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It's been a while since an occult post. Time for a break from the psychedelia and a look into the obelisk - one of the oldest and best-known symbols associated with the occult. And a lot of other things over the thousands of years that they've been around. They turn up on big public monuments in major cities and on personal items from tombstones to jewelry. The age and popularity of the obelisk makes it hard to sum up as a symbol - it’s been used to say a lot of things. Search for “obelisk” and you get hits from many different angles - each with its own point of view. But this doesn't tell you why the symbol has hung around for so long. This post will look back over the history to do just that.
Alberto Prebisch, Obelisco de Buenos Aires, 1936
One point of view that can't be denied is the popularity of prominent obelisks in a world cities going back a long way. It appears from a quick search of the internet that this is the main reason why this occult symbol is so often connected to Illumnati/cabal type shadow governments.
Start with a hypothetical. Suppose you gathered everything you could find on ancient Egyptian culture, magic, and art. You spend several years learning what’s available about the rituals and symbolism - even learn to read the language.
We aren't actually describing Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857-1934) an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, philologist and occultist who, according to Infogalactic, was knighted for his service to Egyptology and the British Museum. Today he is best known for his books on Egyptian hieroglyphics, religion, and magic. There isn't much personal information on him in a cursory search - most hits have to do with his books, which have been continuously in print since they went public domain despite their limited and outdated historical knowledge. This is probably because of their occultist focus. Budge was very much into the Victorian paranormal craze - he was believer in spirits and hauntings with friends in the 1882 revival of the English Ghost Club. This club is still in existence as a paranormal investigation group but has had various iterations. The 1882 version was different in that it was organized by a medium for occult believers.
The Papyrus of Ani, around 1250 BCE, British Museum.
This well-preserved 19th Dynasty Book of the Dead was stolen from an Egyptian government storeroom in 1888 by Budge for the British Museum.This was popular with well-known occultists like authors William Butler Yeats and James Joyce.
Here, the disc of the sun-god Ra rises into the sky on an ankh and pillar representing life and the god Osiris and adored by goddesses Isis, Nephthys, and baboons. In solar cults, the sun is a symbol of spiritual rebirth.
Budge appears to have been a bridge between what we would think of as serious scholarship and occult speculation, ferrying historical material from one to the other. Today, there is an assumption that the supernatural is the opposite to "real" academic study - one is based on ignorant emotionalism and gullibility, the other on impersonally weighing of evidence. One is responsible, the other isn't. Budge reminds us that what a lot of what we think of as serious history was started by loons. This review tells us that his interpretations still have their occult appeal.
Budge also draws attention to the Egypt craze that gripped 19th century Europe.
François-Louis-Joseph Watteau, The Battle of the Pyramids, 1798-1799, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes
Egypt fascinated the West since ancient times because it was so old and was always connected to exoticism and mysticism. But Napoleon's conquest brought unprecedented access to places and artifacts to post-Enlightenment Europe, where academic subjects were developing around the fantasy that we could neatly catalog all knowledge.
Egyptian Avenue Gate, c 1838-9, probably by J. B. Bunning, Highgate Cemetery, London
Henry Austin, Grove Street Cemetery gate, 1849, New Haven, CT
The idea was as preposterous as it sounds, but it covers for the actual people involved - really paying attention to "respectable" occultists like Budge might force us to reconsider some of the foundations for what we take as knowledge. The elaborate tombs and death rituals appealed to the vain and de-moralized society of Victorian England, and became connected with funeral symbolism in the Anglosphere.
Aleister Crowley in Egypt-inspired ritual garb, 1910
From here, it was a short hop to the Victorian spirit craze. The notorious Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn - an influential occult group that included Yeats, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Aleister Crowley based its evil nonsense in part on translations of The Book of the Dead like Budge's.
Back to the hypothetical:
Eventually you combine Budge's study and Crowley's theatrics, dress like an Egyptian priest, and start a cult based on the most accurate possible recreation of their beliefs. Now ask, does this mean that ancient Egyptian mystery cults continue into the present day? Can you claim that your order is 5000 years old if you’d even never heard of the Egyptian gods 5 years ago?
