[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
Verily there was some truth in the old saying, "The Wisdom of the Egyptians." . . . — H. P. Blavatsky
Origen tells us (in Contra Celsum, Bk. I, ch. xii) that the philosophers in Egypt had a "most noble and secret wisdom concerning the nature of the Divine which was disclosed to the people only under the garment of fables and allegories . . ." and indeed we cannot, by a study of the writings of and the comments about these ancient people, help but reach the conclusion that in its prime the civilization of the Nile valley possessed many of the keys to the doors of the Esoteric Wisdom.
From a review of the hieroglyphs, and the myths and legends, that have come down to us, we find that the wisdom the Egyptians knew and taught was enshrined in "picture writing," or as they termed it "the language of the gods." Indeed, the hieroglyphs seem to have occupied a position comparable to the language of ancient India, Sanskrit, being, as it were, the tongue of the Initiates and fully comprehended only by the Initiated.
The mundane meaning of these hieroglyphs and the eventual deterioration of their symbology at a later date does not concern us here, but it is probable that at about the period of the first decay, occurred so many of the erasions now noticeable upon the temple wall inscriptions and elsewhere. "The Napoleon Memorial Books" of the antiquities of Egypt as they were in Bonaparte's time indicate many hiatuses very clearly, and as the context is usually in good condition, there is only one conclusion at which we can arrive: that the Egyptians themselves erased the revealing portions of the glyphs, for fear they should "give away" too much to later and more "profane" peoples.
However, even in those relics which survive, it is certain that anything associated with the "gods" was of immense importance from the standpoint of the ancient Teachings. There were several "families" of gods, each with its own distinct set of symbols and philosophic meanings, and most of these deities had a "sevening" aspect much as the "seven principles of man" as given in present-day Theosophical literature have a "sevening" aspect: that is, that each principle contains the germ, as it were, of the other six.
In the attached diagram, within which may be found symbolized many of the ideas of the ancient Egyptians (indeed, in it can be seen some of the actual hieroglyphic forms), we have endeavored to correlate these ideas with corresponding teachings of the presentations of Theosophy as we know them today.
The symbology of the "gods" and the Egyptian hierarchical scheme is very complex, but one of its keys indicates the association with the component parts or principles of man. In this direction, it may be interesting to notice that clues lie in three divisions of any one "god': (a) the aspects of that god; (b) the attributes of the god; and (c) the powers of the god. In one sense, we may describe (c), as far as the principles are concerned, as the principles "in action," to use a colloquialism.
At the top of the diagram we find Ra, and it will be noted that Ra is placed on the Paramatmic plane. To the Egyptian, however, Ra had "many forms" and the three most important correspond with Parabrahman, Paramatman, and Brahman-Purusha-Prakriti.
Called the "Sun god," Ra's symbol is the circle and the dot — a universal symbol for the Logos (Supreme Self) manifesting as Khe-pera — and stands for the indwelling Self or immanent Horus. Ra saith: "I am the one who made heaven and the secrets of the double-horizon in which I have placed the force (or soul) of the the gods." (Turin Pap. cxxxiii) Ra occupies a position above and over the place of thrones.
Ra regarded as the First or Unmanifest Logos is the Paramatmic aspect, but in his various "forms," as Ra-Tem, Ra-Harmachis, etc., he symbolizes Atman and its efflorescence on lower planes. (Compare the Highest Duad, Highest Divine Triad.) The spirit of Ra was believed to dwell in the Ben stone (see page 435).
The "birth of Ra" occurred when manifestation took place upon the Atmic plane, when the "boat of Ra," or the Karana-sarira, was launched upon the "buddhic waters." Ra saith: "I am he who came into being in the form of Kheper. I became the creator of all that came into manifestation. Heaven existed not, nor earth, nor had any created thing of earth."
In the "Praises to Ra" from the Royal Tombs of Thebes and translated by Budge, the worshiper exclaims: "Praise be unto thee, O Ra, exalted power, thou Word-Soul (Logos) who resteth on his high place. . . . Thou strengthened thy hidden aakhui (monads) . . . . They have their forms from thee. . . . Thou lord who advancest. . . . Truly thou art Isis. . . Whose head shineth more than what is in front of him; truly thou art the bodies of Nephthys. . . . Who art united in thy members, One, who collecteth all seed; truly thou art the bodies of Horus."
