EGYPT AND THE PYRAMIDS
A TRAVELLER, P.D. OUSPENSKY, GIVES HIS IMPRESSIONS OF HIS VISIT IN 1914.
THE first strange sensation of Egypt that I experienced was on the way from Cairo to the pyramids.
On the bridge across the Nile I was filled with a strange and almost frightening sense of expectation.
Something was changing around me. In the air, in the colours, in the lines, there was a magic which I did not yet understand.
On the bridge across the Nile I was filled with a strange and almost frightening sense of expectation.
Something was changing around me. In the air, in the colours, in the lines, there was a magic which I did not yet understand.
Arab and European Cairo quickly disappeared, and in its place, in everything that surrounded me, I felt Egypt, which enveloped me.
I felt Egypt in the air blowing softly from the Nile, in the large boats with their triangular sails, in the groups of palms, in the wonderful rose tints of the rocks of Mokattam, in the silhouettes of the camels moving on the road in the distance, in the figures of women in their long black cloaks with bundles of reeds on their heads.
And this Egypt was felt as extraordinarily real, as though I was suddenly transferred into another world, which to my own astonishment I seemed to know very well. At the same time I was aware that this other world was the distant past. But here it ceased to be past, appeared in everything, surrounded me, became the present. This was a very strong sensation and strangely definite.
The sensation surprised me all the more because Egypt had never attracted me particularly; books and Egyptian antiquities in museums made it appear not very interesting and even tedious. But here I suddenly felt something extraordinarily alluring in it and, above all, something close and familiar.
Later, when I analysed my impressions, I was able to find certain explanations for them, but at first they only astonished me, and I arrived at the pyramids strangely agitated by all that I had encountered on the way.
The pyramids appeared in the distance as soon as we crossed the bridge; then they were hidden behind gardens and again appeared before us and grew larger and larger.
When approaching them one sees that the pyramids do not stand on the level of the plain which stretches between them and Cairo, but on a high rocky plateau rising sharply from it.
The plateau is reached by a winding and ascending road which goes through a cutting in the rock. Having walked to the end of this road you find yourself on a level with the pyramids, before the so-called Pyramid of Kheops, on the same side as the entrance into it. To the right in the distance is the second pyramid, and behind it, the third.
Here, having ascended to the pyramids, you are in a different world, not in the world you were in ten minutes ago. There — fields, foliage, palms, were still about you. Here it is a different country, a different landscape, a kingdom of sand and stone. This is the desert. The transition is sharp and unexpected.
The sensation which I had experienced on the way came over me with renewed force. The incomprehensible past became the present and felt quite close to me, as if I could stretch out my arm into it, and our present disappeared and became strange, alien and distant.
I walked towards the first pyramid. On a close view you see that it is built of huge blocks of stone, each more than half the height of a man. At about the level of a three-storied house there is a triangular opening — the entrance into the pyramid.
From the very beginning, as soon as I had gone up to the plateau where the pyramids stand, had seen them close and had inhaled the air which surrounds them, I felt that they were alive. And I had no need to analyse my thoughts on this subject. I felt it as real and unquestionable truth. And I understood at the same time why all these little people who were to be seen near the pyramids took them merely as dead stones. It was because all the people were themselves dead. Anyone who is at all alive cannot but feel that the pyramids are alive.
I now understood this and many other things.
The pyramids are just like ourselves, with the same thoughts and feelings, only they are very, very old and know much. And so they stand there and think and turn over their memories. How many thousands of years have passed over them 1 They alone know.
And they are far older than historical science supposes.
All is quiet around them. Neither tourists, nor guides, nor the British military camp, visible not far off, disturb their calm and that impression of extraordinarily concentrated stillness which surrounds them. People disappear near the pyramids. The pyramids are bigger and occupy more room than we imagine. The Great Pyramid is nearly three quarters of a mile round its base and the second only a little less. People are unnoticeable beside them. And if you go as far as the third pyramid you are swallowed up in the real desert.
The first time I went there I passed a whole day by the pyramids and early the following morning went there again. And during the two or three weeks I spent that time at Cairo I went there almost every day.
I realised that I was attracted and held by sensations which I had never experienced before anywhere.
Usually I sat on the sand somewhere between the second and the third pyramids and tried to stop the flow of my thoughts, and at times it seemed to me that I heard the thoughts of the pyramids.
I did not examine anything as people do; I only wandered from place to place and drank in the general impression of the desert and of this strange corner of the earth where the pyramids stand.
