Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hermes and Thoth

In the previous post, I attempted to show that there was not much validity in the claim to the discovery of "ancient Egyptian Wisdom" during the Hermetic revival of the Renaissance. I then posed the question: But certainly there was some Egyptian influence, wasn't there?

There are several issues surrounding this question that bear some examination in order to try and sort it all out.

First of all, Frances A. Yates tell us in her Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition:

The works which inspired the Renaissance Magus, and which he believed to be of profound antiquity, were really written in the second to the third centuries A.D. He was not returning to an Egyptian wisdom, not much later than the wisdom of the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets, and much earlier than Plato and the other philosophers of Greek antiquity, who had all - so the Renaissance Magus firmly believed - drunk from its sacred fountain. He is returning to the pagan background of early Christianity, to that religion of the world, strongly tinged with magic and oriental influences, which was the gnostic version of Greek philosophy, and the refuge of weary pagans seeking an answer to life's problems other than that offered by their contemporaries, the early Christians.

The Egyptian God, Thoth, the scribe of the gods and the divinity of wisdom, was identified by the Greeks with their Hermes and sometimes given the epithet of Thrice Great. The Latins took over this identification of Hermes or Mercurius with Thoth, and Cicero in his De natura deorum explains that there were really five Mercuries, the fifth being "he who killed Argus, and consequently fled in exile to Egypt where he "gave the Egyptians their laws and letters" and took the Egyptian name of Theuth or Thoth....

It is not known when the Hermetic framework was first used for philosophy, but the Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum, which are the most important of the philosophical Hermetica which have come down to us, are probably to be dated between A.D. 100 and 300. Though cast in a pseudo framework, these works have been thought by many scholars to contain very few genuine Egyptian elements. Others would allow for some influence of native Egyptian beliefs upon them. In any case, however, they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all-wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences...

The Asclepius purports to describe the religion of the Egyptians, and by what magic rites and processes the Egyptians drew down the powers of the cosmos into the statues of their gods....

In the first volume of his work, La révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste, Festugière has analyzed the state of mind of the epoch, roughly the second century after the birth of Christ, in which the Asclepius and the Hermetic treatises which have reached us in the Corpus Hermeticum collection were written. Externally, that world was highly organized and at peace. The Pax Romana was at the height of its efficiency and the mixed populations of the Empire were governed by an efficient bureaucracy. Communications along the great Roman roads were excellent. The educated classes had absorbed the Graeco-Roman type of culture, based on the seven liberal arts.

The mental and spiritual condition of this world was curious. The mighty intellectual effort of Greek philosophy was exhausted, had come to a standstill, to a dead end, perhaps because Greek thinking never took the momentous step of experimental verification of its hypotheses - a step which was not to be taken until fifteen centuries later with the birth of modern scientific thinking in the seventeenth century. The world of the second century was weary of Greek dialectics which seemed to lead to no certain results. Platonists, Stoics, Epicureans could only repeat the theories of their various schools without making any further advances, and the tenets of the schools were boiled down in textbook form, in manuals which formed the basis of philosophical instruction within the Empire. Insofar as it is Greek in origin, the philosophy of the Hermetic writings is of this standardised type, with its smattering of Platonism, Neoplatonism, Stoicism, and the other Greek schools of thought.

This world of the second century was, however, seeking intensively for knowledge of reality, for an answer to its problems which the normal education failed to give it. It turned to other ways of seeking an answer, intuitive, mystical, magical. Since reason seemed to have failed, it sought to cultivate the Nous, the intuitive faculty in man. Philosophy was to be used, not as a dialectical exercise, but as a way of reaching intuitive knowledge of the divine and of the meaning of the word, as a gnosis, in short, to be prepared for by ascetic discipline and a religious way of life. The Hermetic treatises, which often take the form of dialogues between master and disciple, usually culminate in a kind of ecstasy in which the adept is satisfied that he has received an illumination through contemplation of the world or the cosmos, or rather through contemplation of the cosmos as reflected in his own Nous ... and gives him spiritual mastery over it, as in the familiar gnostic revelation or experience of the ascent of the soul through the spheres of the planets to become immersed in the divine.

Thus that religion of the world which runs as an undercurrent in much of Greek thought, particularly in Platonism and Stoicism, becomes in Hermetism actually a religion, a cult without temples or liturgy, followed in the mind alone, a religious philosophy or philosophical religion containing a gnosis.

The men of the second century were thoroughly imbued with the idea (which the Renaissance imbibed from them) that what is old is pure and holy, that the earliest thinkers walked more closely with the gods than the busy rationalists, their successors. Hence they strong revival of Pythagoreanism in this age. They also had the impression that what is remote and far distant is more holy; hence their cult of the "barbarians," of Indian gymnosophist, Persian Magi, Chaldean astrologers, whose approach to knowledge was felt to be more religious than that of the Greeks.

