The Bembine Table of Isis

“I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil.”

(the words inscribed on the statue of Isis of Sais)

Museo Egizio, Bembina Tablet of Isis

The Bembine Table of Isis, also known as Mensa Isiaca, is a bronze tablet decorated with a variety of metals including silver, gold and black “Corinthian bronze,” a prestigious and extremely valuable metal alloy. The tablet is on display in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Scientists have established that probably it was not made in Egypt but in the first century BC in Rome for a temple to the goddess Isis. The hieroglyphs it contains are random and not authentically Egyptian. And yet, despite the scientific condescension, this outstanding artifact has fascinated generations of occult thinkers and researchers. Manly P. Hall wrote that “whoever fashioned the Table was not necessarily an Egyptian; he was an initiate of the highest order, conversant with the most arcane tenets of Hermetic esotericism.” It is quite remarkable that Museo Egizio in Turin, one of the largest and most important Egyptian museums in the world, acknowledges the significance of the Table of Isis as its first most notable artifact and the kernel of the entire collection. Mensa Isiaca is actually the opening exhibit of the Museum, accompanied by a statue of Isis.

Museo Egizio in Turin, Statue of Isis

The following is drawn on Chapter 10 – “The Bembine Table of Isis” – of Manly P. Hall’s Secret Teachings of All Ages. There P. Hall quotes Athaniasius Kircher, a 17th-century German scholar, who held that the Bembine Table of Isis “teaches, in the first place, the whole constitution of the threefold world – archetypal, intellectual, and sensible”.

Thomas Taylor, the 18th-century English Neoplaonist, wrote:

“Plato was initiated into the ‘Greater Mysteries’ at the age of 49. The initiation took place in one of the subterranean halls of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The ISIAC TABLE formed the altar, before which the Divine Plato stood and received that which was always his, but which the ceremony of the Mysteries enkindled and brought from its dormant state. With this ascent, after three days in the Great Hall, he was received by the Hierophant of the Pyramid (the Hierophant was seen only by those who had passed the three days, the three degrees, the three dimensions) and given verbally the Highest Esoteric Teachings, each accompanied with Its appropriate Symbol. After a further three months’ sojourn in the halls of the Pyramid, the Initiate Plato was sent out into the world to do the work of the Great Order, as Pythagoras and Orpheus had been before him.”

According to Manly P. Hall himself, the Tablet of Isis holds “the key to Chaldean, Egyptian, and Greek theology”. Elyphas Levi thus interpreted the meaning of the artifact:

“It is divided into three equal compartments; above are the twelve houses of heaven and below are the corresponding distributions of labor [work periods] throughout the year, while in the middle place are twenty-one sacred signs answering to the letters of the alphabet. In the midst of all is a seated figure of the pantomorphic IYNX [Isis – the goddess who assumes all forms; a transmitting intelligence], emblem of universal being and corresponding as such to the Hebrew Yod, or to that unique letter from which all the other letters were formed.”

Manly P. Hall continues summarizing the symbolism of the Tablet:

“The upper panel contains the twelve figures of the zodiac arranged in four triads. The center figure in each group represents one of the four fixed signs of the zodiac. … In the secret teachings of the Far East these four figures–the man, the bull, the lion, and the eagle–are called the winged globes or the four Maharajahs who stand upon the corners of creation. The four cardinal signs–P, Capricorn; X, Aries; B, Cancer; F, Libra–are called the Powers. The four common signs–V, Pisces; A, Gemini; E, Virgo; H, Sagittarius–are called the Minds of the Four Lords….

If the throne be accepted as the symbol of the spiritual sphere, the border typifies the elements, and the various panels surrounding the central one become emblematic of the worlds or planes emanating from the one divine source.

If cosmogony be the subject of consideration, the central panel represents the spiritual worlds, the upper panel the intellectual worlds, and the lower panel the material worlds.

