What was the mystical knowledge of Ancient Egypt?

meaning of mystical knowledgeThe Egyptian artist was never a literalist, but used symbols to represent inner concepts. He was free to combine human and animal parts, yet show the resulting image in a ‘seamless harmony’. A simple example of this is shown in Egyptian grammar. To write the single personal pronoun ‘I’ the writer would draw a human figure. But to express the reflexive ‘myself’, he would add a snake in front of the figure. The snake is a world-wide emblem which appears as something to be both feared and revered. Is this because it symbolises something of the deeper self, the roots of personality. If so, why?

The snake crawls along the whole length of its body. Its movements are sinuous, sensuous and so it can readily be seen to represent the lower levels of our experience, just as birds more fittingly represent higher levels of thought and detachment. Here are three examples from the Bible.

The cunning seducer in the Garden of Eden

This story (Genesis 3) is par excellence the moment which sets the serpent as enmity with mankind. Adam and Eve are thought to represent the innocence of mankind who lived in obedience. But the serpent begins to whisper that we can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. This explanation means that Eve is not to be seen as the cause of ‘original sin’, but the feeling part of our nature. Our own desires are seduced by our senses into unwise behaviour. Eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil shows that people have decided what they themselves will call good or evil without reference to higher authority.

The staff of Moses becomes a serpent

Moses had been chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God gives him a sign and asks him to cast the staff in his hand on the ground. There it becomes a serpent and Moses runs away in terror. The useful, reliable staff in the hand of Moses, once he lets go of it, can have a life of its own! He is commanded to take hold of it, and it becomes the familiar staff again (Exodus 3 & 7).

One way of understanding the meaning of this is to say it shows the orderly function of the senses in our life. Whatever we first learn after birth we absorb entirely through our senses. Our mind opens out to absorb, to enjoy these sensations and to realise our identity through them. When the Egyptian royal crown was adorned by a raised cobra, it showed the benevolent aspect of knowledge and power (our staff) which we gain through our senses. Only when our senses get out of control do they become dangerous. They have assumed a life of their own.

The words of Jesus to his disciples

Jesus told his followers that they should be ‘as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ (Matt 19:16) These words can be understood to mean that the serpent in us is our strength, our protection, circumspection, our sensation of all things beautiful; and our healing touch. Within it lies the very experience of our selfhood and these sensations will grow purer and more refined when they are linked with the higher wisdom and the kingly power which exercises self-control through the innocence of a dove.

The Tet Pillar

mystical knowledge of Egypt
Tet Pillar

The exact meaning of this symbol is not known, but it has been called the emblem of stability.

The four horizontal planes leave three openings and, if we look for other parallels, we are reminded of the three storeys in Noah’s Ark, and the three defined areas in the Tabernacle. Swedenborg tells us that these universally used patterns reveal that the human mind exists on three levels.

1. As we have seen, our life begins on the level of the senses. This enables us to develop our memory and from that we can accumulate knowledge.

2. When we have sufficient knowledge, then our thoughts can begin to be formed. Thought is quite a different function from memory!

3. The highest degree is the ability of judgment and reason.

These are the three separate storeys of the mind. In the truly mature individual the higher levels control the lower ones. The Tet pillar can be seen as a reassuring symbol of such stability.

The Magic Eye

meaning of mystical knowledgeOne of the marvels of the hieroglyphs is their stylised simplicity which nevertheless has strength and impact. The eye symbol really looks at you in a penetrating way. It is the all-seeing eye of God from whom nothing is hidden. In ancient Egypt it was known as Utchat.

The Psalmist says, “He who formed the eye, shall he not see?” (Psalm 94,9) If the eye of the all-seeing Providence is looking, then there can be no lack of purpose in a person’s life. Whilst the cynic may see in the Utchat mere superstition, the spiritually minded person knows that it is a representation of the reality of the Divine in human life.

The insight is that the human spirit is not separated from the body. They are in correspondence with each other. This why the knowledge of symbols is of practical value for all of us today. Those who deny the life of the spirit within themselves will naturally see no sense in this mystical knowledge, because it does not connect up with their own ‘reality’. It is like showing a musical score to a profoundly deaf person, or like describing colours to the blind. But as Helen Keller remarked, “None are as blind as those who will not see — those who shut the eyes to the spiritual vision.”

