Peregrin Wildoak, in a response to my blogpost on the Primordial vs. Temporal Traditions, wrote a couple of days ago:
The way ancient and pre-modern folk understood the world is very different to the way we understand it.
We cannot easily escape our culture and the paradigm with live in, no matter how much we try.
Undoubtedly inspired by Herodotus’ application of the Greek term ‘mysteries’ to Egyptian religion (Histories. 2.171), Diodorus’ erroneous claim of an Egyptian origin for the Greek Mysteries of Eleusis when in fact it was the other way around (Lib. 1.29.2,4; Martin 1987: 78), Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (11.21–6), and Plutarch’s mention of Isis and Osiris initiations and mystic rites (De Iside. 2, 25, 28), the main problem with the Mathers’ attempt at creating this initiatory system was that there were no Egyptian Mysteries to begin with.
While there certainly were Graeco-Roman mysteries of the Hellenised Isis, the idea that there were ancient Egyptian ‘mysteries’ originated with Greeks like Herodotus misunderstanding the Egyptian cult of Osiris at Abydos and interpreting it as ‘mysteric’ because it was carried out by specially consecrated priesthood, unlike the part-time priests of Greece (Burkert 1987: 39–40; Lefkowitz 1997: 93). While access to the inner recesses of the Egyptian temple was limited to the priesthood, festivals were open to the public, not restricted to groups of initiates (Morenz 1973: 89–90).
Really there are only modern interpretations and adaptations of Graceo-Coptic Gods. And some of those adaptations were based on Mathers’ personal assumptions and mindset of what Egypt was.
Today we live in a post-modernist paradigm in which all “truths” are thrown out with the bath water and everything is relativized. We also live in the paradigm in which we, as members of post-modernist humanity and society, believe us to know more than humanity ever has, especially compared to the “superstitious” ancients, in virtue of our modern scientific methods.
|Golden Dawn God-Form|
It is also very obvious for all serious students of the Golden Dawn Tradition that the God-Forms, as they are deptictied in the so-called “Z” document and attached papers, are a modern magical adaptation. But that doesn’t imply that there still aren’t any traces left from original ancient concepts. As I said in my original blog post, in the God-Forms of the Golden Dawn we see a temporal tradition. But behind this cultural coating there is an essence which breaths the Primordial Tradition into the outer temporal shells. The “Z” document surely enough is based upon the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The fact is that this document, and its teachings on the Egyptian God-Forms, originated from the Third Order; it wasn’t MacGregors’ own invention. And this same Third Order happens to be a true custodian and lineal descendent of these original Egyptian Mysteries.
|The Rites of Isis|
Mind you, the actual Isiac mysteries are alive and well in Europe, limited to a small group of initiates. Considering the level of MacGregor Mathers’ initiations, including that continental and ancient fraternity referred to by MacGregor Mathers as the Third Order, I doubt that he didn’t have any access to these as well.
So I consider it to be but a deliberate red herring used by Mr. Wildoak when he claims the Egyptology of the Golden Dawn, and its associated traditions, to have a Greek origin. In fact they are at least Hellenic, which is a blend of Greek and Egyptian traditions and concepts. I must stress this; Hellenism isn’t solely a Greek phenomenon – it is a Graeco-Egyptian one. We are actually talking about the era of the Ptolemic dynasty of Egypt, while being the result of a Macedonian take-over still integrated fully with the original Egyptian civilization and culture, taking care not to oppose the highly conservative Egyptian population.
Concerning the Egyptian origins of the Eleusinian Mysteries, it seems that there is no such consensus amongst scholars as Mr. Wildoak would like you to believe. I.e. in his rhetoric we see yet another example of the use of red herrings. Let me quote from one source:
In the early part of this century, [Paul François] Foucart theorized, on the basis of statements by classical authors (e.g., Herodotus Bk. 2) as well as the discovery at some Mycenaean sites of Egyptian figurines and small artifacts, that the cult of Demeter in Greece originally derived, in whole or in part, from Egypt. Further support for this hypothesis comes from certain remarkable parallels between the myth of Isis (especially in the version presented by Plutarch in his Isis and Osiris, chs. 15 and 16) and that of Demeter (as recounted in the “Hymn to Demeter,”). Among the details of these parallels are episodes in both stories involving infant princes who almost gain immortality—but not quite—at the hands of the respective goddesses.
On the basis of these correspondences, Foucart and his followers concluded that the Mysteries at Eleusis originally must have come from Egypt (Foucart 2-23; Magnien 44-46). Yet the fact that the sanctuary ruins in Eleusis evidently go back centuries earlier than the Hymn itself, and that excavations have unearthed no Egyptian artifacts there from that period, militates against this hypothesis (Mylonas 15, 276). On the other hand, since we know that Greek colonists and mercenaries had settled in Lower Egypt by the seventh century BCE (Leclant 245), it is reasonable to surmise that these Greek and Egyptian fertility goddesses had already begun to penetrate each other’s cults and mingle in the minds of worshippers, perhaps by way of Cretan influences. There is still no consensus about this and it remains a topic of lively debate.
|The hellenicised Isis|
Thus, it is fruitless to look upon this as a one way transmission; it is more fruitful to see it as a reciprocal influence, typical of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The proper academic stance on this subject is that we may never know the truth regarding who made who, simply based on archaeology and study of classical literature. The best position is to suspend judgement and be open-minded to either possibility.
Granted, the mystery plays of the pre-hellenistic Egypt were public, while the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece were secret. Still the Egpytian plays did conveyed a mystery to the spectators. Remember that Egypt was a theocracy and involved the entire population in its state sanctioned cults; magic was a common and everyday event. Still not all of that was open do the public. Not even the public festivals were that public, as can be seen in this quote from another source:
At these times, ordinary people might witness the procession of a deity, although it would most frequently be from a distance and usually the actual image of the god would not be visible to them.
The involvement of the general public in the temple ceremonies was small. Ordinary people had no access to the inner regions of the temples which could only be entered after elaborate purification rituals. Offerings to the gods, food, flowers, or votive stelae, could be made in the outer temple courts.
|The Naos of the Edfu Temple which housed the image of Horus|
However, the esoteric tradition extended beyond that of the daily cult rituals. There also existed an alchemical tradition, mainly reserved for the royalty in its inception (in a similar way as there also existed an Daoist internal alchemy reserved for the Chinese Emperor), although it later became part of the innermost initiatic secrets of the priestly caste.
Egypt was very exotic and commonly regarded as mysterious, and magical, amongst the surrounding ancient peoples, not only to the Greeks and Romans. The Babylonian Talmud, as an example, says the following:
Ten measures of sorcery descended to the world; Egypt took nine and the rest of the world took one.
...Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. (Act 7:22)