THE ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF EGYPT AND GREECE.
W. Bro. D. McLaren, P.P.G.D. (Ches.).
Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic
Research - 1929
IN the explanation of the first T.B. it is stated that "the
usages and customs of Freemasonry correspond, in a great
degree with the Mysteries of Antient Egypt," and there are
some Brethren who in their belief in the antiquity of our
Order, would derive its origin from these Mysteries.
It is generally believed that Egypt was the home of the
Mysteries, and I desire, as far as time will permit, to trace
shortly how these Egyptian Mysteries gradually found their
way into, and influenced the native religions of the nations
with which Egypt came in contact.
Probably, no other nation of that time was better fitted by its
mental structure, as revealed by what little we know of its
literature, and the comparatively advanced state of its
knowledge to become the home of mysteries.
The amount of knowledge acquired by the priestly caste and
revealed only to those chosen by them to share in that
knowledge was very extensive and, for these times, very
accurate. Living in a country where a yearly division of land
was necessary owing to the varying amounts of the Nile
floods, a knowledge of geometry was gradually attained
which included not only the geometry of areas, but also of
solids and conic sections.
Dr. Gow says in reference to this subject: "Beyond question,
Egyptian geometry such as it was, was the germ from which
grew that magnificent science to which every Englishman is
indebted for his first lessons in right seeing and thinking."
The scholars of the Nile Valley also possessed knowledge of
the rudiments of Trigonometry, and their approximation to
the value of "pi " was not improved for many centuries.
Ahmes, a scribe of the Hyksos Dynasty, 1900 B.C., gave the
value of pi = (16/9)^2 = 3.1605, a remarkably good
approximation for the period when geometry was little more
"In matters arithmetical, they possessed a knowledge of the
three progressions, Arithmetical, Geometrical, and
Harmonic. In astronomy, without the help of accurate
instruments of observation at the disposal of modern
observers of the heavens, they had measured the obliquity
of the ecliptic, had explained the solar and lunar eclipses,
and at a very early date were in possession of a knowledge
of the precession of the equinoxes.
In arts and manufactures they attained to a very high
standard of excellence: as potters, they had few rivals, and
they knew how to blow glass, they used saws, levers, and
balances, and were skilful builders of ships. The gigantic and
wonderful Hall of Karnack and the Pillars of Luxor, not to
mention the Pyramids, testify that as masons they
accomplished feats which could hardly be achieved in our
mechanical and scientific age, and it is not too much to
assert that the measurements that Greece handed on to
Rome and to Europe, in the middle ages, were derived from
After the interesting paper read before the Association last
year in "The Life of Sethos," by W. Bro. R. E. Wallace
James, I do not consider it necessary to deal with any one of
the Egyptian Mysteries in particular. In general, candidates
for these mysteries and after purification by washing and a
time spent in darkness, had to give his assent to the rules of
the society, and an oath of fidelity was required of him, after
which he was restored to light. A password was given to him
and signs of recognition, and he was instructed in the names
and attributes of the gods, and received instruction in the
then known sciences. In some cases the highest honour
granted was participation in the election of a king, a belief in
the immortality of the soul was, no doubt, communicated to
those admitted to their mysteries. On the walls of the Temple
of Phylae were recorded the death, resurrection, and
ascension and deification of the god to whom it was sacred.
Not much is known of these mysteries, and what we do
know of them is derived from the writings of the Greeks, and
chiefly those of Iamblicus. But it may safely be said that they
never, in Egypt, developed into centres of orgiastic license,
such as made a byword of the Bacchanalia, at Rome, and
the Dionysiac ceremonies in Thrace.
All this knowledge was the possession of the priest-
astronomers who selfishly acquired a predominant power by
a policy of silence outside their order, even on these purely
As regards their religion, Egypt suffered from a superfluity of
Gods and Goddesses. It has been said that an enumeration
of them would result "in compilations resembling census
returns." Herodotus tells us how a pharaoh of the 12th
dynasty undertook to build the Labyrinth as a temple to
accommodate all the gods and found it necessary to
construct no fewer than three thousand apartments.
