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The Hermetic Link
From Secret Tradition to Modern Thought
By Jacob Slavenburg
NICOLAS-HAYS, INC.Copyright © 2012 Jacob Slavenburg
All rights reserved.
The Eternal Fields of Reed and the Eye of Horus
In a far bygone and gray day, in the honorable Old Kingdom, there lived a remarkable God—Djehuti or Thoth. Thoth, as a God should be, was omniscient. As a God of creation, he meticulously maintained law and order. As a God of the cosmos, he recorded accurately all cosmic appearances and phenomena. As a God of knowledge, he left behind 36,525 writings for his descendants, although some sources are rather more modest and speak of forty-two books.
As a God of wisdom, Thoth was also the inventor of script, by which people were able to write things down. This is something with which King Ammon, according to Plato, was not too pleased. In addition, Thoth was a legendary healer. In this capacity, he placed the torn-out eyeball back into the eye-socket of Horus, the equally legendary son of the divine couple Osiris and Isis. Naturally, Thoth had divine ancestors. Sometimes, as a Moon God, he is called "the writer of Re," or even the "second eye of Re." Re himself was the great Sun God; his reflection was the Moon. Thoth was also considered to be the "heart of Re" and was also known as the "tongue" of the deity Ptah. He created by means of the divine Word, the Logos. Thoth was also the inventor of magic and many other sciences.
However, Thoth's knowledge even extended to an ability to peer deeply into the most inner being of humanity. "He knows what lives in the heart," we find in a text in the temple of Karnak. Thoth is thus the father of the Gnosis.
The Miraculous Thoth
The cult of Thoth was already known in Egypt prior to the construction of the pyramids and cultic centers dedicated to him existed in the pre-dynastic period. The Feast of Thoth was already celebrated in ancient times and texts from the 3rd Dynasty report a temple of Thoth.
In the oldest tradition, Thoth appears as a lunar God. An inscription in a temple of Ammon praises the Moon as "ruler of the stars, who divides the seasons, months and years." Thoth healed the eye of Horus on the day of the full Moon. This is not without significance, since the full Moon was associated with the overflowing of the Nile and the very necessary fertility of the flooded land.
The origin of Thoth's cult can be traced to the delta of the Nile, the perfect sanctuary of the ibis, for the ibis appeared as the Nile was about to flow beyond its banks, depositing its fertile silt. In the Prolog, I spoke of the necropolis in Hermopolis where an estimated two million mummified ibises were laid to rest.
In Sakkara, archaeologists have unearthed buildings in which the ibis of Thoth— the Moonbird of the Night—and the hawk of Horus—the Sunbird of the Day—have been fentombed together, although not in mummy form. Since the early ages, the city of Hermopolis Magna in Middle Egypt was definitely the principal center of the cult of Thoth. During the 1st Dynastic period (3100–2686 B.C.) the Baboon-God Hez-Oer (of Hedj-wer) was worshipped at this location. During the Middle Kingdom and afterward, Thoth was personified not only as an ibis, but also in the form of a baboon.
A god in the image of a monkey may sound strange to our ears. However, an Egyptian could ultimately hope to become a baboon, since baboons were considered the ideal worshippers of the Sun God Re. In fact, I witnessed a touching fresco on the grave of Ramses IX showing a number of baboons joyfully delivering an ode to the upcoming Sun. In the British Museum in London, a relief can be seen of three baboons standing upright greeting the Sun, which in Old Egypt was associated with the music of the spheres. Whoever could comprehend the godlike language of the baboon had access to the religious knowledge. Even a pharaoh was, in the most favorable scenario, only an imitation of a baboon. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead we find various hymns pertaining to the baboon, like this one:
... I have celebrated in song and worship the (Solar) disk, and I have joined the jubilant Baboons, since I am one with them.
... O', these four baboons, who seated forward in the barge of Re, who offer justice to the Overlord, who choose between the weak and the powerful, who rejoice the Gods with the breath of their mouths, who make divine offerings to the Gods and funeral offerings to the blessed souls, who live in justice, whose hearts are free of malice and lies and whose abhorrence is Sin ...
Another aspect of Thoth is that of peacemaker. He intervenes during conflicts between Gods and pharaohs and carefully guards the harmony between the cosmos and its Earthly counterpart, Egypt.
However, Thoth is also the "Thought of Re." Without Thoth, this thought could not possibly become manifest. Thoth is also speech, "the Word of Ptah." Here too, he manifests what lies latent in the intelligence of the deity and reveals it. By his breath, he creates manifest things. In this sense, he is the Logos.
In religious literature, Thoth, as a lunar God, acts as a God of transition from one state to another, just like the new and full Moons. It is common knowledge that the Egyptians were convinced of life after death.
