Egyptian Mysticism refers to the tenants, practices, ideas, rites and benefits of the priests and pharaohs of Egypt, which steered the religion of the people. It included the inner circles of the ancient Egyptian religion. Religion for the Egyptians was more of a world view, as it was tied with their government and social structure – an all encompassing world view. That world view included the deification of the dead, as well as the belief in gods that were above people. It is based on the Book of the Dead, and there is a consistant narrative of their pantheon.
The major tenants of Egyptian mysticism are:
Metaphysics: The Egyptians believed that the center of the universe is not a physical place, but rather an idea, which they called Ma’at, meaning “truth,” “justice,” and “order.” They believed that everything in nature was striving to reach that center, every object on Earth is endeavoring to get to it – like gravity.
Regularity: One of the most important concepts in their understanding of the world is the regularity of cyclical patterns. The Egyptians saw the rising of the sun, the patterns of the moon, and the annual flooding an essential guide for how everything else must continue – with regularity. Certain phrases that reflect this are strongly infused into masonic ritual, encouraging the worshipful master of a lodge to govern his lodge with “regularity”.
Afterlife: Just as the Earth does not cease to exist during the evening hours, in such a way Egyptians saw the souls of men. The Egyptians believed in a plane of existence they called Duat, a region parallel to our world. The parallels were so closely tied with the idea of night and day that their myths reflected it. One such myth told that Ra traveled over the Earth across the underside of the sky, and at night he passed through the Duat to be reborn at dawn. By doing this they literally drew a direct connection between night and death.
Magic was seen as the ability to make things happen by indirect means. With this definition, many things become technically magic, including all electronics, or mechanical devices. However, the concept ultimately begins with language. The very idea that one could make a sound, and have it be understood by another as a representation of another thing, was by nature magic. Because of this, magic permeated every aspect of life. The degree to which this was possible was always being explored and tested. With no distinction between the physical and the metaphysical, there was a high importance on language, symbols, and rituals – all being by their definition magical. The total extent of magic was a mystery.
The Spirits: There were three kinds of spirits to the Ancient Egyptians; gods, the departed, and the living. They saw all spirits in a sort of cyclical flux, allowing gods to walk and act as men, men to at times become gods and the living to pass to the world of the dead, as happens to all. This perspective is like our recognition that a child could become a president, but not all children will. Along with a spirit’s change in plane of existence (or office), so too changes their power over the world, and other people. Some are born to greater potential than others, with the gods being at the apex of power and potential.
How Egyptian mysticism has impacted modern mainstream thought
Time has been one of the major contributions of ancient Egyptian culture. They were the first to establish the importance of time bing cyclical, which permeates into our daily lives in things like planning everything on a calendar system, and using clocks that repeat themselves. Their concepts evolved out of being able to predict the flooding of the Nile river and in so doing plan the best time to plant their crops. This power of recognizing and harnessing something of regularity laid the foundations of their economy and thus their empire.
The Empire of the Egyptians impacts our own concept of a nation. They were the first to unite what might otherwise be independent city states – as was the case with their contemporaries. Their model inspired the idea of a nation as a society with defined boundaries, currency, and government. The combination of those three elements allows an economic growth trajectory that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.
Architecture is most likely the most famous legacy of the Egyptian culture, but it is sometimes overlooked when considering the ancient Egyptians’ impact on our modern world. The Egyptians were the first to employ the use of architecture on a massive scale for purposes other than defense or shelter. Rather, their use of architecture for religious and social/political reasons has been monumental in the future evolution of all global cultures. Systematically, stones make buildings, buildings make cities, cities make nations and nations make societies. Because they saw how buildings could shape the way in which people interact with each other and their leadership, they were the first to purposely plan and design buildings and cities for the purpose of influencing the people. Using the Egyptian idea of magic, which is to influence something by indirect means, architecture was the ultimate magic by which to influence society.
How masonic traditions evolved out of Egyptian Mysticism
The most monumental Egyptian figure for Freemasons is Imhotep, who lived from 2650–2600 BC. He was an Egyptian polymath, who served under king Djoser as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra. He is considered to be the first architect and engineer and physician in early history. The full list of his titles is: Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief.
Imhotep founded the tenants of building construction and organization that would have been familiar to King Solomon. He is responsible for building the very first Egyptian pyramids and was also the first to associate the ideas of regularity with Freemasonry. The elements of the craft that can trace their elements to this man are nearly uncountable.
Because of how magical he was believed to be due to his ability to heal, influence the people, and move invent all sorts of tools, he was venerated as a god after his death. Temples were established in his name, which acted more as schools to teach and propagate his sciences for future generations. These temples were the ancestor of our masonic lodges, where instruction would be given not only in science and engineering, but also their moral and metaphysical affiliations. In all likelihood, these traditions would have been well known to King Solomon at time of the building of his temple and the organization to do so, since one of his earliest wives was the princess of Egypt.
How Freemasonry Benefits from the Study and Understanding Egyptian Mysticism.
Not only does Egyptian Mysticism shed light and meaning on the three degrees of masonry, it is also enlightening on our perception of ourselves as humans. Egyptian mysticism has also permeated into the western traditions of the Jews and the Greeks.
Recommended reading and further study on this tradition.
- Egyptian Mystical University
- Imhotep Papyrus
- The Book of the Dead
- A map of the Masonic Artifacts in the Museum of Egyptian Archeology