Thoth the Master of Wisdom

Universal Consciousness
January 30, 2017
The Universe in Man
February 14, 2017
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Thoth the Master of Wisdom

This Article will be devoted to a brief consideration of the nature, powers, and attributes of the divine personification Thoth (Teḥuti), the Master of Wisdom and Truth, on the ground of pure Egyptian tradition. 


First of all, however, let us see what the German scholar Pietschmann has had to say on Thoth in his monograph specially devoted to Thrice-greatest Hermes according to Egyptian, Greek, and Oriental traditions. 


The first part of Pietschmann’s treatise, in which he seems to be content, as far as his own taste and feeling are concerned, to trace the original of the grandiose concept of the Thrice-greatest to the naïve conception of an “ibis-headed moon-god,” is devoted to the consideration of what he calls the god Teχ-Ṭeḥuti among the Egyptians. Why Pietschmann should have chosen this double form of the name for his sub-title is not very clear. The variants appear to be Teḥ, Teḥu, Teḥut, and Teḥuti—of which it would seem that the Greek form Thoth is an attempt to transliterate Teḥut. There are, however, it may be remarked, no less than eighteen variants of the name found in Greek and Latin. I should thus myself be inclined to use the form Teḥut if it were permissible; but of this I am not quite sure, as the weak-sounding though undoubtedly more common form Teḥuti, is usually employed by scholars. As, however, Teḥuti, to my ears at any rate, is not a very dignified sounding cognomen, I shall use the Greek form Thoth as being the more familiar to English readers.




Horapollo tells us that the ibis was the symbol of Thoth as the “master of the heart and reason in all men,” 1 though why this was so must remain hidden in the mystery of the “sacred animals,” which has not yet to my knowledge been in any way explained.


And as Thoth, the Logos, was in the hearts of all, so was he the heart of the world whose life directed and permeated all things. 


Thus the temple, as the dwelling of the God, was regarded as a model of the world, and its building as a copy of the world-building. And just as Thoth had ordained measure, number, and order in the universe, so was he the master-architect of temple-building and of all the mystic monuments. Thus, as the ordering world-mind, a text addresses Thoth as follows:


“Thou art the great, the only God, the Soul of the Becoming.” 


To aid him in the world Thoth has a spouse, or syzygy, Nehe-māut. She is, among the Gnostics, the Sophia-aspect of the Logos. She is presumably the Nature of our Trismegistic treatises. Together Thoth and Nehe-māut are the initiators of all order, rule, and law in the universe.


Thus Thoth is especially the representative of the Spirit, the Inner Reason of all things; he is the Protector of all earthly laws, and every regulation of human society. Says a text:

“His law is firmly established, like that of Thoth.” 


As representative of the Reason immanent in the world, Thoth is the mediator through whom the world is brought into manifestation. He is the Tongue of Rā, the Herald of the Will of Rā, and the Lord of Sacred Speech. 


“What emanates from the opening of his mouth, that cometh to pass; he speaks, and it is his command; he is the Source of Speech, the Vehicle of Knowledge, the Revealer of the Hidden.” Thoth is thus the God of writing and all the arts and sciences. On a monument of Seti I. he is called “Scribe of the nine Gods.” He writes “the truth of the nine Gods,” and is called “Scribe of the King of Gods and men.”


Hence he is naturally inventor of the hieroglyphics, and patron and protector of all temple-archives and libraries, and of all scribes. At the entrance of one of the halls of the Memnonium at Thebes, the famous “Library of Osymandias,” called “The great House of Life,” we find Thoth as “Lord in the Hall of Books.” 


In the Ebers papyrus we read: “His guide is Thoth, who bestows on him the gifts of his speech, who makes the books, and illumines those who are learned therein, and the physicians who follow him, that they may work cures.”


We shall see that one of the classes of priests was devoted to the healing of the body, just as another was devoted to the healing of the soul.


These books are also called “The Great Gnoses of Thoth.”  Thoth was thus God of medicine, but not so much by drugs as by means of mesmeric methods and certain “magic formulæ.” Thus he is addressed as “Thoth, Lord of Heaven, who givest all life, all health.” 




Moreover, Thoth was also Lord of Rebirth:  “Thou hast given life in the Land of the Living; Thou hast made them live in the Region of Flames; Thou hast given respect of thy counsels in the breasts and in the hearts of men—mortals, intelligences, creatures of light.”


The Land of the Living was the Invisible World, a glorious Land of Light and Life for the seers of ancient Egypt. Mortals, Intelligences, Creatures of Light, were, says Pietschmann, the “three grades of the Egyptian mysteries.” These grades were, one may assume from our treatises: (1) Mortals—probationary pupils who were instructed in the doctrine, but who had not yet realised the inner vision; (2) Intelligences—those who had done so and had become “men,” that is to say who had received the “Mind”; (3) Beings (or Sons) of Light—those who had become one with the Light, that is to say those who had reached the nirvanic consciousness.

So much for what Pietschmann can be made to tell us of Thoth as Wisdom-God among the Egyptians.




To the information in Pietschmann may be added that which is given by Reitzenstein in the second of his two important studies, Zwei religionsgeschichtliche Fragen nach ungedruckten Texten der Strassburger Bibliothek (Strassburg, 1901). This second study deals with “Creation-myths and the Logos-doctrine,” the special Creation-myths treated of being found in a hitherto unpublished Greek text, which hands on purely Egyptian ideas in Greek dress and with Greek god-names, and which is of great interest and importance for the general subject of which our present studies form part.



