All posts by Dave Halpin

David Halpin is a writer from Carlow, Ireland. David has also worked as a sound engineer and museum researcher. In his spare time David compiles local folklore and documents alignments between ancient monuments near his home in Ireland.

WikiProject: Christianity And The Revision Of Occult History

The ongoing redefining of history and context is best epitomized by a recent editing project being conducted by WikiProject Christianity. According to Wikipedia itself, many entries pertaining to ancient history, spirituality and myth have become part of ‘WikiProject Christianity’ which is a “collaborative effort to improve the coverage of Christianity on Wikipedia.”

One particular example which has fallen victim to this revisionism is the Wiki entry for the history of the Chi-Ro symbol. (1.)

The Christian interpretation of the Chi-Ro is well described in the Wiki piece and we will not go into it here except to say that throughout his life Constantine was not a Christian so to say he used the symbol in any evangelical sense is contradictory to the facts. Most scholars agree that there is little to no evidence that Constantine even converted on his death bed. The only account of this comes from Eusebius who being a bishop and known as the “historian of the church” makes his bias hard to ignore. Unfortunately, much of the original and authentic Chi-Ro history has been selectively ignored in order to propagate a Christian bias, some of which we will look at here.

This symbol is mentioned in Plato’s Timaeus where he describes the Chi-Ro cross as being indicative of the world soul or Anima Mundi. This idea is reflected in the Hindu notion of Brahman and Atman as well as other ancient systems such as Taoism and Buddhism. (2.) The combination of the Chi and Ro stood for Chreston which means ‘good’ or ‘anointed’. Another example of pre-Christian usage is on coins dated to that of Ptolemy III (fl. 246-220 BCE), in which the Chi-Rho symbol is shown between the eagle’s legs on the reverse side.

Chrestos was also used in conjunction with the Greek god and goddess Hades and Persephone as oracles of the underworld as well as, and potentially more intriguing used to describe Hermes as a guide to the afterlife. (3.) (4.)

A prototype of the Chi Ro also occurs in a Neolithic pictograph dating thousands of years before the advent of Christianity and was documented by Dr. Walter O. Moeller in 1978.

Image

Moeller writes, “The stick-man, which is also a Chi-Rho of sorts…has fingers at the ends of both arms, a line slanting down through the upright and a leg extending down from the upright to the right. The slanting line has been correctly identified as a spear and the whole figure, therefore, as a representation of a savior-god. But in this case, the deity cannot be the Christ but must be instead Odin-Wotan who hanged himself on a tree for nine days and nine nights with a spear in his side as a sacrifice to himself. The slanting line makes the stickman also a prototypal St Stephan’s Cross. Somewhat similar to this Neolithic symbol from Northern Europe is a stick-man figure from predynastic Egypt.” (5.)

Regular readers and students of world mythology will immediately spot the parallels between the Anima Mundi, as Plato describes the Chi-Ro and the figure of Odin and the world tree. We can continue this parallel of the primordial man on the world tree through Kabbalistic descriptions of Adam Kadmon.

Another pre-Christian deity associated with the Chi-Ro was Chronos who was the god of astronomical time among other attributes and identifications. This horizontal and vertical association again brings us neatly back to the axial properties of the Anima Mundi. (6.)

Unfortunately, this Christian revisionism project has potentially thousands of participants and is very difficult to correct; legitimate history is being whitewashed to fit the views and dogma of a relatively recent faith. In this context, we are all the poorer for the loss and corruption of our shared myths, art, and cultural traditions.
Other Wiki entries to suffer the same revisionist fate are those of Easter and the Solstice among many others. In these particular examples, the astronomical and ancient Pagan origins have been excluded and refuted by biased sources. Hopefully, by bringing attention to this revisionist project, historians, scientists and students and practitioners of other non-Christian faiths, as well as those of none, can try to counteract this.

