Chapter 16. Questions Proposed

We will now pass over these matters, as thou sayest that thou desirest us “to declare plainly what the Egyptian Theosophers believe the First Cause to be: whether Mind or, above Mind: and whether one alone or subsisting with another or with several others: whether unbodied or embodied, and whether the very same as the Creator of the Universe (Demiurgos) or prior to the Creator: also whether all things have their origin out from one or out from many: whether they likewise have knowledge respecting Primal Matter, or of what nature the first bodies were: and whether the Primal Matter was unoriginated or was generated.”

First of all I will tell thee the reason why in the scrolls of the ancient Scribes of the Temple, many and various opinions are offered in regard to these things, and likewise why among those of the persons greatly skilled who are still living, the explanation is not given in simple terms. I say, then, that as there are many essences and these differing, the innumerably many principalities of these being in different orders, were handed down, different ones by different ancient priests.

Hence, as Seleukos <sup>1</sup> describes, Hermes set forth the universal principles in two thousand scrolls, or as Manetho affirms, he explained them completely in thirty-six thousand five hundred and twenty-five treatises <sup>2</sup>. The different ancient writers, however, being in conflict with one another, have in many places given different interpretations in regard to the particular essence. It is necessary, however, to ascertain the truth in respect to them all, and then set it forth to thee concisely as we may be able.

First, then, give me thy attention in regard to this matter about which thou didst first ask.
 

Before the things that really are, even the first principles of all things, is One Divine Being, prior even to the first God and King, abiding immovable in the aloneness of his own absolute unity. For neither is Intelligence nor any principle else intermingled with him, but he is established an exemplar of the God self-begotten, self-produced and only-begotten, the One truly Good. For he is the something Absolutely Great and Supreme, the Source of all things, and root of the first ideals subsisting in the Supreme Mind. Then from this One, the God sufficient in himself caused himself to shine forth: <sup>3</sup> and hence he is self-engendered and self-sufficient. For he is the Beginning and God of Gods, a unity proceeding from the One, subsisting before essence, and the principle of essence. For from him are being and essence; and he is called accordingly Noëtarch, Chief of the realm of thought. <sup>4</sup>

These, then, are the oldest principles of all things. Hermes <sup>5</sup> places them before the gods of the Æther, the Empyrean <sup>6</sup> and the celestial regions.
 

According to another arrangement, however, Hermes places the God Emêph <sup>7</sup> as leader of the celestial divinities, and declares that he is Mind itself, perceptive of itself and converting the perceptions into his own substance. But he places as prior to this divinity, the One without specific parts, whom he affirms to be the first exemplar <sup>8</sup> and whom he names Eikton. <sup>9</sup> In him are the First Mind and the First Intelligence, and he is worshipped by Silence alone. <sup>10</sup> Besides these, however, there are other leaders that preside over the creation of visible things. <sup>11</sup> For the Creative Mind, guardian of Truth and wisdom, coming to the realm of objective existence, and bringing the invisible power of occult words into light is called in the Egyptian language, AMON (the Arcane): but as completing everything in a genuine manner without deceit and with skill, Phtha. The Greeks, however, assume Phtha to be the same as Hephæstos, giving their attention to the Creative art alone.<sup>12</sup> But as being a dispenser of benefits, he is called Osiris: <sup>13</sup> and by reason of his other powers and energies, he has likewise other appellations.

Accordingly there is also with the Egyptians another sovereignty of all the elementary principles in relation to the realm of generation, and of the forces in them. Four of them are reckoned as male and four as female. This sovereignty they assign to the Sun. There is also another empire of universal production around the dominion of objective existence, which they give to the Moon. Then marking off the sky into two parts, or four, or twelve, they place rulers over the parts in turn, more or fewer as the case may be, and over them all they set one who is the Overlord. <sup>14</sup> Thus the system of the Egyptian priests in relation to the First Principles, extending from above to the farthest extremes, begins from the One and passes on to the multitude: the many being guided and directed by the one, and the undefined, realm of nature being placed under a defined measure of authority, even of the one Supreme Cause of all things. And the God produced Matter, rending materiality on the under side from essentiality; which being full of life, <sup>15</sup> the Creator took it and fashioned from it the simple and impassive spheres. But the last of it he organized into bodies that are subject to generation and dissolution.
 

