8 - Out of the Land of Egypt
In Mr. Pennethorne Hughes's book we have the following interesting passage on page 23:
'Studies of the magic and ritual of Africa have in the last few years established with some certainty that all the systems for the disturbance of consciousness practised by the African Negro are derived from ancient Egypt. Thousands of Africans were transported to the New World and many of those who went to Haiti from 1512 onwards were of the finest African stock and perhaps carried with them a synthesis of the cults then existing in the Congo.
It is easy to show how close the parallels are between the voodoo they practised and mediaeval witchcraft. The mysteries of Delphi and Eleusis, or the Roman cults, probably had the same origin. The ritual of the Druids is said to copy that of Osiris; Odin himself is believed to be merely a frosty version of Osiris.
Witchcraft almost everywhere had two main derivatives to which its other formative influences became attached; the fertility cults persisting from the indigenous inhabitants of any area, and the latter "magical" practices derived through direct or distorting channels from the centralising Egyptian source. Witchcraft as it emerges into European history and literature represents the old palaeolithic fertility cult plus the magical idea and various parodies of contemporary religions.'
All this is intensely interesting to the witches themselves. They have vague stories that the cult comes from the East, the Summer Land, combined with a story that it had existed since the goddess went to the Land of Death. Of course they know that they have been vaguely in touch with various sorcerers and wise men, and it is said that in the old days when witches were persecuted, the sorcerers were not, and that they secretly used witches as mediums to attain success in their arts.
With the help of these clairvoyants they became successful as prophets, and probably the witches took several of their ideas and certainly some of their tools. I have seen seven witches' swords; of these, four had apparently been made for sorcerers, according to the pattern prescribed in the Key of Solomon, with Hebrew inscriptions on hilt and blade. There are two in the museum in Castletown. Other implements bear Hebrew inscriptions and so seem to be connected with Hebrew or Kabbalistic magic. But stores do not cater for witches, and a poor witch has to get her tools as and how she can.
There is also a great resemblance to what are now unimportant parts of Freemasonry; but while the Masonic working seems to be of little use, or in other words it does not work, the witch practice is most useful. Everyone who has witnessed both is convinced that the one is copied from the other and believes that the witch practice must be the original working before it was 'bowdlerised'.
The statement that all the systems for the disturbance of consciousness used by African Negroes are derived from ancient Egypt is extremely interesting, as is the natural suggestion that they took these powers with them to America. In ancient times there was widespread trading up the Nile, across and down to the Congo. I had always thought of the Africans going in for human sacrifices and orgies of rum, methods I believe entirely alien to the Egyptian spirit I was told in New Orleans that it was not only Negroes who attended the Voodoo festivals but that many whites went as well.
It was well known there that Voodoo festivals were often held by the lakeside and bodies of police were regularly sent out to prevent them. But the police, who were mainly Irish, would search regularly several places where the festivals were not and then report back that they could find nothing. They would then go to the meeting, strip off their uniforms and join in the revelries. This indeed is a common joke in New Orleans.
I noticed several resemblances between witchcraft and certain Voodoo practices. I was also told that it had been clearly proved that Voodoo was not African but was compounded in the French West Indies by French half-castes, from European magic, inverted Roman Catholicism and mixed memories of different African religions. I cannot say if this is right; but if some of these French half-castes had a witch tradition this would account for all the resemblances.
For all over the world when faced with certain problems people are apt to solve them in the same way. If the knowledge now practised in West Africa is derived from ancient Egypt, there is no reason to doubt that some witch practices may have come from the same source to Europe via the Roman and Greek mysteries, which all seem to be derived from ancient Egypt. I feel that the Egyptian cults were too severe and respectable to go in for the blood practices used by Africans.
I think Pythagoras, who is generally credited with bringing the mysteries to Greece, was not the sort of man who would have had anything to do with blood sacrifices or other objectionable practices. But it is conceivable that there were two sects, the worshippers of Set, as well as those of Osiris, who crept in with the plea: 'There is a short cut; if you cannot work magic properly, you can gain power this way.' The writings of witches speak with horror of the practice of sorcerers using blood to gain power. But the evil knowledge may have kept pace with the good and may account for some of the statements against the cult which I am still inclined to think were Christian libels or came from a misunderstanding of the rites.
The mysteries, in Greece and Rome at least, were secret cults to which only the initiated were admitted after being prepared and purified and passing ordeals to prove their worth. They were also given instruction on how to attain to a happy and satisfied life on earth, to know the teachings of the brotherhood within the cult, how to attain reunion with their loved ones who had passed on, how to be reincarnated in this way, and, probably, in ways of persuading the gods to favour them and grant their requests; in other words, magic.
Each of the ancient mysteries at Cabrai, Samothrace and Eleusis had a different myth and was dedicated to a different god, Zeus, Dionysus, Orpheus or another, and performed different ceremonies; but since the classical writers say the mysteries were all the same, the teachings behind the myths may well have been identical.
The tribal rites of most primitive peoples include purification, tests of fortitude, instruction in tribal lore, sexual knowledge, charms, religious and magical knowledge, and often a ritual of death and resurrection. Now the witch cult contained most of these things; therefore, as we believe that all the mysteries were basically the same, the Greek mysteries must have taught the same things.
Was it not perhaps because in Greece these systems were allowed so much influence and even political power that Greece gave us so much? After all, other small States have also given the world art and learning. From Greece, however, in spite of constant wars and upheavals Eleusis and its teachings made an impression on human thought which is difficult to overestimate or eradicate. As the late Dean Inge said: 'What has the religion of the Greeks to teach us that we are in danger of forgetting?
In a word, it is the faith that Truth is our friend and that knowledge of Truth is not beyond our reach.' William Brend says in Sacrifice to Attis: 'Modern man is not free; he is bound by his terrors in the directions which most vitally affect him, yet he longs for the freedom of the Greeks. He shows this in the way he strives to hide his fears. Here lies his hope; for, though he neither has freedom nor understands it, it is his ideal. This involves setting up a standard of conduct based upon knowledge and truth and not upon revealed guidance.'
It would seem that the Greek priest or teacher would take a man as he was and fit a code to him, instead of torturing him to comply with a predetermined ethic, thus anticipating the work of C.J. Jung, whose method is always to build from whatever elements of belief he finds in a patient a system of personal myth which becomes a rationale for his conduct. Any lessening of the impulse to impose herd-standards of behaviour has, says Brend, 'always met with bitter opposition, and it is not to be lessened by setting out the failure of modern society with its wars, sicknesses, poverty and senseless cruelty, for this irrational opposition is impervious to argument.
We see the Roman priest in his temple crudely and literally emasculating his followers. Today the father in the Church, the school and the law court is equally destroying the manhood of his sons by means less rough but none the less effective because they are so widespread.'