Poster for the Gods of Egypt, 2016
This is a legitimate question for occult imagery. On the surface, the claim is ridiculous. Obviously there is no direct line of acolytes passing the secrets to you directly. You have no idea of the context - the details and cultural assumptions are lost to time. All you have are historians’ best efforts from what sparse remains survive and evidence everywhere that people take these findings and twist them into whatever shape they want. Like adding wraparounds.
You’d be rightly dismissed as a fraud.
But there is another way to look at this that is important for the occult. Call it the life of symbols. Let’s get Postmodern for a moment - there is no perfect transmission of meaning over time. Even a book-based religion religion like Christianity changes ritual details as the centuries pass. The core message is consistent, but life is so different from the 3rd century that the specifics of Christian life aren’t the same. This makes it impossible for anyone as far removed culturally as we are from Ancient Egypt to say much about what life, society, and worship were really like. At best we are guessing. The question is whether our guesses align with the evidence that we do have.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, 1867–1868, oil on canvas, Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA
Now let’s stop being Postmodernist. Take a moment to recover from the temporary loss of IQ points, then consider: the fact that the finer details of meaning change over time doesn’t mean that there is no meaning. It’s just that there is always variance in qualitative description. Subjectivity and recency bias means there is no one single perfect interpretation to find. The meaning of a symbol isn't one precise unchanging thing - the symbol itself stays the same, but the way it is understood and used depends on when, where, and who. So when we look into the history of something like an obelisk, we have to deal with a collection of independent readings of the same symbolic thing. They will all have certain things in common because they are attached to the same symbolic object, but they will be different in significant ways. They may even contradict.
Pyramid of Cestius, c. 12 BC, Rome
William MacKenzie's Tomb, 1868, Liverpool, England
Two steep pyramid tombs almost 1900 years apart. Both draw on the Egyptian associations with death and rebirth. But the very concepts of death and rebirth, what the afterlife is, what the gods are, the nature and meanings of the ritual are completely different for a Roman aristocrat and Victorian gambler. There is no personal connection between Cestius and MacKenzie - each adapts the pyramid symbol to their own worlds.
The connection is the symbol. It is the pyramid as a symbolic form that appeals to both of them. They don't need to be related directly to apply the same set of associations. This is the independent life of symbols - same general meaning, totally different applications.
The life of symbols is a way to account for a sign, object, or ritual that stays more or less the same, but keeps getting taken up by different groups and reintroducing the same basic associations to new environments. Old wine, new bottles.
Gardiner Stone, Eikendal Community Memorial, 2010, Kraaifontein, South Africa
This revives the mortuary symbolism of the pyramid in yet another completely different environment.
Our fake Egyptian cult is using the same symbolism for the same purposes but it isn't an actual ancient Egyptian mystery cult. Historically different occult groups love to claim ancient lineages going back to the dawn of humanity. They almost certainly aren’t, but from an occult perspective, this doesn’t matter - it isn't the organizations that carry the meaning forward through in time. It's the symbols that live on to be picked up and revived by anyone. Like the occasional flare-up of a dormant virus.
This means that we have to look at history
of a symbol on at least two levels
of a symbol on at least two levels
1. The historical meaning of the symbol. This starts with our best take on the original meaning, but the historical meaning grows every time someone else takes the symbol up. Something like the obelisk starts in ancient Egypt, but adds related associations as it moves through time. The life of symbols.
Obelisk of Pharaoh Senusret I, 19th century BC, Al-Matariyyah district, Heliopolis; Yekatit 12 Monument, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Terang War Memorial, 1923, Terang, Australia; Victory Monument, 1941, Bangkok, Thailand; Robert Mills, Thomas Casey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington Monument, 1848-1854 and 1876-1884; Obelisk of San Jacinto, Maracay, Venezuela; Cleopatra's Needle, c. 1450 BC, London; A.I. Melnikov, Obelisk of Minin and Pozharsky, 1828, Nizhny Novgorod
They don't all mean exactly the same thing. Leading to:
2. How it gets used in each particular revival case. The symbol is consistent, every revival is different. This is more deep dive - what did an obelisk mean to late 19th century North Carolina?