The writer of this cosmogonical fragment was a priest or prophet of Hermes, and Hermes plays the most important part in the creation-story. Reitzenstein then proceeds to show that in the oldest Egyptian cosmogony the cosmos is brought into being through the Divine Word, which Thoth, who seems to have originally been equated with the Sun-god, speaks forth. This gives him the opportunity of setting down the attributes ascribed to Thoth in Egypt in pre-Greek times. 1 As, however, the same ground is covered more fully by Budge, we will now turn to his Gods of the Egyptians, or Studies in Egyptian Mythology (London, 1904), vol. i. pp. 400 ff., and lay under contribution the chapter entitled “Thoth (Teḥuti) and Maāt, and the other Goddesses who were associated with him,” as the most recent work on the subject by a specialist in Egyptological studies, whose opinions, it is true, may doubtless on many points be called into question by other specialists, but whose data must be accepted by the layman as based on prolonged first-hand study of the original texts. In using the material supplied by Dr Budge, however, I shall venture on setting it forth as it appears to me—that is to say, with the ideas awakened in my own mind by the study of his facts.




In the Hymns to Rā in the Ritual or Book of the Dead, and in works of a similar nature, we find that Thoth and Maāt stand one on either side of the Great God in his Boat, and that their existence was believed to be coeval with his own. Maāt is thus seen to be the feminine counterpart, syzygy or shakti, of Thoth, and her name is associated with the idea of Truth and Righteousness—that which is right, true, real, genuine, upright, righteous, just, steadfast, unalterable.




From the inscriptions of the later dynastic period, moreover, we learn that Thoth was called “Lord of Khemennu (Hermopolis), Self-created, to whom none hath given birth, God One.” He is the great Measurer, the Logos, “He who reckons in Heaven, the Counter of the Stars, the Enumerator of the Earth and of what is therein, and the Measurer of the Earth.”


He is the “Heart of Rā which cometh forth in the form of the God Thoth.”

As Lord of Hermopolis, where was his chief shrine, and of his temples in other cities, he was called “Lord of Divine Words,” “Lord of Maāt,” “Judge of the two Combatant Gods”—that is, of Horus and Set. Among other titles we find him called “Twice-great,” and “Thrice-great.” “From this last,” says Budge, “were derived the epithets ‘Trismegistus’ and ‘Termaximus’ of the classical writers.” We, however, doubt if this is so, and prefer the explanation of Griffith, as we shall see later on.

In addition to these deific titles, which identify him with the Logos in the highest meaning of the term, he was also regarded as the Inventor and God of all arts and sciences; he was “Lord of Books,” “Scribe of the Gods,” and “Mighty in speech”—that is to say, “his words took effect,” says Budge; his was the power of the “Spoken Word,” the Word whose language is action and realisation. He was said to be the author of many of the so-called “funeral works” by means of which the “deceased” gained everlasting life. These books were, however, rather in their origin sermons of initiation for living men, setting forth the “death unto sin and the new birth unto righteousness.” Thus in the Book of the Dead he plays a part to which are assigned powers greater than those of Osiris or even of Rā himself.




He is usually depicted in human form with the head of an ibis, or sometimes as an ibis; but why he is so symbolised remains a mystery even unto this day. It is also of little purpose to set down the emblems he carries, or the various crowns he wears, without some notion of what these hidden symbols of a lost wisdom may purport. The meanings of these sacred signs were clear enough, we may believe, to those who were initiated into the “Language of the Word”; to them they revealed the mystery, while for the profane they veiled and still veil their true significance.

Teḥuti, the Egyptian name of Thoth, it has been suggested, is to be derived from teḥu, the supposed oldest name of the ibis in Egypt; the termination ti thus signifying that he who was thus called possessed the powers and qualities of the ibis.


But if this is the true derivation, seeing that Teḥuti in his highest aspect is a synonym for the Logos of our system at the very least, I would suggest that we should rather exalt the “ibis” to the heavens than drag down the sublime concept of that Logos to considerations connected with a degenerate fowl of earth, and believe that the Egyptians chose it in wisdom rather than folly, as being some far-off reflection of a certain Great Bird of the Cosmic Depths, a member of that circle of Sacred Animals of which the now conventional Signs of the Zodiac are but faint sky-glyphs.


But the derivation of the name Teḥuti which seems to have been favoured by the Egyptians themselves was from tekh, which usually means a “weight,” but is also found as the name of Thoth himself. Now the determinative for the word tekh is the sign for the “heart”; moreover, Horapollo (i. 36) tells us that when the Egyptians wish to write “heart” they draw an ibis, adding, “for this bird was dedicated to Hermes (Thoth) as Lord of all Knowledge and Understanding.” Is it possible, however, that in this Horapollo was either mistaken or has said less than he knew; and that the Egyptians once wrote simply “heart” for Thoth, who presided over the “weighing of the heart,” but subsequently, in their love of mystery, and owing to the name-play, substituted the bird tekh or teknu, which we know closely resembled the ibis, for the more sacred symbol?


The now commonest name for Thoth, however, is Egy. hab, Copt, hibōi, Gk. ibis; and it is the white ibis (Abû Hannes) which is the Ibis religiosa, so say Liddell and Scott. Another of the commonest symbolic forms of Thoth is the dog-headed ape. Thus among birds he is glyphed as the ibis, among animals as the cynocephalus. The main apparent reason for this, as we shall see later on, is because the ibis was regarded as the wisest of birds, and the ape of animals. 


