Some Masonic/Egyptian LDS Notes of Interest
By Kerry A. Shirts MM
Eagle Rock Lodge #19
Idaho Falls, Idaho
We can no more show a direct line of descent from the ancient Egyptian rites than we can those of Eluseus, Mithraism, Judaism, or Early Christianity. In reading the ancient literatures in all their vastness, however, some parallels are just too good not to at least take notice. Not that the meanings scholarship ascribes to many of the ancient mysteries are the meanings which today’s Masonry adapts, interprets, or even accepts, but the parallels are quite striking, in a general sense. Knowing the parallels gives me impetus to command the Masonic literature, the meanings of the rituals and ceremonies, to strive for greater comprehension, understanding, and appreciation for what we do have right now today. That is the spirit in which I share these notes. It is to the LDS scholarship of Hugh W. Nibley whom I read steadily, and have done so through several decades, (19 volumes averaging almost 500 pages each in the Collected Works of Hugh W. Nibley so far) which I use to note the parallels. Masonry was not on Nibley’s mind, the LDS temple and parallels to the Egyptian rites were the context he labored so diligently and wonderfully on. It is a wonderful side benefit that Masonic parallels are also possible to view here. In all three traditions, the temple is core to the rites. Therefore, I make no apology for noting themes of interest to the LDS and Masons, because whatever understanding we may attain to the temple, its philosophy, history, and meaning, is designed to get us into the eternites. I shall leave a few short notes, summations, and themes which I have found, not even pretending to exhaust this amazing information. I will write more on these themes as time permits me.
The Egyptian Book of Breathings is at the end of a long Egyptian evolution of literature stretching back
into the area of 4,000 B.C. Beginning with the Pyramid Texts, developing into the Coffin Texts, Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the Books of Wandering Through Eternity, we arrive at the Books of Breathings. It is this last type of literature that the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings belongs to. The historical time line is shown by Nibley in his book “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 2nd edition, Deseret Book/FARMS, 2005.
The Book of Breathings was a type of ticket, a guide book for the dead into the next world. According to the Egyptologist Kurt Sethe, it is “a directive for people participating in a ritual play.” The scribes of the Books of Breathings summariozed the long, vast abundant literature from antiquity into a message book which provided clues to those involved in the rituals. Condensing thousands of pages into the briefest hints for the participants to get clues as to what to say and do during the ritual ceremonies. “The scribe wanted to compose a sort of manual for the ceremonies of the House of Life [the Egyptian temple] dealing with the rites for the conservation of life.” It was at this point that the Masonic Monitor popped into my head. The philosophical theme is quite close to this. These “prompting sheets” were considered “sacred and secret,” meant only for the eyes of the instructors and initiates. The Masonic Monitors are coded, exactly as some Books of Breathings were, in order to keep the knowledge from those not involved in the ceremonies.
The Egyptian word “snsn” has multiple meanings, the overall impression based on understanding of the ceremonies which have survived from antiquity is that of uniting oneself with distinguished company, in a continual living of the person even after their earthly death, “since all the rites and ordinances, both for the living and dead, have as their express purpose the achieving of eternal life… namely, the ‘total security’ of eternal life and exaltation.” The Book of Breathings is the instructional materials a “textbook of vital instructions” which were “characteristic of the ancient mysteries everywhere, known from the Orphic mysteries as “passes for the dead” written on gold tablets, to the seals – ‘symbola’ or ‘tesserae’ – admitting the living and dead to ritual banquets and other ceremonies.” “It’s purpose was to keep the owner properly informed.” There is simply no better description of a Masonic Monitor than this. Proper information is precisely what gives a “dark” candidate more “light.”
In the Egyptian theme, there were guardians at various gates which one had to pass in order to continue progressing into the light. Knowledge of certain passwords and other types of information was absolutely necessary, or the guardians would not let you pass. Every single Mason, from an Entered Apprentice to the Master will understand this. Again, “He who knows passes by all obstacles and cannot fail.”
To sum up the points and purposes of the writings, they are a “vade mecum,” or guidebook to the hereafter. They are “a passport to eternity.” The same theme is found in the “Totenpaesse” (passports for the dead) of the Orphic Mysteries. They are a “letter of recommendation.” The purpose is to help the initiate get to somewhere else, namely, from this world, into the eternal realms.
For the Egyptians, the rites of Osiris were paramount, being, how to achieve life beyond this earthly present. The rite of Osiris “provides the ‘rationale’ of a ritual drama designed to initiate the dead into a new and eternal life… the rites of Osiris were supposed to have been revealed to men by Osiris, the first mortal to be resurrected, death made of him a being who knew ‘the great secret’ of how mortals become immortal.” The theme is to make alive, young, energetic, and given a new permanent eternal life. This occurred through the rites and ceremonies of the dramatic plays in the Egyptian temples. And the foremost, best, most comprehensive symbol used was none other than the sun. As the sun transitted through the heavens from one horizon to the other, in an eternal round of everlasting, so mankind sought to emulate that divine eternal pattern in their temples. As the sun literally changes its nature (from our perspective, even though it is an appearance of change) on the horizon in speed, size, and color, so does change occur to one going through the ceremonies imitating the sun as the symbol for eternal life. It is “the symbol of the boundary between this world and the other world.”
“In our text [the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings] the word for ‘enter’ the horizon is ‘hnm,’ meaning properly to join or fuse with. Since light is the universal attribute of divinity [EVERY Mason will get this also]; it is not surprising that the sun is the ‘Urbild des Gottes,’ [the original representation of God] which goes back to prehistoric beginnings at Heliopolis, the sun-city.”
“The whole business of the Egyptian temple centers around the mighty drama of the sun in his course (das gewaltige Schauspiel des Sonnenlaufes) not only because the sun is the most obvious symbol of divinity, but because the temple was, from megalithic times, designed to serve as an observatory of heavenly bodies and their motions, especially the sun… the heavenly journey of the individual is an analogy to the voyage of the sun on the divine path.”
The sun theme of Freemasonry is quite striking, especially as it relates to the lodge, as every single Mason will understand.
1. Hugh Nibley, “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment,” 2nd revised, enlarged edition, Deseret Book/FARMS, 2005: 96.
2. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 96f.
3. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 96.
4. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 98.
5. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 99.
6. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 100.
7. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 101-102.
8. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 104.
9. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 106-109.
10. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 107.
11. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 111.