That the lower panel represents the underworld is further emphasized by the two gates–the great gate of the East and the great gate of the West–for in the Chaldean theology the sun rises and sets through gates in the underworld, where it wanders during the hours of darkness.”

Finally, Manly P. Hall compares the Tablet to the Orphic egg of creation, which represents the Cosmos encircled by the Serpent – the Creative Spirit. The way the snake spirals is analogous to the path of the Moon – with the snake’s head and tail representing the apparent halt in moon’s orbit (the lunar nodes). For alchemists, Isis, the healing goddess, who not only healed Ra of poisoning but also put together the dismembered Osiris, was one of the metaphors of prima materia. She is the reason why the manifest universe unfolds spirally from the Source. As Jung wrote in Mysterium Coniunctionis:

“Materia prima in its feminine aspect: it is the moon, the mother of all things, the vessel, it consists of opposites, has a thousand names, …, as Mater Alchimia it is wisdom and teaches wisdom, it contains the elixir of life in potentia and is the mother of the Saviour and of the filius Macrocosmi, it is the earth and the serpent hidden in the earth, the blackness and the dew and the miraculous water which brings together all that is divided.“

“… she personifies that arcane substance, be it dew or the aqua permanens, which unites the hostile elements into one. … The cognomen of Isis was the Black One. … since ancient times she was reputed to possess the elixir of life as well as being adept in sundry magical arts. She was also … rated as a pupil of Hermes, or even his daughter. … She signifies earth, according to Firmicus Maternus, and was equated with Sophia, … the vessel and the matter of good and evil. An inscription invokes her as ‘the One, who art All.‘ She is named the redemptrix. In Athenagoras she is ‘the nature of the Aeon, whence all things grew and by which all things are.‘”

 I had the opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum of Turin a few months ago and it was a transformative experience. To stand face to face with the greatest mysteries of the goddess, as represented in the Bembina Tablet of Isis, was a rare blessing.

Sources:

C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis

Manly P. Hall, The Sacred Teachings of All Ages, http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/sta/sta13.htm

The Seeds of the Sixties

“His disciples said to him, ‘When will the kingdom come?’

‘It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.’”

From The Gospel of Thomas

Women’s Strike for Peace and Equality, New York City, 1970

While visiting a Swiss exhibition dedicated to women’s right to vote, which here in Switzerland was granted to women on the federal level in 1971, I was fascinated to have a closer look at the tumultuous Swiss Sixties, which had paved the way to such a historic change. Without the eruption of the unconscious material, without all the chaos, madness and destruction of the 60s, we would be in a very different place now – with less personal freedom and much lower level of collective and individual awareness. In his book The Spiritual Meaning of the Sixties, Tobias Churton compares the decade to the magnificent magic show that Prospero conjures up at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It is perhaps easy to dismiss the collective longing for freedom from social constraints and suffocating social roles, which characterized the 60s, as “such stuff as dreams are made on” but it is also important to note that all seismic changes start as dreams and ideas germinating in the unconscious and slowly pushing up to the light of day. The more inevitable the change is, the stronger opposition and reaction it encounters, but in the final outcome the force of human evolution is unstoppable.

Dane Rudhyar, “Seed Flight”, via https://www.khaldea.com/rudhyar/flight.shtml

Perhaps the real magic of the 60s consisted in the mythical dimension that was sparked into existence in that decade. Though I believe the mythical dimension is “spread upon the earth” for all to see, there are unique moments in time when the fabric of the universe is torn, a sort of spiritual quickening takes place and our lives become saturated with myth. This is why we tend to glamorize that decade, which is clearly visible in shows sumakes for some wonderful television such as the inimitable Mad Men.

In a scholarly study of the show (see Sources), a critic writes this about the main character:

“Don’s brilliance as an ad man and his interest as a character lie in his ability to turn matter into metaphor, objects of consumption into dreams (or here, memories), the vulgar exteriority of the commodity world into the interior realm of the psyche. Don, in short, turns surface into depth, and this alchemical quality recurs as both visual cue and narrative trope for his character throughout the show.”

