Joined: 25 May 2003
|Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 7:00 pm Post subject: Enlightenment of Ancient Egypt
|Okay you guy's have been thinking maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree for awhile lately but I thought I would share more light as it is found:
The Hermetica and the Rosicrucian Enlightenment
The Hermetic texts are a body of writings (mostly in Greek, but some in Coptic) that were probably compiled sometime before the second century A.D. by unknown authors and attributed to Hermes Trimegistus. Hermes Trimegistus (Hermes the Thrice Great) is a syncretic combination of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek Hermes that was a result of the Greek colonization of Egypt. But the Corpus Hermeticum, a group of 17 texts compiled at an unknown date, is not mentioned as a body of texts until the 11th century. The texts are subdivided into two categories: the technical Hermetica, which cover topics of magic, alchemy, astrology, astrological medicine, and astrological botany; and the philosophical Hermetica, which consist of "Discourses addressed by Hermes to Tat, Asclepius and Ammon, and by Isis to Horus" (Fowden 1993:4). These astrological and alchemical texts were preserved thanks to the fashionableness of their subject matter in Byzantium; even some of the philosophical Hermetica were popular with certain Christian Byzantine writers (such as Lactantius), but he drew from those which fit in with his understanding of the nature of Christianity, while editing out other aspects of Hermetic mystical teachings (ibid. p.. The few philosophical texts that were preserved were substantially added to when, in 1945, a body of philosophical Hermetical papyri written in Coptic was found near Hamra Dum in Upper Egypt (ibid pp.4-5). Drawing on historian Garth Fowden, Robert Bauval proposes that the idea of buried records of magical wisdom first appears in the Hermetica, an important point to which we shall soon return (Bauval 1999:11-30; see also Fowden 1993:27-41).
The texts became fashionable in sixteenth century Italy. Giordano Bruno, a Hermetic philosopher, "propagated throughout Europe in the late sixteenth century an esoteric movement which demanded a general reformation of the world, in the form of a return to 'Egyptian' religion and good magic" (Yates 1986:216). Bruno may have formed a secret society in Germany, and he and other Hermetic philosophers were an important factor behind the "Rosicrucian Manifestos" which were published in Germany in the early seventeenth century. Francis Yates dubs this period, in which the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition of the Renaissance united with a Hermetic alchemical tradition, the "Rosicrucian Enlightenment," and proposes that the combination of the two traditions was a critical impetus for the European Enlightenment. The Hermetic texts' treatment of alchemy, with its proposition that chemical processes were attainable through experimentation, provided a critical bridge between medieval magical mysticism and science, the Renaissance and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.
The Rosicrucian Manifestos were "proclamations of enlightenment in the form of an utopist myth about a world in which enlightened beings, almost assimilated to spirits, go about doing good, shedding healing influences, disseminating knowledge in the natural sciences and the arts, and bringing mankind back to its Paradisal state before the Fall" (Yates 1986:207). They were tremendously influential in Europe at the time. The Manifestos speak of a secret fraternity founded by Christian Rosencreutz. Yates argues that no serious historian can believe that the Rosencreutz story was anything but an allegorical fiction, but she points out that, even if there were no such secret societies at the time of the publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestos, these certainly did inspire the formation of a real secret society at some later date (ibid. pp.206-208). These European fraternities were the ancestors of today's AMORC Rosicrucian Order, which was established in the U.S. in the early 1930's by Dr. H. Spencer Lewis.
Though Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry are two distinct traditions, there are also many critical historical, as well as structural and symbolic, links between them. A famous early Masonic initiation was that of Elias Ashmole in 1646, who, Yates documents, was profoundly affected by the Rosicrucian Manifestos, copying them out in his own hand (ibid). In the middle of the eighteenth century, a new grade of Freemasonry called the Rose Cross grade was adopted within France. "This would seem like an acceptance, within Masonic tradition itself… of the idea of a connection between Rosicrucianism and Masonry" (ibid pp.211-212).
The Rosicrucians and Freemasons also use much of the same mystical Egyptian symbolism. Freemasons regard the Temple of Solomon as the culmination of the sacred arts of geometry and architecture. This is an important point to which we will return, for it has had political reverberations throughout the history of Freemasonry in Egypt. Further, both Rosicrucians and Freemasons claim a philosophical heritage in ancient Egypt, and both have legendary histories that trace the history of their secret fraternities back millennia to ancient Egypt. Rosicrucians claim that theirs dates to the time of Pharaoh Thutmosis III in 1489 B.C. And, according to Masonic legend, the brotherhood dates back to the origin of architecture itself, and is thus associated with the Egyptian pyramids, the most ancient remaining specimens of monumental architecture. Architecture is identified with geometry, and geometry is said to date back to various points in the history of the Hebrews or the Egyptians. Usually it is either Abraham who is said by Freemasons to have taught the Egyptians geometry, or Hermes-Thoth (who is sometimes assimilated to Moses and also to Euclid).
But, as noted, all historians of the movements point out that these histories are purely legendary. In 1818, Thomas Paine cited an essay written in 1730 by Samuel Pritchard (a Mason), who wrote that "at the building of the tower of Babel, the art and mystery of Masonry was first introduced, and from thence handed down by Euclid, a worthy and excellent mathematician of the Egyptians; and he communicated it to Hiram, the Master Mason concerned in building Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem." Paine points out "there is a glaring contradiction in point of chronology in the account [Pritchard] gives. Solomon's Temple was built and dedicated 1004 years before the Christian era; and Euclid, as may be seen in the tables of chronology, lived 277 before the same era. It was therefore impossible that Euclid could communicate any thing to Hiram, since Euclid did not live till 700 years after the time of Hiram."
Certain authors prone to conspiracy theories (see Bauval 1999) cite the Egyptian inspirations behind the European Hermetic trend of the late Renaissance/ early Enlightenment (as documented by Fowden and Yates) as evidence of an unproblematic historical trajectory of ancient Egyptian knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation since the times of ancient Egypt until today. But there are problems with this reasoning. While Rosicrucian literature cites the Rosicrucian Manifestos of seventeenth-century Germany as the inspiration behind their movement, their source for information about the Egyptian history of their movement is modern-day archaeology (Pharaoh Thutmosis III was certainly unknown to Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe). And as Yates (1986:206-7) points out, there is no historical evidence that points to an existing Rosicrucian society at the time that the Rosicrucian Manifestos were published; instead, evidence supports the thesis that the Manifestos' fictional story of Christian Rosencreutz inspired, rather than documented, the formation of secret fraternities which were the forerunners to modern Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism.
If anything, the links between contemporary Rosicrucianism and the Hermetica point to a history of European appropriation of Egyptian myth and mysticism that dates back to the Greek colonization of ancient Egypt and the ensuing syncretism of Egyptian and Greek religion. Hermes Trimegistus, the combination of Thoth and Hermes, is the embodiment not of the ancient wisdom of a lost civilization passed down through the generations, as Bauval and others would have it, but rather of a European tradition of imagining ancient Egypt as the repository of the ancient wisdom of a lost civilization.