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Various: Egyptophilia and Hermeticism

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.occult,talk.religion.newage,alt.magick,alt.pagan.magick,alt.consciousness.mysticism,alt.tarot
From: tyagi@houseofkaos.abyss.com (nagasiva)
Subject: Various: Egyptophilia and Hermeticism
Date: 12 Jan 1998 13:37:43 -0800

All Orig-To: thelema93-l@hollyfeld.org
--------------------------------------
~From: Paul Hume 

John -
> While I acknowledge the Greek & Roman sources & perhaps the influence 
> of Egyptian religious ideas in hermetic writings, I find it hard to 
> accept that a passion for Egyptology was a widespread cultural 
> phenomena as it was in the 19th & continues to be in the 20th Century.

I am not an historian, much less an expert in the periods in question,
but actually, there have been several waves of Egyptophilia, even
Egyptomania, among the literate classes in several periods prior to the
19th century. These were not as widespread culturally for the simple
reason that culture, as it were, was not as widespread culturally (g).
The social strata with leisure, learning, and loot sufficient to pursue
a fashion  in things Egyptian were smaller, and confined not only to the
aristocracy and upper-middle-class, but to a subset of those classes.
 
However, around the mid-16th century, Stuart/Valois period, there was a
fad for sarcophagi and other antiquities from Egypt, to name one such
period. Lacking the ability to read the hieroglyphs, you also got some
fairly er...remarkable...renderings of the meanings of the language (I
think this is the period that produced an inspired, albeit dead wrong,
set of poetic translations of various texts by Athanasius Kircher.
 
Paul
____________...oooOOO---thelema93-l@hollyfeld.org---OOOooo..._____________

~From: Tim Maroney 

[in response to an essay submitted to Thelema93-L on egyptology]

I have no doubt that the essay shows a real interest in the figure of 
Hadit, and that the writer has exposed a deep web of spiritual 
connections existing in his mind which make spiritual experiences related 
to Hadit a vibrant and living well of power.

At the same time it has to be said that the essay as history is a total 
failure. Even when it directly addresses its main figure, known as Horus 
of Edfu, Heru-Behuti, or Bedheti, it commits many errors. I'm sorry to 
always have to be the bad guy, but most occult history is so bad that's 
there's always plenty of work that needs be done.

>  ---But the form in which Heru- Behutet appeals most to the mind of the
>Egyptians was that in which as the God of Light he fought against Set, the
>god of darkness. Horus the good God against Set the god of evil follows the
>ancient pattern of Ra and Apep. 

The Set/Horus struggle is radically oversimplified. No mention is made of 
depictions of Set as allied with gods and fighting with them on the sun's 
boat against the demons of the underworld. No mention is made of the 
Horus-Set dualism. Both of these are points frequently raised both in 
scholarly Egyptology and popularizations of same in attempting to 
understand the complex relationships between Set and other deities.

>What is important to emphasize here is the unity of the godhead. Much
>misunderstanding of the unity of the family of the gods is exhibited by
>Egyptian scholars. The idea of monotheism is a Judeo- Christian concept
>totally foreign to the Egyptians of old.

That is a controversial assertion. There has been a great deal of work on 
the emergence of monotheism from polytheism over the last few centuries. 
As Jonathan Z. Smith has shown, much of the scholarly work on the subject 
even today expresses a covert (originally overt) theological apologetic 
reflecting Protestant anti-Catholicism. It could not be said that there 
exists at this point a coherent and reliable account of the complex 
relationships between Egyptian polytheistic religion, the monotheistic(?) 
heresy of Atenism, the gradual development of monotheism in Hebrew 
culture, and the emergence of Trinitarian Christianity.

Statements made by people heavily influenced by 19th and 20th century 
occultism tend to show a thinly veiled anti-monotheist apologetic, 
reflecting the virulent anti-Christianity and anti-Semitism of major 
contributors such as Blavatsky and Crowley. In fact the relationship 
between polytheism and monotheism is complex and ancient polytheism is 
not necessarily as different from monotheism as anti-monotheists might 
have one believe. Henotheism is common in paganism and the inflation of 
attributes within the cult of a "polytheistic" deity can be widely 
observed. Over time many cults develop a creation myth in which their own 
deity is centrally involved, and they often assign to the chosen deity 
attributes such as outshining any other deity in various spheres, 
infinity of power and/or wisdom, humbled to no other, self-created, etc.

