Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Whence this universal symbol? The Egg was incorporated as a sacred sign in the cosmogony of every people on the Earth, and was revered both on account of its form and its inner mystery. From the earliest mental conceptions of man, it was known as that which represented most successfully the origin and secret of being. The gradual development of the imperceptible germ within the closed shell; the inward working, without any apparent outward interference of force, which from a latent nothing produced an active something, needing nought save heat; and which, having gradually evolved into a concrete, living creature, broke its shell, appearing to the outward senses of all a self-generated, and self-created being — must have been a standing miracle from the beginning.
The secret teaching explains the reason for this reverence by the Symbolism of the prehistoric races. The “First Cause” had no name in the beginnings. Later it was pictured in the fancy of the thinkers as an ever invisible, mysterious Bird that dropped an Egg into Chaos, which Egg becomes the Universe. Hence Brahm was called Kalahansa, “the swan in (Space and) Time.” He became the “Swan of Eternity,” who lays at the beginning of each Mahamanvantara a “Golden Egg.” It typifies the great Circle, or O, itself a symbol for the universe and its spherical bodies.
The second reason for its having been chosen as the symbolical representation of the Universe, and of our earth, was its form. It was a Circle and a Sphere; and the ovi-form shape of our globe must have been known from the beginning of symbology, since it was so universally adopted. The first manifestation of the Kosmos in the form of an egg was the most widely diffused belief of antiquity. As Bryant shows (iii., 165), it was a symbol adopted among the Greeks, the Syrians, Persians, and Egyptians. In chap. liv. of the Egyptian Ritual, Seb, the god of Time and of the Earth, is spoken of as having laid an egg, or the Universe, “an egg conceived at the hour of the great one of the Dual Force” (Sec. V., 2, 3, etc.).
Ra is shown like Brahma gestating in the Egg of the Universe. The deceased is “resplendent in the Egg of the land of mysteries” (xxii., 1). For, this is “the Egg to which is given life among the gods” (xlii., 11). “It is the Egg of the great clucking Hen, the Egg of Seb, who issues from it like a hawk” (lxiv., 1, 2, 3; lxxvii., 1).
With the Greeks the Orphic Egg is described by Aristophanes, and was part of the Dionysiac and other mysteries, during which
the Mundane Egg was consecrated and its significance explained; Porphyry showing it a representation of the world, [[Ermenenei de to oon kosmon]]. Faber and Bryant have tried to show that the egg typified the ark of Noah, which, unless the latter is accepted as purely allegorical and symbolical, is a wild belief. It can have typified the ark only as a synonym of the moon, the argha which carries the universal seed of life; but had surely nothing to do with the ark of the Bible. Anyhow, the belief that the universe existed in the beginning in the shape of an egg was general. And as Wilson has it: “A similar account of the first aggregation of the elements in the form of an egg is given in all the (Indian) Puranas, with the usual epithet Haima or Hiranya, ‘golden’ as it occurs in Manu.” Hiranya, however, means “resplendent,” “shining,” rather than “golden,” as proven by the great Indian scholar, the late Swami Dayanand Sarasvati, in his unpublished polemics with Professor Max Muller. As said in the Vishnu Purana: “Intellect (Mahat) . . . the (unmanifested) gross elements inclusive, formed an egg . . . and the lord of the universe himself abided in it, in the character of Brahma. In that egg, O Brahman, were the continents, and seas and mountains, the planets and divisions of the universe, the gods, the demons and mankind.” (Book i., ch. 2.) Both in Greece and in India the first visible male being, who united in himself the nature of either sex, abode in the egg and issued from it. This “first born of the world” was Dionysius, with some Greeks; the god who sprang from the mundane egg, and from whom the mortals and immortals were derived. The god Ra is shown in the Ritual (Book of the Dead, xvii., 50) beaming in his egg (the Sun), and he starts off as soon as the god Shoo (the Solar energy) awakens and gives him the impulse. “He is in the Solar egg, the egg to which is given life among the gods” (Ibid., xlii., 13). The Solar god exclaims: “I am the creative soul of the celestial abyss. None sees my nest, none can break my egg, I am the Lord!” (Ibid., lxxxv.).
