In the explanation of the first T.B. it is stated that "the usages and
customs of Freemasonry correspond, in a great degree with the Mysteries of
Antient Egypt," and there are some Brethren who in their belief in the antiquity
of our Order, would derive its origin from these Mysteries.
It is generally believed that Egypt was the home of the Mysteries, and I
desire, as far as time will permit, to trace shortly how these Egyptian
Mysteries gradually found their way into, and influenced the native religions of
the nations with which Egypt came in contact.
Probably, no other nation of that time was better fitted by its mental
structure, as revealed by what little we know of its literature, and the
comparatively advanced state of its knowledge to become the home of mysteries.
The amount of knowledge acquired by the priestly caste and revealed only to
those chosen by them to share in that knowledge was very extensive and, for
these times, very accurate. Living in a country where a yearly division of land
was necessary owing to the varying amounts of the Nile floods, a knowledge of
geometry was gradually attained which included not only the geometry of areas,
but also of solids and conic sections.
Dr. Gow says in reference to this subject: "Beyond question, Egyptian
geometry such as it was, was the germ from which grew that magnificent science
to which every Englishman is indebted for his first lessons in right seeing and
The scholars of the Nile Valley also possessed knowledge of the rudiments of
Trigonometry, and their approximation to the value of "pi " was not improved for
many centuries. Ahmes, a scribe of the Hyksos Dynasty, 1900 B.C., gave the value
of pi = (16/9)^2 = 3.1605, a remarkably good approximation for the period when
geometry was little more than mensuration.
"In matters arithmetical, they possessed a knowledge of the three
progressions, Arithmetical, Geometrical, and Harmonic. In astronomy, without the
help of accurate instruments of observation at the disposal of modern observers
of the heavens, they had measured the obliquity of the ecliptic, had explained
the solar and lunar eclipses, and at a very early date were in possession of a
knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes.
In arts and manufactures they attained to a very high standard of excellence:
as potters, they had few rivals, and they knew how to blow glass, they used
saws, levers, and balances, and were skilful builders of ships. The gigantic and
wonderful Hall of Karnack and the Pillars of Luxor, not to mention the Pyramids,
testify that as masons they accomplished feats which could hardly be achieved in
our mechanical and scientific age, and it is not too much to assert that the
measurements that Greece handed on to Rome and to Europe, in the middle ages,
were derived from Egypt."
After the interesting paper read before the Association last year in "The
Life of Sethos," by W. Bro. R. E. Wallace James, I do not consider it necessary
to deal with any one of the Egyptian Mysteries in particular. In general,
candidates for these mysteries and after purification by washing and a time
spent in darkness, had to give his assent to the rules of the society, and an
oath of fidelity was required of him, after which he was restored to light. A
password was given to him and signs of recognition, and he was instructed in the
names and attributes of the gods, and received instruction in the then known
sciences. In some cases the highest honour granted was participation in the
election of a king, a belief in the immortality of the soul was, no doubt,
communicated to those admitted to their mysteries. On the walls of the Temple of
Phylae were recorded the death, resurrection, and ascension and deification of
the god to whom it was sacred.
Not much is known of these mysteries, and what we do know of them is derived
from the writings of the Greeks, and chiefly those of Iamblicus. But it may
safely be said that they never, in Egypt, developed into centres of orgiastic
license, such as made a byword of the Bacchanalia, at Rome, and the Dionysiac
ceremonies in Thrace.
All this knowledge was the possession of the priest- astronomers who
selfishly acquired a predominant power by a policy of silence outside their
order, even on these purely scientific matters.
As regards their religion, Egypt suffered from a superfluity of Gods and
Goddesses. It has been said that an enumeration of them would result "in
compilations resembling census returns." Herodotus tells us how a pharaoh of the
12th dynasty undertook to build the Labyrinth as a temple to accommodate all the
gods and found it necessary to construct no fewer than three thousand
Here, as in the other great religions of the world, is found a Trinity, in
this case consisting of Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Osiris, variously styled, the
Manifestor of Good, Lord of Lords, King of the Gods, was the chief of the Gods
worshipped by the Egyptians, and represented the Nile and the sun, on which the
life of Egypt entirely depended. After having conquered all Egypt and given it
excellent laws, he was overcome by his evil brother, Set, who by stratagem
enclosed him in a chest and threw him into the sea. His wife Isis, having heard
of this, set out in sorrow in search of the chest, which was driven ashore at
Byblos, and enclosed in a tree which had suddenly sprung up. Isis eventually
obtained the chest and the body of Osiris which his brother had divided into 14
pieces. This was restored to life, and he afterwards became a judge of the dead.