After an Earthly death, the deceased had to justify himself to Osiris, God of the Underworld. The human heart, seat of intellect and feeling, was weighed against the feather of Maat, representing truth and justice. Thoth acted in this role as divine scribe. On many papyri, he is portrayed with a writing tablet, as a symbol for hearing and seeing. Very accurately, he records the verdicts of the scale. One text found in one of the king's graves in Thebes says it was Thoth himself who "probes the bodies and examines the hearts." Quite often, we see the monster Ammit, devourer of the dead, standing next to Thoth. Ammit patiently waits for its prey, a heart burdened with sin. It was of great importance to avoid being devoured by means of an extensive litany to confess accurately all sins. The pronouncement of each sin was followed by a denial made by the deceased. This magical ritual, called the Declaration of Innocence, could protect the departed from a miserable end.
However, even after this, the trials were not at an end. The departed one had to know the forty-two names of the god figures perfectly. They appeared in their fear-inspiring form, one by one, in front of the inner eye. Like passwords, the departed had to speak out the names of these "guardians."
There were even more magical formulas to prevent the deceased from suffering a second death. In certain traditions, a "Letter from Thoth" granted the deceased the right to pass through the portal between the two worlds protected from a second death. Thus, Thoth was also considered the guide of the dead. He could assist deceased souls during their dangerous journey through the Underworld.
Often, the departed were given amulets—for example, a heart-shaped scarab with magical warding signs like the names of all the guardians whom the soul had to pass. Magic was, afterall, an "invention" of Thoth, and especially spoken magic was, as we saw, considered extremely powerful. As for the rest, the pronouncement of words alone was a magical action. According to the ancient Egyptians, the intonation of words held a special power. This we find again in the hermetic writings. At the beginning of the dangerous journey, a ceremony called the Opening of the Mouth took place. Symbolically, this was performed by the Gods, especially Thoth, who in this way blew new life into the departed. This was performed during the burial ritual by a priest who touched the mouth of the mummified corpse. In the Old Kingdom, this ritual was only performed on pharaohs; in the New Kingdom, it was also done for ordinary mortals.
The final destination of the soul, having passed all guardians, was the symbolic union with Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, but also God of fertility and new life. The departed one has now actually become a God—or, as we read in one of the many sarcophagus texts:
Whether I live or die, I am Osiris, I enter and appear within you, I dissolve in you, I grow in you ...
The liberated and reborn soul was allowed to sail away with Re, who rode along the banks of the Nile daily, and at night continued his journey through the Underworld to regain strength. Its home lay in the Eternal Fields of Reeds, a string of unparalleled fertile islands in the Underworld, where, after the rich harvest, souls could feast on "Earthly" pleasures like eating, drinking, and love-making.
Two aspects of Thoth are important enough to put under the magnifying glass. There was first his function as messenger of the Gods. It was primarily due to this stature that the Greeks unified him at a later date with Hermes, also messenger of the Gods.
So we observe that Thoth is often represented as guide to the other Egyptian Gods. For example, according to an inscription in the temple of Hatsheput, in one delicate situation involving Ahmose, wife of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, Ammon-Re predicted that a Queen would rule over the whole of Egypt. Together with Thoth, he started out for the palace of the pharaoh and took possession of Ahmose, who is supposed to have shouted in supreme delight: "Hatsheput," which became the name of the daughter who was conceived in the lap of Ahmose during this event. And indeed it was she who, at a later date, ruled the Empire as the first woman pharaoh.
The second hermetic aspect of Thoth on which I want to focus briefly was his function as guardian of the ancient wisdom. According to ancient records, Thoth had composed a book of magic containing all the wisdom of the cosmos. In a legend, an old priest told Prince Nanufekiptah that there was an iron chest buried on the bottom of the Nile. In this chest, there was a copper chest containing more chests: the first was made from juniper-berry wood, the second from ivory, the third from silver, and the last from gold. In this golden chest, the Book of Thoth was to be found. However, the chests were kept under the closest surveillance by monstrous snakes and scorpions. This fact, nevertheless, did not discourage the prince. By means of magical formulas and rituals and an inexhaustible battle with the constantly regenerating serpents, Nanufekiptah took possession of the book. After reading out loud the first incantation, he was able, to his great joy, to understand the language of the animals, birds, and fish. After the second incantation, the Gods of the Sun, Moon, and stars appeared in front of him in their true form.
The wrath of the Gods was horrendous. There followed a series of violent trials that resulted in the prince being drowned in the Nile and buried with his so-desired book.