In the melting pot of the Empire, in which all religions were tolerated, there was ample opportunity for making acquaintance with oriental cults. Above all, it was the Egyptians who were revered in this age. Egyptian temples were still functioning, and devout seekers after religious truth and revelation in the Graeco-Roman world would make pilgrimages to some remotely situated Egyptian temple and pass the night in its vicinity in the hope of receiving some vision of divine mysteries in dreams. The belief that Egypt was the original home of all knowledge, that the great Greek philosophers had visited it and conversed with Egyptian priests, had long bee current, and, in the mood of the second century, the ancient and mysterious religion of Egypt, the supposed profound knowledge of its priest, their ascetic way of life, the religious magic which they were thought to perform in the subterranean chambers of their temples, offered immense attractions. It is this pro-Egyptian mood of the Graeco-Roman world which is reflected in the Hermetic Asclepius with it s strange description of the magic by which the Egyptian priests animated the statues of their gods, and its moving prophecy that the most ancient Egyptian religion is destined to come to an end....

So we can understand how the content of the Hermetic writings fostered the illusion of the Renaissance Magus that he had in them a mysterious and precious account of most ancient Egyptian wisdom, philosophy, and magic. Hermes Trismegistus, a mythical name associated with a certain class of gnostic philosophical revelations or with magical treatises, and recipes, was, for the Renaissance, a real person, an Egyptian priest who had lived in times of remote antiquity and who had himself written all these works. The scraps of Greek philosophy which he found in these writings, derived from the somewhat debased philosophical teaching current in the early centuries A.D., confirmed the Renaissance reader in his belief that he had her the fount of pristine wisdom whence Plato and the Greeks had derived the best that they knew. [Frances A. Yates]

Walter Scott was a classical scholar who wrote in the introduction to his edition of the Hermetica (1924; reprinted by Shambhala Publications, 1993):

Ficino's theory of the relation between Hermes Trismegistus and the Greek philosophers was based partly on data supplied by early Christian writers, especially Lactantius and Augustine, and partly on the internal evidence of the Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius of Pseudo-Apuleius. He saw... that the resemblance between the Hermetic doctrines and those of Plato was such as to imply some historical connection; but accepting it as a known fact that the author of the Hermetica was a man who lived about the time of Moses, he inverted the true relation and thought that Plato had derived his theology, through Pythagoras, from Trismegistus. And his view was adopted, at least in its main outlines, by all who dealt with the subject down to the end of the sixteenth century.

Yates believes that the end of the sixteenth century is too early a date for the "ending of this illusion."

Garth Fowden, in his book The Egyptian Hermes, does not, however, buy into this view wholesale. He wants very much to preserve something of the "Egyptian" in the hermetica. He writes:

Egypt, we read in the Hermetic treatise called Asclepius, is 'the image of heaven... the temple of the whole world.' Even today Upper Egypt, which has preserved traditional ways more faithfully than other parts of the country, is a land dominated by the immense stone temples of the old gods. The sprawling shrines of Amun at Karnak and luxor still stand, while the walls and palaces of "hundred-gated' Thebes have crumbled into the earth. ... And in the time of the Pharaohs this was already an ancient and holy land. ...

Of all the wonders past and present, natural and man-made, that Egypt had to show, it was her gods and temples that most caught the imagination of the foreign visitor. But the whole of Egypt's cultural and social life, like the configuration of the land itself, was unique. So too was the Egyptian mind, with its immovable conviction that the cultural identity of Egypt and the stability of the physical universe itself were one and the same thing. ...

And so it was that Alexander's conquest of the Nile valley marked a profound caesura in the country's political history, in that the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt was never again to be work by a native Pharaoh, but brought no such clear-cut results in the cultural sphere. When the two alien cultural traditions of Egypt and Greece began to mix, it was on terms that bore little relation to political realities.

In the centres of power, Hellenism was triumphant; but in cultural terms Egyptianism, instead of being submerged by hellenism, exercised so strong a gravitational and assimilative pull on it that the product of their interaction was at least as much Egyptian as Greek. ...

The Greek world at large, and after it the Roman, was firmly persuaded that the Egyptians had been the first people to organize formal religious cult. Men of these less ancient nations were prepared to admire quite uncritically the temples and rituals of the Egyptians, and even to accept the idea that the land of Egypt was intrinsically holy. The priesthood... enjoyed a reputation among men of Greek and Latin culture usually accorded only to the sages of nations safely and romantically remote from the well-trodden highways of the Mediterranean world, such as the Brahmins and Gymnosophists of India. Even the wisest representatives of other traditions - Moses among the Jews, Solon, Pythagoras and Plato among the Greeks - were acknowledged to have sat at the feet of Egyptian priests. In the imperial Roman period men continued to believe sufficiently in the wisdom of Egypt to travel there and seek out its far-famed temple-dwellers...

But this sort of adulation was not necessarily reciprocated. Herodotus had already remarked on the Egyptians' hostility to foreign ways:

The keep the ancestral laws and add none other... They avoid the use of Greek customs, and generally speaking the customs of all other men.

[...]

One naturally wonders, then, to what extent it was possible for the interaction of Egyptianism and Hellenism to lead to their fusion, in the religious or any other sphere. Did the centuries that followed the conquest of Egypt by Alexander see the emergence of a new, Graeco-Egyptian consciousness? Undeniably, attempts to demonstrate a 'fusion' of Egyptianism and Hellenism run the constant risk of being undermined by a considerable body of evidence that the two cultures often contrived, especially in the Ptolemaic period, to exist in contiguous isolation. [The Greeks living in Egypt] persevered in Greek ways... they spoke their own language, keeping it free even of loan-words, and exploiting its flexibility... to disguise the uniqueness of their adopted land, bequeathing us in the process pyramids, obelisks, sphinxes and labyrinths.[...]