In view of this circular form, the “|” issuing from the “,” or the egg, or the male from the female in the androgyne, it is strange to find a scholar saying — on the ground that the most ancient Indian MSS. show no trace of it — that the ancient Aryans were ignorant of the decimal notation. The 10, being the sacred number of the universe, was secret and esoteric, both as the unit and cipher, or zero, the circle. Moreover, Professor Max Muller says that “the two words cipher and zero, which are but one, are sufficient to prove that our figures are borrowed from the Arabs.* Cipher is the Arabic “cifron,” and means
* See Max Muller’s “Our Figures.”
empty, a translation of the Sanscrit name of nought “sunya,” he says.* The Arabs had their figures from Hindustan, and never claimed the discovery for themselves.† As to the Pythagoreans, we need but turn to the ancient manuscripts of Boethius’s Geometry, composed in the sixth century, to find among the Pythagorean numerals‡ the 1 and the nought, as the first and final ciphers. And Porphyry, who quotes from the Pythagorean Moderatus,§ says that the numerals of Pythagoras were “hieroglyphical symbols, by means whereof he explained ideas concerning the nature of things,” or the origin of the universe.
Now, if, on the other hand, the most ancient Indian manuscripts show as yet no trace of decimal notation in them, and Max Muller states very clearly that until now he has found but nine letters (the initials of the Sanscrit numerals) in them; on the other hand, we have records as ancient to supply the wanted proof. We speak of the sculptures and the sacred imagery in the most ancient temples of the far East. Pythagoras derived his knowledge from India; and we find Professor Max Muller corroborating this statement, at least so far as to allow the Neo-Pythagoreans to have been the first teachers of “ciphering,” among the Greeks and Romans; that “they at Alexandria, or in Syria, became acquainted with the Indian figures, and adapted them to the Pythagorean abacus” (our figures). This cautious admission implies that Pythagoras himself was acquainted with but nine figures. Thus we might reasonably answer that, although we possess no certain proof (exoterically) that the decimal notation was known by Pythagoras, who lived on the very close of the archaic ages,|| we have yet sufficient evidence to show that the full numbers, as given by Boethius, were known to the Pythagoreans, even before Alexandria was built.¶ This evidence we find in Aristotle, who says that “some philosophers hold that ideas and numbers are of the same nature, and amount to ten in all.”** This, we believe, will be sufficient to show that the decimal notation was known among them at least as early as four centuries b.c., for Aristotle does not seem to treat the question as an innovation of the “Neo-Pythagoreans.”
* A Kabalist would be rather inclined to believe that as the Arabic cifron was taken from the Indian Synya, nought, so the Jewish Kabalistic Sephiroth (Sephrim) were taken from the word cipher, not in the sense of emptiness but the reverse — that of creation by number and degrees in their evolution. And the Sephiroth are 10 or .
† See Max Muller’s “Our Figures.”
‡ See King’s “Gnostics and their Remains,” plate xiii.
§ “Vita Pythag.”
|| 608 B.C.
¶ This city was built 332 B.C.
** “Metaph.” vii., F.
But we know more than that: we know that the decimal system must have been known to the mankind of the earliest archaic ages, since the whole astronomical and geometrical portion of the secret sacerdotal language was built upon the number 10, or the combination of the male and female principles, and since the Pyramid of “Cheops” is built upon the measures of this decimal notation, or rather upon the digits and their combinations with the nought. Of this, however, sufficient was said in Isis Unveiled, and it is useless to repeat and return to the same subject.