Next on the diagram are the "occupants" of the plane of thrones, the first, Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, and the second, Isis, his feminine aspect or vehicle. The symbol of Osiris is the throne, above which is the opened eye, the hieroglyph for Isis being simply the throne. In the Egyptian system there were five planes of mani-festation, and in the Legend of Isis and Osiris these five planes were called the "five superadded days." (See Plutarch: On Isis and Osiris: "Upon the first of the five days Osiris was born, and a Voice from Heaven proclaimed, "the Lord of all hath appeared") This first plane corresponds with Atman and all below it represents the Tuat or underworld, over which Osiris ruled.
Amongst the many symbols of Osiris, an important one is the Tet, which shows the four lower planes of manifestation (Tattu or Dadui), through which "the tree of life" penetrates, and by aspiration, finally attains the summit.
There is interesting and illuminating information about Osiris in The Theosophical Glossary of H. P. Blavatsky, where he is referred to as the "first manifesting deity (our third Logos)." The whole monograph is worth close study.
In the work previously mentioned, On Isis and Osiris, Plutarch states that "Osiris was beautiful of face but with a dull or black complexion — his height exceeded five and a half yards." Interpreted, we have a clue to much that is hidden in this sentence. The Logos at manifestation is perfect potentially, but as it were nonexistent, accordingly symbolized by the color black, which means the darkness beyond light as well as the darkness "beneath" light. In this case, black stands for negation, i. e., something beyond our conception. The "five-and-a-half yards in height" refers to his five planes on which he accomplished his evolution, and the half symbolizing the commencement from the Unmanifest above Atman, i. e., Ra.
The four chief aspects of Osiris were: (a) Osiris-Ptah (Light), the Spiritual; (b) Osiris-Horus (mind), the intelligent or manasic aspect; (c) Osiris-Lunus, the lunar or psychic aspect; (d) Osiris-Typhon, the physical, material, and therefore passional or turbulent aspect. In the four aspects he symbolized the dual ego: the divine and the human, the cosmico-spiritual and the terrestrial." — H. P. Blavatsky
There are two further ideas about Osirian symbolism. The first refers to the "body of Osiris," which is to say the desire-body, astro-mental, in which the Self is "imprisoned'; and the second thought concerns the birth of Osiris, or the manifestation of the Highest Self.
Isis comes next in the chart, her symbol being the throne. She was the Divine Mother, the bringer-forth of the Horus, her symbol indicating that she was the vehicle or seat of Osiris.
In man, Isis corresponds with the Buddhic principle. The sister-wife of Osiris, her symbol the throne unoccupied (or incomplete without the eye of Osiris), she was the transcendental vehicle of the universal creative potency.
Viewed from the terrestrial aspect, Isis is Nephthys, hence she weeps for Osiris (in the legend of the dismemberment), because his divinity has become submerged in material existence.
Associated with Isis are one or two intriguing symbols, including the "thet," the so-called red carnelian "buckle of Isis." The red blood of Isis symbolizes the life-currents between the buddhic and astral planes by means of which the lower is transmuted to the higher. Another symbol is the vulture-cap, which stood for the transmuting power of Buddhi or Isis ('the lower nature, or personality, is consumed by vultures.')
The most mysterious of all the Egyptian pantheon comes next in the chart, Thoth or Tehuti, "the heart of Ra." In the symbolism the Ape of Thoth is crowned with a crescent containing the disk. As the vehicle of Ra, he is a center of Being on the mental plane ('the Eye in the boat'). This symbol would make of Manas the third Logos of the hierarchy within man.
Thoth is pre-eminently the symbol of the Divine Mind (cf. Afu-Ra, the Higher Self involved in matter). Afu-Ra stands in a boat, and has a ram's head surmounted by the Solar Disk. Ra saith: "The face of those who see thee (Thoth) will be opened in thee." He is the power or center or word by which the will of the god is carried into effect, and he corresponds to the manasic plane. The following is a thought-provoking citation: "And Cronos (Amon) going to the land of the South, gave the whole of Egypt to the god Tuaut (Thoth) to be his kingdom," ('Sanchuniathon," Cory's Ancient Fragments).
To digress a little here, it is worthwhile to point out that the upper and lower natures in man, or more particularly, the upper Manas and the lower, were symbolized in the Egyptian legends by the terms Upper and Lower Egypt. It will repay the student to examine carefully the names of the nomes (counties or districts, we would call them today), and cities of Ancient Egypt, bearing in mind this symbolic division of the "two lands," and he will have many clues in his possession to the more recondite teachings about the inner nature of man. For instance, Hermopolis (the Greek form of the name), the great city of which Thoth was the patron or presiding deity, was located in Upper Egypt, in certain relationship with other cities which indicate some of the knowledge the Egyptians possessed about the intricacies of our manasic make-up. (1)
That this is no mere chance or coincidence, but must have been the original planned intentions of the first architects and builders in old Chem, is evidenced by the symbols of the various nomes used, and also by the brilliant light shed on obscure passages of the glyphs and portions of Egyptian myths, where names of nomes and cities occur as incidents in journeys.
