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WE have already considered, in speaking of Nu, Turn, and Phtah, the idea which the Egyptians formed of the First Cause, and of the creation, or rather, the emanation or manifestation, of the universe. This idea — as we know it, at least, from the translation, probably incomplete, of the hieroglyphs, — though less striking in form, less profound and less metaphysical, is analogous to that of the "Vedas" and reveals a common source.
Immediately following the riddle of the First Cause they, too, inevitably encountered the insoluble problem of the origin of evil, and although they did not venture to probe into it very deeply, they achieved a solution of it which, though paler and more evasive, is at bottom almost similar to that of the Hindus. In the cult of Osiris spirit and matter are known as Light and Darkness, and Set, the antagonist of Ra, the sun-god, in the myths of Ra, Osiris, and Horus, is not a god of evil," says Le Page Renouf, "but represents a physical reality, a constant law of nature."1 He is a god as real as his adversaries and his cult is as ancient as theirs. Like them he has his priests, and is the offspring of the same unknown Cause. So little can he be divided from the Power opposed to him that on certain monuments the heads of Horus and Set grow upon the same body, making but one god.
After the same confessions of ignorance, here, as in India, the myth of incarnation proceeds to define and control an ethic which, emerging from the unknowable, could not take shape and could not be known except in and by man. Osiris, Horus, and Thoth or Hermes, who five times put on human form — or so the occultists tell us — are but the more memorable incarnations of the god who dwells in each of us. From these incarnations arises, with less refulgence, less abundance, less power — for the Egyptian genius has not the spaciousness, the exaltation, the power of abstraction that mark the Hindu genius — an ethic of a more lowly and earthly character, but of the same nature as that of Manu, Krishna, and Buddha; or rather of those who in the night of the ages preceded Manu, Krishna, and Buddha. This ethical system is found in the "Book of the Dead" and in sepulchral inscriptions. Some of the papyri of the "Book of the Dead" are more than four thousand years old, but some of the texts from the same book, which were found on nearly all the tombs and sarcophagi, are probably still more ancient. They are, with the cuneiform inscriptions, the most ancient writings of known date possessed by mankind.
The most venerable of moral codes, the work of Phtahotep, still imperfectly deciphered, contemporary with the pyramids, is clothed in the authority of an ancestry infinitely more remote. "Not one of the Christian virtues," says F. J. Chapas, one of the first of the great Egyptologists, "has been forgotten in the Egyptian system of ethics. Pity, charity, kindness, self-control in speech and action, chastity, the protection of the weak, benevolence toward the lowly, deference toward superiors, respect for the property of others, even to the smallest details, all are expressed in admirable language."
"I have not injured a child," says a funeral inscription, "I have not oppressed a widow, I have not ill-treated a herdsman. During my lifetime no one went a-begging, and when the years of famine came I tilled all the soil of the province, feeding all its inhabitants, and I so ordered matters that the widow was as though she had not lost her husband." 2
Another inscription commemorates "the father of the defenseless, the stay of those who were motherless, the terror of the evil-doer, the protector of the poor. He was the avenger of those who had been despoiled by the mighty. He was the husband of the widow and the refuge of the orphan."3 "He was the protector of the humble, a fruitful palm for the indigent, the nourishment of the poor, the wealth of the feeble; and his wisdom was at the service of the ignorant."4 "I was the bread of the hungry; I was water to the thirsty; I was the cloak of the naked and the refuge of the distressed. What I did for them God had done for me,"5 say other inscriptions, always returning to the same theme of kindness, justice, and charity. "Although I was great I have always behaved as though I were humble. I have never barred the way to one who was worthier than I; I have always repeated what has been told me exactly as it was spoken. I have never approved that which was base and evil, but I have taken pleasure in speaking the truth. The sincerity and kindness in the heart of my father and mother were repaid to them by my love. I was the joy of my brethren and the friend of my companions, and I have entertained the passing traveler; my doors were open to those who came from abroad, and I gave them rest and refreshment. What my heart dictated to me I did not hesitate to do."6
In the "Book of the Dead," when, after the long and terrible crossing of the Duat (which is not the Egyptian Hades, as some have said, but a region intermediate between death and eternal life), the soul reached the land of Menti, which later was known as Amenti, it found itself confronted by Maât or Maît, the most mysterious of the Egyptian divinities. Maît may be symbolized by a straight line; she represents the law, and the true or absolute justice. Each of the high gods claims to be her master, but she herself admits no master. By her the gods live, she reigns alone upon the earth, in the heavens and the world beyond the tomb; she is at once the mother of the god who created her, his daughter, and the god himself. Before Osiris, seated upon the throne of judgment, the heart of the dead man, symbolizing his moral nature, is placed in one of the scales of the balance; in the other scale is an image of Maât. Forty-two divinities, who represent the forty-two sins which they are appointed to punish, are ranked behind the balance, whose pointer is watched by Horus while Tehutin, the god of letters, writes down the result of the weighing. All this is obviously merely an allegorical representation, a sort of pictoral interpretation, a projection upon the screen of this world of that which happens in the other world, in the depths of a soul or a conscience undergoing judgment after death.