Richard Sharp Smith, Zebulon Vance Monument, 1898, Asheville
Hint: it's Masonic.
Freemasons have been big promoters of obelisk symbolism since their founding, and they have legends connecting their organization back to ancient Egypt. But Masonic circles are very different from the court of a sun-worshiping pharaoh.
Vance, a former governor of NC, was a lifelong Mason, and anti-nationalist - the secular transcendent universalism of his Freemasonry goes hand in hand with his post-Enlightenment civic nationalist magical thinking. The general meaning of the obelisk fits with memorials of the dead, but the specific meaning has to consider this through the specifics of around this memorial's creation.
The general and specific interpretations are connected - the historical meaning is a generalization pulled from the specific ones piling up. It has to be general to include the all. But it makes it hard for people today to understand the symbol because there are so many different takes - all related, but differing in details. Is the obelisk a sign of an Ancient Egyptian solar cult? Imperial Roman power? The resurgent Catholic Church? Enlightenment reason? Freemasonry? Interesting taste in tombstones?
The answer is yes. Let's take a look.
The obelisk is very old, going back to the beginnings of ancient Egyptian civilization - between around 3150-2613 BC according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, with records from around 2575 BC according to Ancient Egypt Online. There are alternative histories that push Egypt back further in time, but these are very speculative. The dates given here reflect the limits what can be securably dated - we can consider it a floor, in that the obelisk may be older, but it can't be newer. So however you cut it, the obelisk is really really old. It's the age that makes them so appealing.
Hubert Robert, Fantaisie Egyptienne, 1760, oil on canvas
Robert painted this before Napoleon brought French researchers into direct contact with Egyptian antiquitues, and the scale is way off. But the exaggerated size and mysterious cloudy setting captures the image of Egypt to later civilizations - the ancient source of the deepest mysteries.
The word obelisk is Greek - it means "spit" or "skewer", as in cooking spear, and was used by the "Father of History" Herodotus to describe the towering monuments. It's a descriptive word that doesn't tell much about what they meant as symbols. The Egyptian tekhenu - "to pierce the sky" - is more revealing. Obelisks were associated with tombs and temples - places where the natural and supernatural worlds come into contact. Ancient Egyptian religion changed over the centuries, so there isn't really one set doctrine, but there are common assumptions that run through. Sun worship is one of these - there are different interpretations of the sun god, but the importance of the solar deity is constant.
Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two daughters adoring the Aten, 18th Dynasty, between 1372 and 1355 BC, limestone panel, Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Even Akenaten - the 14th century BC pharaoh that introduced a short-lived form of monotheism - used the sun as a symbol of his transcendent divinity. He banned depictions of the traditional gods for the Aten - a solar disc that stood for this impersonal force of life. This new religion was violently suppressed by Akenaten's successors, but the idea that the sun as life-bringer in this world was of a one with the supernatural forces of creation runs through traditional Egyptian myth as well.
The style looks strangely distorted. We wonder if this is related to his new religion.
Ra, between 1550 and 664 BC, wood, Louvre Museum, Paris
In this relatively late statuette, Ra has the distinctive falcon head and the solar disc.
It is easy to see why this sort of symbolic mystical thinking appealed to pagan and Christian occultists alike. Consider these excerpts from Victorian occultist Budge's translation of the Hymn to Amun-Ra:
Chief of all the gods,
Lord of Truth, father of the gods,
maker of men, creator of all animals,
Homage to thee, O maker of everything that is.
Lord of Truth, father of the gods,
maker of men, creator of animals
The sun as cosmic creator comes through, but this line is a tell:
Thou art the Judge of words and deeds, the Chief of chief judges,
who stablishest truth, and doest away sin
The choice of "sin" by a Victorian translator motivated to find "real" origins of Christian doctrine shades the meaning in a way that has to be alien to the ancient Egyptian mind. But it makes it easy to claim Christianity is just a version of older sources - either occult or mythological, depending on what you believe. This is the tiresome "unity of all religions" that globalist shills have bleated on about for centuries and can be put aside for now.
