Mystery of Sokar

Sokar (or Seker) means ‘pure’. Depending on how the name is spelled, there is also a link with the principle of power itself (sekhem), for Sokar is Lord of Death and Resurrection. He is sometimes depicted as a mummified hawk and at other times as a white mound or shroud surmounted by a black hawk’s head.

Egyptian God SokarAccording to E.A. Wallis Budge, Sokar was “originally a power of darkness, or of the night”.[1] As such, his attributes are identical with those of Set. Sokar is called the ‘great god, who came into being in the beginning, he who resteth upon the darkness’. As such he was ancient even when the Pyramids were built, as are his rites. Among other of his titles are ‘He who raises up in the desert’ and ‘Dweller in the secret place, king of eternity, power of the everlasting’. The region of the underworld particularly associated with Sokar is Imhet (or Amhet), meaning ‘Abode of the Desert’. He is also ‘Lord of the gates of the tomb’ as the opener of the sealed entrances to the labyrinthine Necropolis. As lord of transformations in the underworld he is depicted as winged and standing on the back of a serpent. He is sometimes depicted as crowned with a disc and the twin plumes of Ma’at.

Sokar’s chief cult centre was at Memphis, which was also the principle cult centre of Ptah. Sokar was frequently merged with the attributes of Ptah, the self-created craftsman of the gods. Silver bowls and artefacts made from metal were frequently consecrated in his name. He was associated with agriculture as well as irrigation. His cult followers did rites of purification and embalming in his name.

The fiction writer Algernon Blackwood was able to convey some profound insights into the soul of Egypt, and of the vast expanse of the desert wilderness. In ‘Sand’, his writing was inspired by his experiences of the desert near Cairo.

Through this sand which was the wreck of countless geological ages, rushed life that was terrific and uplifting, too huge to include melancholy, too deep to betray itself in movement. Here was the stillness of eternity. Behind the spread grey masque of apparent death lay stores of accumulated life, ready to break forth at any point. In the Desert he felt himself absolutely royal.

And this contrast of Life, veiling itself in Death, was a contradiction that somehow intoxicated. The Desert exhilaration never left him. He was never alone. A companionship of millions went with him, and he felt the Desert close, as stars are close to one another, or grains of sand.

Hennu Boat of Sokar

Of all the rites of Sokar the procession of the hennu boat is perhaps the most striking and unique to him. The Sokar boat or hennu represents the sun’s journey by night through the underworld. The image of the hawk-headed Sokar was placed in a boat shaped like a sledge with runners. The boat was never intended to sail on water, it was built to be carried, and was said by some to be steered by the dead. If so, then the navigation took place among the stars, for the hennu was an astral vessel.

Depictions of Sokar in the hennu boat sometimes show his hawk’s head only, while his body is covered in a white, luminous shroud. According to Antoine Gigal, the shroud was made of special luminous cells.[2] The luminosity is the covering of ‘all that is created and all that can ever be created’. On the day of the festival of Sokar, the high priest raised up an ark or small wooden shrine at the moment of sunrise and placed it on the hennu boat. The shrine and hennu boat was then pulled along across the sands in a circular procession about the temple of the god, mirroring the revolution of the sun, planets or other celestial bodies.

The higher end of the sledge was fashioned in the shape of the head of an oryx, a species of desert antelope and the original type of the unicorn. The hennu boat was in the charge of the High Priest of Memphis, called Ur-kherp-hem, ‘Great One of the Hammer’, a reference to Ptah as cosmic creator god.

We associate Sokar with Scorpio and the month of October, which according to the alchemists is the only time when iron can be turned into gold.[3] The desert oryx, a gentle creature unless attacked, seems an unlikely association. However, Scorpio’s twin sign in the Zodiac is Taurus, denoting a horned beast, and October embraces the Sun’s entry into Sagittarius, the Centaur.

‘Oryx’ is an anglicisation of the Greek ορυξ, derived from Libyan orus, ‘digger’. The white Arabic oryx is known to dig out a bed in the sand to keep cool. The desert beast can survive for long periods without water, like the camel. It can detect rainfall at a great distance and can travel thousands of miles in pursuit of the water.