Isis was the chief Goddess of the Egyptian mythology and as I have just said,
was the wife and sister of Osiris. Her worship was more particularly associated
with Memphis, but, at a later date, it spread over all Egypt. The mysteries in
connection with the celebrations lasted for eight days and consisted of a
general purification by washing. Her priests were required to lead chaste lives
and accept celibacy.
The worship of the third member of the trinity, Horus, the son of Osiris and
Isis, was also general throughout Egypt. His eyes were represented by the sun
and moon ; the festival took place on the 30th Epiphi. The images of Isis and
Horus became, in early Christian days, those of the Virgin and the Child, and
while one would not identify this trinity of deities with the Christian Trinity,
the underlying conception of a divine Father, Mother, and Son, is perhaps akin
to it. Among the Egyptians was developed a fairly clear idea of a life after
death, of punishment and reward, dependent on the life led previous to death.
Pythagorus (569-470 B.C.), a former pupil of the Egyptian Priests, taught the
immortality of the soul.
According to Plutarch, the death of Osiris was celebrated annually throughout
Egypt towards the end of November, when the Nile flood was subsiding. According
to Herodotus the grave of Osiris was at Sais in Lower Egypt, where there was a
lake on which the sufferings of Osiris were displayed as a mystery by night.
While the people mourned and beat their breasts to show their sorrow for the
sufferings of the god, an image of a cow made of gilt wood with a golden sun
between its horns was carried out of the temple where it had been placed at the
termination of the previous year's commemoration. This probably represented Isis
herself in her search for the dead body of Osiris. In the last day of the
ceremonials the priests, followed by the people, went down to the sea, the
priests carrying a shrine containing a golden casket into which water was
poured, accompanied with the shout that Osiris was found. A small moon-shaped
image was then formed and robed and ornamented, signifying the resurrection of
the god. To show their joy, rows of oil lamps were fastened to the outside of
the houses and these burned throughout the night.
The origin of Egyptian History is lost in the mists of antiquity. To fix its
chronology is not easy.
Sometime about the third century before Christ an Egyptian priest, Man-e-Tho,
wrote a history of his native country and divided the rulers of Egypt into
thirty-one groups, or dynasties. Historians, generally, have accepted this
division, although there is not yet agreement on the chronology.
The two leading schools of authorities in this connection, the American and
the Berlin, differ widely in dates prior to 1000 B.C. Mr. Davidson, who recently
published an exhaustive research volume on the great Pyramids and Egyptian
chronology, appears to refute both schools and to establish a complete
synchronism of ancient writers in accord with Archbishop Usher's bible dates.
For my present purpose, namely of tracing the historical points of contact where
the influences of Egyptian knowledge and beliefs on the surrounding peoples and
more especially on the Jewish and Greek nations, occurred I shall adopt that of
It is generally agreed that Lower and Upper Egypt became united into one
kingdom under a powerful and warlike chief who became the first Pharaoh and
whose name was Menes, about 3500 B.C. His capital was situated at Memphis. It is
also known that during the twelfth dynasty Egypt, which had formerly been
entirely agricultural, now became famous in commerce and came into touch with
Europe, as a considerable amount of their trade was carried on with the Island
of Crete. Since 1894, archaeologists have been carrying on excavations in that
island and their discoveries have upset the previous knowledge of historians for
they find that, at the time of their trading with the Egyptians, the inhabitants
of that island were more advanced in their arts and sciences than were the
Babylonians and the Egyptians. Here, however, is the first point of historical
contact between Egypt and Europe, probably 2000 B.C., but of more interest to us
as Masons is the intercourse of Egyptians and the Jews. In the Bible 200
references are made to Egypt and ten pharaohs are mentioned, although
unfortunately their names are not mentioned.
The first mention of a pharaoh is found in Genesis XII, 10, where Abraham,
the founder of the Hebrew nation, had migrated from Babylonia into the Land of
Canaan, from which famine forced him to visit the fertile land of Egypt. This
took place when Egypt was ruled over by the Hyksos or Shepherd King, in the
reign of the 17th dynasty.