David Halpin (c) 2016

(1.)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Christianity

(2.) Plato. Timaeus, 8.36b and 8.36c
(3.) Chrestos: a religious epithet; its import and influence : J. B. Mitchell. Williams and Norgate, 1880
(4.) Ancient Angels: Conceptualizing Angeloi in the Roman Empire by Rangar Cline. P. 94.
(5.) Hommages à Maarten J. Vermaseren (v. 2; Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1978) “Marks, Names and Numbers.”
(6.) http://symboldictionary.net/?p=2043

The Shamanic Jesus of The Gospel of Thomas

“One mind there is, but under it two principles contend.” – Philip K. Dick Tractates Cryptica Scriptura

The process of deciding what constitutes Christian doctrine and what are the remnants of previous traditions was summed up well by Elaine Pagels when she writes in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, What survived as orthodox Christianity did so by suppressing and forcibly eliminating a lot of other material.”

This can often be revelatory for those who believe that Christianity today exists in the same form as in its first centuries.

This position is also expounded upon by Earl Doherty in his book The Jesus Puzzle and in his argument that a wisdom tradition existed and influenced the development of early Christianity, “…but in conjunction with the Greek Logos concept in the Hellenistic tradition of the period. Indeed, even Jewish personified Wisdom by Paul’s time had been influenced by the Greek Logos, as we can see in the Hellenistic Judaism of Philo and an Alexandrian document about to be examined.” (1.)

The Gospel of Thomas has perplexed scholars and believers alike since its discovery as part of the Nag Hammadi texts in 1945. We also have fragments dating back even earlier coming from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri in Egypt. Arguments have raged as to whether the sayings encompass traditional Christian thought at all, and even Gnostics have expressed doubt when the sayings are included in generalizations as being Gnostic, Christian or Platonic.

Scholars now believe that the original, core sayings were composed somewhere between 40AD and 140 AD which could in effect place them even earlier than the canonical Gospels. Perhaps the truth of the matter can be reconciled for now by the thinking of Robert Van Voorst who believes that although it could have been written down in the 2nd century, the oral tradition on which it is based is much older. (2.)

Of course, this leaves conventional Christianity in somewhat of a bind as The Gospel of Thomas has Jesus making some very unusual statements more in line with Hermetic or alchemical thinking. In fact, some of the sayings from the Gospel of Thomas are positively shamanistic: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

If these sayings attributed to Jesus were from older more ancient traditions then they should encompass a philosophy that was already known and existent at the time. They should reflect esoteric thinking which we now understand to have been part of mystery schools and oral spirituality.

Writing in The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur describes the tradition as thus, “Many of them were pre-existent, pre-historic, and therefore certainly pre-Christian. They were collections of Egyptian, Hebrew and Gnostic sayings, and therefore cannot stand on their own as evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels ever lived as a man or teacher.”

He goes on to write, “These sayings were all oral teachings in the ancient Mysteries ages before they were written down.” (3.)

So, what can we glean from the Gospel of Thomas that might be construed as older, as shamanic and reflecting the mysticism of the mystery traditions?

Quite a lot, in actual fact.

We can find examples of the holographic nature of reality which shaman describe. We can find descriptions of the Hermetic and alchemical ‘as above, so below’ maxim and we can find specific instruction to go within in order to find the eternal.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that, as Andrew Phillip Smith writes in The Secret History of the Gnostics, “All of the surviving copies of Thomas, in Greek and Coptic, were found in Egypt.” (4.)

Could The Gospel of Thomas incorporate a much earlier alchemical and shamanistic world view which informed the esoteric thinking of ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean region?

After all, the word alchemy comes from the term Al Khem which means ‘Black Earth’ and was the ancient name for Egypt.

One of the most enigmatic sayings from The Gospel of Thomas and a good example of the parallels with the shamanic world view is saying number 22.

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”


They said to him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom.”

Here we have a clear example of a mystery teaching incorporated into Thomas and a saying that links us back to the ancient Pyramid Texts. This notion of the unification of opposites incorporates the ‘great work’ of alchemy and the goal of enlightenment which is the transformation of the self.

Another major and overlooked parallel is described by Jeremy Naydler in Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts when he writes, “Unlike historically more recent, and therefore more familiar, accounts of visionary mystics, the Pyramid Texts do not have a narrative form.” (5.)