In the Judgment Scene of the Book of the Dead the dog-headed ape (Āān) is seated on the top of the beam of the Balance in which the heart of the deceased is weighed; his duty apparently is to watch the pointer and tell his master Thoth when the beam is level. Brugsch has suggested that this ape is a form of Thothas God of “equilibrium,” and that it elsewhere symbolises the equinoxes; but this does not explain the ape. Thoth is indeed, as we have seen, the Balancer—“Judge of the two Combatant Gods,” Horus and Set; he it is who stands at the meeting of the Two Ways, at the junction of Order and Chaos; but this by no means explains the puzzling cynocephalus. It was in one sense presumably connected with a certain state of consciousness, a reflection of the true Mind, just as were the lion and the eagle (or hawk); it “mimicked” that Mind better than the rest of the “animals.”


Horapollo, basing himself on some Hellenistic sources, tells us that the Egyptians symbolised the equinoxes by a sitting cynocephalus. One of the reasons which he gives for this is delightfully “Physiologic”; he tells us that at the equinoxes once every two hours, or twelve times a day, the cynocephalus micturates. From this as from so many of such tales we learn what the “sacred animal” did in heaven, rather than what the physical ape performed on earth. 




“The principal seat of the Thoth-cult was Khemennu, or Hermopolis, a city famous in Egyptian mythology as the place containing the “high ground on which Rā rested when he rose for the first time.”


Dare I here speculate that in this we have the mountain of our “Secret Sermon on the Mountain,” and that it was in the Thoth mystery-tradition of Hermopolis that the candidates for initiation were taught to ascend the mountain of their own inner natures, on the top of which the Spiritual Sun would rise and rest upon their heads “for the first time,” as Isis says in our “Virgin of the World” treatise?




At Khemennu 1 Thoth was regarded as the head of a Company of Eight—four pairs of divinities or divine powers, each a syzygy of male and female powers, positive and negative, active and passive, the oldest example of the Gnostic Ogdoad.

This was long ago the view of Brugsch, and it is now strongly supported by Budge, on the evidence of the texts, as against the opinion of Maspero, who would make the Hermopolitan a copy of the Heliopolitan Paut, or Company, which included Osiris and Isis. Budge, however, squarely declares that “the four pairs of gods of Hermopolis belong to a far older conception of the theogony than that of the company of gods of Heliopolis.”


If this judgment is well founded, we have here a most interesting parallel in the Osirian type of our Trismegistic literature, in which Osiris and Isis look to Hermes (Thoth) as their teacher, as being far older and wiser than themselves.


The great struggle between Light and Darkness, of the God of Light and the God of Darkness, goes back to the earliest Egyptian tradition, and the fights of Rā and Āpep, Ḥeru-Behuṭet and Set, and Horus, son of Isis, and Set, are “in reality only different versions of one and the same story, though belonging to different periods.” The Horus and Set version is apparently the most recent. The names of the Light God and Dark God thus change, but what does not change is the name of the Arbiter, the Mediator, “whose duty it was to prevent either God from gaining a decisive victory, and from destroying one another.” This Balancer was Thoth, who had to keep the opposites in equilibrium.




The name of the Temple of Thoth at Khemennu, or the City of Eight, was Ḥet Ȧbtit, or “House of the Net”—a very curious expression. From Ch. cliii. of the Ritual, however, we learn that there was a mysterious Net which, as Budge says, “was supposed to exist in the Under World and that the deceased regarded it with horror and detestation. Every part of it—its poles, and ropes, and weights, and small cords, and hooks—had names which he was obliged to learn if he wished to escape from it, and make use of it to catch food for himself, instead of being caught by ‘those who laid snares.’”


Interpreting this from the mystical standpoint of the doctrine of Rebirth, or the rising from the dead—that is to say, of the spiritual resurrection of those who had died to the darkness of their lower natures and had become alive to the light of the spiritual life, and this too while alive in the body and not after the death of this physical frame—I would venture to suggest that this Net was the symbol of a certain condition of the inner nature which shut in the man into the limitations of the conventional life of the world, and shut him off from the memory of his true self. The poles, ropes, weights, small cords, and hooks were symbols of the anatomy and physiology, so to say, of the invisible “body” or “carapace” or “egg” or “envelope” of the soul. The normal man was enmeshed in this engine of Fate; the man who received the Mind inverted this Net, so to speak, transmuted and transformed it, so that he could catch food for himself. “Come ye after me and I will make you fishers of men.” The food with which the “Christ” nourishes his “body” is supplied by men.


Thus in a prayer in this chapter of the Ritual we read: “Hail, thou ‘God who lookest behind thee,’ 1 thou ‘God who hast gained the mastery over thine heart,’ 2 I go a-fishing with the cordage [? net] of the ‘Uniter of the earth,’ and of him that maketh a way through the earth. 3 Hail ye Fishers who have given birth to your own fathers, 4 who lay snares with your nets, and who go round about in the chambers of the waters, take ye not me in the net wherewith ye ensnare the helpless fiends, and rope me not in with the rope wherewith ye roped in the abominable fiends of earth, which had a frame which reached unto heaven, and weighted parts that rested upon earth.” 


And in another chapter (cxxxiii.) the little man says to the Great Man within him: “Lift thyself up, O thou Rā, who dwellest in this divine shrine; draw thou unto thyself the winds, inhale the North wind, and swallow thou the beqesu of thy net on the day wherein thou breathest Maāt.”


“On the day wherein thou breathest Maāt” suggests the inbreathing or inspiration of Truth and Righteousness, the Holy Ghost, or Holy Breath or Life, the Spouse of the Ordering Mind or Logos. The winds are presumably the four great cosmic currents of the Divine Breath, the North wind being the “down-breath” of the Great Sphere.


The term beqesu has not yet been deciphered (can it mean knots?); but the swallowing of the Net seems to suggest the transformation of it, inwardly digesting of it, in such a fashion that the lower is set free and becomes one with the higher.


And that this idea of a net is very ancient, especially in its macrocosmic significance, is evidenced by the parallel of the Assyrian and Babylonian versions of the great fight between the Sun-god Marduk and the Chaotic Mother Tiamat and her titanic and daimonic powers of disordered motion and instability—both Egyptian and Babylonian traditions probably being derived from some primitive common source.


“He (Marduk) set lightning in front of him, with burning fire he filled his body. He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiamat, the Four Winds he set so that nothing of her might escape; the South wind and the North wind, and the East wind and the West wind, he brought near to the net which his father Anu had given him.” 


Now in the Hymns of the popular Hermes-cult found in the Greek Magic Papyri, one of the most favourite forms of address to Hermes is “O thou of the four winds.” Moreover, we may compare with the rope with which the Fishers “rope the abominable fiends of earth,” the passage of Athenagoras to which we have already referred, and in which he tells us concerning the Mysteries that the mythos ran that Zeus, after dismembering his father, and taking the kingdom, pursued his mother Rhea who refused his nuptials. “But she having assumed a serpent form, he also assumed the same form, and having bound her with what is called the ‘Noose of Hercules’ (τῷ καλουμένῳ Ἡρακλειωτικῷ ἄμματι), was joined with her. And the symbol of this transformation is the Rod of Hermes.”

Here again it is the symbolic Caduceus that represents the equilibrium between the opposed forces; it is the power of Thoth that binds and loosens; he holds the keys of heaven and hell, of life and death. It is further quite evident that Athenagoras is referring to a Hellenistic form of the Mysteries, in which the influence of Egypt is dominant. The “Noose of Hercules” is thus presumably the “Noose of Ptah.” Now Ptah is the creator and generator, and his “Noose” or “Tie” is probably the Ankh-tie or symbol of life, the familiar crux ansata, of which the older form is a twisted rope, probably representing the binding together of male and female life in generation. Ptah is also the God of Fire, and we should not forget that it is Hephaistos in Greek myth who catches Aphrodite and Ares in a Net which he has cunningly contrived—at which the gods laughed in High Olympus.



In the list of titles of the numerous works belonging to the cycle of Orphic literature, one is called The Veil (Πέπλος) and another The Net (Δίκτυον). 1

In the Panathenæa the famous Peplum, Veil, Web, or Robe of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, was borne aloft like the sail of a galley; but this was the symbol only of the Mysteries. Mystically it signified the Veil of the Universe, studded with stars, the many-coloured Veil of Nature, 2 the famous Veil or Robe of Isis, that no “mortal” or “dead man” has raised, for that Veil was the spiritual nature of the man himself, and to raise it he had to transcend the limits of individuality, break the bonds of death, and so become consciously immortal.


Eschenbach is thus quite correct when, in another of its aspects, he refers this Veil to the famous Net of Vulcan. Moreover Aristotle, quoting the Orphic writings, speaks of the “living creature born in the webs of the Net”; 4 while Photius tells us that the book of Dionysius Ægeensis, entitled Netting, or Concerning Nets (Δικτυακά), treated of the generation of mortals. 5 And Plato himself likens the intertwining of the nerves, veins, and arteries to the “network of a basket” or a bird-cage. 


All of which, I think, shows that Thoth’s Temple of the Net must have had some more profound significance in its name than that it was a building in which “the emblem of a net, or perhaps a net itself, was venerated,” as Budge lamely surmises.




But to resume. We have seen that Thoth was considered to be the “heart” and “tongue” of Rā the Supreme—that is, not only the reason and mental powers of the god Rā, and the means whereby they were translated into speech, but rather the Controller of the life and Instrument of the utterance of the Supreme Will; He was the Logos in the fullest sense of that mysterious name, the Creative Word. He it is who utters the “words” whereby the Will of the Supreme is carried into effect, and his utterance is that of Necessity and Law; his “words” are not the words of feeble human speech, but the compelling orders of the Creative Will.


“He spoke the words which resulted in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and he taught Isis the words which enabled her to revivify the dead body of Osiris, in suchwise that Osiris could beget a child by her; and he gave her the formulæ which brought back her son Horus to life after he had been stung to death by a scorpion.”


All of which, I believe, refers microcosmically to the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, by the power of the Logos. “Osiris” must die before he can be raised, and beget a son, who is himself, by immaculate conception within his own spiritual nature. “Horus” must be poisoned to death by the scorpion of “Typhon” before he can be raised by the baptism of the pure waters of Life.




Thoth’s “knowledge and powers of calculation measured out the heavens and planned the earth, and everything which is in them; his will and power kept the forces in heaven and earth in equilibrium; it was his skill in celestial mathematics which made proper use of the laws (maāt) upon which the foundation and maintenance of the universe rested; it was he who directed the motions of the heavenly bodies and their times and seasons; and without his words the gods, whose existence depended upon them, could not have kept their place among the followers of Rā”—but would presumably have disappeared into another universe.


Thoth is the Judge of the dead, the Recorder and Balancer of all “words,” the Recording Angel; for the testing of the soul in the Balance of the Hall of Osiris is called the “weighing of words” and not of “actions.” But these “words” were not the words a man uttered, nor even the “reasons” he thought he had for his deeds, but the innermost intentions of his soul, the ways of the will of his being.