A little more than 200 years after, during the 18th dynasty, that is 100
years before the reign of Tut-Ank-Amen, Jacob and his sons were driven by famine
to Egypt, to join Joseph, who had married Asenath, the daughter of a high priest
of On, whose name was Potipherah, meaning the Gift of the Sun God, where was
granted them some land lying between where Cairo now stands and where the Suez
Canal has been constructed-the Land of Goschen. This may truly be termed the
cradle of the Jewish race, for when the time came for them to leave the land,
their nation had increased from 3 score and 6 to 2,000,000, counting men, women,
and children. Moses, the leader of the exodus, under the name of Osarsiph
(according to some authorities), is said to have held the office of High Priest
of On. No one of the Hebrews by training and education. could have been better
qualified to act as leader, and the laws laid down by him for a guidance in
morals and hygiene have not been surpassed. These things became possible to him,
no doubt, through his training for the priesthood. The exodus took place in the
5th year of the reign of Menephta, 1486 B.C.
The next point of contact between a Hebrew leader and an Egyptian pharaoh is
recorded in I Kings, III, 1, when Solomon is stated to have married an Egyptian
princess, a daughter of one of the Pharaohs. Some authorities say that it was
from this marriage, and his dealings with his wife's nation, that Solomon
obtained his chief ideas of the plan of the Temple at Jerusalem, dedicated about
1005 B.C. and destroyed 588 B.C., and that the two Pillars which stood at the
porchway or entrance to the Temple erected by Solomon, to keep ever before the
eyes of the people a memorial of the happy deliverance of their forefathers from
their Egyptian bondage, were merely copies of the obelisks which were to be
found at the entrance of every Egyptian temple. The lions too, which decorated
the thrones of the Egyptian kings found a counterpart in the lions on each side
of Solomon's throne and the twelve on the steps leading thereto.
Is it a mere coincidence that two of our Grand Masters whom we associate, one
with the opening of the first or Holy Lodge, the other with presiding at the
opening of the second or Sacred Lodge, should be so intimately connected with
this mysterious land of the pharaohs?
As Masons, the later relations between the Pharaohs and the Hebrews do not
concern us. About 2000 years after the journey of Abraham to Egypt, St. Paul
makes a reference to the wealth of that people. At varying periods during that
time intercourse between the two nations was fairly close and no doubt it had a
considerable influence on the customs and beliefs of the Hebrews. To us, as
Masons, the fact that many of our Masonic secrets are expressed in the Hebraic
or Chaldeaic language adds an additional interest to the study of the ancient
history of these nations.
After the expulsion of the Shepherd Kings, Egypt reached the zenith of her
power. Her armies fought successful wars not only in Africa, but extended their
victories to Asia and Europe, while her navy is said to have reached India. But
her success was the cause of her undoing. Luxuriousness and indolence took hold
of her peoples, and she had to submit to oppression under Ethiopia, until the
priests elected to be king one of their own number, Sethos, who brought back
peace to the land. On his death the land was divided into several states; over
the province at the mouth of the Nile was a ruler, Psammetichus by name, who
engaged Greek mercenaries in his armies, and was sympathetic to Greek emigrants,
and the Greek language, which resulted in Egypt becoming more and more under the
sway of Greece.
After a short period of Persian domination, Alexander the Great added Egypt
to his immense dominion and founded Alexandria 330 B.C. This became the focus of
Hellenistic, Egyptian, and Eastern ideas. Here was established the famous
library which was burnt down by the order of Caliph Omar in 642 A.D. The Greeks
ransacked the scientific, literary, and mystical treasures of the East and South
and with the accession of numerous Jews fleeing from the powers of Syria,
Alexander developed a mystical kabbalism that penetrated the whole eastern
Mediterranean and was known to St. Paul. What is more important than the
employment of Greek mercenaries in the armies of Egypt is the fact that, in
order to receive further learning, Egypt was visited by so many of Greece's
greatest teachers and philosophers, either, like Thales, who had no other
teachers and was the first Greek to go to Egypt for instruction from the
priests, or, like Pythagorus, Democrates, Anaxagorus, Eudoxus, Plato, Euclid,
Archimedes, to add to their learning by becoming pupils of the priests.
But gradually Rome became in the ascendant. In 200 B.C. Egypt first entered
the arena of Roman politics. Speaking of this period Livy makes use of a
peculiar expression when he says he feels as though he were carried into a
bottomless sea. Some see in this a reference to the fact that the sun entered
the Sign of Pisces a little before 200 B.C. Moreover, at this date (i.e. about
250 B.C.), civilisation began to hide itself in symbolism and secret societies
and that is why some of the knowledge enshrined in the Greek mysteria and Roman
Collegia passed into the Christian Church and the New Testament, so quietly, and
is still so little recognised there. St. Paul says that he was " a Stewart of
the Mysteries." About 30 B.C. Augustus imposed Rome's Imperium on the fertile
province of Cleopatra.