Nearly all our best evidence for cultic syncretism, of whatever sort, comes from the more heavily Hellenized parts of Egypt, such as Alexandria and the Fayyum. It was, after all, the Greeks who needed to acclimatized in a foreign land; and so it was they who took the initiative in identifying their gods with native divinities...

Even in areas that had a large Greek population, the immigrants were often happy to attach themselves to the dominant local gods, not excluding those, such as Sobek, the crocodile-god of the Fayyum, for whom even the most imaginative syncretist would have been hard put to it to find a Hellenic counterpart.... As late as the third century A.D. we find the philosopher Porphyry remarking on the antipathy of Egyptians towards "half-Greek fabrications" like Hermanubis....

The evolution of Hermes Trismegistus himself, out of the syncretism [heavily weighted on the Greek side] of Thoth and Hermes, well illustrates the tensions which arose from the encounter of these two strong-minded cultural traditions. ...

[Among the Egyptians] Thoth was regarded even in the most primitive period as the moon-god.... The moon, "ruler of the stars, distinguishes seasons, months and years; and so Thoth became the lord and multiplier of Time, and the regulator of individual destinies. ... To him, as divine scribe, inventor of writing and lord of wisdom, the priesthood attributed much of its sacred literature... And of the occult powers latent in all these aspects of the cult of the gods, Thoth was the acknowledged source. By extension he came to be regarded as the lord of knowledge, language and all science... Naturally enough his clergy were eager to aggrandize their patron; and the obvious way to do so was through the development of a distinctive cosmogony... So it was that Thoth acquired a leading role in the drama of creation itself, as a demiurge who called things into being merely by the sound of his voice. Besides the common near Eastern idea that speech has creative power, we can surely detect here the influence of Thoth the god of magic. ...

His was an inescapable presence; and it is easy to see why foreign settlers in Egypt were tempted to try to establish some sort of link with him. The second-century B.C. Jewish romancer Artapanus, for instance, wrote an account of the life of Moses in which he assimilated his hero to "Hermes" (i.e. Thoth) making him responsible for introducing the Egyptians to ships, machines, weapons, and philosophy... And the Greek settlers identified Thoth with their god Hermes. ...

Hermes Trismegistus, then, was the cosmopolitan, Hellenistic Hermes, Egyptianized through his assimilation to Thoth... Yet around and within the Egyptian Hermes there persisted serious tensions, mirroring the peculiarities of the Graeco-Egyptian milieu that had produced him.

In the beginning it no doubt seemed enough to say that the Greek god Hermes was equivalent to the Egyptian god Thoth, and leave it at that. But the temptation to provide a mythological explanation could not be resisted forever; and that was one of the reasons why Cicero was eventually able to enumerate no less than five different individuals who claimed the name Hermes, the third being the familiar offspring of Zeus and Maia, while:

...the fifth, who is worshipped by the people of Pheneus [in Arcadia], is said to have killed Argus, and for this reason to have fled to Egypt, and to have given the Egyptians their laws and alphabet - he it is whom the Egyptians call Theyn [Thoth]

In other words, the story that was produced - and widely circulated - to explain the emergence of Hermes Trismegistus invoked a relatively human Hermes who was recognized to be distinct from the messenger of the gods. So it is not surprising to find that people of Greek culture did not always envisage Trismegistus in the same terms as did those of a more Egyptian background.

It is in the Greek magical papyri rather than in the Hermetica that we most clearly discern the lineaments of Hermes Trismegistus, and that the Egyptian aspects of his identity are given fullest rein. In a country as renowned for its magic as was Egypt, that was only to be expected.

And so we see that the personage of Hermes Trismegistus is, undoubtedly, a composite of the Greek and Egyptian gods and ideas. Scott explains how the classical teachers and scholars of antiquity would have described Hermes:

"Hermes was a man like you and me - a man who lived in Egypt a very long time ago, in the time of King Ammon. But he was a man who attained to gnosis (that is to say, knowledge of God, but a kind of knowledge that involves union with God; and he was the first and greatest teacher of gnosis. He died, as other men die, and after death he became a god - just as you and I also, if we attain to gnosis, will become gods after our deaths. But in the dialogues which I and others like me write, and in which we make Hermes speak as teacher, we represent him as talking to his pupils at the time when he was living on earth; and at that time he was a man."

In short, according to the best scholarly analyses, most of what is found in the Corpus Hermeticum is NOT Egyptian. Quite a number of people - followers of popular occultism - have difficulty accepting this. They search the texts to find specifically "Egyptian ideas" and will quote such as the following in favor of their case:

"God is self-generated; that God is hidden; that God is nameless; and yet innumerably-named; that God is bisexual; that God is life and the source or author of all life, etc..."

This is certainly not an exclusively Egyptian idea though Scott acknowledges it to have a strongly Egyptian "flavor." This idea has been an esoteric thread for, undoubtedly, many thousands of years . But it ought to be made clear that, yes, the Hermetic literature makes reference to Egyptian things, or to things prior to Egypt and the documents produced in Hellenic Egypt do, indeed, make references to life on the Nile. So it could be said that the style and setting of the Hermetica is Egyptian, while the teachings are, essentially, esoteric - most often Gnostic - and not specifically Egyptian.

