way from the contemptuous dismissal of pharaohs as Oriental despots and his ordinary subjects as slaves.

THE HUMAN CONSTITUTION

Nothing like the description of the creation of Adam in Genesis has been found in any of the Egyptian texts extant, only that the ram-headed Khnum (or Khneru) fashioned man and his “double” on a potter’s wheel, and that while the gods issued from the mouth of Re, so men came from the tears of his Eye! Men are the “herd of God” and their transgression of the moral order will be noted:

Life is given to the peaceful and death to the transgressor. (Shabaka Stone)

Since we all have to die, the peaceful and the violent, death here must have a specific meaning. It could refer to the dreaded second death in the beyond.

The subject of the human principles as viewed by the Ancient Egyptians is too complex and subtle to have found a definite understanding among Egyptologists. Even in HPB’s writings there are marked divergences and her enumerations and meanings, in some respects, do not tally with what Egyptologists have made out. While reminding “those who try to show that the Ancient Egyptians did not teach reincarnation” HPB outlines what she understood of the Egyptian view. She thus claims that the papyri:

speak clearly of the seven principles or the “Seven Souls of Man.” The Book of the Dead gives a complete list of the “transformations” that every defunct undergoes, while divesting himself, one by one, of all those principles — materialised for the sake of clearness into ethereal entities or bodies. (SD I:227)

Thus the “Soul” which HPB calls the ego

is immortal, “co-eval with, and disappearing with the Solar Boat,” i.e., for the cycle of necessity. This “Soul” emerges from the Tiaou [the Dwat, the region of the beyond with its various zones] . . . and joins the living on Earth by day, to return to Tiaou every night. This expresses the periodical existences of the Ego. (ibid., p. 227)

HPB explains the Tiaou (Old French transliteration of Dwat or Duat) as:

the path of the Night Sun, the inferior hemisphere, or the infernal region of the Egyptians, placed by them on the concealed side of the moon. The human being, in their esotericism, came out from the moon (a triple mystery — astronomical, physiological, and psychical at once); he crossed the whole cycle of existence and then returned to his birth-place before issuing from it again. (Ibid., p. 227-8)

In The Path, New York, vol. 1, 1886, p. 189, HPB, referring to the Old Egyptian and Neo-Platonists, gives a clear enumeration of the human principles as envisaged by the Ancient Egyptians:

They divided man into three principal groups subdivided into principles as we do; pure immortal spirit; the “Spectral Soul” (a luminous phantom) and the gross material body. Apart from the latter . . . these groups were divided into six principles: 1) Kha, “vital body”; 2) Khaba, “astral form,” or shadow; 3) Khou [Khu] “animal soul”; 4) Akh, “terrestrial intelligence”; 5) Sa, “the divine soul” (or Buddhi); and 6) Sah or mummy, the functions of which began after death.

In a footnote HPB draws certain parallels, thus: Osiris with whom the soul is identified after the judgment is Atma; Sa is Buddhi; Akh is Manas; Khu is Kama-rupa, the seat of terrestrial desires; Khaba is Linga-Sarira; Kha (now spelled Ka) is mentioned as the ab and hati which form part of the human heart, the most important aspect of the human constitution. Neither is the Ren or “name” mentioned which is all important as representing the being’s essence. In Isis Unveiled (II:653), HPB gives the various components of the human constitution as understood by Egyptologists. The whole question remains controversial and highly speculative.

The heart in the Egyptian religious philosophy, as in Indian sacred texts, plays an all important part, but it is not the physical heart, but what lies behind the physical aspect, the subtler counterpart, or heart chakra. Thus, in the Shabaka Stone cosmogony, the creator god Ptah conceives in his heart, his innermost consciousness, what his word expresses in creation. The heart was viewed under two aspects: ab the human link with the Universal Soul, and hati our animal nature; in theosophy we have higher manas, the higher consciousness which opens the door to Atma-Buddhi, and kama-manas which gives us the means of coping with the physical world but may drag us down to the mere level of earthly desires. At the judgment of the heart, hati, if unconquered, bears witness against the soul, when placed on the scales of Justice, Maat:

This my heart (ab) weepeth for itself before Osiris; it hath made supplication for me . . . Let not this my heart (hati) be carried away from me . . . Oh thou who joinest hearts together. (Book of the Dead. ch. 28)

I understand with my heart. I have gained the mastery over my heart. (ibid., ch. 26)

An instruction from Ptah-Hotep reads thus:

He whom God loves listens. He who listens not is against his God and the enemy of heart knowledge. It is the heart that decides whether its master shall listen or not. A man’s heart is his own God.

What HPB writes in her Esoteric Writings (p. 457) is quite appropriate to elucidate this passage:

The Heart is the center of Spiritual Consciousness . . . but this . . . Consciousness cannot be guided by a person, nor its energy be directed by him, until he is completely united with Buddhi-Manas; until then, it guides him — if it can. . . . Hence the pangs of remorse, the prickings of Conscience; . . . these come from the Heart, not the Head.