The symbolism of the Lunar and Solar Deities is so inextricably mixed up, that it is next to impossible to separate such glyphs as the egg, the lotus, and the “sacred” animals from each other. The ibis, for instance, sacred to Isis, who is often represented with the head of that bird, sacred also to Mercury or Thoth, because that god assumed its form while escaping from Typhon, — the ibis was held in the greatest veneration in Egypt. There were two kinds of ibises, Herodotus tells us (Lib. II. c. 75 et seq.) in that country: one quite black, the other black and white. The former is credited with fighting and exterminating the winged serpents which came every spring from Arabia and infested the country. The other was sacred to the moon, because the latter planet is white and brilliant on her external side, dark and black on that side which she never turns to the earth. Moreover, the ibis kills land serpents, and makes the most terrible havoc amongst the eggs of the crocodile, and thus saves Egypt from having the Nile infested by those horrible Saurians. The bird is credited with doing so in the moonlight, and thus being helped by Isis, as the moon, her sidereal symbol. But the nearer esoteric truth underlying these popular myths is, that Hermes, as shown by Abenephius (De cultu Egypt.), watched under the form of that bird over the Egyptians, and taught them the occult arts and sciences. This means simply that the ibis religiosa had and has “magical” properties in common with many other birds, the albatross pre-eminently, and the mythical white swan, the swan of Eternity or Time, the Kalahansa.
Were it otherwise, indeed, why should all the ancient peoples, who were no more fools than we are, have had such a superstitious dread of killing certain birds? In Egypt, he who killed an ibis, or the golden hawk — the symbol of the Sun and Osiris — risked and could hardly escape death. The veneration of some nations for birds was such that Zoroaster, in his precepts, forbids their slaughter as a heinous crime. We laugh in our age at every kind of divination. Yet why should so many generations have believed in divination by birds, and even in zoomancy, said by Suidas to have been imparted by Orpheus, who taught how to perceive in the yoke and white of
the egg, under certain conditions, that which the bird born from it would have seen around it during its short life. This occult art, which demanded 3,000 years ago the greatest learning and the most abstruse mathematical calculations, has now fallen into the depths of degradation: it is old cooks and fortune-tellers who read their future to servant-girls in search of husbands, by means of the white of an egg in a glass.
Nevertheless, even Christians have to this day their sacred birds; for instance, the dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost. Nor have they neglected the sacred animals. The Evangelical zoolatry — the Bull, the Eagle, the Lion, and the Angel (in reality the Cherub, or Seraph, the fiery-winged Serpent), is as much pagan as that of the Egyptians or the Chaldeans. These four animals are, in reality, the symbols of the four elements, and of the four lower principles in man. Nevertheless, they correspond physically and materially to the four constellations that form, so to speak, the suite or cortege of the Solar God, and occupy during the winter solstice the four cardinal points of the zodiacal circle. These four “animals” may be seen in many of the Roman Catholic New Testaments where the portraits of the evangelists are given. They are the animals of Ezekiel’s Mercabah.
As truly stated by Ragon, “the ancient Hierophants have combined so cleverly the dogmas and symbols of their religious philosophies, that these symbols can be fully explained only by the combination and knowledge of all the keys.” They can be only approximately interpreted, even if one finds out three out of these seven systems: the anthropological, the psychic, and the astronomical. The two chief interpretations, the highest and the lowest, the spiritual and the physiological, they preserved in the greatest secrecy until the latter fell into the dominion of the profane. Thus far, with regard only to the pre-historic Hierophants, with whom that which has now become purely (or impurely) phallic, was a science as profound and as mysterious as biology and physiology are now. This was their exclusive property, the fruit of their studies and discoveries. The other two were those which dealt with the creative gods (theogony), and with creative man, i.e., the ideal and the practical mysteries. These interpretations were so cleverly veiled and combined, that many were those who, while arriving at the discovery of one meaning, were baffled in understanding the significance of the others, and could never unriddle them sufficiently to commit dangerous indiscretions. The highest, the first and the fourth — theogony in relation to anthropogony — were almost impossible to fathom. We find the proofs of this in the Jewish “Holy Writ.”