Then, if the trial is favorable, an extraordinary thing come to pass, which reveals the secret meaning, profound and unexpected, of all this mythology: the man becomes god. He becomes Osiris himself. He stands forth as identified with him who judges him. He adds his name to that of Osiris; he is Osiris so-and-so. In short, he discovers himself to be the unknown god, the god that he was unawares. Hidden in the depths of his soul, he recognizes the Eternal, whom he had sought all his life long, and who, at length set free by his good works and his spiritual efforts, reveals himself as identical with the god to whom he had given ear, the god whom he had adored, seeking to draw closer to him by taking him for his model.
This, represented by a different imagery, is the absorption of the purified soul into the bosom of Brahma, the return to divinity of what is divine in man; and here too, beneath the dramatic allegory, the soul judges itself and recognizes itself as worthy to return to its God.
Rudolph Steiner, who, when he does not lose himself in visions — plausible, perhaps, but incapable of verification — of the prehistoric ages, of astral negatives, and of life on other planets, is a shrewd and accurate thinker, has thrown a remarkable light upon the meaning of this judgment and of the identification of the soul with God. "The Osiris Being," he says, "is merely the most perfect degree of the human being. It goes without saying that the Osiris who reigns as a judge over the external order of the universe is himself but a perfect man. Between the human state and the divine there is but a difference of degree. Man is in process of development; at the end of his course he becomes God. According to this conception God is an eternal becoming, not a God complete in himself.
"Such being the universal order, it is evident that he alone may enter into the life of Osiris who has already become an Osiris himself, before knocking at the gate of the eternal temple. Therefore the highest life of man consists in transforming himself into Osiris. Man becomes perfect when he lives as Osiris, when he makes the journey that Osiris has made. The myth of Osiris acquires thereby a profounder meaning. The god becomes the pattern for him who seeks to awaken the Eternal within himself." 7
This deification, this Osirification of the soul of the upright man, has always astonished the Egyptologists, who have not grasped its hidden meaning and have not perceived that the soul was returning to the Vedic Nirvana of which it is merely the dramatized reproduction. But there are the authentic texts, and even from the esoteric point of view it is not possible to attribute another meaning to them. The basis of the Egyptian religion, beneath all the parasitical growths of vegetation that gradually became so enormous, is really the same as that of the Vedic religion. Starting from the same point of departure in the unknowable, it is the worship of and the search for the god in man and the return of man to the godhead. The upright man — that is, the man who all his life has striven to find the Eternal within himself, and to give ear to its voice, — when liberated from his body, does not merely become Osiris; but just as Osiris is other gods, so he too becomes other gods. He speaks as though he were Ra, Tum, Set, Chnemu, Horus, and so forth. "Neither men nor gods, nor the spirits of the dead, nor men past, present, and future, whosoever they may be, have any further power to harm him." He is "He who goes forward in security." His name is "He that is unknown to men." His name is "Yesterday, that sees the innumerable days passing in triumph along the ways of heaven." "He is the lord of eternity. He is the master of the royal crown and each of his limbs is a god."
But what happens if the sentence is not favorable, if the soul is not considered worthy of returning to the Eternal, of becoming once more the god that it was? Of this we know nothing. Of all that has been said in respect of punishments, expiations, and purifying transmigration, nothing is based on any authentic text. "We find no trace," says Le Page Renouf, "of a conception of this kind in any of the Egyptian texts hitherto discovered. The transformations after death, we are expressly informed, depend solely on the will of the deceased, or of his genius." 8 That is to say, of his soul. Does this not also expressly tell us that they depend entirely on the soul's judgment of itself, and that the soul alone knows and decides, like the Hindu soul burdened with its Karma, whether it is worthy or not to reenter divinity? In other words, that there is no heaven or hell, except within us?
