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Oliver St. John is the author of books on Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of Ordo Astri, Thelemic Magical Collegium and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v. New articles and essays are posted at Tantrika Books.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Samhain and the Star and Snake of Egypt

Hor-sema-tawy (or Harsomptus) is the child of Nuit and Hadit, or Hathoor and Horus, hence his importance in the Temple of Hathoor at Denderah. At the Temple of Hathoor, Hor-sema-tawy, “Horus the Unifier of the Two Lands”, is depicted as a cosmic serpent. As the “pillar of his mother”, i.e., the utterance or word-vibration in the primal void, this form of Horus is a unified image of Horus and Set-Typhon that predates the adversarial role increasingly afforded the two gods over the course of time. Through his being “raised in the pillar”, the child of the gods achieves form and body.

Hor-sema-tawy: Horus Unifier of the Two Lands

Hathoor has extremely antique origins, which can be understood through her identification with the astronomical image of the hippo at the hub of the universe—the Thuban gate of manifestation and non-manifestation at the celestial North Pole. Horus, the cosmic serpent or pillar in the void, is here identical with Set-Typhon, the manifesting star of Nuit. 

The entry of the Sun into Scorpio signifies the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, and is a precursor to the season of Samhain or Halloween. Samhain (October 31st) is the commencement of the Celtic New Year, while the ancient Egyptians celebrated the birth of the cosmic serpent on the eve of their New Year, coinciding with the Nile flood. The earliest symbol for Scorpio was the snake, corresponding to the archaic Aramaic letter nahesh, “serpent”. Nun, “a fish”, was a later substitution, made when the ‘brazen serpent’ nahesh became identified with evil in monotheistic scriptures.

At the Temple of Hathoor, the body of the cosmic serpent is seen emerging from a lotus flower carried by a barque: the seed of the soul or child-star emerging at the dawn of creation. Thus, entering the way of the serpent-body is to embark on a journey through the night of consciousness; the seed of light-consciousness is carried forth in secrecy and silence, until once more, when the astral alignments are made, the cosmic serpent arises in the vaults of the body of Hathoor, to give birth to new self.

The chambers and vaults of the Temple of Hathoor may provide us with inspiration as we journey into the night of the soul to recreate ourselves in the image of will and imagining. The Ba or soul of Hathoor, her cult image, was carried out of its chamber and onto the roof before the heliacal rising of the star Sirius at the commencement of the New Year. Thus, she and the sun disk were united as the seer is united with that which is seen. As the sun, Ra, climbs above the horizon, the span of all that can be seen is realised as the sum of all that can be dreamed of and created. The bejewelled splendour of Hathoor, dazzling in the reflected glory of Ra, was nonetheless a display put on for the public celebration. Hathoor, whose totem is the copper mirror, is as much about appearances as about the mysteries of being, of creation itself.

About the central sanctuary or “Great Throne” were grouped eleven chapels or shrine rooms, dedicated to other gods such as Isis, Sokar and Ra, and totems and images of Hathoor such as her menat necklace and sistrum. In Liber AL vel Legis III: 22, the Initiate is instructed thus:

The other images group around me to support me: let all be worshipped, for they shall cluster to exalt me. I am the visible object of worship; the others are secret; for the Beast and his Bride are they: and for the winners of the Ordeal x. What is this? Thou shalt know.

Some of the most cryptic passages in the Egyptian Book of the Law become transparent when looked at in context of the ancient Egyptian way. Taken out of context, the fragments we are left with are cinders to kindle the smoke of deception. Initiations at the Temple of Hathoor were carried out in subterranean crypts, of which there are fourteen in total, a lunar number. The “x”, to the ancient Egyptians, was the mark of a body or place itself, and a seal of protection against hostile forces. Thus talismans and other cult equipment as well as official records were stored in the crypts. At the southern end of the Temple of Hathoor there are five of these crypts running along a hallway. Here, the most valuable of the temple furnishings were kept, including the Ba or soul of Hathoor, lavishly decorated with precious stones—our Lady of Denderah, residing in her house. It was from the easternmost crypt that the annual procession of Hathoor began on the eve of the first day of the New Year, carrying the image of the goddess out from the subterranean room. In like fashion, the newly created world arises from out of the abyss when the primal word or utterance is sounded in the depth of night.

