Originally printed in the January-February 2000 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: West, John Anthony. "The Wisdom of Ancient Egypt." Quest 89.1 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2000): 12-15
By John Anthony West
After some twenty years of promises, R. A. Schwaller de Lubiczâ€™s masterwork, The Temple of Man, has finally appeared in English in an inspired translation by Deborah and Robert Lawlor and an equally inspired two-volume production job by the publishers:
The Temple of Man: Apet of the South at Luxor.
By R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz. Trans. Deborah Lawlor and Robert Lawlor. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1998. 2 vols. Hardback, $195, xxviii + [vi] + 1048 pages, 300 figures, 101 plates.
This book is, in my opinion, the single most important work of scholarship of this or any other century. It is a work of pure genius; the more you study it, the more it seems impossible for a single man to have accomplished. Starting with a single revelatory observation in Egypt in 1937, Schwaller de Lubicz, over the course of some twenty years, was able to piece together the sacred science of the ancients and present it in rigorously documented fashion.
Throughout recorded history, scholars, philosophers, artists, and architects have paid homage to and in many cases practiced the ancient sacred scienceâ€”or however much of it they still could access. Neo-Platonists, Gnostics, Rosicrucians, Masons, alchemists, astrologers, magicians, and kabbalists all claimed their knowledge descended from very ancient times, and most believed that Egypt was its source. Kepler, for example, exulted when he discovered the orbital paths of the planets, asserting that he had rediscovered the knowledge of the Egyptians. But few students, if any, actually set out to prove the extent of Egyptian knowledge, and even if such an attempt had been made, the raw data was not available to lay the groundwork for accomplishing it. In the light of this persistent tradition and of the insights of a handful of modern scholars and travelers, the first 150 years of Egyptology may be seen as an extended exercise in meticulous incomprehension. Nevertheless, that work supplied Schwaller with the factual material needed for his total reinterpretation.
Schwallerâ€™s work concerned mainly the New Kingdom temple of Luxor, which he called "the Temple of Man." In its measurements, geometry, harmonies, and proportions, he discovered the elements of a profound spiritual cosmology in which art, religion, philosophy, and science were fused into a single comprehensive doctrineâ€”the sacred science of the ancient world.
All those bizarre animal-headed gods were not figments of the primitive imagination or carry-overs from still more primitive animistic religions, as was commonly believed, but rather were embodiments of cosmic principlesâ€”the "Ideas" through which Universal Consciousness descended into the manifest universe. It is precisely the recognition of such principles that is lacking in our own technologically brilliant, but philosophically naive and spiritually empty secular science.
Fertilization, gestation, birth, growth, maturity, senescence, death, rebirth, and resurrection are the principles of the organic world. Polarity, relationship, substantiality, potentiality, time-and-space, and process are among the principles of the cosmological world. These, given appropriate names and forms were the "gods" of Egypt. Each was associated with its own number symbolism, which in turn commanded the geometry of the temples erected to commemorate that "god" and to evoke in the eye and heart and intellect of the beholder communion with that principle or set of principles.
Schwaller called the Egyptian sacred science the "Doctrine of the Anthropocosm" (or human-cosmos). We embody within us, as human beings, all the laws and principles that operate within the greater, divine cosmos that sustains and embraces us. And our intelligence, correctly deployed, gives us access to the knowledge of all there is. Acquisition of that knowledge holds the promise of eternal life, immortality, and entry into the Higher Consciousness responsible for our being here.
Carefully, step-by-step, Schwaller develops this great doctrine and shows how itâ€”not some arbitrary superstitious architectural genius peculiar to the Egyptiansâ€”is responsible for the geometry, proportions, and stone harmonies of Luxor Temple. He also shows how this doctrine is expressed through the elaborate religious symbolism displayed in ruinous but still resonating reliefs carved into its acres of walls.