This knowledge acquired in Egypt became the common possession of the pupils
who sat at the feet of these doctors of Egyptian philosophy. Facts show clearly
a contact between Egypt and Greece lasting some 1500 years.
In addition, Greek tradition fixes the foundation of Tyre and Sidon by
Phoenix from Thebes, in Egypt, the foundation of Athens by Cecrops, from Sais,
in Egypt, of Thebes in Central Greece by Cadmus, from Egyptian Thebes, and of
Argos by Danaus from Libya about 1582 B.C.
Tradition refers the institution of the Greek Mysteries to Orpheus or
Dionysus whose legendary date I believe to be 1600 B.C. The chief of these, the
Eleusinian Mysteries in Attica, was said to have been imported by King
Erechtheus, who in a time of scarcity, like Jacob's sons, sought corn for his
country in Egypt, and to have been instituted according to the writers, Diodorus
and Isocrates, by order of Demeter, the Great Mother, herself.
Historically, it would seem that the mysteries were re-established,
consequent upon the invasion of Greece, about 1000 years B.C., by fierce Dorian
tribes from the north. Greek and Phoenician colonies began to intermingle as
early as 700 B.C., perhaps earlier, and Greece's great struggle against Persia
at Marathon, 490 B.C., is evidence of much connection with the East via the
Ionian Islands and Asia Minor. Certainly from the fifth century B.C., the
Egyptian Trinity of Isis, Osiris and Horus, were represented in Greece by
Demeter, Dionysus and Apollo respectively.
It is not to be assumed that Greek initiates, though they took vows of
secrecy, were as uncommunicative, in their best period, to the educated world,
as were the Egyptians. Such a babbling race, as gave democratic ideas to Europe,
was well able to throw out hints, before the dark hand of pagan Rome made secret
societies dangerous; and as a matter of fact, the Eleusinian schools were open
to all free men, indiscriminately, and included the most distinguished statesmen
and philosophers of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. Egypt is almost certainly the
home of mysteries, but the Greeks imparted to their representations a measure of
art and beauty.
The public observances of the initiates consisted of sacrificial ceremonies (orgia)
and purifications to avoid some calamity in this life ; but private and personal
purifications were enioined. against danger in a life to come. At Athens,
violation of the mysteries was indictable under the jurisdiction of the Archon
or chief magistrate with a jury of initiates. The mysteries celebrated were
those of Zeus in Crete, Hera in Argolis, Athene and Dionysus (i.e. Bacchus) in
Athens, Artemis (i.e. Diana) in Arcadia, Hecate in AEgina ; and those of the
Cabiri in Samothrace. But by far the most famous, and the only ones with which I
shall deal, were those at Attica in honour of Demeter and Persephone, mother and
daughter. These were considered most holy and venerable throughout Greece, and
laid hold on the popular imagination as did no worship of the Olympians. The
Homeric Hymn to Demeter tells us that Demeter, sister and wife of Zeus, had a
daughter Persephone, whom Hades (God of the Unseen) carried off while she
gathered flowers in the Nvsian Plains in Asia Minor. Demeter, Mother of Earth,
and Goddess of the Seedtime and Harvest, now cut off fruits from men till Zeus
sent Mercury, his winged messenger, to Hades, to recover Persephone on condition
that she had eaten nothing in the Kingdom of Hades. But Hades, that very
morning, had caused her to eat some grains of a pomegranate. Hence, she still
spends one half of the year with Hades and one half only in the upper air.
Latin poets placed the seizure of Persephone in the Ashphodel Meadows of
This legend has a wonderful fascination, and if it can be said to enshrine
any divine truth it would be that of a divine mother and daughter, a feminine
counterpart of the Christian father and son; the daughter also "descending into
hell" till rescued by the son in the form of the word (Mercury). Now I think
that all religions, anciently, were based on prophecy of a divine feminine
revelation. To the ancients, a goddess mother was no difficulty. Demeter, Cybele,
Isis, Magna Mater, and the Virgin Mother are all akin : and only Protestants in
cold Latitudes would see anything strange in a "Jerusalem, Mother of us all."