These subjects have now been thoroughly discussed, and in the books which thou mentionest as having met with by chance, the solution of thy doubts is clear. For those which have been brought forward as the Books of Hermes contain Hermetic doctrines, although they are often set forth in the manlier of speaking peculiar to the (Grecian) philosophers. For they were translated from the Egyptian language by men who were skilled in philosophy. But Chæremon <sup>16</sup> and others, if there are any, who have treated of the primary causes in relation to the world, also explain the last principles. <sup>17</sup> As many as hand down observations respecting the planets, the Zodiac, the decans, the horoscopes and the “Mighty Leaders,” <sup>18</sup> so called, make known the distribution of the rulers to their respective domains. The particulars that are mentioned in the calendars comprise a very small part of the Hermaic arrangement, and those in relation to the stars (or asterisms) or the phases, or occultations, or the increase or decrease of the Moon, are among the last things in the delineations of causes by the Egyptian sages.

The Egyptian priests do not “explain everything as relating to natural objects.” On the contrary they distinguish the life of the soul, and also the spiritual principle, from Nature itself, not only in respect to the universe, but also in respect to ourselves. Regarding it as firmly established that the Mind, and likewise the reasoning faculty, have being by themselves, they affirm that the things that are born are created. They likewise place the Creator as First Ancestor of those in the realm of generated existence, <sup>19</sup> and they acknowledge the life-imparting power prior to the heaven and subsisting in the heaven. They likewise set forth Pure Mind as above the world, and also the One without specific parts in the universal world, and another that is distributed among all the spheres. <sup>20</sup>

They do not by any means contemplate these things with the reasoning faculty alone, but they also teach that by means of the sacerdotal theurgy, the aspirant may mount up to the higher and more universal, and those conditions established superior to Fate, to God the Creator (Demiurgos): neither becoming attached to the realm of matter, nor taking hold of anything else besides only the observing of a proper time. <sup>21</sup>
 

Hermes also points out the same path. Bitys, a prophet, explained it to King Amasis, <sup>22</sup> having found it inscribed in hieroglyphics in the inmost shrine at Sâis in Egypt. <sup>23</sup> He also divulged the name of the god that extends through the whole world. <sup>24</sup>

There are also, however, many other arrangements in relation to the same things. Hence thou dost not seem to me to be right in saying that with the Egyptian priests all things are carried back to physical categories. For in their system, principles are many and concern many essences. There are likewise supermundane potentates whom also they worshipped by the Sacerdotal rite. To me, therefore, these things appear to furnish common starting-points for the solution of all remaining enquiries. But since we ought to leave none of them without examination, we will add them to these problems, and likewise hammer round them on all sides in order that we may see where thou conjecturest that there is anything unsound.
 

Thou also affirmest “that very many of the Egyptians attribute to the motion of the stars whatever may happen to us.” But what the fact is must be explained to thee by many of the Hermaic concepts. <sup>25</sup>

For man, as these writings affirm, has two souls. The one is from the First Intelligence and is participant of the power of the Creator, but the other is given from the revolutions of the worlds of the sky, to which the God-beholding soul returns. <sup>26</sup>

These things being conditioned after this manner the soul that comes into us from the worlds follows (and is affected by) the periodic circuits of those worlds. But the soul that is in its higher mental quality from the world of Intelligence, is superior to the movement of the world of generated existence <sup>27</sup> and through this there takes place both the unbinding of fate, and the upward progress to the gods of the World of Mind. The theurgic discipline (or initiation), so far as it conducts upward to the Unbegotten, is made complete by a life of this kind.
 

That condition, therefore, about which thou utterest doubt, does not exist, namely: “That all things are bound fast in the indissoluble bonds of Necessity, which they term Fate.” For the soul has a principle of its own leading around to the realm of Intelligence, and not only standing aloof from things of the world of generated existence, but also joining it to that which is, <sup>28</sup> even to the divine nature.

Nor do we “connect Fate with the gods whom we worship in temples and with carved images, as being unbinders of Fate. Yet the gods do “unbind Fate,” but it is the last and lowest natures that descend from them and are in close alliance to the genesis of the world and to the body, that make Fate complete. With good reason, therefore, do we perform to the gods every holy rite in order that they may deliver us from the evils impending over us from destiny, as they alone, through the moral power of persuasion, have rule over necessity.

