W. Bro. D. McLaren, P.P.G.D. (Ches.).

Part 1

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 than mensuration.

"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 Egypt."

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 scientific matters.

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 thereto.

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.