Schwaller, moreover, is able to show (directly in certain cases, indirectly in others) that this doctrine was not peculiar to Egypt. Nor was Egypt necessarily the highest expression of it in antiquity; it is just that more of Egypt is left for us to study, and it is carved in stone. His inquiries find a similar mathematical understanding enshrined in a Mayan codex, and a final chapter devoted to the Hindu temple by the remarkable Orientalist, Stella Kramrish, finds a very similar doctrine pervading the much later temples of India. The lesson seems to be that at one time in the very distant past, initiates of all the great civilizations had access to this doctrine, and the so-called primitive tribes had it too, perhaps in less intellectualized but no less realizable form. It is we moderns who have lost it, to our peril.
When Le Temple de l'Homme first appeared in French in 1957, the eminent Egyptologist Etienne Drioton counseled his colleagues to "build a common wall of silence" around it lest it find its way out into public view. With just a few notable exceptions, that injunction was obeyed within Egyptology itself. And it has been left to a handful of independent writers and researchers owing no allegiance to the Egyptological or any other establishment (myself among them) to try to make Schwaller's work as accessible as possible to a lay audience. Our books and videos, along with English translations of Schwaller's other books appearing over the intervening decadesâ€”all in one way or another extensions or amplifications of The Temple of Manâ€”have, I think, successfully breached that wall of silence.
Change within academic Egyptology is about as perceptible as Pluto in orbit, but a recent review of The Temple of Man in the lay Egyptological magazine KMT suggests that however imperceptible, change has nonetheless taken place. Egyptologist Greg Reeder, though clearly understanding neither the magnitude nor the essence of Schwaller's contribution, nonetheless acknowledges that it "deserves discussion and debate." He calls on colleagues with intimate knowledge of the Luxor Temple to "take a serious look at The Temple of Man and respond to Schwaller's special interpretation of the structure's layout and decoration." In a discipline where any movement at all is cause for celebration, this recommendation represents a giant baby step forward.
Reeder calls Schwaller's interpretation "highly controversial." Actually, it's not. The measurements of the temple are beyond reproach; Egyptologists acknowledge this. The geometry flows from the measurements, and the interpretation in all its manifold aspects (mathematics, astronomy, astrology, symbolism, cosmology, mythology, art, architecture, and even medicine) flows from the geometry. If orthodox scholars want to challenge Schwaller rather than ignore him, they will have to find flaws or alternative explanations for the geometry or alternative explanations for the interpretations based on that geometry. If they are unable to do so, then symbolist Egypt simply supercedes and replaces all that preceded it, and the Egypt of the Egyptians replaces the Egypt of the Egyptologists, a cheerful prospect. That replacement would not in any way detract from the wealth of data that allowed Schwaller to produce his interpretation in the first place.
At issue, of course, is much more than an academic dispute. It is my own conviction that no human civilization worthy of that name is possible if it is not founded on an understanding that the human soul is immortal by nature or (as Hermes Trismegistus puts it in the Hermetica) "may strive to become so." The lunatic asylum we live in at present is the result of three centuries of materialistic science and a deluded rationalism supposedly (though not actually) based on that science. Through Schwaller's work in developing the Doctrine of the Anthropocosm, it becomes apparent that the ancient sacred science is indeed a science. It is not credulous superstition. It is not belief. It is not even faith (emotional experiential knowledge, as opposed to belief). It is a science.
If we are to escape from the asylum (a.k.a. the Church of Progress), it can only come through the reestablishment of that sacred science on this earth. While we surely will not be building pyramids or Temples of Luxor again, or mummifying our pharaohs either, the principles upon which the Egyptian doctrine were founded are eternal. It is not impossible that, before it is too late, a way will be found to reestablish that Doctrine on earth in a context and form appropriate for our upcoming Age of Aquarius.
The Temple of Man is not bedtime reading, but readers willing to put in the effort to study it in depth will finally understand why ancient Egypt was regarded by the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome as the source of all wisdom. It was. Readers will come to understand why that wisdom has been opposed so virulently by the priesthood of our own Church of Progress and to appreciate the manner in which civilized human beings once comported themselves. They will also learn why Egypt, even in ruins, remains a magnet for travelers and why its temples, tombs, and pyramids still rightly provoke our awe and wonder.
The reviewer is author of Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt and The Traveler's Key to Ancient Egypt (Quest Books). He leads intensive study tours of Egypt.