Nevertheless all things in the world of Nature are not controlled by Fate. On the contrary, there is another principle of the soul which is superior to the whole realm of nature and generated existence. By it we can be united to the gods, rise above the established order of the world, and likewise participate in the life eternal and in the energy of the gods of the highest heaven. Through this principle we are able to set ourselves free. For when the better qualities in us are in activity, and the soul is exalted to those beings superior to itself, then it becomes separate altogether from every thing which held it fast in the realm of generated existence, keeps itself aloof from inferior natures, exchanges one life for the other, and gives itself to a different order, entirely abandoning the former.
 

Why, then (it may be asked), is it not possible to liberate one's own self through the gods that revolve in the sky (the ruling planets), to consider them as Lords of Destiny, and also as binding our lives with bonds that are not to be dissolved?

Perhaps there is nothing to hinder this very thing. Although the gods possess numerous essences and powers in themselves, there are also inherent in them as many impracticable differences and contradictions. Nevertheless, it is lawful to affirm as much as this: that in every one of the gods, especially of those that are visible (in the sky), there are principles of essence which are of the world of Intelligence; and that through these, takes place the release for souls from generated existence in the world.

But although there were to be two classes of divine beings left, the gods that abide around the world, and those beyond, there will be liberty for souls through the gods above the world. These things are told more precisely in the “Treatise Concerning the Gods” <sup>29</sup> – as for example, who are the restorers, and what are their powers; and also how do they liberate from fate, and through what sacred paths upward; also of what quality is the arrangement of the mundane realm of nature, and how does the absolutely perfect moral energy rule over it? <sup>30</sup> Hence the passage which thou hast repeated from the Homeric poem – “even the gods themselves are yielding,” it is a profanation to utter. For the performances at the Sacred Worship in ancient times were prescribed by laws that were both pure and spiritual. Those who are in inferior conditions are liberated by a superior order and power; and when we remove ourselves from conditions that are inferior we come into a better allotment. It is not effected, however contrary to any sacred ordinance that has existed from ancient times, in such a manner as to imply that the gods may be changed (in disposition or purpose) by sacred rites afterward performed. On the contrary, from their first descent till this present time God sent down the souls in order that they should return back again to him. <sup>31</sup> Never, therefore, does there a change occur by such a progress upward, nor do the descents of the souls, and their ascending occasion violent conflict. For as generated existence and every thing here are joined together at every point by the spiritual essence, so also in the arrangement of souls, the liberation from the conditions of generated existence accords with the diligence of those around the realm of generated existence.

 

Notes:

  • 1. Seleukos is mentioned by Porphyry as a theologist and by Suidas as having written two hundred books in relation to the gods. By “scrolls” it is probable that only single discourses were meant, such as would now be given in a pamphlet.
  • 2. An Egyptian, Man-e-Thoth, or beloved Thoth. He was a priest at Sebennytus in the province of Sâis, in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphos, and compiled a history of ancient Egypt. This Number 36,525 is enigmatic, as it indicates by its analogy to the 365.25 days in a year.
  • 3. The Hindu purana gives a similar statement: “He whom mind alone can perceive, whose essence eludes the external organs, who has no visible parts, who is of eternity, – even He, the Soul of all beings, whom no being can comprehend, shone forth in personality. He willed to produce the various beings from his own divine substance.”
  • 4. “Under two Minds,” says Damaskios, “the Life-imparting fountain of souls is comprehended.” One, the Immovable First Cause, the Second, the Demiurgos or Creator.
  • 5. See PART I, Chapter II. Hermes the superlatively Great, was the titular author of numerous philosophic treatises, from the forty-two mentioned by Clement to the innumerable multitude mentioned by others.
  • 6. The Greek term empurion, signifies “the region of fire.” In the ancient cosmology, there was a fifth element, the sether, more pure and divine than the common atmosphere. It was an akasha, a pure fire and diviner matter: and of it the celestial bodies were composed. In the Babylonian and other theories there were three heavens, as here designated: the æther-heaven, the Empyrial or fire-region, and the supracelestial above all. There were divinities of the second order peculiar to each.
  • 7. Several have conjectured that this name should have been “Kneph” – Neph or Num, the “Good Daemon.” This was the name of the Creator in Nubia and also in Elephantina, and he was considered to be the same as Amun, the Supreme God at Thebes. The name Neph, almost identical with the Semitic term “nephesh” or soul, reminds us that this god was considered as the “Soul of the World.” It should also be remembered, however, that the name “Emeph” seems to be the same as Imoph, Motph or Imhetep, which signifies the “son of Phtha.” In fact, this divinity was one of the triad of tutelaries of Memphis, which consisted of Phtha, his consort Pakht, or Bast, and their son Imhetep. Marietta-Bey considered him as the same as Thoth or Hermes, the god of learning. The Greeks, however, identified him with Asklepios and the Orientals with Esmun, of the Kabeirian Rites.
  • 8. Ficino substitutes the term paradeima, or exemplar in the text, for mageuma, or magic power.
  • 9. This term is Greek, and its meaning is “the Likeness,” and so the Ideal of the Universe.
  • 10. Damaskios relates that the Babylonians recognized the one First Cause, passing it over in silence. But it is probable that instead of Sigé or Silence, the divine intermediary, Siku, was the being actually named.
  • 11. Plato: Timaeus, XII, v, “The Deity himself formed the divine part in man, and delivered over to his celestial offspring the task of forming the mortal. These subordinate divinities, copying the example of their parent, and receiving from his hands the immortal principle of the human soul, fashioned subsequently to this the mortal body, which they consigned to the soul as a vehicle, and in which they placed another kind of soul, the seat of violent and fatal affections.”
  • 12. The Semitic name P'T'H, Phtha, signifies the opener, the revealer, the Creator. Perhaps Semitic influence in Northern Egypt, which was of remote antiquity, accounts for the selection of the designation. When the early sovereignty of Egypt was at Memphis, Pth'ch was the chief divinity. After the expulsion of the Hyksos dynasty, the seat of power was transferred to Thebes in the South, and Amun or Amur-Ra (the Mystic Sun) was exalted to the supremacy. He was often figured like Kneph, with the head of a ram, indicating that the two were the same. Indeed, the Egyptian religion was actually at its core monotheistic. The various divinities were only aspects or personifications of different attributes.
  • 13. This name in the Egyptian dialect is variously spelled, as different readers supply the letters from the hieroglyphics. Plutarch states that the Egyptians pronounced it Husiris, and it is sometimes rendered Asar and Ussar. One Egyptian dogma makes it out Hes-iri, which would mean the Seat of Isis. It seems in its form to resemble Assur the God of Nineveh and Iswara, the Siva of India.
  • 14. This, it will be noticed, relates directly to astrology and the casting of nativities, which was a constituent part of former sciences and religions, and is apparent in some of the modern customs.
  • 15. “When we treat of matter,” says Plutarch, “we need not conceive in our minds a body void of soul and of all quality and of itself wholly idle and inactive. We ought to conceive that this goddess (or divine entity) which always participates of the First God and is ever taken up with the love of those excellences and charms that are about him is not by nature opposite to him: that like a good-natured woman that is married to a man and constantly enjoys his embraces, yet hath a fond kind of longing after him, so hath she always a strong inclination to the God, though she he present and round about him, and though she be impregnated with his most prime and pure particles.”
  • 16. Chæremôn was the Scribe or literary man of a Temple. Suidas mentions him as belonging in Alexandria, and both Martial and Porphyry speak of him as a Stoic philosopher. He is quoted in Josephus, as giving the account of the Expulsion of the Lepers or alien people from Egypt, whom Manetho conjectured to have been the Israelites.
  • 17. The twelve mouths were divided by astrologers into thirty-six decans, and over each was a decanus or episcopus, whose office was to protect against calamity. The “horoscopos” was the caster of a nativity, one who forecasted a career from the conditions of the planets and zodiacal constellations at the time of birth.
  • 18. The Twelve Gods who preside over the months of the year are thus designated. “While,” says S. F. Dunlap, “the Babylonians offered sacrifices to the spirits of the dead, and the Twelve Gods presided over the months, and the thirty-six gods over the decani of the calendar; while Gods innumerable, portents, prophets, soothsayers and astrologers perplexed the people, the Chaldaeans philosophized in their schools on the causes of things and the modus operandi of Nature and Creation.”
  • 19. Chæremôn declared the Sun to be the Creator or Demiurgos. The vivific influences emanating from it, and the fact that the planetary world issued from it in the unknown periods of geologic antiquity, lend an air of plausibility to the hypothesis.
  • 20. It was taught by Anaximander that the earth was in the centre of a series of concentric spheres in which the sun, moon and stars were placed. The Pythagoreans held that the heavenly bodies were in these spheres revolving round a central fire.
  • 21. In astrologic and other magic displays it is considered necessary to select carefully a proper time for consultation and ceremonies.
  • 22. Amasis or Ashmes II, was the successor of Apries or Pharaoh-Hophra, of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, whom he drove from power. He belonged at Sâis and bore the title of “Son of Neith.” He obliged the priests of Egypt to admit Pythagoras and Solon to the temples to be instructed in the Egyptian learning. Bitys is conjectured to have been the priest Utaharpenses, who made public the names of the planets, which had been a sacerdotal secret, as was also the heliocentric theory.
  • 23. Sâis was the metropolis of a nome or principality in Northern Egypt, and a rival of Memphis in wealth and importance. Its prince, Tafnekht, famous for having cursed the memory of Menes, raised the standard of revolt against the Ethiopian Overlord, and his lineal descendant Psametikhos finally succeeded in delivering Egypt from the Assyrians and establishing the Twenty-sixth Dynasty with Sâis as his capital. Neitha was the chief divinity, and in her temple were recorded many of the maxims of Bokkoris the Wise. Here was the inscription so commonly referred to Isis, – doubtless the same goddess: “I am the All that was, that is and will be, and no mortal hath revealed me.”
  • 24. The tutelary gods had secret names which it was regarded as sacrilege to divulge. (See Exodus xx, 7; Judges xiii, 18.) “The arcane names fill the whole world” was a theurgic maxim. Proklos also remarks: “There is a sacred name which, with sleepless, dart-like motion, runs through the worlds, through the swift menace of the Father.” Whether the name which Bitys revealed was occult like the mystic designation of Yava in the Semitic nations, is worth enquiry. The designation, Amun, for example, only means arcane or concealed, implying that it was not regarded as the real name of the divinity.
  • 25. These were the propositions and theories put forth by various authors whose writings were indicated in the collection known as “Books of Hermes,” or Tablets of Thoth.
  • 26. Plutarch says: “They who imagine the mind to be part of the soul err no less than they who make the soul a part of the body: for the mind is as far superior to the soul as the soul is better and diviner than the body. The combination of the soul with the mind makes the logos or reasoning faculty, and with the body, passion, of which the latter is the principle of pleasure and pain, and the former of virtue and vice. Of these three, the earth has given the body, the moon the Soul, and the Sun, the mind. Every one of us is neither courage, nor fear, nor desire, no more than flesh or fluids, but the part by which we think and perceive. The soul, being molded and formed by the mind and itself molding and forming the body, by encompassing it on every side, receives from it impression and form.”

