(BEING CONTINUED FROM 10/06/14)
On the left is the bird’s head from the first Great Seal of the United States (1782) and on the right the Great Seal of 1902. When the first great Seal was actually cut, the bird represented upon it was very different from the eagle which now appears; the neck was much longer and the tuft of feathers, at the upper back part of the head was quite noticeable; the beak bore little resemblance to that of the eagle; and the entire bird was much thinner and its wings shorter. It requires very little imagination to trace in this first so-called eagle the mythological Phœnix of antiquity. What is more, there is every reason why a phœnix bird should be used to represent a new country rising out of an old, while as Benjamin Franklin caustically noted, the eagle was not a bird of good moral character!
From Wilkinson’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptians occasionally represented the Phœnix as having the body of a man and the wings of a bird. This biform, creature had a tuft of feathers upon its head and its arms were upraised in an attitude of prayer. As the phœnix was the symbol of regeneration, the tuft of feathers on the back of its head might well symbolize the activity of the Pineal gland, or third eye, the occult function of which was apparently well understood by the ancient priestcraft.
From Hunt’s History of the Seal of the United States.
The significance of the mystical number 13, which frequently appears upon the Great Seal of the United States, is not limited to the number of the original colonies. The sacred emblem of the ancient initiates, here composed of 13 stars,, also appears above the head of the “eagle.” The motto, E Pluribus Unum, contains 13 letters, as does also the inscription, Annuit Cœptis. The “eagle” clutches in its right talon a branch bearing 13 leaves and 13 berries and in its left a sheaf of 13 arrows. The face of the pyramid, exclusive of the panel containing the date, consists of 72 stones arranged in 13 rows.
Clement, one of the ante-Nicæan Fathers, describes, in the first century after Christ, the peculiar nature and habits of the phœnix, in this wise: “There is a certain bird which is called a Phœnix. This is the only one of its kind and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.”
Although admitting that he had not seen the phœnix bird (there being only one alive at a time), Herodotus amplifies a bit the description given by Clement: “They tell a story of what this bird does which does not seem to me to be credible: that he comes all the way from Arabia, and brings the parent bird, all plastered with myrrh, to the temple of the sun, and there buries the body. In order to bring him, they say, he first forms a ball of myrrh as big as he finds that he can carry; then he hollows out the ball, and puts his parent inside; after which he covers over the opening with fresh myrrh, and the ball is then of exactly the same weight as at first; so he brings it to Egypt, plastered over as I have said, and deposits it in the temple of the sun. Such is the story they tell of the doings of this bird.”
Both Herodotus and Pliny noted the general resemblance in shape between the phœnix and the eagle, a point which the reader should carefully consider, for it is reasonably certain that the modern Masonic eagle was originally a phœnix. The body of the phœnix is described as having been covered with glossy purple feathers, while its long tail feathers were alternately blue and red. Its head was light in color and about its neck was a circlet of golden plumage. At the back of its head the phœnix had a peculiar tuft of feathers, a fact quite evident, although it has been overlooked by most writers and symbolists.
The phœnix was regarded as sacred to the sun, and the length of its life (500 to 1000 years) was taken as a standard for measuring the motion of the heavenly bodies and also the cycles of time used in the Mysteries to designate the periods of existence. The diet of the bird was unknown. Some writers declare that it subsisted upon the atmosphere; others that it ate at rare intervals but never in the presence of man. Modern Masons should realize the special Masonic significance of the phœnix, for the bird is described as using sprigs of acacia in the manufacture of its nest.
The phœnix (which is the mythological Persian roc) is also the name of a Southern constellation, and therefore it has both an astronomical and an astrological significance. In all probability, the phœnix was the swan of the Greeks, the eagle of the Romans, and the peacock of the Far East. To the ancient mystics the phœnix was a most appropriate symbol of the immortality of the human soul, for just as the phœnix was reborn out of its own dead self seven times seven, so again and again the spiritual nature of man rises triumphant from his dead physical body.
Mediæval Hermetists regarded the phœnix as a symbol of the accomplishment of alchemical transmutation, a process equivalent to human regeneration. The name phœnix was also given to one of the secret alchemical formula. The familiar pelican of the Rose Croix degree, feeding its young from its own breast, is in reality a phœnix, a fact which can be confirmed by an examination of the head of the bird. The ungainly lower part of the pelican’s beak is entirely missing, the head of the phœnix being far more like that of an eagle than of a pelican. In the Mysteries it was customary to refer to initiates as phœnixes ormen who had been born again, for just as physical birth gives man consciousness in the physical world, so the neophyte, after nine degrees in the womb of the Mysteries, was born into a consciousness of the Spiritual world. This is the mystery of initiation to which Christ referred when he said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John iii. 3). The phœnix is a fitting symbol of this spiritual truth.