Sokar Boat: Oryx maau-hetch hieroglyphsThe hieroglyphic determinative for ‘oryx’ is frequently mistaken for that of a goat. The Egyptian name is ma’au hetch, denoting the bright white colour of the Arabian species of oryx and the straightness (ma’at) of its horn. The ma’au is cognate with ‘truth’, ‘regularly and always’, ‘purity’ and ‘a gift’. According to Budge it is also the name of ‘a star’ and ‘a god’.[4] Taking all into consideration the star may be Regulus, heart of the Lion constellation. Ma’au is the name of Apep in the form of a lion-serpent, the most ancient astroglyph for Leo. The lion-serpent image combines Leo (lion) with Scorpio (snake). The eagle is a further symbol of Scorpio frequently paired with the lion in alchemy. Hetech means ‘white’, ‘shining’, and the name can be spelled with a stylised staff and shen loop for ‘eternity’. The name is etymologically linked with ‘elders’ and ‘nobility’. The Egyptian name of the oryx is usually spelled in hieroglyphics with the sickle ma’a, ‘Lion of Truth’. The same hieroglyph, in combination with the hetch mace, denotes any sharp instrument as well as the action of digging or piercing.

Sokar and the Unicorn

The oryx is mentioned six times in the King James Bible. The Aramaic re’em is mistranslated there as ‘unicorn’. The same word was translated into Greek as monokeros (μονoκερως) in the Septuagint. In Psalm 22: 21, the word karen, meaning ‘horn’, is written in the singular form. According to Jewish folklore, when King David was a shepherd he was carried up into the sky by an oryx after he mistook its horn for a mountain. He is then saved by the intervention of a passing lion, which causes the oryx to bow its head in respect. Another legend has it that Noah strapped the long, sharp horns of the oryx to the Ark so the animals inside could breathe.[5] The transposition of the tale of Noah’s Ark from that of the exceedingly ancient hennu boat is fairly obvious. There were long held associations between the oryx, the lion—with its connotations of nobility—and mountains, as ‘high’, ‘strong’.

The Aramaic re’em (RAM) has the value of 241 and is a metathesis of aramea (ARM), ‘mountain or mountainous place’. It is also equal to ‘speak forth, command or give a word’ (AMR) and is the root of Genesis I: 3, “And the Elohim said, Let there be light: and there was light”. The number 241 is that of Albarah, ‘wings of God’, which is a term used in alchemy for Mercury or Quicksilver. As with other species of antelope, the oryx is able to run at great speed.

The word ‘oryx’ is used as a name for a stonemason’s pickaxe, owing to the strength and sharpness of the creature’s horn, and possibly owing to the fact that the oryx sometimes uses it to excavate the desert sand. In Greek it has the value 630, equal to ‘Holy Spirit’ (RVChA QDIShA) and Seraphim (ShRPIM), ‘fiery serpents’.

The oryx carries the secret of the Lord of the Necropolis in its heart and its name, which is a reliquary for a vast tract of forgotten knowledge. The Golden Dawn named the initiate of Hod, the 8th sephira, Monokeros de Astris, ‘unicorn of the stars’. Hod is the Temple of Water on the Hermetic Tree of Life, and at the same time corresponds to Mercury. The unicorn is thus an apt cipher for the way of returning through the double gates of the underworld to the abode of the Gods.

Lord of the Necropolis

Sokar is and has always been Lord of the Saqqara Necropolis near Memphis and Giza. In predynastic times, a labyrinth was dug out of the desert sands beneath the Saqqara complex. Finely fashioned, highly polished granite arks weighing upwards of 50 tons were placed in cavities there. The arks or vessels are cathodic, for they are polished like glass on the inside. There are no historical records of the builders of these impossible artefacts but they are thought by some to be the ‘old ones’ or ‘elders’ referred to in sacred texts, or their descendants.

The Great Old Ones is a term used in scriptures referring to an elder race that pre-existed that of the human, indistinguishable from gods. Either they, or their descendants, are referred to in the book of Genesis as Nephilim or ‘giants’, ‘men of renown’. Between Memphis and the Saqqara Necropolis was once a sacred acacia tree. One of the Egyptian names for Memphis is Ankh-Tawy, ‘Life of the Two Lands’. Thus the Tree of Eternity spreads its roots and branches between the worlds of the living and the dead.