Plato in the Timaeus likewise treats of the two souls or parts of the soul, the one mortal and the other immortal.

  • 27. This phrase which translated literally would read “genesiurgic motion,” relates to those matters of the world of sense, which are under control of fate and circumstance, and come within the province of chance and fortune.
  • 28. This phrase, “that which is,” is very significant. It transcends the concept of existing and denotes real being, eternity itself. This shows the true meaning of Pope's declaration: “Whatever IS is right.” The Sanskrit term Satya, often rendered “truth,” has exactly the sense of Being, that which is enduring and permanent, absolute fact. Hence the maxim: “There is no dharma or supreme law superior to that which is.”
  • 29. This work is lost. It was an explanation of the Pythagorean Symbology, and is quoted by Damaskios and Olympiodoros. Proklos restores some of the passages in his treatise upon the Platonic Theology, and also adopts the arguments. At the change of the Imperial Religion in the Fourth Century the books of the Philosophers were ordered to be destroyed on pain of death, and doubtless this work perished at that period.
  • 30. In the divine world, nöesis is poiesis – thinking is doing. What “God says” God is doing. All things are subject to mind, and to its behests. Mind, therefore, is the king of all things.

It was a theurgic saying, that by chants and sacrifices it was possible to revolutionize the realms of nature and generation.

  • 31. There has been a great variety of opinion in regard to the descent of the soul. The book of Ecclesiastes has the sentence, “and the spirit to the God who gave it.” Nobody has said that it had been sent into perpetual exile. The //Chaldaean Oracle// declared “The Father placed symbols in the souls,” by which their identification is assured. When the Creator sends out a soul, he also calls it to himself again. The circle of necessity will return upon the Infinite. Such is the teaching of all philosophy.