As Laura Knight-Jadczyk shows in her great opus, The Secret History of The World, the Hermetica is a distorted survival of the northern pagan cosmological doctrine that is based on things far more ancient than Egypt.

As we present the information in this volume, the reader will be introduced to the idea that the science of the ancients may have included a very comprehensive knowledge of the deeper reality that present day sciences, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, and astrophysics, are only rediscovering. And here we do not mean the ancient Egyptians or Babylonians or Sumerians, but rather peoples of far greater antiquity than they, and that the Egyptians, Babylonians, Sumerians, and so on, retained only a distorted and corrupted version of these ideas in the form of myths and legends which they elaborated and utilized in their “magical practices.” Further, that it is only in the light of the present day scientific knowledge that the true ancient knowledge, depicted in these myths and legends and religious rites can be properly understood. This is not to say that we are suggesting that we understand or have interpreted all of them. We are only saying that there are many ideas in these ancient stories that suggest the former existence of an advanced science that may have enabled an interface between layers, or dimensions of reality, on this planet in archaic times.

  This idea is not original to us, as many readers will know. However, we do think that we have been able to shine a light into certain dark corners that have been, heretofore, poorly understood. Arthur C. Clarke pointed out, “Any sufficiently evolved technology is indistinguishable from magic.” When we divest our minds of preconceived notions about what the ancients may or may not have known, and we just look at myths and legends, the substrate of religions, over and over again we see descriptions of activities, events, terms and potentials that express such things as a knowledge of free energy, anti-gravity, time travel, interplanetary travel, atomic energy, atomic molecularization and demolecularization; just a whole host of doings that were formerly understood as the wild and superstitious imaginings of howling savages, that today - with scientific knowledge - are becoming commonplace activities. Many scholars explain that such stories were attempts to understand the environment by personifying, or anthropomorphizing, the forces of nature. Other interpreters make the mistake of assuming that it was a “sacred science” in terms that strictly deny any form of material interpretation.

About Egypt, specifically, she writes:

The fad for all things “Egyptian” has been with us for a very long time. Schwaller de Lubicz - the vector of many of these ideas - settled in Egypt in 1938 and for the next 15 years studied the symbolism of the temples, particularly Luxor, finding what he considered to be proof that the ancient Egyptians were the ultimate examples of Synarchy, because they were ruled by a group of elite initiates. He failed to point out that the Egyptian civilization was static and limited. What’s more, it caved in on itself, and never managed to produce any significant work of benefit for humanity, as Otto Neugebauer showed conclusively in his The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, whose evidence we will quote further on in this volume.

  The open-minded thinker ought to really consider the purported mysteries of Egypt in terms of the fact that they were so ignorant that they devoted a huge amount of energy to their “cult of the dead.” The whole Egyptian shtick is focused around preserving dead flesh for future or otherworldly reanimation. The very fact that there are so many of these dead bodies for Egyptologists to dig up is the clearest evidence that the Egyptian beliefs were nonsense. So, in that sense, certainly, Christianity as we know it has adopted the “Egyptian religion” and its beliefs in physical resurrection.

  The whole issue of the excitement over Egyptian civilization is the belief that they had some mysterious powers because they built the pyramids and we can’t. And has it never occurred to anybody that the existence of the pyramids in conjunction with the worship of an elite group of human beings, while everybody else was wearing loincloths and sweating in the hot sun, might suggest a relationship between the two? The fact is, the Egyptian civilization seems to have been the chief example of a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots, and they managed to do it longer than anybody else.

  In examining the work of Schwaller, we have one of the better examples of the subtle way the negative occult societies attack those who come to bring light, by association and co-opting. The tactic is to find a means of subtly allying their message with that of the truth so as to generate confusion in untrained minds which would tend on surface evidence to accept these actually contrary messages as similar, at least in intent.

  The negative occultists who are promoting the new Control System borrow all their components from what is of truth, and proceed by the method of imitation. They literally will ape the expression of positive teachings, and all the more carefully when they wish to be mistaken altogether for purveyors of truth, so as to subvert the messages. [....]

[The alchemist Fulcanelli writes] Atlantis. Did this mysterious island, of which Plato left the enigmatic description, ever exist? A question difficult to solve, give the weakness of the means which science possesses to penetrate the secret of the abysses. Nevertheless, some observations seem to support the partisans of the existence of Atlantis. […]

Faith in the truthfulness of Plato’s works results in believing the reality of the periodical upheavals of which the Mosaic Flood, we said it, remains the written symbol and the sacred prototype. To those who negate what the priests of Egypt entrusted to Solon, we would only ask to explain to us what Aristotle’s master wanted to reveal by this fiction of a sinister nature. For we indeed believe that beyond doubt, Plato became the propagator of very ancient truths, and that consequently his books contain a set, a body of hidden knowledge. His Geometric Number, and Cave have their signification; why should the myth of Atlantis not have its own?