There was the depth pf the psyche we collectively encountered in the Sixties. What exactly was the archetypal substratum of the decade? According to Richard Tarnas, the most important astrological alignment of the time was the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto. Oppositions and conjunctions of these planets happen only once per century. Tarnas summarizes the archetypal meaning behind these two planetary bodies in the following way:

“The planet Uranus appears to be correlated with events and biographical phenomena suggestive of an archetypal principle whose essential character is Promethean: emancipatory, rebellious, progressive and innovative, awakening, disruptive and destabilizing, unpredictable, serving to catalyze new beginnings and sudden unexpected change. The planet Pluto, by contrast, is associated with an archetypal principle whose character is Dionysian: elemental, instinctual, powerfully compelling, extreme in its intensity, arising from the depths, both libidinal and destructive, overwhelming and transformative, ever-evolving.”

Chariot of Dionysus, Greco-Roman mosaic from Sousse

When Uranus and Pluto are in axial alignment we witness “massive empowerment of revolutionary and rebellious impulses, and intensified artistic and intellectual creativity.” The two planets were in opposition in the decade of the French revolution, which shared with the sixties the strong anti-Establishment sentiments. The first Uranus Pluto conjunction of the modern era occurred between 1450-61, when Gutenberg’s printing press made history.

Throughout history, mass emotion was at its peak each time the two planets aligned. Tarnas thus summarizes the meaning of the decade while simultaneously explaining the backlash against it:

“The unmistakable cultural ambiance which pervaded the decade of the Sixties, a zeitgeist whose prevailing quality combined a mass awakening of emancipatory and creative impulses with a titanic eruption of elemental and libidinal forces, was talked about, celebrated, criticized, feared. Attempts were made to suppress it, attempts were made to sustain it indefinitely. It dominated people’s experience at the time, just as it now dominates retrospective views of that era. In a sense, the 1960s seemed to unleash the force of a great collective Oedipal impulse, catalyzing a vast wave of erotically motivated rebellion against the repressive structures of established authority.”

In September 2018 The New York Review of Books published a marvellous article related to the numinous qualities of the 1960s and the relevance of the decade to the present. Its author Jackson Lears claims that the 60s were about the “longing for a more direct, authentic experience of the world” rather then being confined to to “a hamster cage of earning and spending” on both individual and collective level with wars understood as “a product of the same corporate technostructure.” He also suggests that the members of the 60s counterculture were ridiculed and demonized by the establishment with active participation of FBI and CIA agents and the mainstream media. Trapped in the rational scientific paradigm of the era, more and more people felt starved for spiritual meaning. Richard Alpert, better known as Ram Dass, left his Harvard professorship to look for deeper meaning in the East. And so did thousands more. Ram Dass’s message of the necessity of introspection and being here now is now more relevant than ever.

Ram Dass, Be Here Now

It was Theodore Roszak who in the 1960s coined the term “counterculture.” Lears summarizes his message in the following way:

“At its most profound, Roszak argued, the counterculture arose from a Romantic and existentialist tradition preoccupied with sustaining authentic existence in an inauthentic society—a tradition stretching from Blake and Wordsworth to Martin Buber and Paul Goodman.”

The 60s brought about undeniable changes related to ecology, sexuality, race, feminism and personal freedom. However, it seems that the evolution promised by the magical decade has been stunted in many areas. Lears finishes in a lamenting tone:

“But the core of resistance never disappeared entirely, and the countercultural search for alternatives to technocratic rationality remains more necessary than ever. The corporate technostructure survives, increasingly deregulated, no longer even pretending to provide the job security that was available to more fortunate workers at mid-century. Police brutality toward black people has been militarized, facilitated by the use of sophisticated weapons and riot gear, while the legal rights of defendants have receded with the rise of mass incarceration. Serious debate on foreign and military policy has largely retreated to the margins of public life, experts continue to justify endless wars abroad, and our nuclear arsenal awaits a trillion-dollar modernization. Revisiting the Sixties leads to a sobering conclusion: everything has changed, and nothing has changed.”