This doctrine of “words” as expressions of will, however, had, in addition to its moral significance, a magical application. “The whole efficacy of prayer appears to have depended upon the manner and tone of voice in which the words were spoken.”


It was Thoth who taught these words-of-power and how to utter them; he was the Master of what the Hindus would call mantra-vidyā, or the science of invocation or sacred chanting. These mantra were held in ancient Egypt, as they were and are to-day in India, and elsewhere among knowers of such matters, of special efficacy in affecting the “bodies” and conditions of that fluid nature which exists midway between the comparative solidity of normal physical nature and the fixed nature of the mind.


These “words” were connected with vital “breath” and the knowing use of it; that is to say, they were only really efficacious when the spoken words of physical sound corresponded naturally in their vowels and consonants, or their fluid and fixed elements, with the permutations and combinations of the inner elements of Nature; they then and only then were maā or true or authentic or real—that is to say, they were “words-of -power” in that they compelled matter to shape itself according to true cosmic notions.


Thus in a book called The Book of Breathings, it is said: “Thoth, the most mighty God, the Lord of Khemennu, cometh to thee, and he writeth for thee The Book of Breathings with his own fingers. 1 Thus thy soul shall breathe for ever and ever, and thy form shall be endowed with life upon earth, and thou shalt be made a God, along with the souls of the Gods, and they shall be the heart of Rā [for thee], and thy members shall be the members of the Great God.”




In the Ritual we learn of the services which Thoth performs for “Osiris,” that is for the Osirified, for he repeats them for every man who has been acquitted in the Judgment. Of three striking passages quoted by Budge, we will give the following as the most comprehensible, and therefore the seemingly most important for us. It is to be found in Ch. clxxxiii. and runs as follows, in the words placed in the mouth of the one who is being resurrected into an Osiris.


“I have come unto thee, O son of Nut, Osiris, Prince of everlastingness; I am in the following of God Thoth, and I have rejoiced at everything which he hath done for thee. He hath brought unto thee sweet air for thy nose, and life and strength for thy beautiful face, and the North wind which cometh forth from Tem for thy nostrils. . . . He hath made God Shu to shine upon thy body; he hath illumined thy path with rays of splendour; he hath destroyed for thee [all] the evil defects which belong to thy members by the magical power of the words of his utterance. He hath made the two Horus brethren to be at peace for thee; 1 he hath destroyed the storm wind and the hurricane; he hath made the Two Combatants to be gracious unto thee, and the two lands 2 to be at peace before thee; he hath put away the wrath which was in their hearts, and each hath become reconciled unto his brother.”




Budge then proceeds to give the attributes of Thoth as connected with time-periods and the instruments of time, the sun and moon. As Ȧāh-Teḥuti, he is the Measurer and Regulator of times and seasons, and is clearly not the Moon-god simply—though Budge says that he clearly is—for Thoth as Ȧāh is the “Great Lord, the Lord of Heaven, the King of the Gods”; he is the “Maker of Eternity and Creator of Everlastingness.” He is, therefore, not only the Æon, but its creator; and that is something vastly different from the Moon-god.




Our authority has already told us that one of the titles of Thoth is “Thrice-great,” and that the Greeks derived the honorific title Trismegistus from this; but he adds: “The title given to him in some inscriptions, ‘three times great, great’ [that is, greatest], from which the Greeks derived their appellation of the god ὁ τρισμέγιστος, or ‘ter maximus,’ has not yet been satisfactorily explained, and at present the exact meaning which the Egyptians assigned to it is unknown.”


If this title is found in the texts, it will settle a point of long controversy, for it has been strenuously denied that it ever occurs in the hieroglyphics; unfortunately, however, Dr Budge gives us no references. To the above sentence our distinguished Egyptologist appends a note to the effect that a number of valuable facts on the subject have been collected by Pietschmann in the book we have already made known to our readers. We have, however, not been able to find any valuable facts in Pietschmann which are in any way an elucidation of the term Thrice-greatest; but to this point we will return in another chapter.




The peculiar supremacy ascribed to Thoth by the Egyptians, however, has been amply demonstrated, and, as the great authority to whom we are so deeply indebted, says in his concluding words: “It is quite clear that Thoth held in their minds a position which was quite different from that of any other god, and that the attributes which they ascribed to him were unlike the greater number of those of any member of their companies of gods. The character of Thoth is a lofty and a beautiful conception, and is, perhaps, the highest idea of deity ever fashioned in the Egyptian mind, which, as we have already seen, was somewhat prone to dwell on the material side of divine matters. Thoth, however, as the personification of the Mind of God, and as the all-pervading, and governing, and directing power of heaven and earth, forms a feature of the Egyptian religion which is as sublime as the belief in the resurrection of the dead in a spiritual body, and as the doctrine of everlasting life.”


Thoth is then the Logos of God, who in his relation to mankind becomes the Supreme Master of Wisdom,  the Mind of all masterhood.


We will now turn to one whose views are considered heterodox by conservative and unimaginative critics, 2 who confine themselves solely to externals, and to the lowest and most physical meanings of the hieroglyphics—to one who has, I believe, come nearer to the truth than any of his critics, and whose labours are most highly appreciated by all lovers of Egyptian mystic lore.