Notes

1. Budge, Gods of the Egyptians Vol. I, pp. 504–505.
2. The Mystery of the Sokar Hennu Boat, Antoine Gigal, 2013. From Gigal Research—Archaeological and historical researches.
3. The month of Scorpio (October–November) is the ‘death’ of the year in the northern hemisphere of the globe. Thus the Tarot card Death XIII, corresponding to Scorpio, is called Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gate of Death.
4. Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Volume I, pp. 270 A.
5. Robert Graves, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, Chapter 7, ‘The Reem and the Ziz’.

The portrait of Sokar at the head of the article is from Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Sokar XIII. The Tarot card and its full description can be viewed here at Ordo Astri.

© Oliver St. John 2019

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Scorpio Lord of Death and Resurrection

The Thoth Tarot trump for Scorpio is Death XIII, which is placed on the 24th path of Nun on the Hermetic Tree of Life. The esoteric title of the key is Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gates of Death. The dual nature of Scorpio is here depicted: A skeletal figure is wielding a scythe. With the sweep of the scythe, bubbles appear in which new forms are created.

Scorpio: Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot Atu Death XIII

In nature, life and death are two sides of one coin. ‘Death’ is therefore shown here as a dancing figure, destroying form and structure while simultaneously recreating it. The card is a symbol of transformation and regeneration, apt for the months of October and November in the northern hemisphere. In terms of magical alchemy, the figure sums up the chemical changes called putrefaction. It is said that the base metal iron can only be changed into gold during the month when the Sun traverses Scorpio. In astrology the fixed water sign Scorpio is ruled by fiery Mars, the energy that breaks down form into its elements so that new life can be created. Iron is the Hermetic correspondence of Mars, while gold is that of the Sun.

Scorpio has three symbols: the Scorpion, Eagle and Snake. The Hebrew letter nun, ascribed to the path of Scorpio, superseded the much older letter nahash—‘a serpent’—for in later times the serpent became identified with evil. While the Scorpion symbolises the voluntary submission to inevitable change, the undulations of the Snake symbolise the dual dance of life and death. The Eagle is said to be the higher form of Scorpio. It has always represented ascendancy over matter or material form. Putrefaction gives off gas or vapour, and this has its parallel in occultism with spirituous non-material substances that are nonetheless tangible to clairvoyance. Ectoplasm or etheric matter is known to act as a medium between the physical world and more tenuous planes of existence.

The head of the Eagle is used as a symbol for alchemical distillation—it therefore represents the sublimation of gross matter. Scorpio is the 8th house or area of influence in astrology. The 8th house governs matters of sex, death and legacies. It therefore sums up all of our memory and experience; at the same time the very nature of Scorpio urges us towards change and transformation.

Scorpio: Imaginative Intelligence

The 24th path of Nun connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Netzach, the sphere of Venus. The 24th path is called the Intelligence of Resemblance or Imaginative Intelligence. The root of the Hebrew word for ‘resemblance’ or ‘imagination’ (DMINVI) means ‘blood’. It is the self-replicating formula of all created beings personified by the ancient Egyptian dwarf god Besz. The Imaginative Intelligence works from the centre of the self in Tiphereth towards the desire plane of Netzach. Thereby, new modes of expression, vehicles for the self, are brought forth. When ascending the Tree, such vehicles are transcended and broken down—thus the full title of the Tarot trump, Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gates of Death. The activity of the 24th path comes through the power of projecting mental images. When one attempts to fulfil desire on its own plane, great emphasis is placed on the action or ‘doing’ aspect of the human will. Unwitting obsession is all too frequently the result. The magical power of the 24th path is that of Necromancy.[1]


Notes

1. Abridged from the entry for the 24th path of Scorpio, The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth [Ordo Astri].

© Oliver St. John 2013, revised 2019

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Equinox of Maat: Balance of the Year

When the Sun enters Libra at the Equinox of Maat, the days and nights are equal in length. Soon the days will be shortening and the nights lengthening as we, in the northern hemisphere, journey towards the winter solstice. In the southern hemisphere the situation is reversed; the days will be lengthening and the nights shortening, as the journey begins towards the height of summer.

