17. Osiris -- Death and Resurrection

Nevertheless he was admitted only to the threshold. Long years of study and apprenticeship began. Before rising to Isis Uranus, he had to know terrestrial Isis, had to learn the physical sciences. His time was divided between meditations in his cell, the study of hieroglyphics in the halls and courts of the temple, as large as a city, and in lessons from his teachers. He learned the science of minerals and plants, the history of man and peoples, medicine, architecture and sacred music. In this long apprenticeship he had not only to know, but to become. He had to acquire strength through renunciation. The ancient wise men believed that man possesses truth only if it becomes a part of his innermost being, a spontaneous deed of his soul. But in this intense work of assimilation, the pupil was left to himself. His teachers did not help him in anything, and often he was amazed at their coldness and their indifference. He was carefully supervised, he was subjected to inflexible rules, absolute obedience was required of him, but nothing was revealed to him beyond certain limits. His uncertainties and his questions were answered by "Wait and work." Then, sudden revolts, bitter regrets and horrible suspicions surged up in him. Had he become the slave of bold impostors or black magicians who were subjugating his will to an infamous purpose? Truth was fleeing, the gods were abandoning him, he was alone, a prisoner of the temple. Truth appeared to him in the form of a sphinx. The sphinx said to him, "I am Doubt!" And the winged beast, with its head of an impassive woman and its lion's paw, carried him away to tear him apart in the burning desert sand.

But hours of calm and divine forbearance followed these nightmares. Then he understood the symbolic meaning of the trials he had gone through upon entering the temple. For, alas! The dark well into which he had almost fallen was less dark than the abyss of unfathomable truth; the fire he had passed through was less to be feared than the passions which still burned his flesh; the black, freezing water into which he had to plunge was less cold than the doubt into which his mind sank and became engulfed in his evil moments.

In one of the halls of the temple, arranged in two rows, were those same sacred paintings which had been explained to him in the crypt during the night of ordeals, and which represented the twenty-two arcana. These arcana, which could be partly seen at the threshold of esoteric science, were the very pillars of theology, but it was necessary to have gone through the entire initiation in order to understand them. Since then none of the leaders had spoken to him of them again. He was allowed only to walk in this room and meditate upon the signs. He spent long, solitary hours there. Through these figures, pure as light, serious as Eternity, invisible and impalpable truth slowly entered the heart of the neophyte. In the silent society of these quiet, nameless divinities, each of which seemed to preside over a sphere of life, he began to feel something new: First, a descent into the depths of his being, then a sort of detachment from the world, which made him soar above things. Sometimes he asked one of the Magi, "One day will I be allowed to smell the rose of Isis, to see the light of Osiris?" He was told, "That does not depend upon us; truth is not given. Either one finds it in oneself, or one does not find it. We cannot make an adept of you; you must become one yourself. The lotus grows under the river a long time before it blossoms. Do not rush the blossoming of the divine flower! If it is to come, it will appear in its own time. Work and pray!"

And the disciple returned to his studies and to his meditation with a quiet joy. He enjoyed the strict, sweet charm of the solitude where a breath of the Being of Beings passes. Thus the months and years flowed by. He felt a slow transformation, a complete metamorphosis taking place within him. The passions which had attacked his youth moved away from him like ghosts, and the thoughts which now encircled him were kind, like immortal friends. What he experienced now was the swallowing up of his earthly self and the birth of another, purer, more ethereal self. In this mood he would fall prostrate before the steps of the closed sanctuary. Then there was no longer any revolt, no desire of any kind, no regret in him. There was only a perfect surrender of his soul to the gods, a complete oblation to truth. "O Isis," he would say in his prayer, "since my soul is but a teardrop from your eyes, may it fall as dew upon other souls, and in dying may I feel their perfume arise to you! Here am I, ready for the sacrifice!"

After one of these silent prayers, the disciple in a semi-ecstasy saw the hierophant standing near him like a vision from the sun, enclosed in the warm colors of sunset. The master seemed to read all the disciple's thoughts, to penetrate the entire drama of his inner life.

"My son," he said, "the time is approaching when truth will be revealed to you, for already you have had a foretaste of it in going down into your innermost depths, and there finding the life divine. You are to enter the great, ineffable communion of the initiates, for you are worthy of it by the purity of your heart, by your love of truth and your power of self-denial. But no one crosses Osiris' threshold except by way of death and resurrection. We shall accompany you into the crypt. Be not afraid, for you are already one of our brothers!"

At dusk the priests of Osiris, bearing torches, accompanied the new adept into the lower crypt, supported by four pillars, placed upon sphinxes. In a corner was an open marble sarcophagus.23

"No man," said the hierophant, "escapes death, and every living soul is destined to resurrection. The adept goes through the tomb alive, that afterward he may enter into the light of Osiris. Lie down, therefore, in this coffin and wait for the light! Tonight you will go through the door of Fear and you will reach the threshold of Mastery."

The initiate lay down in the open sarcophagus. The hierophant extended his hand over him in blessing and the procession of initiates left the cave in silence. A little lamp placed on the ground flickeringly lights the four sphinxes which support the thick columns of the crypt. A choir of deep voices is heard, low and muffled. Where does it come from? It is the funeral chant! He is breathing his last; the lamp casts a final light, then is extinguished entirely. The adept is alone in the darkness. The coldness of the tomb falls upon him, freezing all his limbs. Gradually he experiences the painful sensation of death and falls into a lethargy. His life passes before him in successive scenes like something unreal and his earthly consciousness becomes more and more vague and diffuse. But as he feels his body disintegrate, the ethereal part, the fluid of his being, is disengaged. He enters into an ecstasy ...

What is that shining, far distant point which appears imperceptible against the black background of the shadows? It is coming closer, it is growing larger, it is becoming a five-pointed star, whose rays include all the colors of the rainbow, and which shoots into the darkness discharges of magnetic light. Now there is a sun which attracts it into the brightness of its incandescent center. Is it the magic of the masters which produces this vision? Is it the invisible which becomes visible? Is it a foreboding of celestial truth, the flaming star of hope and immortality? It is disappearing, and in its place a flower blooms in the night, a flower not of matter, but sensitive and endowed with soul! It opens before him like a white rose; it spreads its petals, he sees its living leaves tremble and its shining calyx blush. -- Is this the flower of Isis, the Mystical Rose of Wisdom which enclosed Love in its heart? But now it is evaporating, like a cloud of perfume. Then the ecstatic one feels flooded with a warm, caressing breeze. Having assumed strange forms, the cloud condenses and becomes a human figure, the figure of a woman, the Isis of the hidden sanctuary, but younger, smiling and radiant. A transparent veil is wrapped around her and her body shines through it. In her hand she holds a scroll of papyrus. She softly approaches, leans over the initiate lying in his tomb, and says, "I am your invisible sister; I am your divine soul, and this is the book of your life. Its written pages contain your past lives, its blank pages, your future lives. One day I shall unroll all before you. You know me now. Call, and I shall come!" As she speaks, a ray of tenderness streams from her eyes. . . . O presence of my angelic counterpart, ineffable promise of the divine, wondrous fusion in the impalpable Beyond! ...

But everything bursts; the vision fades. With a horrible rending, the adept feels himself hurled into his body as into a corpse. He returns to a state of conscious lethargy; bands of iron fetter his limbs; a terrible weight presses upon his brain; he awakens . . . Standing before him is the hierophant, accompanied by the Magi. They surround him, make him drink a cordial, and he arises.

"You are resurrected!" exclaims the prophet. "Come and celebrate with us the agape of the initiates, and tell us of your journey in the light of Osiris. For henceforth you are one of us."

Let us accompany the hierophant and the new initiate to the observatory of the temple, in the warm splendor of an Egyptian night. It is there that the head of the temple gave the recent adept the great revelation, by relating to him The Vision of Hermes. This vision was not written on any papyrus. It was indicated in symbolic signs on the stelae of the secret crypt, known to the one prophet. From pontiff to pontiff, the explanation was orally transmitted.

"Listen carefully," said the hierophant. "This vision includes the eternal history of the world and of all things."


Notes for this chapter:

23. For a long time archeologists have seen in the sarcophagus of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh the tomb of King Sesostus, on the testimony of Herodotus, who was not an initiate, and to whom the Egyptian priests hardly confided anything except trifles and folk tales. The kings of Egypt, however, had their tombs elsewhere. The strange inner structure of the Pyramid proves that it was to be used for initiation ceremonies and secret practices of the priests of Osiris. The Well of Truth which we described, the ascending staircase and the room of the arcana are found there. The room called the King's Chamber, which contains the sarcophagus, was the one where the adept was led on the eve of his great initiation. These same arrangements were reproduced in the great temples of central and upper Egypt.


18. The Vision of Hermes

The Great Initiates