It is owing to the serpent being oviparous, that it became a symbol of wisdom and an emblem of the Logoi, or the self-born. In the temple of Philoe in Upper Egypt, an egg was artificially prepared of clay made of
various incenses, and it was made to hatch by a peculiar process, when a cerastes (the horned viper) was born. The same was done in antiquity for the cobra in the Indian temples. The creative God emerges from the egg that issues from the mouth of Kneph — as a winged serpent — because the Serpent is the symbol of the All-wisdom. With the Hebrews he is glyphed by the “flying or fiery serpents” of the Wilderness and Moses, and with the Alexandrian mystics he becomes the Ophio-Christos, the Logos of the Gnostics. The Protestants try to show that the allegory of the Brazen Serpent and of the “fiery serpents” has a direct reference to the mystery of Christ and Crucifixion*; but it has a far nearer relation, in truth, to the mystery of generation, when dissociated from the egg with the central germ, or the circle with its central point. The brazen Serpent had no such holy meaning as that; nor was it, in fact, glorified above the “fiery serpents” for the bite of which it was only a natural remedy. The symbological meaning of the word “brazen” being the feminine principle, and that of fiery, or “gold,” the male one.†
In the Book of the Dead, as just shown, reference is often made to the Egg. Ra, the mighty one, remains in his Egg, during the struggle between the “children of the rebellion” and Shoo (the Solar Energy and the Dragon of Darkness) (ch. xvii.). The deceased is resplendent in his
* And this only because the brazen serpent was lifted on a pole! It had rather a reference to Mico the Egyptian egg standing upright supported by the sacred Tau; since the Egg and the Serpent are inseparable in the old worship and symbology of Egypt, and since both the Brazen and “fiery” serpents were Saraphs, the “burning fiery” messengers, or the serpent Gods, the nagas of India. It was a purely phallic symbol without the egg, while when associated with it — it related to cosmic creation.
† “Brass was a metal symbolizing the nether world . . . . that of the womb where life should be given . . . The word for serpent was in Hebrew Nakash, but this is the same term for brass.” It is said in Numbers (xxi.) that the Jews complained of the Wilderness where there was no water (v. 5); after which “the Lord sent fiery serpents” to bite them, when, to oblige Moses, he gives him as a remedy the brazen serpent on a pole to look at; after which “any man when he beheld the serpent of brass . . . . lived” (?). After that the “Lord,” gathering the people together at the well of Beer, gives them water, (14-16), and grateful Israel sang this song, “Spring up, O Well,” (v. 17). When, after studying symbology, the Christian reader comes to understand the innermost meaning of these three symbols — water, brazen, the serpent, and a few more — in the sense given to them in the Holy Bible, he will hardly like to connect the sacred name of his Saviour with the “Brazen Serpent” incident. The Seraphim (fiery winged serpents) are no doubt connected with, and inseparable from, the idea “of the serpent of eternity — God,” as explained in Kenealy’s Apocalypse. But the word cherub also meant serpent, in one sense, though its direct meaning is different; because the Cherubim and the Persian winged [[gruphes]] “griffins” — the guardians of the golden mountain — are the same, and their compound name shows their character, as it is formed of (kr) circle, and “aub,” or ob — serpent — therefore, a “serpent in a circle.” And this settles the phallic character of the Brazen Serpent, and justifies Hezekiah for breaking it. (See II. Kings, 18, 4). Verbum sat. sapienti.
Egg when he crosses to the land of mystery (xxii. i.). He is the Egg of Seb (liv. 1-3). . . . The Egg was the symbol of life in immortality and eternity; as also the glyph of the generative matrix; and the tau, associated with it, only of life and birth in generation. The Mundane Egg was placed in Khnoom, the “Water of Space,” or the feminine abstract principle (Khnoom becoming, with the fall of mankind into generation and phallicism, Ammon, the creative God); and when Phtah, the “fiery god,” carries the Mundane egg in his hand, then the symbolism becomes quite terrestrial and concrete in its significance. In conjunction with the hawk, the symbol of Osiris-Sun, the symbol is dual: it relates to both lives — the mortal and the immortal. In Kircher’s OEdipus Egyptiacus (vol. iii., p. 124) one can see, on the papyrus engraved in it, an egg floating above the mummy. This is the symbol of hope and the promise of a second birth for the Osirified dead; his Soul, after due purification in the Amenti, will gestate in this egg of immortality, to be reborn from it into a new life on earth. For this Egg, in the esoteric Doctrine, is the Devachan, the abode of Bliss; the winged scarabeus being alike a symbol of it. The “winged globe” is but another form of the egg, and has the same significance as the scarabeus, the Khopiroo (from the root Khoproo “to become,” “to be reborn,”) which relates to the rebirth of man, as well as to his spiritual regeneration.