What is consistent from any viewpoint is the idea that the physical world is a symbol of the metaphysical one.
Egyptians used the obelisk as a symbol of Ra, and during Akhenaten's time was described as a "petrified ray of the Aten" - the solar disc. The shape may have even originated in astronomical observation. In any case, the slender ray of stone light pointing upwards is a powerful symbol of the life-giving power of the sun. To pierce the sky points to this solar connection between heaven and earth.
This explains why were put at places that commemorate people or gods - royal tombs and temples.
The obelisk of Senusret I, around 1971-1926 BC, Heliopolis
The only obelisk in its original position is one of the oldest surviving. It was dedicated by Pharaoh Senusret I outside the temple to the sun god at Heliopolis.
Obelisks appear at royal tombs and temples for the same reason for their appeal to the occult. Ancient Egyptians believed that their pharaohs became gods - a pharaoh's tomb often was a temple. So the same sky-piercing connection between heaven and earth that applies to temples also applies to tombs. And the idea that there is "secret" wisdom that can let you pierce the spiritual divide is catnip for
Ramses II between Mut and Amon, 1279-1213 A.C.), from the Temple of Amon at Thebes, Egypt, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy
The pharaoh is like the obelisk - a bridge between heaven and earth. He's even wearing a solar disc.
The ancient Greeks called Egypt a source of ancient wisdom, and it is easy to see a similarity between this notion of material manifestations of supernatural things and the more complicated Platonic concept of the Forms.
The shape is symbolic. The thing that gives the obelisk it's distinct appearance is the pointed top, called a pyramidion. According to the surviving sources, the origin of this comes from the same place as the pyramids - the primordial Benben Stone where Atum created the world.
The Pyramidion of the Pyramid of Pharaoh Amenemhat III, 19th century BC, 12th Dynasty from Dashur, Cairo Museum
The capstone of a pyramid and the tip of an obelisk represented the original stone of creation. This according to the version of Egyptian myth from Heliopolis, a center of learning where the cult of Ra was based. And we know solar and divine creative energies are connected - Ra and Arum eventually become the same god...
The obelisks at Karnak, Egypt. The obelisk on the right was erected by Thutmose I (reign c. 1520 - 1492 BCE) while that on the left by Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE
... and the obelisk expresses it in a single symbolic form. It's a slender shaft of sunlight topped by an image of divine creation - the slender shaft topped by the pyramidion.
The combination of natural and supernatural energy that pierces the heavens. Perfect for god, king, or both.
The original Egyptian obelisks are different from newer versions for their one-piece construction. The Vance monument is obviously made of stones, and the towering Washington Monument was built like a tower. Egyptian obelisks were cut from the bedrock - usually red granite - as a single block, then transported and stood up with bronze age technology.
Unfinished obelisk, ordered by Pharaoh Hatshepsut (1508–1458 BC), and found in an Aswan quarry
It is the largest known obelisk, but was abandoned when cracks appeared in the stone. If finished, it would have been 137 feet tall and weighed nearly 1,200 tons.
Angus McBride, Raising Cleopatra's Needle in Egypt, lithograph
How they moved and raised them is unknown. The Romans took up the process, but didn't record how either. When the obelisks were set up in Rome during the Counter-reformation, they had to come up with their own solution - the original methods were lost.
This recently discovered broken obelisk dedicated to Queen Ankhnespepy II is from around 2000 BC and is the largest known from the Old Kingdom. The depression in the top shows that it was originally paneled in metal - either copper or gold to shine in the sun.
The Luxor Obelisk, Place de la Concorde, Paris, originally outside of Luxor Temple, installed in Paris in 1836
The Luxor Obelisk in Paris has a metallic cap - this is what the original Egyptian ones looked like.
That's the obelisk to the Egyptians - a frozen marker of the creative power of the gods and symbolized by the sun. A bridge between heaven and earth to indicate sacred places and beings. And a tomb symbol that implied rebirth as a god. But ancient Egyptian culture comes to an end.
The Ancient Romans became fascinated with Egypt after Augustus annexed it in 31 BC - the obelisks were the most impressive of a stream of Egyptian ideas and artifacts that flowed into the empire. These were brought to Rome and set up in prominent places where they symbolized the replacement of the Egypt as the center of civilization.
Lateran Obelisk, originally 15th-14th century BC, Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome
The Lateran obelisk is the largest standing Egyptian obelisk and the largest outside of Egypt. It was brought to the city, fell at some point in the Middle Ages, and was re-erected in 1588.
It was one of two brought by Emperor Constantius II to Alexandria in 357 to commemorate his ventennalia - 20 years on the throne. This one was installed in the Circus Maximus in Rome that year. The other stayed in Alexandria until 390, when Theodosius I brought it to the Hippodrome in Constantinople.
Obelisk of Theodosius, raised by Thutmose III in the 15th century BC in front of the temple of Karnak, Egypt and moved to Constantinople by Theodosius, 4th century AD
After the capital moved to Constantinople, obelisks were raised there too. The one-piece construction makes a contrast with the 10th century Walled Obelisk in the background where you can see the individual stones.
Obelisk, 88/89 AD, Roman granite, Museo del Sannio, Benevento, Italy
Just as they had done with Greek statues, the Romans started producing copies, often using stone from the same Aswan quarries and adding hieroglyphic inscriptions. This is a Roman obelisk being restored at the Getty Museum.
The Roman love of obelisks was just one part of a wider interest in Egyptian culture. This makes it hard to pin down their symbolism because Egyptian culture didn't have one set meaning that we can refer to. And the culture of late Imperial Rome was really different from the Egypt of the pharaohs.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Chariot Race, 1876, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago
The Lateran Obelisk and Obelisk of Theodosius were set up in oblong arenas designed for chariot racing - the Hippodrome in Constantinople and the immense Circus Maximus in Rome with a capacity of a quarter million!
Circus Maximus, engraving in Pirro Ligorio's Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, 1553, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
These were long shapes with curved ends divided by a barrier called a spina to make a racetrack with long straightaways and tight turns. The spina was where the obelisks went.
Gerome's pointing shows an obelisk at the back end of the spina, behind the other monuments and statues. The huge phallic monuments in the foreground reminds us of how sexualized ancient Roman and Egyptian cultures were. Imperial Roman society was as degenerate as our Postmodern cesspool - what we would think of as modern porn if it were tied into to religious beliefs as well.
Flying phallus wind chime or tintinnabulum from Pompeii, 1st century BC, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
The phallus - technical term for symbolic erect penis - seems to have been a fertility talisman in most ancient cultures. A symbol of masculine generative energy as the counterpart to the feminine earth. A lot of phallic chimes were found at Pompeii where they seem to have been used as charms against evil spirits.
Painted bas relief of Osiris and Isis wearing the headdress of Hathor, 13th century BC, Temple of Seti I, Abydos, Egypt
The phallus played a role in the cult of Osiris in ancient Egyptian religion. Osiris was a primordial king in some forms of the mythology who married his sister Isis before being killed and dismembered by his brother Set. Isis retrieved the pieces and reassembled him, but his phallus had been eaten by a fish, robbing the body of vital energy. She was able to make a wooden replacement, allowing them to conceive Horus, who overthrows Set and restores rightful rule. Osiris moves on to the afterlife, where he becomes god of the dead.
There is no evidence that the obelisk had a special link to Osiris' magic johnson - it is a solar symbol in all the surviving sources. Maybe the phallic imagery of the stone shaft was enough to make the connection - no written instructions needed. We don't know.