This has been one of the frustrations for Christian scholars who struggle to find uniformity in the Gospel of Thomas. Maybe the solution is to forget about linear uniformity altogether and accept that this collection contains sayings from various traditions which, over time, were placed together in order to suit the groups who read them.

When scholars struggle with saying 114 from Thomas and try to overcome its misogynistic appearance perhaps a return to the esoteric and alchemical subtext may untangle the transformative secret of its words.

“Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female (element) that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 We can then understand the saying as something that hints at inner polarities coming together and intimations of the same unification as saying 22.

But is there a lineage that can connect such teachings?

Maybe part of the solution lies with the Mandaeans, who claim descent from Seth, son of Adam and as Gerard Russell writes in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, “…connect the present day with the distant pre-Christian past, the funerary banquet of the Mithraists and the Egyptians, and the teachings of the Manichees.” (6.)

But if we accept, as Jeremy Naydler argues, that The Pyramid Texts were not funerary at all, then the Mandaean ceremonies, which are still secret, may be about something else entirely, where the soul is not transformed after death, but while the person is still living.

This then echoes many of the unification themes in Thomas and provides a link between the shamanism of Egyptian mysticism and a Gnostic sect who trace their origins to the Middle East and ancient Babylon at the time when The Pyramid Texts were written.

In the Pyramid Texts, Osiris must die in order for Horus to be born, but Horus is Osiris in the same way as the female is made male and the two are made one, and the inside like the outside as we read in the Thomas sayings.

As Naydler goes on to say about the Pyramid Texts transformative exegesis, “Only when it is seen that the two gods can also correspond to two different existential phases, or states of consciousness, of one and the same king, is it possible to grasp the potential initiatory significance of their relationship.

Of course, the persecution of various groups and sects meant that many esoteric teachings became lost and fragmented over time. The amalgamation and mistranslations make it difficult to arrive at any certainties. However, as new scholarship is continuing to find, there is a deeply rooted relationship between Gnosticism, Hermeticism and new revelations about Egypt’s shamanic mysticism.

 

“Do not be unaware of me O God,

Know me, for I know you.

Do not be unaware of me, O God.

Of me, it is said: “The transitory one.”

Do not be unaware of me, O Ra.

Know me, for I know you.

Do not be unaware of me, O Ra.

Of me, it is said: “Great One who is destroyed.”

                    Utterance 45. The Pyramid Texts.

 

Jesus said, “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.”

The Gospel of Thomas. Saying Number 5.

 

This brings uncomfortable reassessments in some instances but it also allows us to believe that something timeless and transformative has been at the root of spiritual traditions around the world.

Sometimes the cultural and ceremonial differences have masked this very truth but sometimes it has been the very exploration of these differences which has uncovered the common shamanic essence.

 

© David Halpin 05/02/2016

 

http://vridar.org/2012/07/23/28-earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-case-against-mythicism-part-28-g-a-wells/

Van Voorst, Robert (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. p. 189.

The Pagan Christ Tom Harpur P140

The Secret History of the Gnostics Andrew Phillip Smith P.73

Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts Jeremy Naydler P. 311

Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms. Gerard Russell

The Analemma: The Secret in the Sky

 The Analemma is the figure 8 image we discovered based on the recording of positions of the sun seen at the same time and from the same fixed point throughout a full year.

The reason for this is because of two factors: firstly, the Earth is tilted on its axis at 23.5° in relation to the plane of its orbit going around the sun and secondly, the Earth doesn’t actually orbit the sun in a circle, but in an ellipse, which is a more elongated curve.

When we combine these two effects we get the Analemma.

Although today this phenomenon can be recorded using a camera, it is something that most of us would be unaware of based on everyday perception.

And yet the symbolism of the Analemma is apparent in many ancient and esoteric traditions. Perhaps those who first noticed the sun’s movements were alluding to an unconscious bond with its path which was then represented throughout mystical and spiritual writings and paths.

Very often, though, this significance is hidden within occult symbolism and arcane doctrine. These traditions represent not only the cycle of the year and eternal return but symbolize the belief in the immortality of the soul and its indestructible essence.

