I enter as a hawk, I come out as a phoenix in the morning.— Pert em-Hru, ch. 13
Egypt has many pyramids scattered about its old realm. Most of them are small, but a few are quite large, the youngest showing the least skill in their construction and are therefore not noteworthy. The most massive are the three standing close together at Gizeh on the west bank of the Nile opposite Cairo, the one known as the Great Pyramid being also the most mysterious. The Greeks included it among the Seven Wonders of the World because of its architectural perfection and the engineering genius it portrays. It is unique because of the air passages running down into certain chambers within, and for the geodetic properties of its location: it is equidistant from the pole and the center of the earth, and the site shows exact knowledge of latitude and longitude. Napoleon's surveyors were ordered to map the terrain and they were astounded to find the Delta region fanned outward from the Pyramid in such a way as to confirm the priests' statement to Herodotus that it was a perfect triangle like the Greek capital letter Delta.
All these and other features bearing on an advanced knowledge of geometry, geography, astronomy and mathematics evidenced by the architect/builder of the Great Pyramid have been discussed and debated by scholars of various fields. We do not need to itemize them here; our present concern is not to investigate the technical aspects of this subject, but rather to look more closely at the possible purpose of the structure.
More than 2,000 years ago, Greeks and Romans stood awestruck before the Great Pyramid. The radiance with which it shed the sunlight from its highly polished casing stones must have been dazzling. This skin of stones was ravished by the Mamelukes to adorn their buildings in Cairo, but we may yet be impressed by what remains for it still bears the majesty of a lonely sentinel of an ancient wisdom standing at the edge of the encroaching desert of an unspiritual age.
From the ground level, looking toward the apex which seems to penetrate the sky, we see a cascade of stones, row upon row, and little else. But if we stand at the fifteenth course, and focus upon the seventeenth where the entrance is now exposed, we see a double archway above the door resting upon a triangular stone in which is clearly marked the hieroglyph for 'Horizon of Heaven.' Very few Egyptologists have paid any attention to the significance of this symbol at that point, nor to its association with the fifteenth and seventeenth chapters of the Pert em-Hru, the "Coming Forth Into Light," miscalled the 'Book of the Dead.' In the famous Theban recension known as the Papyrus of Ani, among the beautiful hymns in the fifteenth chapter there is a ninefold litany to Osiris, "Lord of the Hidden Place," drawing attention to the "mystery of the Tuat," the underworld, a portion of Amenti. Ani says he is the "Bennu bird which is in Annu" and in verse 39 he adds: "I have made an end of my shortcomings and put away my faults." The seventeenth chapter tells of the glory of going into and rising out of the underworld which is the beautiful Amentet — "coming forth a living soul."
The Bennu bird is the Phoenix, symbol of the reincarnating element in man, among other meanings. Annu is identified with On or Pi-Ra, City of the Lord of the Sun (Greek: Heliopolis). As the sites in physical Egypt were the earthly reflections of cosmic places and states of being, the Pi-Ra or Annu of the texts indicated more than the Egyptian town. In this particular verse, the reference seems to be to the spiritual-solar home of one of the three enduring principles of a human.
These passages acquire depth if we consider their relationship to the Great Pyramid, known in ancient days as Khuit, translated by some as the 'Horizon,' by others as the 'Light.' Although it is supposed to have been built as the tomb of Khufu, better known as Cheops, there is no indication that anyone was ever interred there. A stone originally from the tomb of Khufu's daughter Honut-sen refers to her father's restoration work at Gizeh: he cleared away sand and repaired the temple of Osiris; he found "a temple of Isis, mistress of the Pyramid," northwest of the temple of the Sphinx, and there he later built his own pyramid — perhaps this was one of the small ones near the great trio? Professors Gaston Maspero and Pierre H. Boussac, and Mr. Orlando P. Schmidt suggest the stele implies that the pyramid-field at Gizeh, particularly the Sphinx, is much more ancient than the IVth Dynasty to which Khufu and his immediate successors belonged.
Osiris was a term applied to a deceased pharaoh, and the successor was designated Horus, the Son, thus exemplifying the myth of Osiris, once a king, who was slain and then reborn as Lord of Amenti, the after-death realm or state of being, while Osiris' earthly throne was occupied by his son Horus.