Everything here was familiar to me. Sun, wind, sand, stones, together made one whole from which I found it hard to go away. It became quite clear to me that I should not be able to leave Egypt as easily as I had left every other place. There was something here that I had to find, something that I had to understand.
The entrance into the Great Pyramid is on the north side and rather high from the ground. The opening is in the form of a triangle. From it there leads a narrow passage which at once begins to descend at a steep angle. The floor is very slippery; there are no steps, but on the polished stone there are horizontal notches, worn smooth, into which it is possible to put one’s feet sideways. Moreover, the floor is covered with fine sand and it is very difficult to keep oneself from sliding the whole way down. The Bedouin guide clambers down in front. In one hand he holds a lighted candle; the other he stretches out to you. You go down this sloping well in a bent attitude. You at once become very hot from the effort and the unaccustomed attitude. The descent seems rather long — at last it ends. You now find yourself in the place where a massive granite block once shut off the entrance, that is to say, approximately on the level of the base of the pyramid. From here it is possible to continue the descent to the “lower chamber”, which is at a considerable depth below the level of the rock — and it is also possible to climb up to the so-called “Chambers” of the King and Queen, which are approximately at the centre of the pyramid. In order to do this it is necessary first of all to get round the granite block of which I have spoken.
Some time, long ago — according to one account at the time of the last Pharaohs, and according to others in the times of the Arabs — the conquerors who tried to penetrate to the interior of the pyramid, where there were supposed to be untold treasures, were stopped by this granite block. They could neither move nor pierce the block, and so they made a passage round it in the softer stone from which the pyramid was built.
The guide holds up his candle. You are now standing in a fairly large cavern and in front of you there is an obstacle which you must overcome in order to go further. This obstacle is something in the nature of a frozen or petrified waterfall by which you have to ascend. Two Arabs scramble up and reach their hands down to you. You climb up and pressing yourself against the “waterfall” make your way sideways along a narrow ledge round the middle part of the frozen, stone cascade. Your feet slip, and there is nothing to hold by. At last you are there. Now it is necessary to ascend a little further, and before you there appears the narrow black entrance of another corridor. It leads upwards. Holding on to the walls, breathing the stifling air with difficulty and drenched with sweat, you slowly make your way forward. The candles of the guides before and behind you feebly light the uneven stone walls. Your back begins to ache from the bent position. To all this is added a feeling of weight hanging over you, like that felt beneath the earth in the deep galleries of mines and pits.
At last you come out again into a place where you can stand upright. After a short rest you look round and in the feeble light of the candles you make out that you are standing before the entrance to a narrow, straight corridor, along which you can go without bending. This corridor leads straight to the “Chamber of the Queen”.
To your right, if you stand facing the entrance to the corridor, you see the irregular black opening of a well, also made by treasure-seekers and communicating with the lower subterranean chamber.
At the level of your head, over the entrance to the corridor leading to the “Chamber of the Queen”, another corridor begins, leading to the “Chamber of the King”. But this second corridor is not parallel with the first, but forms an angle with it; that is, it goes upwards like a steep staircase which begins a little above the ground.
In the construction of this upper corridor-staircase there is much that is difficult to understand and that at once strikes the eye. In examining it I very soon understood that this corridor is the key to the whole pyramid.
From the place where I stood, it could be seen that the upper corridor was very high, and along its sides, like the banisters of a staircase, were broad stone parapets, descending to the ground, that is, to the level where I stood. The floor of the corridor did not reach down to the ground, being cut short, as I have already mentioned, at about a man’s height from the floor. In order to get into the upper corridor from where I stood, one had to go up first by one of the side-parapets and then drop down to the “staircase” itself. I call this corridor a “staircase” only because it ascends steeply. It has no steps, only worn-down notches for the feet.
Feeling that the floor behind you falls away, you begin to climb, holding on to one of the “parapets”.
What strikes you first is that everything in this corridor is of very exact and fine workmanship. The lines are straight, the angles are correct. At the same time there is no doubt that this corridor was not made for walking along. Then for what was it made?
The answer to this is given by the “parapets”. When you turn your attention to them, you see on them mathematically correct notched divisions at strictly equal distances from one another. These divisions are so precise that they immediately attract your attention. There is some idea, some intention, in them. And suddenly it becomes clear to you that up and down this “corridor” some kind of stone or metal plate, or “carriage”, must have moved, which possibly, in its turn, served as a support for some measuring apparatus and could be fixed in any position. The divisions on the parapet show clearly that they were used for some kind of measurement, for finding certain angles.