But what becomes of it if it does not consider itself worthy of being a god? Does it wait, or does it undergo reincarnation? No Egyptian text enables us to solve the problem; nor is there any trace of any intermediate state between death and eternal beatitude. As to this point the funeral rites give us no hint. They seem to forecast for the dead man a life beyond the tomb, precisely resembling, on another plane, the life which he used to lead on earth. But these rites do not seem to refer to the soul properly so called, to the divine principle. The Egyptian religion, like other primitive religions, distinguishes three portions in man: first, the physical body; secondly, a perishable spiritual entity, a sort of reflection of the body which it survived, a shadow, or rather a double, which could at will confound itself with the mummy or detach itself therefrom; and, thirdly, a purely spiritual principle, the veritable and immortal soul, which, after the judgment, became a god.
The double that left the body, but not the soul, which once more became Osiris, wandered wretchedly between the visible and the invisible worlds — as the discarnate souls of our spiritualists appear to do — unless the funeral rites came to its aid, leading it back to and keeping it by the body which it had deserted. The whole of this ritual sought only to prolong as far as possible the existence of this double, by supplying its needs, which resembled those of its earthly life, by keeping it beside its incorruptible mummy, and tying it down to a pleasant home.
The life of this double was believed to be very long. A tablet in the Louvre tells us, for example, that Psamtik, son of Ut'ahor, who lived in the time of the twenty-sixth dynasty, was a priest under three sovereigns of the Great Pyramid, who had been dead for more than two thousand years.
This idea of the double, as Herbert Spencer remarks, is universal. "Everywhere we find expressed or implied the belief that every man is double, and that when he dies his other self, whether it remains close at hand or goes far away, may return, and is capable of injuring his enemies or helping his friends."
This Egyptian double is no other than the Perisprite, the astral Body, of the occultists, that discarnate entity, that subconscious being, more or less independent of the body, that Unknown Guest, with whom our modern metapsychists are confronted, despite themselves, when they come to record certain hypnotic or mediumistic manifestations, certain phenomena of telepathy, of action at a distance, of materialization, of posthumous apparition, which would otherwise be all but inexplicable. Once again the ancient religions have here forestalled our science, perhaps because they saw farther into the future and with greater accuracy. I say perhaps; for if the life of the double, the astral body of the subconscious entity almost independent of the brain, can scarcely be contested when the living are concerned, it may still be disputed in respect of the dead. One thing is certain, that a number of extremely perplexing facts are accumulating in confirmation of this existence. It is only their interpretation that is still doubtful. But the ancient Egyptian hypothesis is becoming more and more plausible. It refuted beforehand, thousands of years ago, the capital objection so often made to the spiritualists, when we tell them that their disembodied spirits are merely poor, incoherent, and bewildered shades, anxious before all else to establish their identity and to cling to their former existence; miserable phantoms to whom death has revealed nothing, and who have nothing to tell us of their life beyond the tomb, a pale reflection of their previous existence. It is, after all, quite easy to explain why the disembodied spirit knows no more than it knew during its earthly life. The Egyptian double, of which it is merely the replica, was not the true soul, the immortal soul, which, if Amenti's judgment of it were favorable, returned to the god, or rather once more became divine. The sepulchral rites did not seek to concern themselves with this soul, whose fate was determined by the sentence of Mait: they sought only to render less precarious, less pitiable, and less liable to disintegration the posthumous life of this belated element, this species of spiritual husk, this nervous, magnetic or fluid phantom which was once a man and was now but a bundle of tenacious but homeless memories. By surrounding him with the objects of these memories they sought to alleviate the passage of the dead man to eternal forgetfulness. The Egyptians had undoubtedly examined more exactly than we have done the evidence for the existence of this doublet which we are barely beginning to suspect; for their civilization (which was the heir, for that matter, of long-lived antecedent civilizations) was far more ancient than our own, and more inclined toward the spiritual and invisible sides of life. But they prejudged nothing, just as the spiritualistic hypothesis, if it were well propounded, would not involve any preconceived ideas of the destiny of the soul properly so called.
The double was not subjected to any form of trial. Whether a man had been good or bad, just or unjust, he had a right to the same funeral ceremonies and the same life beyond the tomb. His punishment or reward was in his own self: it was, to continue to be what be had been; to pursue the mode of life, whether noble or ignoble, narrow or liberal, intelligent or stupid, generous or selfish, which he had lived on earth.
Let us note that in our spiritualistic manifestations likewise there is no question of reward or punishment. Our disembodied spirits, even when they have been believers during life, hardly ever allude in any way to a posthumous trial, a hell, a heaven, or a purgatory; and if by exception they do refer to them we may almost certainly suspect some telepathic interpolation. They are, or, if you prefer it, they seem to be, just what they were during their lifetime: more or less logical, more or less cultivated, more or less intelligent, more or less headstrong, according as their ideas were more or less logical, or cultivated, or intelligent, or headstrong. They reap only what they have sown in the spiritual soil of this world.