We think in terms of consciousness as placed in the head. This is our mental awareness; the soul consciousness which translates itself in intuition, conscience, deep feeling, etc., is centered in the heart, i.e., chakra. The heart that decides whether its master shall listen or not, is hati which wants its own way, until such time as it has “matured,” and “listening” to the ab’s higher aspirations and its voice of conscience, bears its fruits.

THE SOUL, KARMA AND REINCARNATION

The idea of karma is implicit in Egyptian religion and referred to in some of the texts as though by the way, so that Egyptologists did not recognize it. Thus the translation of Wallis Budge of some lines in ch. 42 of the Book of the Dead given on the first page of this article, makes no sense and misses the intrinsic meaning of the lines.

. . . I am he who hath no power to walk, the great Knot who is within yesterday. The might of my strength is within my hand. (Book of the Dead, ch. 42. p. 179, line 25)

Yesterday’s karma is fixed (motionless), it is in the process of being worked out now; but now, in the present, lies my capacity to change my karma. So Kolpatchy translated:

I am the motionless one; the great knot of destiny which lies in yesterday;

In my hand rests the destiny of the present.

Another example with such a meaning may be seen in the following:

Hail ye who carry away hearts! . . . who make the heart of a man to go through its transformations according to his deeds; let not what he has done harm him before you. (Book of the Dead, Ch. 27; italics added)

Moreover renewal of life through the action of the waters of Nun as expressed in a hymn to Amun-Re could very well refer to the next stepping or stage before reincarnation, not just re-invigoration as a state of the beyond:

We are in renewal of life. We have entered into Nun and it has renovated (a man even) as when he first was young. (The one) has been stripped off, the other put on [i.e., the old man is cast off and the new man put on]. We praise the beauty of thy face. Seek out the way and lead us upon it, that we may count every day.

In the Book of Am Dwat (what is in the beyond) an image shows the solar deity with his retinue of gods and souls enter as “old one, weak with age” into the body of a giant snake called “world encircler” (the boundary between the existent and the non-existent) and issuing out of it rejuvenated as “young children.” There is no end to life. But it also seems to refer to a re-embodiment.

The soul’s apotheosis is depicted in symbolic images in a 21st Dynasty coffin (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge): the mummy lies unconscious (without a head), enwrapped in the coils of the serpent; but the principle of transformation, as the scarab, crawls out. The soul remains unseen but implied. It is now Osiris, the embracer of life and death; it now sails on the age old solar boat with the hawk-headed deity and Maat holding the ankh of immortal life; it now sails on the back of Nut’s body arched over the earth, breaking away from the circle of manifestation; it now merges into the Bennu bird whose symbols embrace all polarities, soaring beyond manifestation in its song triumphant. (These are aspects of the soul’s journey depicted as tableaux which should be read from bottom up, not from the top to the bottom, in Rundle Clark’s Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 254-5 plate p. 240).

In Egypt’s temples are carved solemn rites of initiations, the meaningful gestures of which few do understand. Thus the scene of initiation at Kom-Ombo or Philae, where the candidate stands between hawk-headed Horus and ibis-headed Thoth, god of “wisdom and secret learning,” who both pour over the candidate the waters of life, the ansated cross as a stream of life. The same rite is seen at Karnak. There Ramses IV is offering a statuette to the goddess Amunet who holds the ankh of immortal life, perhaps the key to the mysteries of life and death, for she points this ankh right to that spot on pharaoh’s brow, between the eyebrows, called the ajna chakra. The statuette here offered comprises two figures, the child with his finger to his mouth (taken literally by Egyptologists, but most probably referring to the new initiate who has to keep silent); while behind the “child” stands the sphinx, Harmachis, or “Horus in the Horizon,” the illuminator, the Inner Logos (this Horus of whom Hathor is the “House” should not be confused with Horus, son of Isis).

So the soul triumphant could sing:

My soul is God, my soul is Eternity. (Papyrus Ani)

I am the Lord of the risings of the heavens, the great illuminer who cometh forth out of the Flame; the bestower of years, the far extending One, the Double-Lion God, and there has been given to me the journey of the God of splendours. (Book of the Dead, ch. 53)

CONCLUSION

Underlying ancient Egypt’s insight into cosmos and microcosm, of life and death and their everlasting rhythm, lies a message of wholeness emerging from the vision of Cosmic Order, Maat, to be reflected in a theocratic, socio-ethical society. To those capable of reading into the innermost of life, into the mystery of eternal renewal, ancient Egypt remains man’s gift of wisdom to the world, a wisdom hidden from the superficial gaze, yet depicted in hieroglyphs, sculptured in rock, for all to behold. It bespeaks a solemn soaring of the soul, a profound search for Truth and a finding of one expression of IT. The rituals of initiation inscribed on temple walls, pharaoh’s offer of Maat or of the Sphinx to the deity, the gestures of the gods and goddesses, so meaningful and so little understood, all spell in mute symbols Egypt’s insight into the mysteries of macrocosm and microcosm. In Egypt’s ancient temples can still be “caught” the echo of human longing to surpass one’s humanity, to reach to the inner depth of life and death, to plunge into the immensity of the cosmic vision.

J.Mr.

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