Atlantis must have undergone the same fate as the others, and the catastrophe, which submerged it, falls obviously into the same cause as that which buried, forty-eight centuries later, under a profound sheet of water, Egypt, the Sahara, and the countries of Northern Africa. But more favored than the land of the Atlantean, Egypt gained from a raising of the bottom of the ocean and came back to the light of day, after a certain time of immersion. For Algeria and Tunisia with their dry “chotts” covered with a thick layer of salt, the Sahara and Egypt with their soils constituted for a large part of sea sand show that the waters invaded and covered vast expanses of the African continent. The columns of the Pharaohs‘ temples bear on them undeniable traces of immersion; in the hypostyle chambers, the slabs, still extant, which form the ceilings have been raised and moved by the oscillating motion of the waves; the disappearance of the outer coating of the pyramids and in general that of the stone joins (the Colossus of Memnon who used to sing) the evident traces of corrosion by water that can be noticed on the sphinx of Giza, as well as on many other works of Egyptian statuary have no other origin. [...]

  One of the oft-reiterated themes of Fulcanelli is that the “ancient Greeks” — not the Egyptians — were the source of the Hermetic science.   Timaeus and Critias, written by Plato some time around 360 BC98 are the only existing written records which specifically refer to Atlantis. The dialogues are conversations between Socrates, Hermocrates, Timaeus, and Critias. Apparently in response to a prior talk by Socrates about ideal societies, Timaeus and Critias agree to entertain Socrates with a tale that is “not a fiction but a true story.”

It should be noted here that this is, indeed, true: Fulcanelli says that the Greeks were the source of the Hermetic Science. For those who suggest that Schwaller was the "real Fulcanelli," this immediately produces an insurmountable problem since Schwaller devoted all his time and energy to studies of Egypt and promoting the Egyptians as the source of Hermetic knowledge. Back to Knight-Jadczyk's exposition on the subject:

  The story is about the conflict between the ancient Athenians and the Atlanteans 9000 years before Plato’s time. Knowledge of the ancient times was apparently forgotten by the Athenians of Plato’s day, and the form the story of Atlantis took in Plato’s account was that Egyptian priests conveyed it to Solon. Solon passed the tale to Dropides, the great-grandfather of Critias. Critias learned of it from his grandfather also named Critias, son of Dropides. Let’s take a careful look at the main section of the story, omitting the introduction that describes Solon going to Egypt and chatting up the priests.

Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science, which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why.

There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Phaeton, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals; at such times those who live upon the mountains and in dry and lofty places are more liable to destruction than those who dwell by rivers or on the seashore. And from this calamity the Nile, who is our never-failing saviour, delivers and preserves us.

When, on the other hand, the gods purge the earth with a deluge of water, the survivors in your country are herdsmen and shepherds who dwell on the mountains, but those who, like you, live in cities are carried by the rivers into the sea. Whereas in this land, neither then nor at any other time, does the water come down from above on the fields, having always a tendency to come up from below; for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient. The fact is, that wherever the extremity of winter frost or of summer does not prevent, mankind exist, sometimes in greater, sometimes in lesser numbers. And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed - if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples.

  We want to here make note of the fact that present day evidence suggests that it is true both that Egypt has been inundated and that it experienced a rainy climate. Fulcanelli even commented upon the inundation of Egypt. This leads us to question whether or not this story actually came from the mouth of a true Egyptian priest with the full knowledge of the ancient cataclysms. If so, he would have known of the period of heavy rain and shallow seas in Egypt, by which the Sphinx and other monuments were eroded, and which deposited a layer of salt on the interior of the pyramids and other structures. And so we suggest, to reconcile this difficulty, not that the story is false — because Fulcanelli has told us to “have faith in the account of Plato” — but rather that the speaker was not aware of certain ideas specifically relating to Egypt, and that the dialogue has been put into the mouth of an Egyptian priest in order to preserve it in the context of the then current “Egyptian craze.” It might even be thought that this was a deliberate exoteric “blind.”

Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children.

In the first place you remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones; in the next place, you do not know that there formerly dwelt in your land the fairest and noblest race of men which ever lived, and that you and your whole city are descended from a small seed or remnant of them which survived. And this was unknown to you, because, for many generations, the survivors of that destruction died, leaving no written word. For there was a time, Solon, before the great deluge of all, when the city which now is Athens was first in war and in every way the best governed of all cities, is said to have performed the noblest deeds and to have had the fairest constitution of any of which tradition tells, under the face of heaven.

  Again, let’s interrupt the dialogue to point out that it is hardly likely that a priest of Egypt would have declared the Athenians to be “the fairest and noblest race of men,” nor that they “performed the noblest deeds” and had the “fairest constitution … under the face of heaven!” Another clue that the speaker is giving us that it is NOT Egypt that is the source of this information - at least not Egypt as we know it now.

Solon marveled at his words, and earnestly requested the priests to inform him exactly and in order about these former citizens. You are welcome to hear about them, Solon, said the priest, both for your own sake and for that of your city, and above all, for the sake of the goddess who is the common patron and parent and educator of both our cities. She founded your city a thousand years before ours, receiving from the Earth and Hephaestus the seed of your race, and afterwards she founded ours, of which the constitution is recorded in our sacred registers to be eight thousand years old.