However that may be, the worship of Demeter and Persephone was of Catholic
acceptance in Greece and by numerous testimonies was of a moralising and
uplifting nature. This is borne witness to by the Greek writers, Pindar,
Sophocles, Isocrates, Plutarch, and Plato. The mysteries were of two kinds, the
Lesser and the Greater. Both kinds included spectacles as grand and impressive
as painting, sculpture, music, and dancing could make them. The priests were
called kerukes or heralds. The lesser Eleusinia were held at Agrae, on the
Ilissus Stream, in honour of the daughter, Persephone, alone.
Only Barbarians were excluded. The initiated were named Mystae and they had
to wait a year before admittance to the greater mysteries. The candidate took
and washed a sow, then sacrificed it, symbolising that he purposed not to "
return like a sow to his wallowing in the mire." He was then sprinkled with
water by a priest (Hydranos) and a Mystagogus, (Hierophant or Prophet)
administered an oath of secrecy. He was not admitted at once to Demeter's
Shrine, but remained during subsequent instruction in the porch or vestibule.
Aristotle, however, asserts that no instruction was given to the Mystae but that
while in a state of receptivity-a psychic state-their emotions and character
were acted upon, The rape of Persephone having taken place in the winter, the
lesser mysteries were held in February.
The greater mysteries were held annually for nine days in September, Athens
being thronged with visitors from all parts. The first day was that of
assembling. On the second, a solemn "Pomp" or procession wended its way to the
coast with the cry "Mystae, to the sea," and purificatory rites were performed.
The third day was a day of fasting. In the evening a frugal meal was taken of
sesame and honey, and sacrifices offered of fish and barley. Some maintain that
there was a nine days' fast. On the fourth a procession displayed the "Sacred
Things of Demeter," including pomegranates and poppy seeds in a basket. The
fifth day became famous. The Mystae, led by torch bearer, went in , the dark
evening with torches to the Temple of Demeter at Eleusis to search (in imitation
of her) for Persephone. Claudian gives a poetic picture of the shores and Bay of
Eleusis, lit up by a myriad lamps in the gloom. They remained all night. The
sixth day was sacred to Iacchus, son of Demeter, the Bacchus or Dionysus "Lord
of Earth." His statue was carried along the sacred road amid joyous shouts :
30,000 spectators was nothing uncommon. In the night of the sixth and seventh
the Mystae were initiated into the greater mysteries and became " Seers " (Epoptae),
" Seers of Future Things," as St. Paul says, using the same word. In the lighted
sanctuary they were shown (Autopsy) what none but Epoptae ever saw - a dramatic
representation to the accompaniment of ancient hymns of the death and
resurrection of the Holy Child, Iacchus and of the life of the gods. These
mystic sights are described as divinely ineffable. On the same night, they
performed a sacrament with the words, " I have fasted and I have drunk the
Kukeon. I have taken from the chest. After tasting I have deposited in the
basket and from the basket into the chest." The words of dismissal were "konx
ompax." On the seventh day they returned to Athens with happy jests, in
imitation of those with which the sorrows of Demeter had been lightened. " A
mystical drama," says Clement of Alexandria. Athletic games were held, the prize
being a full corn in the ear. On the eighth were initiated those who were unable
to be present on the sixth. The ninth was the day of full cups. Two cups were
filled with water or wine and the contents were thrown, one to the east, and one
to the west. These Eleusinian mysteries long survived the independence of
Greece. The general belief of the ancients was that they opened a comforting
prospect of a future life. The most Holy and perfect of the rites was to show an
ear of corn mowed down in silence. One can not but think of the text, " Except a
corn of wheat fall to the ground and die." In my opinion it is certain that the
mysteries were, in a measure, a "praeparatio evangelica" for had I time I could
indicate very much mystery phraseology in the Epistles and Book of Revelations.
Gradually, the Egyptian gods, notwithstanding fierce persecution raged for a
time against their worshippers, ousted the old religion of Rome, until its
Emperors were found filling their houses with the Egyptian Gods and building
temples to them in the public parks of Rome, while soldiers of the Sixth Legion
indulged in Isiac worship in York.
And so it comes, as Dill, in his " Roman Society " says: "The scenes which
were so common at Rome, or Pompeii, or Corinth, the procession of shaven,
white-robed priests and acolytes marching to the sound of chants and barbaric
music, with the sacred images and symbols of a worship which had been cradled on
the Nile ages before the time of Romulus . . . . . . were reproduced in the
remote villages on the edge of the Sahara and the Atlantic, in the valleys of
the Alps or the Yorkshire dales."
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