Ancient Egyptian Roots of the Principia Hermetica

Ancient Egyptian Roots
of the Principia Hermetica


Aegyptus imago sit caeli

by Wim van den Dungen

“Do You not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to Earth below ?”

Asclepius III, 24b.

I, King Pepi, am THOTH, the mightiest of the gods …
Pyramid Texts, § 1237.

I, said he, am POIMANDRES, the Mind of the Sovereignty.
Corpus Hermeticum (CH), Libellus I (Poimandres), Book 1.2

“Do You not know that You have become a God,
and son of the One, even as I have ?”
CH, Libellus XIII, 14.


1 The mental origin of the world and of man.
2 Corresponding harmonics.
3 Dynamics of alternation.
4 Bi-polarity and complementarity.
5 Cyclic repolarisation.
6 Cause and effect.
7 Gender.
8 The astrology of the Ogdoad.
9 The magic of the Ennead.
10 The alchemy of the Decad.

Epilogue : the Ancient Egyptian Mystery Tradition ?

“Content is Atum, father of the gods.
Content are Shu and Tefnut.
Content are Geb and Nut.
Content are Osiris and [Isis].
Content are Seth and Neith.
Content are all the gods who are in the sky.
Content are all the gods who are on Earth, who are in the flat-lands.
Content are all the southern and northern gods.
Content are all the western and eastern gods.
Content are all the gods of the nomes.
Content are all the gods of the towns.

With this great and might word, which issued from the mouth of THOTH for Osiris, the Treasurer of Life, Seal-bearer of the gods, Anubis, who claims hearts, claims Osiris King Pepi …

Hear O THOTH, in whom is the peace of the gods …
Pyramid Texts, §§ 1521 – 1524 & 1465


god of scribes, science, magic, time, medicine, reckoning, cults, wisdom, the peace of the gods and companion of MAAT
drawing by Stéphane Rossini (1992)


The meaning of Thoth’s name (“DHwtii” or “Djehuti”) is lost. He is represented by the hieroglyph of the Ibis on a standard (Ibis religiosa). In Babylon, he was called “Tichut”. Some proposed “he of Djehout” (an unknown city), but Hopfner (1914) believes “DHw” was the oldest name of the Ibis (“hbj”). Thoth would then mean “he who has the nature of the Ibis”. As early as the Pyramid Texts (ca. 2400 BCE), Pharaoh is said to be carried over the celestial river on the wings of Thoth, considered to be the mightiest of the gods.

From the early 3th century BCE, the epithet “Thoth great, great, great” (“DHwtii aA, aA, aA”) is found at Esna in Upper Egypt, whereas the expression “Thoth the great, the great, the great” (“DHwtii pA aA, pA aA, pA aA”) is part of Demotic texts outside Memphis, dating from the early 2nd century BCE (cf. the Greek “Hermes Trismegistos”). Other writings suggest a link between Hermetism and the cosmology of Hermopolis (and its Ogdoad).

Another, less common, pictogram for Thoth was the squatting baboon, who greeted the dawning Sun with cries of jubilation.


The religion of Ancient Egypt has been reconstructed by the Greeks (in the Hermetica), by the Abrahamic tradition (in their Scriptures) and by the Western Mystery Tradition (Hermeticism). But these reconstructions are flawed. The Hermetic teachings incorporate an un-Egyptian view on the mysteries (stressing the mind at the expense of the body). The protagonists of the revealed religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam), as well as the initiators of Hermeticism, were unable to read the hieroglyphs, and if they did, only allegorical, explaining the obscure with more obscurity. Only the last two hundred years has a reliable historical reconstruction become available, offering a basic historical framework.

Not the Qabalah (Jewish or Christian), but the Ancient Egyptian Mystery Tradition (or Kemetism) is the backbone of the Western Tradition. Instead of Hermeticism, a return to Hermetism is invisaged. To approach Kemetism today, ten Hermetic principles are isolated. Each is associated with a fundamental teaching found in Egyptian texts. This exercise is possible because the Hermetica are rooted in the native Egyptian religion, albeit Hellenized. The authors were Egyptians still able to read the “words of the gods”. In this way, the Western Tradition may finally stretch its roots in perennial soil, first in Alexandrian thought and from there in the native Egyptian tradition, its natural ally.


historical Hermetism : religio mentis

The influence of Ancient Egypt on Greek philosophy as well as the history of the rise of Hermetism have been discussed elsewhere.  These studies showed the presence of three fundamental phases :

  1. native Hermopolitan theology : as early as the Old Kingdom (ca. 2670 – 2198 BCE), the perennial worship of the native Egyptian Thoth, “the mightiest of the gods”, was centered in Hermopolis (“Hermoupolis Magna”). Although the contents of this theology is only know from Ptolemaic sources, “Khnum Khemenu”, “the Eight town” (also called “Per-Djehuty”, the “house of Thoth”) existed in the Vth Dynasty (ca. 2487 – 2348 BCE) and was associated with the Ogdoad or company of eight precreational gods (frog heads) & goddesses (serpent-headed). A few of them were mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, but the complete list is first mentioned in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 – 1759 BCE). These deities emerged from Nun (the primordial, undifferentiated ocean) and constituted the soul of Thoth. They may also be understood as further characterizations of this dark, unlimited pre-creational realm : Amun and Amaunet (hiddenness), Heh and Heket or Huh and Hauhet (eternity), Kek and Keket or Kuk and Kauket (darkness), Nun and Nunet or Nun and Naunet (primordial chaos). Hermopolitan theology will provide the framework for Ptolemaic Hermetism. Other textual traces of this worship are found in the Coffin Texts, the Book of the Dead and the Books of the Netherworld, whereas in the Late Period (ca. 664 – 30 BCE), its theology was written down on the walls of more than one Ptolemaic temple (ca. 332 – 30 BCE). Because Thoth was Lord of Time, he was associated with astrology, in particular when the astral science of Chaldea entered Egypt (at the end of the Third Intermediate Period, ca. 1075 – 664 BCE) ;
  2. historical Hermetism : or the identification of Thoth, “Thrice Greatest”, with Hermes Trismegistus, who, in his philosophical teachings, is Greek and human (although Egyptian elements persist), but who assumed, in the technical Hermetica, the cosmicity of the native Egyptian Thoth. The technical Hermetica are attested under the Ptolemies, and the existence, in the first century BCE, of an Alexandrian multi-cultural Hermetic Lodge is likely. The philosophical sources are the 17 treatises of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Latin Asclepius, the Armenian Hermetic Definitions and the Coptic Hermetica found at Nag Hammadi, in particular The Eighth and the Ninth Sphere (Codex VI.6), which all date from the first centuries CE. It is possible to see Hermetism as a “gnosticism” (for “gnosis”, i.e. direct spiritual insight, is all-important). But Hermetic gnosticism is particular to imperial Alexandrian culture, for the notion of an evil demiurge (as in Christian Gnosticism) is not present. Constituted by Egyptian, Greek and Jewish elements, Hermetism will influence Judaism (the Merkabah mystics of the Jewish gnostics of Alexandria), Christianity (Clement of Alexandria, the Greek Fathers, the “Orientale Lumen“) and the Islam (the Hermetic star worshippers of Harran and Sufism) ;
  3. literary Hermeticism : Renaissance Hermeticism produced a fictional Trismegistus as the Godhead of its esoteric concept of the world as an organic whole, with an intimate sympathy between its material (natural) and spiritual (supernatural) components. This view was consistent with the humanistic phase of modernism, which was followed by a mechanization of the world and the “enlightenment” of the 18th century. These new forces ousted all formative & final causes from their physical inquiries, and reduced the four Aristotelian categories of determination (material, efficient, formal and final cause) to material & efficient causes only. Astrology, magic and alchemy were deemed scientifically backward & religiously suspect. “Actio-in-distans” was deemed impossible, and Paganism was Satanical. In 1666, Colbert evicts astrology from the Academy of Sciences (the court-astrologer Morin de Villefranche, 1583 – 1656, was concealed behind a curtain in the royal apartment at the time when the future Grand Monarque was born). In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the morbid but exotical fancies of the Romantics, Hermeticism became part of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Theosophy and generalized egyptomania (cf. Golden Dawn, Thelemism, Pyramidology, etc.). Today it returns as the ideological core of the expanding New Age religion.

Before the first, steady interactions between Greek & Egyptian culture emerged (ca. 670 BCE), the “Hermetic” particularities of Late New Kingdom henotheist theology were inscribed on the Shabaka Stone and elucidated in its Memphite theology. This XXVth Dynasty (ca. 716 – 702 BCE) stone copy of an important Ramesside papyrus scroll, contained thoughts which look remarkably like those developed in the contexts of the Platonic, Philonic and Christian “logos”. More than a century ago, Breasted wrote regarding the Memphite theology :

“The above conception of the world forms quite a sufficient basis for suggesting that the later notions of nous and logos, hitherto supposed to have been introduced into Egypt from abroad at a much later date, were present at this early period. Thus the Greek tradition of the origin of their philosophy in Egypt undoubtedly contains more of the truth than has in recent years been conceded. (…) The habit, later so prevalent among the Greeks, of interpreting philosophically the function and relations of the Egyptian gods (…) had already begun in Egypt before the earliest Greek philosophers were born …” – Breasted, 1901, p.54.

Indeed, the Greek words “nous” (“mind, thinking, perceiving”) and “noés” (“perceive, observe, recognize, understand”), could be derived from the Egyptian “nu” (“nw”), “to see, look, perceive, observe” :

“Nu”, “nw” with D6, the determinative for action with eyes.
Keep guard over, watch, look, tend, guide, care for, shepherd.
Incidentally, the adze was used in the “Opening of the Mouth”.

On the one hand, according to Stricker (1949), the Corpus Hermeticum is a codification of the Egyptian religion. Ptolemy I Soter (304 – 282 BCE) and his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282 – 246 BCE) promised to publish the secret literature of the three groups of citizens of Egypt : native Egyptians, Greeks and Jews. For him, Hermetism is the Greek version of a redaction of Egyptian literature. Its form is Greek, but its contents is Egyptian (the Septuagint being the equivalent Jewish redaction). On the other hand, father Festugière (1945) claims the CH contains extremely little Egyptian elements, except for the context, the ideas expressed being those of popular Greek thought, a mixture of Platonism, Aristotelism and Stoicism … Both positions are avoided. Most agree the CH contains no Christian elements (the opposite is true – cf. the influence of Philonic thought in particular and Alexandrian philosophy in general on the apostle Paul – Quispel, 1992).

Let us conjecture the emergence, under the first three Ptolemies, of a Greek elitist version of the Egyptian religion, a Graeco-Egyptian religion, and this among the upper native classes (of priest, scribes, administrators & high-skilled workmen). This Graeco-Egyptian religion would be based in Alexandria and Memphis, and (at first) entail a strong emphasis on the native component. It emerged in the priestly scribal class and had its focus on Thoth, who created the world by means of his Divine words, in accord with the verbal tradition founding Egypt. For the Greeks, Thoth was “Hermes, Trismegistos”, indicative of both his antiquity and greatness. Because of the important influence of the native intellectual milieu on the genesis of this Alexandro-Egyptian cultural form, “Graeco-Egyptian religion turns out to be based on a profound imbalance, in favour of the autochthonous, between its two constituent elements.” (Fowden, 1986, p.19). Zandee (1992, p.161) mentions a Hermetical text going back to the third century BCE and for Petrie (1908) at least some passages of the Corpus Hermeticum had to refer to the Persian period … This feature proves to be essential in a possible thematical reconstruction.

But, the Hellenization entailed by using the Greek language and participating in the syncretic Alexandrian intellectual climate (the Mouseion and Serapeion), should not be underestimated, and makes Stricker’s proposals too unlikely. These native Egyptians must have been proud of their Hermopolitan & Memphite theologies (both verbal & scribal), but eventually accepted to incorporate uncompromisingly un-Egyptian elements in their Hermetism (like the popular Greek denial of the physical body, evasive mysteries and an elusive, vague description of the afterlife). The importance of the Netherworld is no longer felt.

Many other Greek themes are to be found in the Corpus Hermeticum, showing Festugière was not completely wrong. In a study of Zandee published in 1992, the Egyptian influence was confirmed, although besides the negative view on the body, he also identified the depreciation of the world, the celestial voyage of the soul (or mystical initiation – cf. Mahé, 1992) and reincarnation as Hermetic teachings not to be found in Ancient Egypt. To this list could be added the Hermetic variant of the Greek mysteries and magical techniques aimed to compel the will of the gods (impossible in Ancient Egypt). Indeed, the difference between Egyptian initiation and Greek mysteries is pertinent (the attitude of the worshipper as well as the responsiveness of the deities differ).

We may argue that the technical Hermetica are rooted in perennial Egyptian traditions like magic (“heka”) and the “books of Thoth”. It is probable that, at least insofar as medicine & magic were concerned, this indeed was the case ? The philosophical Hermetica also share certain features with the Egyptian wisdom-discourses or instruction genre.

Hermetism is not a “Sammelbecken” (heterogeneous doctrines), nor a single synthesis, but an autonomous mode of discourse, a “way of Hermes” (Iamblichus), more theological than philosophical (like Plotinus, who -compared to Plato- was more religious than political) and foremost (in number) “technical” : astrology, magic & alchemy. This Graeco-Egyptian religion was influenced by three major players : the Greeks, the native Egyptians and the Jews. It could define its own path precisely because of its roots in the Ancient Egyptian Mystery Tradition, to which most of its members adhered. In its mature stage, Hermetism manifested the religion of the mind (“religio mentis“) of Mediterranean Antiquity. This Late Hellenistic Hermetism would survive and eventually fire the European Renaissance and humanism. But the “ad fontes” principle of the latter only returned to Late Hellenism. Antiquity would remain unavailable for several centuries. Not unlike Spinoza’s “amor intellectualis Dei“, philosophical Hermetism gave body to an intellectual love for the One, albeit in modo antiquo, and never without magic & alchemy. In the 17th century, this technical side was left behind by the European academia, whereas the philosophical Hermetica became part of Hermeticism and its various branches.

The “gnosis” of Hermetism (the secret it shared through initiation) was an ecstasy born out of cognitive activities, involving trance, contemplation, ritual, music and astrology. In Hermetism, astrology served as the bridge between the purely technical Hermetica -magic, medicine- and the theological & philosophical Hermetica. Astrology was concerned with the timing of events, both festive, initiatory or individual.

“It is certain that the Hermetics had no cult, with priests, sacrifices, processions and the like. But the texts suggest the existence of (small) Hermetic ‘communities’, conventicles, groups or lodges, in which individual experiences and insights were collectively celebrated with rituals, hymns and prayers.” – Quispel, 1992/1994, p.15.

The Corpus Hermeticum and the Graeco-Egyptian religion of which it was the chief extant codification, was a spiritual way in its own right. Alexandrian Hermetism was a mixture of Greek thought with genuine Egyptian religious traditions. Scholars have pointed to the reverence for the creative word, the magical power of divine statues, the wisdom literature, the bi-sexual nature of god, the one and the many, the Sun as creator, the cosmos as an ordered whole and also noted Jewish components and imagery. In this paper, other important Egyptian themes will be put forward.

► the core teachings of Hermetism

Hermetic ontology distinguished between three spheres of being : God, the world (of the Deities, minerals, plants & animals) and man. These were sympathetically interlinked (X.22-23), allowing us to glimpse His genius in these beauties (V.1-8), God is also conceived as the creator of All rather than Himself the All (i.e. pan-en-theism instead of pantheism), and immanentism is not exclusive. Hermetism tried to rise from “episteme” towards “gnosis”, i.e. from knowledge about God to knowledge of Him (“cognoscere Deum / cognitia Dei”). God is best known and worshipped in the absolute purity of silence (as the Pythagoreans had claimed, and the Ancient Egyptians had stressed for millennia – cf. Hymns to Amun). Like Late Ramesside Amun-theology, Hermetism was henotheist, but in a rational mode of cognition : the One God was deemed essentially hidden (cf. the Nun) but manifest in “millions of appearances” and Deities (cf. Atum-Re and the Ennead).

Hermes tells Tat (XIII), that “the tent” or “tabernacle” of the Earthly body was formed by the circle of the Zodiac (XIII.12 & Ascl.35) and dominated by fate, who’s decrees, according to the astrologers, were unbreakable. The seven planets represented the “perfect movements” of the Deities, the unalterable “will of the Gods” as expressed in predictable astral phenomena. Magicians tried to compel this will, while Hermetism did not try to resist fate, but irreversibly moved beyond it. The existence of the Deities was acknowledged (they belonged to the order of creation and were the object of sacrifices and processions and the celestial Powers ruling the astrological septet). Indeed, the Deities, Hermes and God were situated in the eighth, ninth and tenth sphere (Ogdoad, Ennead and Decad). The “eighth” involved purification, Self-knowledge and the direct “gnostic” experience of the “Nous” as “logos”, whereas in the “ninth” man was deified by assuming God’s attributes, as did the Godman Hermes, in particular His Universal Mind, the Divine Nous, Intellect or “soul of God” (XII.9). The “tenth” or Decad was God Himself for Himself.