To return, Budge says that "Thoth was called the heart and tongue of Ra," i. e., the Reason, Manasic or mental powers, of the gods. There is an interesting note in H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophical Glossary about Thoth, and it may be helpful to some to collate Thoth's symbol of the dog-headed ape, with the events of the middle Third Root-Race as recorded in The Secret Doctrine. The actual association would rather refer to the happenings of the period of the descent of the Manasaputras than to the miscegenating stocks or results thereof being taken as a symbol of Thoth or Manas.
A notable thing in the chart is the fact that the symbols for the kingdom of Thoth form the "Opened Eye." Said Proclus: "He (Thoth) presides over every species of condition, leading us to an intelligible essence from this mortal abode, governing the different herds of souls." (Italics our own.)
The meaning of his other symbol, the ibis, is suggested in the observation that the "ibis devoured snake-eggs (i. e., symbols for the "bad serpents') of Egypt." On his head, Thoth wears the ibis symbol, thereby indicating its association with the Higher Mind (above the lower mind, eating the snakes or snake-eggs, etc., etc.).
The nine Apes which sang to Ra as he entered the Tuat, symbolized "the herds of souls" that shall pass through Horus to Divinity. This is equivalent to the Saints, in Christian symbology, who shall arise with Christ. In their lower aspects, the dog-headed Apes stand for the automatic or subjective mind (i. e., uncontrolled desire aspects, automatic body control, etc.).
Set (or better Sut) next attracts our attention. Set and Nephthys were the last two emanating from Ra. Set stands for the force of material construction, material evolution and spiritual involution. In man, Set symbolizes the Desire-mind (Kama-manas), and as the "desires and passions," is "the opponent of Osiris." (Cf. H. P. Bla-vatsky's Theosophical Glossary on "Set'; "Nephthys'; and "Anubis').
Nephthys, "the mistress of the Temple," was "the extreme limit or end" (see Plutarch's On Isis and Osiris), and as such indicated the physical plane or principle. Her emblem was the cup which contains the higher principles. Usually she is associated with Isis (q. v.) in the sense that spirit and matter are associated, and therefore corresponds with sthula or the physical. Nephthys signifies what is in the underworld and "invisible," Isis that which is above and "visible." The circle touching both is the horizon, which is called Anubis (q. v.).
'The Opener of the Path," Anubis (Anpu), follows. He represents the astro-physical body with its mechanism of sensation and action which open the pathway of the soul's development. He is the vehicle of the soul, the product of Divine Energy and matter on the physical plane. (Osiris and Nephthys are his parents. Note that Set is not the father of Anubis-Anpu! there is more than one aspect of Anubis.) Apuleius, in his Golden Ass, says " [Anubis] that messenger between heaven and hell, displaying alternately a face as black as night, and as golden as day."
The last of the deities the chart symbolizes is the most difficult to deal with shortly, Horus (the son of Isis and Osiris), for which reason he is not actually indicated on the chart. There are so many aspects to Horus! In one, he is similar to the Theosophical concept of the Sutratman, the "thread-soul," on various planes, while Horus the Elder, emblematized the Self primordially manifest on the higher buddhic plane, Isis. Horus the Younger is the self born in the soul on the buddhic plane (Isis), prior to entering upon birth on the manasic plane. Horus the Child signifies the four sons of Horus, and indicates the birth of the inner Buddha in the soul on the buddhic (Isis) plane commencing to incarnate in the human vehicles (cf. the teaching about the Kumaras).
"Horus, the son of Osiris, born by Isis, is he with whom thou didst fill thy mouth" (see the symbology of the Mouth). The complex nature of Horus is one well worth the closest study.
Shortage of space requires us to hurry on to the symbols indicated in the diagram, which in itself is an illustrative symbol merely, and not a picture.
With regard to these symbols, the reader is called upon to note that the diagram forms certain shapes conforming to some Egyptian hieroglyphs. Many more not indicated in the chart, occur, shedding a flood of light on other of the Egyptian teachings, but space is at a premium, and simplicity is a thing much to be desired. Students may be able to fill in further symbols as these occur to their minds.