The last work of W. Marsham Adams deserves the closest attention of every theosophical student. Not, however, that we think the author’s views with regard to a number of points of detail, and especially with regard to the make-up of the Great Pyramid, are to be accepted in any but the most provisional manner, for as yet we in all probability do not know what the full contents of that pyramid are, only a portion of them being known to us according to some seers. The chief merit of the book before us is the intuitional grasp of its author on the general nature of the mystery-cultus, as derived from the texts, and especially those of the Ritual or the so-called Book of the Dead, as Lepsius named it, setting a bad fashion which is not yet out of fashion. The Egyptian priests themselves, according to our author, called it The Book of the Master of the Secret House, the Secret House being, according to Adams, the Great Pyramid, otherwise called the “Light.”




In his Preface the author gives us clearly to understand that he regards the Wisdom of Egypt as forming the main background of some of the principal teachings of Early Christianity; and that this view is strongly confirmed by a careful study of the Trismegistic literature and its sources, will be made apparent in the course of our own labours. But before we proceed to quote from the former Fellow of New College, Oxford, whose recent death is regretted by all lovers of Egypt’s Wisdom, we must enter a protest.


Mr Adams has severely handicapped his work; indeed, he has destroyed nine-tenths of its value for scholars, by neglecting to append the necessary references to the texts which he cites. Such an omission is suicidal, and, indeed, it would be impossible for us to quote Mr Adams were it not that our Trismegistic literature permits us—we might almost say compels us—to take his view of the spiritual nature of the inner tradition of Egyptian Wisdom. Not, however, by any means that our author has traversed the same ground; he has not even mentioned the name of the Thrice-greatest one, and seems to have been ignorant of our treatises. Mr Adams claims to have arrived at his conclusions solely from the Egyptian texts themselves, and to have been confirmed in his ideas by personal inspection of the monuments. In fact, he considers it a waste of time to pay attention to anything written in Greek about Egyptian ideas, and speaks of “the distortion and misrepresentation wherein those ideas were involved, when filtered through the highly imaginative but singularly unobservant intellect of Greece.” 1 Thus we have a writer attacking the same problem from a totally different standpoint—for we ourselves regard the Greek tradition of the Egyptian Gnosis as a most valuable adjunct to our means of knowledge of the Mind of Egypt—and yet reaching very similar conclusions.




The Holy Land of those who had gone out from the body, watered by the Celestial Nile, the River of Heaven, of which the earthly river was a symbol and parallel, was divided into three regions, or states: (1) Rusta, the Territory of Initiation; (2) Aahlu, the Territory of Illumination; and (3) Amenti, the Place of Union with the Unseen Father. 


“In the religion of Egypt, the deepest and most fascinating mystery of antiquity, the visible creation, was conceived as the counterpart of the unseen world. 3 And the substance consisted not of a mere vague belief in the life beyond the grave, but in tracing out the Path whereby the Just, when the portal of the tomb is lifted up, 4 passes through the successive stages of Initiation, of Illumination, and of Perfection, necessary to fit him for an endless union with Light, the Great Creator.” 


Thus we are told that at a certain point in Aahlu, the Territory of Illumination, the Osirified, the purified soul, has achieved the “Passage of the Sun”—that is to say, has passed beyond the mortal mind-plane; he opens the Gates of the Celestial Nile and receives the Atf-crown of Illumination, “fashioned after the form of the Zodiacal light, the glory of the supreme heaven.” This is presumably the “crown of lives” referred to in our sermons, which he receives in the sphere called “Eight,” and with which he goes to the Father.


The Guide and Conductor through all these grades was Thoth the Eternal Wisdom; and we are told that:




“Thoth the Divine Wisdom, clothes the spirit of the Justified a million times in a garment of true linen, of that substance, that is to say, which by its purity and its brilliancy reminds us of the mantles, woven out of rays of light, wherewith the sun enwraps the earth afresh each day as she rotates before him; just as the soul of man is invested with new radiance each time that he turns to the presence of his Creator.” Again, “in the harmonious proportion of the universe,” the Egyptians saw “the Eternal Wisdom, Thoth, ‘the Mind and Will of God.’” 


We have seen that Pietschmann considers the original of Thoth, the God of Wisdom, to be nothing more than the ibis-headed moon-god, thus intentionally deriving the origin of the Great Initiator from what he considers to be the crude beginnings of primitive ideas. But Thoth was the Great Reckoner, the Recorder of the Balance of Justice, the Teller of the Kārmic Scales. Now the mortal time-recorder for the Egyptians was the moon, “for if we consider the motion of the moon relatively to the sun, we shall find that the time that it takes in covering a space equal to its own disc is just an hour. . . . Now, that measure of the ‘Hour’ was peculiarly sacred in Egypt; each of the twenty-four which elapse during a single rotation of the earth being consecrated to its own particular deity, twelve of light and twelve of darkness. ‘Explain the God in the hour,’ is the demand made of the adept in the Ritual when standing in the Hall of Truth. And that God in the hour, we learn, was Thoth, the ‘Lord of the Moon and the Reckoner of the Universe.’” 


Again, with regard to the moon-phases, the first day of the lunar month was called “the conception of the moon,” the second its “birth,” and so on step by step till it was full. Now the time of all lower initiations was the full moon. Thus “in the lunar representations on the walls of the temple of Denderah we have fourteen steps leading up to the fifteenth or highest, whereon was enthroned Thoth, the Lord of the Moon.” 


For some such reasons was Thoth called Lord of the Moon, not that the moon gave birth to the idea of Thoth. We must not seek for the origin of the Wisdom-tradition in its lower symbols. For in the inscription on the coffin of Ankhnes-Ra-Neferab—that is of her “whose life was the Sacred Heart of Ra”—we read: “Thy name is the Moon, the Heart of Silence, the Lord of the Unseen World” —of the space “as far as the moon,” or the “sublunary region,” as the old books say, the first after-death state, where souls are purified from earthly stains.