Tobias Churton is more hopeful for the eventual dawning of the age of Aquarius:

“The Sixties was the Herald, the kerux, the main show has not yet begun but book me a seat when it does! I’m in for the ride, how about you?”

Sources:

Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s (e-Duke books scholarly collection.), Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky, and Robert A. Rushing, Kindle edition

Tobias Churton, The Spiritual Meaning of the Sixties: The Magic, Myth and Music of the Decade that Changed the World, Inner Traditions: Rochester, Vermont 2018

Jackson Lears, “Aquarius Rising,” The New York Review of Books, September 27 2018 issue

Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, Kindle edition

Roma: Movie of the Year

Romaposter2

The movie Roma is a beautiful hymn to women. It tells the story of Cleo, an indigenous (Mixtec) woman who works as a maid to an upper-middle-class Mexican family. She is wonderfully portrayed by Yalitza Aparicio, who had never acted before. She tends to the family and their mansion with humble dignity and loving care reminiscent of the hearth goddess Hestia. Her demeanor in the movie has been repeatedly called “stoic” by various reviewers. But she is so much more than stoic, the epithet which to me implies “in control of emotions”. What is more, the emotional depth is perhaps the most palpable, powerful feature of this compelling character.  Granted, hers is introverted emotion, devoid of grand gestures, yet flowing like a strong river below the few words that she utters throughout the whole movie. Similarly, Hestia was as an unshaken guardian of the hearth, the Goddess of Being, who quietly maintained order and stability.  Cleo embodies the qualities of love and humility; the latter word coming from Latin humus, i.e. earth. She is the rock for the troubled family, which has been abandoned by the selfish father. And she does not stop serving despite her own tragedy.

es on foamy water being mopped across the floor. It is a sublime symphony to the mundane, repetitive household chores, which are deemed by some as demeaning but when viewed from a spiritual perspective they are the expression of pure love and humble work which sustains life. This work is unnoticed, unappreciated and endlessly repetitive, subject to ruthless entropy.  It is often the task of the underprivileged, namely women or ethnic minorities. And yet, both Benedictine and Zen monks emphasize the necessity of working with hands as essential spiritual practice and as a way to relate and connect to the world around.

The director Alfonso Cuarón dedicated the movie to Libo, who is Liboria Rodríguez, his family’s longtime maid. By giving her the name Cleo (Greek  for pride, fame and glory) in the movie he symbolically elevates her. Fermin, her heartless macho boyfriend, tries to demean her by calling her “a servant.”  In his world her quiet power goes unappreciated. But as James Hillman observes in Kinds of Power,

“The idea of service demands surrender, a continuous attention to the Other. It feels like humiliation and servitude only when we identify with a ruling willful ego as mirror of a single dominating god.”

But god/goddess is not away from the world, as “the idea of an anima mundi (ensouled world) translates into care for things,” continues Hillman. Furthermore, in Japanese, the characters for “human being” mean “a person in between,” always related to others, interdependent with the environment. Water, which binds all, is the most powerful symbol in the movie, as pointed out by this reviewer:

“Fittingly, water is a recurrent motif – from the soapy suds of the opening credits (signalling the “woman’s work” that is never done?) to the breaking waters that prefigure a harrowing scene of unblinking sorrow, to the poignant Veracruz beach finale in which strong thematic undercurrents are given literal physical form. We see also planes reflected in that water, passing overheard, distant and unreachable, like a dream of escape.”

In his Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot describes water as limitless and immortal; saying that “the waters are the beginning and the end of all things on earth.” Water powerfully mediates between life and death; the Babylonians called it “the home of wisdom.” For me, the movie provided a cathartic (from Greek kathairein  – to cleanse) emotional release; it is both heartbreaking and uplifting, a real stroke of genius.