This is where the life of symbols comes in
It doesn't matter what the ancient Egyptian symbolic codes were because we aren't referring to ancient Egyptians any more. We're looking at ancient Romans looking at ancient Egyptians and adapting alien symbols to their own culture. The specifics have changed - so what carries over is only the general meaning. And it's easy to see how the solar energy of the obelisk could combine with the sexual energy of Osiris from an outside perspective.
Roman Isis, 1st or 2nd century AD, sistrum and pitcher added later, found at Emperor Hadrian's Villa and now in the Capitoline Museums, Rome
Egyptian culture in general became popular in Imperial Rome - the obelisks were just one example. Adopting Egyptian gods was a more important one. Imperial Roman religion became a chaotic mess as the empire absorbed most of the ancient world. The traditional civic religion was flooded with exotic mystery cults and rituals from far and wide. These could coexist in a way modern religions can't because they were polytheistic - it's easy to add gods when the gods are all just superheros. Egyptian gods - Isis in particular [click for a really in-depth look at Roman Isis] - developed followings all over the empire, sometimes even merging with Roman ones.
Here's Isis in a distinctly Classic style.
Our Roman-made obelisk was used in a temple of Isis. So it's Roman copy of an Egyptian monument used for the worship of an Romanized copy of an Egyptian god.
Isis-Fortuna, 2nd century AD, bronze statuette, Getty Museum, Los Angeles
In this jumble of cults and beliefs, no one was thinking about whether they were accurately recreating 1500 year-old foreign practices to modern archaeological standards. That wasn't the point. The idea behind combined gods like Isis-Fortuna was that different cultures were worshiping the same beings under different names. It's the same tired "unity of all religions" drivel that faithless globalists have been blathering about ever since, only less blasphemous, since polytheism has no defining theological doctrine. So long as the cult of the divine emperor was observed, anything else pretty much goes.
This is also similar to the fake faiths of the modern world - perhaps a post for another time.
Bringing us to the late antique occult. The word occult means secrecy by definition - same root as "to occlude" - and the numerous religions, cults, and mystical schools that sprung up in the empire were built on secrets. The gods and rituals were different, but they all involved some kind of initiation into hidden knowledge.
Priests of Isis perform water ritual before chanting devotees in an Iseum or temple to Isis, fresco from Herculaneum, 1st century.
The only way to know the specifics was to be initiated into the cult.
There is really no meaningful difference between cultic worship of something like the Artemis of Ephesus and the modern occult. Superficially they don't have much in common - this popular cult figure was a fusion of Greek Artemis and Near Eastern mother goddess Cybele and was seen as distinct from the former. The bulbs on her torso have been interpreted as breasts, "eggs", or the testicles of sacrificed bulls - all symbols of fertility. The opposite of the phallic male generative energy. The cult was based in Ephesus on the Ionian coast of Turkey, but copies of her statue turn up all over the empire. The modern occult is, well, the modern occult.
But both are loosely organized attempts to influence supernatural forces through secret rituals and objects.
And Egyptian mystery cults with their ancient origins and exotic gods were as occult as it got.
Bronze Aegis of Isis from Saqqara. Ptolemaic period, 1st-3rd century BC, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Cameo Flask with Egyptianizing Scene, 25 BC-25 AD, glass; engraved Gem, 2nd-4th century AD, bloodstone, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
We can see the link between the obelisk as an religious object connected to the alien and mysterious animal-headed gods of Egypt on this flask and carved gem.
Philosophy got into the cultic game as well - with late Neoplatonism morphing into what were essentially schools of mysticism and Gnosticism. And out of this mess came Hermes Trismegistus - an historically impossible hybrid of the Egyptian Thoth and Greek Hermes offered up as a sage from the deepest past. Although exposed as a fraud in the 17th century, the notion that this pastiche of late antique occult Neoplatonism was a wellspring of hidden wisdom has been incredibly persistent. Hermeticism - the beliefs based on the Hermetic writings - was the basis of medieval alchemy, Renaissance magic, and the esoteric parts of Freemasonry.
Hermes Trismegistus, frontispiece to Zadith ben Hamuel's De Chemia Senioris, 1566.