The first is the Ankh (spelled Anch in The Secret Doctrine, Volume II). It represents the manifested life of the Logos (the Sun — Ra), both the higher and the lower natures — the Divine Ray passing down through the lower quaternary. The circular part of the symbol means the higher planes. It should not really be quite circular, but more like a tear-drop, or somewhat egg-shaped (cf. the tear-drops of Isis), indicating the converging downwards of the activities. From the standpoint of man at his present stage of development, the aspiration upwards expands, and the tear of Isis become the "reborn" Osiris, the drop "reversed." The Ankh also symbolizes the life-principle (via the Pranic stream) in all things.
The "level" was a symbol of Maat, Truth, and was a testing instrument (its significance on the manasic plane should be noted). It is the plane upon which stands Osiris (also an important philosophic concept).
The "bridge" was the symbol for the Antahkarana, or joining together of the part "below" and the part "above." It was the hieroglyphic for the conjunction "with."
The pyramid on the base, also occurs in the diagram. It symbolized the unity of Osiris, Isis, and Thoth, forming the "throne of Ra." (The same idea was often depicted as the figure of Osiris (including his aspect Isis) standing on the level, and holding the three scepters). The pyramid is sometimes shown upon a short shaft and it was then called the Ben stone. In early dynastic times it was looked upon as the home of the Spirit of Ra, which made itself manifest at "creation" by emerging from the top in the form of a bird called the Bennu Bird, in later texts pictured somewhat ibis-like with a long crest of two feathers. This was symbolic of the incarnation of the Soul or vehicle of Ra and the heart of Osiris. It was self-produced and appeared each "morning at dawn" on the sacred Persea tree of Annu. Now this is the Phoenix which appeared once every 500, 1461, (2) or 7006 years. Anu (Heliopolis: the On of the Old Testament) was used in the texts to symbolize the higher planes (Atman, Buddhi, and the Higher Manas). A temple called Het Bennu symbolized by a Bennu bird in a square with a smaller square in the top right corner, was in early times dedicated to it. This was the "great house of the Aged One (Ra) who dwelleth in Annu"; i. e., the temple of the soul is in the inner sanctuary of the Eternal Spirit, whose abode is on the higher planes of the soul.
This was the Higher Triad or the Unity of Atman-Buddhi-Manas. The reincarnating part of man's constitution was the phoenix, which clothed itself in a new personality or lower quaternary in each new earth-life. The pyramid is also seen above the square, indicating the four planes of the lower quaternary, the four sides or foundation or vehicle of the upper triangle. The whole glyph (pyramid above square) in a general way corresponds to the so-called "causal-body" and was in early times shown by the hieroglyph as shown in the Table. (See Ka.)
Applied to the cosmos, the term "each morning at dawn" refers to the dawn of a manvantara.
The symbol in the center of the diagram forms a mouth and was called by the Egyptians Ran, i. e., "the essence." As a principle of man the Ran or Ren stands for the transmuted Individuality of a man which is developed through the aspirations and effort of the personality. The Ran was considered to be seated in the Ka, and indistinguishable from it in fact. As a kind of laya-center it bridges the great gulf between the lower manas (personality) and the higher, but was usually referred to as being on the higher mental plane. In another way this "center" can be looked upon as the "unopened eye" which is hieroglyph for "a" and means "towards" or more mystically "a way," "a gate." But in our diagram it is shown with a center and therefore forms the "opened eye." Now, it stands for YR, meaning "to create," "to contemplate something," "manifestation." Thus it forms the center around which revolves the uttermost parts of our universe — is the "center from which we cannot err" — our conscience or consciousness in other words (on the mental plane of course) now no longer sleeping. Thus we see the correspondences: for the Human Monad, "the Bhutatman, now aspires upwards to the Spiritual Soul — its root or base — the Reincarnating Ego." And so in the Ritual of the Egyptians the "soul" in the Judgment Hall says: "my eye is opened" and "I speak truth (Makheru) I am justified."
We have shown on the diagram the principles according to the Egyptians, but these are subject to much modification and elaboration. However, generally considered, the Aakhu or "Shining One" comes first. This principle is perhaps the efflorescence of the BA — higher manas or Individuality rising above the lower mental nature or Personality to a self-conscious individual life-center; and in this aspect it contacts Osiris (Atman). We could say this corresponds to Jivatman; but going a little deeper, it really is much more. The reader is asked to consider the relationship between the Aakhu (and also two other principles not shown but very frequently met with in literature on the religious or philosophic beliefs of Egypt: that is, the Sahu and the Sekhem) which should be looked upon more correctly as a Ba or "soul" of an unusual degree of attainment, and the "three glorious vestures or bodies," or Trikaya. According to the Occult Glossary of G. de Purucker the Trikaya consists of (1) Nirmanakaya or "formed body" (2) Sambhogakaya or "participation body'; and (3) Dharmakaya or "continuance body." We would refer those interested to The Voice of the Silence and H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophical Glossary.