In Ancient Egypt, man and the pantheon had never been directly in touch. Firstly, because the spirit of the deities remained for ever in the sky (the light of the stars), and secondly because gods only converse with gods. The only exception was Pharaoh, the mediator between mankind and the deities, for he himself was the son of the creator god Re and daily returned, by voice-offerings of truth & justice, the order of being back to its origin, hereby sustaining creation and sealing the unity of the “Two Lands”, namely Egypt as “image of the world”.

In Hermetism, man, the most glorious of God’s creations, was animated by a Divine spark and was therefore -in the depth of his being- truly Divine (I.2, I.30 & XIII.14). In man, the divide between God and the world was bridged, and so to awaken him to his own Inner Being, was the goal of Hermetic initiation & ritual. Every man and woman is a Deity.

“Hermes : Do You not know that You have become of God, and son of the One, even as I have ?”
CH, Libellus XIII, 14.

Ignorance crippled man (VII), and this is overcome by helping him to understand his true, Divine nature, bringing him to know God and discovering his own Divinity (X.9). The crucial choice is therefore a choice between the “material” world (ruled by the seven Powers of fate) and the “spiritual” Perfect Man, between the corporeal/visible and the incorporeal/invisible. The attainment of Self-knowledge (exposure to the true Self) is described in terms of “rebirth” (“palingenesia” – XIII), viewed as a bursting into a new plane of existence, namely the “Ogdoadic nature”, previously unsuspected and potential.

“I rejoice, my son, that You are like to bring forth fruit. Out of the Truth will spring up in You the immortal brood of virtue, for by the working of mind, You have come to know yourself and your Father.”
CH, Libellus XIII, 22a.

Palingenesia liberates the soul and is a reversal of physical birth (which imprisoned the soul in the body). This spiritual birth leads (thanks to the presence of a spiritual master and an initiatory father/son-relationship) to the soul’s perfection through the knowledge of God, a “baptism in intellect” (IV.3-4). In the process of purification and Self-knowledge, traditional rituals may have been used, but the higher mysteries (the Hermetic initiation proper) involved a “mental” or “spiritual” sacrifice (I.31), the offering of hymns of praise and thanksgiving. The ritual and the noetic were thus fully integrated.

Indeed, the “Nous”, the Divine intellect or “soul of God”, binds together the hierarchy of God, the world (of the Deities, minerals, plants & animals) and man. In particular, “Nous” is the way of the human soul to free itself from the snares of the flesh and be illuminated by the “light” of the “gnosis”, for indeed, God is experienced as light. A “good Nous” will be able to repel the assaults of the world. The spiritual master becomes a personification of this Divine intellect. The master becomes one with the Divine Nous (“I am Mind”) in the initiation of his disciple. In Hermetism, this “Nous” is personified by Hermes Trismegistus, the Universal Mind of the “highest Power” (situated on the Enneadic plane).

► the Hermetic Divine triad

In Ancient Egyptian theology, divine triads were used to express the divine family-unit, usually composed out of Pharaoh (the son) and a divine couple (father & mother), legitimizing his rule as divine king. Pharaoh Akhenaten had introduced a monotheistic triad (exclusive and against all other deities) : Aten, Akhenaten and Nefertiti. In Heliopolis, the original triad was Atum, Shu and Tefnut, in Memphis, Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertem emerged, whereas Thebes worshipped Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The trinity naturally developed into three or one Ennead.

In Hermetic triad reads as :

  1. God, the Unbegotten One, the essence of being, the Father of All – the “Decad” ;
  2. Nous, the First Intellect, the Self-Begotten One, the Mind or Light of God – the “Ennead” ;
  3. Logos, the “son” from “Nous”, the Begotten One above the Seven Archons – the “Ogdoad”.

The One Entity or God (the “Tenth”) is known to Its creation as the One Mind or Hermes which contains the “noetic” root of every individual existing thing (cf. Plato, Spinoza). This Divine Mind (the attributes or names of the nameless God) allows all things to be sympathetic transformations (adaptations, modi) of God.

Hermetism The “logos” is a “holy word”, coming forth from the Light of the Divine Nous, the Ninth Sphere of Being, situated between the Decad of God Himself and the Ogdoad of the blessed souls, fixed stars and the Deities.

(1) Decad : God Himself ;
(2) Ennead : Divine Nous, Light, Godman Hermes Autogenes ;
(3) Ogdoad : Logos or “son of God” ;
(4) Hebdomad : the Seven Governors of the world.

Hermetism is initiatory because it wants to elevate the soul to the level of its true Divine nature. Palingenesia is an ascension while alive. Rebirth implies more than just a confrontation with the Gods (as in Ancient Egypt), but a true interaction between Perfect Man and -thanks to the Presence of Mind- God. This interaction leads to a total emergence of the Divine spark in man and hence to his Deification (finally being completely his own Divine Self and thus himself “a God”, a being permanently realizing the Enneadic nature (XIII.3,10 & 14). This highest state may be attained in the afterlife, although the Ogdoadic nature may be realized while alive on Earth.

“Man is a Divine being, not to be compared with the other Earthly beings, but with those who are called Gods, up in the heavens. Rather, if one must dare to speak the truth, man truly is established above even these Gods, or at least fully their equal. After all, none of the celestial Gods will leave the heavenly frontiers and descend to Earth ; yet man ascends even into heavens, and measured them, and knows their heights and depths, and everything else about them he learns with exactitude, and, supreme marvel, he even has no need to leave the Earth to establish himself upon high, so far does his power extend ! We must thus dare to say : Earthly man is a mortal God, the celestial God is an immortal Man. And so it is through these two, the world and man, that all things exist ; but they were all created by the One.”
CH, Libellus X, 24-25.

The Hermetic triad can be traced back to Egyptian sources thus :

  1. the one god alone, pre-existing before creation as the primordial ocean of Nun ;
  2. the self-creative creator (in the form of Atum-Re), emerging out of the Nun (hatching out of his egg) as the origin of everything and the “father of the gods ;
  3. the unique “son of god” or Pharaoh, who mediates between the realm of the deities (sky) and the realm of humans (Earth).

In this scheme, 10 ontological layers, strata or realms are posited : One supernatural Divine triad (“agennetos, autogennetos, gennetos”) and Seven natural “powers of fate” or “archons”. Hermetism is a gnosticism because it claims knowledge of God is possible. To know God one has to merge with Universal Mind, conveying a “special” light, causing a private and inner illumination or “gnosis”. The purified soul is absorbed into God and realizes its own Divinity. Hermetism is a “way of immortality” (X.7). But as an Alexandro-Egyptian gnosticism, Hermetism did not introduce “evil” in the archons : God our Father is Good and His creation (including His Deities) is beautiful, the crucial moral choice is up to the individual.

“For from thee, the unbegotten one, the begotten one came into being. The birth of the self-begotten one is through thee, giving birth to all begotten things that exists.” – Robinson, 1984, p.294.

The Hermetic Divine triad is modalistic and subordinates the hierarchy of being. God (10 : the Decad) is the first and ultimate level of existence, the One existing for Unity Alone (the Absolute in its Absoluteness). God (the incomprehensible, unrevealable  and unknowable Father) is unborn, the “Logos autogenes” and the “son of Nous” born. What this is can not be said (cf. apophasis : absolute silence, no tales). Hermes (9 : the Ennead) is Self-begotten (not created or generated by God) and is the “soul” of God, the mode of God’s holding together His creation by Universal Mind (Nous) and Word (logos). The Begotten One (8 : the Ogdoad), again a level lower, has no power of Self-generation, and is part of the process of time and space (this “son” is the “world” or “logos” given by Hermes as master, teacher and father). This level of the Perfect(ed) Human beings is higher than the Deities (or at least equal to them).

The Seven Archons, ruling fate and subordinated to supernatural command, are beautiful and good (demons may exists, but there is no evil God). That evil exists at all is due to man’s nature and his slavish prostrations before his physical passions & vices. Clouding his true nature, these evils cause ignorance and make man subject to the fatal blows of the blind planetary forces, measured by astrologers and manipulated by magicians. On their own, both astrologers and magi fail to reach the Hermetic goal of life : “gnosis” or an inner awakening in the light coming forth from God’s Mind, i.e. an entrance in the supernatural strata of being (the Ogdoad, which borders the natural world, and the Ennead).

“{O my Father}, yesterday You promised me that You would bring my mind into the eighth and afterwards You would bring me into the ninth. You said that this is the order of the tradition.” – Robinson, 1984, p.292.

Resisting fate binds one to fate. Only the Divine light of “gnosis” allows the soul to move beyond nature and abide in the supernatural. Here, fate has no hold, for the Gods never leave their heaven, and, as Paracelsus would claim centuries earlier : the wise command the stars !

► literary Hermeticism and the Western Tradition : a few highlights

The earliest links made between Egyptian wisdom and Christianity appear in the writings of Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215), Origen of Alexandria (185 – 254) and Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430).

“As early as Origen’s Contra Celsus (I, 28), we encounter the claim that it was in Egypt, and specifically as an adult laborer, that Jesus had learned all the magical arts with which he worked miracles and on which he based his divinity. The tradition also occurred in early rabbinic literature, but it was of course suppressed in official Christianity.” – Hornung, 2001, pp.76-77.

Indeed, Morton (1978) writes :

“The rabbinic report that in Egypt Jesus was tattooed with magic spells does not appear in polemic material, but is cited as a known fact in discussion of a legal question by a rabbi who was probably born about the time of the crucifixion. The antiquity of the source, type of citation, connection with the report that he was in Egypt, and agreement with Egyptian magical practices are considerable arguments in its favor.” – Morton, 1978, pp.150-151.

The link between Egyptian wisdom, under the guise of Hermetism, Christianity and Islam is also pertinent and often forgotten.

“The mystical powers of Hermes exerted themselves far beyond the Pagan world of Late Antiquity, transmuting medieval Christian and Islamic understanding of the relationship between rational knowledge and revelation.” – Green, 1992, p.85.

This explains why, when Arab translations overflowed Europe, Hermetic concepts came along.

“The Sabaeans in Harran, who were without a sacred scripture under Islam, in order to count as a ‘people of the Book’, elevated the Corpus Hermeticum into such a holy book in the ninth century, thereby contributing to the continued existence of Hermetic texts among the Arab writers.” – Hornung, 2001, pp.53.

The first elements of literary Hermeticism were probably introduced in Western Europe by the Knight Templars (an order initiated in 1118). This powerful organization would pass on “the light of the Orient” to Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. Both drew on the translations of the Corpus Hermeticum, available as early as 1471, but also on alchemy, centuries older.

“The first Latin texts on alchemy were translated from Arabic in the 12th century, and included the Septem tractatus Hermetis Sapientia Triplicis and the Liber de Compositione Alchemiae of Morienus. A leitmotif that occurs with respect of the Arabic and Latin alchemical texts is the discovery in an underground chamber or crypt of a stela made of marble, ebony or emerald, with mysterious writing or symbols on it.” – Burnett, Ch (Ucko & Champion, 2003, p.94).

► the Order of the Temple

Jerusalem fell to the curved swords of Islam in 638 AD. In 1095, Pope Urban II decided to incite the sovereigns of the West to recapture the city. He wanted to bring together the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) strains of Christianity, a scandalous divide caused by a fundamental dogmatic difference about the nature of the Holy Spirit (who, in the Eastern Church, does not proceed from the Son as in the Filioquist West). In 1099, the year Godefroy de Bouillon of Flanders conquered the city, the Pope died. It would be recaptured in 1244.

According to Templar tradition, the Order of the Knights Templar was founded by Huges de Payns, a 48 year old nobleman, and eight other Knights. They took their vows on the 12th of June 1118 at the Castle of Arginy in the County of Rhône. The nine Knights were devoted to Christ and pledged to ensure the safety of the pilgrims to Jerusalem and the protection of the Holy Sepulchre. The Grand Master was very successful and obtained gifts of land and property to start the order.

By 1129, the Templar Order was established in Europe. The battle standard of the Order, the Gonfalon Beauceant or Beauseant was a red eight-pointed cross, the “Croix patteé gueules”, on a background of white and black squares. Their motto was : Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tua da gloriam. The seal of the Order was the design of two horsemen on the same horse, indicating the vow of poverty, the fraternity as well as the dual role of monk and warrior.

When Pope Honorius died in 1130, Bernard of St. Clairvaux supported the man who became Innocent II, to the great advantage of the Order, for eventually his Templars were subject to no authority save the Pope’s. Their Order became a state within states and enjoyed considerable freedom, endowed with incredible wealth. The purity of these ideals were compromised by the politics of the Near East. Although the inner order retained the ideal, the outer structures failed.

This inner order had access to “heretical” knowledge. Hermetical doctrines taught them the universe was conditioned by the laws of sound, color, number, weight and measure. Impregnated with the “Orientale Lumen“, studying the “sciences of the Moors”, Jewish Qabalah & Muslim Sufism and helped by Arab translations, they were able to read unknown Greek & Latin authors and drink from the grand reservoir of Mediterranean and Hellenistic spirituality. Eventually, new technologies were learned. These were introduced in the West, fertilized Christian culture, transformed the architecture of churches & cathedrals and enlightened the intelligentsia of their time. Hence, the Templar Order helped prepare the European Renaissance …

In 1312, during a Council held in Vienne, Pope Clement V, backed by the King of France (who had been refused by the Order) abolished the Order of the Knights Templar. After this, the Order lost central command, and various groups were created, like the Order of Montesa in Spain (1317), the Order of Christ in Portugal (1319) and the Elder Brothers of the Rose Cross in France (returning from Scotland). These “Frères Aînés de la Rose-Croix” (1317) drew up a new Templar Rule adopted by a college of 33 men, renewed and maintained by co-option.

Templars made links with troubadours, alchemists, qabalists and Muslims, in particular certain Muslim brotherhoods (the flowering of Sufism, the mysticism of Islam, was conterminous with the rise of the Knights Templar). It was one of the tasks of St. Bernard and his Templars, to bring Judaism, Christianity and Islam together, and in this intention they saw the work of the Paraclete. They also worked to allow the latter to manifest in this world again and strove for the “Return of the Christ in Solar Glory”. This was accepted by both Judaism (the coming of the Messiah), Christianity (the “Parousia”) and Islam (prophet Jesus, the “Word” of Allah, returning to judge the world). Templars are called to sacrifice the selfish aspect of their natures, so the spirit of Christ may manifest in them in victu.

► the Zohar

Before the entry of the Hermetica on the European scene, Jewish gnosticism made its move. In the Sepher Zohar (Book of Splendor), the “classic” of Jewish mysticism, a commentary on the Torah is presented. Written in Aramaic, it was purported to be the teachings of the 2nd century Palestinian Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai. During the time of Roman persecution, so its legend relates, Rabbi Shimon hid in a cave for 13 years, studying the Torah with his son. During this time, he is said to have been inspired by God to write the Zohar … Around the same time, the Corpus Hermeticum was codified.

In the 13th century, a Spanish Jew by the name of Moshe de Leon (according to Graetz “a base and despicable swindler”) claimed to have discovered the text, and it was subsequently published and distributed throughout the Jewish world. This strategy of finding so-called “lost texts” would become a standard approach (only in the previous century would it make real science, cf. the Qumran scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library). The influence of the Zohar was considerable, also on members of the Western Tradition. Eventually, its basic scheme, the “Tree of Life”, would be viewed as the backbone of Western spirituality …

“… the level of abstraction reached by cabalistic thought was foreign to the Egyptian mindset. Nevertheless, in later esoterica, we constantly find a link between Egyptosophy and cabala, and the connection between Moses and Egyptian wisdom to be found in many Christian writers is also relevant to our theme.” – Hornung, 2001, p.80.

Unfortunately for the literalists, historian Gershom Scholem made clear de Leon himself was the most likely author of the Zohar. He had forged its ancient origins. Among other things, but most importantly, Scholem noticed frequent errors in Aramaic grammar and its highly suspicious traces of Spanish words and sentence patterns ! There is no real mention of this book in any Jewish literature until the 13th century. Moreover, recent studies showed how early qabalah (cf. Sepher Bahir, Sepher Yetzirah) was influenced by the Greeks, in particular the mathematical mysticism of Pythagoras (the Sephiroth and the Greek Decad, numerology and Merkabah mysticism – Barry, 1999). It even contains elements of Egyptian thought, introducing precreation and describing it in identical negative terms as had the Egyptians (cf. Nun and “Ain Soph Aur“).

“… it is sufficient to note that Hebrew Qabalist doctrines reached their pinnacle of importance in Judaism in Europe during the Middle Ages. Consequently they also had a huge influence on Western magical tradition, which drew heavily on Jewish esoteric lore, and as a source for the inner gnosis of orthodox Christian thought.” – Barry, 1999, p.185.

In the best case scenario, Jewish mysticism cannot claim roots earlier than the Second Temple and in general the impact of Hellenism (Hermetism and Philonic thought) on Judaism has been largely underestimated by orthodox Jews. Rabbinical Judaism as a whole may well be the product of a Hellenistic interpretation of the available scriptural sources (by themselves posing considerable historical problems regarding authenticity).

“Of the large number of Hebrew sacred writings, the canon of books that were eventually selected for the Hebrew Bible, or ‘Old Testament’, as the Christians later called it, was only established after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE, by surviving rabbis at Jamnia who were anxious to preserve their religion from the catastrophe of the failed Jewish revolt.”
Barry, 1999, p.175.

► the first translation of the Corpus Hermeticum

“The thirteenth century saw a renaissance of pyramids and sphinxes. (…) the first western representation of the pyramids appeared in San Marco in Venice, but they were believed to be the granaries of Joseph, and thus not part of an esoteric tradition.” – Hornung, 2001, p.83.

In Florence, a new Platonic Academy had been founded in 1459. It tried to resume the traditions of the Athenian Academy closed by emperor Justinian in 529. Around 1460 CE, Brother Leonardo of Pistoia brought a Greek manuscript from Macedonia to Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici was fascinated and asked his Plato expert Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 1499) to stop translating Plato in order to look into these texts. In 1463, even before finishing his Latin version of the works of Plato, he translated them, which took him only a few months. For Fincino, the CH contained a philosophy older than Plato’s.

This Latin version of the Corpus Hermeticum was extremely influential, especially its first treatise, the Poimandres, circulating in many copies before it was published in Treviso in 1471 together with the other books as Liber de potestate et sapientia Dei (On the Power and Wisdom of God). Fincino also translated the On the Mysteries of the Egyptians by Iamblichus, and the latter’s Opera omnia, published in Basel in 1561. The original Greek version of the CH was published in Paris in 1554.

Hermes Trismegistus
Giovanni di Stefano, 1488, Dom Siena

When the Renaissance finally flowered over Europe, Hermes Trismegistos was already the patron saint of occult knowledge, a mythical figure crowning literary Hermeticism.

“In 1612, G. Crosmann put the likenesses of the ten most famous naturalists, physicians, and alchemists in the bay window of the town pharmacy in the old Hanseatic city of Lemgo. Here, we find Dioscorides, Aristotle, Galen, and Hippocrates ; the sixth is the turbaned Hermes Trismegistos, and the tenth is Paraclesus – a beautiful example of how Hermes continued to be treated as a historical personage.” – Hornung, 2001, p.91.

► Freemasonry

In the records of the city of London, the term “freemason” appears as early as 1375. In those days, this referred to working masons permitted to freely travel the country at a time when the feudal system shackled most peasants closely to the land. They gathered in groups to work on large projects, moving from one finished castle or cathedral to the planning and building of the next. For mutual protection, education, and training, they bound themselves together into a local lodge – the building, put up at a construction site, where workmen could eat and rest. Eventually, a lodge came to signify a group of masons based in a particular locality. The premier Grand Lodge was formed in England in 1717, the official date of the organization of the various lodges and the start of Freemasonry proper.

Although the style of Masonic ritual suggest Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Templar, Rosicrucian and qabalistic origins, nothing less is true. A historical link cannot be established and given the fact that in those days no Mason was able to read Egyptian, no direct connection with Egyptian spirituality was available. Unmistakably, the Founding Fathers of Masonry incorporated Egyptian symbols in their various rituals and grades, as every one dollar bill makes clear. These archaisms prove the need of Freemasonry to root its teachings and practices in a nonexistent, fictional historical past in order to give itself, its rituals and precepts an air of antiquity. This is especially the case in the Romantic era, when exotic tastes became fashionable. With Freemasonry, egyptomania no longer served isolated individuals & groups, but fed the ruling classes, who were desperately trying to cope with the antagonisms and lack of humanity of emergent capitalism and the religious wars raging in Europe since the days of Luther (1483 – 1546). Freemasonry and its founding myth was deemed the alternative of the educated. The God of revelation was also the “Great Architect”, and in every lodge a Bible or a Koran was present. This to show the “God of the philosophers” was not a priori in conflict with the God of revelation. But the Roman Church was antagonistic, as could be expected.

As a system of personal growth within a closed community of kindred spirits, Freemasonry survived to this day, divided between those who accept God and those who do not, between those who see symbols as instruments of growth and those who use them as gates to occult regions of the universe, etc. However, its basic humanistic outlook is warranted by the existence of atheist Masons, recruiting among politicians, academics, journalists, lawyers, judges, well-to-do artists and the captains of industry. Masonry has become (or has always been ?) conservative and opaque. Its non-transparant and non-democratic (military) features may run against non-strategic, open communication, which is the foundation of social-economical justice and equality. Sociologically, Freemasonry is more of an interest group than a spiritual organization, although some lay claim to precisely the opposite. As none of the original Egyptian teachings were available to its Founding Fathers, Masonry, in order to accommodate the new times ahead, is bound to be reformed.

► the Rosicrucian Order

As a system of belief, Rosicrucianism came to the notice of the general public in the 17th century. In the two Rosicrucian Manifestoes, a mysterious personage called “Christian Rosenkreutz” is mentioned. But according to legend, the symbolism of the Rose and the Cross was first displayed in 11th century Spain. During a fierce battle against the Moors, an Aragonese Knight named Arista saw a cross of light in the sky with a rose on each of its arms. A monastery to commemorate his victory was erected and time later an Order of Chivalry with the emblem of these Roses and the Cross founding the monastery. The Rose and the Cross appeared in the banner of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse when he tried to defend the Cathars against the armies of Pope Innocent III. It was in the form of a cross, described as “de gueules à la croix et pommettée d’or” (“gueule” means “red”, derived from the Arabic “gul”, which means “rose”). The emblem of the Cross with the red Rose in the middle square became the emblem of the Rosicrucian movement and its many orders, lodges and societies.

In the Fama Fraternitatis (or Laudable Fraternity of the Rosy Cross), Christian Rosenkreutz is said to have journeyed to Damascus, Damcar, Egypt and Fez. He met those in possession of “secret teachings”. He synthesized the best of these teachings and went to Spain. Finally, he returned to Germany and chose three men with whom he founded an order, meant to instruct its members in the knowledge he had obtained in the Middle East. So the typical founding myth goes. After the publication of the Manifestos, the Rosicrucians influenced the culture of Western Europe.

Rosicrucianism developed along two lines, on the one hand, the scientists, intellectuals and reformers in the social, political and philosophical fields (like Descartes and Boyle) and, on the other hand, those (like Fludd, Dee, Comenius and Ashmole) concerned with occultism and mysticism (cf. the distinction between philosophical and technical Hermetica). In France, Rosicrucianism had a revival climaxing in the early 19th and the first years of the 20th century. Especially Martinez de Pasqually (1727 – 1774), Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743 – 1803) and Papus (1865 – 1918) are noted.

► the Golden Dawn

In 1865, and Englishman named Robert Wentforth Little founded an esoteric society, the Rosicrucian Society in Anglia. Membership was limited to Master Masons. When Little died in 1878, three men took over, a retired medical doctor, William Woodman (1828 – 1891), a coroner, Wynn Westcott (1848 – 1925) and Samuel Liddell “MacGregor” Mathers (1854 – 1918), who, as a young man, spent much of his time in the British Museum, working through piles of dusty manuscripts. He translated three Medieval magical texts : The Greater Key of King Solomon, The Kaballah Unveiled and The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.

In 1887, so the story goes, Westcott received from Reverend Woodward, an elderly parson and author on Freemasonry, a set of cipher manuscripts. He asked the clairvoyant and inspired Mathers to assist him (one legend says both men forged the document, in another Westcott found it on a bookstall in Farringdon Street, and in yet another the document was inherited).

Both men found the code of the cipher was contained in a work of Trithemius, the influential Steganographia extolled by John Dee (1527 – 1608), the Elizabethan scholar and astrologer of Queen Elisabeth I. It concerned “angel-magic” and Dee had secured a copy of it in Antwerp. They uncovered skeletons of rituals and Mathers expanded them. Together they started the Golden Dawn (GD), a secret Victorian society aiming to harbor true Rosicrucianism and allow its members to accomplish the Great Work. A complete system of ritual magic based on the history of Western occultism was practiced. In contrast with the Masonic policy of the Rosicrucian Society, the order admitted women members as equals. Its members were recruited from every circle of life.

In these rituals, Egyptian, Jewish, Greek & Christian elements were combined. However, the combination of these various traditions led to depletion. A spiritual tradition is as strong as it is pure, i.e. devoid of notions, ideas, concepts, symbols, beliefs, rituals etc. foreign to it. Although syncretism may be intellectually satisfying, it hinders spiritual emancipation. This is certainly true if the elements combined are very different, as is the case here. Because Mathers was unable to read Egyptian texts, he could not make the crucial distinction between the Egyptian approach and the Hellenistic view (incorporated in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hermetism and Hermeticism). Neither could he isolate the native Egyptian elements present in historical Hermetism. By nevertheless incorporating Egyptian deities (in particular the Osiris-cycle), the GD walked the path of egyptomania.

► Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947) entered the GD in 1898, introduced to the order by George Cecil Jones (1873 – 1953). The influence of this “Hermetic Order” shaped his life. He continued to ferment the teachings of the GD until he died. In fact, he considered himself and his Thelemic Order of the Silver Star to be its lawful heir.

The problems between Crowley and the Adepts of the order started in December 1899 (the first time he met Mathers), i.e. by the time he had taken his Portal grade, the preliminary to the crucial Adept Minor degree. When, in September 1900, he applied to be advanced to the level of Adepthood, the College of Adepts refused.

They disliked Crowley, his attitudes and way of life. Some of them probably did not believe an adept should drink, have fun, fornicate and raising hell with enthusiasm. His scandalous reputation won the disapproval of his seniors, who were in their right to refuse him. So, in the same month, Crowley went to Paris, and was initiated in the Ahathoor Temple by Mathers himself ! Between Paris and London a deep schism had been in the making and now tensions truly exploded.

When the London adepts heard Mathers had initiated him, the breach was complete. When applying for the lectures he was now entitled, he was again refused and physically thrown out. To Florence Farr, Yeats and many others, Crowley was an outcast, an opportunist who had endangered the link with Mathers. He promptly notified Mathers and the latter arranged a meeting with the “rebels” in London. Crowley acted as Mathers’ plenipotentiary, and to protect himself, dressed up in the garb of Highland chieftain, concealing his face with a heavy black mask. Clearly Mathers had been a poor judge of characters, raising lunatic power freaks to Adepthood …

The GD did not recover from the insanity and within a few years became a dispersed organization, with several Temples conducted by different groupings of men, each appointing their own Chiefs. Waite kept the Isis-Urania Temple, but in 1914 he closed it down.

Next, Crowley invented his own egyptomanic movement. In Cairo in 1904, the “minister” of Re dictated a new revelation to him, the “Book of the Law” ! Crowley became the “prophet” of the New Age of Horus ! The two major Egyptian deities he incorporated were the sky-goddess Nut and Horus of Edfu (“Hadit”). Had he known the cults of Ancient Egypt well enough, he would have realized they had no revelation or dogma, and certainly no “holy” books (for hieroglyphic writing itself was sacred). Was Crowley’s “law” a concoction of his own power driven subconscious mind ? In 1909, he called in the “demon of demons” and turned Satanic. The psychosis had become irreversible …

Do these highlights show the scope of the phantasies, fictions and lies incorporated into the Western Tradition since the start of the Renaissance ? Indeed, to identify the backbone of this Tradition with the Qabalah was the outstanding mistake prompted by the fraud of Moses de Leon. This has perturbated thousands of excellent minds, causing them to constantly replay their own illusions, and loose, unlike Rabbi Akiba, after entering the “garden of delights”, their sight, reason or faith in God.

“The impeding turn of the millennium nourishes hopes of a new spiritual light for humankind in the aspirations of many. Egypt will surely play a role in such developments in both its forms : pharaonic Egypt and the esoteric-Hermetic Egypt. There has been increasing talk of the relevance of the Hermetic Weltanschauung as a point of view that can contribute to making sense of our modern world by seeking a direct connection with the original wisdom of the oldest cultures and with the core idea of all esoteric thought, according to which the ancient wisdom continues to be valid even in a world that has been transformed.” – Hornung, 2001, pp.200-201.

► Kemetism

Can we today turn the page ? Can a spiritual movement emerge which focuses on a thematical reconstruction of Ancient Egyptian spirituality, and this based on the evidence of contemporary science regarding Ancient Egyptian religious practice in general and its basic ritual matrix in particular ? Several individuals work along those lines, coupling study with ritual practice (Hope, 1986, Schueler, 1989, Clark, 2003, Draco, 2003).

In such a “Kemetic” reconstruction, no Jewish, Greek, Hermetic, Christian or Hermeticist elements should persist. Is this really possible, and if so, is such spirituality indeed the true backbone of our Western Tradition ? The advantage being the isolation of a tradition untouched by what today may be called “foreign elements”.

Such an exercise is not easy (not to speak of the contextual limitations of any author). For Hermetism did retain parts of the Egyptian Mystery Tradition, and in a lesser degree, the same goes for Hermeticism, and yes, even for the revealed religions, Christianity first. The thematical reconstruction sought is approached in two steps :

  1. the influence of Egyptian spirituality on Alexandrian Hermetism ;
  2. the form of the basic matrix of native Egyptian religion.

In this paper, the first step is dealt with. The second will only be touched in the Epilogue. In the following ten paragraphs, we study ten basic notions of Hermetism (in other forms present in the mix of Hermeticism and in the “mystical” traditions of the religions). We try to find their Ancient Egyptian equivalent “in embryo” :

  • mentalism : the gods, the world and humanity are the outcome of Divine thought ;
  • correspondence : the same characteristics apply to each unity or plane of the world ;
  • change : nothing remains the same, everything vibrates, nothing is at rest ;
  • polarity : everything has two poles, there are two sides to everything ;
  • rhythm : all things have their tides, rise and fall, advance and retreat, act and react ;
  • cause & effect : everything happens according to law, there is no coincidence ;
  • gender : male and female are in every body and mind, but not in the soul ;
  • timing : everything happens when the time is ripe, things start at the right time ;
  • intent : nature works according to a purposeful plan, pure will masters the stars ;
  • transformation : everything can be transformed into something else, opposites meet.

In earlier studies, the special cognitive features of Ancient Egyptian thought, language & literature have been explained. Grosso modo, these imply the difference between rational thought, initiated by the Greeks, and ante-rationality. The latter is the mode of thought of pre-Greek Antiquity and of societies untouched by the linearizing streak of the Hellenes. Before the advent of rationality, three modes of thought prevailed, as Piaget, genetical epistemology and neurophilosophy made clear. These are mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational thought, in which the Ancient Egyptians excelled. Clearly Hermetism was codified using Greek conceptual rationality (giving birth to the influential systems of Plato and Aristotle). Hence, if we try to correlate these concepts with their native Egyptian equivalent, this cognitive difference has to be taken into account, and the multiplicity of approaches characterizing Egyptian thought has to be made an integral part of the equation. So because of this crucial difference, in all my translations of Egyptian texts and commentary, terms related to the Divine are not capitalized (i.e. god, gods, goddess, goddesses, divine, and pantheon), while in Hermetism and all rational discourses they are. This in accord with the contextualizing feature of anterationality, while rationality always puts context between brackets, and by doing so articulates an abstract, theoretical concept of the Divine.

Thoth as the scribe of truth
Papyrus of Taukherit – XXIth Dynasty – ca. 1075 – 945 BCE.

1 The mental origin of the world and of man : Ptah.

Shabaka Stone : LINE 48 : “the gods who manifest in Ptah”
beginning of the Memphis theology – ca. 710 BCE.

Pyramid Texts, § 1100.

“Indeed, the lips of Pharaoh Merenre are as the Two Enneads. This Pharaoh is the Great Speech.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1100.

“The tongue of this Pharaoh Pepi is the pilot in charge of the Bark of Righteousness& Truth.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1306.

Line 53 “There comes into being in the mind ; there comes into being by the tongue. (It is) as the image of Atum !

Ptah is the very great, who gives life to all the gods and their kas. It all in this mind and by this tongue.

Horus (as mind) came into being in him (Ptah) ; Thoth (as tongue) came into being in him as Ptah.

Life power came into being in the mind and by the tongue and in all limbs, in accordance with the teaching that it (the mind) is in all bodies and it (the tongue) is in every mouth of all gods, all men, all flocks, all creeping things and whatever lives ; thinking whatever the mind (of Ptah as Horus) wishes and commanding whatever the tongue (of Ptah as Thoth) wishes !”

Memphis Theology, lines 53 – 54

“God is not devoid of sense and thought, as in time to come some men will think he is ; those who speak thus of God blaspheme through excess of reverence.”
CH, Libellus IX, 9.

“Mind, my son Tat, is of the very substance of God, if indeed there is a substance of God ; and of what nature that substance is, God alone precisely knows. Mind then is not severed from the substantiality of God, but is, so to speak, spread everywhere from that source, as the light of the Sun is spread far and wide.”
CH, Libellus XII, 1.

“… Mind, the Father of all, he who is Life and Light, gave birth to Man, a Being like to Himself. In men, this mind is {the cause of Divinity}. Hence, some men are Divine, and the humanity of such men is near to Deity …”
CH, Libellus I, 12.

“God is not Mind then, but the cause to which Mind owes its being.”
CH, Libellus II, 13.

“But if You have the power to see with the eyes of the Mind, then, my son, He will manifest himself to You. For the Lord manifests Himself ungrudgingly through all of the universe, and You can behold God’s image with your eyes, and lay hold on it with your hands.”
CH, Libellus V, 2.

“… it is as thoughts which God thinks, that all things are contained in Him.”
CH, Libellus XI, 20.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Shabaka Stone, ca. 710 BCE, Corpus Hermeticum, ca. 100 BCE – 270 CE.

► The universe is a mental creation of The All.

In Heliopolis, the supreme creator-god is conceived as a differentiating totality (“tm” or Atum) emerging out of an infinite sea of possibilities (“Nun“), in Alexandria, it is a Unity producing a Decad.

By thought & speech, Ptah conceives the world “in the image” of Atum. The Egyptian distinction between the precreational totality (Nun > Atum) and the “heart and tongue” (Ptah) of the divine, returns in Hermetism as the unknowable Decad of God and the Enneadic Light of the Divine Nous. In Hermetism, this Divine Nous is autogenous, while in Egyptian thought, Atum is.

(1) Nun : everlasting, undifferentiated ocean of inertia ;
(2) Atum : autogenous origin of the totality of order ;
(3) Pantheon : active forces fashioning creation ;
(4) Horus-Pharaoh : the divine on Earth.
Hermetism (1) Decad : God Himself ;
(2) Ennead : autogenous, creative Divine Nous ;
(3) Ogdoad : Divine Logos fashioning creation ;
(4) Hebdomad : forces ruling the world.

Both Memphis and Alexandria underline the importance of the spoken and written word. Already in the Old Kingdom, Pharaoh was the Great Speech and his magic powerful, and dreaded, even by the deities. But in Late Ramesside Memphite theology, Ptah was the true primordial “god of gods”, superceding Atum, in who’s “image” (of totality) the universe was created (as demiurge), and establishing the supremacy of the divine word and speech. Memphite theology is explicit : every thing was made by Ptah’s mind and spoken words.

Likewise, in Hermetism, the Divine Logos is the “son of God” coming forth from the Light of the Divine Nous, the teacher who, not unlike the one evoked in the Maxims of Good Discourse, gives his pupil access to the Divine Nous, a direct experience (gnosis) of the Godman Hermes. The idealist notion of the universe as a mental creation of The All, making all mind, being typical for Hermetism. The fact this teacher is “Ogdoadic” and not “Hebdomadic” (as was Pharaoh), may refer to the Greek escape from fate and the physical world (whereas the Egyptians saw the divine at work in all planes of creation).

The magical power of words is acknowledged by both traditions. Magic involves the power of efficiency (effectiveness) and the ability to counter every possible inertia and opposition, executing intent to its full capacity.

Especially Pharaoh is the “Great Magician”, who is able, like the gods, to create by means of speech. He alone was the “son of Re”, divine and able to encounter the deities face to face. His voice-offerings to Maat ensured the continuity of creation. By speaking the right words, the whole of creation could be rejuvenated. Likewise (but on another ontological level), the “son of God”, the Ogdoadic teacher, brings the pupil directly in contact with the Enneadic Light of Nous.

Also soteriologically, speech was all-important. In Egyptian funerary literature, judgment depended upon the lightness of the heart (“ib”), and those who had abused their tongues made their hearts heavier than the feather of truth. They would see their names (“rn”) annihilated, their essence obliterated.

The parallels drawn do not allow for an identification of both traditions, as major category-shifts occur. Indeed, together with the rejection of the physical bodyn (cf. infra), mentalism is an outstanding feature of the Hermetica. Nevertheless, in the overall semantic pattern major points overlap. The mentalism of Hermetism was not implanted on the native Egyptian intellectuals part of the Hermetic lodge “from above”, but could make use of the available, longstanding verbal tradition of Egypt, linearize and “perfect” it in Greek style …

2 Corresponding harmonics : Maat.

Pharaoh Seti I offering Maat
after Abydos temple – XIXth Dynasty – ca. 1290 – 1279 BCE.

“May You shine as Re, repress wrongdoing, cause Maat to stand behind Re, shine every day for him who is in the horizon of the sky.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1582.

“Collect what belongs to truth, for truth is what the King says.”
Pyramid Texts, § 2290.

“Thus said Atum : Tefnut is my living daughter, and she is with her brother Shu. ‘Living One’ is his name, ‘Truth’ is her name. I live with my two children, I live with my two twins, being in their midst, one near my back and the other near my belly. ‘Life’ lies down with ‘Truth’, my daughter, one within me and the other behind me. I stand up between them, their arms being about me.”
Coffin Texts, spell 80, 32.

“… your food is Maat, your drink is Maat, your bread is Maat, your bear is Maat. The oil of your head is Maat, the clothing of your body is Maat, You inhale incense in the form of Maat, the breathe of your nostrils is Maat.”
Ritual of the Daily Cult, Moret, 1902, p.141.

“O Re, generator of Maat, it is to him that we offer her. Place Maat in my mind, so that I may make her rise to your Ka, for I know You live by her and that it is You who has created her body.”
Tomb of Neferhotep, Davies, plate 37.

“… all things are one, and the One is all things, seeing that all things were in the Creator before he created them all. And rightly has it been said of Him that He is all things, for all things are parts of Him.”
Asclepius I, 2a.

“Thus mortal things are joined to things immortal, and things perceptible by sense are linked to things beyond the reach of sense ; but the supreme control is subject to the will of the Master who is high above all. And this being so, all things are linked together, and connected one with another in a chain extending from the lowest to the highest ; so that we see that they are not many, or rather, that all are one.”
Asclepius III, 19c.

“Do You not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to Earth below ?”
Asclepius III, 24b.

“There are these three then : God, Cosmos and Man. The Cosmos is contained in God, and man is contained in the Cosmos. The Cosmos is the son of God, man is son of the Cosmos, and grandson, so to speak, of God.”
CH, Libellus X, 14b.

“There is communion between soul and soul. The souls of the Gods are in communion with those of men, and the souls of men with those of the creatures without reason. The higher have the lower in their charge ; Gods take care of men, and men take care of creatures without reason. And God takes care of all ; for He is higher than all. The Cosmos then is subject to God ; man is subject to the Cosmos ; the creatures without reason are subject to man ; and God is above all, and watches over all. The Divine forces are, so to speak, radiations emitted by God ; the forces that work birth and growth are radiations emitted by the Cosmos ; the arts and crafts are radiations emitted by man.”
CH, Libellus X, 22b.

“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Entity.”
Tabula Smaragdina, 2.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Coffin Texts, ca. 1938 – 1759 BCE, Ritual of the Daily Cult, the temple Seti I at Abydos (ca. 1290 – 1279 BCE) & Berlin Papyrus of the cult Amun and Mut at Karnak, East Thebes, first part of the XXIIth Dynasty (ca. 945 – 800 BCE), Tomb of the Official Neferhotep (Theban N°50), ca. 1319 – 1307 BCE, Asclepius, ca. 270 CE, Corpus Hermeticum, ca. 100 BCE – 270 CE, Tabula Smaragdina, ca. 100 CE, Papyrus of Ani, ca. 1250 BCE.

The universe is not a collection of disjecta membra, but an organic whole held together by the law of life (Shu) and truth (Tefnut/Maat), serving the order of light (Atum). This cosmicity of creation is represented by Maat, the “daughter of Re”, a deity simultaneous with the universe, and a personification of the law of dynamic equilibrium between all units of creation. The purpose of creation being the dynamics of moving equilibriums within the margins of a recurrent cycle, perpetuated for ever (cf. eternity-within-everlastingness, the “neheh” time of Atum in the “djed” time of Nun).

In Heliopolitan thought, the Ennead “in the sky” cares for the “10th” or Horus “on Earth”, the latter being the overseeing quality of the “great house” or Pharaoh, the divine “nesu” or king, the unity of the Two Lands. By offering Maat to his father Re, the king guarantees the blessings of the gods and the survival of the created order, always on the verge of collapsing back into the chaos of Nun. In himself, the divine kings assembles the whole of nature, and keeps the balance within the margins of truth & justice.

“Said he (Anubis) that is in the tomb :
‘Pay attention to the decision of truth
and the plummet of the balance, according to its stance !'”
Papyrus of Ani, Plate 3 – early XIXth Dynasty – ca. 1250 BCE – British Museum

In Hermetism, the harmony, agreement or correspondence between all planes of manifestation are acknowledged. As everything in the universe emanates from the same source, the same laws apply to each unity or combination of units. In this approach, planes, or groups of degrees of manifestation are distinguished, and these can be traced back to Ancient Egyptian conceptions.

(1) the precreational plane : Nun ;
(2) the spiritual plane : Atum ;
(3) the mental plane : the Pantheon ;
(4) the physical plane : Pharaoh.
Hermetism (1) the precreational plane : the Decad ;
(2) the noetic plane : the Ennead ;
(3) the logoic plane : the Ogdoad ;
(4) the physical plane : the Hebdomad.

In Heliopolitan thought, all things emerge with Atum out of Nun, and so creation is divine. In the Platonic conception, before God created, ordered (geometrized) the world, the elements preexisted in a state of chaos and formlessness. The world of ideas are the eternal forms of the Good. In Egyptian thought, the Ennead of Atum (the series of 8 deities headed by the autogenitor), are “divine generations” who shape the conditions (space & moist), the structure (sky and Earth) and the drama of the universe (the Osiris-cycle). In physical reality, Horus-Pharaoh unites every part of creation, for he is both “of the sky” and alive “on Earth”, both a god and a human being. This dual nature allows him to mediate between higher and lower and to inspire the deities to take care of Egypt, for he alone is able to “offer Maat” and satisfy Atum-Re, the supreme creator-god.

3 Dynamics of alternation : Re.

Pectoral of Tutankhamun’s Throne Name
“Lord of the Transformations of Re”
XVIIIth Dynasty – ca. 1333 – 1323 BCE.

“I am Khepera in the morning, Re at the time of his stand still (culmination), and Atum in the evening.”
The Legend of Re and Isis.

“Pharaoh Wenis’ lifetime is eternal repetition. His limit is eternal duration.”
Pyramid Texts, § 412, Cannibal Hymn.

“When You ascend from the horizon, my scepter will be in my hand as one who rows your bark, O Re.”
Pyramid Texts, § 368.

“When he is sluggish, noses clog,
everyone is poor.
As the sacred loaves are pared,
a million perish among men.
When he plunders, the whole land rages,
great and small roar.
People change according to his coming,
when Khnum has fashioned him.
When he floods, Earth rejoices,
every belly jubilates,
every jawbone takes on laughter,
every tooth is bared.”
Hymn to Hapy, XII,1.

“The movement of the Cosmos itself consists of a twofold working ; life is infused into the Cosmos from without by eternity ; and the Cosmos infuses life into all things that are within it, distributing all things according to fixed and determined relations of number and time, by the operation of the Sun and the movements of the stars. (…) The process of time is regulated by a fixed order ; and time in its ordered course renews all things in the Cosmos by alternation. All things being subject to this process, there is nothing that stands fast, nothing fixed, nothing free from change, among the things which come into being, neither among those in heaven nor among those on Earth. God alone stands unmoved …”
Asclepius III, 30.

“The Cosmos also is ever-existent, but it exists in process of becoming. It is ever becoming, in that the qualities and magnitudes of things are ever coming into being. It is therefore in motion, for all becoming is material movement. That which is incorporeal and motionless works the material movement …”
CH, Libellus X, 10b.

“Everything that exists (materially), is subject to change …”
Stobaeus, Excerpt XI, aphorism 9.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Legend of Re and Isis, ca. 1200 BCE (XIXth Dynasty), Hymn to Hapy, ca. 1938 – 1759 BCE (XIIth Dynasty or Middle Kingdom), Asclepius, ca. 270 CE, Corpus Hermeticum, ca. 100 BCE – 270 CE, Strobaei Hermetica, ca. 500 CE.

In both traditions, the Sun was all-important. The Egyptians identified the disk of the Sun (the Aten) with the visible aspect of the creator-god Atum-Re. The Hermetics saw the Sun as the creator of all good things and the ruler of all ordered movement (cf. the cycles of the planets). These and other diurnal and annual cycles, underline the constant change and the restless condition of creation. The movement of the Sun is an example of change itself, for Re is constantly (re)transformed. He is a beautiful youth at dawn and an old man at dusk. He is rejuvenated during the 6th Hour of the Night (cf. the Amduat). The view of Egypt as a symbol of endurance is true, but only if by it is meant, adaptation to continuous, eternal cyclic process. In spiritual terms, this implies a return to the first time (“zep tepi”) when Atum creates all things for ever and ever (namely an entry into his eternity-in-everlastingness).

Light is a powerful metaphor. The vibration of the radiation emitted by the Sun is not constant, neither is the light of the scintillating stars. Dawn and dusk unveil the splendors of vibrating colors. Various levels of vibration are observed and by way of this image, upper and lower, the sky and the Earth, macrocosmos and microcosmos may be seen as a differentiated organic whole, with various strata of vibrations interacting with each other and forming layers of co-relative rates. The planes of reality are planes of vibration, so many differentiations between spirit (sky) and Earth. Only Pharaoh lives his life on all planes : he is a physical incarnation of Horus and the “son of Re” and so divine. In the Hermetica, only Hermes, the Divine Nous has proximity to the Decad, the essence of God, unity.

The power of the Sun and the other stars is the origin of the life of the universe. This is the movement of the Cosmos “from within”. Nun and Atum are the movement “from without”, the possibility of rejuvenation of all things, Re included (cf. the Amduat).

The Nile with its annual inundation was another crucial (Sothic) process. Every year Egypt herself was transformed. Large stretches of water would cover the land and it would seem as if the primordial waters had come back. In most major temples, the Nile would enter the hypostyle hall with its high pillars (with founding myths inscribed on its high walls) and so recreate the mythic scene of the first time. The sanctuary with its “sanctum sanctorum“, built on a height, would remain dry and symbolize the effect of the presence of the soul of the deity, making the risen land (“ta-tenen”) escape the waters. Too much water would devastate the area and cause famine (too little had the same effect). The margins of the balance (of Maat) had to be respected, or the whole of Egypt was in serious trouble. When these waters withdrew, fertile black silt was left behind (cf. “kmt”, or “black” land). Every year in mid July this Sothic cycle started again with the Heliacal rising of the star Sirius, linking stellar and Solar phenomena with this life-bearing agricultural, and festive event, the “good Nile” given by the gods to Pharaoh because of the latter’s offerings, in particular Maat, i.e. truth & justice, to his father Re, and by doing so linking up all phenomena of nature.

Stability is continuous change, the endless repetition of the cycle of Atum-Re, his continuous, ongoing creation on the first occurrence (“zep tepi”), the beginning of time hidden in the  everlastingness of the vast & inert waters of Nun. Also : the endless diurnal and nocturnal cycle of Re.
Hermetism All things being subject to change, there is nothing that stands fast, nothing fixed, nothing free from change, among the things which come into being, neither among those in heaven nor among those on Earth. God alone stands unmoved.

Those who see Ancient Egypt as an outstanding example of stability, endurance and everlastingness have to realize the “Djed Pillar Festival” was a cultic celebration of the symbol and power of stability repeated every year. Indeed, it was held annually in Egypt and was a time of spiritual rejuvenation for everybody. The priests raised the “djed pillar” on the first day of “shemu” (the season of harvest on the Nile). The people then paid homage to the symbol and conducted mock battles between good and evil. Oxen were driven around the walls of the capital, honoring the founding of the original capital, Memphis, the “white walls”. With the harvest, the physical proof of Egypt’s endurance had been given …

4 Bi-polarity & complementarity : Horus versus Seth.

Horus and Seth pectoral
Dashur – XIIth Dynasty – ca. 1938 – 1759 BCE.

“To say : Hail to You, Ladder of the god ! Hail to You, Ladder of Seth ! Stand up, Ladder of the god ! Stand up, Ladder of Seth ! Stand up, Ladder of Horus, which was made for Osiris (so) that he might ascend on it to the sky and escort Re !”
Pyramid Texts, § 971.

“I, Pharaoh Wenis, ascend on this ladder which my father Re made for me. Horus and Seth take hold of my hands and take me to the Netherworld.”
Pyramid Texts, § 390.

“O Pharaoh Teti, Horus has come that he may seek You, he has caused Thoth to turn back the followers of Seth for You, and he has brought them to You altogether. He has driven back the heart of Seth for You, for You are greater than he. You have gone forth in front of him, your nature is superior to his …”
Pyramid Texts, §§ 575 – 576.

