By JOHN ANTHONY WEST—
Academics abhor a mystery the way nature abhors a vacuum, yet in nature there are no vacuums, while in academia there are many mysteries. In no field of science or scholarship are there more (or more glaring) mysteries than in Egyptology. Yet, at the same time, there is no field in which mysteries are more systematically denied.
Pick up a book, any book, written by a credentialed Egyptologist and you will find nothing but agreement – about everything but the most insignificant details. In his gloriously mis-titled volume The Complete Pyramids, Egyptologist Mark Lehner does not bother to even mention the controversies that have swirled (and continue to swirl) about these extraordinary structures for two centuries. Nothing; not a word. It’s all been solved by the experts: The pyramids were built as tombs by powerful but deluded pharaohs desperately trying to ensure their own immortality (wink, wink, nod, nod).
No matter that there is no evidence, not a shred, that these pyramids – of Giza and Dahshur – were ever used as tombs – and much cogent argument strongly suggesting they were not. The huge stones were hauled up ramps by gangs of laborers and just wafted into place with lapidary precision. No matter that engineers, quarrymen and masons, people accustomed to moving large blocks of stone around, insist it could not be done in this fashion, while toolmakers and machinists study the precision and cannot fathom how it could possibly have been achieved with hand tools. The acknowledged mathematical properties exhibited by the Great Pyramid are mere accidents of design, etc. etc.
No doubts ruffle the calm, smooth surface of Lake Consensus, that bottomless pool where the Church of Progress’ (un)faithful go for solace, baptism and to pledge undying allegiance to the Great God Status Quo. (This act of ritual intellectual servitude is called, in the quaint terminology peculiar to their Church, “critical thinking” and sometimes even “reason.”)
Nevertheless, despite the near-total control exercised by the Church of Progress over the educational systems of the world (especially the West), heresy abounds. A vast public simply refuses to acknowledge the infallibility of “experts” and, indeed, exults in their discomfiture when unwelcome facts breach the walls of their fortified ivory towers.
The Churchmen fume about “ignorance and superstition,” they try to get laws passed outlawing what they don’t approve of (e.g. astrology, homeopathy), organised debunkers pressure the media to display to the public only that which carries a Church imprimatur upon it. To no avail. While the mainstream press remains largely obedient to Church of Progress directives, television and Hollywood are less docile. They are interested in dollars, not dogma, and in their corporate amorality they will not hesitate to present heretical material. They don’t even care if it is both good and true. In other words, as long as it brings in dollars and ratings, academic disapproval goes unheeded. The merely intellectual inquisition mounted by this Church lacks the effective dissuasive powers of the Church that preceded it – since it is no longer considered politically correct to subject heretics to physical torture. Churches are not what they used to be. And torture is now illegal – sort of.
The moral: People are less stupid than our arrogant academics assume. However, people are also undiscriminating. Wildly speculative, even loony work gets accepted as readily, indeed, much more readily, than anything based upon rigorous scholarship. Erich von Daniken is far more popular than R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz (which is probably unavoidable except in some ideal world going through its Golden Age) and, of course, given the goals of Hollywood and TV, it is always the ratings-and-dollar producing mysteries/heresies/alternatives that get the bulk of screen and air time.
Regarding Egypt, most of the heretical attention is focused on the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx – which is legitimate enough since the establishment answers to virtually every question raised about these structures are so manifestly inadequate that the fires of controversy never run short of fuel. But the Giza Plateau has no monopoly on Egyptian mysteries and some of these, unrecognised for what they are, have serious implications, not only for a better understanding of the ancient world, but also for contemplating and understanding the huge, slow processes of history and our own present position within that process.
The founding, establishment and breathtaking rise of dynastic Egypt (beginning around 3200 BCE) is one such mystery. In the space of just a few centuries, Egypt (apparently) went from primitive Neolithic beginnings to a complex, utterly assured command of a spectrum of disciplines. In little more than a blink of the historical eye Egypt somehow developed a sophisticated hieroglyphic system, a complex theology and cosmology, astronomy and mathematics, advanced medicine and a total mastery of architectural construction and artistic form.
Egyptologists sometimes find this mildly remarkable, but by insisting that despite appearances to the contrary (and the careful work of a dozen scholars categorically proving the contrary) Egypt was “really” still a “primitive” society, devoid of “real” science and “real” philosophy (and therefore “real” civilisation). The world would have to wait for Greece for “real” civilisation to begin. And therefore, however remarkable, the flowering of Egypt presents them with no mysteries and few problems. Though this is an evasion of great magnitude, it will not be my focus here.
If Egypt attained such unacknowledged heights so early, what then accounts for the long decline? Egyptologists have no problem responding to this question, and the conventional explanation, while not illogical, is unsatisfactory once you stop to question it.