Access to the chambers reserved for the rites of Initiation was through concealed trapdoors in the pavement and hidden sliding wall blocks. In the subterranean world below the temple complex, the long narrow chambers and passages are arranged one above the other, so that the lowermost is laid deep within the temple foundations. Eleven of the crypts are decorated in relief—a work that was done even before the roof blocks were set. The most important reliefs, among which are included Hathoor’s musical instruments, the sistrum rattles, were set on the axis of the Temple itself, while the others are aligned with it. According to Liber AL vel Legis I: 60 and II: 16:

My number is 11, as all their numbers who are of us. The Five Pointed Star, with a Circle in the Middle, and the circle is Red. My colour is black to the blind, but the blue and gold are seen of the seeing. Also I have a secret glory for them that love me.

I am The Empress and the Hierophant. Thus eleven, as my bride is eleven.

The first voice is that of Nuit, or Hathoor (these are identical when depicted in their most absolute likeness), while the second is Hadit, or Horus, her son and consort. Hence, the beast and his bride, the serpent or Occult Force that is the secret nature of the soul, the mysterious bird of creation. The serpent is the means by which a star is given body as declared in Liber AL vel Legis, II: 21:

Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy for ever. Nuit! Hadit! Ra-Hoor-Khuit! The Sun, Strength and Sight, Light; these are for the servants of the Star and the Snake.

Though there are no accounts of what the rites of the crypts involved—and it is indeed unlikely that anything was ever written down—the sculpted images and texts throughout the Temple of Hathoor convey more than enough to recognise that the mysteries of being and non-being, manifestation and non-manifestation, were to be experienced and fully realised by the Initiate. At certain times of the year, or when the alignments of the stars are right, it is possible to pass to and from the states of body, manifestation or appearance, and non-being, invisibility or disappearance. Thus Horus, always the primal type of the Initiate, achieves his greatest potency when unified with Set-Typhon in the form of Hor-sema-tawy—a mystery celebrated, enacted and experienced by Initiates at the Temple of Hathoor.

The Egyptian year was divided into three seasons of Akhet (Inundation), Peret (Growth) and Shemu (Harvest). Akhet is a word also used to describe the horizon, as in the Egyptian name of the god Hor-em-akhet, “Horus in the horizon”. The same god, known as Hrumachis, Harmachis or Hormaku, links to the double gateway of the underworld, symbolised by the Aker lions, where the sun enters and leaves via the West (ingress at sunset) or East (egress, at dawn). In Liber AL vel Legis II: 34:

But your holy place shall be untouched throughout the centuries: though with fire and sword it be burnt down and shattered, yet an invisible house there standeth, and shall stand until the fall of the Great Equinox; when Hrumachis shall arise and the double-wanded one assume my throne and place.

The name Hrumachis or Hormaku is made clearer in its Egyptian form: Hor-em-akhet, literally, “Horus in the horizon”. However, akhet, or aker, is a gateway or door. As the double gateway of the sun’s ingress and egress to and from the underworld (spring and autumn equinoxes) it is depicted as two lions. The name therefore refers to Horus as the abstract principle of the horizon itself, a particular part of the sky—for example where the sun rises at the equinox–and an equivalent portion of the Egyptian duat or underworld.

The name of Horus as horizon, or the dweller in the horizon, relates to the circle, but also the primordial boundary or limit, the first division or utterance of Logos, by which the universe is defined as having shape and meaning. The Greek horizon kyklos (οριξων κυκλος) means, “limiting or separating circle”, from the verb horizo (οριξω), “to divide, separate", from oros (ορος), “boundary, landmark”. As “x” marks the spot, it at the same time designates the crossing that is the passing beyond.

Hormaku or Hor-em-akhet was often depicted as a sphinx with the head of a woman, as on the Giza plateau, at other times as a lion or a ram—especially when linked to the god Khephra, the rising or emerging sun at dawn. Ra accomplishes this, we should bear in mind, after travelling through the underworld, symbolised in utmost detail in the Pyramid Texts as the body of the cosmic serpent.

We should now return to the roof of the Temple of Hathoor, where the ritual of the union of Hathoor and Horus is enacted at the dawn of the New Year. Here, the soul of Hathoor beholds Ra, ascendant, and conjoined with the great mother-star Sirius. Her eyes are both the mirror, the marker of the horizon and the centre-point of the observer. In like fashion, the Sphinx of the Giza plateau marks the horizon, witnesses the sun born on the equinoxes, which is the mystery of himself. In seeing Ra, Hathoor unites with him, through the medium of his visible sun disk. Anyone witnessing the ritual is similarly united with the whole body, sense and meaning of it. Horus and Set-Typhon are unified in that moment, and embodied in recreated self, the new life—self-created, self-born, triumphant over all.

© Oliver St. John 2016, 2018