  Yet again, the Egyptian priest is giving greater antiquity to the Greeks than to the Egyptians! Another clue for the reader to understand that this is not an Egyptian story! What is being said is being put in the mouth of an Egyptian priest to “conceal.” Indeed, the worship of the goddess, is the older form of worship in Egypt. But all of that came to an end, probably with the conquest of Narmer, the building of the temple to Hephaestus, the demoting of the goddess and the Moon calendar, and the instituting of the Solar worship and the solar calendar of 365 days.99

As touching your citizens of nine thousand years ago, I will briefly inform you of their laws and of their most famous action; the exact particulars of the whole we will hereafter go through at our leisure in the sacred registers themselves. If you compare these very laws with ours you will find that many of ours are the counterpart of yours as they were in the olden time.

  Here, of course, we come to the idea that there was an ancient connection and communication between the truly “old Egyptians” and the Northern peoples. Georges Gurdjieff once remarked that Christianity was taken from Egypt, a statement that might suggest that he agreed with the Pan-Egyptian school. But no: Christianity, he hastened to explain, was not taken from the Egypt of history, but from a “far older Egypt” which is unrecorded.100

In the first place, there is the caste of priests, which is separated from all the others; next, there are the artificers, who ply their several crafts by themselves and do not intermix; and also there is the class of shepherds and of hunters, as well as that of husbandmen; and you will observe, too, that the warriors in Egypt are distinct from all the other classes, and are commanded by the law to devote themselves solely to military pursuits; moreover, the weapons which they carry are shields and spears, a style of equipment which the goddess taught of Asiatics first to us, as in your part of the world first to you.

  The remark that the right function of society was “first taught to the Asiatics” is most interesting. The reference to “Asiatics” in this context from an historical “Egyptian Priest” is extremely questionable because, in the many Egyptian inscriptions of historical times, the Asiatics are always referred to as “Vile.” Nevertheless, even in historical times, it is indeed true that the Egyptians borrowed their military equipment and war strategies from the Asiatics, but that was a much later development than the above story would suggest. The issue of who the “vile Asiatics” were is an ongoing debate, but it seems to devolve on such as the Hittites, Hyksos, and other Indo-European tribes that came down from the Steppes in various waves. We will discuss, further on, the evidence that the Steppe peoples were the worshippers of the goddess in the most ancient times, and that the war god, the weather god, the god of fire and the mountains, was introduced later from the South.

Then as to wisdom, do you observe how our law from the very first made a study of the whole order of things, extending even to prophecy and medicine which gives health, out of these divine elements deriving what was needful for human life, and adding every sort of knowledge which was akin to them. All this order and arrangement the goddess first imparted to you when establishing your city; and she chose the spot of earth in which you were born, because she saw that the happy temperament of the seasons in that land would produce the wisest of men. Wherefore the goddess, who was a lover both of war and of wisdom, selected and first of all settled that spot which was the most likely to produce men likest herself. And there you dwelt, having such laws as these and still better ones, and excelled all mankind in all virtue, as became the children and disciples of the gods.

  Again and again, this very strange “Egyptian” priest is saying things that completely contradict the more “historical” Egyptian view that they are the most “ancient and noble race.” In the above remarks, he has said that the goddess imparted to the Greeks first all of the laws of health and those things needed to preserve and prolong life. The Greeks are pronounced to have been the “wisest of men,” and those “most like the goddess” herself. And again “excelled all mankind in all virtue,” which is not very likely to have been said by an Egyptian priest.

Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.

Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire, which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars.

  Of all the things the “Egyptian priest” has said, the above is the most astonishing and the most telling. Again he is giving pre-eminence to the Greeks, that they performed the most heroic deed of all times, which was to defeat the Atlantean Empire! And this is the point that is so often just simply overlooked by all the Atlantis lovers! Atlantis was the original “evil empire of the Borg!” And what is more, in this passage, the clue is given that the ancient Egyptian civilization — the pyramids and other monumental architecture upon which so much of the current Egyptian craze is based, stemming from the work of Schwaller de Lubicz, and which is declared to be the offspring of Atlantis - the ancient Egypt that is so admired by the current day flock of Egyptophiles - was very likely an attempt to re-construct the EVIL EMPIRE OF ATLANTIS! In other words, the “priestly science” of the Egyptians, referred to by Fulcanelli, antedated the material so diligently studied and propagated by Schwaller and others for “clues” to alchemical secrets and methods of “ascension.”

But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.

I have told you briefly, Socrates, what the aged Critias heard from Solon and related to us. And when you were speaking yesterday about your city and citizens, the tale which I have just been repeating to you came into my mind, and I remarked with astonishment how, by some mysterious coincidence, you agreed in almost every particular with the narrative of Solon; but I did not like to speak at the moment. For a long time had elapsed, and I had forgotten too much; I thought that I must first of all run over the narrative in my own mind, and then I would speak.

  Here we find another interesting clue. Critias has just told us that Socrates was discussing the very things that are included in this story — that everything Socrates had been saying the previous day “agreed in almost every particular with the narrative of Solon.” Apparently, this story had been handed down via another line of transmission.