To the ancients, light was the cause of life; and God was the source from which all light flowed; the essence of light, the invisible fire, developed as flame manifested as light and splendour. The sun was His manifestation and visible image; and the Sabaeans worshipping the light-God, seemed to worship the sun, in whom they saw the manifestation of the Deity.” (1.)

These are the words of Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, taken from his work, Morals and Dogma.

There are countless examples of solar deities throughout world religions and myths. A solar deity would be a god or goddess representing either the sun outright or an aspect of its effect and influence.

Famous solar deities include Sol (Variants include German, Greek, Roman and Norse figures), Apollo, Mitra, Shamash, Ra, Horus, Etain, Buddha, and Jesus.

Some of the most obvious traits to look for within the lore and associations of these deities are twelve helpers, important events in their lives associated with equinoxes and solstices, and descriptions of their influences relating to the attributes of light.

In this particular article, however, we are looking for evidence of the Analemma within the context of mythic and religious figures.

Writing in The Esoteric Tarot, Ronald Decker comments upon the wide-brimmed hat worn by The Juggler in the early Tarot, “The curving brim of The Juggler’s hat is commonly believed to embody the infinity sign (∞) called a lemniscate.”

Decker goes on to write, “The Juggler’s hat identifies him as a native of a remote region, which, in this context, I take to be the abode of souls before birth.” (2.)

How telling it is then, that in later Tarot the Juggler is replaced by The Magician and his hat is simply replaced by a ∞ over his head.

If we remain on Tarot cards for a moment we can look to the number 8 card for an even more, symbolic example of the sun’s journey throughout the year.

This is the number of the Strength card and immediately we can notice the Analemma or Lemniscate infinity symbol above the androgynous figure’s head.

As we have seen, the journey of the sun is about its eternal cycle from the lowest point, on December 21st, to its zenith, on June 21st.

This is the story of the solar deity, the dying in the winter, the resurrection in the spring and the peak on the summer solstice.

We also see the number 8 represented in the Wheel of the Year, celebrated by ancient Pagans and within Wicca today; the solstices and equinoxes divided by their midpoints, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain.

We see the Analemma within some of the oldest representations of the Ouroboros, representing, again, the return to the beginning and the cycle of time.

There are so many solar motifs relating to Jesus within the Bible that it is impossible to include them all, but it is interesting, instead, to draw attention to some that are not so apparent at first glance.

For example, in the Bible, and after his death, Jesus (The Sun) is shown alive again 8 times. (3.)

In Greek Gematria, the number of Jesus is 888. We are then left to wonder about the triple figure 8: why three times and where is the solar connotation?

Significantly, the number 3 in Pythagorean mathematics is the number of new life and balance. Pythagoras said that Apollo (An earlier sun God) gave oracles from a tripod and the number 3 represented the Vesica Piscis, the symbol of the fact that God gave birth to his world out of himself. (4.)

It is no coincidence that the fish shape of the Vesica Piscis became a Christian symbol for Jesus although it is interesting to ask how many Christians know of its original pagan meaning. (5.)

The Pythagoreans also spoke of the number 8 in terms of law and holiness. They believed it derived its form from the twisted snakes on the caduceus of Hermes and partly from the serpentine motion of the celestial bodies. (6.)

Finally, one has to wonder about the cryptic words of Jesus in the Gnostic text The Gospel of Thomas. When the disciples ask Jesus how will their end come, he answers, “Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is.” (7.)

Again, we see beneath the words the association with infinity and the continual cycle of the Analemma.

Throughout our lives, we are continually moving between moments of happiness and sadness, times that bring us hope and times that make us despair.

The Analemma teaches us that none of this is permanent and that we are always given a chance to begin again. Sometimes, like the movement of the sun, we may not notice these moments. They may appear to be so subtle that their arrival is only noticed by our unconscious minds.

But the secret of the ancients was that time is cyclical and that the end is found at the beginning and is most noticeable from a place of stillness, a fixed self that can become aware of the cycles of the planet, the stars and, when we are ready, the soul.

© David Halpin 08/01/ 2016.

