Page images
PDF
EPUB

delighted his wondering eyes. The initiate, rendered perfect, was henceforth free, and no more subject to fear. Baptized into a new life, and instructed in a divine science, he walked, crowned and triumphant, through the regions of felicity, communing with those pure and elevated spirits to whose companionship he had just been exalted.*

Such was the initiatory rite instituted by Isis. It is highly probable that, in harmony with the theory we have laid down, those parents of Egyptian civilization, Osiris and Isis, employed this secret principle as the first step toward the social regeneration of that people. Associating thus with them the wisest and most elevated spirits of the age, and introduo ing from time to time those that were supposed worthy, they gained an influence over the whole Egyptian mind; gave to it a distinct character, individuality, and complexion; and thus the Secret Institution came to be a fountain of civilization, a school of virtue, politics, philosophy, and religion.

After the lapse of years, however, the rites of Isis underwent some changes or modifications. Perhaps it would be better to say, they received some additions. The rites which were so censured by Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, were not the same as we have described above, although in these modified ceremonies we see nothing particularly worthy of condemnation.

* Vide Plutarch et Dupuis Origine des tous les Cultes.

In process of time, the human features of Isis and Osiris were effaced, and a grateful enthusiasm exaggerated them beyond all mortal proportions, and exalted them to the rank of deities. As this work does not profess to treat of ancient mythology in its entireness, but only as it bears on the question of Secret Societies, we will present here only what may be necessary to our present purpose.

Osiris, Isis, and Typhon (the Spirit of Evil), formed the Mythological Triad of the Egyptians. Isis and Osiris, emblems of life, conversation, order, fruitfulness, and truth, were supposed to be in a constant struggle with Typhon, the symbol of disorder and destruction. A fierce war raged between these spiritual forces, of which all the combats and antagonisms in the outward, visible world, were only the distant echoes or feeble reflections.

Typhon (Evil) made war on Osiris, the beautiful Life-Spirit—the source of beneficence and loveand for a period appeared to triumph. With his wiles and arts, conceived with matchless cunning, he overcame Osiris, enclosed him in a chest, and cast him into the sea, thus plunging all heaven in grief and sadness. Isis, when she learned the melancholy news, refused all consolation, despoiled herself of her ornaments, cut off her tresses, robed herself in the habiliments of mourning, and wandered forth through the world. Disconsolate and sorrowful, she traveled into all countries, seeking the mysterious chest which contained the body of the lost Osiris. In the meanwhile, the chest—the object of so much solicitude—is driven ashore at Byblos, and thrown into the centre of a bush, which, having grown up into a beautiful tree, had entirely enclosed it. At length, however, the tree was cut down by a king of that country, and used by him in the construction of a new palace. But Isis finally learned the singular fate of the chest, and her persevering love was rewarded with the possession of it. The period of her triumph, however, had not yet come. Truth was yet longer to struggle with Adversity, and be the sport of Error. Typhon (Evil) was destined once more to be victorious. He discovered the body of Osiris, tore it into fourteen pieces, and concealed the dissevered members in the several quarters of the earth. Once more, then, did Isis set forth on her pilgrimage of sorrow to find the mutilated remains of the beloved Osiris. Her efforts were crowned with success. She discovered and obtained possession of all the members but one, of which she formed an image, and instituted religious festivities in its honor. The great day of triumph had now come. Typhon (Evil) was destroyed by Horus ; the tomb of Osiris opened, and he (Truth, Goodness) came forth victorious, in the possession of immortal life; and harmony, peace, and order, prevailed throughout the earth.

This myth formed the groundwork of the additional rites pertaining to the Isianic Mysteries, and which gradually overshadowed and absorbed the more primitive and less complex ceremonies. In these ceremonies, the neophyte was supposed to be wandering in search of the mysterious chest or ark which contained the body of Osiris (Truth). As the ceremony proceeded, the mutilated remains were found and entombed with honor, and a loud chorus of sorrow resounded around the sarcophagus which contained them, which was at the same time the emblem of so many combats for goodness, and the depositary of so many virtues.

The ceremony ended with the return of Osiris to life. All of this was undoubtedly intended to shadow forth the mighty and unceasing struggle of Truth with Error, Light with Darkness, Life with Death, and the final and certain triumph of the former, and destruction of the latter.

The influence of these mysteries on Egyptian thought and life was immense. There, in those secret retreats, were laid the foundations of that strange and to us incomprehensible civilization, whose remembrance is perpetuated by the Pyramids, and whose history is dimly and obscurely preserved by hieroglyphical signs. It was chiefly their influence that gave unity to the Egyptian character, consistency to their religious establishments, stability to their political institutions, and vigor and directness in the pursuits of philosophy, science,

and art. It was through them that Egypt first began to live, and through them that ancient people attained to that high intellectual, social, and moral development, which for so many ages raised em so far above the rest of the nations of the earth.

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »