Every cosmogony purports to deal with the origin of the universe, its manifestation marking the beginning of time. Before the beginning, however, time was—it pre-existed as timelessness or duration. So the “beginning” is the first moment of a definite period of time, or a cycle. And what produces the cycle? The action of beings, whose field is limitless Space. The cycles of the Egyptians extended over millions of years. “Millions of years” was the epithet applied to the Sun-god Amen-Ra, “who maketh decrees for millions of double millions of years.” Vastness, profundity, boundlessness, “all-existence,” immortality and infinite possibility meet us at the very outset of Egyptian thought.
Never was time when the germs of things were not, but there were cycles when they had slept for ages upon ages in the bosom of Nu—”Nu, of the dark waters.” Nu was the incomprehensible source of all things—Chaos or Space. In a Hymn to Hapi, the Nile-god, whose origin was traced back to Nu, the latter is set forth as being that “which cannot be sculptured in stone … It cannot be seen. Service cannot be rendered to It. Gifts cannot be presented to It. It is not to be approached in the sanctuaries. Where it is, is not known. No habitation can contain It.” Within Nu was the One ever-concealed, Mon (Monad?) or Amen—the origin undoubtedly of our word “Amen,” which is not “Verily” as the translators would have it, but rather an affirmation of the omnipresent One Life or Deity. In the Book of the Dead, “Chaos ceases, through the effulgence of the Ray of Primordial light dissipating total darkness by the help of the great magic power of the WORD of the (Central) Sun.” Chaos becomes Father-Mother, the “dark waters” incubated through Light, in other words Spirit acting in matter. (Secret Doctrine, I, 231).
All action, even of the highest Deity, is necessarily a limitation, a circumscribing or drawing around of some portion of the eternal spirit-substance for the purpose of manifestation. What is this “drawing around” but a circle or egg, the primal form of all things from atoms to universes? Mathematically expressed this egg is the nought (zero) which contains the potentiality of all forms. In this “egg” the One becomes the Dual Force, the secondary aspect of the One, or Amen-Ra the generator. All the Egyptians’ gods become dual—positive and negative “forces” necessary both for the maintenance of equilibrium and the production of life. Hence Amen-Ra was Neith (or Nuit, the feminine of Nu considered in its positive aspect) in his other half. He was the Spiritual Sun, the “Sun of Righteousness,” whose son is the Sun. For “When the One becomes two, the three-fold appears.”
Nu in late times, says Budge, was regarded as “Father of the Gods.” “A something in the water, which formed an essential part of it, felt the desire to create.” Let us connote here that “Desire first arose in IT, which was the primal germ of mind.” “Having imagined in itself the forms of the beings and things that it intended to create, it became operative, and the first creature produced was the god Tem or Khepera, who was the personification of the creative power in the primeval water. . . . Tem fashioned the form of everything in his mind and made known his desire to create to his heart, which was personified as Thoth. This god received the creative impulse and invented in his mind a name for the object that was to be created, and when he uttered the name, the object came into being.”1
Now Tem (Tum or Toum) is the Fohat of the Secret Doctrine. Fohat is said to be “. . . that potential creative power in virtue of whose action the NOUMENON of all future phenomena divides, so to speak, but to reunite in a mystic supersensuous act, and emit the creative ray. When the ‘Divine Son’ breaks forth, then Fohat becomes the propelling force, the active Power which causes the ONE to become TWO and THREE — on the Cosmic plane of manifestation.” (S.D., I, 109). So we find that Tem emanates from his own body Shu and Tefnut, the two Lion-gods, the three forming the first triad, Tem saying: “From [being] god one, I became three.”
So fundamental was this trinitarian concept in the Egyptian teaching that there is an almost endless number of triads, each district and city having its special triad. While not all consist of Father-Mother-Son, this combination was the most common and the origin of the Christian Holy Family. In fact, three aspects are essential in every act of creation or thought. For example, let us try to recollect something we have forgotten—arouse the sleeping “germs” of thought, which is analogous to the “desire” present before the evolution of a world. The former ideas, memories, or forms are “asleep” in the empty egg of the mind, but by brooding over them, by trying to bring them back to mind, we move upon the “dark waters” within, until finally in a flash the latent forms wake up, and then we see what before was not in manifestation. Yet, even in this simple illustration is much of mystery. If we could observe the entire process with our physical eyes, if it could be demonstrated to us as creative processes were demonstrated in the Mysteries, we would comprehend far better than if we were told. However, these mysteries never were told. Hence all these personifications were for the easier comprehension of people, who knowing the relations between persons, could by analogy apply similar relations and correlations to “powers” and elements. It is for us to revitalize these ancient dramatis personae and recognize in them not merely personifications employed ages ago in Egypt, but as living forces in ourselves.
The triad which the French Egyptologist Champollion said was the starting-point of Egyptian mythology included Kneph, Neith and Ptah. Herodotus said that Menes erected a temple to Ptah in Memphis. Kneph, called “the Eternal Unrevealed,” was nevertheless represented by a snake, emblem of eternity, encircling a water-urn, his head containing the “Concealed Breath” hovering over the water. This again is the “water” of Nu, the prototype of that element which is essential to the germination and growth of all living things.
Neith was the Virgin-Mother, “anterior to all the gods, without form or sex, who gave birth to itself and without fecundation.” An ancient stele declares her to be Neut, “the luminous, who has engendered the gods.” For the primordial substance is luminous—the garment of light covering the darkness. So Neith of Sais was a weaver and made the universe of warp and woof as a mother weaves her children’s garments. In the Stanzas of Dzyan, “Father-Mother spin a web whose upper end is fastened to Spirit, the light of the one Darkness, and the lower one to Matter …; and this web is the Universe spun out of the two substances made in one, which is Swabhavat.” (S.D., I, 83). And we, too, having the same power to think and act, weave the web of our own world which often becomes an inscrutable net of fate instead of a vesture of light. Being connected with water, Neith was found on the prow of Egyptian vessels. Another form of her name is Naus (Latin navis, boat), hence the boat became a symbol of the container or vehicle of the sun. Neith is found in the oldest period at Abydos, to which Mariette Bey assigns the date of 7000 B.C. Neith and Isis are interchangeable and we may find a hint as to the mission of Madame Blavatsky in the title of her first great work, “Isis Un-veiled,” by referring to the famous inscription in the temple of Neith at Sais: “I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my peplum no mortal has withdrawn.” Although a rent in the veil that conceals the arcane truths of the ancient Wisdom-Religion was made, mortal eyes are so blinded by false ideas, prejudice and selfishness, that they cannot see through it nor accept the ideas presented.
Ptah, the product of spirit and matter, was called the Wisdom of the First Intellect, the manifested Mahat or Universal Mind. In another aspect he, too, is Swabhavat, as indicated by a passage in the Book of the Dead where homage is paid to him in these words: “Thou art without father, being engendered by thy Will, Thou art without mother, being born by the renewal of thine own substance from whom proceeds substance.” He is usually represented as making men on a potter’s wheel, for he was the “generator of all men produced from his substance.” He was also called “the Blacksmith God of Thebes,” identified by the Greeks with Vulcan. He, together with Khnoum or Khnemu (who is sometimes substituted for Kneph), carried out the commands of Thot concerning the creation of the universe, Ptah’s special task being the creation of the eggs of the sun and the moon. Ptah, or Osiris-Ptah, is Ra, the manifested sun, or more properly its Regent.
From earliest times the great cosmopolitan center of Anu (or Annu) the On of the Bible and the Heliopolis of the Greeks—the City of the Sun—was the seat of the worship of Tem. Another form of the solar-god, according to Budge, was worshipped in Lower Egypt, known as Ra, whose name does not seem to be Egyptian and whose origin is unknown—it may be Asiatic. (!!) In Anu was the famous Well of the Sun, from which tradition declares that the Virgin Mary drew water when the Holy Family halted in the city. Fortunately for the story this well had its source in the inexhaustible waters of Nu, otherwise it might have dried up during the thirty odd centuries before the Christian era and we might have considered it a well of wisdom of which the youthful Jesus partook. This well was the property of the priests of Ra, who became so rich and powerful from the tribute received from grateful travellers for the watering of their beasts, that they were able by the VIth dynasty to elevate Ra to the position of over-lord of all the other gods and from that time Tem, Khepera, Horus became Ra-Tem, Ra-Khepera, Ra-Herakhuti (Horus of the two horizons) and so on. Maspero claims that the complex beings (?) resulting from these combinations never attained to any pronounced individuality, the distinctions referring merely to details of their functions and attributes.
During the many centuries of Egyptian history many teachers must have come from time to time, their presentations of the Wisdom-Religion differing according to the period, the need and the nature of the Egos whom they taught. That the Heliopolitan system was distinct from that of Amen at Thebes, that the priests of Hermopolis held to their particular form of doctrine, and those of Osiris to theirs, and that all as cults differed from one another and from Atenism is evident; nevertheless Ptah of Memphis, Ra of Heliopolis, Amen of Thebes, and Osiris of Abydos, in certain of their aspects—and in all when considered as septenary, and esoterically understood—are one and the same. Consequently wherever their fusion occurs it apparently was an attempt at unity of systems tending toward unity of thought and understanding among a cosmopolitan people rather than an effort to establish monotheism, as many Christian scholars would fain prove.
Maspero says that the sun appearing before the world was called Tumu (Tem) or Atum, while our earthly sun was Khepera. The similarity between the word “Atum” and “Atma,” the Spirit, is too striking to require comment. Atum, according to this author, was also the prototype of man, (Coptic TME, man) becoming a perfect “Tum” after his resurrection; that is, Perfected Man. There were several traditions as to how Atum became Ra, but according to the most generally accepted, Atum had suddenly cried across the water, “Come unto me”! and immediately the mysterious lotus had unfolded its petals, and Ra appeared at the edge of its open cup as a disk, a new-born child, or a disk-crowned sparrow-hawk. The Egyptians called the first day of the year, Come-unto-me.
In Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead, the opening passage reads: “I am Tem in rising. I am the only One. I came into being in Nu. I am Ra who rose in the beginning… The pillars of Shu were not as yet created. It is Ra, the creator of the names of his limbs, which came into being in the form of the gods, who are in the train of Ra” (i.e., the gods who personify his phases)—fourteen Spirits, seven dark and seven light. . . . “I am the Bennu bird (the Phoenix, type of resurrection) which is in Anu, and I am the keeper of the volume of the book of things which are and of things which shall be.” In the eternity of his being occur vast cycles of activity followed by equal periods of rest: “Millions of years” is the name of the one, “Great Green Lake” is the name of the other, the “Lake” representing the cycle in which are swallowed up all things produced by “The Begetter of millions of years.” In Chapter XLII he “who dwelleth in his eye” is beaming in “the solar egg, the egg to which is given life among the gods.” In Chapter XV he is “Yesterday,” “Today,” and “Tomorrow,” the one “who reposeth upon law which changeth not nor can it be altered.” In Chapter LXXV he is the self-created god: “I gave birth unto myself together with Nu in my name of Khepera, in whom I come into being day by day. I am the creator of the darkness who maketh his habitation in the uttermost parts of the sky . . . and I arrive at the confines thereof. I sail over the sky which formeth the division betwixt heaven and earth… None sees my nest, none can break my egg.”
In these extracts are all the fundamental teachings of Theosophy: Space, the One Life, the Self-existing Deity, Law, Cycles, Reincarnation, Being, and a hint of the septenary nature of cosmos.
In a Hymn to the Setting Sun, the deceased says: “Praise be unto thee, O Ra, praise be unto thee, O Tem.” Chapter LXXIX reads: “I am the god Tem, the maker of heaven, the creator of things which are, who cometh forth from the earth, who maketh to come into being the seed which shall be, who gave birth to the gods; [I am] the great god who made himself, the lord of life, who maketh to flourish the company of the gods.” Tem, as already said, is Fohat, whose influence on the Cosmic plane “is present in the constructive power that carries out, in the formation of things—from the planetary system down to the glowworm and simple daisy—the plan in the mind of nature, or in the Divine Thought, with regard to the development and growth of that special thing.” (S.D., I, 111). He is “the north wind and the spirit of the west;” as “the setting sun of life” he is the vital electric force that leaves the body at death, wherefore the defunct begs that Toum should give him the breath from his right nostril (positive electricity) that he might live in his second form. Both the hieroglyphic2 and the text of Chapter LXII show the identity of Toum with Fohat. The former represents a man standing erect with the hieroglyph of the breaths in his hands. The latter says: “I open to the chief of An… I am Toum. I cross the water spilt by Thot-Hapi, the lord of the horizon, and am the divider of the earth.” (Fohat divides Space and, with his Sons, the earth into seven zones) . . . “I cross the heavens, and am the two Lions. I am Ra, I am Aam, I ate my heir. . . . I am Toum, to whom eternity is accorded. . . .” (S.D., I, 674).
The above metaphor expresses the succession of divine functions, the substitution from one form into another, or the correlation of forces. Aam is the electro-positive force, devouring all others as Saturn devoured his progeny. The Egyptians used the forcible expression to eat where we would use the word absorb, or assimilate. The Rev. James Baikie, writing for the National Geographic, Sept., 1913, quotes one of the Pyramid Texts which to him reveals an “almost savage set of religious conceptions,” contrasting strangely with their high civilization. The deceased is ascending to heaven as a fierce huntsman who lassoes the stars and devours the gods. “The great ones among them are his morning meal, the middle ones are his evening meal, and the small ones his night meal…. Their magic is in his body; he swallows the understanding of every god.” The last sentence contains the explanation of the Text. It is difficult to understand why a Christian who eats the body of Christ and drinks his blood, should consider the ancient Egyptians as more “cannibalistic” than himself!
Amen, whose name means “concealed,” was regarded as an ancient nature-god in the Vth dynasty, says Budge; esoterically he is All-Nature, therefore the universe, and the “Lord of Eternity.” Later his worship was established at Thebes, where his sanctuary seems to have absorbed the shrine of the ancient goddess Apit, from whom T-Ape (Coptic) the city derived its name. It was far later that Thebes was known as the City of Amen—Nut Amen, the No Amon of the Bible (Nahum iii, 8). The worship of Amen was carried into Nubia and the Soudan by the Pharaohs of the XIIth dynasty; in the name of Amen the Hyksos had been expelled from the country, so that in the course of time Amen became known as the god of successful warriors. The booty obtained from many campaigns was shared with the priests of Amen who became exceedingly rich and powerful and, little by little, Amen absorbed the titles and attributes of the other gods. While the priests of Amen worshipped Amen, or Amen-Ra, as the Spiritual Sun, the masses of people adored Ra, the visible luminary of the heavens.
An interesting passage from the Papyrus of Nesi-Khonsu, a Priestess of Amen-Ra, written about 1000 B.C., proves that this order considered the visible sun, the Disk, merely as a focus or “substitute” for the Central Sun, as Theosophy teaches. The apostrophe to Amen-Ra reads: “This holy god, the lord of all the gods, Amen-Ra…. the holy soul who came into being in the beginning; the great god who liveth by Maat (order and regularity); the first divine matter which gave birth unto subsequent matter! the being through whom every other god hath existence; the One One . . .; the being whose births are hidden, whose evolutions are manifold, and whose growths are unknown;… the divine form who dwelleth in the forms of all the gods, the Lion-god with awesome eye;… the god Nu, the prince who advanceth at his hour to vivify that which cometh forth upon his potter’s wheel;… the traverser of eternity . . . with myriads of pairs of eyes and numberless pairs of ears, whose light is the guide of the god of millions of years;… whose substitute is the divine Disk.”
Connected with this very distinction is an important epoch in Egyptian history. Amenhotep IV, according to Pro. Breasted, believing in only one god, whom he called Aten, the Disk, attempted to destroy the old gods of Egypt, and introduce monotheism. He particularly hated Amen, closed the temples, cast out the priests, had the names of the gods cut out of the inscriptions, and changed his own name containing Amen to Akhen-aten, meaning “Aten is satisfied.” He abandoned Thebes and built a new capital at Amarna where he devoted himself to art and religion. He is represented as receiving the light and heat of Aten through the Heavenly Father’s Hands—the sun’s rays terminating in hands. A few years ago hundreds of clay tablets in the Babylonian cuneiform were dug up at Amarna, which reveal that the dependencies of Egypt were gradually throwing off her yoke, dissatisfaction among both priests and soldiers was fomenting trouble, all of which led to Egypt’s loss of prestige and power. So the “monotheism” which Akhen-aten tried to introduce died with him. That his reform was aimed in part at a corrupt priesthood is undoubtedly true, but to suppose that, “In all the progress of men which we have followed through thousands of years, no one had ever before caught such a vision of the Great Father of all” is a gross misconception. Budge states that the old Heliopolitan system made Tem or Tem-Ra the creator of Aten, the Disk; but this view Amenhotep IV rejected, asserting that the Disk was self-created and self-existent. Since from the esoteric and philosophical point of view, this was the substitution of a material and personal god for the ever-concealed Deity, or Amen, Akhenaten could not have received the backing of the Hierophants, and being himself a pacifist, Egypt suffered greatly as a result of his reign. In the conflict waged around this Pharaoh some Egyptologists have attempted to prove that his monotheism was not new; but no amount of mere scholarship can adequately deal with the situation; nor until authors rid themselves of the idea of the superiority of monotheism, with its Christian implication of a personal God, over all other forms of belief, will they ever judge aright.
Tutankhamen, whose tomb was discovered in 1922 by the late Lord Carnarvon, married Akhenaten’s daughter. When he came to the throne he professed the same religion as his father-in-law; but soon realizing the failure of Atenism, substituted the name of Amen in his wife’s and in his own name, which had originally been Tutankhaten. The honor accorded to this now famous Pharaoh by the Egyptians rests upon the fact that he restored the national worship of Amen, rehabilitated the decaying temples and reestablished the priesthood of Amen-Ra. The priests of Amen gradually lost this temporarily restored power, as they had already lost their spiritual power, and the people brought their rule to an end about 700 B.C.
1. Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism, p. 142.
2. In Budge’s edition these hieroglyphs are attached to Chaps. liv and lvii.