14. The Sphinx

In comparison with Babylon, mournful metropolis of despotism, in the ancient world Egypt was a veritable citadel of sacred knowledge, a school for its most illustrious prophets, a shelter and a laboratory for the noblest traditions of humanity. Thanks to great excavations and remarkable research activities, the ancient Egyptians are better known to us today than any of the civilizations which preceded Greece, for Egypt reveals to us its history, written on pages of stone. Its monuments are being excavated, its hieroglyphs are being deciphered, but the deepest arcanum of its history is yet to be fathomed. This arcanum is the esoteric teaching of its priests. This teaching, scientifically cultivated in the temples, prudently veiled in its Mysteries, reveals to us simultaneously the soul of Egypt, the secret of its politics and its preponderant role in the history of the universe.

Our historians speak of Pharaohs in the same manner as of the despots of Nineveh and Babylon. For them, Egypt is an absolute and conquering monarchy like Assyria, differing from the latter only in that it lasted several thousand years longer. Do they realize that in Assyria royalty crushed the priesthood in order to make of it a tool, whereas in Egypt the priesthood disciplined royalty and never abdicated even in the worst times, standing up to kings, driving out despots and always governing the nation -- and this with an intellectual superiority, a profound and hidden wisdom which no teaching body has ever equalled in any country or in any age? I can hardly believe that they do, for rather than draw innumerable conclusions from this essential fact, our historians have hardly seen it and do not seem to attach any importance to it. However, one must be an archeologist or linguist to understand that the implacable hatred between Assyria and Egypt comes from the fact that these two peoples represented two opposite principles in the world, and that the Egyptian people owed their long survival to a religious and scientific framework stronger than all revolutions.

From the Aryan epoch, throughout the troubled era which followed Vedic times to the Persian conquest and the Alexandrian age, (that is, over a period of more than five thousand years) Egypt was the stronghold of pure and exalted teachings, whose totality constitutes the science of principles, and which can be called the esoteric orthodoxy of antiquity. It was possible for fifty dynasties to succeed one another, for the Nile to deposit its alluvium over entire cities, for the Phoenician invasion to flood the country and be repelled; -- in the midst of history's ebb and flow, beneath the seeming idolatry of its external polytheism, Egypt preserved the ancient foundations of esoteric theology and its priestly organization. It stood firm against the centuries like the pyramid of Gizeh, half-sunk beneath the sands, but intact. Thanks to this immobility of the sphinx, keeping its secret, to this resistance in granite, Egypt became the axis around which the religious thought of humanity revolved in its passage from Asia to Europe. Judea, Greece and Etruria were so many spirits of life which formed different civilizations. But from whom did they draw their basic ideas, if not the living storehouse of ancient Egypt? Moses and Orpheus created two opposite and remarkable religions, one with its rigid monotheism, the other with its dazzling polytheism. But in what mold was their genius formed? Where did one of them find the power, energy, boldness to recast a half-savage people like brass in a furnace, and where did the other find the magic to make gods speak to the soul of its fascinated barbarians like a well-tuned lyre? In the temples of Osiris, in ancient Thebes, which the initiates called the city of the sun or the solar ark because it contained the synthesis of divine science and all the secrets of initiation.

Every year at the summer solstice when the floods of rain fall in Abyssinia, the Nile changes color and takes on that tint of blood, about which the Bible speaks. The Nile swells until the autumnal equinox conceals the outline of its banks. But standing upon their granite plateaus beneath the blinding sun, temples carved in the heart of the rock, necropoles, pylons and pyramids reflect the majesty of their ruins in the Nile, now transformed into a sea. Thus the Egyptian priesthood passed through the centuries accompanied by its organization and symbols, secrets which for a long time were impenetrable to science. In these temples, these crypts, these pyramids developed the famous teaching of the Word of Light, of the universal Word which Moses enclosed in his golden ark and of which Christ was to be the living torch.

Truth is unchangeable in itself, it alone outlives everything, but it changes its habitations, its forms and its manifestations. "The light of Osiris" which once lighted the depths of nature and the heavenly vault for the initiates is extinguished forever in the abandoned crypts. Hermes' saying to Asclepios was fulfilled: "O Egypt! Egypt! -- In future generations there will remain only incredible tales about you, and nothing will be left but words carved in stone."

Nevertheless, it is a ray from that mysterious sun of the sanctuaries which we would like to bring to life once again by following the secret path of ancient Egyptian initiation, insofar as the esoteric institution itself and the fleeting reflection of the ages will allow.

But before entering the temple let us glance at the great phases through which Egypt passed before the age of the Hyksos.

Almost as old as the framework of our continent, the earliest Egyptian civilization dates back to the ancient red race.21 The colossal sphinx of Gizeh near the great pyramid, is its handiwork. From the time when the Delta (later formed by the alluvium of the Nile) did not yet exist, the huge symbolic animal lay upon its granite hill, before the chain of the Lybian Mountains, looking at the sea, dashing against its feet where today the sands of the desert are spread. The sphinx, that first creation of Egypt, became the latter's principal symbol, its distinctive mark. The oldest human priesthood carved it, a picture of calm and of the awe-inspiring majesty of nature. A man's head emerges from a bull's body with lion's paws, and folds its eagle wings at its sides. It is terrestrial Isis, a portrayal of the living unity of nature's kingdoms, for the ancient priesthoods knew and taught that in the great order of evolution, human nature emerges from animal nature. In this composite of bull, lion, eagle and man are also contained the four animals of Ezekiel's vision, representing the four constituent elements of the microcosm and macrocosm: water, earth, air and fire, the foundations of esoteric science. This is why, in subsequent centuries when the initiates saw the sacred animal lying on the steps of the temples or in the recesses of crypts, they felt this mystery come to life within them and they silently folded the wings of their spirits over inner truth. For before Oedipus, they knew that the answer to the riddle of the sphinx is Man, the microcosm, the divine agent who includes within himself all the elements and forces of nature.

The red race therefore, has left no other trace of itself than the sphinx of Gizeh, irrecusable proof that in its own way it had posed and solved the great problem.


Notes for this chapter:

21. In an inscription of the Fourth Dynasty, the Sphinx is spoken of as a monument whose origin was lost in the darkness of time and which had been found by chance during the reign of this prince, buried in the sand of the desert, under which it was forgotten for long generations. And the Fourth Dynasty carries us back four thousand years before Christ. Let one calculate the antiquity of the Sphinx from this!


15. Hermes

The Great Initiates