In the Theogony of Mochus, we find AEther first, and then the air, from which Ulom, the intelligible ([[noetos]]) deity (the visible Universe of Matter) is born out of the Mundane Egg. (Mover’s Phoinizer, p. 282.)
In the Orphic Hymns, the Eros-Phanes evolves from the divine Egg, which the AEthereal Winds impregnate, wind being “the Spirit of the unknown Darkness” — “the spirit of God” (as explains K. O. Muller, 236); the divine “Idea,” says Plato, “who is said to move AEther.”
In the Hindu Katakopanishad, Purusha, the divine spirit, already stands before the original matter, “from whose union springs the great soul of the world,” Maha-Atma, Brahma, the Spirit of Life,* etc., etc.† Besides this there are many charming allegories on this subject scattered through the sacred books of the Brahmins. In one place it is the female creator who is first a germ, then a drop of heavenly dew, a pearl, and then an egg. In such cases — of which there are too many to enumerate them separately — the Egg gives birth to the four elements within the fifth, Ether, and is covered with seven coverings, which become later on the seven upper and the seven lower worlds. Breaking in two, the shell becomes the heaven, and the meat in the egg the earth, the white forming the terres-
* The latter appellations are all identical with Anima Mundi, or the “Universal Soul,” the astral light of the Kabalist and the Occultist, or the “Egg of Darkness.”
† Weber, “Akad Vorles,” pp. 213, 214 et seq.
trial waters. Then again, it is Vishnu who emerges from within the egg with a lotus in his hand. Vinata, a daughter of Daksha and wife of Kasyapa (“the Self-born sprung from Time,” one of the seven “creators” of our world), brought forth an egg from which was born Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu, the latter allegory having a relation to our Earth only, as Garuda is the Great Cycle.
The egg was sacred to Isis; the priests of Egypt never ate eggs on that account.*
Diodorus Siculus states that Osiris was born from an Egg, like Brahma. From Leda’s Egg Apollo and Latona were born, as also Castor and Pollux — the bright Gemini. And though the Buddhists do not attribute the same origin to their Founder, yet, no more than the ancient Egyptians or the modern Brahmins, do they eat eggs, lest they should destroy the germ of life latent in them, and commit thereby Sin. The Chinese believe that their first man was born from an egg, which Tien, a god, dropped down from heaven to earth into the waters.† This symbol is still regarded by some as representing the idea of the origin of life, which is a scientific truth, though the human ovum is invisible to the naked eye. Therefore we see respect shown to it from the remotest past, by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, the Japanese, and the Siamese, the North and South American tribes, and even the savages of the remotest islands.
With the Egyptians, the concealed god was Ammon (Mon). All their gods were dual: the scientific reality for the Sanctuary; its double, the fabulous and mythical Entity, for the masses. For instance, as observed in “Chaos, Theos, Kosmos,” the older Horus was the Idea of the world remaining in the demiurgic mind “born in Darkness before the creation of the world;” the second Horus‡ was the same Idea going forth from the Logos, becoming clothed with matter and assuming an actual existence. (Compare Mover’s “Phoinizer,” p. 268.) The same with Khnoum and Ammon;§ both are represented ram-headed, and both often confused, though their functions are different. Khnoum is “the modeller of men,” fashioning men and things out of the Mundane Egg on a potter’s wheel;
* Isis is almost always represented holding a lotus in one hand and in the other a circle and the Cross (crux ansata), the Egg being sacred to her.