European mysticism was not dead at the time the United States of America was founded. The hand of the Mysteries controlled in the establishment of the new government, for the signature of the Mysteries may still be seen on the Great Seal of the United States of America. Careful analysis of the seal discloses a mass of occult and Masonic symbols, chief among them the so-called American eagle–a bird which Benjamin Franklin declared unworthy to be chosen as the emblem of a great, powerful, and progressive people. Here again only the student of symbolism can see through the subterfuge and realize that the American eagle upon the Great Seal is but a conventionalized phœnix, a fact plainly discernible from an examination of the original seal. In his sketch of The History of the Seal of the United States, Gaillard Hunt unwittingly brings forward much material to substantiate the belief that the original seal carried the Phœnix bird on its obverse surface and the Great Pyramid of Gizeh upon its reverse surface. In a colored sketch submitted as a design for the Great Seal by William Barton in 1782, an actual phœnix appears sitting upon a nest of flames. This itself demonstrates a tendency towards the use of this emblematic bird.
If any one doubts the presence of Masonic and occult influences at the time the Great Seal was designed, he should give due consideration to the comments of Professor Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard, who wrote concerning the unfinished pyramid and the All-Seeing Eye which adorned the reverse of the seal, as follows: “The device adopted by Congress is practically incapable of effective treatment; it can hardly (however artistically treated by the designer) look otherwise than as a dull emblem of a Masonic fraternity.” (The History of the Seal of the United States.)
The eagles of Napoleon and Cæsar and the zodiacal eagle of Scorpio are really phœnixes, for the latter bird–not the eagle–is the symbol of spiritual victory and achievement. Masonry will be in a position to solve many of the secrets of its esoteric doctrine when it realizes that both its single- and double-headed eagles are phœnixes, and that to all initiates and philosophers the phœnix is the symbol of the transmutation and regeneration of the creative energy–commonly called the accomplishment of the Great Work. The double-headed phœnix is the prototype of an androgynous man, for according to the secret teachings there will come a time when the human body will have two spinal cords, by means of which vibratory equilibrium will be maintained in the body.
Not only were many of the founders of the United States Government Masons, but they received aid from a secret and august body existing in Europe, which helped them to establish this country for a peculiar and particular purpose known only to the initiated few. The Great Seal is the signature of this exalted body–unseen and for the most part unknown–and the unfinished pyramid upon its reverse side is a trestleboard setting forth symbolically the task to the accomplishment of which the United States Government was dedicated from the day of its inception.
The lion is the king of the animal family and, like the head of each kingdom, is sacred to the sun, whose rays are symbolized by the lion’s shaggy mane. The allegories perpetuated by the Mysteries (such as the one to the effect that the lion opens the secret book) signify that the solar power opens the seed pods, releasing the spiritual life within. There was also a curious belief among the ancients that the lion sleeps with his eyes open, and for this reason the animal was chosen as a symbol of vigilance. The figure of a lion placed on either side of doors and gateways is an emblem of divine guardianship. King Solomon was often symbolized as a lion. For ages the feline family has been regarded with peculiar veneration. In several of the Mysteries–most notably the Egyptian–the priests wore the skins of lions, tigers, panthers, pumas, or leopards. Hercules and Samson (both solar symbols) slew the lion of the constellation of Leo and robed themselves in his skin, thus signifying that they represented the sun itself when at the summit of the celestial arch.
At Bubastis in Egypt was the temple of the famous goddess Bast, the cat deity of the Ptolemies. The Egyptians paid homage to the cat, especially when its fur was of three shades or its eyes of different colors. To the priests the cat was symbolic of the magnetic forces of Nature, and they surrounded themselves with these animals for the sake of the astral fire which emanated from their bodies. The cat was also a symbol of eternity, for when it sleeps it curls up into a ball with its head and tail touching. Among the Greeks and Latins the cat was sacred to the goddess Diana. The Buddhists of India invested the cat with special significance, but for a different reason. The cat was the only animal absent at the death of the great Buddha, because it had stopped on the way to chase a mouse. That the symbol of the lower astral forces should not be present at the liberation of the Buddha is significant.