The end set before the neophyte was illumination, and the whole cult and discipline and doctrines insisted on this one way to Wisdom. The religion of Egypt was essentially the Religion of the Light.


But “most characteristic of all was the omnipotent and all-dominating sense of the fatherhood of God, producing the familiar and in some respects even joyous aspect which the Egyptians imparted to the idea of death.” And “to the sense which the priests at least possessed, both of the divine personality and of their own ultimate union with the personal deity [the Logos], far more probably than to any artificial pretension to a supposed exclusiveness, may be ascribed the mystery enshrouding their religion.” 


And as Light was the Father of the Religion of Illumination, so was Life, his consort or syzygy, the Mother of the Religion of Joy. “Life was the centre, the circumference, the totality of Good. Life was the sceptre in the hand of Amen; life was the richest ‘gift of Osiris.’ ‘Be not ungrateful to thy Creator,’ says the sage Ptah-Hotep, in what is perhaps the oldest document in existence, ‘for he has given thee life.’ ‘I am the Fount of Light,’ says the Creator in the Ritual. ‘I pierce the Darkness. I make clear the Path for all; the Lord of Joy.’” 1 Or again, as the postulant prays to the setting sun: “O height of Love, thou openest the double gate of the Horizon.” 


Here we have the full doctrine of the Light and Life which is the keynote of our treatises. Again, the doctrine of the endless turning of the spheres, which “end where they begin,” in the words of “The Shepherd,” is shown in the great fourth year festival of Hep-Tep or “Completion-Beginning,” when “the revolution and the rotation of our planet were simultaneously completed and begun afresh.” 




That the ancient temples of initiation in Egypt were models of the Sophia Above, or of the “Heavenly Jerusalem,” to use a Jewish Gnostic term, or, in other words, of the Type of the world-building, we may well believe. Thus it is with interest that we read the remarks of Adams on the temple of Denderah (or Annu), rebuilt several times according to the ancient plans, and an important centre of the mystery-cultus. The temple was dedicated to Hat-Hor, whose ancient title was the Virgin-Mother.


“In the centre of the temple is the Hall of the Altar, with entrances opening east and west; and beyond it lies the great hall of the temple entitled the Hall of the Child in his Cradle, from whence access is obtained to the secret and sealed shrine entered once a year by the high priest, on the night of mid-summer.” 


There were also various other halls and chambers each having a distinctive name, “bearing reference, for the most part, to the Mysteries of the light and of a divine Birth.” We have such names as: Hall of the Golden Rays, Chamber of Gold, Chamber of Birth, Dwelling of the Golden One, Chamber of Flames.


Now as the famous planisphere of Denderah—a wall-painting transferred bodily from the temple to Paris, early in the last century—“contains the northern and southern points, we are enabled to correlate the parts of that picture with the various parts of the temple, and thereby to discover a striking correspondence between the different parts of the inscription and the titles of the chambers and halls occupying relative positions.” 


Thus we have in the planisphere corresponding to the halls and chambers such names as: Horus, the Entrance of the Golden Heavens, the Golden Heaven of Isis, Horizon of Light, Palace Chamber of Supreme Light, Heavenly Flame of Burning Gold. “And as the chief hall of the temple was the Hall of the Child in his Cradle, so the chief representation on the planisphere is the holy Mother with the divine Child in her arms.”




Now the great mystery of Egypt was the second birth, the “Birth of Horus.” In “The Virgin of the World,” a long fragment of the lost Trismegistic treatise, “The Sacred Book,” preserved by Stobæus, Isis says to Horus: I will not tell of this birth; I must not, mighty Horus, reveal the origin of thy race, lest men should in the future know the generation of the Gods. Of the nature of this rebirth we are familiar from our treatises. But in spite of such clear indications the mystery of the Golden Horus has not yet been revealed.


In another passage from the same book Isis declares that the sovereignty or kingship of philosophy is in the hands of Harnebeschenis. This transliterated Egyptian name is given by Pietschmann 1 as originally either Hor neb en χennu (Horus the Lord of Xennu), or as Hor nub en χennu (the Golden Horus of Xennu). His hieroglyph was the golden hawk, who flies nearest the sun, and gazes upon it with unwinking eyes, a fit symbol for the new-born, the “man” illuminate.

Indeed, says Adams, “throughout the sacred writings of Egypt, there is no doctrine of which more frequent mention is made than that of a divine birth.” 


In what circle of ideas to place the Birth of Horus the theosophical student may perhaps glean by reversing the stages given in the following interesting passage of our author:

“In the Teaching of Egypt, around the radiant being, which in its regenerate life could assimilate itself to the glory of the Godhead, was formed the ‘khaibit,’ or luminous atmosphere, consisting of a series of ethereal envelopes, at once shading and diffusing its flaming lustre, as the earth’s atmosphere shades and diffuses the solar rays. And at each successive transformation (Ritual, lxxvii-lxxxvii.) it descended nearer to the moral [? normal] conditions of humanity. From the form of the golden hawk, the semblance of the absolute divine substance of the one eternal self-existent being, it passes to the ‘Lord of Time,’ the image of the Creator, since with the creation time began. Presently it assumes the form of a lily, the vignette in the Ritual representing the head of Osiris enshrined in that flower; the Godhead manifested in the flesh coming forth from immaculate purity. ‘I am the pure lily,’ we read, ‘coming forth from the lily of light. I am the source of illumination and the channel of the breath of immortal beauty. I bring the messages; Horus accomplishes them.’ Later the soul passes into the form of the uræus, ‘the soul of the earth.’ . . . And finally it assumes the semblance of a crocodile; becoming subject, that is, to the passions of humanity. For the human passions, being part of the nature wherein man was originally created, are not intrinsically evil but only become evil when insubordinate to the soul.” 




