On a trip to Egypt a few years ago, my husband, Ron, and I did the usual sites: the Red Sea and the River Nile, the temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak; the Valley of the Kings with Tutankhamen’s tomb; Cairo’s Alabaster Mosque and the Coptic Church of Sergius where the Holy Family rested. And of course, the pyramids and the sphinx.
When standing at the foot of the Great Pyramid, its immensity is overwhelming. It comprises more than two million stone blocks weighing an average of fifteen tons, the heaviest weighing more than fifty. Standing there, unable to even reach the top of the first blocks, everyone must be asking the same question: Who the heck built this thing? Was it Atlanteans, aliens or angels? Was it a population of overburdened slaves? Was it an elite force of temple builders?
Standing there, staring up at its enormity, what really took my breath away was the fact that three years earlier my son had climbed through the night to the top, in order to see the sun rise from its 456-foot height. When he climbed back down the next morning, he was arrested. But the guards only wanted his money. And since he hadn’t budgeted for bribes, he wouldn’t give it to them. So eventually, they just let him go.
Most people don’t stand before the pyramids and think about Moses. But consider this. Moses was plucked from a basket floating in a river, and there’s only one river – which means that the Giza Plateau could’ve been Moses’ sandbox.
Around 1300 BC, the Pharaoh’s daughter found the infant Moses and took him as her own. So he grew up in Egyptian palaces and was taught by Egyptian priests. Interestingly though, Moses’ biological mother was his nursemaid. So she was able to safeguard his remembrance – that he was actually Hebrew and that his lineage went back to Abraham.
Moses would spend his days studying with the temple priests at Karnac. And in the evenings, his mother would ask him what he had learned. He would tell her stories of Ra, the sun god who drove his fiery chariot across the sky, with his royal retinue traveling with him, sharing adventures in the twelve cities of the heavens.
Then his mother would fill in the blanks with further stories, cautioning him to never tell the priests. She would say, “You know, those twelve cities in the sky. Well, in your family, there are twelve uncles, with these particular characteristics.” She expanded Moses’ knowledge and built in him an intimate relationship with concepts that the priests could only talk about abstractly. It set him up for the role he was to play – to bring his people, his lineage, together as a nation.
The collection of stories told to Moses by his mother had been passed down by the elders of the family. At that time, no one considered that they would eventually be recorded into sacred scripture. They were simply stories meant to teach morals and principles to the young men who were required to study them.
Young women sometimes learned as well, but only by listening on the other side of the tent flap. Only those who had a fire and zeal of their own would find ways to hear the stories. And because they had to want it in order to get it, when they got it, they got it better. And not only were they able to pass the stories on to their sons and daughters, but many of them went on to become prophetesses and women of great influence on the history of Israel. It was their strength and fire and zeal that compelled them to find ways in order to learn and know.
As an adult, Moses added the stories to the Commandments that he received on the top of the mountain. The Commandments were the law, and the stories were the words of the early prophets. It became known as the Law and the Prophets, and it was put into the sacred Ark of the Covenant. Not necessarily recorded though, because at that time, the stories were still memorized and handed down, word for word, verbatim and letter-perfect.
THE ANCIENT LANGUAGE
The Hebrew language at that time consisted only of consonants, with no breaks between words or sentences. It was a series of consonants strung together, and a word or sentence might break at any point, determining what the text said. So people who didn’t already know the message in a piece of text couldn’t read it.
The stories that Moses had heard were eventually written in ancient Hebrew, but were impossible to decipher, except by those who already knew the stories and kept them alive. They served only as reminders and were kept sacred in the Ark for centuries.
THE PROPHET SAMUEL
Around 1100 BC, following the death of Moses and the arrival of the Israelites in the Promised Land, there was a prophet named Samuel, who started a school. It was a school for prophets and was located on a mountain called Carmel. During the centuries-long history of the school – even during times of turmoil when the students were threatened and had to hide in caves – they kept their commitment as prophets of God, to keep the ancient practices alive and the scriptures safe.
THE BABYLON CAPTIVITY
Around 600 BC, the Israelites were conquered and taken away to Babylon. During the seventy years of their captivity, the children grew up, the older generation died out, and those who had remembered forgot. It was a time of huge loss for Israel. The first temple, built by Solomon, was destroyed. And when the captives returned, they could no longer read ancient Hebrew – not even the priests. A new language had been adopted. And the sacred practices and mystical writings were mostly lost. Except in one place.
Samuel’s prophets, also known as the men of the mountains, were still going strong. Throughout the centuries, it had remained their primary purpose to keep alive the ancient Hebrew language, which in itself was sacred, and to preserve the ancient writings. So the sacred scriptures were continually recorded, copied and preserved.
THE GREAT LIBRARY AT ALEXANDRIA
Come forward a few more hundred years, and something interesting occurs, during the reign of Ptolemy II Philodelphus. Ptolemy was intrigued by the stories of the ancient mystery schools of Egypt. And he wanted to return Egypt to its prominence as a source of wisdom and enlightenment throughout the world. So he began to fund the building of the great library at Alexandria. He offered huge sums of money to those who could bring back to him the sacred wisdom books of various nations and translate them into Greek, so they could be added to his new library. Someone brought Ptolemy’s attention to the wisdom literature of Israel, and he managed to obtain copies. Then he sent for the priests of Israel to interpret it, but they didn’t know how.
By this time, the men of the mountains had become a series of communities. They were expecting a Messiah to liberate Israel from Rome, so they had taken a new name that meant to prepare, or to bring forth, or to bear fruit. They called themselves Essenes. And since they still maintained their responsibility for the sacred scriptures, they were asked to come to Egypt, to interpret the manuscripts for Ptolemy.
It was the last thing they wanted to do. Their purpose was to keep the scriptures alive, and they wanted them to be used in the temple in Jerusalem. But they didn’t want to give them to Rome, and they didn’t want to give them to Egypt.
They refused to leave their communities. So they were taken in chains. Seventy scholars from the Essene community were taken in chains to Egypt to interpret the scriptures.
But how do you force someone to interpret something and know that the interpretation is correct? After all, it can’t be tested for accuracy. This was the reason for taking seventy. They were locked in individual cells so they couldn’t communicate with each other. It was assumed that, “If they all come out with the same interpretation, it has to be the correct one. And then we’ll know the secrets of the literature.”
But Ptolemy’s thugs weren’t as smart as they thought they were because these seventy Essene scholars were Qabalists. They knew that the stories were analogies containing keywords and that the words had particular meanings and represented specific principles.
They knew that shepherds represented those who have shepherded their thoughts, who have taken responsibility for their minds and are guiding their thoughts in a chosen direction. They knew that a woman indicated a being who provides a womb in which a thought or a concept can grow and come alive and bear fruit. They knew that temple builders were those who are building of their lives a sacred expression.
These seventy scholars used Qabalistic interpretation to decipher the manuscripts, and they recorded a series of analogies that sounded like the history of the Israelites. But the stories were unexpectedly odd.
Here was a sacred wisdom book, with the purpose of teaching a person how to become enlightened. But it comprised one story after another of people asking their God to kill their enemies. Gory, blood-soaked stories of bodies being broken open, heads being cut off. Battles and bloodbaths, one after another. The slaughter of men, women, children, goats, sheep and camels. The God of Israel sending his people to war in order to destroy other nations. David praying for God to kill his enemies, to put them under his feet. So much wreckage and annihilation. What was it all about? What did it have to do with godliness?
To Ptolemy and the people of Egypt, it didn’t look like wisdom literature. In fact, they thought these Israelites were a most peculiar people.
But the seventy Qabalists, who were interpreting the literature and recording the Greek version that would become known as the Septuagint, knew that the stories were about humankind overcoming the enemy within. Our own thoughts, emotions and habits – anything that distracts us from our creator-self – were the enemies that were being put away.
For example, according to Qabalistic interpretation, the city of Jericho, which was marched around seven times, speaks of the seven energy centers of the body. To tear down the walls of the old city is to tear down the walls that we’ve built around the old self. And if there were any man, woman, child or beast left living, or any silver or gold from the old city that was carried over into the new, then the new life, the new city, would be contaminated by the old life. So the story of Jericho is a story of personal transformation, at the same time that it records the historical story of one of the conquests of ancient Israel. Jericho did exist, and they did tear down the walls.
The seventy scholars used the actualities of history and combined them with Qabalistic principles and teachings of spiritual growth and transformation. And they put them together in this most mystical of books, providing a text for transformation that depended upon a person being an initiate of Qabalah, or having an ability to know the creative source of life and its message.
We don’t need to know all the keywords to interpret the Bible. But it does help to be familiar with how the principal of Qabalistic interpretation works.
The interpretation of any sacred scripture is enhanced through the same techniques that we use when interpreting a dream. When we have a dream and want to understand its meaning, we begin by remembering that every aspect of the dream is about us. So when a specific person appears in our dream, we need to think about that person’s characteristics. “What part of me does that person make me think of? Which aspect of that person exists in me?” The same is true of objects and events – they represent facets of our nature and the experiences we’re causing as we live our daily lives.
We can interpret sacred scripture the same way. If we read the stories and assume that they are about us, we can receive from the experience a personal meaning that can make a difference in our lives.
The interpretation of words shouldn’t be too difficult because they basically mean what they say. For example, a temple is a place that’s considered sacred – and if our body is a temple, we’ve put together the building blocks that will make of our lives an expression of beauty, harmony and worthwhile action. A shepherd takes responsibility for his emotions, communications and relationships by choosing the direction of his thoughts and prioritizing true value. Sheep represent the aspect that follows along without thinking. A wife means something that we’re committed to, a project or a principle. Daughters are inspirations. Sons are the results of our actions. A desert means emptiness. A wilderness is a place of confusion. Water is a cleansing agent. Crossing a river indicates passing an initiation point in life.
Or better said, these are some applications that we can make. Interpretations vary under different conditions. So we need to consider the context in order to understand the meaning. And most importantly, we need to tweak the symbolism to fit ourselves and our individual lives.
The point to be made about Qabalah in the Bible is that the book has been written about us, our lives and our growth. That doesn’t mean that what we have believed about it to this point isn’t true now. We can still interpret it literally as the story of historical figures. But we shouldn’t leave out the interpretation that applies to us personally.
The magic of sacred scripture is that all the components form a personal, intimate guidebook for the reader. Which doesn’t mean that we should go out and kill a bunch of camels. It means that we should figure out what’s going on with our inner-camel. That’s the greater teaching. And through interpreting on a personal level, sacred scripture becomes an exciting and relevant instruction manual.
BACK AT THE GREAT PYRAMID
My spiritual teacher, who I’ve studied with since my early twenties, led a tour to Egypt in 1976. He managed to gain permission to have special time in the King’s Chamber where Pharaoh’s sarcophagus has been resting for millennia. He told the tour-group that the structure had been a temple of the mysteries and that guardians were set there to protect its sanctity and secrets.
In his words, “Imagine a person who so loved a mystery school that when the school closed and the secrets were locked away in chambers, that student was willing to have his soul, his consciousness, his awareness focused there, fastened there, for quite a period of time, in order to guard the sanctity of the place. It’s not unique to the pyramids. It always happens with the closing of a school of the mysteries. The greatest of the initiates are set about the place to become a guard over it, and they are responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the teachings that were offered there.”
This isn’t unlike a story written by George Lucas, Menno Meyjes and Jeffrey Boam. According to them, a knight from the First Crusade discovered the Holy Grail and pledged to protect it at the Temple of the Sun, located in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon. He was chosen as Guardian of the Grail because he was the bravest and purest of heart. And he had remained in that custodial position hundreds of years, using the Grail’s power to live beyond his natural lifespan. But the centuries in isolation had zapped his strength, particularly each time his faith faltered. And by the time Indiana Jones showed up, our beloved Grail Knight could barely lift his sword and fell over from the weight.
Esoteric wisdom tells us that such beings are even now guarding sacred sites because they can’t leave until humanity’s awareness of the sacredness is reestablished. How that will work out in today’s world of shallow awareness and a me-first mentality is unclear. Once-sacred sites have become photo-op destinations.
In 1531, the Virgin Mary miraculously impressed an image of herself on the cloak of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. And the cloak still hangs in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. For hundreds of years, pilgrims have journeyed on their knees, across the main plaza, up the outer steps, and down the center aisle to the altar, in order to view the blessed cloak. Today, tourists ride a conveyor belt installed in the floor of the sanctuary, to get a close-up view. Does it make a difference? Probably not, if there’s purity of heart.
Sacredness lives in the consciousness, in spite of the trappings. And it reveals itself in our lives. Are we taking responsibility for our emotions, communications and relationships by choosing the direction of our thoughts and prioritizing true value? Have we committed our lives to a principle that contributes to the people around us and to the world at large? Are we practicing receptivity, continuing to learn and grow, giving birth to inspirations that lead to positive results. Are we living like temple builders, putting together the building blocks that will make of our lives an expression of beauty, harmony and worthwhile action?
In other words, can the Grail Knights and the Pyramid Guardians go home now?
You can read more of Grace de Rond’s posts on her blog at gracederond.com.