Based on material by Christopher Hasler first published by the Swedenborg Movement.

THE BRONZE SERPENT

THE BRONZE SERPENT

A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia May 19, 1996

“And so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 4:9). “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).

When the Children of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years on the way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they became very discouraged at times. It is similar with us. At times through life we can become very discouraged about ever coming into a state of heavenly peace, or finding happiness.

When the Children of Israel became discouraged, they longed for the “good old days” in Egypt. They complained about the manna from heaven the Lord provided them with every day. They complained about the lack of water in the dry and dusty conditions of the wilderness. They forgot the misery of their lives in Egypt as slaves.

Similarly, as we journey through life trying to follow the Lord and find happiness, we sometimes become discouraged and long for the “good old days” when we were younger and life seemed happier and simpler. We complain about the tiny morsels of brief periods of happiness the Lord gives us. We complain that the teachings of the Word demand us to change too much, that they are not satisfying. We forget that in our younger years we were led around like slaves by our sensual desires and our worldly ideas.

When the Children of Israel longed for the “good old days” in Egypt they were bitten by serpents, and many died. Similarly, when we become discouraged and start longing for the good old days of sensual satisfaction and worldly fulfillment, we are in danger of being bitten by our sensual desires and losing our spiritual happiness. The Lord gives us a cure for this discouragement.

All the animals in the Word correspond to human affections and desires. Serpents are symbols of our sensual desires. The lowest part of our mind consists of our sensual desires and thoughts, because our senses are the means whereby we are connected with the things outside of us in the world. Above, or within the sensual degree of our mind, is our natural mind; above this is our rational mind. Our rational mind is like the bridge to our spiritual mind, which is above or within these natural parts of our mind. Our spiritual mind is the kingdom of heaven within us and has three parts, related to the three heavens which are called the celestial heaven, the spiritual heaven, and the natural heaven.

Just as serpents are among the lowest animals, crawling on the ground, eating dust, and looking up to most other animals, so also our senses, or our sensual mind, is the lowest part of our mind looking up to the higher parts. The sensual part of our mind or spirit can be good or evil, and so there are non-poisonous and poisonous serpents.

Our senses are useful and good because they allow us to be connected to the world, and after death to be connected to the spiritual world. They enable us to be in contact, in touch with other people, and to enjoy delights and pleasures in both worlds. Without this lowest degree of our mind we could not exist because we would have no way of connecting to our external environment here or in the spiritual world.

On the other hand, our sensual mind can become quite poisonous, can bite us, and can kill our spiritual happiness. Our sensual mind can trick us, as the serpent tricked Adam and Eve, into thinking that all happiness comes from the world, from external things, from sensual things. Our senses can lure us into focusing outward and externally to the things of the world as the source of happiness and delight.

After birth, as we grow and develop physically, our mind is also growing and developing. Our sensual mind is the first level that develops: witness the sensuality of babies and infants, putting everything into their mouths, for example. Next the natural mind opens, and then our rational mind opens about the time we become adults. We are not conscious of the fact that as these natural levels of our mind are opened, the three heavenly levels of our mind, from highest to lowest, are developing at the same time. Because we are conscious of our senses, our sensuality, for the longest time we are most comfortable with this lowest level of our mind, and turn to it for comfort in times of anxiety or depression. An example is how people use food, alcohol, or other sensual stimulants as stress relievers.

Our sensuality becomes increasingly active when we are discouraged about our spiritual progress. When we go through a spiritual drought and experience periods of little internal peace and happiness, the evil spirits with us stir up our sensual desires to seek some sort of immediate physical experience of peace or satisfaction so that we feel more delights. Physical and sensual delights are easy to find and are quick to fade, whereas the spiritual delights are more difficult to experience but satisfy much longer. When we are discouraged we are very attracted to the quick fix, the fast food, of the sensual world.

The attractiveness of sensual desires is what is meant by the Children of Israel’s being bitten by the serpents. Following our sensual desires and the false reasonings of our senses can kill us spirtually by keeping us from developing the spiritual parts of our mind keeping us from being born again, or being born of the spirit. When we focus on selfish, sensual, and worldly things, our minds are drawn down to the lowest level of life. Then our spiritual mind begins to shrivel and eventually will die. This is what is meant by many of the Children of Israel’s dying from the bites of the serpents.