Regarding the cat, Herodotus says: “Whenever a fire breaks out, cats are agitated with a kind of divine motion, which they that keep them observe, neglecting the fire: The cats, however, in spite of their care, break from them, leaping even over the heads of their keepers to throw themselves into the fire. The Egyptians then make great mourning for their death. If a cat dies a natural death in a house, all they of that house shave their eyebrows: If a dog, they shave the head and all the body. They used to embalm their dead cats, and carry them to Bubastis to be interred in a sacred house. (Montfaucon’s Antiquities.)
The most important of all symbolic animals was the Apis, or Egyptian bull of Memphis, which was regarded as the sacred vehicle for the transmigration of the soul of the god Osiris. It was declared that the Apis was conceived by a bolt of lightning, and the ceremony attendant upon its selection and consecration was one of the most impressive in Egyptian ritualism. The Apis had to be marked in a certain manner. Herodotus states that the bull must be black with a square white spot on his forehead, the form of an eagle (probably a vulture) on his back, a beetle upon (under) his tongue, and the hair of his tail lying two ways. Other writers declare that the sacred bull was marked with twenty-nine sacred symbols, his body was spotted, and upon his right side was a white mark in the form of a crescent. After its sanctification the Apis was kept in a stable adjacent to the temple and led in processionals through the streets of the city upon certain solemn occasions. It was a popular belief among the Egyptians that any child upon whom the bull breathed would become illustrious. After reaching a certain age (twenty-five years) the Apis was taken either to the river Nile or to a sacred fountain (authorities differ on this point) and drowned, amidst the lamentations of the populace. The mourning and wailing for his death continued until the new Apis was found, when it was declared that Osiris had reincarnated, whereupon rejoicing took the place of grief.
The worship of the bull was not confined to Egypt, but was prevalent in many nations of the ancient world. In India, Nandi–the sacred white bull of Siva–is still the object of much veneration; and both the Persians and the Jews accepted the bull as an important religious symbol. The Assyrians, Phœnicians, Chaldeans, and even the Greeks reverenced this animal, and Jupiter turned himself into a white bull to abduct Europa. The bull was a powerful phallic emblem signifying the paternal creative power of the Demiurgus. At his death he was frequently mummified and buried with the pomp and dignity of a god in a specially prepared sarcophagus. Excavations in the Serapeum at Memphis have uncovered the tombs of more than sixty of these sacred animals.
As the sign rising over the horizon at the vernal equinox constitutes the starry body for the annual incarnation of the sun, the bull not only was the celestial symbol of the Solar Man but, because the vernal equinox took place in the constellation of Taurus, was called the breaker or opener of the year. For this reason in astronomical symbolism the bull is often shown breaking the annular egg with his horns. The Apis further signifies that the God-Mind is incarnated in the body of a beast and therefore that the physical beast form is the sacred vehicle of divinity. Man’s lower personality is the Apis in which Osiris incarnates. The result of the combination is the creation of Sor-Apis (Serapis)-the material soul as ruler of the irrational material body and involved therein. After a certain period (which is determined by the square of five, or twenty-five years), the body of the Apis is destroyed and the soul liberated by the water which drowns the material life. This was indicative of the washing away of the material nature by the baptismal waters of divine light and truth. The drowning of the Apis is the symbol of death; the resurrection of Osiris in the new bull is the symbol of eternal renovation. The white bull was also symbolically sacred as the appointed emblem of the initiates, signifying the spiritualized material bodies of both man and Nature.
When the vernal equinox no longer occurred in the sign of Taurus, the Sun God incarnated in the constellation of Aries and the ram then became the vehicle of the solar power. Thus the sun rising in the sign of the Celestial Lamb triumphs over the symbolic serpent of darkness. The lamb is a familiar emblem of purity because of its gentleness and the whiteness of its wool. In many of the pagan Mysteries it signified the Universal Savior, and in Christianity it is the favorite symbol of Christ. Early church paintings show a lamb standing upon a little hill, and from its feet pour four streams of living water signifying the four Gospels. The blood of the lamb is the solar life pouring into the world through the sign of Aries.
The goat is both a phallic symbol and also an emblem of courage or aspiration because of its surefootedness and ability to scale the loftiest peaks. To the alchemists the goat’s head was the symbol of sulphur. The practice among the ancient Jews of choosing a scapegoat upon which to heap the sins of mankind is merely an allegorical
From Kircher’s Sphinx Mystagoga.
THE SACRED BULL, OR APIS.
The importance of the bull as the symbol of the sun at the vernal equinox is discussed in the chapter on The Zodiac and Its Signs. The bull and the ox are ancient emblems of the element of earth–consequently of the planet itself. They also signify the animal nature of man, and for this reason were sacrificed upon the altars of such ancient Mysteries as the Jewish and Druidic. Plutarch wrote: “The Apis ought to be regarded by us, as a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris.” Osiris represents the spiritual nature of the lower world which is murdered and distributed throughout the substance of the physical spheres; Apis is the emblem of the material world within which is the spiritual nature–Osiris. The Apis is also the symbol of the exoteric (or profane) doctrine, in contradistinction to the esoteric (or divine) teachings represented by the uræus worn upon the foreheads of the priests. Front this is derived the mythological allegory of Serapis, who in a certain sense is not only the composite figure of Osiris and the lower world in which he is incarnated but also of the Mysteries, which are the terrestrial bodies containing the secret teachings, or the spiritual soul.
depiction of the Sun Man who is the scapegoat of the world and upon whom are cast the sins of the twelve houses (tribes) of the celestial universe. Truth is the Divine Lamb worshiped throughout pagandom and slain for the sins of the world, and since the dawn of time the Savior Gods of all religions have been personifications of this Truth. The Golden Fleece sought by Jason and his Argonauts is the Celestial Lamb–the spiritual and intellectual sun. The secret doctrine is also typified by the Golden Fleece–the wool of the Divine Life, the rays of the Sun of Truth. Suidas declares the Golden Fleece to have been in reality a book, written upon skin, which contained the formulæ for the production of gold by means of chemistry. The Mysteries were institutions erected for the transmutation of base ignorance into precious illumination. The dragon of ignorance was the terrible creature set to guard the Golden Fleece, and represents the darkness of the old year which battles with the sun at the time of its equinoctial passage.
Deer were sacred in the Bacchic Mysteries of the Greeks; the Bacchantes were often clothed in fawnskins. Deer were associated with the worship of the moon goddess and the Bacchic orgies were usually conducted at night. The grace and speed of this animal caused it to be accepted as the proper symbol of esthetic abandon. Deer were objects of veneration with many nations. In Japan, herds of them are still maintained in connection with the temples.
The wolf is usually associated with the principle of evil, because of the mournful discordance of its howl and the viciousness of its nature. In Scandinavian mythology the Fenris Wolf was one of the sons of Loki, the infernal god of the fires. With the temple of Asgard in flames about them, the gods under the command of Odin fought their last great battle against the chaotic forces of evil. With frothing jowls the Fenris Wolf devoured Odin, the Father of the Gods, and thus destroyed the Odinic universe. Here the Fenris Wolf represents those mindless powers of Nature that overthrew the primitive creation.
The unicorn, or monoceros, was a most curious creation of the ancient initiates. It is described by Thomas Boreman as “a beast, which though doubted of by many writers, yet is by others thus described: He has but one horn, and that an exceedingly rich one, growing out of the middle of his forehead. His head resembles an hart’s, his feet an elephant’s, his tail a boar’s, and the rest of his body an horse’s. The horn is about a foot and half in length. His voice is like the lowing of an ox. His mane and hair are of a yellowish colour. His horn is as hard as iron, and as rough as any file, twisted or curled, like a flaming sword; very straight, sharp, and every where black, excepting the point. Great virtues are attributed to it, in expelling of poison and curing of several diseases. He is not a beast of prey. ” (See Redgrove’s Bygone Beliefs.)
While the unicorn is mentioned several times in Scripture, no proof has yet been discovered of its existence. There are a number of drinking horns in various museums presumably fashioned from its spike. It is reasonably certain, however, that these drinking vessels were really made either from the tusks of some large mammal or the horn of a rhinoceros. J. P. Lundy believes that the horn of the unicorn symbolizes the hem of salvation mentioned by St. Luke which, pricking the hearts of men, turns them to a consideration of salvation through Christ. Mediæval Christian mystics employed the unicorn as an emblem of Christ, and this creature must therefore signify the spiritual life in man. The single horn of the unicorn may represent the pineal gland, or third eye, which is the spiritual cognition center in the brain. The unicorn was adopted by the Mysteries as a symbol of the illumined spiritual nature of the initiate, the horn with which it defends itself being the flaming sword of the spiritual doctrine against, which nothing can prevail.