My own belief on the subject is that there is no radical transition from 
polytheism to monotheism, only a political trend towards particular 
religions becoming ascendant over more and more of the globe over the 
centuries, and the natural devotional trend of any cult oriented around a 
particular deity or small cluster of deities to assign to its own central 
figure(s) all the titles in existence. The idea of its own radical 
difference from earlier traditions is part of the self-mythology of the 
religions of the Book -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- so it has 
been adopted by too many Western scholars as an assumption. Monotheism is 
neither "the world's tragedy" as some occultists would hold, nor the 
unique divine revelation of traditional literalists. Nor is it the 
revolutionary flowering of humane political understanding beloved of some 
modern liberal scholars.

In fact "monotheism" is not a particularly distinct or describable 
phenomenon. It is a theological idea rather than a historical one. Edge 
cases abound in "polytheism", and even the religions of the Book present 
edge cases -- is trinity a polytheistic trait? What about angels, saints 
and prophets? And so on.

>As the earth goes around the sun in
>it's orbit so the sun travels through the circle of the Zodiac. Much as in
>the solar year each sign symbolizes a season so to in the greater cycle of
>the aeons each station is represented by a God. Each god in his turn sat 
>in the seat of the sun. Symbolized alternatively such as Tum or Ra and 
>Amen.  More than just mere symbols of the forces and powers of nature 
>these Gods each for a season of time ruled in the supreme place and then 
>were replaced by the next in line.

Calling this an Egyptian idea is interesting. The mystical role filled by 
the god named Aeon in Gnosticism, Mithraism, and related sects during the 
Graeco-Roman mystery period (see Ulansey) is most closely paralleled in 
ancient Egypt by Ma'at, representing ideas of justice as a pervasive 
moral foundation making for righteousness and the basic structure of the 
world. Ma'at did not evolve cyclically through the ages the way the later 
Aeon did in Mithraism, and as already noted Aeon is not an Egyptian god 
but a later one, influenced also by Babylonian astrology. The daily 
sun-gods are not seasonal gods or gods of cyclic ages, though some such 
as Hathor had festivals and other religious events at particular times of 
the year.

The presence of the cyclic Aeon in Crowley's Thelema is most likely a 
form of Gnostic revivalism. This mythic role was known to scholars of the 
time and occultists drew widely from the scholarship of classical magic. 
Whether it was known to Crowley I can't say and would appreciate any 
references bearing on Aeon or related subjects from Crowley's writings or 
journals before 1904. I'm pretty sure there are references in G. R. S. 
Mead but I'm not sure about Waite.

There are other historical errors but I hope the above is sufficient to 
show that this is not a serious historical essay and should not be taken 
as instructive on matters of actual Egyptology. I would like to know from 
where the writer copied the long legend concerning the struggle of Horus 
and Set. Is it Budge or some other source? Why was the source not cited? 
One source is cited at the end of the text, a book called "Ancient 
Mysteries" by Lucie Lamy. Is this the single source for the entire essay 
or is this being cited on some particular point?

All the interpretation -- too much to quote -- is heavily filtered by the 
writer through the Thelemic Hadit, a different character from the 
historical Bedheti, just as Nuit is different from Nut and 
Ra-Hoor-Khuit/Hoor-Paar-Kraat is different from either Ra-Horakhty or the 
child form of Horus the Greeks called Harpocrates. There are points of 
similarity and resonance as well as points of disagreement and discord 
between these characters. The new figures cannot be understood 
independently from the old, on which they are loosely based, but to 
freely intermix the two in conversation is to contribute to the 
understanding of neither.

Worst of all the essay descends into quasi-Atlantean crackpotism:

>These blacksmiths, the mesniu, were men armed with weapons made of metal
>(divine iron). Whether the forged iron was star metal from an Asteroid or
>some other source we are not able to determine.

"We are not able to determine," indeed! Such careful attention to closely 
reasoning and intellectual standards is warming to the heart. Strangely 
enough I am also not able to determine whether the air is filled with 
intangible anteaters. However, I feel reasonable enough giving the answer 
"no" to that question, or to the question of the asteroid origin of the 
blacksmiths' swords.

>Conventional thought
>precludes as radical the notion of Technical Sophistication in Predynastic
>times. However vast antiquity of technical sophistication of Monumental
>Egypt is proven in the Pyramids. Monuments which we are still unable to
>adequately explain.

At this point I stopped reading and started skimming....

--
Tim Maroney    tim@maroney.org    http://www.maroney.org
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