“O Osiris King Teti, mount up to Horus, betake yourself to him, do not be far from him. Horus has come that he may recognize You. He has smitten Seth for You bound, and You are his fate. Horus has driven him off for You, for You are greater than he …”
Pyramid Texts, §§ 586 – 587.

“Isis has reassembled You (Osiris the King), the heart of Horus is glad about You in this your name of ‘Foremost of the Westerners’, and it is Horus who will make good what Seth has done to You.”
Pyramid Texts, § 592.

“To say : Awake for Horus ! Arise against Seth !”
Pyramid Texts, § 793.

“Geb commanded that the Ennead gather to him. He judged between Horus and Seth ; he ended their quarrel. He installed Seth as King of Upper Egypt in the land of Upper Egypt, at the place where he was born, in Su (near Herakleopolis). And Geb made Horus King of Lower Egypt in the land of Lower Egypt, at the place where his father was drowned, which is the “Division-of-the-Two-Lands” (near Memphis). Thus Horus stood over one region, and Seth stood over one region. They made peace over the Two Lands at Ayan (opposite Cairo). That was the division of the Two Lands.
Shabaka Stone, lines 7 – 9.

“Then Horus stood over the land. He is the uniter of this land, proclaimed in the great name : Tenen, South-of-his-Wall, Lord of Eternity. Then sprouted the two Great in Magic upon his head. He is Horus who arose as King of Upper and Lower Egypt, who united the Two Lands in the Nome of the (White) Wall, the place in which the Two Lands were united. Reed (heraldic plant for Upper Egypt) and papyrus (heraldic plant for Lower Egypt) were placed on the double door of the House of Ptah. That means : Horus and Seth, pacified and united. They fraternized so as to cease quarreling wherever they may be, being united in the House of Ptah, the ‘Balance of the Two Lands’ in which Upper and Lower Egypt had been weighed.”
Shabaka Stone, lines 13c – 16c.

“… and the Sun is the begetter of all good, the ruler of all ordered movement, and governor of the seven worlds. Look at the Moon, who outstrips all the other planets in her course, the instrument by which birth and growth are wrought, the worker of change in matter here below. (…) Note how the Moon, as she goes her round, divides the immortals from the mortals.”
CH, Libellus XI, 7.

“All bodies then of which the coming-into-being is followed by destruction must necessarily be accompanied by two movements, namely, the movement worked by the soul, by which bodies are moved in space, and the movement worked by nature, by which bodies are made to grow and to waste away, and are resolved into their elements when they have been destroyed. Thus I define the movement of perishable bodies.”
Stobaeus, Excerpt IVA, 3.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Shabaka Stone, ca. 710 BCE, Corpus Hermeticum, ca. 100 BCE – 270 CE, Strobaei Hermetica, ca. 500 CE.

All manifested things have two sides, with manifold degrees between two extremes. Growth and corruption, good and evil, light and darkness, Sun and Moon are fundament for the order of creation. This principle dominates all possible areas of Egyptian thought. Politically (Upper versus Lower Egypt), physically (desert versus fertile land), economically (a “good” versus a sluggish or plundering Nile), ethically (“isefet” versus “maat”), metaphysically (deities in the sky versus Pharaoh on Earth), theologically (Horus versus Seth) and funerary (“feather of Maat” versus “heart”, heavenly versus terrestrial Nile), duality and its transcendence play an essential role.

Even before creation, at the first occurrence, when Atum self-creates, his unity is only fugal, for as soon as the creator-god hatches out of his egg, he splits in two deities : Shu and Tefnut. Also in Memphis duality was revered ; Ptah created all by simultaneously thinking (heart, mind) and speaking (tongue, speech), and not (as the Greeks would have it) by thinking first and then acting (contemplation before action).

Of all dualities, the polarity between Horus and Seth was the most thematized, for it involved the founding of the Pharaonic State itself. Pharaoh as the “Lord of the Two Lands” kept Egypt together and physically represented its unity. In his royal titulary, his most important throne name was always preceded by “King of the Dual Kingdom”. Probably this duality also represented the political realities of the Predynastic Period, with two major chieftains confronting each other (the “followers of Seth” in the South and the “followers of Horus” in the North).

This polarity was not static. Between Horus and Seth various stages may be discerned. The original, unending conflict (with various evils done to both) is stopped by giving each its domain, but with no avail. The battle recommences until the goddess Geb or Neith decides in favour of Horus and Seth is punished (he has to carry Osiris and every night he reverses what Apophis, the gigantic snake of chaos, tries to do to Re, namely to stop his course by drinking up the Nile).

In fact, in the Pyramid Texts, we find traces of the cult of Seth, deemed to assist, together with Horus, Pharaoh in the afterlife. Pharaoh himself is the unity of both, as well as the “power of powers” (cf. Cannibal Hymn) transcending both. In the Late Period, Horus and Seth form one deity, further proof of both the bi-polarity as the step beyond it.

Pharaoh, as “Lord of the Two Lands” guarantees the unity necessary to mediate the dual nature of all things, symbolized by Horus and Seth, manifestations of the two sides of the same (Horus-Seth).
Hermetism All poles are complementarities as Sun and Moon, manifestations of the same principle – differences consist of varying degrees between two poles.

The presence of Seth is another element pointing to the complemental polarity in a creation envisioned as an ordered, organic whole. Atum-Re and his Ennead is completed by the “good” Horus, the king of Egypt and “son” of his murdered father (the “good” Osiris, “Ausir” or “many eyed”, who is “wennofer”, “eternally good”). Indeed, the cause of “isefet” (evil) is found within the Ennead ! Evil is deified and opposed to the good. Seth is the cause of disruption and chaos. All possible turbulence and havoc are attributed to him and his followers. Seth is not absence of being or goodness, but the positive presence of active evil, natural (storms) and moral (murder, sodomy). He has a cult, priests and followers, among which Pharaohs. Rejecting or negating the powers and strength of evil (cf. the “privatio boni” of Plotinus) does not stop it. Only by giving evil its name and place can it be made useful to the purposes of creation and order (like Seth carrying Osiris or protecting Re against Apophis, his own demonical servant, in the 7th Hour of the Duat). While Seth is perverse and enjoys wickedness, Apophis is the ultimate evil step : utter annihilation. With this concept, Egyptian thought reached the “bottom of the pit” and found its ultimate negative symbol for the anti-life scheme present in creation. Apophis was never worshipped, had no sacred cult area, but was ritually execrated or killed for thousands of years. Here the rejection is absolute. The “enemies of Re” were imagined walking on their heads, burning in pits or eating faeces and drinking urine. Apt metaphors for a complete reversal of the conditions of the scheme of life.

5 Cyclic repolarisation : Osiris.

Osiris anointed & rejuvenated by Pharaoh Seti I
Abydos temple – XIXth Dynasty – ca. 1290 – 1279 BCE.

“Ascend and descend.
Descend with Nephthys, sink into darkness with the Night-bark.
Ascend and descend.
Ascend with Isis, rise with the Day-bark.”
Pyramid Texts, § 210.

“Pharaoh’s lifetime is eternal repetition. His limit is eternal duration.”
Pyramid Texts, § 412, Cannibal Hymn.

“To say : O my father Pharaoh Merenre, I have come and I bring You green eye-paint. I bring to You the green eye-paint which Horus gave to Osiris. I give You to my father Pharaoh Merenre, just as Horus gave You to his father Osiris. Horus has filled his Empty Eye with his Full Eye.”
Pyramid Texts, §§ 1681 – 1682.

“Raise yourself, O my father Osiris King Merenre, for You are alive.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1700.

“To say : Osiris awakes, the languid god wakes up, the god stands up, the god has power in his body.”
Pyramid Texts, § 2092.

“O Osiris, the inundation comes, the flood hastens, Geb engenders. I have mourned You at the tomb, I have smitten him who harmed You with scourges. May You come to life, may You raise yourself because of your strength.”
Pyramid Texts, §§ 2111 – 2112.

“Evil is fled, crime is gone.
The land has peace under its Lord.
Maat is established for her Lord.
One turns the back on falsehood.
May You be content, Wennofer !
The son of Isis has received the crown.
His father’s rank was assigned to him.
In the Hall of Geb Re spoke, Thoth wrote,
the council assented, your father Geb decreed for You,
one did according to his word.”
Great Hymn to Osiris.

“Coming into being is the beginning of destruction, and destruction is the beginning of coming into being.”
Stobaeus, Excerpt XI, aphorism 35.

“Such is the new birth of the Cosmos, it is a making again of all things good, a holy and awe-striking restoration of all nature, and it is wrought in the process of time by the eternal will of God.”
Asclepius III, 26a.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Great Hymn to Osiris, ca. 1539 – 1292 BCE, Stela of Amenmose (XVIIIth Dynasty), Asclepius, ca. 270 CE, Strobaei Hermetica, ca. 500 CE.

By themselves, the cycle of Re and the Sothic rhythm are outstanding examples of ebb and flow, the pendulum-swing manifest in all things. This inner mechanism of nature was identified with Osiris, and the various phases of his life parallel what happens in the natural world, in particular in the agricultural life associated with the inundation of the Nile. The myth of Osiris summarizes the fundamental rhythms lived by man, nature and the deities.

Essential in this mythology was the restoration of Osiris by his son Horus. The latter had his Left Eye damaged in the battle with Seth, but it was healed by Thoth. He then brings his Restored Eye, the Wedjat, or Eye of Wellness, to his weary father, who, already in the Netherworld, resurrects there to become king again (but of the underworld). This act of giving the Eye of Horus, encompasses all material offerings, of which it is the sublime example. Together with “voice-offerings”, the Eye of Horus was the most powerful way to establish contact with the gods.

  • Osiris is the good King of Egypt : Osiris lives on Earth and establishes all good things, he brings civilization to Egypt and is loved by all, except Seth and his followers ;
  • Osiris assassinated, dismembered and scattered : Osiris is killed by his brother Seth and his body scattered all over Egypt ;
  • Osiris reassembled and reanimated by Isis : his wife and sister Isis recollects his body (except his penis) and revivifies it ;
  • Osiris inseminates Isis who gives birth to Horus : before Osiris goes to the Duat, Isis, the Great Sorceress, is able to take his seed and give birth to Horus ;
  • Osiris avenged by his son : although in his youth Horus was sodomized by his evil uncle, he grows up with the help of Isis and prepares to avenge his father by fighting Seth ;
  • Osiris resurrected by Horus : his Left Eye restored by Thoth, Horus is declared King of Egypt and descends into the Netherworld to bring his Eye of Wellness to his father, so as to resurrect him and restore all his powers ;
  • Osiris “King of the Netherworld” : Osiris reassembled, reanimated and finally resurrected by Horus is enthroned in the Netherworld as its king. In this capacity, he judges the dead and nobody is able to move further without being judged by him. He is the guarantee, on yonder side of existence, of rejuvenation and an eternal life featuring the best of this life.

Although destruction and death are part of the natural order, and thus inescapable, a deeper logic may be found, for all destruction is the beginning of renewal, the coming into being of something totally new. In this sense, death is a way to become more and more spiritual and an entry into a new state of existence, as Osiris shows. However, this is not automatic, for without the help of the living (Horus), the dead are weary and unhappy. Life and death are intimately linked and the needs of the dead are satisfied by the restoration brought about by the lovingkindness of the living, who take the trouble to “descend” and meet the dead on their own plane, offering them the life-bearing power of the “Eye of Horus”, the ultimate tool of restoration and renewal. A direct relationship between father and son, between the power to create and its offspring underlines Egyptian theology since Ptahhotep. The deceased Pharaoh is not dead but alive. When reaching the sky of Re, he makes sure his son is blessed by a “good Nile”, and so may become a powerful king in his own right. The best outcome is given when the son excels his father, as the Maxims of Good Discourse underline.

Birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth are the fundamental phases of the natural process of light and life. Death is part of the equation and the precondition of rebirth.
Hermetism Everything has tides, rise and fall and manifest a pendulum-swing.

The Osiris-cycle shows how death and judgment are linked. Nobody enters the Osirian heaven, if what has been said, thought, intended and willed during life is heavier than the feather of truth. In the Hall of Maat, the great balance records the differences between truth and falsehood, between a justified life and one of evil. All 42 nomes have sent their assessors. There is no place where evil is done unnoticed, for the eyes of the gods see it all. If and only if the feather of Maat is heavier, and truth prevailed, will the deceased become fully operational and effective in the afterlife. If after having done mistakes, nothing is rectified and Pharaoh has not been served well, then the heart betrays the soul and the name of the deceased is lost and the parts of man disconnected and scattered. We know the evil we do and we pay if truth has not been restored. Nature offers rejuvenation and eternal life, but it also harbors damnation, extended tortures and utter annihilation.

Although the CH speaks of a “world beyond the grave” (Libellus XI, 20), the Greek preconceptions of death are clearly present. An extensive study of this world is absent. The Greeks prefer not to speak of the afterlife, although mention is made of the fact dissolution of the body is not death. Dissolution does not lead to destruction, but to renewal. If the level of the Ogdoad may be reached during life on Earth, the Ennead is reserved for the afterlife. Also in Egypt the “akh”-state was reached in the afterlife. However, how this life has to be envisioned is not mentioned by the Greeks, neither is Osiris, judgment or the elaborated vision of the afterlife offered by Archaic Greek theology (in Late Hellenism a moral perspective was added).

6 Cause and effect : Horus & Pharaoh.

Statue of Nectanebo II and Horus
XXXth Dynasty – 360 – 343 BCE

“To say : I am Horus, O Osiris King Neferkare, I will not let You suffer. Go forth, wake up for me and guard yourself !”
Pyramid Texts, § 1753.

“O Osiris King Neferkare, Horus has put his Eye on your brow in its name of Great-of-Magic.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1795.

“To say : This is this Eye of Horus which he gave to Osiris ; give it to him that he may provide his face with it.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1643.

“For at the time when each one of us is born and made alive, the daemons who are at that moment on duty as ministers of birth take charge of us, -that is, the daemons who are subject to some one planet. For the planets replace one another from moment to moment ; they do not go on working without change, but succeed one another in rotation.”
CH, Libellus XVI, 15.

“The Cosmos moves within the very life of eternity, and is contained in that very eternity whence all life issues. And for this reason it is impossible that it should at any time come to a stand, or be destroyed, since it is walled in and bound together, so to speak, by eternal life.”
Asclepius III, 29c.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Asclepius, ca. 270 CE, Corpus Hermeticum, ca. 100 BCE – 270 CE.

In Greek philosophy, theoretical issues were common. The abstract, linearizing mind always categorizes. In terms of physical reality, Aristotle introduced four categories of determination or “causes”, to wit : material, formal, efficient and final cause. For Hermetism, the causes determining our lives are astrological. Planets have natures and these cause propensities in humans. These lead homo communis astray. Only if the rational part of a man’s soul is illumined by gnosis will the effect of daemons be annihilated. This is rare, for most are led and driven by daemons, setting their hearts and passions on their satisfaction and accommodation. The daemons thus govern our life on Earth using our bodies as instruments. This government is called “destiny”. “Gnosis” liberates us from these causes, but is difficult to acquire. In terms of salvic efficiency, Antiquity has no mass psychology, although the Egyptian, Greek and Roman populace is entertained by regular festivities. Paulinian Christianity will be the first universal religion, addressing humanity as a whole. Its success is largely due to its simplicity and the collective anxiety-relief it gave en masse, and this irrespective of social class. Indeed, baptism and faith in the Cross of Christ is called for, and not expensive, cryptic and elaborated rituals.

In Ancient Egypt, the deities were in charge of reality. The most evident “cause” of life being a “good Nile”. The blessings procured by the “god of the city” were the result of cultic offerings by the diving king (and his representatives, who assumed his divinity). Because Pharaoh offered Maat to Re, health, life & prosperity would endure. Hence, Pharaoh, the sole god and witness on Earth, is the first cause of happiness. In periods when the Two Lands are divided, a return to chaos is imminent, for the gods turn away from Egypt.

Cause and effect are approached in the image of the Eye of Horus. Although brought back to life by Isis & Thoth, he is weary and inert. His cries are heard by his son, king Horus, who descends in the Netherworld. Because he brings his Eye of Wellness (the Wedjat restored by Thoth), his father is rejuvenated and enthroned as king of the Duat. In the Late Period, when Pharaoh became more of an institution than the direct guarantee of the proper order of things, the will of the gods and in particular that of the “king of the gods”, Amun, became all-powerful. No longer was Pharaoh on Earth, but in the sky. Amun Pharaoh is the cause of it all. He decides and manifests his decisions by oracular means.

Horus-Pharaoh is the terrestrial cause of life, prosperity & health. He guarantees a “good Nile” and is the representative of Re and the deities on Earth. In the Later Period, fate and destiny cause events and both rest in the hands of the deities, in particular their king Amun. It is the Eye of Horus which causes Osiris to complete his restoration and become king of the dead.
Hermetism Everything on Earth is caused by the movements of the planets. Our destiny is fixed and only gnosis, the Light of God, sets us free. Determinism is inevitable as long as our bodies are the instruments of the planets, as in most human beings.

