OF all civilisations known to us through history, that of ancient Egypt is the most marvellous, most fascinating, and most rich in occult significance; yet we have still much to discover, and although we have the assurance of Herodotus that the Egyptians were "beyond measure scrupulous in all matters appertaining to religion," the ancient religions - or such fragments as survive - appear at first glance confusing and even grotesque. It is necessary to remember that there was an inner as well as an outer theology, and that the occult mysteries were accessible only to those valiant and strenuous initiates who had successfully passed through a prolonged purification and course of preparation austere and difficult enough to discourage all save the most persistent and exalted spirits.
It is only available to us to wander on the outskirts of Egyptian mythology. The most familiar symbolic figures are those of Isis the Moon goddess, traditional Queen of Egypt, and Osiris her husband; and when we read that Isis was the sister, wife, and mother of Osiris we must seek the inner meaning of the strange and impossible relationship. It has been lucidly explained by Princess Karadja (in her King Solomon: a Mystic Drama, 1912, pp. 130-31):
"Originally the dual souls are part of the same Divine Ego. They are golden fruits upon the great Tree of Life: 'male and female He created them.' Isis is the Sister of Osiris because she is of Divine origin like himself, and is a spirit of equal rank. She is his Wife, because she alone can fill his highest cravings. She is his Mother because it is the mission of Woman to restore Man unto spiritual life".
How Osiris Was Slain By His Brother Typhon (or Set), the Spirit of Evil, and dismembered into fourteen fragments which were scattered and hidden by the destroyer; how Isis, widowed and broken-hearted, sought patiently until she found each fragment, and how Horus her son when he grew to manhood challenged and conquered Typhon, - all this is the figurative rendering of the eternal battle between light and darkness.
Typhon Or Set symbolises autumn, decay, and destruction; Osiris springtime, light, and the fertilising and growing powers of nature. Isis is typified in many forms, but was especially revered as the goddess of procreation, Universal Mother of the living, and protectress of the spirits of the dead. Her symbol was the cow, and she is usually depicted wearing cow's horns, and between them the orb of the moon.
But more ancient and more exalted than Osiris was Ra, the Sun god, whose worship was blended with that of Isis and her husband and son. The priests of Ra established a famous temple at Heliopolis, and founded a special system of solar worship. Just as the Emperor Constantine subsequently fixed as saints' days in the Christian Church the days which had been dedicated to the ancient pagan gods, so the priests of Ra adapted their cult to the tastes and notions of the people, and a whole company of subordinate gods figured in the religions of Lower Egypt for many centuries. Sometimes divine virtues were portrayed in very material forms.
Between 4000 and 2000 B.C. the worship of Amen, or Amen Ra, as the greatest god of the Egyptians, was established at Thebes, which became the centre of religious teaching. The priests grew more and more powerful until finally the High Priest of Amen - whose name means the "hidden one" - became the King of Upper Egypt. Amen was regarded as the Creator, with all the power and attributes of Ra the Sun god, and as ruler of the lesser gods.
It has been asked why the Egyptians, who had no belief in a material resurrection, took such infinite trouble to preserve the bodies of their dead. They looked forward to a paradise in which eternal life would be the reward of the righteous, and their creed inculcated faith in the existence of a spiritual body to be inhabited by the soul which had ended its earthly pilgrimage; but such beliefs do not explain the care and attention bestowed upon the lifeless corpse. The explanation must be sought in the famous Book of the Dead, representing the convictions which prevailed throughout the whole of the Egyptian civilisation from pre-dynastic times. Briefly, the answer to our question is this: there was a Ka or double, in which the Heart-Soul was located; this Ka, equivalent to the astral body of modern occultists, was believed to be able to come into touch with material things through the preserved or mummified body. This theory accords with the axiom that each atom of physical substance has its relative equivalent on the astral plane. It will therefore be understood how, in the ancient religions, the image of a god was regarded as a medium through which his powers could be manifested. "As above, so below"; every living thing possessed some divine attribute.
Faith in prayer was an essential article of the Egyptian religion, and the spoken word of a priest was believed to have strong potency, because it had been the words of Ra uttered by Thoth which brought the universe into being. Amulets inscribed with words were consequently thought to ensure the fulfilment of the blessing expressed, or the granting of the bliss desired.