  1. Albert Pike Morals and Dogma 1. Apprentice
  2. Ronald Decker. The Esoteric Tarot. (P.12)
  3. Mark 16:9–11, Luke 24, John 20:19–24, John 20:26–29, 1, Corinthians 15:4–7, Matthew 28:16–17, John 21:1–24, and finally, before his ‘ascension to ‘Heaven’ again in Acts 1.
  4. The Secret Teachings of all Ages. M. P. Hall. Tarcher Penguin Edition. (P.217.)
  5. http://symboldictionary.net/?p=1127
  6. The Secret Teachings of all Ages. M. P. Hall. Tarcher Penguin Edition. (P. 220.)
  7. (7.) The Gospel of Thomas. Saying 18.

Resurrecting Medusa

For thousands of years, the symbol of the Medusa was used to represent the power of fear and the knowledge that we can, by approaching our fears in an enlightened state of mind, find a way to overcome them.

However, for a brief time, in the first half of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud seemed to turn an archaic myth on its head, if you’ll excuse the pun, and render its transformative motifs into something far more repressive.

In his poorly argued essay, Medusa’s Head, Freud declared the Medusa to be a symbol of castration. He cites the decapitation of the mythic female figure as a response to a male’s first sight of female genitals and the resulting emasculation anxiety. (1.)

This particular view has been rejected today and in particular by feminist writers and thinkers who, rightly, argue that Freud was reducing the Medusa to a visual construct for men, with no integrity or role in her own right.

Obviously, we can find all kinds of phallic symbolism in the Medusa, from snakes to her power to ‘stiffen’ and this falls into Freud’s obsession with penis-envy. However, Freud himself seems to be unsure of how to prove his own theory, writing in Medusa’s Head that, “In order seriously to substantiate this interpretation it would be necessary to investigate the origin of this isolated symbol of horror in Greek mythology as well as parallels to it in other mythologies.” (2.)

Perhaps Freud’s failing is best summed up by Freudian scholar and Professor of philosophy at Lakehead University, Todd Dufresne when he writes, “… it is psychoanalysis itself that has infected the Western soul with penis envy, oedipal conflicts, death drives and so on. For these ideas are not given to, and cannot be found in, the world. They must be created.” (3.)

When we return to the original myth we discover that the role of the Medusa does not end with her beheading. In fact, it is only through her death that Perseus discovers the gifts hidden within the Gorgon.

This is also what Freud failed to take account of and, perhaps, deliberately overlooked in order to try and substantiate his theory.

So, who is the Medusa and what was her original role? We might be surprised to learn that the Medusa is most likely a Greek version of The Green Man.

The Green Man is a nature deity usually portrayed with vines emerging from his head and this compares well to the Medusa and her snake hair. (4.) (5.) His first incarnation was as Osiris, who was portrayed as being green skinned, just as the Medusa, and was representative of the primal logos. Logos has been mistranslated as meaning word, but in fact, it’s true descriptive is ratio or pattern, linking it more to the Tao rather than the anthropomorphized Christian meaning.

We can now reassess the Greek myth and begin to understand its true lesson.

On the surface, Perseus must find a way to slay something whose direct gaze will turn a person into stone. Immediately, we are given a hint about the archaic, yet well-observed psychology at work in the story. What we are being told is that sometimes a fear is best overcome by guile and an unorthodox approach, rather than a direct confrontation.

The Greek gods can be seen as representations of the mind, and in this context, the gifts they give Perseus are then allegorical, psychological tactics.

These gifts consist of Athena’s mirrored shield, a cloak of invisibility from Hades, winged sandals from Hermes and a sword from Hephaestus.

In archaic symbolism, these represent the same aspects of gnosis and the attributes of mind needed to overcome a fear or blockage in our spiritual progress.

With the mirrored shield Perseus is showing us that we must find a new angle to approach our fear; sometimes face to face confrontation is useless and we must learn to find a new perspective which gives us an advantage we were previously unaware of.

The winged sandals represent the opportunity for lateral thinking: Hermes is the messenger of the higher mind which overlooks all things, so allowing Perseus to take flight means to break from the used paths of before and compliment the perspective of Athena’s shield.