Here, as in the other great religions of the world, is found a
Trinity, in this case consisting of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.
Osiris, variously styled, the Manifestor of Good, Lord of
Lords, King of the Gods, was the chief of the Gods
worshipped by the Egyptians, and represented the Nile and
the sun, on which the life of Egypt entirely depended. After
having conquered all Egypt and given it excellent laws, he
was overcome by his evil brother, Set, who by stratagem
enclosed him in a chest and threw him into the sea. His wife
Isis, having heard of this, set out in sorrow in search of the
chest, which was driven ashore at Byblos, and enclosed in a
tree which had suddenly sprung up. Isis eventually obtained
the chest and the body of Osiris which his brother had
divided into 14 pieces. This was restored to life, and he
afterwards became a judge of the dead. Isis was the chief
Goddess of the Egyptian mythology and as I have just said,
was the wife and sister of Osiris. Her worship was more
particularly associated with Memphis, but, at a later date, it
spread over all Egypt. The mysteries in connection with the
celebrations lasted for eight days and consisted of a general
purification by washing. Her priests were required to lead
chaste lives and accept celibacy.
The worship of the third member of the trinity, Horus, the son
of Osiris and Isis, was also general throughout Egypt. His
eyes were represented by the sun and moon ; the festival
took place on the 30th Epiphi. The images of Isis and Horus
became, in early Christian days, those of the Virgin and the
Child, and while one would not identify this trinity of deities
with the Christian Trinity, the underlying conception of a
divine Father, Mother, and Son, is perhaps akin to it. Among
the Egyptians was developed a fairly clear idea of a life after
death, of punishment and reward, dependent on the life led
previous to death. Pythagorus (569-470 B.C.), a former pupil
of the Egyptian Priests, taught the immortality of the soul.
According to Plutarch, the death of Osiris was celebrated
annually throughout Egypt towards the end of November,
when the Nile flood was subsiding. According to Herodotus
the grave of Osiris was at Sais in Lower Egypt, where there
was a lake on which the sufferings of Osiris were displayed
as a mystery by night. While the people mourned and beat
their breasts to show their sorrow for the sufferings of the
god, an image of a cow made of gilt wood with a golden sun
between its horns was carried out of the temple where it had
been placed at the termination of the previous year's
commemoration. This probably represented Isis herself in
her search for the dead body of Osiris. In the last day of the
ceremonials the priests, followed by the people, went down
to the sea, the priests carrying a shrine containing a golden
casket into which water was poured, accompanied with the
shout that Osiris was found. A small moon-shaped image
was then formed and robed and ornamented, signifying the
resurrection of the god. To show their joy, rows of oil lamps
were fastened to the outside of the houses and these burned
throughout the night.
The origin of Egyptian History is lost in the mists of antiquity.
To fix its chronology is not easy.
Sometime about the third century before Christ an Egyptian
priest, Man-e-Tho, wrote a history of his native country and
divided the rulers of Egypt into thirty-one groups, or
dynasties. Historians, generally, have accepted this division,
although there is not yet agreement on the chronology.
The two leading schools of authorities in this connection, the
American and the Berlin, differ widely in dates prior to 1000
B.C. Mr. Davidson, who recently published an exhaustive
research volume on the great Pyramids and Egyptian
chronology, appears to refute both schools and to establish
a complete synchronism of ancient writers in accord with
Archbishop Usher's bible dates. For my present purpose,
namely of tracing the historical points of contact where the
influences of Egyptian knowledge and beliefs on the
surrounding peoples and more especially on the Jewish and
Greek nations, occurred I shall adopt that of Mr. Davidson.
