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vol. 3, p. 110
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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124     THE SPIRITUALIST.     Sept. 11, 1874.

< Professor Huxley on Mesmerism (continued from page 3-109) >

as well as he can, the first law. of motion. You see I have said he makes his cigarettes, but you may make his tobacco of shavings or of anything else you like, and still he will go on making his cigarettes as usual. His action is purely mechanical. As I said, he feeds voraciously, but whether you give him aloes or asafætida, or the nicest thing possible—(Laughter)—it is all the same to him. He is just like my frog—(Laughter)—he goes on feeding. The man is in a condition absolutely parallel to that of the frog I have just described, and no doubt when ho is in this condition, the functions of his cerebral hemisphere are at any rate largely annihilated. He is very nearly—I don’t say wholly, but very nearly—in the condition of an animal in which the cerebral hemispheres are not entirely extirpated, but very largely damaged. And his state is wonderfully interesting to me, for it bears on the phenomena of mesmerism of which I saw a good deal when I was a young man. In this state he is capable of performing all sorts of actions on mere suggestions—as, for example, he dropped his cane, and a person near him put it into his hand, and the feeling of the end of the cane evidently produced in him those molecular changes of the brain which, had he possessed consciousness, would have given rise to the idea of his rifle ; for he threw himself on his face, began feeling about for his cartouche, went through the motions of loading his gun, and shouted out to an imaginary comrade, “ Here they are, a score of them ; but we will give a good account of them.” This paper to which I refer is full of the most remarkable examples of this kind, and what is the most remarkable fact of all is the modifications which this injury has made in the man’s moral nature. In his normal life he is one of the most upright and honest of men. In his abnormal state, however, he is an inveterate thief. He will steal everything he can lay his hands upon—(Laughter)—and if he cannot steal anything else he will steal his own things and hide them away. (Laughter). Now, if Descartes had had this fact before him, need I tell you that his theory of animal automatism would have been enormously strengthened. (Applause). He would have said, “ Here I show you a case of a man performing actions evidently more complicated, and mostly more rational, than any of the ordinary operations of animals, and yet you have positive proof that these actions are purely mechanical.

The Doctrine of Immortality Among the Ancient Egyptians

No. I.

Historical Study by C. Constant, Smyrna ; Member of the Asiatic Society, Paris. Addressed to the British National Association of Spiritualists. Translated from the French by Emily Kislingbury.

While writing these lines on one of the most important institutions of ancient Egypt (i.e., her religion), we are involuntarily reminded of the following words, taken from one of the old Egyptian philosophical books attributed to Hermes: ‘ O Egypt, Egypt,’ it is there said, ‘ a time will come when, instead of a pure religion and a pure worship, thou wilt have nothing but ridiculous fables, incredible to posterity, and nothing will remain to thee but words graven upon stone, the sole monuments to attest thy piety.’ Time, and the misfortunes which befell Egypt, brought about the realisation of this fatal prophecy, and the literary nations that Egypt instructed have vied with one another in ascribing to her the most absurd beliefs, the most monstrous practices.”

It is thus that Champollion-Figeac begins his remarkable article on the religion of the Ancient Egyptians.* Most successfully has this learned Egyptologist exposed the fallacy of the opinions diffused by clerical or so-called Christian teaching, with regard to the religious dogmas of this grand civilisation of the past.

To the popular and prejudiced historian, who does not take the trouble to study deeply, Paganism appears a mere chaos of idolatry and metempsychosis. But if the impartial student will penetrate the colossal ruins of the deserted regions of the Nile, and will seek to lift the veils of Isis and Osiris, he will see that this famous religion was by no means a chaos of absurdities, but that logical philosophy and sound observation presided at its formation.

The narrow limits that I have allowed myself in this article, prevent me from enlarging on this vast historical subject ; I therefore confine myself, in the manner of a sketch, to the consideration of one of the dogmas of the Egyptian religion. That dogma, with regard to which there exists more than one error and prejudice, is the dogma of the immortality of the soul.