This 10th-century Muslim alchemist was influenced by Hermeticism and Gnosticism - this is a European version of a collection of works ascribed to him. His real name was Muhammed ibn Umail al-Tamimi - the Zadith ben Hamuel comes from a garbled translation of his name.
What all these philosophical mysticisms have in common is the idea that the deepest, most fundamental truth of reality - call it ultimate reality - is a singular unity. The Neoplatonic One described by Plotinus, or the Sophia of the Gnostics. Hermes refers to it as God, though a more Neoplatonic concept than an Abrahamic one. The gods are somewhere between us and that - either higher beings, planetary rings, symbols of cosmic forces, etc. - more than human but still subject to the laws of creation. Another variation on the unity of all religions.
And about that "unity of all religions". Notice how the peddlers of unity of all religions never seem to agree on what the deeper truth is.
Meet Sri Swami Sivananda, Hindu spiritual leader, prolific author, and founder of The Divine Life Society. The title page of one of his books seems to have forgotten eat and pray.
Note the slant in this clown's version of the unity of all religions in a short screed on the DLS website: "fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials. The apparent differences in religions are due to a misconception or misconstruction of the long-forgotten truth of the Vedas on which they are ultimately founded". So fake Hindu history rather than the fake Hermetic or Postmodernist versions but a familiar Satanic conclusion: "Therefore, let everyone practice his own religion and strive to attain the goal. Let religion create saints and Yogins, rather than Mandirs (Hindu temple), Masjids (Mosque) and Churches".
In other words, do what thou wilt.
Plato’s Academy, 1st century floor mosaic from Pompeii
In ancient Rome, mystical philosophy schools competed with mystery cults by peddling their "deeper wisdom" beneath folk beliefs.
Just this quick look at the history shows why it's hard to say what the Roman obelisk meant - "Egypt" was a complicated and even contradictory concept. Someone worshiping a statue at a shrine to Isis has a different take on it that a follower of Hermes Trismegistus. With associations of divine, solar, and sexual creation from the ancient source of all kinds of occult knowledge, the obelisk is way too broad to be tied to any one thing. So we have to keep our conclusions general - that's how the life of symbols works. Keeping the meanings un-specific is what lets them be adapted to new environments.
Let's sum up:
1. The obelisk as generative energy. There are two parts to this:
a. The original fusion of solar and divine creation in the ancient Egyptian sources. This is the remaining obelisk in front of the Courtyard of Ramses at the Luxor temple complex.
b. The associative fusion of sexual and divine creation by phallic association with the myth of Osiris, possibly made by the Egyptians and clearly by the Romans.
The circumstantial case is as clear as remembering that the cult of the divine emperor used solar imagery like the Sol Invictus, and that Roman culture was riddled with phallic charms and religious imagery.
2. The obelisk as link to heaven and earth and life and death.
Huge statues of the divine Rameses II in front of his Luxor courtyard.
The solar/divine obelisk connects the life-giving sun and the forces of creation. It became connected with death through use at royal tombs, where it was believed that the pharaoh became a god. The sexual/divine obelisk is based on Isis resurrecting Osiris and creating a new king of the gods through phallic magic. Either way, the obelisk is associated with an explicitly non-Christian rebirth into a higher state through divine rituals.
But the Romans add one more dimension. The technical difficulty and connection with the pharaohs made them symbols of the Egyptian cultural dominance, so bringing them to Rome was a sign of their supplanting the older civilization.
3. The obelisk as symbol of imperial power and cultural dominance.
The famous obelisks of Rome were initially brought by the emperors as trophies from the annexation of the cradle of civilization. This seems to have been a factor in the decision to re-erect them during the Counter-reformation - the restored obelisks as signs of the a restored Christian Rome.
See the problem? One reason the occult obelisk is hard to define today is that it's meaning was already incoherent before the fall of Rome.
This is a good place to wrap for now. The next occult post will look at how the symbol lives on - revival of the obelisk after the middle ages and what it means in modern times.
|Rami Ruhman, We Hold These Truths, 2017, photograph|