No doubt remained in my mind that this corridor with its parapets was the most important place in the whole pyramid. It cannot be explained without the supposition of a “carriage” moving up and down the incline. And this, in its turn, alters the whole conception of the pyramid and opens up entirely new possibilities.
At a definite time of the year the rays of certain stars can penetrate into the pyramid through the opening by which we entered it (until these stars become displaced in the progress of the great astronomical cycle). If we suppose that somewhere on the path of the rays mirrors are fixed, the rays penetrating through the opening of the pyramid will be thrown into the corridor on the apparatus fixed on the movable carriage. There is no doubt that some kind of observations were carried out here, some kind of cycles were recorded, some data were established.
The granite block, round which goes what I called the stone waterfall, bars the way to these rays. But the meaning, the purpose and the epoch of this block are completely unknown.
It is very difficult to define in our language the object and purpose of the pyramid. The pyramid was an observatory, but not only an “observatory” in the modern meaning of the word, for it was also a “scientific instrument”; and not only an instrument or a collection of instruments, but also a “scientific treatise”, or rather a whole library on physics, mathematics and astronomy; or, to be still more exact, it was a “physico-mathematical faculty” and at the same time a “depository of measures”, which is quite clearly shown by the measurements of the pyramid, the numerical interrelation of its height, base, sides, angles, and so on.
I had a very concrete feeling of the idea of the pyramid later, when I visited the famous observatory of Jay Singh at Jaipur, in Rajputana. The “observatory” is a huge square surrounded by walls, with strange buildings: stone triangles, the height of a large house; huge circles with divisions; empty cisterns resembling ponds with bridges across them and with polished brass bottoms for reflecting the stars; mysterious stone mazes which serve to find a definite constellation. All these are gigantic physical and astronomical apparatus, gnomons, quadrants, sextants and others, that is, instruments that are now made of brass and kept in cases. If one imagines all these apparatus, and many others unknown to us, combined into one and supposes that their very measurements and the interrelation of their parts express the fundamental relations between the measurements of the different parts of, say, the solar system, the result will be the idea of the pyramid.
But I will continue the description of the pyramid as I saw it.
At the top the inclined corridor with parapets becomes horizontal and then leads into the “Chamber of the King”. Candles are not sufficient to light the high smooth stone walls. It is rather stifling. By one wall there is something resembling a sarcophagus with high chipped sides.
I sent the guides away into the corridor and for some minutes remained alone.
I had a very strange feeling in this stone cell enclosed in the mass of the pyramid. The pulsation of life which filled the pyramid and emanated from it was felt here more strongly than anywhere. But besides this it appeared to me that this “Chamber” was telling me something about itself. I felt myself surrounded by different voices. But their words seemed to sound from behind a wall. I could hear but could not understand them. It seemed to me that it was necessary to make only quite a small effort and I should then hear everything. But I did not succeed in making this effort and probably it was not a question of effort at all, something much more important separated me from these voices.
“The Chamber of the Queen” differs little from the “Chamber of the King”, but for some reason does not give the same sensations. The lower subterranean chamber, which is more difficult to reach and is very stifling, is a little larger than the “King’s Chamber” and is also full of thoughts and inaudible. Voices which are trying to impress something on you.
From the top of the pyramid my attention was attracted by the Dahshur Pyramid with irregular sides which is seen in the distance through field-glasses, the strange Step Pyramid situated nearer, and not far from it a large white pyramid.
A few days after, I rode out from Gizeh to these distant pyramids. I did not want to see anything in particular, but wished to form a general impression of this part of the desert.
Having passed the Pyramid of Kheops and the Sphinx I found myself on a broad road leading to Aboussir. As a matter of fact there was no road, but a broad track covered with traces of horses, donkeys and camels. On the left, towards the Nile, lay ploughed fields. To the right there stretched a rocky cliff, beyond which the desert began.
From the very beginning of the road from Gizeh I began to experience this strange sensation of past as present which for some reason was produced in me by the Egyptian landscape. But this time I felt a desire to understand this sensation better, and I looked with particular intentness at everything round me, trying to decipher the secret of this magic of Egypt. And I came to think that the secret might lie in the astonishing changelessness of the Egyptian landscape and its colours. In other countries nature changes its face several times a year. Even where for centuries the main features have been preserved, as in forests and steppes, the outer cover of nature, the grass, the leaves, is all new, just born. But here this sand and these stones are the same as those which had seen the people who built the pyramids, the Pharaohs and the Caliphs.
And it seemed to me that in these stones which had seen so much, something of what they had seen was preserved, and that because of this a certain link was established through them with the life which existed in these places before and seemed still to be invisibly present here.
