Do you know how sometimes a book will sit on your shelf, unread, for years perhaps, and then something — the revolving universe’s timing mechanism, perhaps — draws your attention to it, and you sit down with it, and until you have finished it you are unable to leave it? Whenever that happens to me, I pay close attention. I can take a hint.
Last week it was John Anthony West’s Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, which I have owned probably a dozen years, and had been unable to read.
About halfway through it, I sent him an enthusiastic e-mail, and began recommending the book to certain of my friends. It is good for a book to be informed, literate and important. It is better for it to be wise, and better yet to be witty as well. When a book has all those qualities and in addition demonstrates that the author knows something, and he is giving you pointers, the book is beyond price.
I met John at a conference in 1995 called Return to the Source. At the time, I had no idea who he was or what he had written. It’s funny, actually. His work was key to the entire conference, but I was only there (so I thought) to see my new friend Colin Wilson, whom I had met a few months earlier after more than 20 years of admiring his work from a distance.
Colin’s introductory talk discussed the work and importance of a man named R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz. I had no idea — though I imagine that everyone else in the auditorium knew — that we knew of Schwaller de Lubicz primarily, if not entirely, because of John Anthony West’s work. John was able to comprehend and interpret what Schwaller de Lubicz had learned over the course of many years about the mentality of ancient Egypt.
So what is this to you or me?
Just this. That civilization, which lasted 4,000 years, was integral, conscious, spiritually connected, wholesome, and life affirming in ways that we can scarcely imagine. Our post-Renaissance civilization, scarcely 500 years old, is none of those things, and is necessarily degenerating. (John says: “Today to believe in `progress’ a man must be insane. A hundred years ago insensitivity sufficed.”)
I realize that this is not the impression given by what John calls members of the Church of Progress, and not the impression you will have gotten of the nature of Egyptian civilization. That is because the lower cannot comprehend the higher. We as a society could not re-create Egyptian civilization if we wanted to. We could not even recapture past aspects of Western civilization that were in closer contact with the wellsprings of human existence and creativity.
(“The cathedrals `work’, as do the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal, because whoever designed them had precise and profound knowledge of universal harmonic, rhythmic and proportional laws, and equally precise and profound knowledge of the manner in which to employ these laws in order to create the desired effect.”)
It is up to each of us as individuals to do the work on ourselves. It is of inestimable value for each of us to have pointers, fingers pointing at the moon. Serpent in the Sky is one such pointer.
I append without further comment a few quotes that may pique your interest. Bear in mind, something that is really new is not necessarily easily comprehended at first glance. It may seem nonsense, it may seem irritatingly opaque. For those who can go through it, it is a doorway.
“In a world of hydrogen bombs, bacteriological warfare and other progressive horrors, it is self-evident that knowledge is dangerous. It is also self-evident that the ancients possessed no technology capable of unleashing such brutal power. However, if we look more closely at the manner in which we are emotionally and psychologically influenced — which in turn makes predictable the manner in which we will react to given situations — we will see that dangerous knowledge lies behind this curious Pythagorean number symbolism.”
“In the cathedrals and sacred art and architecture of the past, we see the knowledge of harmony and proportion employed rightly, provoking in all men who have not had their emotions to permanently crippled or destroyed by modern education a sense of the sacred. It therefore takes no great leap in imagination to conceive of the same knowledge but to an opposite use by the unscrupulous…. This is but one valid reason for keeping certain types of mathematical knowledge secret.”
“But logic and reason will not account for everyday experience: even logicians fall in love.”
“From time immemorial, scholars, philosophers and thinkers have stubbed their brains against the problem of time and space, seldom realizing that the language in which they hoped to solve the problem was itself ordered in such a way as to support the evidence of the senses.”
“When men were less dependent upon their intellects, and in all likelihood had more highly developed intuitional and emotional faculties, they were more susceptible to experiences that transcend time and space, and were able to accept the provisional evidence of the senses at its true value.”