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Monday, July 13, 2015

A renovated rose by any other name is still a renovated column, dagger, mark, monolith, monument, needle, pillar, pylon, shaft or tower

This here's a photo of the entrance to Toulouse's Terre Cabade municipal cemetery, a small necropolis atop the Jolimont at the dead end of the aptly named Avenue du cimitière.  Opened in 1840, the gate reflects the Egyptomania which gained renewed impetus in France after Napoleon's scientific/military adventures in Egypt some 40 years prior, a fascination with far-reaching manifestations in Western culture.  Some of these were physical signs: architecture, interior design, jewelry, women's make-up, funerary monuments.  Some of these were born into the realm of ideas:  large swaths of the Western esoteric tradition are widely (sombunall) regarded as having emerged out of the syncretic crucible of that was ancient Alexandria; Hermeticism is the namesake of Hermes Trismegistus, an apocryphal personage who was perhaps a blend of Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.  They are both scribes, messengers....deities of magic.

To make a long story short, the "Egyptian Revival" is kind of a misnomer; I think several basic components of Egyptian thought and art never left us and indeed, in Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Martin Bernal proposes that Greek civilization did not arise from Indo-European sources as much as it derived from Egyptian and especially Phoenician colonization.  I've not read Bernal's book but I have often pondered the link between Phoenicia and Greece.  A relative dearth of material about the Phoenicians has led antiquarians to approach the topic carefully, but we can say for sure that their influence was wide-ranching, as they are known to have traveled beyond the straights of Gibraltar, likely up to Ireland, carrying their goods and their culture along with them.  Phoenicia, more a confederation of city-states than an empire, was passed back and forth like a football for centuries, too weak to fight off their powerful neighbors -- Egypt, Persia, Assyria and the like -- but too wily and important to merit obliteration.  We do know that their skill as builders was widely admired and when Solomon needed to build the Temple, he turned to his neighbors in what is now Lebanon and got it done.

The two pillars that marked the entrance, Jachin and Boaz, were long part of Phoenician religious architecture and probably derives from the Egyptian practice of marking the entrance to temples with obelisks.  But I've written about all of this before; it does however bring us neatly back to the photo which started this post; the Terre Cabade entrance.  Basically, what drew me to snap a photo again was the fact that one of the two administrations in the Capitole since I first photographed it decided to re-point the bricks and cap the obelisks with a golden -- gilt aka "dorada" aka "daurade" -- pyramidion, or at least a golden pyramidion sheath.  At first I just thought they'd capped the rotten tooth so to speak and re-did the mortar in the bricks, but it appears the wall has also had a new roughcast and a coat of the tan paint so liberally used in Toulouse.

As Stephen Curl points out in The Egyptian Revival, "Egyptianism" was intimately linked to Freemasonry.  Jachin and Boaz are an important element of any Masonic Lodge, which is itself a schematic representation of Solomon's Temple.  The central myth of Freemasonry turns on the story of the Temple's construction and of chief architect Hiram Abiff.  "Egyptian" Masonic rites date back to Napoleon's expansion into Egypt and were later stimulated by discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone which allowed for the decryption of hieroglyphs; this pursuit had become something of an international obsession and the biggest breakthroughs were made by a Frenchman from Figeac named Champollion, who published his findings in the 1820's.  The French still regard Champollion as a national hero.

So voici a little context behind this renovation I came across a couple of months ago during one of my periodic dérives through the streets of Toulouse.  For more of the history and symbolism behind the funerary architecture of the Terre Cabade, please refer to my earlier article.

I'd here like to drop in an interesting bit of history I'm not entirely sure what to make of.  I'm finishing up Robert Crease's World in the Balance about the search for an absolute system of measurement and naturally a good part of the narrative is taken up by the invention and progress of the metric system, another topic I've dealt with quite a bit on LoS.  I was quite chuffed to see that he linked the success of the metric system to some historical developments I have identified as being in philosophical harmony with this most rational of measurement systems:  the diffusion of the scientific method, the rise of capitalism and the emergence of the modern nation state.  I have also (insufficiently) discussed how the metric system was used during the French Revolution as a tool to overthrow the old feudal order, or ancien régime, with its patchwork of aristocratic and churchly fiefs.  But this idea of the metric system as a revolutionary tool is not confined to France.  Crease points out that in Africa, for example, the adoption of the metric system by newly independent states in the wake of the Second World War was a decision made as part of the decolonization process, reducing the influence of British culture, including their measurement system, which is, after all, known as "imperial" measurement.
I think this is neatly summed up in the "macaron" of the BIPM, the international agency responsible for maintaining metric standards and overseeing further inquiry into metrology.  My post about that seal is worth a look-see if only for a summary of the seal's concise visual statement about the revolutionary value of the metric system, as well as its celebration of commerce, scientific rationalism and representative democracy.  One principal figure in the seal is our friend Hermes, who in addition to being a god of magic is a god of weights and measures.

What I really want to mention here is a story in Crease's book about the origin of the idea that the Great Pyramid at Giza is in fact a metrological monument; this idea is today so widespread I can't do the subject justice here, but the whole genre of sacred geometry/metrology with regards to the Great Pyramid appears to have started with an anti-metric book entitled The Battle Of The Standards: The Ancient, Of Four Thousand Years, Against The Modern, Of The Last Fifty Years, The Less Perfect Of The Two, by John Taylor (1864).  Taylor's first pyramid book had appeared in 1859 and was enormously popular in its day; his second book develops his ideas and bears a title bound to grab the attention of anyone versed in English Masonic history.

Taylor wrote that it was probably Noah who'd overseen the construction of the Great Pyramid following the instruction of the "Great Architect"  -- the Masonic name for God.  Freemasons honor Noah as a builder and as a reservoir of antediluvian wisdom, and symbols associated with him form the foundation of several relatively auxiliary Masonic degrees.  Without going into details, Taylor proposed that the Pyramid was built to provide "the measure of the earth" from which sacred measurement standards could be derived.  As Crease says, the "battle" in the title of his book was "whether to use the ancient, sacred and natural measurement system or the modern, artificial metric one."

Not having read the book, I can only speculate on what follows, but my gut tells me the book is linked to a conflict in English Freemasonry.  English Freemasonry was marked in the fifty years preceding publication of Taylor's book by the unification of two rival Grand Lodges to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813.  What makes this seem a little less far-fetched is that the two rival factions were known as the Ancients and the Moderns.  I wonder if the battle of the standards in the title was also a battle between rival interpretations of Freemasonry's tenets?  Was this an important subtext to the book, or is it merely coincidence?  Or was Taylor just playing with the double sense, taking a dig at the "Moderns" within Freemasonry?  As "building" is the central metaphor of Masonry, reflected in the Fraternity's very name, it would seem likely that someone of an esoteric bent such as Taylor would express to some degree Masonic ideals in a book about measurement, especially given Freemasonry's link with "Egyptianism".  

Taylor's work, though influential in the esoteric tradition, was not well-received by the scientific community, even though his predecessors were of an impeccable scientific pedigree.  His formulation of the "pyramid inch" was based upon no less a personage than Sir Isaac Newton's formulation of the "sacred cubit", something he was inspired to do upon reading mathematician John Greaves' book entitled Pyramidographia (1646) (source)  Needless to say, Newton's work was partially derived from close readings of Scripture and analysis of its description of Solomon's Temple and Noah's Ark.  These interests have led many writers to speculate that Newton was a Freemason, but despite the intersection of interests, there's no evidence that this is the case.

So, I intended this post to be a sentence or two saying "oh looky they've renovated the obelisks!"  It was hard to keep it simple because Egyptian architecture has long been a source of fascination within (and apart from) the esoteric tradition and you simply can't study one without eventually coming across the other.  Sacred geometry, divine revelation and numerology are inexorably linked with the exoteric knowledge and artifacts of science and architecture; domains we see as apposed to magical thinking today were anything but to people such as Newton and Taylor.

I think Taylor was a Freemason judging from his works and associations -- but I can't positively identify him as having been a member.  The same is true for Taylor's chief disciple Charles Piazzi Smyth, one-time "Astronomer Royal for Scotland" and a scientist with a great deal of mainstream credibility.  Smyth elaborated on Taylor's ideas, doing some damage to his reputation in the process.  Despite the eventual disproving of the existence of a "pyramid inch" by William Matthew Flinders Petrie, Smyth had made some valuable contributions to Egyptology after becoming engrossed in Taylor's work; he was the first to photograph the interior of the Great Pyramid and his measurements, which had been the most accurate to date, led him to produce numerous valuable designs and drawings.  A British Israelite (basically the idea that Western Europeans, especially Britons, were direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel), Smyth claimed that the "pyramid inch" had been handed down to history by Noah's son Shem and that the Hebrews had built the Great Pyramid under Melchizedek.  Melchizedek, incidentally, has been interpreted by some to be one and the same as the aforementioned Shem and a prototype of the Messiah.  Hebrews 7:1-21 quotes Psalm 110:4 in calling Jesus "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek".  Not only was it a divine revelation, but it could be used to tell the future; the Great Pyramid was thus a "repository of prophecies."

Dig this:
Smyth's theories on pyramid prophecy were then integrated into the works and prophecies of Charles Taze Russell (such as his Studies in the Scriptures), who founded the Bible Student movement (most visible today in the Jehovah's Witnesses....)
I have already spoken quite a bit about the connection between the Jehovah's Witnesses and Freemasonry, as well as Moorish Science.  Russell, if anything, was a bit cagey and cryptic as to whether he was himself a Freemason or not.  What continues to fascinate me about the JW's is that given the Witnesses declared abhorrence of all thing occult-related, their founder was steeped in occultism, pyramidology, quasi-Masonic ruminations and ongoing revelation from God on high.  Check out Smyth's  tomb (left) and that of Russell (right) :

OK, being something like a broad but shallow river, I leave off with the task of determining if Taylor and Smyth were Freemasons and looking into the oceans full of virtual ink spilled about the "occult/Masonic conspiracy" filter through which the Internets seem to view Smyth and Russell's relationship.  Recall that despite his dubious ideas about the construction and metrology of the Great Pyramid, Smyth was a genuine and accomplished, much like Newton, whose own  spiritual beliefs we would today consider quite eccentric, but in the day didn't seem to give him any pause regarding their compatibility with science.

Not a bad dip into the river for something that began as a kind of OCD-like reflex to document whatever small changes occur to monuments I've written about!

Further reading:

Here's an interesting review of an episode of America Unearthed about another pseudo-scientific attempt at applying a newly-discovered metrological standard -- the "megalithic yard" -- to the layout of Washington D.C. in an attempt to prove that the city is a giant monument to Goddess Worship: Review of America Unearthed S02E07 "Secret Blueprint of America".  The review is rightfully skeptical, but  it covers some of what I've touched on here and demonstrates that the kind of thinking that motivated Taylor and Smyth is alive and well -- and still finding an appreciative audience....

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