And so I readily assented to your request yesterday, considering that in all such cases the chief difficulty is to find a tale suitable to our purpose, and that with such a tale we should be fairly well provided. And therefore, as Hermocrates has told you, on my way home yesterday I at once communicated the tale to my companions as I remembered it; and after I left them, during the night by thinking I recovered nearly the whole it. Truly, as is often said, the lessons of our childhood make wonderful impression on our memories; for I am not sure that I could remember all the discourse of yesterday, but I should be much surprised if I forgot any of these things which I have heard very long ago. I listened at the time with childlike interest to the old man’s narrative; he was very ready to teach me, and I asked him again and again to repeat his words, so that like an indelible picture they were branded into my mind.

As soon as the day broke, I rehearsed them as he spoke them to my companions, that they, as well as myself, might have something to say. And now, Socrates, to make an end my preface, I am ready to tell you the whole tale. I will give you not only the general heads, but the particulars, as they were told to me.

The city and citizens, which you yesterday described to us in fiction, we will now transfer to the world of reality. It shall be the ancient city of Athens, and we will suppose that the citizens whom you imagined, were our veritable ancestors, of whom the priest spoke; they will perfectly harmonise, and there will be no inconsistency in saying that the citizens of your republic are these ancient Athenians. Let us divide the subject among us, and all endeavour according to our ability gracefully to execute the task which you have imposed upon us. Consider then, Socrates, if this narrative is suited to the purpose, or whether we should seek for some other instead.101

  And we come to the final understanding that conveys to us the secret of the story of Atlantis: that it did not actually come from an Egyptian priest, but that this was a story that was created to “execute the task which you [Socrates] have imposed upon us,” which was to veil in fiction something that was Truth. Does this mean that they were “making it up”? No, indeed. It means that they were attempting to find a vehicle for the history that would insure its preservation.

  Thus we come to the conclusion that it is entirely possible that the story was not given to Solon by an Egyptian priest, but that it was attributed to same because at the time everyone was convinced of the antiquity of the Egyptians. It was as much a fad then as now, due to the presence of the pyramids and other monuments. If Fulcanelli is correct about the cult of the dead of the Egyptians being a distortion of this knowledge, and this cult was encouraged, supported, and furthered by the Egyptian elite of the past several thousand years, then it is almost a certainty that they were not in possession of the knowledge that was conveyed to Solon. But it seems apparent that he did, indeed, get it from somewhere. And he tells us that the Greeks were instructed by the Arabs which certainly makes us wonder who were the original “Arabs” since the time referred to was long before Abraham and his son Ishmael, the alleged “father of the Arabs.” [The Secret History of the World, Laura Knight-Jadczyk, 2005, Red Pill Press, Canada]

When discussing historical chronology, Knight-Jadczyk brings up Egypt again:

Otto Neugebauer began the ten-page section on Egypt in his later History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy with the provocative sentence, “Egypt has no place in a work on the history of mathematical astronomy.”332

  Did you catch that? Neugebauer is telling us that the Egyptians were scientifically illiterate. He read and examined everything. All the Egyptologists who were inculcated into the belief of the superiority of Egyptian science were sending him their papyri and inscriptions from tombs and monuments. All the things that are so difficult to get hold of nowadays were sent to Neugebauer. And what did Neugebauer say?

Mathematics and astronomy played a uniformly insignificant role in all periods of Egyptian history. […] The fact that Egyptian mathematics has preserved a relatively primitive level makes it possible to investigate a stage of development which is no longer available in so simple a form, except in the Egyptian documents.

To some extent Egyptian mathematics has had some, though rather negative, influence on later periods. Its arithmetic was widely based on the use of unit fractions, a practice which probably influenced the Hellenistic and Roman administrative offices and thus spread further into other regions of the Roman empire. […]The influence of this practice is visible even in works of the stature of the Almagest, where final results are often expressed with unit fractions in spite of the fact that the computations themselves were carried out with sexagesimal fractions. […] And this old tradition doubtless contributed much to restricting the sexagesimal place value notation to a purely scientific use.

It would be quite out of proportion to describe Egyptian geometry here at length. It suffices to say that we find in Egypt about the same elementary level we observed in contemporary Mesopotamia.

The role of Egyptian mathematics is probably best described as a retarding force upon numerical procedures. Egyptian astronomy had much less influence on the outside world for the very simple reason that it remained through all its history on an exceedingly crude level which had practically no relations to the rapidly growing mathematical astronomy of the Hellenistic age. Only in one point does the Egyptian tradition show a very beneficial influence, that is, in the use of the Egyptian calendar by the Hellenistic astronomers. This calendar is, indeed, the only intelligent calendar which ever existed in human history. A year consists of 12 months of 30 days each and five additional days at the end of each year. A second Egyptian contribution to astronomy is the division of the day into 24 hours, through these hours were originally not of even length, but were dependent on the seasons. […]

Lunar calendars played a role since early times side by side with the schematic civil calendar of the 365-day year. An inscription of the Middle Kingdom mentions “great” and “small” years, and we know now that the “great” years were civil years which contained 13 new moon festivals in contrast to the ordinary “small” years with only 12 new moons. The way these intercalations were regulated, at least in the latest period, is shown by the Demotic text.