† The Chinese seem to have thus anticipated Sir William Thomson’s theory that the first living germ had dropped to the Earth from some passing comet. Query! why should this be called scientific and the Chinese idea a superstitious, foolish theory?
‡ Horus — the “older,” or Haroiri, is an ancient aspect of the solar god, contemporary with Ra and Shoo; Haroiri is often mistaken for Hor (Horsusi), Son of Osiris and Isis. The Egyptians very often represented the rising Sun under the form of Hor the older, rising from a full-blown lotus, the Universe, when the solar disc is always found on the hawk-head of that god. Haroiri is Khnoum.
§ Ammon or Mon, the “hidden,” the Supreme Spirit.
Ammon-Ra, the generator, is the secondary aspect of the concealed deity. Khnoum was adored at Elephanta and Philoe,* Ammon at Thebes. But it is Emepht, the One, Supreme Planetary principle, who blows the egg out of his mouth, and who is, therefore, Brahma. The shadow of the deity, Kosmic and universal, of that which broods over and permeates the egg with its vivifying Spirit until the germ contained in it is ripe, was the mystery god whose name was unpronounceable. It is Phtah, however, “he who opens,” the opener of life and Death,† who proceeds from the egg of the world to begin his dual work. (Book of Numbers.)
According to the Greeks, the phantom form of the Chemis (Chemi, ancient Egypt) which floats on the ethereal waves of the Empyrean Sphere, was called into being by Horus-Apollo, the Sun god, who caused it to evolve out of the Mundane egg.‡
In the Scandinavian Cosmogony — placed by Professor Max Muller, in point of time, as “far anterior to the Vedas” in the poem of Voluspa (the song of the prophetess), the Mundane egg is again discovered in the phantom-germ of the Universe, which is represented as lying in the Ginnungagap — the cup of illusion (Maya) the boundless and void abyss. In this world’s matrix, formerly a region of night and desolation, Nebelheim (the mist-place, the nebular as it is called now, in the astral light) dropped a ray of cold light which overflowed this cup and froze in it. Then the Invisible blew a scorching wind which dissolved the frozen waters and cleared the mist. These waters (chaos), called the streams of Elivagar, distilling in vivifying drops, fell down and created the earth and the giant Ymir, who only had “the semblance of man” (the Heavenly man), and the cow, Audhumla (the “mother” or astral light, Cosmic Soul) from whose udder flowed four streams of milk (the four cardinal points: the four heads of the four rivers of Eden, etc., etc.) and which “four” allegorically are symbolized by the cube in all its various and mystical meanings.
The Christians — especially the Greek and Latin Churches — have fully adopted the symbol, and see in it a commemoration of life eternal,
* His triadic goddesses are Sati and Anouki.
† Phtah was originally the god of death, of destruction, like Siva. He is a solar god only by virtue of the sun’s fire killing as well as vivifying. He was the national god of Memphis, the radiant and “fair-faced God.” (See Saqquarah Bronzes, Saitic Epoch.)
‡ The Brahmanda Purana contains the mystery about Brahma’s golden egg fully; and this is why, perhaps, it is inaccessible to the Orientalists, who say that this Purana, like the Skanda, is “no longer procurable in a collective body,” but “is represented by a variety of Khandas and Mahatmyas professing to be derived from it.” The “Brahmanda Purana” is described as “that which is declared in 12,200 verses, the magnificence of the egg of Brahma, and in which an account of the future Kalpas is contained as revealed by Brahma.” Quite so, and much more, perchance.
of salvation and of resurrection. This is found in and corroborated by the time-honoured custom of exchanging “Easter Eggs.” >From the anguinum, the “Egg” of the “pagan” Druid, whose name alone made Rome tremble with fear, to the red Easter Egg of the Slavonian peasant, a cycle has passed. And yet, whether in civilized Europe, or among the abject savages of Central America, we find the same archaic, primitive thought; if we only search for it and do not disfigure — in the haughtiness of our fancied mental and physical superiority — the original idea of the symbol.
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