Maat Equinox: Thoth Tarot Adjustment VIII

The Thoth Tarot trump for Libra is Adjustment VIII, depicting the Egyptian goddess Maat. A young woman is masked and bearing on her forehead the uraeus serpent. She is crowned with the ostrich plumes of Maat, and is perfectly poised upon her toes. In her hands is a magical sword, with the point downwards. She is The Daughter of the Lords of Truth, the Ruler of the Balance. She represents the absorption and transmutation of all experience in the flowing forth of continuous manifestation. She is the mistress of creation and destruction, and the balance of light and darkness. She is cosmic law, and the law of nature: truth, twofold, and the immutable law of the universe. Her powers are the works of Justice and Equilibrium.

The Oracle of Maat

Behold! I am the Eye of my father, Ra. I am the one in whom the word is accomplished. I am the Bride of Tahuti and the Measure of the Universe. I am truth, and the feather is my symbol. To pass my door, you must justify every part of your soul, and you must visit the beautiful fields of the grasshoppers. You shall bathe in the pool where the Sailors of Ra in his sun-boat bathe. Purify yourself in my name, and come before me as Horus Triumphant. For I stand upon one side of Ra in the ark of the heavens and Tahuti stands upon the other. And unless you have found the flint that is hidden in my furrow, then you shall not pass my gates. But if you know all these things, and if you have found me that dwells in the heart of Ra, and if you are pure—then Tahuti shall call your name! And you shall be known in the palace of the starry ones, and shall live forever and forever.[1]

Maat is the goddess that presides over the weighing of the heart ceremony, and is the ‘Straight One’, the principle of Perfect Truth and the Balance of the Universe. She is clothed in emerald green and wears the crown of double plumes. The feather is her symbol, and the Ankh of Life. Maat is the Eye of Ra, the Sun, and is the bride and consort of Thoth or Tahuti, the Egyptian Hermes-Mercury, the god of magick and of magick words and writing—the Word or Logos.

The Neteru or Gods are the personification of impersonal principles. Maat, especially, is a cosmic principle. The ancient Egyptians loved puns, the play on words. Maat says, “If you have found me that dwells in the heart of Ra…” One of the epithets of Maat is ‘The Me’, the Measure of all things. One must find the measure, the ‘me’ that is Maat, in the heart, the centre of all.

Maat is the Eye of Ra, and the secret hidden in the heart of Ra—she is his daughter, and so the apple of his eye. As with students, a good pupil is as that which is in the centre of the eye. It is emptiness, yet beholding all—therefore receptive. Also it is one who hears—for the human ear was shaped by sound. The heart itself is the void place of spirit. The Egyptian hieroglyph for the heart (Ab) is a pot or vessel. The handles are the ‘ears’. The ‘eye’ is the emptiness inside—the necessary condition for true meditation. Nuit wears a pot on her head, which is the hieroglyph of her name, ‘Nu’; she is the Holy Graal.

The ‘emptiness’ or spaciousness of absolute Nuit is not equal to ‘nothing at all’.  As it is put, cryptically, in the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL, II: 2:

There is division hither homeward; there is a word not known. Spelling is defunct; all is not aught. Beware! Hold! Raise the spell of Ra-Hoor-Khuit!

Far from being ‘nothingness’, Nuit’s spaciousness is everything! The one true power in the universe is the power of attention. The all-seeing eye of Ra is the eye of the beholder. In Liber AL, I: 28:

None, breathed the light, faint and faery, of the stars, and two.

Everything concerned with Maat is double. The ancient Egyptians usually had two of everything, including pairs of male and female gods or neters. Maat presides over the Neophyte Hall of Dual Manifestation. Everything in nature is double; there is ‘no-one’ in truth. The power of Egyptian magical spells is in the words; to know they are true, and to speak them truly, is the perfection of Maat.

There is a popular New Age notion that any affliction suffered in this life must owe to some ‘karmic debt’ incurred in a previous life. Let us dispel this myth, for the rule of Maat is not in any way a moral or ethical law. The law of nature is exact; we must not confuse this with any notions of human justice based on morality—if we do then we confuse this idea of karma and make little tin gods of ourselves. Furthermore, ‘reincarnation’ is a self-limiting modern myth, based on rationalist determinism.[2]


Notes

1. The Oracle of Maat is taken from ‘Ceremonies of Nuit and Ra’, Ritual Magick—The Rites and Ceremonies of Hermetic Light [Ordo Astri].

2. See ‘Lapis Philosophorum’, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

The Egyptian Tarot of Thelema trump for Libra is Maat VIII. The card and its description may be viewed here at Ordo Astri.

© Oliver St John 2013, revised 2019

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