Add to this the influence of Chaldaean astrology, and we come full circle : the Deities decide and delegate their power to the planets, each being in charge of a portion of fate and destiny. Both rule life, and nobody knows what the Deities will decide next. Not oracles, but the astral logic of planetary constellations decides how the commoners live and die. Most humans are not liberated, but chained to their constellations. The better predictions are, the less free man is. Those who have gnosis are no longer subject to their fate, but decide for themselves.

7 Gender : Osiris, Isis & Nephthys.

Papyrus of Ani – Plate 4
The Osiris Scribe Ani, Osiris, Isis & Nephthys
XIXth Dynasty, ca. 1250 BCE.

“Geb has brought your two sisters to your side for You, namely Isis and Nephthys …”
Pyramid Texts, § 577.

“Your two sisters Isis and Nephthys come to You that they may make You hale …”
Pyramid Texts, § 628.

“Bring me the milk of Isis, the flood of Nephthys, the overspill of the lake, the surge of the sea, life, prosperity, health, happiness, bread, beer, clothing, and food, that I, Pharaoh Teti, may live thereby.”
Pyramid Texts, § 707.

“To say : Raise yourself, O King ! You have your water, You have your inundation, You have your milk which is from the breasts of mother Isis.”
Pyramid Texts, § 734.

“Isis speaks to You, Nephthys calls to You, the spirits come to You bowing and they kiss the Earth at your feet because of the dread of You, O King, in the towns of Sia.”
Pyramid Texts, § 755.

“Isis conceives me, Nephthys begets me, and I sit on the Great Throne which the gods have made.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1154.

“‘Endure !’ says Isis.
‘In peace !’ says Nephthys, when they see their brother.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1292.

“To say : I, Pharaoh Wenis, have inundated the land which came forth from the lake, I have torn out the papyrus-plant, I have satisfied the Two Lands, I have united the Two Lands, I have joined my mother the Great Wild Cow.”
Pyramid Texts, § 388.

“Adoration of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt,
who lives by Maat, the Lord of the Two Lands,
Nefer-kheperu-Re, Sole-one-of-Re,
the Son of Re who lives by Maat, Lord of Crowns,
Akhenaten, great in his lifetime
and of the beloved great Queen,
Lady of the Two Lands : Nefer-nefru-Aten Nefertiti,
who lives in health and youth forever !”
Great Hymn to the Aten, introduction.

“O You, who make semen grow in women,
who creates people from sperm,
who feeds the son in his mother’s womb,
who soothes him to still his tears.
You nurse in the womb !
Giver of breath to nourish all creatures.
When the child emerges from the womb
to breathe on the day of his birth,
You open wide his mouth to supply his needs.”
Great Hymn to the Aten, 33-39.

“O beauteous one, O cow, O great one,
O great magician, O splendid lady, O gold of gods !
The King reveres You, Pharaoh, give that he live !
O queen of gods, he reveres You, give that he live ! (…)
Behold what is in his inmost,
though his mouth speaks not.
His heart is straight, his inmost open,
no darkness is in his breast !
He reveres You, O queen of gods !
Give that he live !”
Hymns to Hathor, III.

“He, filled with all the fecundity of both sexes in one, and ever teeming with his own goodness, unceasingly brings into all that he has willed to generate, and all that he wills is good. From his Divine being has sprung the goodness of all things in this world below, and hence it is that all things are productive, and that their procreative power is adequate to ensure that all shall hereafter be as it is now, and as it has been in the past.”
Asclepius III, 20b.

“… the type persists unchanged, but generates at successive instants copies of itself as numerous and different as are the moments in the revolutions of the sphere of heaven. For the sphere of heaven changes as it revolves, but the type neither changes nor revolves. Thus the generic forms persist unchanged, but the individuals, for all their sameness of generic form, yet differ one from another.”
Asclepius III, 35.

“The Earth is ever passing through many changes of form. It generates produce, it nourishes the product it has generated, it yields all manner of crops, with manifold differences of quality and quantity, and above all, it puts forth many sorts of trees, differing in the scent of their flowers and the taste of their fruits.”
Asclepius III, 36.

“The body is a mixture of the elements, that is, of earth, water, air and fire. And so, since the body of the female has in its composition an excess of the fluid element and the cold element, and a deficiency of the dry element and the cold element, the result is that the soul which is enclosed in a bodily frame of this nature is melting and voluptuous, just as in males one finds the reverse …”
Stobaeus, Excerpt XXIV, 8 – 9.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Great Hymn to the Aten, ca. 1353 – 1336 BCE, Hymns to Hathor, Graeco-Roman Period, Dendera, 54 BCE, Asclepius, ca. 270 CE, Strobaei Hermetica, ca. 500 CE.

If we compare the situation of women in Ancient Egypt with that of the surrounding cultures, we are struck by the fundamental, relative equality between men and women. Because of this, it has been argued Egypt was in fact a matriarchy, which is not the case. Sources show monogamy was the rule, with exceptions caused by the high level of child mortality and usually limited to the royals (as were marriages between sister and brother).

Although Pharaoh was a male, women assured dynastic change. This may well go back to Predynastic times, when the “great goddess” (Hathor) ruled supreme in the affairs of fertility, growth & family. The rise of divine kingship implied the assimilation by Pharaoh of the power of the great fertility goddess, a fact found in the myths associated with the “Two Ladies”, a title found in the royal titulary and referring to the two goddesses on the brow of the “nemes” worn by the king, adorned by a vulture (Nekhbet) and a cobra (Wadjet), associated with Upper and Lower Egypt respectively. These protective deities, Wadjet in particular, were connected with Atum, who’s enraged eye was transformed into this fire-spitting royal cobra. Pharaoh Akhenaten went a step further, and allowed his wife to become the third person in his monotheist Atenite trinity : Aten, Akhenaten & Nefertiti.

Except for the bisexual Atum, all gods have their consort. Male and female are the two sides of the balance. Every day the male Pharaoh offers Maat, truth and justice, the daughter of Re and consort of Thoth. Because of this, creation endures.
Hermetism Male and female are a mixture of the elements out of which all physical phenomena are composed. Air and Fire are masculine, Water and Earth feminine.

Among the deities, goddesses enjoyed an identical status. Not only do all gods have consorts, except Atum, an autogenous bisexual, who masturbates to create the world, but the protective role of the goddesses springs to the fore in the Osiris-cycle. In the Duat, Osiris is assisted by Isis and Nephthys, but before his enthronement, Osiris would never have been resurrected by Horus without Isis (his wife & sister). Next to her all-important role, Hathor also remained a major goddess from the Predynastic Period until the end of the Pharaonic Period, and many others may be identified (Nut, Maat, Mut, Neith, Sekhmet, Satet, Sechat, to name the most popular). Pharaoh, a mighty bull, assimilates the female powers and by doing so excels in masculinity : he is Horus and the only son of Re alive on Earth.

Although the majority of Egyptian art and texts are foremost male-dominated activities and male images and concerns are far more prominent, women are more represented in the documentation in later times than they are in the Old Kingdom. Their sacerdotal role was enduring and powerful, and of an exceptional status in the whole of Antiquity.

8 The astrology of the Ogdoad : Thoth.

Circular Zodiac of Dendera with eclipses, constellations, decans & planets
roof Hathor Temple – Ptolemaic Period- September 25, 52 BCE
colored drawing by unknown artist

“Do not set your heart on wealth !
There is no ignoring Shay and Renenet !”
Instruction of Amenemapt, chapter 7, 1-2.

“For Pharaoh is the great power that overpowers the powers.
Pharaoh is a sacred image, the most sacred image
of the sacred images of the Great One.
Whom he finds in his way, him he devours bit by bit.

Pharaoh’s place is at the head of all the noble ones who are in the horizon.
For Pharaoh is a god, older than the oldest.
Thousands revolve around him, hundreds offer to him.
There is given to him a warrant as a great power by Orion, the father of the gods.”
Pyramid Texts, § 406 – 407.

Ceiling with 36 decans – tomb of Pharaoh Seti I
XIXth Dynasty – Luxor – Valley of the Kings

“This Earthly tent, my son, out of which we have passed forth, has been put together by the working of the Zodiac, which produces manifold forms of one and the same thing to lead men astray ; and as the Signs of which the Zodiac consists are twelve in number, the forms produced by it, my son, fall into twelve divisions.”
CH, Libellus XIII, 12.

“And the first Mind, that Mind which is Life and Light, being bisexual, gave birth to another Mind, a Maker of Things. And this second Mind made out of fire and air seven Administrators, who encompass with their orbits the world perceived by sense, and their administration is called Destiny.”
CH, Libellus I, 9.

“The seven spheres, as they are called, have as their Ruler the Deity called Fortune or Destiny, who changes all things according to the law of natural growth, working with a fixity which is immutable, and which yet is varied by everlasting movement.”
CH, Asclepius, III, 19b.

“… the Sun receives from God, through the intelligible Cosmos, the influx of good (that is, of life-giving energy), with which he is supplied.”
CH, Libellus XVI, 17.

“If You wish to see Him, think on the Sun, think on the course of the Moon, think on the order of the stars. Who is it that maintains that order ?”
CH, Libellus V, 3.

“… You see, my son, through how many bodily things in succession we have to make our way, and through how many troops of daemons and courses of stars, that we may press on to the one and only God.”
CH, Libellus IV, 8b.

“And thereupon, having been stripped of all that was wrought upon him by the structure of the heavens, he ascends to the substance of the eighth sphere, being now possessed of his own proper power, and he sings, together with those who dwell there, hymning the Father, and they that are there rejoice with him at his coming. (…) they (the men ascending to this sphere) give themselves up to the Powers, and becoming Powers themselves, they enter into God. This is the Good. This is consummation for those who have got gnosis.”
CH, Libellus I, 26a.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Instruction of Amenemapt, ca. 1292 – 1075 BCE, Corpus Hermeticum, ca. 100 BCE – 270 CE.

In the aftermath of Alexander’s conquest, Greeks had settled in Persia and their migration to Egypt brought Chaldaean stellar science (astronomy plus astrology) to Alexandria (and from there to Rome). In Egypt, oracular practices were already very common. Since the end of the New Kingdom (ca. 1075 BCE), these ways had gained importance, in particular the oracular rule of Amun and his priests. Add astrology, and the will of the gods can be inferred by predicting and understanding celestial events. This astral religion had two sides : a technical one involving measurement (astronomy) and an “oracular”, “prophetic” one dealing with inter-subjective meaning attributed to all kinds of astral cycles (astrology).

The notion astronomical phenomena are relevant symbols was not new to the Egyptians. The linking of the Nile flood with the rising of Sirius, the Sothic year, the Lunar tides, the Heliacal decans, the hours, the calendars and the integral relationship in Late Egyptian religion between the stars and the gods mentioned by Plutarch (On Isis and Osiris), manifest the stellar practices of the priesthood. Already in the Old Kingdom, stellar phenomena were an integral part of the funerary ideology of Pharaoh (cf. the orientation and shafts of the Great Pyramid and other monuments). Decans adorn IXth & Xth Dynasty (cf. 2160 – 1980 BCE) sarcophagi, which shows the Antiquity of this astronomical division based on myth, ritual and religion. With the decline of the institution of divine kingship in the Late Ramesside Period, the rule of the deities became supreme, both in the sky as on Earth. Amun was “king of the gods”, but also Pharaoh. He ruled Egypt by means of oracles …

The projection of meaning on the movements of the seven planets (or deities : Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), allowing for predictions in individual royal affairs (like birth & death), was foreign to Egyptian astrology. In his Commentary on the Timaeus (Diehl – 3.151), Proclus (412 – 485 CE) wrote that Theophrastus (ca. 372 – 280 BCE) had said his Chaldaean contemporaries had a theory predicting every event in the life and death of an individual human being, rather than just general, collective effects, such as good or bad weather. In ca. 280 BCE, Berossus, priest of Marduk, presented to king Antiochus I his Babylonaika, or treatise on Chaldaean astral doctrine. The earliest individual horoscope dates from 410 BCE, whereas a cuneiform tablet dated 523 BCE indicates the ability to calculate monthly ephemerides for the Sun and Moon, the conjunctions of the planets and of the planets with each other, as well as eclipses. The Babylonian idea making individuals subject to stellar conditions (genethialogical astrology) was un-Egyptian, although the power of fate was acknowledged.

Egyptian priests studied Chaldaean astrology and under the Ptolemies the discipline flourished. Astrology was attributed to Hermes and identified with the planet Mercury. It became an integral part of Hermetism, and acted as the cement between popular magic and the learned Hermetica, between “practice” and “knowledge” and involved proper timing. In the Ptolemaic empire, astrology became prominent and fused with the existing fatalistic tendencies to become a stellar fatalism. This same happened on a larger scale, for Late Hellenism was a period of great insecurity and doubt. That the misfortunes of fate could be predicted was too good to be true. All depends on the will of the Gods, but can their will be read in the sky ? Moreover, the planets were conceived as the physical manifestations of the Pantheon ruling the affairs of Earth. Not only prediction, but praise & prayer could be offered to change the course of events (magic). These beliefs, belonging to the technical Hermetica, made astrology so popular in the Hellenistic age, prone to feelings of alienation and the pressing impact of the Deities fate and fortune … the Egyptian deities Shay and Renenet.

Traditional astrology got recorded by Claude Ptolemy (born towards the end of the first century CE) in his Tetrabiblos & the Centiloquim. In Demotic papyri of the Roman period, we find versions of texts going back to the mid-second century BCE. They concern kings of Egypt and wars with Syria and Parthia. The earliest papyrus horoscope concerns a birth in 10 BCE, while the first horoscope preserved in a literary texts deals with a birth in 72 BCE. The most interesting Ptolemaic monumental piece called the “Zodiac of Dendera”, recording the event of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Auletes founding a new Hathor temple at Dendera (the 16th of July 54 BCE). In fact, it is the world’s first monumental founding horoscope or “election horoscope”, erected for the 25th of September 52 BCE (at the time of a unique Lunar eclipse). A plaster copy of it can be seen in the Hathor Temple, the original having been removed by Sebastien Saulnier in 1820 to the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and now in the Museum of the Louvre (D38).

The Hellenistic astrologers saw themselves as men of religion, priests of an astral faith, using a sacred cult to rise above the seven planets (Hebdomad) ruling fate and -reassured of the Divine nature of our mind- to resist and curtail the power of these “archons” of the created world. The traditional Greek “evasion” from the cave was “mechanized” in a series of astral initiations (Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Sun) associated with the voces magicae and the harmony of the spheres. The need to “escape” this world is clearly an un-Egyptian element in the Hermetic equation (cf. Discourse of a Man with his Ba).

In Egypt, Shay was the personification of destiny and god of life-span, fate & fortune, who, in the Ptolemaic Period, was identified with “Agatho Daimon”, the Hellenistic fortune-telling serpent Deity. In the Old Kingdom, “Renenutet” (“rnnwtt”) was a goddess of the harvest and a divine nurse (“rnnt”), but also a guardian of the king identified with the royal uraeus and Pharaoh’s “robe”. In the New Kingdom Litany of Re, this goddess appears in the underworld as the “Lady of Justification”, and in the Late Period, she decides many of the events in an individual’s life.

In native Egyptian religion, the “Ogdoad” is a company of eighth precreational deities, at the head of which stands Thoth. These fashion the primordial egg out of which creation hatches by the word of Thoth.

In Hermetism, the “Hebdomad”, the fate-driven part of nature, is below the “Ogdoad”, just as “7” is smaller than “8”. Indeed, there are no inner semantics between the Egyptian and the Hermetic use of the words “ogdoad” and “ennead”.

For Hermes, the Ogdoad is the realm of illumination, associated with the fixed stars, the Deities and the blessed souls (the gnostics). It can be reached while in the physical body. This sphere is the presence of Hermes as human teacher or “logos“, the “holy word” coming forth from the Light of the Divine Nous. Because of this, the Ogdoad and the Ennead are intimately connected. For the Word brings the Light and this Light is Hermes as the Mind of God. And he who sees the Mind of God becomes the Mind of God, but not in this life …

In Egypt, the deities and the fixed stars were the “akhu” or “spirits” of Atum-Re, the supreme creator-god. Pharaoh ascended to this sky through the Northern shaft or through the entrance to his tomb. This light of these circumpolar stars was deemed to be the house of these spirits. In the Old Kingdom, this type of transformation was Pharaoh’s afterlife privilege and involved his sublime attainment of the “power of powers”, being more powerful than the gods.

9 The order of the Ennead : Atum.

Atum at the moment of autocreation

“To say : Atum is he who (once) came into being, who masturbated in Heliopolis. He took his phallus in his grasp that he might create orgasm by means of it, and so were born the twins Shu and Tefnut.”
Pyramid Texts, § 1248.

“There is nothing more Divine than mind, nothing more potent in its operation, nothing more apt to unite men to Gods, and Gods to men.”
CH, Libellus X, 23.

