Tuesday, May 13, 2014

More Egyptiana: Some Masonic, Some Not

The romantic and metaphysical images of Egypt have for a long time been invoked by Freemasonry and by Western Culture in general. Every century since at least the 1600s has seen at least one wave of interest in Egypt with often significant impact upon architecture, visual arts, literature, and music.  Quite often, this has also had an impact on the spiritual arts, and even on social discourse.

One example of the latter is a fascinating book written by Scott Trafton, entitled Egypt Land: Egypt Land: Race and Nineteenth-Century American Egyptomania. It is noted that "drawing on literary and cultural studies, art and architectural history, political history, religious history, and the histories of archaeology and ethnology, Trafton illuminates anxieties related to race in different manifestations of nineteenth-century American Egyptomania, including the development of American Egyptology, the rise of racialized science, the narrative and literary tradition of the imperialist adventure tale, the cultural politics of the architectural Egyptian Revival, and the dynamics of African American Ethiopianism. He demonstrates how debates over what the United States was and what it could become returned again and again to ancient Egypt. From visions of Cleopatra to the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, from the works of Pauline Hopkins to the construction of the Washington Monument, from the measuring of slaves’ skulls to the singing of slave spirituals—claims about and representations of ancient Egypt served as linchpins for discussions about nineteenth-century American racial and national identity." 

A quite different perspective is offered by Keith Moore, in Freemasonry, Greek Philosophy, The Prince Hall Fraternity and the Egyptian (African) World Connection. While some views expressed in this title may be controversial, it also attempts to address the issues of the universe of African-American Masonic organizations from the early 18th century to the 20th century ranging from the origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry to Black Nationalism and esoteric religious sects like the Moorish Science Temple of America, the UNIA and several other offshoots.  This subject deserves a lot more attention, and from a variety of academic perspectives. Of course, it is reasonable to ask how Freeasmonry, The Memphis Misraim Rite, and Prince Hall Freemasonry reflected this discourse. Now, there's a research topic for someone.

In other areas, the interest in Egyptian metaphysics remains alive and well, as demonstrated by modern energetic healing systems based upon ancient Egyptian religion, such as Sekhem Heka.  Sekhem Heka, a Reiki/Skhm energy system created by Storm Constantine,  was inspired by an Order founded in Ireland by Lady Olivia Robertson and her brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson. The FOI was founded at Huntingdon Castle (Clonegal) in 1976.  I first became aware of them while living in Ireland and visited them at Clonegal Castle numerous times between 1982 and 1985. The FOI is estimated to have over 24,000 members worldwide.

The French author, Freemason, and very amiable scholar, Gérard Galtier, has written a number of works on related topics. I think probably his best on this topic is La Maçonnerie Égyptienne: Rose Crois et Néo-Chevalerie. In this book, Galtier covers the history of Memphis-Mizraim, the FUDOSI, Rosicrucian and Martinist movements, making this is a key book on the topic. Historically seriously which is rare in this area. Along with Roger Dachez and Serge Caillet, Gérard Galtier is one of the key authors of the three Rites of Memphis and Mizraim.  This last item points to the fact that while North American Freemasons largely surround themselves with dusty tomes dating back to before the age of automobiles and airplanes, those in the French and Spanish speaking world are blessed with an embarrassment of riches.

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