My grey Arab pony galloped quickly along by the uneven stone wall which lay on the right of the road, now nearer and now further off. And I was more and more immersed in a strange feeling of liberation from everything by which we ordinarily live.
The whole present receded, appeared transparent like mist, and through it the past became more and more visible all around me, not taking any definite form but penetrating me by a thousand different sensations and emotions.
Nowhere had I ever felt before so clearly and definitely the unreality of the present. I felt here that all that we consider as actually existing is nothing but a mirage which passes over the face of the earth, perhaps the shadow or the reflection of some other life, or perhaps only dreams created in our imagination as a result of some obscure impacts and vague sounds which reach our consciousness from the Unknown which surrounds us.
I felt that everything vanished — St. Petersburg, London, Cairo, hotels, railways, steamers, people; everything became a mirage. But the desert round me existed, and I existed, though in a very strange way, without any connection with the present, but conscious of a very strong connection with the unknown past.
And in everything I felt there was a not easily comprehensible but very subtle joy. I would describe it as the joy of liberation from oneself and the joy of feeling the incredible richness of life, which never dies but exists in an infinite variety of forms invisible and intangible for us.
Having passed Sakkara with the Step Pyramid and the white pyramid I went further to the Dahshur Pyramids. Here there was no road at all. The sand changed to small flints which formed what looked like enormous waves. When I came to level places and my pony began to gallop it seemed to me several times that I was dropping money, for the flints flew up from the hoofs and tinkled like silver.
Even the first of the Dahshur Pyramids produces an extraordinary and peculiar impression, as though it were sunk in its own thoughts but would presently notice you and would speak to you definitely and clearly. I rode slowly round it. There was not a soul near it, and nothing was visible but the sand and the pyramid with irregular sides in the distance.
I rode up to it. It is the strangest pyramid of all. I was only sorry that I could not be transported to this pyramid straight from Cairo, without seeing and feeling anything else. I was already too much saturated with impressions and could not fully appreciate what I felt here. But I felt that the stones here were animate and entrusted with a definite task. The south Dahshur Pyramid with the irregular lines of its sides struck me by its very definiteness, which was almost frightening.
At the same time I did not wish to formulate, even to myself, all that I felt. It was too much like imagination.
But my thoughts went on without obeying me and at times it appeared to me that I was really beginning to imagine things. But the sensation was quite different from that produced by imagination. There was something inexpressibly real in it. I turned my pony round and slowly rode back. Some distance off something seemed suddenly to push me. I quickly turned in the saddle. The pyramid was looking at me as though expecting something.
“Till next time!” I said.
I could not fully analyse all the feelings that I had at that moment. But I felt that precisely here, if only I could remain here alone sufficiently long, my thoughts and sensations would reach such a degree of tension that I should really see and hear what is ordinarily invisible and inaudible. How far this was really connected with this strange pyramid or how far it was the result of the whole day and the whole week of unusual sensations, I could not say. But I felt that here my sensations of Egypt reached their highest intensity.
At the present time views on the pyramids can be divided into two categories. To the first category belongs the theory of tombs, and to the second, astronomical and mathematical theories.
Historical science, that is, Egyptology, keeps almost exclusively to the theory of tombs, with very small and feeble admissions in the direction of the possibility of the utilisation of pyramids for astronomical observations. Thus Professor Petrie in his book A History of Egypt speaks of three deep trenches which were cut in the rock and were about 160 feet long, 20 feet deep, and not over five or six feet wide. “The purpose of such trenches is quite unknown; but there may have been some system of observing azimuths of stars by a surface of water at the bottom, and a cord stretched from end to end at the top; by noting the moment of the transit of the reflections of the star past the cord, an accurate observation of azimuth might be made” (p. 41).
But speaking generally, historical science is not interested in the astronomical and mathematical meaning of the pyramids.
If Egyptologists ever touch upon (his side of the question, it is acting only as amateurs and in this case no great importance is attached to their opinions. R. A. Proctor’s book, which I mention later, is an example of this.
The description of the construction of the pyramids (chiefly of the Great Pyramid) to be found in Herodotus is accepted as final and decisive.
Herodotus relates what he was told about the construction of the Great Pyramid two or three thousand years before his time. He says that on the granite blocks covering the pyramid hieroglyphic inscriptions were cut referring to various facts connected with its construction. Among other things there was recorded the amount of garlic, onions and radishes that was eaten by the slaves who built the pyramid, and from the amount of garlic, etc., it was possible to draw conclusions as to the number of slaves and the duration of the work.