When we get discouraged and despair of ever finding genuine and lasting spiritual happiness and peace by following the teachings of the Lord, when we lose our patience with the Lord and His timing, evil spirits have the opportunity to stir up our sensual memories and the false ideas of our sensual reasoning to inspire us to seek happiness and delights through sensual and worldly things. Food, alcohol, and drugs including nicotine, caffeine, and sugar are common stress relievers in our culture. Things like sex, swimming, hiking, exercise and gardening are other sensually pleasing activities we use to escape our depression. Striving after worldly riches, honor, reputation, and success are other forms of pleasing our senses, though these are not as obviously sensual.

In themselves these things are not evil; in fact they can be useful when used or done in moderation for the sake of refreshing and recreating the vigor of our minds, or for performing uses. When we love them for their use, they are like non-poisonous serpents. When we overdo them or abuse them, then our desires for them are like poisonous serpents which can kill us.

Few of us will go through life without being bitten by our sensual serpents. While it is a deadly disease, the good news is that the Lord provides us with a cure, symbolized by the cure He provided for the Children of Israel. Moses made a bronze serpent, raised it up on a tall pole, so everyone who was bitten and who looked at it could be healed. “And so it was” we read, “if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 21:9).

Quite a miracle, eh? Pretty simple. Not much to it. A very quick and easy cure. The really good news is that it is just as easy, simple, and quick for us to be cured of our serpent bites as well. We can be healed of our sensual and worldly desires just as easily. It may be hard to believe, but the Lord tells us how by explaining in His second coming the meaning of looking at the bronze serpent.

The bronze serpent is a symbol of the the sensual mind of the Lord, of Jesus. All we have to do to be healed of our excessive sensuality is to look at the Lord’s physical manifestations, His sensuality. All we need to do is to think about His presence in the physical and sensual things of this world. His Divine presence is visible everywhere in the world, to everyone, like the bronze serpent raised up on a pole for all to see who wanted to.

We can see His physical activity as a Divine Human in the Word: healing those who looked at the bronze serpent, parting the Red Sea, giving the ten commandments, healing the woman who merely touched His clothes, healing the blind man with mud made from His spit, feeding 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and fish, bleeding on the cross, inviting doubting Thomas to touch His hands and His side, eating bread and fish with His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in His last resurrection appearance. Or we can look at the Lord in our present environment, causing our hearts to beat, waking us up every morning, providing heat and light and rain and soil for all the plants to grow, creating everything in the world to continually reproduce itself. Or we can look at the Lord in the people around us in the good love they demonstrate, in the enlightened thoughts they share, in the good uses they do for others. Or we can look at the Lord in our own lives the wonderful periods of peace and happiness He gives us, in the many blessings for which we are thankful, in the timely occurrence of events He arranges providentially, in our ability to love and our ability to think.

In sum, for us to be healed of our serpent bites, of our sensual desires, all we need to do is think about the physical presence of the Lord in us and around us. There are two reasons why doing this will cure us. The first is that God came into the world in order to experience for Himself life as a human being in the world. Jesus was born as a sensual baby and He experienced the development of His sensual, natural, and rational minds as we do. God has experienced the allurement of our senses, and knows first-hand our temptations. He can relate to us and we can relate to Him, knowing we have had similar experiences. Furthermore, Jesus overpowered the evil spirits tempting His sensual mind, made it Divine, and established His permanent power over them by even making His physical flesh and bones Divine. By thus glorifying His Human, making His sensual mind and physical body Divine, He became constantly present in His own Divine Human mind and body in the sensual world of all the minds of all human beings present with the power to repel all the evil spirits.

The second reason why thinking about the Lord’s presence will cure us of unhealthy sensuality is the spiritual law which is that thought brings presence. It is according to this law that when we think about good loves and true thoughts, the angels draw near to our spirit, and when we think about evil loves and false thoughts, evil spirits draw near to us. So when we think about the physical and sensual body of Jesus, and about the things He does in the physical world, He draws nearer to our sensual mind. The evil spirits cannot stand being in His presence and flee, taking with them their selfish sensual and worldly desires, with the result that our sensual desires subside. We are temporarily cured, even as the Children of Israel needed to go and look at the bronze serpent each time they were bitten.