Plotted on a graph, Egypt’s history does not show a long, steady, gradual descent (from the glories of the Pyramid Age to Ptolemaic moral and artistic decadence and ultimately to the dissolution of Egypt as a coherent entity under Roman domination). Rather the graph shows a series of waves, with troughs more or less equal, and each peak generally lower than the preceding peak – like waves on a beach after a storm. But it is unarguably at its height very nearly at its beginning (a bit like starting off automobile technology with the first horseless carriage, proceeding in a couple of years to the 2005 Ferrari and then gradually working backward to the Model T Ford).
The descent is ascribed to a combination of factors: years of famine and failed Nile floods may have brought on the end of the Old Kingdom c. 2300 BCE. (An interesting alternative theory: it was an asteroid or comet strike, some sort of major but localised event that destroyed not just Egypt but much of the Middle East along with it). Then, Egypt’s early military superiority was eventually challenged and then defeated by the more warlike (read “progressive and advanced”) civilisations of Anatolia (modern Turkey) then later Mesopotamia to the east and still later Greece to the north. Concurrently, her internal centralised political, artistic, moral and religious authority was eroding from within. One complementary (and attractive) theory claims that the use and abuse of black magic played a significant role. There can be no doubt that magic was rife in Egypt (and actually still is).
Civilisations come and go; we know that Roman, Holy Roman (about as holy as Lehner’s Complete Pyramids is complete), Mongol, Mogul, Dutch, French, British – all have established themselves, invariably by force, held sway briefly (by ancient Egyptian standards), weakened and ultimately fallen. So where is the alleged mystery?
It lies in recognising the fallacy of the standard scholarly assessment of Egyptian sophistication which is actually a deliberate exercise in academic malpractice. As long as Egypt is seen as a kind of magnificent (but primitive) dry run for Greece, leading eventually (by discrete but identifiable stages) to our current state of technological expertise, there is no problem and no mystery. But as soon as that assessment corresponds to reality then the problems arise and the mystery surfaces.
Through the work of Schwaller de Lubicz, Giorgio de Santillana and Herta van Dechend (Hamlet’s Mill) and many other careful scholars over the past 50 years or so, it is now clear that not just ancient Egypt, but ancient civilisations worldwide, were far more sophisticated than the societies that followed them. In other words, for a few thousand years at least, what is called progress is actually regress. Indeed, it is only the major advances in our current cosmological and scientific understanding that allowed these scholars to recognise the ancients had this knowledge as well; and that it is written into their mythology and symbolism, their understanding of mathematics, their astronomy/astrology and their religion.
Since Egypt’s Old Kingdom, up until very recently civilisation has been going down, not up; simple as that.
We can follow that degenerative process physically in Egypt; it is written into the stones and it is unmistakable. The same tale is told in the mythologies and legends of virtually all other societies and civilisations the world over.
This is the ultimate heresy to our Church of Progress. Progress does not go in a straight line from primitive ancestors to smart old Us with our bobble head dolls and weapons of mass destruction, our traffic jams and our polluted seas, skies and lands. There is another, and far more realistic way to view history. Plato talked about a cycle of Ages: the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron (or Dark) Ages; a cycle, a wave form – not a straight line. A similar understanding is reflected by virtually all other ancient accounts.
The best-known and by far the most elaborately developed of these systems is the Hindu, with its Yuga Cycle, which corresponds to the Platonic idea of four definable Ages (the Hindu Kali Yuga – our current Age – corresponds to Plato’s Iron, or Dark Age). The problem with the Hindu version, however, is the time frame traditionally applied to the separate ages: hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of years.
No matter how wrong archaeologists may be in their chronologies or their interpretations of the ancients, it is hard to imagine they can be that wrong! Yet not long ago, a little-known work on the Yuga Cycle came my way that fits the four stage cycle within the more manageable 20-odd thousand year cycle of the precession of the equinoxes. There can be no doubt the ancients were fully aware of the phenomenon of precession, and they regarded it as a matter of commanding importance, but it is difficult to see why. I now believe that integrating the Yuga cycle with precession may hold the key to understanding just why the ancients considered it so important, and also, just possibly, to figuring out with some accuracy just where we stand within that cycle.
Of Myth And Meaning
Microsoft Word’s in-PC thesaurus lists two meanings or synonyms for “myth”: legend and falsehood. Interestingly, the synonyms for “legend” do not include “falsehood,” while the synonyms for “falsehood” do not include “legend.” Nevertheless, in common usage, both definitions are used, often indiscriminately, and in some cases both actually apply. Utterances made by George W. Bush, for example, achieve legendary status instantly, and in most cases they are also falsehoods. But in dealing with the myths of the ancients, it is wise to exercise caution before summarily equating a legend with a falsehood, no matter that it generally does not correspond to our modern manner of communicating fact. The ancients, obviously, did not think of their legends as falsehoods. That negative meaning is a contemporary judgment, promulgated by Victorian proto-anthropologists of the nineteenth century and turned into dogma by Church of Progress devotees in the twentieth. (James Frazier’s exhaustive Golden Bough was probably the most influential single work of the genre.)
Though still prevalent, especially in academia, that Victorian assessment has been under attack almost since its beginning. It is now becoming clear that these strange, seemingly haphazard and irrational ancient tales contain within them forgotten history and profound psychology, but also, amazingly, astronomy, cosmology, physics, genetics and an understanding of the workings of the Universe so advanced and comprehensive that it is only the most recent advances in our own sciences that allow us to begin to understand what knowledge was available in the very distant past – at a time when, according to our “experts,” there was no civilisation to speak of at all.
In short, it is time for a total re-evaluation of the knowledge of the ancients. Not only did they know more than we thought they knew; it is also very possible they had knowledge we do not yet have, and that might be extremely useful, even crucial for us to acquire.
An Egyptian myth may be one place to start looking.
In ancient Egyptian mythology, Sekhmet, the goddess portrayed as a woman with the head of a lioness, is associated with vengeance, warfare and also, curiously enough, with healing; but healing by fire, or purgation. Esoterically, she represents the female aspect of the fire (initiating) principle. Ptah (architect of heaven and Earth) creates the Universe with “words” furnished by Djehuti (cosmic wisdom) but it is Sekhmet, Ptah’s female consort, who actually gets the work done. Her name “Sekhem” means “power”; the addition of the feminine suffix, “t” makes it “feminine power.”
In one well-known myth, Re, the Sun (creative principle) is old and tired; fractious, disobedient mankind no longer pays him homage. So Sekhmet is dispatched by the gods to punish humanity and bring it back into line. She proceeds to carry out this task with the gleeful fury proper to her lioness nature. By day she massacres; by night she returns to gorge herself on the blood-covered fields – until a point is reached when it becomes clear that unless checked, she will soon destroy mankind altogether, and she is not distinguishing between those few still obedient to the gods and the scornful and skeptical majority. (This attitude will show up periodically throughout subsequent history, most memorably perhaps at the Siege of Bezier, during the Albigensian Crusades, when the general in charge of the siege, and about to storm the walls, asked the Papal Legate, Arnald-Amalric, Abbot of Citeaux, how he was to distinguish between the true believers in the town so that they might be spared, and the targeted heretics who, needless to say, deserved to die. The Abbot is reputed to have said: “Kill them all. God will recognise his own.”)
In any event, in the Egyptian myth, the gods prove more merciful. For reasons difficult to ascertain, they decide mankind has been punished enough and something has to be done to stop Sekhmet before she annihilates the race entirely. A trick is played upon Sekhmet, instigated by the wise Djehuti. While Sekhmet sleeps, the blood covering the fields is replaced by wine. And when Sekhmet wakes and visits the fields to gorge herself as is her wont, the wine has its intended effect. Sekhmet falls into a drunken stupor, goes to sleep, and wakes up transformed into the beneficent Hathor, provider of cosmic nourishment and associated with sexuality, song, dance and the cycles of time. There the Egyptian story stops, but extrapolating, it is probably safe to suppose the mythmakers assume that at this point, with Sekhmet pacified, mankind regroups and proceeds along its not-so-merry way.
Consider the Kali Yuga
In the first part of this article, I left off with a brief discussion of the Vedic/Hindu doctrine of the Yugas, the idea that history follows a cycle, corresponding to the Platonic doctrine of Aeons or ages (Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron, or “Dark” Ages). Most Hindu accounts assign improbably long time periods to each of these ages, but one relatively modern thinker, Sri Yukteswar, the guru of the influential twentieth century yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, wrote that originally, the Yuga cycle was supposed to correspond to a precessional cycle (Yukteswar allots approximately 24,000 years to this cycle, modern astronomy puts it close to 26,000 years but variable within narrow limits. Plato gives a precise numerologically interesting canonical number of 25,920 years – six times six times six times 12). Moreover, in the standard accounts, the Kali Yuga (or Dark Age) is followed immediately by a new Golden Age. This does not make sense; the end of winter is not followed immediately by summer.
Now in Hindu mythology, Kali the Destroyer is equivalent to the Egyptian Sekhmet, and it may be that the Sekhmet myth has legitimate astronomical/astrological significance.
An aging or dying god is a feature of many ancient myths and legends and it is the mythic way of signaling the end of an astronomical cycle of some sort (cf. Hamlet’s Mill). Unfortunately, our standard view of history is not only very wrong, it is also very short. We have a good idea of the Piscean Age of the last 2,000 years, a much less comprehensive picture of the Arian Age preceding it (c. 2000-0 BCE), but in the Taurean Age (4000-2000 BCE), except for Egypt, we enter a realm of myth and legend with relatively little factual material to base sound interpretations upon. The further back we go, the mistier it gets.
The English writer Samuel Butler once remarked that, “Analogy may be misleading but it is the least misleading thing we have.”
So, to appreciate our own position within the grand Yuga cycle, analogy may help.
We are familiar with the cycle of night and day. But imagine a sentient creature that lives for just a minute. If that minute falls at midnight, then our Minute Man can have absolutely no idea of what that minute of life might be like at high noon, especially if it’s raining.
Now move up a step in the cyclical hierarchy to the seasons, and imagine a sentient creature that lives for just a day. If that day falls in February and it’s still raining (both Minute Man and Day Man live in Wales) then he can have no idea of what a day would be like in mid-June – unless, of course, legends and myths have somehow survived the course of the year, in which case they would be so inconsistent with their own life experience that they might well dismiss them as falsehoods, i.e. myths.
Now move up to ourselves, within the precessional cycle. Allowing an ideal 100 year life span, if that 100 years corresponds to a rainy midnight minute or equally rainy February day in Wales then we can have no experiential possibility of understanding what a sunny 100 years in June in Cosmic California might be like, much less that life might actually be much prolonged under such circumstances – as so many myths and legends assert. There can be no doubt the ancients understood precession, and equally no doubt they considered it of paramount importance. And maybe that is why – because it enabled them (at least in principle) to live in harmony with the dictates of their era, or so the legends say.
So if there is validity to the concept of the Yuga cycle, just where would we stand? Not in June in Cosmic California, that is for sure! Scan the front page of any daily newspaper in the world and it looks like mid-January: war, terrorism, murder, rape, robbery, scams, famine and disease – chaos everywhere. The greatest military and economic power in recorded history has as its leader an inarticulate, illiterate dunce, himself under the control of a tribe of corporate cannibals. The entire planet is threatened by a gamut of potentially terminal environmental, ecological, medical and military disasters. The institutionalised religions of both East and West (at their best but stunted, pale offshoots of much more robust and earlier root stocks) are degraded and degenerate. Education everywhere is controlled by the priesthood of the Church of Progress, forcibly proselytising its psychotic and spurious doctrine of meaninglessness, accident and despair.
A good case could be made that it’s mid-Kali Yuga, and Sekhmet has again been summoned and is already exercising her bloody trade. But this could be a misperception. Certainly a cosmic blizzard is blowing, of that there can be no doubt, yet maybe it’s March in the cycle – and even though it doesn’t look that way, spring is on the way. Under the snow, the seeds of spring are germinating. The substantial minority of us who aren’t trapped in hopeless third world conditions know that at the very least we’re not back in the post-Roman Dark Ages – which were pretty dark everywhere around the planet as far as we can determine.
Opposition to the Church of Progress Mounts: A Positive Sign
There is one potentially major positive sign that goes generally unrecognised. The past three centuries have seen a prodigious flowering of creative energy, most of it undeniably dedicated to destruction and frivolity (even the most nauseating TV commercial is the result of an extraordinary expenditure of creative and technical expertise).
While imbeciles insist upon calling this progress, in its standard manifestation it is little more than shiny barbarism.
Even so, that standard is not necessarily a fait accompli, an unalterable condition. The outpouring of creative energy is a fact. In itself it is neutral in principle. Directed consciously and constructively, things could change, everywhere – and in a hurry. When ideas change, everything changes. Of course, getting the ideas to change is another matter altogether. Nevertheless, it could happen. Even before it’s too late. If only…
Maybe, just maybe, Sekhmet is just growling and flexing her claws, and despite all appearances to contrary, there is still some wiggle room.
It’s a thought.
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JOHN ANTHONY WEST is a writer and independent Egyptologist who has been studying and writing about ancient Egypt for nearly three decades. He is the foremost exponent of the “Symbolist” school of Egyptology, which sees (and demonstrates) an ancient sacred science where modern academics see mainly superstition. West’s work redating the Great Sphinx of Giza via geology (proving that it must be at least 10,000 years old or older) was the subject of a 1993 NBC special, The Mystery of the Sphinx, hosted by Charlton Heston. West won an Emmy in 1993 for Best Research for his work on the video, and the show itself was one of four nominated for Best Documentary Program. West’s non-fiction books include Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Egypt and The Case for Astrology. He has also written a book of short stories, a novel, plays and film scripts. John organises study tours of ancient Egypt’s sacred sites. Further information can be found at his web site www.jawest.net.
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 97 (July-August 2006).
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