The evening sinks down into the valley with all its beauty and splendor. While the parting sun hems the borders of the clouds with gold by his last beams, and casts an opalescent spell of unearthly majesty on the firmament, in the east already twinkle the first messengers of the night, bright, glittering, luminous dots, diamond drops on dark blue velvet. Over there on the Nile fine misty veils rise and envelop the palms. A bird flies past with a heavy wing-stroke — then silence. The pyramids stand like large shadows sketched against the sky. In the foreground, gigantic and like a phantom from time immemorial, encircled by night, is the sphinx.
What a panorama! I forget that only a few hours ago I had been in the thick of traffic in Cairo where the turmoil leaves one no time to discover oneself. For the moment I cannot recall what purpose had brought me hither. I am conscious only of the deep peace that surrounds me and seems to be part of myself. One of those moments when man can realize his unity with nature in a very real sense. Everything personal is forgotten. But the soul has a vision of its kinship with the universal life, in which we live and move and have our being.
My Egyptian friend had promised to drive me out to Gizeh. We improved the occasion and made a short excursion in the vicinity during the evening, and while conversing we came near the pyramids. But at the moment there was no desire to speak. The imposing sight nature presented to us kept us in perfect rapture. We sat on some of the debris lying about and kept silence. The fine veil of gold which hung over the western desert turned now more and more red and then slowly was transformed into a luminous purple. A thin line of light pastel-green slipped into the picture and dissolved in a silvery veil of clouds.
What is known about this land, about the culture of old Egypt? Much as regards the outer things of life; little, in reality nothing at all, about the lofty philosophy once taught here. The Egyptian government strives hard, it is true, to have the history of the valley of the Nile investigated, but there remain as yet a great many mysteries. The ruins of the temples stand as witness, but the soul of old Egypt is still hidden. Perhaps time is not yet ripe for this to be revealed, for the spiritual lamp of our age does not burn very brightly. But at some time when the spiritual reservoir of the world will be sufficiently supplied, and men will begin to study their great past in a new way, then perhaps Egypt will speak, and we shall be able to read the spiritual scrolls of her history and recognize that Egyptian religion was based on the research of the soul, and that in her temples the aim and the goal of evolution was disclosed.
Egypt always had her secret schools, her hierophants and adepts. They guarded a sublime philosophy for ages for those whose characters and training prepared them to understand more of the mysteries of life. This philosophy was later called Hermetic because it was not assigned to human but to divine origin. It illumined both heart and mind and led the disciple along the strait and thorny path of self-mastery. He who entrusted himself to it recognized that true religion is the deep longing to know oneself and one's relationship with the All. In millennia gone by, Egypt was the bright center of spiritual and intellectual attraction. There students of all faiths came to study magic, physics, philosophy, and history. When Europe was yet in her infancy, legend tells that Egyptian initiates travelled to Gaul and Britain when the British Isles were still connected with the continent, and the Mediterranean Sea was a gigantic inland sea. For what purpose? Our historical works report little or nothing of that, but one cannot help wonder if in the annals of the Egyptian chroniclers there will not one day be uncovered a secret connection between the Zodiacs in stone of Avebury and others, and the knowledge of the ancient hierophants. Centuries may have to elapse before the true history of our spiritual ancestors, whether of India, Egypt, Europe or America, will be revealed.
As for the Egyptian papyri, science has made public some 20,000 scrolls to date. These papyri deal largely with literary matters, private letters, and documents. They give us an insight into the home-life, the economic life, and civil service of old Egypt. But as new discoveries are being made every year our knowledge could enlarge continuously — if only there were sufficient revisers and examiners in this branch of knowledge. The few scientists who are interested in this particular avenue of research, the papyrologues, admit that the material is becoming too much for them to handle. Already the treasures of papyri now held in the different archives of our museums and universities are so numerous as to make it impossible to survey them. Thus it may well be that precious revelations await, of which now we know nothing at all, and that in process of time many an interesting manuscript may turn up which will revolutionize our knowledge of history. The ingenious Frenchman, Francois Champollion, deciphered the hieroglyphics, "the words of the gods," and made them accessible to science last century. But we should not think that now we understand everything. There are yet many dark spots, and how many "took compass and ruler in hand to ascertain that the examined hieroglyphics concur with certain established geometrical figures which are the hidden clues to such records"? Who knows these figures, those archaic glyphs of the spirit, which were understood only by initiates?
The sphinx, the head of which stands out against the dark sky, cowers silently on the sand. One of the most pertinent symbols the human spirit has ever devised: the body of a lion with a human head. Just as the universe is built up of consciousness and matter, so is man: reason and intelligence fettered by animal passions and encased in a coarse physical body. "Man know thyself" was the command to the candidate for the mysteries of the Delphic Oracle. The same command is issued by the sphinx. Though silent it speaks aloud and audibly — even as it did to those who sought initiation within the pyramids. As man is inseparably united with the universe, so he who knows himself, who has fathomed the mysteries of the soul, who has penetrated the abysses of his heart, will have knowledge of universal life. Truth will ever find lodging in him who looks the sphinx in the face, and sets about to seek his soul.
We sat there for a long time and looked into the night. Only a faint glimmer of light was low on the western horizon, while the sky above sparkled with innumerable stars, traversed by the beautiful veil of the Milky Way. Sometimes a flying star loosened itself from the sky and fading away dropped slowly to earth. A gentle breeze drifted fine sand from between the ruins — the dust of millennia.
"O Egypt! Egypt! Only fables will be left of thee,
quite unbelievable to later generations . . . ,
and nothing will endure but the words hewn on stone."
How prophetic! And yet the feeling persists that the ancient law behind the "words hewn on stone" is still alive and can be found.
(From Sunrise magazine, February 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)