1. The truths of history are often difficult of extrication from the complications with which time has surrounded them, unless a rational and critical method be adhered to. Of all the methods of historical investigation, the best is to go to the sources of events—the facts themselves. In history, no certainty can be equal to that afforded us directly by the monuments and inscriptions of the people. As regards our present subject we are the more strongly impressed with the notion of this necessity, the nation whose beliefs we wish to examine being itself a complete mummery ! No other resource is therefore left us than to interrogate the mysterious characters preserved in the granite and the papyrus. In treating of these characters we must remember that the inhabitants of the valley of the Nile had at their disposal writings as various as they were extremely figurative and symbolic.

The name hieroglyphics is generally given to all the writings of ancient Egypt, but it is necessary to distinguish between them, the Egyptians having had three ways of expressing their ideas. From the first, having had no phonetic alphabet, they made use of hieroglyphic writing, properly so-called. This was composed of figurative signs expressing the material form or object ; a drawing of an obelisk meant an obelisk. But by degrees another kind of writing, both easier and more rapid, was attained to—hieratic, or symbolic writing. This was, to a certain extent, an abbreviated form of the figurative signs of the former writing. Its characters expressed, not the form, but the idea ; thus the sun signified God, power ; the dog, defence ; a lion meant a brave man. This writing was devoted to religious and metaphysical subjects, and to the uses of the priests.

This manner of expressing thought being still insufficient, the development of social life in Egypt began to demand a writing for common use, and gave rise to the demotic or phonetic writing. This was again only an abridgment of the former signs, but it had an alphabet like our own. When the letter T was required, for instance, no new sign was invented, but it was represented by a drawing of a symbolic hand, which in Egyptian is called Tot, commencing with the letter T. In the same manner the letter L was represented by a lion couchant, which in Egyptian is Laba, beginning with the letter L. Thus the new study was facilitated without inventing fresh signs.

The Champollions who have thus classified the Egyptian writings have fully explained why the signs of the phonetic alphabet were represented by birds, insects, hands, &c. It was because these three kinds of writing succeeded one another by progressive stages, each new stage growing out of a former one.

It must not, however, be supposed that, in order to interpret ancient Egyptian lore, it is sufficient to know only one of these three kinds of writing. Although one was formed from the other, the people who used the new method had not abandoned the old, and even made use of all three in one composition ; and, in addition to the writing properly so-called, the Egyptians used the art of drawing, for subjects either real or ideal. Instead of describing scenes of life, an agricultural operation, or a religious ideal, they would draw figurative pictures. They had recourse to this easy and expeditious means in order to strike the eye, and to make clear at a glance that which, if written, would take time to understand. It is owing to this method that the papyrus and mural paintings have initiated us into the customs and ideas of the ancient Egyptians, without causing differences of interpretation amongst us. We see the manners of this great people, and we understand, their ideas as clearly as they saw and understood them. Not content with words, which change their meaning according to times and places, the Egyptians entrusted the whole of their religious doctrines and their history to pictorial designs. They had symbolic and realistic designs,—the first for metaphysical ideas, the second for real objects. We must not confound these two by supposing that the Egyptians worshipped only the form. Their God, the divine attributes, vices, virtues, were invested with forms which recalled the idea. The sun-god was symbolised by the hawk, eternity by a circle, progress by wings, evil by a serpent, the guardian spirit by a dog, a glutton by a sow, wisdom and love by the head of the ibis. Mixed or hybrid figures were also formed, as we compose words from several roots ; thus, instead of saying a severe guardian, they joined a crocodile’s head to a dog’s body, and made a species of Anubis.

I have given these details for the purpose of showing that the ancient Egyptians were not so idolatrous as is generally believed, and that in the interpretations of their religious dogmas the form must not he taken for the idea.

* See l’Univers Pittoresque, vol. “ Egypte Ancienne," by Champollion-Figeac, C.C.

Editor's notes

  1. The Doctrine of Immortality Among the Ancient Egyptians by Constant, C., Spiritualist, The, September 11, 1874, p. 104