Herodotus says that before the Great Pyramid was built, a causeway had to be made through the desert on an embankment for the transport of the material. He himself saw this causeway, which, according to his words, was a construction not less great than the pyramid itself.
The approximate date of the construction given by Herodotus is, owing to the profusion of small details pointed out by him, regarded in Egyptology as indisputable.
In reality all that Herodotus says is not in the least convincing. It must be remembered that Herodotus himself could not read hieroglyphs. This knowledge was carefully guarded and was the privilege of the priests. Herodotus could record only what was translated to him, and that certainly would have been only what confirmed and established the official version of the construction of the pyramids. This official version accepted in Egyptology may actually be far removed from truth. And the truth may be that what is regarded as the construction of the Great Pyramid was in reality its restoration. The pyramids may be much older than we think.
The Sphinx, which may have been constructed at the same time as the pyramids, or still earlier, is quite rightly considered prehistoric. What does this mean? It means that some thousands of years before our era, possibly many thousands of years, the people or peoples who are known to us under the name of “ancient Egyptians” occupied the valley of the Nile and found, half buried in the sands, the pyramids and the Sphinx, the meaning and significance of which were quite incomprehensible to them. The Sphinx looked towards the East, so it was called the image of Harmakuti or the “Sun on the Horizon”. Very much later the king to whom is ascribed the name of Kheops (Egyptologists have, of course, quite a different name for him) restored one of the pyramids and made of it a mausoleum or sepulchre for himself. Moreover, the inscriptions cut into the facing of this pyramid described the doings of the king in a laudatory and exaggerated tone, and the restoration was of course called construction. These inscriptions misled Herodotus, who took them for exact historical data.
The restoration of the pyramids was not their construction. The brother of Kheops, Khephren (the spelling and pronunciation of these names are very uncertain and unreliable), restored another pyramid. Gradually this became a custom, and so it happened that some of the Pharaohs built for themselves new pyramids, usually of smaller dimensions, and some restored the old, which were of larger dimensions. It is also possible that the first to be restored were the Dahshur Pyramids and the Step Pyramid at Sakkara. Gradually all the pyramids were converted into sepulchres, for a sepulchre was the most important thing in the life of the Egyptians of that period. But it was only an accidental episode in the history of the pyramids, which in no way explains their origin.
At the present time many interesting facts have been established concerning the Great Pyramid. But these discoveries belong either to astronomers or to mathematicians. And if it happens that any Egyptologists speak of them, there are only very few who do so, and their opinions are usually suppressed by others.
In a way the reason for this is understandable, for too much char-latanism has accumulated round the study of the astronomical and mathematical significance of the pyramids. Theories, for instance, exist and books are published proving that the measurements of the various parts of corridors and walls inside the Great Pyramid represent the whole history of mankind from Adam to “the end of general history”. According to the author of one such book prophecies contained in the pyramid refer chiefly to England and even give the length of the duration of post-war cabinets.
The existence of such “theories” of course makes it clear why science is afraid of new discoveries concerning the pyramids. But this in no way diminishes the value of existing attempts to establish the astronomical and mathematical meaning of the pyramids, in most cases so far only the Great Pyramid.
R. A. Proctor in his book The Great Pyramid (London, 1883) regards the pyramid as a kind of telescope or transit apparatus. He draws special attention to the slots on the parapets of the grand gallery and finds that they were made for moving up and down the incline instruments used for carrying out observations. Further he points to the possible existence of a water-mirror at the junction of the ascending and descending passages and asserts that the pyramid was a clock for Egyptian priests and chiefly an astronomical clock.
L’Abbé Moreux has collected in his book Les Enigmes de la Science almost all the existing material relating to the Great Pyramid as a “depository of measures” or as a mathematical compendium. The sum of the sides of the base of the pyramid divided by its height doubled gives the relation of circumference to diameter, the number , which plays such an important role in the history of mathematics. The height of the pyramid is one thousand millionth part of the distance of the earth from the sun (which, by the way, was established in science with sufficient accuracy only in the second half of the 19th century), etc., etc.
All this and many other things show the astounding narrowness of modern scientific views and the absence of even ordinary curiosity in the Egyptologists who come to a standstill at the theory of tombs and the story of Herodotus, and do not wish to know anything more. In reality the pyramids contain a great enigma. The pyramids, more than anything else in the world, tell us that we are quite wrong in considering that our ancestor was a “hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World”. In actual fact our genealogy is much more interesting. Our ancestors were very rich and eminent people, and they left us an enormous inheritance, which we have completely forgotten, especially since the time when we began to consider ourselves the children of a monkey.