The learned son of Pharaoh Ramses II, Setne Chamus, after hearing the story, was determined to secure the Book of Thoth for himself. He found the grave of Prince Nanufekiptah. Just as he was about to get hold of the book, the spirit of Nanufektiptah stopped him. They both agreed to play a game of chess to decide the ownership of the book. Setne lost the first game, unfortunately, and Nanufektipath made him sink to his knees on the earth. He also lost the second game, after which he sank deeper, up to his groin. By the third game, he had sunk to his ears. However, with the help of amulets given to him by his powerful father, Setne managed to escape the grave with the book.
Still, Setne could not avoid his punishment. Against the will of his father, Pharaoh Ramses II, he kept the book and recited from it to many people. One day, he became mesmerized by a lady of matchless beauty, after which a hunger took possession of him equal to that of a wolf. He was willing to give up everything to be with her, if only for one hour. He donated all his possessions to her and even killed all his children, thereby giving the object of his adoration the assurance that her newly acquired fortune would not be challenged. But when the moment suprême arrived, the beauty disappeared like a ghost into the night, and Setne remained behind totally naked and feeling foolish. It was in this deplorable state that his father found him, imploring him again strongly to return the book. Fortunately, it all turned out to have been a bad dream. Setne Chamus returned the book to the grave of Nanufekiptah and sealed it carefully.
The Book of Thoth
Besides these legends, there are also other sources that mention the Book of Thoth. The German Woldemar von Uxkull, during the 1920s, wrote an intriguing book about an Egyptian initiation based on a reconstructed version of the so-called Book of Thoth. More actual references are given by Clemens of Alexandria, a Christian Church Father from around the 2nd to 3rd century B.C. He speaks about forty-two books kept in Egyptian temple archives. This is not improbable. In the Ptolemaic Horus temple at Edfu, a catalog of books was found chipped out on the inner wall of a room where they were stored. Some of these books have been attributed to Thoth. Egyptian holy books were copied in scriptoria, so-called pir-ankh's (homes for the living). These "homes for the living" were, however, much more than just scriptoria Here, the healing arts were exercised and taught.
Clemens distinguishes the following treatises:
A Hymn to the Gods, a book called About the life of the King with four astrological volumes (the order of the fixed Stars, the position of the Sun, Moon and the five Planets, about the conjunction of the Sun and Moon phases and the points of time of the ascending Stars), ten books on Cosmology and Geography (especially pertaining to Egypt and the Nile; about the construction of temples and the measurements and required material for these temples); ten books about the worshipping of Gods (such as offerings, ways of worship, holy songs, prayers, processions, festivals and so on); ten priestly books (pertaining to the laws and the Gods and the Priest training) and six medical volumes (about the anatomy of the body, diseases, organs, medicine, eye-diseases and woman sicknesses).
Just recently, a stirring event happened. Two German professors spent several years studying fragments of texts with the title Book of Thoth. Parts of this Book of Thoth were found in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Florence, and Copenhagen. The structure of the texts shows great similarity to what we later encounter in the Hermetica; the deity reveals knowledge and insight to a disciple. In the Hermetica, in almost all instances, it is Hermes Trismegistus himself who announces the wisdom to his son, Tat, and specifically to Asclepius.
We see the same form in the Book of Thoth researched by the Germans:
Book of Thoth: May his foot be at rest, May he have girdled himself against the darkness, May he with full assurance walk into the light ... May he, in possession of these teachings, observe the stars and constellations of the sky at night.
Afterward, the road lies open to the disciple to comprehend the teachings from the Book of Insight, the Book of Power, the Book of Annals, the Book of Djed's Column, and the Book of Interpretation. From then on, he drinks in the Book of Collective Prayers and the Book of Worshipping the Omnipotent, and takes knowledge of the Book of Secrets. Thus he becomes a disciple of the servant of Thoth.
In a preliminary reaction to these discoveries, the French expert of the Hermetica, Jean-Pierre Mahé, draws a parallel between the above fragment and the Treatise of the Eighth and Ninth Heavenly Sphere. In the passage, Hermes teaches his pupil that the only ones capable of reading what has been written in "this book" are those who have arrived, by experiencing each phase of development, on the Path to Immortality. Only then will they come to understanding. The pupil, prior to this, had already acknowledged his progress, together with the pre-knowledge that he acquired "from the books," and had surpassed his shortcomings.
In the Book of Thoth, the pupil asks Thoth:
Reveal to me the source of the fountain-source of all Wisdom, so I may from the sweet water drink. The vulva waits patiently for instruction, may I enter her abode. See, my mouth has been opened, may someone pour milk into it.
Excerpted from The Hermetic Link by Jacob Slavenburg. Copyright © 2012 Jacob Slavenburg. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
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