But Osiris was also the patron of the Mysteries, in which candidates were instructed in the nature and processes of the cosmos and man. The air channels from the surface to the chambers of the Great Pyramid must surely have been intended for living men, not the dead whose vital organs were extracted during the embalming procedures and placed in the appropriate canopic jars. Could it not be that the Great Pyramid was the temple of Osiris that Khufu either restored or added to? His name appears only on a few stones of the upper courses.
If we consider the texts and accompanying vignettes in the "Coming Forth Into Light" as the guide or dialogue of instruction and testing used in the ritual of initiation into the Mysteries of Egypt, some interesting thoughts arise. We perceive a pupil in his simple, pure white and unadorned robe entering the 'underworld' (this could be the Pyramid at the seventeenth course). Before him is the journey into the darkness of his unexplored soul-qualities, and the psychological contact with cosmic aspects about which he has been taught but not yet directly experienced. Standing at the gateway he does not see the double arches above him, mounted on a triangular stone in which is set the hieroglyph for 'Horizon of Heaven.' All this is invisible to him because of the covering of casing stones; but he would have known of their presence from the 'Master of the Secret Place' or one of his assistants.
The candidate now indicates to the doorkeeper or Watcher at the Gate — most likely wearing the jackal-headed mask of Anubis-Anpu or his aspect as Up-uatu (Upwawat) 'Opener of the Ways' — that he is indeed prepared to begin the quest to discover his Hidden Self. Then he is faced toward the passageway that slopes downward from the entrance at an angle of 27° and at cyclic times points upward to the Pole Star.
On the way down, he passes through the preliminary tests of his courage and self-control, until he reaches the 'place of ordeal,' or 'the pit.' Here the hidden recesses of his character are exposed; he is aware of them and projects these aspects as though they were entities within his microcosm. He has to wrestle with the great serpent of ego, which, on the cosmic scale is Apep, and within himself has the protean capacity to change its form.
Next he ascends the difficult path to the 'Hall of Truth' where the candidate 'justifies' himself before the initiates attired as the "Gods of the Horizon and the Gods of the Orbit." In the Pert em-Hru one of the most famous vignettes is the "Weighing Scene," depicting the drama of the soul in judgment: the heart of the neophyte is on the scales against the feather of Maat, usually translated Truth, but endowed with further meanings more nearly approaching the Sanskrit Dharma: Order, Harmony, Duty, Righteousness, Justice, and so forth. Standing around the Scales of Thoth (Wisdom) are the 'beings' representing facets of the pupil's nature.
The postulant proceeds to the site of his 'rebirth' as a fellow initiate: the place of "Isis, the divine mother, the queen of the pyramid," that room known to us as the Queen's Chamber.
There are three main degrees of initiation: for those people who have been instructed but have not yet experienced the inner vision: "for them the orb of light is in the darkness"; second, there are the "Intelligences," who have beheld the inner vision and now really do live as men, "in their minds"; and thirdly, the Aakhui, the Creatures of Light, one with the radiance of the inner and spiritual world, also called the "Sons of Light and Mind." "They have opened the Eye of Horus [their Christ principle within them] and the light shineth in the darkness."
So Ani, as prototype of all travelers on the way of spiritual unfoldment, must go further, reaching an ascending corridor of considerable length and width, the Grand Gallery or the symbol of the Elysian Fields of Aahlu, the territory of illumination. Perhaps his examination there relates to the secret of the cosmic cycles — those manifestations of the habits of vast, cosmic beings — for the floor slopes and the walls have slots that still make ideal sighting tubes to observe stars and other celestial phenomena! Astronomers such as Richard A. Proctor and Sir Norman Lockyer long ago drew attention to the Pyramid's probable use as an observatory, and the slots undoubtedly were used throughout the year, not alone at the rare times of initiation of candidates.
To return to our postulant: now he advances beyond learning into the reaches of being, and again penetrates through a difficult entrance, this time into the King's Chamber, where he lies down in the sarcophagus. His body entranced, his soul wanders the spaces of consciousness, both within himself and outside into the cosmos at large. If victorious, he overcomes the last shape assumed by the ego, and wins free to wisdom, joining the Company of the Aakhui. During these trials he has given willingly of himself to the denizens of each place he visited. The now 'Osirified' initiate is not content to remain exultant as a 'Son of the Sun'; but sets about his return to the commonality of men, his new 'table of offerings' for humanity before him being the faculties and qualities he has perfected within himself.