“If then You do not make yourself equal to God, You cannot apprehend God ; for like is known by like. Leap clear of all that is corporeal, and make yourself grow to a like expanse with that greatness which is beyond all measure ; rise above all time, and become eternal ; then You will apprehend God.”
CH, Libellus XI, 20b.

“… some men are Divine, and the humanity of such men is near to Deity, for the Agathos Daimon said : ‘Gods are immortal men, and men are mortal God’.”
CH, Libellus XII, 1.

“I am not now the man I was. I have been born again in Mind, and the bodily shape which was mine before has been put away from me. I am no longer an object colored and tangible, a thing of spatial dimensions. I am now alien to all this, and to all that You perceive when You gaze with bodily eyesight. To such eyes as yours, my son, I am not now visible. – Tat. Father, You have driven me to raving madness …”
CH, Libellus XIII, 4.

“Father, now that I see in mind, I see myself to be the All. I am in heaven and in Earth, in water and in air, I am in beasts and plants, I am a babe in the womb, and one that is not yet conceived, and one that has been born. I am present everywhere … – Hermes. Now, my son, You know what the Rebirth is.”
CH, Libellus XIII, 13.

“The physical body, which is an object of sense, differs widely from that other body, which is of the nature of true Being. The one is dissoluble, the other is indissoluble. The one is mortal, the other is immortal.”
CH, Libellus XIII, 14.

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Asclepius, ca. 270 CE.

The Heliopolitan Ennead is an order of creation in three generations of deities presided by Atum (the Egyptian creator-god). The Ennead of Hermetism is the Light of Nous, the order of God’s Mind. Both Atum and Hermes are autogenous. The structure of the Ennead of Atum is the structure of creation, for the deities are natural differentials. The Mind of God is an architecture of perfect ideas (Plato). These are crude parallels. In salvic terms, the differences between Greek and Egyptian ways are considerable.

In the salvic scheme of Hermetism, the stern Greek component is outstanding : one has to rise above Hebdomadic nature to find Ogdoadic peace and Enneadic Deification, master the body to escape fate, but die to be Deified. These differences also undermine any attempt to identify Greek mysteries (and initiation) with their Egyptian counterparts. Spiritually, Greek philosophy and religion is escapists and neglectful of the (idealized) body, and the Greek mysteries constantly reject the physical body to give weight to the mind and the spirit. The body is deemed corrupt and passionate, the mind serene and contemplative. The body is the “prison” of the soul, the “tent” or “tabernacle”. The material world of becoming is a fleeting shadow, a pale reflection of the world of ideas (Plato). Only contemplative life fulfills human existence (Aristotle). The body is the prison or tomb of the soul, the cosmos its cave or cavern (Plotinus).

In Egypt, an Oriental mindset prevailed : the ritualized body (or mummy) is a gateway for the deceased to remain in contact with the living. Although the spirits (“akhu”) remain “in the sky”, their mediating factors (double & soul) may dwell on Earth and animate our lives here. Our ancestors move to and fro, for they have a ritual reference (the mummy) and a “false door”. A whole spiritual economy was set in place to ritualize and standardize these constant interactions between the “dead” and the living. Egyptians wrote letters to the dead and got dreams from them. The dead were as alive as the living, although their ways were subtle, invisible and magical. In this context, the initiate did not die to be reborn, but he gazed upon Osiris to be rejuvenated as he had been. The dead were not lost spectres or fleeting images in the Hades with a few elect in the Empyreum. Every deceased who could pay for the rituals was an “Osiris NN” who could hope for final justification and spiritualization.

Already by the end of the Dark Age, the Greek cultural form had persistent “Aryan”, Indo-European characteristics of its own. These help explain the stern and gloomy interpretation of death in Greek civilization.

  • linearization : Mycenæan megaron, geometrical designs, mathematical form and peripteros ;
  • anthropocentrism : warrior leaders, individual aristocrats, poets, sophoi and teachers ;
  • fixed vowels : the categories of the real sound are written down & transmitted ;
  • dialogal mentality : the Archaic Greeks enjoyed talking, writing & discussing (with strong arguments) ;
  • undogmatic religion : the Archaic Greeks had no sacred books and hence no dogmatic orthodoxy ;
  • cultural affirmation : the Archaic Greeks were a young people who needed to affirm their identity, they were spontaneous & cheerful ;
  • cultural approbation & improvement : the Archaic Greeks accepted to be taught and were eager to learn, driven by a Divine discontent.

According to Homeric belief, when somebody died, his or her vital breath or “psyche” left the body to enter the Hades. This dark and gloomy place was ruled by the king of the dead, the Roman Pluto. Once it had fled the body, the psyche merely existed as a phantom image, at time perceptible but always untouchable. The wall separating the living from the dead was deemed impenetrable. Crossing the river of death (Styxs) caused one to forget everything. A concept of punishments for the wicked and rewards for the virtuous did not, at first, play a dominant role. This typical Indo-European sense of separation, rupture, cleavage, schism etc. between life and death will remain a dominant feature and return in literature, philosophy, drama and science. It was absent in Egyptian religion (although skeptic voices also left their traces). Egypt rooted its spirituality in recurrent cycles, not in ongoing linear growth.

On the one hand, Egyptian religion was not individualistic, but the major concern of the Pharaonic State. On the other hand, wisdom discourses and induction rituals are intimate and personal. Hermetism combines the two : the temple becomes the lodge and its “workings” (knowledge and practice) involve highly individual initiations (comparable in Egypt with the conjectured “seeing of Osiris” – cf. Osireon). But these Hermetic initiations are un-Egyptian, and stress the individual escape from the Hebdomad to reach the Ogdoad. Greek unworldliness and demonisation of matter mixed with Christianity, influenced the Jewish Qabalah and reemerged in Hermeticism. With modern science, the naturalistic mindset returned and the superstitions and myths of “past ages” were boldly left behind to raise to power the myth of no myth.

10 The alchemy of the Decad : Amun.


Amun protecting Tutankhamun
1336 – 1327 BCE

“O You, the great god, whose name is unknown.”
 Pyramid Texts, § 276.

“Opened are the double doors of the horizon, drawn back are its bolts.”
Pyramid Texts, § 194.

“Secret of manifestations and sparkling of shape.
Marvellous God, rich in forms.
All gods boast of Him,
to magnify themselves in His beauty,
to the extent of His Divinity.”
Hymns to Amun, 200

“He is this Ptah who proclaims by the great name : Tenen. He who united this land of the South as King of Upper Egypt and this land of the Delta as King of Lower Egypt. He indeed begat Atum who gave birth to the Ennead.”
Shabaka Stone, lines 3 – 6.

“One is Amun,
who keeps himself concealed from them,
who hides himself from the gods,
no one knowing his nature.
He is more remote than the sky,
He is deeper than the netherworld.

None of the gods knows his true form.
His image is not unfolded in the papyrus rolls.
Nothing certain is testified about him.

He is too secretive
for his Majesty to be revealed.
He is too great to be enquired after,
too powerful to be known.”
Hymns to Amun, 200.

“Such is He who is too great to be named God. He is hidden, yet most manifest. He is apprehensible by thought alone, yet we can see Him with our eyes. He is bodiless, and yet has many bodies, or rather, is embodied in all bodies. There is nothing that He is not, for all things that exist are even He. For this reason all names are names of Him, because all things come from Him, their one Father, and for this reason He has no name, because He is the Father of all.”
CH, Libellus V, 10a.

“… the Decad, my son, is the number by which soul is generated. Life and light united are a Unit ; and the number One is the source of the Decad. It is reasonable then that the Unity contains in itself the Decad.”
CH, Libellus XIII, 12.

“God is everlasting, God is eternal. That he should come into being, or should ever have come into being, is impossible. He is, he was, he will be for ever. Such is God’s being : He is wholly self-generated.”
Asclepius II, 14.

“And I see the eighth and the souls that are in it and the angels singing a hymn to the ninth and its powers. And I see Him who has power of them all, creating those (that are) in the spirit. It is advantageous from (now on) that we keep silence in a reverent posture. Do not speak about the vision from now on. It is proper to (sing a hymn) to the Father until the day to quit (the) body.”
The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, 59 – 60 (Robinson).

Sources : Pyramid Texts, ca. 2348 to 2205 BCE, Shabaka Stone, ca. 710 BCE, Hymns to Amun, ca.1213 BCE, Asclepius, ca. 270 CE, The Discourse of the Eighth and Ninth, ca. second century CE.

Both native Egyptian religion and Hermetism embrace henotheism (One in all Divine Beings & all Divine Beings as One). The former in an ante-rational way, the latter with full support of Greek conceptual rationality (in both its idealistic and realistic variants).

The essence of God is hidden and nameless. The existence of God is visible everywhere, although only known by thought. Everything is a manifestation of the Divine Mind. The Decad cannot be experienced. Even the Ennead is best for after this life. The Ogdoad is a secret gnosis available to initiates of Hermes only. All other humans are driven by astral determinism. This highly elitist way reflects the exclusivist tendencies of Greek initiation, imagining a symbolical death before rebirth, a rejection of the gross, evil body before the illumination by the Light of the Nous. In general, the soteriology of Antiquity is elitist, exclusivist, naturalist (no order of grace) and an upper classes phenomenon. In the afterlife, slaves surely perished and the poor benefitted from the goodness of Amun.

Officially, only Pharaoh was able to offer to the deities, for gods only communicate with other gods, and the divine king was the son of Re and an incarnation of Horus. When entering the “naos” or “holy of holies” (“kAs”) and performing adjacent rituals, the “hem netjer” or “servant of the god”, who was not a god but who represented the king (in a large temple this would be the high priest), assumed the form or image (“iri”) of the divine king (and his titulary deities). The king is the “10th” added to the Ennead of Atum, for as Horus, he is the justified successor of his father. In Pharaoh, the “mystery” of divine incarnation abided, for he was the only deity incarnated in a human body. In this way, he prefigured Hermes and Christ.

Amun, the “king of the gods” is “one, hidden and millions”. In the Old Kingdom, the great unknown god is invoked. Behind all deities, a hidden, primordial and ultimate nameless great deity is imagined. At first, this supreme deity is situated before all possible nature, for preexistent. He belongs to the precreational realm. In the New Kingdom, Amun is also present in every possible manifestation, he is before nature and in every nature.


Ancient Egyptian Mysteries ?

“ankh” the Egyptian sign for life
possessed by every deity

Egyptian religion is a celebration of life. This love of life is so pronounced, that even death is but another way of living. Indeed, the origin of life is deemed precreational, for with Atum rising out of Nun, the “first occurrence” (“zep tepi”) begins, which is the start of space, life (Shu), truth, order (Tefnut) and light (Re). Religion, ritual, induction and initiation always involve a return to this primordial time of maximum efficient power, in essence limitless, eternal and everlasting. This golden time of the gods, the true fount of life, is present in our world as “the horizon” (“Axt” or “akhet”) or the junction of Earth and sky. Moreover, the horizon is where the spirit-state is attained, an interstitial area where the “mystery” of transformation occurs, allowing the divine king (in this life and in the next) to rise to the Imperishable Stars of the Northern sky, and the ordinary deceased to attain the spirit-state.

“May You (Atum-Re and Pharaoh) rise from the Akhet,
from the place through which You become Akh.”
Pyramid Texts, § 152.

There is no irreversible separation or wall between the dead and the living. If the living take care for the tombs of the dead, the latter will be able to return to the physical plane to interact with those living there. The living do not communicate with the essence of the deceased, for the spirits (the “akhu”) exist in the bliss of their celestial, starry light. They are free and effective and so able to interact with Earth by means of the “ba” and the “ka”, their operational aspects. Spirit-life being the highest form of life, the attainment of this “akh-state” was the crucial postmortem event (the form allowing the deceased to live effectively in the afterlife). At first only Pharaoh could attain it, but eventually every justified deceased had a soul and so could hope to become a noble dead, although the unjustified would never enter the Field of Reeds and other heavenly abodes. They would be annihilated (not reincarnated).

On Earth, only Pharaoh was a living spirit, a mortal god. When his body died, the divine spirit would rise up, move through the underworld and ascend to heaven. Arrived there, he would make sure the new Horus-Pharaoh would be given a “good Nile”, underlining his justification. The tomb had a two-way function : via the North (or the West), the deceased king would ascend and his “ba” and “ka” would descend. Likewise, the temple was gateway to and fro heaven. Egypt as the “image of the sky” is literal : each of the hundreds of temples was a stargate.

Recently, Naydler (2005), by suspending the funerary interpretation, made clear that the Pyramid Texts in general and the Unas texts in particular, reveal an experiential dimension, and so also represent this-life initiatic experiences consciously sought by the divine king (cf. Egyptian initiation). These may be classified in two categories : Osirian rejuvenation (cf. the texts of the burial-chamber), already at work in the Sed festival, and Heliopolitan ascension (cf. the texts in the antechamber). To this may be added, that in the New Kingdom, both Lunar and Solar spiritual economies were refined ; the way of Osiris in the Osireon and the Netherworld Books (cf. Amduat), and the way of Re in the New Solar Theology of both Atenism and Amenism. Both the Amduat (cf. the 6th Hour) and the Pyramid Texts testify that the core of the Osirian Ceremony involved rejuvenation (found in the pit of darkness).

The Egyptian “mysteries” are the inner secrets of this religion, divided in mortuary temples, henceforward called temples for the royal cult, and cult temples, or the “horizon” of a divine being (the expression “double doors of the horizon” refers to the two doors of the shrine of the cult statue, kept hidden in the sanctum sanctorum). The former were intended to rejuvenate the living Horus-king (by identifying with Osiris) and, after death, to sustain the link with the deified deceased, the latter involved the service of a divine being at work in “its domain”. Examples are the elaborated Morning Rituals, taking place at dawn in the sanctuary of every temple, in and around the “naos”, and the famous “Opening of the Mouth”. Although most of the fine details of these rituals are lost, the records do keep some of the highlights “frozen” in stone or on papyrus and thanks to the Egyptian love of words, a large number of spells and texts inform us about what was said and done (cf. Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Book of the Dead, Amduat, Book of Gates). In tune with Egyptian visual thought, these icons provide further information and suggest many parallels, embedded in the hieroglyphic script (as the following determinatives make clear). The historical reconstruction hence offers a basic ritual matrix.

Ritual Postures Semantics
A7 – “wrd” – tire, exhaustion
non-activity, inertia, funerary rituals and lamentations
A16 – “ksi” – bow down
honoring the deities and the divine king and rites of submission and respect
A59 – “sHr” – drive away, execrate
ritual banishments, execrations
A6 – “wab” – pure, clean
preparing for ritual, purifications
A4 – “dwA” – supplicate, adore
paying homage (praise) and acts of supplication
A8 – “hnw” – jubilation
commemoration of the victory of Horus over Seth, the Henu Rite
A26 – “nis” – summon, call, invoke
formal invocation of the deities and the noble dead
A32 – “xbi” – dance, jubilate
expressions of joy and happiness in the presence of the divine
A30 – “dwA” – praise, supplicate, adore
reciting hymns and giving praise to the deities and Pharaoh
A28 – “Hai” – high, joy, rejoice, laud
highest expression of celebration and spiritual joy

Let us summarize the historical and methodological situation of the Egyptian tradition. Historically, distinguish between four theo-ontological models of the Divine :

  1. Semitic model : God is One and Alone. He, the sole, singular God, is an unknown and unknowable Divine Person, Who Wills good and evil alike (cf. Judaism & Islam) ;
  2. Greek model : God is a Principle of principles, the best of the best (Plato), the unmoved mover (Aristotle), the One even ecstasy does not reveal, impersonal and in no way evil or tainted by absence or privation of being (Plotinus), the First Intellect (Ibn Sina), a “God of the philosophers” (Whitehead). This abstract God figures in intellectual theologies, humanism & atheism. In the latter, by the “alpha privativum” of the Divine, as in a-theism, an absolute term is produced, but this time by negation instead of by affirmation. God is reduced to an abstract & absolute “no-absolute”. But for the Greek populace, the deities are anthropomorphic and display a variety of human passions and interests ;
  3. Christian model : God is One essence in Three Persons : God the Father revealed by God’s incarnated Son, Jesus Christ, because, in and with God the Deifying Holy Spirit (either only from the Father, as in the Orthodox East, or from both Father and Son, as in the West). A God of Love, never impersonal, always without evil (pure of heart) and sole cause of goodness (Christianity) ;
  4. Oriental model : God, The All, is One sheer Being present in every part of creation in terms of a manifold of impersonal & personal Divine Self-manifestations (theophanies or modes of the One), as we see in Ancient Egypt, Alexandrian Hermetism, Hinduism (Vedanta), Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism and Hermeticism.