A permanent cure results when we “believe in the Son of Man.” The “Son of Man” is the Word, which John tells us was in the beginning with God, and was God, and became flesh and dwelt among us as the Divine Human, Jesus. To believe in Him means to live according to and from the truths of His Holy Word, because to do so is to live in and from Him because He is the Word. When we take the written Word into our natural mind by means of our senses and sensual mind, and then love and think and act from its teachings, the Lord enters us because He is the Word. When He is present in our rational, natural, and sensual desires, thoughts, and activities there is simply no room for evil spirits and their sensual desires. We have a permanent cure.

The “bronze serpent” which will cure us of excessive sensuality and worldliness is the Divine Human of the Lord, thinking of His sensual and physical presence both now and in the past. Among the ways we can look at Him, the most effective and by far the most powerful, is to physically take up His written Word and read it whenever we are struggling against the serpents of our sensual desires. While we are reading we will be cured temporarily, because the Lord will be present in the sensual part of our mind. A permanent cure comes when we constantly carry the Word in our hearts, in our loves, in our minds, in our thoughts, and so in our speech and actions. Then we will be angels.

“And so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 4:9). “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).


Lessons: Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-21, AE 581:selections

Apocalypse Explained 581 (selections)

That “serpents” signify in the Word the sensual man in respect to craftiness and in respect to prudence can be seen from the following passages. In Moses: “The serpent was more crafty than any wild beast of the field which Jehovah God had made” (Gen. 3:1). “Serpent” here does not mean a serpent, but the sensual man, and in a general sense the sensual itself, which is the ultimate of the human understanding; “the man and his wife” signify the Most Ancient Church, which fell away when the men or that church began to reason from sensual knowledges (scientifica) respecting Divine things, which is signified by “eating of the tree of knowledge”; their craftiness in reasoning respecting Divine things from the sensual is described by the reasoning of the serpent with Adam’s wife, by which they were deceived. The serpent is said to have been “more crafty than any wild beast of the field” because it is poisonous and its bite is therefore deadly, and because it hides itself in lurking places. “Poison” signifies craft and deceit, and therefore the “bite” of the serpent signifies deadly hurt; and the lurking places from which it bites, and in which it conceals itself, signify craftiness.

It is to be known that all beasts signify affections such as are in man, and “serpents” signify the affections of the sensual man, for the reason that they creep on the belly upon the ground as does the sensual of man, for this is in the lowest place, and creeps as it were upon the ground beneath all the other faculties. Moreover, sensual men in the spiritual world dwell in the lower parts, and cannot be elevated toward the higher parts, since they are in externals, and from these they judge and form conclusions respecting everything. …

The sensual, which is the ultimate of the intellectual life, is signified also by: “The stretched serpent” (Isa. 27:1; Job 26:13); also by the serpent into which the rod of Moses was changed (Exod. 4:3, 4; 7:9-12). (See AC 6949, 7293.) Again, sensual things which are the ultimates of man’s life are signified by the fiery serpents sent among the people who wished to return to Egypt, while the healing of the bite of such serpents by the Lord’s Divine sensual is signified by the brazen serpent set upon a standard, by looking upon which they revived (Num. 21:5-9).

The expression “the Lord’s Divine sensual” is used because the Lord when He was in the world glorified, that is, made Divine, His whole Human even to its ultimates, as can be seen from the fact that He left nothing in the sepulchre, and that He said to the disciples: “He hath bones and flesh, which a spirit doth not have” (Luke 24:33, 40).

The ultimate sensual, which was also glorified or made Divine by the Lord, is signified by that “brazen serpent” set upon a standard, respecting which the Lord Himself thus spake in John: “As Moses lifted up the serpent, even so must the Son of man he lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life” (3:14, 15). The Lord was represented before the Israelitish and Jewish people by such a sign, because they were merely sensual, and the sensual man in looking to the Lord is unable to elevate his thought beyond and above the sensual; for everyone looks to the Lord according to the elevation of his understanding, the spiritual man looking to the Divine rational, and so on. This makes evident that “the brazen serpent” signifies also the sensual, but the glorified or Divine sensual of the Lord.