But they — and this is the only difference between them — have not been subjected, like the Egyptian double, to the magic incantation which, wrongly or rightly, for weal or woe, and in violation of the laws of nature, bound the double to its physical remains, and prevented it from drifting like flotsam between a material world in which it could live no longer and a spiritual universe which it seemed it was forbidden to enter.
Thanks to this solicitude, thanks to this cult, this foresight, was the double happy? I dare not affirm as much. There is one terrible text — the funeral inscription of the wife of Pasherenpath — which is the most heart-rending cry of regret and distress that the dead have ever addressed to life. It is true that this inscription is of the time of the Ptolemies; that is, of the later Egypt corrupted by Greece, two or three centuries before our era. It reveals the decadence and almost the death of this Egyptian creed; and — what is more serious and more alarming — in speaking of Amenti it seems to confound the destiny of the double with that of the immortal soul. Here is this inscription, which shows us what uncertainty overtakes the most firmly established and most positive religions, and how, when their course is run, they plunge us once more into the darkness of the; Great Secret, into the chaos of the unknowable whence they emerged:
"Oh, my brother, my husband, do not cease to drink, to eat, to empty the cup of joy, to live merrily as at a festival! Let thy desires lead thee, day by day, and may care never enter thy heart so long as thou livest upon the earth. For Amenti is the country of lifeless sleep and of darkness, a place of mourning for those who dwell therein. They sleep in their effigies; they no longer wake to behold their brethren; they recognize neither their fathers nor their mothers; their hearts are indifferent to their wives and children. On the earth all men enjoy the water of life, but here thirst encompasses me. There is water for all who dwell upon the earth, but I thirst for the water which is close beside me. I know not where I am since I came hither, and I implore the running water, I implore the breeze upon the river bank, that it will assuage the soreness of my heart. For as for the God who is here, his name is Absolute Death. He summons all men, and all come to him trembling with fear. With him there is no respect for men or for gods; with him the great are as the small. One fears to pray to him for he does not give ear. None come hither to invoke him, since he shows no favor to those who worship him, and pays no heed to the offerings laid before him." 9
And what of reincarnation? It is generally believed that Egypt is preeminently the land of palingenesis and metempsychosis. Nothing of the sort: not a single Egyptian text alludes to such matters. It is true that on becoming Osiris the soul had the power of assuming any shape; but this is not reincarnation properly so called, the expiatory and purifying reincarnation of the Hindus. All that we have been able to learn in this connection is based principally on a passage of Herodotus, which observes that "the Egyptians were the first to affirm that the soul of man is immortal. Continually, from one living creature about to die it passes into another in the act of birth, and when it has traversed the whole terrestial, aquatic, and ærial world, it returns once more to introduce itself into a human body. This circular tour lasts for three thousand years. We have here a theory which various Greeks, more or less of our period, have appropriated to themselves. I know their names, but I will not place them on record." 10
In the same way, all that touches on the famous mysteries of the Egyptian initiation is of comparatively recent origin, dating from the time when Alexandria was seething with the traditions and theories of the Hindus, Chaldeans, Jews, and Neoplatonists. The Egypt of the Pharaohs has not told us what became of the soul that was not beatified. It is possible that it was obliged to return to earth in order to purify itself, and that the secret of this reincarnation was reserved for the initiates; just as it also is possible that texts more accurately interpreted, or others that are as yet unknown to us, will justify and explain the esoteric tradition. For the rest, it would not be surprising, as Sédir, one of the most learned of occultists, has remarked, if some part of the secrets which cannot be found in those inscriptions which we imagine are completely understood, were to come to us by way of Chaldea, since it was among the Magi, on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, that Cambyses, after the conquest of Egypt, exiled all the priests of the latter country, without exception and without return. However this may be, I repeat that the purely Egyptian texts do not, for the time being, enable us to solve the problem.
1 op. cit.; p. 115.
2 Inscriptions of Ameni, Denktnifier; II, 121.
3 Antuff-tablet, Louvre; C, 26.
4 Borgmann, Hieroglyphische Inshriften; Plate VI, line 8; Plates VIII, IX.
5 British Museum; 581.
6 Dumichen, Kalenderbuchriften; XLXI.
7 Rudolph Steiner. Le Mystère Chritien et les Mystères Antiques, tr. J. Saurvrein; p. 170.
8 Le Page Renouf, op. cit.; p. 183.
9 Sharpe, "Egyptian Inscriptions"; I, Plate 4.
10 Herodotus; II, 123.