Egyptian religion belongs to the Oriental group of religions. The Divine is not unknowable and not exclusively personal. God is hidden and unveiled, one and many. More than just an abstract principle, God may become a Person, but no theophany is ruled out, and so God may also manifest as a real (like Anubis) or fabulous animal (like Seth), an artifact (like the crowns), a concept (like Maat, Sia, Hu etc) or a deified human (like Imhotep). Many Deities are at work as parts of nature, and each is a Perfect Manifestation, Appearance, Aspect or Attribute of the same God, who is The All but also hidden in all, as Graeco-Egyptian Hermetism affirms.

Most Greeks worshipped anthropomorphic deities, and more than one Greek intellectual (living outside Egypt and misunderstanding the deeper purpose of the association) ridiculed Egypt’s animal-faced deities. Greek Gods were like immortal humans, the Egyptian deities represented archetypal natural differentials. Egyptian Orientalism and the Greek mentality had overlapping verbal & linguistic interests (cf. the study of literature in Alexandria), but different iconic sensitivities and logical tastes. The Greeks idealized the body and rejected death, the Egyptians understood the body as an expression of the spirit and embraced death as a portal to more life. Pre-Socratic Greece also sought the root and the law of the universe (cf. Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras) and had found its first answers in Lower Egypt (Neukratis and Memphis).

Regarding method this. Before contemporary Egyptology could do its work and articulate a historical reconstruction based on the available evidence and its scientific interpretations, Ancient Egypt was the object of three major flawed reconstructions :

  • the Hellenistic reconstruction : Ancient Egyptian religion, after having influenced the Greeks, was eventually Hellenized. The cults of Osiris and Isis, as well as Hermetism, evidence the survival of Hellenized forms of the native Egyptian ways. But the Greeks intermixed their somber, linear and isolationist views of the hereafter with the extended Egyptian funerary rituals. The ecstatic “catharsis”, “away from the body” mystique of their mysteries was escapist and directly influenced Judaism (Qabalah), Christianity (unworldliness) and Islam (the best is given after death). The role of Anubis as “guide of the dead” and initiator and Osiris as “king of the dead” was reinterpreted in terms of the Greek religious attitude. The Egyptian mysteries were seen as leading to another, better plane of existence, away from the limitations and boundaries of the material plane. The Greeks longed for a contemplative life, devoid of material duties and suffering. Theory was more appreciated than practice. Hence, material life on Earth, which fed the passions, had to be bridled and finally transcended. In this perspective, death heralded the final disconnection with the body, a state the Egyptians tried to avoid at all costs. Their religious attitude was un-Greek and in no way theoretical or abstract. In Egyptian religion, material life was spiritualized to make it eternal. Death was rebirth in the afterlife. And “voluntary death” was a spiritual dismemberment to a spiritualization of consciousness here and now. In the Graeco-Roman mind, nobody returned to Earth, the escape was final. Death brought rupture and disconnection, no return. When, for literary reasons or to close a play with a “Deus ex machina“, a spectre of the dead or a Deity appeared, then surely only vaguely and mostly to announce something bad or worse. This stern and lifeless vision of death (which befell all except the Deities) is already at work in Homer, who’s poetry suggests Mycenæan roots (cf. the Mycenæan Age, ca. 1600 – 1100 BCE). The “morbid”, funerary interpretation of the Egyptian tradition is therefore largely Hellenocentric. It denies Ancient Egyptian religion its mystics and ecstatics.
  • the Scriptural reconstruction : the so-called “religions of the book” (Judaism, Christianity & Islam), introduced their own narrow angle : Egypt as the home of taskmasters, idols & polytheists. In their “revealed” scriptures, these religions condemned Egyptian religion, although none of their protagonists were able to read Egyptian (Moses is not of history but of memory) and misunderstood when they tried. When Egypt turned Christian, the old religious structures were destroyed and most Egyptian deities transformed into demons (cf. “Amun” in Medieval Goetia and Solomonic magic). The cult of Isis became the worship of Mary, and the resurrection of Osiris was transformed into the spirituality of the cosmic Christ, represented on Earth by the Pope (the Christian Pharaoh and Emperor). The old trinitarian concepts of Deity developed in Egypt, became the “Holy Trinity” … It is remarkable to see how the canonized versions of these so-called “revealed” scriptures were written decades after their founders had died (Moses, Jesus and Mohammed wrote nothing). Moreover, although these traditions rejected the Egyptian view of the world, they nevertheless continued to cherish Egypt as the home of perennial wisdom, science, magic and mysteries, albeit allegorical and Pagan. These revelations were also Hellenized (Judaism with the Septuagint, Christianity because of the Greek authors of the gospel of Christ, who himself spoke Aramaic, and Islam with the impact of the Greek “falsafa” on theology and jurisprudence, as well as Hermes of Harran on Sufism).
  • the Renaissancist reconstruction : when the Renaissance started in Italy, and the work of the Arab translators began to influence intellectual life in Europe, the allegorical interpretation of hieroglyphs (initiated by the Egyptian priests of the Late Hellenistic Period), brought on stage a fictional approach of the Egyptian heritage. This would continue to operate despite Champollion cracking the code (in 1824) and demonstrating how the hieroglyphic signs were not allegorical but primarily phonetical. Between the XIIIth century (the end of the influential Templar movement with its “magical” tenets, the invention of the new Jewish Qabalah by Moses ben de Leon – cf. the Sepher Zohar and the influential Solomonic magic) and the XVIIth century (the start of Hermeticism, Freemasonry and the Rosicrucian movements) the allegorical interpretation of Ancient Egypt initiated egyptomania, a fictional approach of things Egyptian, devoid of any appreciation of the basic ritual matrix (cf. the historical reconstruction). For example, Seleem (2004, p.10) gives 50.509 BCE for the so-called emigration of the “priesthood of Atlantis” to Egypt !

Although all contemporary thematical reconstructions of the Egyptian mysteries, based on modern Egyptology, make use of rational thought, we have to avoid introducing Hellenistic bias, in particular with regard to the neglect of the body and the physical plane of existence. In tune with nature, the Egyptians are interested in recurrent cycles, not in linear expansion. To witness the ongoing rejuvenation of creation being the heart of Pharaoh and his intent. To know nature is to understand the intricate delicacy of its movements and to organize life in tune with it. No radical change is envisioned, for natural process has its own natural timing. Catastrophe and inventive changes are periods of stress and disruption. The Egyptians must have hated these loud Greeks with their reckless, inquisitive and ever-expanding spirits and at time violent and perverse morals.

(a very old Egyptian priest exclaims 🙂
“Solon ! Solon ! You Greeks are always children !
An old Greek does not exist !”
Plato, Timaeus, 22, my italics.

The revealed religions added a vile theological component to the Greek neglect of death (and the idealization of the physical form of the body) : sin. To reach God, the body and its appetites had to be mortified, for they were deemed the source of sin and stood between man and his salvation. Not only is the body a prison, it is also a wild beast and the natural ally of Shaitan, Satan or Iblis (the Seth of Egypt ?). Clearly, those who adhere to such exoteric ideas cannot comprehend Egyptian spirituality and its enjoyment of all parts of the body, now and in the afterlife. They are unable to address darkness and evil with serene minds and remain unfit to wander in the abysses of nature. The Oriental view on evil may be in tune with the Semitic mind (for both understand evil as God’s will), but both differ on how to deal with it. The revealed religions exclude Satan from man’s salvation, while in Egypt, Seth was subject to worship.

Because contemporary Egyptology provides a historical reconstruction based on the evidence, it is not called to speculate. This is not its task, for it works with and for a scientific knowledge base of the available evidence, an intersubjective consensus based on the facts. We may ask it to organize its objects of study in function of the main themes covered by the Ancient Egyptians themselves, and in this religion plays a prominent role. Maybe such a systematic and generalizing approach is still lacking. Insofar a series of hangovers are eliminated (antiquarian mentality, geosentimentalism, Europacentrism, Hellenocentrism, Afrocentrism, etc.), Egyptology is the best ally of the philosopher of religion as well as the esotericist and the Kemetist.

Let us first consider the case of the philosopher. Mysticology, the study of the knowledge-manipulation of mystics (cf. my Kennis en Minne-Mystiek, 1994), describes the process underpinning spiritual growth, as three-tiered : purification, totalization, actionalization and recognized that these stages gave rise to alternative canonized superstructures by the many religions of humanity, while the experiential register is fundamental.

These phases are first put into evidenced by the cave-art of the Upper Paleolithic and its religious implications.

These three stages are :

  1. “the entry” : the tunnel : the process of differentiation from light to darkness ;
  2. “the sanctum” : the cathedral : the secluded place of the mystery of the hidden light ;
  3. “the exit” : the return : the process of integration from darkness to light.

Before reaching the gigantic underground rock cathedral within the holy mound, the Cro-Magnon, or Homo sapiens sapiens (from 100.000 till ca. 10.000 BCE), crawls a considerable distance through a twisting, narrrowing, pitch black tunnel underneath tones of solid rock. The heart of the mountain is one or several caves lit with fires, with a variety of known, unknown and phantastic animals painted on high walls and maybe animated by the resounding echoes of the fierce rhythms of beated stalactites … Are strange men running around in unseen outfits, shouting, dancing or otherwise occupied ? The Dancing Sorcerer of Trois Frères perhaps, directing, in this grand natural galleries within the sacred mound, the secret dance of the powers that be, i.e. the supernatural spirits of the ancestors and the deities. Why do these Palaeolithic ritualists seek the same darkness of deep, dreamless sleep and death as the stage for their activities ?

The underlying purpose of this drama of darkness is religious and magical. The former reconnects the archaic, mythical layer of consciousness, predominant in Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic humanity, with the primordial, archetypal powers or differentials of nature, the types representing the “nature” of the natural order. The latter protects against the dark, dangerous side of the natural order, and aims at its successful manipulation by means of this “nature of natures”. Prehistoric consciousness projects this outwards, and perceives it as the living, animated existence of ceaseless repetitions and constant types. The latter are only “typical coordinations” within its psychomorphy perceptions of the natural environment, particularly the “psychophysics” of water (food) and light (darkness). Over time, mythical notions of these psychomorph experiences take form. These eventually become natural “stereotypes”, the gods and goddesses of archaic polytheism. These deities represent the unchanging in the constantly changing, the stability of change in the life of wanderers and farmers alike.

Light and darkness are the physical underpinning of the cave mysteries. The cave is a protected mediating area were the human and the archetypes of nature touch. Its heart is an uterus, a place of new birth. The tunnel is a crawl or passage-way between stages & stations of life and the otherworld (the beforelife and the afterlife), the path of the seed to the ovary. In the natural darkness of the sanctum, events such as the death of a hunter could be relived and the causes combatted in a symbolical, allegorical way. Initiations could happen. The womb was the temple of the great goddess, she who enfolds nature as a whole.

The Cro-Magnon were the first to use grand rock cathedrals and their difficult entrances to invoke the experience of symbolical death and the subsequent initiation into a new, more powerful, rejuvenated state of consciousness, enabling one to move to a higher, stronger mode of being and awareness of being. Perhaps a better hunter, healer and leader of others. These superior hominids were able to artistically symbolize their religious and magical experiences, and thus shape spiritual traditions and eventually develop notions like heaven, hell, god and goddess, as well as shamanism (the conscious control of trance) and later priesthood (the specialization of magico-religious activities in more centralized village societies). Their common experiences shaped the earliest myths.

The Pyramid Texts as well as the Amduat confirm this architecture. After purifications and offerings to the deities, the king (or the “ba of Re”) is identified with Osiris to rejuvenate and to be reborn as “the living Horus” (the risen Sun). Performed during earthly life, this ceremony in itself duplicates the three steps : taking on the Osiris form, totalizing the Osiris form, return from the Osiris form to the Horus form. These totalizations makes him stand beyond the fundamental difference providing the energy to the process in the Duat, namely Horus versus Seth, righteousness versus wickedness, conscious good versus conscious evil. Lastly, Osiris the king ascends to the heaven of Re and is assimilated by Re. This last phase was the sole concern of Akhenaten, who was the unique son of Re without reference to Osiris or Amun (the “hidden” deities).

To operationalize and perform the rituals without initiating a new Egyptian religion is the task of the philosopher of religion interested in the living spiritual realities rather than their exoteric cast. In the case of a dead religion, an exceptional condition can be tested : are the ruins of a powerful religion effective enough to allow it to work its magic ? This approach is more in tune with participant observation than any phenomenological reduction (of the natural world) could be. But if an esoteric “lodge” beguiles the philosopher, to him a “church” is anathema.

And Hermeticism ? Can egyptomania contribute ? Maybe to warn future Kemetists of the dangers of fusing traditions as well as the futility of comparing systems in the actual practice of religion (in ritual, magic & prayer) ? Even in the Golden Dawn and its heir, Egyptian elements were combined with Babylonian, Jewish, Greek, Christian and Hermeticist sources.

The ultimate spiritual system is no Qabalah of Qabalah, as abstraction and rationality summon, but the articulation of a clean, pure and efficient celebration of the fundamental mystery of religion. In Egypt, this mystery of life involves constant rejuvenation and the spiritualization of all things material (and vice versa). This rejuvenation is brought by an inundation guaranteed by Horus-Pharaoh, the eternal witness. The “black land”, the residue left after the waters receded, is the fertile ground feeding the new cycle. Because of their syncretism, Hermeticists have depleted the original thought form and were blind for the ecology and economy of the Kemetic intention. Because of the meddle, egyptomania is to be avoided.

What is the form of the basic ritual matrix provided by the historical reconstruction ? The various ritual activities have been discussed elsewhere. Let us summarize the overall intentions of Kemetism. Ritual is not there to escape life on Earth or to compel the Deities (the Greek flaw at work in Hermetism). Ritual is not a reenactment of a covenant and man is not called to rectify (“tikun”) the flaws of nature (as in Judaism). Nor is there a special “order of grace” installed by the Cross of Christ and addressed by ritual (as in Christianity). The creator-god is not evil (as in Gnosticism).

This brings to the fore the fundamental trait of the Oriental concept of the Divine. The Deities, the dramatis personae of nature, are a series of “powers” or natural differentials with fixed laws in their retinue. They are born, culminate, withdraw, die and are reborn every day together with Re (cf. Amduat). They are the recurrent cycles of nature given form in symbolical, analogical and visual ways. Rituals are then a series of “natural operations” with automatic results “de opere operato“. Once these natural powers are understood and available, an efficient and irreversible (magical) outcome ensues which no force stops. The “will of the gods” is therefore the sum total of natural processes and their inevitable results. No supernatural “order of grace” is posited, for the deities themselves participate in the eternal cycle of Atum-Re (who destroys creation to start it all over again ad infinitum). There is no apocalypse, for the ultimate state is eternal recurrence. Identical ideas are found in Buddhism and Taoism. By contrast, the Graeco-Abrahamic tradition has elaborated on a monolithic, ontological & moral concept of God. In such a moralizing system, what is more subtle is also better (cf. evil as “privatio boni“). The violent final outcome being the “New Jerusalem”, a new, ideal world order …

“Kemetism”  (from “kmt”, the native name of Egypt) refers to revivals of the Ancient Egyptian religion developing in Europe and the United States from the 1970s. These approaches often involve a historical “reconstruction” of Ancient Egypt, filling in the obvious “gaps” with material which ante-dates the tradition, like Hermetism and/or Hermeticism. New grammatical insights & better translations point the way to different reconstructions, and the process is ongoing and per definition incomplete.

Clearly contemporary Kemetism cannot just reproduce the Ancient Egyptian tradition. Firstly, because only a basic outline of it is left, and secondly because Kemetism embraces rational thought. Lastly, Pharaoh is reinterpreted as representing the individual, witnessing “Higher Self”, and so accommodates a personal approach of the mysteries (no longer the privilege of a small number of priest).

Kemetic spirituality attunes with and benefits from natural cycles. Three fundamental movements are thus integrated : the daily movement of the Earth (Horus-Pharaoh) around its axis (causing diurnal and nocturnal hemispheres as well as the rising of 36 decans, stars and planets), the monthly movement of the Moon (Osiris) around the Earth and the yearly movement of the Earth around the Sun (Atum-Re). In fact, all Kemetic rituals follow these rhythms, which provide the form or syntax of the rituals (as well as their timing). The Lunar rites give rise to what could be called the “Ceremony of Becoming Osiris”, whereas the Solar ceremony is one of Ascension to Re.

Qua content, the fundamental operation consists in returning to the “first occurrence”, the golden age of the Deities, and harvest the energy-surplus available there. Only in this time of no time will common offerings and voice-offerings, as Maat herself, be truly effective. This pleases the Deities enough for them to dispatch their souls and vital power. Every time this happens, nature is rejuvenated by the additional energy entering creation (and the body) from the surrounding lifeless eternal waters (Nun) and their autogenous potential (Atum). One is thus more and more perfected (made more and more efficient) and this natural process continues, here and in the hereafter, until one becomes a God, i.e. one of the Powers of nature.

“Do not reveal the rituals You see in all mystery in the temples.”
Horus Temple – Edfu – Chassinat, 1928, p.361.

At the ultimate point where Deities produce Deities, the Kemetic intention has been fulfilled and only silence prevails.