In the Book of Lambspring, a rare Hermetic tract, appears an engraving showing a deer and a unicorn standing together in a wood. The picture is accompanied by the following text: “The Sages say truly that two animals are in this forest: One glorious, beautiful, and swift, a great and strong deer; the other an unicorn. * * * If we apply the parable of our art, we shall call the forest the body. * * * The unicorn will be the spirit at all times. The deer desires no other name but that of the soul; * * *. He that knows how to tame and master them by art, to couple them together, and to lead them in and our of the form, may justly be called a Master.”
The Egyptian devil, Typhon, was often symbolized by the Set monster whose identity is obscure. It has a queer snoutlike nose and pointed ears, and may have been a conventional hyena. The Set monster lived in the sand storms and wandered about the world promulgating evil. The Egyptians related the howling of the desert winds with the moaning cry of the hyena. Thus when in the depths of the night the hyena sent forth its doleful wail it sounded like the last despairing cry of a lost soul in the clutches of Typhon. Among the duties of this evil creature was that of protecting the Egyptian dead against: grave robbers.
Among other symbols of Typhon was the hippopotamus, sacred to the god Mars because Mars was enthroned in the sign of Scorpio, the house of Typhon. The ass was also sacred to this Egyptian demon. Jesus riding into Jerusalem upon the back of an ass has the same significance as Hermes standing upon the prostrate form of Typhon. The early Christians were accused of worshiping the head of an ass. A most curious animal symbol is the hog or sow, sacred to Diana, and frequently employed in the Mysteries as an emblem of the occult art. The wild boar which gored Atys shows the use of this animal in the Mysteries.
According to the Mysteries, the monkey represents the condition of man before the rational soul entered into his constitution. Therefore it typifies the irrational man. By some the monkey is looked upon as a species not ensouled by the spiritual hierarchies; by others as a fallen state wherein man has been deprived of his divine nature through degeneracy. The ancients, though evolutionists, did not trace man’s ascent through the monkey; the monkey they considered as having separated itself from the main stem of progress. The monkey was occasionally employed as a symbol of learning. Cynocephalus, the dog-headed ape, was the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol of writing, and was closely associated with Thoth. Cynocephalus is symbolic of the moon and Thoth of the planet Mercury. Because of the ancient belief that the moon followed Mercury about the heavens the dog-ape was described as the faithful companion of Thoth.
The dog, because of its faithfulness, denotes the relationship which should exist between disciple and master or between the initiate and his God. The shepherd dog was a type of the priestcraft. The dog’s ability to sense and follow unseen persons for miles symbolized the transcendental power by which the philosopher follows the thread of truth through the labyrinth of earthly error. The dog is also the symbol of Mercury. The Dog Star, Sirius or Sothis, was sacred to the Egyptians because it presaged the annual inundations of the Nile.
As a beast of burden the horse was the symbol of the body of man forced to sustain the weight of his spiritual constitution. Conversely, it also typified the spiritual nature of man forced to maintain the burden of the material personality. Chiron, the centaur, mentor of Achilles, represents the primitive creation which was the progenitor and instructor of mankind, as described by Berossus. The winged horse and the magic carpet both symbolize the secret doctrine and the spiritualized body of man. The wooden horse of Troy, secreting an army for the capture of the city, represents man’s body concealing within it those infinite potentialities which will later come forth and conquer his environment. Again, like Noah’s Ark, it represents the spiritual nature of man as containing a host of latent potentialities which subsequently become active. The siege of Troy is a symbolic account of the abduction of the human soul (Helena) by the personality (Paris) and its final redemption, through persevering struggle, by the secret doctrine–the Greek army under the command of Agamemnon.
From Virgil’s Æneid. (Dryden’s translation.)
Among the mythological creatures of the Mysteries were the harpies–projections into material substance of beings existing in the invisible world of Nature. They were described the Greeks as being composite, with the heads of maidens and the bodies of birds. The wings of the harpies were composed of metal and their flight was, accompanied by a terrible clanging noise. During his wanderings, Æneas, the Trojan hero, landed on the island of the harpies, where he and his followers vainly battled with these monsters. One of the harpies perched upon a cliff and there prophesied to Æneid that his attack upon them would bring dire calamity to the Trojans.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
by Manly P. Hall
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF ALL AGES