The sword has been a symbol of direct action and force of will in almost every culture and, the god Hephaestus, who made the sword, is often given the epithet Polumetis, which means crafty or shrewd.

Finally, Perseus is given the gift of invisibility. Interestingly, this may be based on the syncretism of Greco-Buddhist philosophies which had begun as far back as the 5th century BC in Hellenistic cultures. (6.)

In this instance, the concept of invisibility is directly related to the prevalent Orphic or Asclepian practice of incubation meditation, where a seeker would remove themselves from all sensory stimulation in order to receive the communication of the gods or higher mind.

All of these gifts represent alternative ways of thinking which can be utilized in order to progress past fear.

In his philosophical work In the Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kingsley writes of the secret Pythagorean meditation techniques, saying, “That’s the real reason for the stillness practiced in incubation. It was a method for coming as close as possible to the divine world.” and, “For the stillness itself was something that belonged to the heroes and the gods. (7.)

So, Perseus, representing the self that must grow past its fear, is equipped to overcome the Medusa by utilizing the gods, or higher mind, of which he is a part and which was always the potential of the self.

When Perseus has conquered his fear he has moved onto a new stage in his psychological evolution. This is shown by the two ‘brothers’ who spring forth from the dead Medusa’s body; Pegasus, the winged horse, and Chrysaor, a youth who carries a golden sword.

We see that what is overcome is also transformed: Pegasus and Chrysaor being symbolic of the ability to think from a higher perspective and to discern with a new sharpness.

Of course, these myths are profound not just because they contain psychological wisdom but also the macroscopic, universal wisdom of the ages. By understanding how these myths speak to us, we can see past the literalism and cultural motifs and apply the esoteric lessons and gnosis that they have always contained.

 

David Halpin. © 19/12/2015

 

  1. Sigmund Freud. On Sexuality P311.
  2. Sigmund Freud. Medusa’s Head (Das Medusenhaupt, 1922)
  3. http://articles.latimes.com/2004/feb/18/opinion/oe-dufresne18
  4. The Mythic Forest, the Green Man and the Spirit of Nature: The Re-emergence he Spirit of Nature from Ancient Times into Modern Society. Gary R. Varner (P.129.)
  5. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/picture/2012/jul/25/gorgon-s-head-british-art
  6. Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road, p. 43
  7. Peter Kingsley. In the Dark Places of Wisdom. (P 186.)

Hermes of Babylon: The Forgotten Gnostic Serpent

Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film Noah was variously described as being “…likely drawn from Gnostic texts that present the biblical god as evil”, and as “…merrily lifting riffs from a range of canonical and Gnostic texts, with a sprinkling of the Kabbalism about which he obsessed in Pi.”(1.) (2.)

The film depicts the archetypal world flood myth concerning Noah and his instructions to save two of each living thing on an ark.

However, descriptions referring to the Gnostic elements of the story allow us to dig a little deeper into the roots of this constantly evolving philosophy.

Continue reading Hermes of Babylon: The Forgotten Gnostic Serpent

The Benbine Table of Isis and The Tablet of Cebes: Ancient Tarot Templates?

Although Athanasius Kircher’s reputation was severely damaged by his dubious interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, it is often forgotten that he did, in fact, demonstrate the connection between ancient Egyptian and the modern Coptic form.

Other studies, however, including his mapping of Atlantis and claims that The Voynich Manuscript was a form of universal language (1.) tend to place him in the realm of the more eccentric 17th century scholars.

Perhaps the most famous example of Kircher’s enthusiasm and curiosity placing him outside of mainstream thought was his translation of The Benbine Table of Isis.

This table measures 50 by 30 inches and is made of bronze, enamel, and silver.

It depicts engraved Egyptian looking images and hieroglyphs on its surface all leading the eye to the central figure, thought to be the Goddess Isis.

Because it was most likely created in Rome during the first century it has long been considered a mere meaningless imagining with no esoteric basis.

Kircher’s opinion, that it represented a secret, mystical rite, was dismissed after Champollion’s work on The Rosetta Stone in the 1820’s.