And there, at the very top of the Great Pyramid, set firm into the flat platform that remains, we find the stone hieroglyph for 'Table of Offerings' — reminding us of the Bodhisattva vow ascribed to Kwan Yin by the Oriental civilizations:
Never will I seek or receive personal or private salvation; never will I enter final peace alone, but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of all creatures.
As the candidate lies in the sarcophagus, physically entranced, his soul free to experience spiritual life beyond the confines of the body's sense apparatus, he represents every man. For all of us do have, but too rarely invoke, the power and vision, supported by the cosmic life force, to overcome our self-woven limitations. Ani is shown with his 'wife' beside him, symbol of the spiritual faculties that come with the unfoldment of our more divine aspects. (The same meaning applies to Moses' marriage to Zipporah, 'guerdon of plenty,' daughter of the High Priest Jethro or Reuel.)
In the latter days of the Egyptian civilization, the neophytes were bound upon a couch shaped like a tau, the looped cross, another fitting emblem. If the applicant were successful in his quest, then he rose from the couch awakened by the sun's rays at dawn of the third day, the solar light momentarily matching his inner light. He then received the Atf crown of Illumination that was shaped like the zodiacal light of heaven, and as the Pert em-Hru says: "I have finished my course" (ch. cxlv).
This equating of the Great Pyramid's design and purpose with the 'Chapters of the Coming Forth Into Light' is not farfetched. W. Marsham Adams published the theme in two books later edited into one by E. J. Langford Garstin with the title: The Book of the Master of the Hidden Places. Mr. Garstin therein states that Professor Maspero informed Adams he shared his view that the "masonic secrets" of the building matched the "doctrinal secrets" of the Egyptian teachings.
Others have also suggested something of the kind, including Albert Churchward and Tons Brunes, both Freemasons; and Dr. Thomas M. Stewart's The Symbolism of the Gods of the Egyptians and The Light They Throw on Freemasonry is illuminating for the insights into the meaning of initiation. M. W. Blackden, an Egyptologist as well as a highly regarded Freemason, published privately his edition of that part of the Pert em-Hru dealing with the Judgment Scene. Using the Theban Recension of Ani, he arranged the text as a dialogue between the candidate and interlocutors. The text itself was not tampered with, but his treatment makes the meaning leap from the pages. William Kingsland, engineer and scholar, issued a monumental two-volume work on the Great Pyramid, the first dealing with the technicalities, the second with the 'mystical' aspect, supporting H. P. Blavatsky in her contention that the Pyramid was used as a temple of initiation.
However, other Egyptologists are reluctant to admit anything of the kind. Sir Flinders Petrie wrote to the writer many years ago that the Great Pyramid was nothing but a tomb erected to the order of Khufu, and he warned against accepting the views of 'mystics' such as Adams. No doubt he had been soured by the excesses of the followers of Piazzi Smyth who tried to turn the Pyramid into a house of Biblical prophecies. Dr. I. E. S. Edwards, dean of modern specialists, has reissued his classic The Pyramids of Egypt in an updated edition calculated perhaps to offset the views of non-archaeologists such as Olaf Tellefsen, a design engineer. The latter drew on his own special training to evaluate the Great Pyramid as unique, a special case indicating superior knowledge not manifest in the other pyramids.
Yet the genius or inspiration of a Mozart intuited the meaning of the pyramid and used it to symbolize the initiates in his Freemasonic opera The Magic Flute. In Act II, scene 1, the locale is the 'Sacred Wood' of Sarastro, Master of Wisdom and High Priest of Osiris. There are eighteen seats for the initiates, and above each one there is a pyramid, the largest located in the middle and apparently intended to suggest Sarastro's superior attainments or understanding. This opera is full of veiled symbolism drawn from the Freemasonic teachings of the composer's day, bearing Egyptian overtones.
Whatever else is said, the Great Pyramid remains . . . with its hieroglyph for Horizon of Heaven over the entrance, and its Table of Offerings in stone at the apex.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1973. Copyright © 1973 by Theosophical University Press)