The KA or "double" is sometimes considered by exotericists to stand simply for what the Theosophist calls the Linga-sarira. While this is all right and convenient as far as it goes, it does not go far enough, for the Ka is much more than the Linga-sarira. The Ka is that "forming body" or "causal body" of man which after "death" (involution) enters the tomb (of material existence) and there in the "house of the Ka" (the inner being) has to be fed or nourished with "meat and drink" (aspirations toward goodness and virtue) by the "priests" of the Ka (the spiritual mind of man), and thus develops during its incarnation. A better comparison in Theosophical terminology is Karana-sarira or Karanopadhi, that "causal-body" or "causal-instrument" on the buddhi-manas plane.
As an instance of the many similarities between the Egyptian and the Sanskrit, it is interesting to compare Ka (Egyptian) with Karana (Sanskrit). Also, see Karman, i.e.,
all that total of a soul which is itself, brought into present being by its own willing and thinking, and feeling, working upon the substance of itself, and thus preparing its future destiny, as its present existence was the destiny prepared for itself by its own past lives." — G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, p. 56
The lowest "physical" aspect (or seventh counting downwards) is of course built on the "design-body" or the Linga-sarira.
Ab, "the heart," is the atma-buddhic principle in the Karana-sarira. It was this which was weighed against the "feather" of truth (see the level) in the balance of Thoth. There are two aspects, the higher corresponds to the Spiritual Soul, or the Individuality; the lower corresponds to the Human Soul, or the Personality. This lower aspect is the vehicle of the Spiritual Monad and the Human Monad.
Ba, "the soul," is the vehicle of the spiritual Ego — Reincarnating Ego — which may rise to live with Osiris (Atman) in heaven (Buddhi), but will return again to the body (the mummy); cf. the ram-headed form of Osiris called Ba; and also cf. Afu-Ra. The Ba corresponds to the Higher Manas (cf. Ab).
Khaibit, "the shadow," may be referred to as the Isis or buddhic aspect of the Horus, that is to say, that part of the Karana-sarira or Karanopadhi which develops by means of the aspirations (of Manas) and the experiences of the lower self. (See H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophical Glossary, page 161.)
The Center may best be described by a quotation: "Consciousness is on the mental plane and not below it." (See also the notes on Thoth.) Across this center there is formed a "bridge" by the Ba and the Ab crossing or reflecting one another. This is (as are all the other divisions) a sort of laya center. (The reader is again referred to H. P. Blavatsky's The Theosophical Glossary, page 161 on the Karana-sarira. See also Ba.)
The concluding note to be dealt with by this paper involves the Khat, and the quotation that follows best conveys the meaning of the khat: "Thine essence is in heaven, thy khat is in the earth." It is simply the fleshly vehicle of all the principles, the Sthula-sarira. The reader who has been interested in the subject of Symbolic Geography, wherein the names of the nomes and cities of earth have significance, will be intrigued, at the very least, to perceive that Mendes (in Lower Egypt) symbolized the lower nature, the symbol being the stranded fish (as it is called), which is also the symbol used for the khat.
This paper is an attempt to lift the veil that hides the Egyptian teachings from the unintuitive. The study of the hieroglyphs would yield an inexhaustible mine of information, which, correlated with what teaching appears in such works as The Secret Doctrine, The Esoteric Tradition, and Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, as well as the two Glossaries of H. P. Blavatsky and G. de Purucker respectively, would provide a wonderful picture of the extent of that "wisdom of the Egyptians" for which they were so justly famed.
1. Since writing this article, we have come across a very interesting work: Ritual of the Mystery of the Judgment of the Soul, by M. Blakeden and published for the Soc. Ros. in Anglia by Quaritch Press, setting out "the papyrus of Ani" in a most illuminating way, while keeping strictly to the text. See also article in THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM, July, 1940, "The Symbolic Geography of the Ancients," for an interesting excerpt from this book. (return to text)
2. The Sothiac Cycle used in ancient Egypt, connected with the star Sinus, whose Egyptian name was Sothis. (return to text)
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE