Wallis Budge picks up on an interesting detail from Apuleius’s writings which demonstrates the views held by Isian worshippers of the time and just how many ‘foreign’ goddesses had been identified with her’. He goes on to explain that The Golden Ass illustrates that Apuleius had no true knowledge of the actual position which Isis held in early Egyptian mythology, having ascribed to her the attributes which belong to Khepera, Atun, Re and Osiris. “In short, he turned the Almighty God of the ancient Egyptians into a goddess …”
It is difficult to assess how far Isis was Hellenised in iconography and art when her cult was taken over by the Greeks (Isis in the Graeco-Roman World). Author R E Witt suggests that she first became Greek and then Graeco-Roman, a statement supported by a quotation from Plutarch: “Isis belongs to Greece.” The appeal of the Isis cult in the early centuries is persuasively presented and documented, especially its impact on budding Christianity with Witt suggesting that Isis was ‘the forerunner of Catholicism’s Mary, Mother of God’.
The cult of Isis also made enormous strides in Italy. In Vol. II of Osiris & the Egyptian Resurrection, Wallis Budge gives a long description of a ceremony from the temple of Isis at Pompeii around 65BCE. From Rome the cult of Isis naturally spread to the provinces, and then to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Gaul and finally by way of Marseilles to Carthage and the countries of North Africa. Although the Edict of Theodosius I (378-395CE) banned the worship of pagan deities, the worship of Isis continued at Philae until the reign of Justinian (527-565) when the temple at Philae was closed and its statues removed to Rome.
By the time the Graeco-Egyptian Hermetic literature had reached Rome it had also absorbed a wide range of cultures. Many of the original Egyptian gods, by being given Greek names, were more easily identifiable with the Graeco-Roman pantheons, not to mention Jewish, Persian, Babylonian, Gnostic and Christian influences. As Christianity became the dominant religion in Egypt most of the ancient temples were closed down, although some Christian intellectuals were prepared to accept Hermes Trismegistus as a pagan but pious sage. The Hermetic writings which are derived from copies of the Byzantine Period have, according to Geraldine Pinch, usually been purged of their magical elements.
After the Arabs conquered Egypt in 7AD the charms written by Coptic magicians (i.e. Christian Egyptians) were highly esteemed by the conquerors. Both Arab and Coptic magic was strongly influenced by the introduction of the Qabalah, the magical tradition developed by the Jews, and so Solomon became a central figure in magical texts of the time.
A different type of magic was preserved by the Arab scholars, including the famous Emerald Tablet which generally excites many gullible modern practitioners of the Egyptian Mysteries; Geraldine Pinch tells us that this is probably the work of an Arab alchemist from around 9AD. From 12AD, European scholars began translating Arab sources although few genuine Hermetic manuscripts were known at this time in the West. Dr Christian Jacq maintains that the Coptic Christians of Egypt have never forgotten the ancient magic since there is evidence (Egyptian Magic) of them re-using many aspects of the rituals and magical practices which were used in Pharaonic times.
By the early medieval period the ‘Egyptian Hermes’ was being quoted as an authority on magic and astrology, continuing to inspire magical theory and practice right through the Renaissance to the early 17th century. According to Pinch: “Although the West still had no real knowledge of ancient Egyptian magical texts, Egypt retained its reputation as the source of magic and arcane wisdom during the 17th and 18th centuries ... and it was natural for movements such as the Rosicrucians and the Freemason to adopt Egyptian imagery for their secret rites.”
In 1781 a book was published which claimed an Egyptian origin for the tarot pack. According to its author, Court de Gebelin, the 22 major trumps formed a ‘Book of Thoth’ which preserved the esoteric wisdom of ancient Egypt in complex symbols, whose meaning could only be recovered by contemplation. In 1822, the French linguist, Jean Francois Champollion broke the key to the Rosetta Stone thereby making the hieroglyphic script accessible and by the late 19th century many dubious editions of Egyptian texts were available. The French magus Eliphas Levi, considered to have produced the most important interpretations on the tarot, opined that there was a strong symbolic connection between the 22 cards of the major arcana and the Qabalah - which brings us full circle to the supposed Egyptian Mysteries of Iamblichus!
Echoing modern Egyptology’s disapproval of Wallis Budge’s continuing popularity with occultists, Geraldine Pinch comments: “The only one to make a real impact on followers of the occult was a translation of The Book of the Dead by E A Wallis Budge, the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum. In the popular imagination this heterogeneous collection of funerary texts wrongly came to be regarded as the sacred book of the Egyptians.”
Here we return to the age-old battle between historian and magician for the true esoteric meaning behind the ancient words. Although scholars now refer to the translations by R. O. Faulkner against Budge’s less reliable interpretations, it’s the latter’s work which appeals to the seeker after god-power. It’s still Budge who can speak the ‘utterences’ that make the dead live again - not Faulkner.
Religious movements and secret societies of the 18-19th centuries continued to utilise Egyptian symbolism with many of them treating extracts from The Book of the Dead as the basis for initiation rites. In The Hiram Key, two Freemasons in search of ancient antecedents for their organisation claim that modern-day Masonics can be traced back to the concept of ma’at purely on the grounds that there could be no ‘clearer and more succinct description of Freemasonry’. Ma’at in its pure form symbolises order, truth and justice - a concept not alien to many other Orders of differing denominations. Knight and Lomax also claim the sacred pillars representing the unification of the Two Lands of Egypt suggest another link with the past for Freemasonry, omitting the fact that dual columns also represent the ‘Pillars of Equilibrium’ in a magical Temple.
At best, Freemasonry might be able to claim certain parallels which have been adapted from translations available at the time but they remain firmly in the queue, along with other Orders whose scholarly founders were drawn to the esoteric splendour of ancient Egypt. They also seem to (deliberately?) overlook the introduction of the ‘Egyptian Rite’ into Freemasonry by Cagliostro in the 18th century. The fact that their Order uses Egyptian symbolism, ‘secret words’ and the ‘Universal Architect’ [E=Ptah] merely proves accessibility to neo-classic Egyptian texts by those constructing the original rituals. The organisation has no greater or lesser claim to authenticity than the most famous ‘descendant’ of all - The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Golden Dawn, or Stella Matutina, was formed in 1887 and adopted a considerable amount of ancient Egyptian symbolism as part of its tradition - the temples or lodges being given names of Egyptian deities. The Order, studying the highest practical magic where men and women were admitted on equal terms was, according to esoteric author, Alan Richardson: “The genius of Moina and Samuel Liddell Mathers who formed a syzygy, which might be defined as the conjunction of two organisms without loss of identity.”
Occult legend claims that the Mathers met in the Egyptian Room at the British Museum and subsequently the temples had names such as Isis-Urania, Alpha et Omega, Amen-Ra, Osiris and Horus and although the Order expanded rapidly, membership only ever remained in the hundreds. As Richardson observes in Priestess, unlike the Theosophic movement, the Golden Dawn demanded an extremely high level of academic ability in addition to discipline, commitment, imagination and ‘no little flair for the psycho-drama of ritual’. Each temple sported its own set of inner contacts which were manifestations of the individual or collective power of the deities to which the Temple was dedicated.
Dion Fortune, who later founded the Society of the Inner Light, was a member of the Alpha et Omega Temple (1919) as well as having apparently contradictory affiliations with The Science, Arts & Crafts Society, the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society and the Hermes Temple. Richardson suggests that her Christian mysticism did not actually die; it merely retreated when her late marriage awakened her ‘dormant paganism’. It wasn’t until the late 1930s, however, that her strong mystical pagan-subconscious turned directly towards Egypt but students of the Egyptian Tradition would do well to read her novel Moon Magic as an introduction to the subject.
In taking the lease on The Belfry in West Halkin Street, off Belgrave Square, Fortune created her very own Temple of Isis. She still gave lectures but only ‘those entirely in tune with the Egyptian nature of the magic’ were admitted. It was at The Belfry that she wrote Moon Magic, her last (1939-40) and one of the finest esoteric novels ever written, which successfully blends Western Ritual Magic with the Egyptian Mystery Tradition as a blue-print for the 1900s and beyond. For those with the eyes to see, Moon Magic does indeed act as a magical guide despite its highly readable fictional overtones.
In modern magical practice, the sympathetic multi-embodiment of the goddess-form is possibility nearer to traditional ancient Egyptian sources than the constrictions of the triple-goddess often found in contemporary Wicca. The quadruple aspect makes a more coherent whole as a deity who waxes and wanes in a continuous cycle, as does her heavenly symbol, the moon. There is no abrupt change from crone to maiden as is the case when focus is directed towards a triple-goddess.
The maiden (new moon) opens the door between the worlds and steps through into our world. As the moon waxes to maturity, her symbolic fertility grows and she becomes the mother, who stands in the place of power at the full moon. As the moon’s light wanes, her beauty dims and fertility fails; she becomes the crone who opens the door to the underworld but magically her age wanes, she grows younger, her dark beauty grows and strengthens. The dark-queen rules the underworld, barren herself yet she gives the same gift of magical renewal to all souls who pass through her kingdom. Her face is dark, black as the dark of the moon - Isis veiled and the Black Isis of Dion Fortune’s Moon Magic - but gradually as she grows ever-younger, the Maiden is once again revealed. The maiden who opens the door from the Underworld and brings new life with her through into the physical world.”
The Western traditions of maiden-mother-crone can equally apply to the Bast/Hathor/Isis aspects within Egyptian mythology but for the Dark One - the Black Isis - the Adept should look towards the primordial goddesses of Tefnut/Nut. The dark goddess is the symbol of things in the shadows beyond ‘normal’ sight; of the vision of the night, the dream; things seen by inner sight and the ability of being able to sense happenings on the astral - all realms of the Dark One.
In Western Ritual Magic the three days prior to menstruation is when the woman’s magical energies are at their most potent and it would be naive to suppose that this condition was unknown to the Egyptian priesthood. The orgasm has often been called ‘the little death’ and so sexual magic is also one of the attributes of the dark– goddess. Temple sleep and astral travel also gives access to these realms, and by using scrying instruments we can develop the ability to see into this world. Perhaps this aspect of the goddess is ‘hidden’ and appears to live in darkness because people are blind to her possibilities. Tefnut/Nut is the key to greatly expanded awareness in all senses, but until we become aware of those possibilities, they remain hidden in the darkness.
During the ‘dark of the moon’ (when many students are taught they should never attempt magical workings), things are broken down, re-absorbed, patterns are broken into chaos when they have outlived their purpose and are re-made; the dark of the moon is like Death in many ways and is symbolically the process which precedes birth. On the other hand, if the Adept naturally associates the dark of the moon with his or her own form of positive magic, then you will always be able to use this dark time for positive working, regardless of what anyone else may say.