In 1860, Eliphas Levi, in his book The History of Magic, hinted that Kircher was indeed on the right road but that the rites depicted were associated with The Book of Thoth or Tarot. (2.)

Levi created a key in which he claimed one could decipher the seasons, the zodiac and the Tetragrammaton, the name of God, as well as the 22 major arcana of Tarot.

Levi was the first person to rigorously detail a relationship between the 22 major arcana and Kabbalah, following initial investigations by Court de Gebelin in the late 18th century.

Levi famously wrote, “An imprisoned person with no other book than the Tarot, if he knew how to use it, could in a few years acquire universal knowledge, and would be able to speak on all subjects with unequaled learning and inexhaustible eloquence.” (3.)

Levi believed that the symbols of the major arcana were the secret key to forgotten yet eternal truths.

Noted Tarot scholar, Robert Place writes in his book The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination that “…Levi believed, like Plato, that all knowledge is within and that we actually remember it.” (4.)

So, in essence, what we have, without allowing speculation to cloud our perception, is a table of uncontested ancient origin. This table is said by antiquarians to date to a Roman temple dedicated to Isis in, roughly, the first century.

The table then disappeared until after the sack of Rome in 1527 when it was acquired by Cardinal Benbo.

The problem for anybody trying to trace the origin of mystery cults is that by their very definition their rites and history are obscured. So, in that context, can we really call The Table of Isis a fraud because we don’t understand its symbolism?

The table is one of the finest examples of ancient metallurgy and is painstakingly decorated with bronze, black steel, silver, and copper. Why would anyone go to such trouble in order to create something meaningless?

The images correspond in the eyes of occult historians to archaic, esoteric systems which would have remained secret except to initiates.

We know from works such as Plutarch’s essay On Isis and Osiris (5) that temples to Isis in Rome practiced rites consisting of the interpretation of Egyptian ceremonies and the temples developed independently to each other with no central or dogmatic system.

Using this information, we might well speculate that it would be only natural that individual rites might evolve and that these systems might also interpret and record the sacred knowledge in a way that might be recognizable only to the priests and priestesses of that particular temple.

As long as the central ideology was understood and maintained, outer decoration and images might change according to location and cultural influence.

If this were the case with The Benbine Table of Isis we might expect to find at least one other surviving example of the same motifs from the same era.

Coincidentally enough, we do. The Tablet of Cebes is such an example.

This is a written work from roughly the first century which claims to be a description of a tablet depicting the life of the soul, from pre-existence to the afterlife.

Much like The Tarot and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the tablet can be understood on many different levels including the mundane routines of life as well as the journey and effect of the planets and constellations.

It seems to express the alchemical and hermetic ideology of ‘As above, so below.’

According to Ronald Decker in his recent work The Esoteric Tarot, “It charts the soul’s progress through the precinct of life.”

Going further, Decker writes about the images detailed, “They are comparable to some Tarot inhabitants: lovers, Virtues, hermits.”(6.)

The tablet was reinterpreted as a woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger (ca 1497-1543) (7.)

If we consider that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet used in Kabbalah derived from a Phoenician script, which in turn evolved from Egyptian hieroglyphics (8.) we have a very interesting connection.

Although it is beyond the scope of this article, many scholars today associate the Phoenician alphabet with the constellations and in the Kabbalah, the 22 pathways are often referred to the pathways of the soul or creation.

According to Manly P. Hall in The Secret Teachings of all Ages, a manuscript by Thomas Taylor detailed how The Benbine Table was the altar before which Plato stood while receiving the knowledge of the great mysteries. (9.)

If this is so, then we are once again forced to consider an Egyptian origin for the Tarot and the symbols of the major arcana.

And must we also ask if it is time to re-evaluate The Benbine Table of Isis and The Tablet of Cebes as remnants of a shared sacred wisdom?

 

© David Halpin 26/11/2015

References

(8.)Michael C. Howard  Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. P. 23. (2012.)

(9.) The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Manly P. Hall (p 163 Penguin Tarcher Edition: 2003)