And not only was the Deity worshipped as the Source of Light and Life, but also as the Fount of Love. “I am the Fount of Joy,” says the Creator in the Ritual, and when the Atf-crown of illumination is set upon the head of the triumphant candidate after accomplishing the “Passage of the Sun,” as referred to above, the hymn proclaims that “north and south of that crown is Love.” 2 Into this Love the catechumen was initiated from the Secret Scroll, whose name is thus given in one of the copies: “This Book is the Greatest of Mysteries. Do not let the eye of anyone look upon it—that were an abomination. ‘The Book of the Master of the Secret House’ is its name.” The whole conception of the doctrine exposed in its chapters is instruction in Light and Life.


But are we to suppose that the majority were really instructed in this wisdom?—for we find it customary to wrap up some chapters of this Secret Scroll with almost every mummy. By no means. It seems to me that there are at least three phases in the use of this scripture, and in the process of degeneration from knowledge to superstition which can be so clearly traced in the history of Egypt. First there was the real instruction, followed by initiation while living; secondly, there was the recitation of the instruction over the uninitiated dead to aid the soul of the departed in the middle passage; and thirdly, there was the burying a chapter or series of chapters of the Book of the Master as a talisman to protect the defunct, when in far later times the true meaning of the words written in the sacred characters had been lost, though they were still “superstitiously” regarded as magical “words of power.”


The recitation of some of the chapters over the dead body of the uninitiated, however, is not to be set down as a useless “superstition,” but was a very efficacious form of “prayers for the dead.” After a man’s decease he was in conscious contact with the unseen world, even though he may have been skeptical of its existence, or at any rate unfit to be taught its real nature, prior to his decease. But after the soul was freed from the prison of the body, even the uninitiated was in a condition to be instructed on the nature of the path he then perforce must travel. But as he could not even then properly pronounce the “words” of the sacred tongue, the initiated priest recited or chanted the passages.





“For the doctrine contained in those mystic writings was nothing else than an account of the Path pursued by the Just when, the bonds of the flesh being loosed, he passed through stage after stage of spiritual growth—the Entrance on Light, the Instruction in Wisdom, the Second Birth of the Soul, the Instruction in the Well of Life, the Ordeal of Fire, and the Justification in Judgment; until, illumined in the secret Truth and adorned with the jewels of Immortality, he became indissolubly united with Him whose name, says the Egyptian Ritual, is Light, Great Creator.” 1

It should, however, be remembered that this must not be taken in its absolute sense even for the initiate, much less for the uninitiated. For even in the mystic schools themselves, as we may see from our treatises, there were three modes in which knowledge could be communicated—“By simple instruction, by distant vision, or by personal participation.” For indeed there were many phases of being, many steps of the great ladder, each in ever greater fullness embracing the stages mentioned, each a reflection or copy of a higher phase.


Thus, for example, “the solemn address, described in the Sai-an-Sinsin, of the ‘Gods in the House of Osiris,’ followed by the response of the ‘Gods in the House of Glory’—the joyous song of the holy departed who stand victorious before the judgment-seat, echoed triumphantly by the inner chorus of their beloved who have gone before them into the fullness of life” 3—must be taken as indicative of several stages. Such, for instance, as the normal union of the man’s consciousness with that of his higher ego, after exhausting his spiritual aspirations in the intermediate heaven-world—this is the joining the “those-that-are” of “The Shepherd” treatise, in other words, the harvest of those past lives of his that are worthy of immortality; or again the still higher union of the initiated with the “pure mind”; or again the still sublimer union of the Master with the nirvāṇic consciousness; and so on perchance to still greater Glories.


Thus we are told that the new twice-born, on his initiation, “clothed in power and crowned with light, traverses the abodes or scenes of his former weakness, there to discern, by his own enlightened perception, how it is ‘Osiris who satisfies the balance of Him who rules the heavens’; to exert in its supernal freedom his creative will, now the lord, not the slave of the senses; and to rejoice in the just suffering which wrought his Illumination and Mastery.” 


But higher and still higher he has yet to soar beyond earth and planets and even beyond the sun, “across the awful chasms of the unfathomable depths to far-off Sothis, the Land of Eternal Dawn, to the Ante-chamber of the Infinite Morning.” 




Many other passages of great beauty and deep interest could we quote from the pages of Marsham Adams’ illuminative study, but enough has been said for our purpose. The Wisdom of Egypt was the main source of our treatises without a doubt. Even if only one-hundredth part of what our author writes were the truth, our case would be established; and if Egypt did not teach this Wisdom, then we must perforce bow down before Mr Adams as the inventor of one of the most grandiose religions of the universe. But the student of inner nature knows that it is not an invention, and though, if he be a scholar at the same time, he cannot but regret that Mr Adams has omitted his references, he must leave the critics to one or other of the horns of the dilemma; they must either declare that our author has invented it all and pay homage to what in that case would be his sublime genius, or admit that the ancient texts themselves have inspired Mr Adams with these ideas. And if this be a foretaste of what Egypt has preserved for us, what may not the future reveal to continued study and sympathetic interpretation!

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