This Demotic text contains a simple periodic scheme which is based on the fact that 25 Egyptian civil years (which contain 9125 days) are very nearly equal to 309 mean lunar months. These 309 months are grouped by our text into 16 ordinary years of 12 lunar months, and 9 “great” years of 13 months. Ordinarily two consecutive lunar months are given 59 days by our scheme, obviously because of the fact that one lunar month is close to 29 ½ days long. But every 5th year the two last months are made 60 days long. This gives for the whole 25 year cycle the correct total of 9125 days.

Since at this period all astronomical computations were carried out in the sexagesimal system, at least as far as fractions are concerned, the equinoctial hours were divided sexagesimally. Thus our present division of the day into 24 hours of 60 minutes each is the result of a Hellenistic modification of an Egyptian practice combined with Babylonian numerical procedures.

Finally, we have to mention the decans. […] The decans are the actual reason for the 12 division of the night and hence, in the last analysis, of the 24 hour system. Again, in Hellenistic times the Egyptian decans were brought into a fixed relation to the Babylonian zodiac which is attested in Egypt only since the reign of Alexander’s successors. In this final version the 36 decans are simply the thirds of the zodiacal signs, each decan representing 10 degrees of the ecliptic. Since the same period witnesses the rapid development of astrology, the decans assumed an important position in astrological lore and in kindred fields such as alchemy, the magic of stones and plants and their use in medicine. In this disguise the decans reached India, only to be returned in still more fantastic form to the Muslims and the West. […]

[In the decans] we have not a calendar but a star clock. The user of this list would know the hour of night by the rising of the decan which is listed in the proper decade of the month. […]

We call this phenomenon the “heliacal rising” of S, using a term of Greek astronomy. [...]

It is this sequence of phenomena which led the Egyptians to measure the time of night by means of stars, which we now call decans. This was intended to devise some method of indicating the times of office for the nightly service in the temples, (and other practical reasons.) Just as the months were divided into decades, so were the services of the hour-stars. For 10 days, S indicated the last hour of night, then the next star for the next ten days, and so on. […]

All this was, in fact, taken into account by the inventors of the decanal hours, as can be demonstrated by the terminal section of the “diagonal calendars” on the coffin lids. […]

By the time of the New Kingdom, the usefulness of the decans as indicators of hours had ceased. […] The decans held a secure position as representatives of the decades of the year in the decoration of astronomical ceilings, as in the tomb of Senmut or in the cenotaph of Seti I. In this form, they continued to exist until their association with the zodiac of the Hellenistic period revived them and made them powerful elements of astrological doctrine.

The coffins with the “diagonal calendars” belong roughly to the period from 2100 BC to 1800 BC. […] Astronomical accuracy was nowhere seriously attempted in these documents. […]

In summary, from the almost three millennia of Egyptian writing, the only texts which have come down to us and deal with a numerical prediction of astronomical phenomena belong to the Hellenistic or Roman period. None of the earlier astronomical documents contains mathematical elements; they are crude observational schemes, partly religious, partly practical in purpose.

Ancient science was the product of a very few men; and these few happened not to be Egyptians.333

  It seems that we have learned several things from Neugebauer’s examination of the texts of the various papyri, tomb inscriptions, monuments, calendars, and so forth. One of the most important things we have learned is that the Egyptians did, indeed, correct their calendar every five years, similar to what we do every four years with our leap year. This naturally makes the idea of the Sothic cycle irrelevant in terms of calendrical reconciliation. We also begin to understand some of the totally incomprehensible sayings of the Pyramid Texts. They were recitations of prayers and magical spells that had to be performed at a certain “moment” in the night, and the only way to determine time at night was by the stars. According to Neugebauer, there are sufficient numbers of these star clocks in tombs to confirm this idea.

  Next we note that Neugebauer tells us that the only texts which have come down to us and deal with a numerical prediction of astronomical phenomena belong to the Hellenistic or Roman period and in Hellenistic times the Egyptian decans were brought into a fixed relation to the Babylonian zodiac which is attested in Egypt only since the reign of Alexander’s successors.

  In other words, the “occult secrets” generally attributed to the Egyptians, must actually belong to the Greeks.

So, what can we conclude from all of this? It would be helpful for the interested Hermeticist to read thoroughly Knight-Jadczyk's amazing synthesis along with the works of Frances A. Yates, Garth Fowden, and their sources in order to get the fullest understanding of the fact that a huge error has been made and as a consequence, there is a serious distortion in Hermeticism as it is generally understood today.

It seems that when the Greeks conquered Egypt, they were so impressed with the architectural marvels that they assumed that the present population was the one that had been responsible for those structures. However, that may not be the case at all. I can't cover that argument right now, but suffice it to say that there is enough evidence available to strongly suspect that the Egyptians that built the pyramids and the sphinx and the great temples were already long gone by the time the Greeks arrived and that the Egyptians in residence were but a remnant that had long forgotten the original science behind their structures and writings. All that was left was distortions and meaningless rituals, from which the original true knowledge had been long lost.

The careful reader may have noted the reference to Egyptian "religion" as being infused with "magic" and incantations that had to be performed at certain hours and that this was the reason for the so called Pyramid Texts and the existence of the star clocks. If there has been any corruption of the ancient texts, it is this infusion of ritualistic nonsense into the process of Hermetic Gnosis, the subject I want to cover next.

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