It is generally agreed that Lower and Upper Egypt became
united into one kingdom under a powerful and warlike chief
who became the first Pharaoh and whose name was Menes,
about 3500 B.C. His capital was situated at Memphis. It is
also known that during the twelfth dynasty Egypt, which had
formerly been entirely agricultural, now became famous in
commerce and came into touch with Europe, as a
considerable amount of their trade was carried on with the
Island of Crete. Since 1894, archaeologists have been
carrying on excavations in that island and their discoveries
have upset the previous knowledge of historians for they find
that, at the time of their trading with the Egyptians, the
inhabitants of that island were more advanced in their arts
and sciences than were the Babylonians and the Egyptians.
Here, however, is the first point of historical contact between
Egypt and Europe, probably 2000 B.C., but of more interest
to us as Masons is the intercourse of Egyptians and the
Jews. In the Bible 200 references are made to Egypt and ten
pharaohs are mentioned, although unfortunately their names
are not mentioned.
The first mention of a pharaoh is found in Genesis XII, 10,
where Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew nation, had
migrated from Babylonia into the Land of Canaan, from
which famine forced him to visit the fertile land of Egypt. This
took place when Egypt was ruled over by the Hyksos or
Shepherd King, in the reign of the 17th dynasty.
A little more than 200 years after, during the 18th dynasty,
that is 100 years before the reign of Tut-Ank-Amen, Jacob
and his sons were driven by famine to Egypt, to join Joseph,
who had married Asenath, the daughter of a high priest of
On, whose name was Potipherah, meaning the Gift of the
Sun God, where was granted them some land lying between
where Cairo now stands and where the Suez Canal has
been constructed-the Land of Goschen. This may truly be
termed the cradle of the Jewish race, for when the time
came for them to leave the land, their nation had increased
from 3 score and 6 to 2,000,000, counting men, women, and
children. Moses, the leader of the exodus, under the name of
Osarsiph (according to some authorities), is said to have
held the office of High Priest of On. No one of the Hebrews
by training and education. could have been better qualified
to act as leader, and the laws laid down by him for a
guidance in morals and hygiene have not been surpassed.
These things became possible to him, no doubt, through his
training for the priesthood. The exodus took place in the 5th
year of the reign of Menephta, 1486 B.C.
The next point of contact between a Hebrew leader and an
Egyptian pharaoh is recorded in I Kings, III, 1, when
Solomon is stated to have married an Egyptian princess, a
daughter of one of the Pharaohs. Some authorities say that it
was from this marriage, and his dealings with his wife's
nation, that Solomon obtained his chief ideas of the plan of
the Temple at Jerusalem, dedicated about 1005 B.C. and
destroyed 588 B.C., and that the two Pillars which stood at
the porchway or entrance to the Temple erected by
Solomon, to keep ever before the eyes of the people a
memorial of the happy deliverance of their forefathers from
their Egyptian bondage, were merely copies of the obelisks
which were to be found at the entrance of every Egyptian
temple. The lions too, which decorated the thrones of the
Egyptian kings found a counterpart in the lions on each side
of Solomon's throne and the twelve on the steps leading
Is it a mere coincidence that two of our Grand Masters whom
we associate, one with the opening of the first or Holy
Lodge, the other with presiding at the opening of the second
or Sacred Lodge, should be so intimately connected with this
mysterious land of the pharaohs ?
As Masons, the later relations between the Pharaohs and
the Hebrews do not concern us. About 2000 years after the
journey of Abraham to Egypt, St. Paul makes a reference to
the wealth of that people. At varying periods during that time
intercourse between the two nations was fairly close and no
doubt it had a considerable influence on the customs and
beliefs of the Hebrews. To us, as Masons, the fact that many
of our Masonic secrets are expressed in the Hebraic or
Chaldeaic language adds an additional interest to the study
of the ancient history of these nations.
I highly venerate the Masonic Institution, under the fullest persuasion
that, when its principles are acknowledged and its laws and precepts
obeyed, it comes nearest to the Christian religion, in its moral effects
and influence, of any institution with which I am acquainted.
- REV. FRED. DALCHO.