Egyptologist Kurt Lange [Egypt] posed an opposing line of questioning as to whether we even see the pharaonic period with its ‘increasingly evident transformations’ in a different light to that in which it was viewed by the pioneer Egyptologists of only fifty or a hundred years ago. And, he continued, if that is the case, does this explanation suggest that perhaps we are projecting our own essence and will into the unfathomable mystery of ancient Egypt? “Can we of today ever penetrate to the core of the nature of an age-old creative community from a different milieu? In our efforts to know, to explain and to feel ourselves corroborated, are we not attempting to grasp a mirage? Every seeker after knowledge is bound to ask himself such questions before he turns to the sources.”
Aeron Medbh-Mara observed in her essay, Dagger & The Plough, each environment be it moor, bog, forest, heathland, fen, artic tundra, desert and mountain, etc, poses different problems for those living under such conditions. “Each had their own deities concerned with the various aspects of life, climate, circumstance and death. True, in some case we may be faced with relatively modern landscape for, as we have colonised each area we have subtly or otherwise attempted to change this environment to meet any current need. As these changes have come about so the interaction with the gods may have changed; perhaps even the gods themselves as they have been replaced or asked to take on ‘extra responsibilities’?”
At this point, the neophyte should make some attempt to clarify exactly what it is that they personally expect from this ancient religion. Of the three opening observations in Part III of Liber Ægyptius, two of them have been taken from contemporary magical writings because the purpose of this book is a ‘purification of thought’ when it comes to modern Egyptian magic. But, as the Egyptologist asks, are we really trying to grasp a mirage - a false image that only exists in the minds of romantics or does the essence of the Old Ways really shine through like a beacon for those willing to seek it out?
The reality of contemporary Egyptian magic can be proven but modern approaches to the tradition are often far from being pure and it becomes increasingly difficult to decide where fantasy and improvisation should be separated. The most pertinent question, of course, is the one asked by Aeron Medbh-Mara in that are we asking too much from the Old Ones in expecting them to assume additional responsibility for our own spiritual short-sightedness?
We, in the northern hemisphere, are people of sea, moor, bog, forest, heathland and fen: the gods of Khem metamorphosed from a desert environment. This immediately poses different problems for those living in northerly climes because, unlike the Egyptians, we are hampered by the widely fluctuating seasonal hours of daylight and weather conditions, which in turn interferes with traditional Egyptian religious practices.
Adaptations can be made, as Egyptians in exile would have needed to make changes but these ‘adaptations’ do not mean foisting bogus similarities onto indigenous deities - Bridhe is not synonymous with Isis, nor the Morrigan with Sekhmet. Needless to say, certain changes have to be made but in the world of magic, trying to create an amalgam of cultural differences could result in a chimera of dangerous proportions. In Egypt, as with all other cultures, the gods were elements abstracted from the great Being; merely forms of the male and female ‘constitutive principles’ to personify anything that may be touched or realised. They were, however, Egyptian concepts, identifying solely with the national and cultural ethos of an Egyptian people immured in a sun and Nile-based religion.
It has been suggested that our ‘conceptual inadequacy’ over matters Egyptian stems from a need to assimilate its underlying religious structure to more identifiable features of the contemporary world. “Egypt becomes acceptable only when fitted out with the identity we, applying our modes of thinking and being, foist upon it ... We are less interested in acquiring knowledge of Egypt than in recognising ourselves in Egypt,” shrewdly observed Christine Favard-Meeks.
Parts I and II of Liber Ægyptius have drawn heavily on historical sources since these can be proven to a reasonable degree of satisfaction to both academic and magician. And, in order to keep those sources as pure as possible, very few texts written after the New Kingdom have been included. This still leaves the Adept with an enormous deficit on magical working methods since, despite the vast quantity of accessible magico-religious writings, there is little evidence of exactly how the priesthood approached magic and religion. What methods were used? Which form, if any, of psychic protection did they employ during ritual working? Were their devices for raising magical energy any different to ours?
This is why we need to know Egypt. To understand the social and historical implications behind changes in worship throughout the 5000 years of civilisation; to identify the different types of god-power with which we, as individuals, can empathise. We can never come to that ‘knowing’, however, if there is a persistence in following the airy-fairy paths of a pastel coloured, multi-cultural Isis, superimposed upon a tragic, Christ-like persona of Osiris.
In many instances, the Egyptian Mystery Tradition has even been transposed into some New Age amalgam of Wicca that fits quite uncomfortably into 21st century political correctness as neo-pagans attempt to ‘project their own essence and grasp the mirage’ without the slightest understanding of the antecedents of this ancient god-power. To use Kurt Lange’s own imagery, we must penetrate to the very core of the nature of this age-old creative community if we want to walk in the shadow of their knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
One of the chief difficulties in the study of the religion of Khem has been the method of its presentation to the world, as Margaret Murray explained in The Splendour That Was Egypt. “The plurality of gods and the representation of the Deity, whether as an animal or as a human being with an animal’s or bird’s head, was shocking to the prophets of Israel, from whose denunciations many of the modern ideas of Egyptian religion have been taken. Other adverse commentators were the Greek authors, the early Christian Fathers and many later Christian writers.
“Milton voices the general feeling when he speaks of ‘the brutish gods of Egypt’, and says of Osiris ‘Naught but profoundest hell can be his shroud’. The more modern writer is apt to be either shocked at the resemblances to Christianity or to treat the whole subject with slightly contemptuous levity, forgetting that this same religion had for thousands of years brought to its believers help in times of trouble, comfort in sorrow, and courage in the face of death.”
The obvious juxtaposition between the later Christian ethic and the neo-Osirian myth cannot be ignored, although early writers on the subject must have been acutely embarrassed by the similarities. It is also impossible to ignore the marked similarities between recorded Egyptian mythology and the various adaptations adopted by nearly every other civilisation in the Western world as the different cultures evolved.
Aeron Medbh-Mara’s observation concerning these ‘changes’ becomes even more pertinent as history records the esoteric or religious teaching spreading outwards from Egypt; being adapted to suit the climate and environment of other cults who sought to use older wisdom and pass it off as their own. It is pure speculation, but since Africa has long been considered the ‘cradle of civilisation’, could Egypt (which is, after all, geographically part of Africa) be looked upon as the ‘cradle of God’?
If the would-be neophyte still has problems in making the transition from Wicca (or any of the other traditions) then it may be necessary to reflect again on the warnings made by Murry Hope in Practical Egyptian Magic. “Egyptian magic can be approached in three ways. Intellectually, though a profound study of its philosophy, history, art, literature and traditions; through practical application; or a combination of both. It is not a static system, however, and will slowly lead the neophyte into deeper waters from which he can either retreat if he is unready, or proceed if he is of the right spiritual maturity. Never be ashamed to admit that you found it necessary to leave it alone. It takes a wise man to be humble ... There will doubtless be many who will not find the Egyptian system suitable to their own spiritual or occult needs. Fair enough. Then make it in your own way and in your own time.”