I: THE TRIAL BY POISON
The candidate for Initiation was blindfolded and led by the Pastophores from the chambers underneath the Sphinx to the crypts under the Pyramid. There he had to pass through the greatest tests of his fortitude until he had won out to the last trial but one, the trial of the cups.
He was led before the Hierophant and told that he was now accepted as a Zealot, an Apprentice. Before he could advance he must take the oath of the Adepts, the vow of absolute obedience to the Hierophant in all that pertained to the Mysteries of the Pyramid. Behind him ranged themselves four Melanophores, or funeral officials, with a great black veil. On each side of him stood one of the Neocores, bearing cups. Immediately at his back was a third Neocoris, ready to snatch away the bandage at the proper moment. The candidate took the oath. The Hierophant warned him in solemn tones that if he had sworn with his lips alone and not the heart, death would be the penalty of his perjury.
Terrific thunders crashed through the depths of the Pyramid and lurid flashes of artificial lightning illumined the vaults when the seven lights were suddenly extinguished. Meanwhile the Neocoris behind him had torn away the veil from the candidate's face and he found himself facing the sword-points of the Adepts pointing at his breast in threatening menace.
"These are the swords of human justice," declared the Hierophant. "Yet human justice may be fallible and, being fallible, does not always deter. But divine justice never errs and no man can defy it with impunity. It is our will that you shall prove the sincerity of your vow of obedience to me by undergoing a trial through which the gods alone can carry you safely."
The Adepts lowered their swords and the Neocores approached with the cups.
"See these two cups!" continued the Hierophant. "One is harmless; the other is full of the most deadly poison. I command you to choose one and drink it at a draught!"
If the candidate in fear refuses, a solemn roll of thunder signals the failure of the initiation. The funeral officials throw the black veil over him, overpower him and carry him away.
Is he to return to the grey life of the everyday? Never. Human nature is such that he would boast of his escape from the wicked schemes of the Adepts and would denounce the Mysteries as contemptible. Or perhaps he would found some bogus imitation of the Mysteries, a lure for unsuspecting hearts.
He was confined within the sacred limits for seven long months. Provided with bread and water, he was allowed to study the sacred texts defining the duties of a man towards himself, his fellows, and Divinity. The book of Thoth-Hermes gives the unfortunate man a gleam of hope. His failure is not final so long as he is willing to TRY again.
Once more he is given the opportunity. If he fails he must languish in the crypts seven long months more, when he is again allowed to try. If his courage fails him, every time there must always be seven months between each trial, even if he waits until his death in the silence and solitude of the crypts. If he succeeds after a first failure he is restored to liberty but may never rise above the degree of Apprentice.
If on the other hand the candidate accepted the trial without hesitation the Hierophant informed him that he had run no risk at all, since the deadly poison was nothing more than Fear, which he had conquered. The cup contained a little wine flavored with myrrh to make it bitter. Possibly the password of this degree was "I thirst."
There was a Greek candidate who successfully passed this trial in the presence of the College of Adepts of old Egypt. What his family name was we cannot say. They called him the "Broad." Popular interpretation says that this refers to his broad forehead, but it may well be that it points to his extensive knowledge and the liberality of his outlook and teachings.
The Greek word for "Broad" is Plato.
II: THE FINAL TRIAL
The candidate had passed through the terrible trials of the Egyptian Mysteries and his energies were at a low ebb. He needed rest. The Neocores took him to the Royal bedchamber, or what looked like it. They removed his coat, wet with the water trial, and put on him a fine robe of white linen. Sweet perfumes filled the air. A banquet lulled his senses with dainty dishes and delicate wines. Soft music suggested sentiment and love. All with him was peace.
At the end of the room a green curtain covered with branches of myrtle slowly opened and he saw a group of young girls dancing in the varied light of colored lamps. They held ropes of roses which they intertwined in measure with the music. There was everything about the scene to capture the tired senses. These young girls were the daughters of the temple adepts, dedicated to the temple service until their marriage. They wore masks attached to golden circlets round the brow, so that they could not afterwards be identified by the initiates. They wore a short tunic decorated with golden bees gauze scarf and scented flowers.
The music became more seductive; rich perfumes intoxicated his brain. The candidate was tempted by Form, the Calypso who imprisons human reason as Ulysses was imprisoned on her Atlantic Isle, or the Circe who turns his "men," his principles, into pigs.
As he approached and crossed the threshold two of the girls left the group and playfully bound him with a rope of roses. The others vanished like frightened birds. The light grew dim and the dancers vied in attracting his attentions, first one, then the other, as they danced round him with their garlands.
The candidate did not know this was a trial, but he did know that the Temple must not be violated in the least. He did not know that this was the most terrible trial of all. For behind him crept a silent-footed Neocoris ready to strike him dead at the slightest sign of weakness. A mere indication that he was influenced by the dancers was enough to seal his fate. This was in the days when the old symbolism of an inner truth in the Mysteries had become so materialized that death, physical death, was imposed for any violation of the Mysteries or their secrecy.
So strict was the law that a carpenter who had been initiated into some lower degree for the purpose of being able to exercise his profession was condemned to death. A friend had dreamed that he had witnessed some mystic scene and had asked if he had rightly guessed that it was what really took place in the Mysteries. The carpenter had not spoken a word, but he nodded — and he died.
Socrates, a non-initiate, died for much the same reason, only in his case an unwitting revelation of secrets of the Mysteries. They tried to save him by giving him the opportunity to escape, but he would not.
If the initiant remained unmoved and impassive to the temptation of the dancers, the adepts dismissed the girls and congratulated their new brother who had passed the worst trial of all.
"Learn to dominate your senses in order to preserve the freedom of your soul. This is the first lesson in our sacred study." So he was told.
They returned to the sanctuary and in symbolic form the new Initiate was shown the terrible fate of the perjurer against his sacred pledge, a scene which remained in his memory for the remainder of his life.
This was the last act of the drama of initiation in the Egyptian Mysteries of a later date and of a minor degree than those of which no word ever escaped from the sanctuary.
Plato lived thirteen years among the Adepts of Memphis and Heliopolis. Some centuries previously Moses, or Thotmosis, had been brought up by the Adepts of the day. There he learned all he knew and it has been remarked how strange it is that among his laws there is no mention of the twin doctrines of reincarnation and karman which he had learnt.
The Buddha said that if there were three temptations so great as that of women, no man could ever have been saved.
For reference to a later version of this mystery see page 314, second volume of Isis Unveiled.
It may well be that certain minor mysteries, or pale shadows of the Mysteries which served to keep alive their memory during the ages of darkness, rightly excluded women from their brotherhoods for the reason that no man is fit for the Mysteries who can be influenced by a woman even in the smallest things of life, because it is almost an impossibility to find a woman as such who is so manly as not to want at some time to influence a man. It may be that the truer symbolism would be that it is the womanly, the emotional, the personal, which should be absolutely excluded, whether in man or woman. And yet
"Das Ewig-Weibliche führt uns heran" — the eternal womanly leads us on.