Feature Articles – Let there be light!
Deep inside the crypts of the Egyptian temple complex of Denderah is an enigmatic room, which for some depicts evidence that the ancient Egyptians knew the secret of electricity. But could it be that the scenes reveal an even bigger mystery?
by Philip Coppens
The temple complex of Denderah has always been controversial as it contains a zodiac. As the complex was built during Ptolemaic times (when the Greeks had conquered Egypt), the zodiac is seen as cross fertilisation from ancient Greece to Egypt, whereby the Greek pantheon of gods was introduced within the Egyptian religion. Others argue that the Denderah zodiac is instead evidence of the Egyptians’ knowledge of the stars, and that their deities were identical to the Greek. After all, many of the most learned Greeks had gone to Egypt to study – an education they themselves never hid from their audience and were proud to mention in their writings, though since, historians have underplayed this vital piece of information. Still others have seen in the Denderah zodiac an attempt to marry the Greek zodiac with the Egyptian division of the skies, which was not done in 12, but in 36 sections – the so-called decans.
Whatever theory is the likeliest, let alone the truth, fact is that far more light needs to be shed on this controversy. Light, however, is the key ingredient of another controversy in another part of the complex, specifically “Chamber C of South Crypt Number One”, which according to some alternative researchers, shows “clearly” that the ancient Egyptians were fully aware of electricity and used light bulbs similar to ours. The walls of contention are in a small chamber in the crypt of Denderah. The chamber is so small that photography is not easy and most have therefore relied on drawings published in 1947 by the French researcher Emile Chassinat, in “Le Temple de Dendera”. The depictions show a religious scene, in which Hathor – to whom the temple of Denderah is dedicated – features prominently. Around her, are what indeed appear to be oversized light bulbs, held by human beings; inside are serpents, suggestive – in these interpretations – of electrical energy.
If we look at the walls in detail, the north wall depicts a scene with the god Sokar – lord of the underworld before Osiris – sitting on a plinth. The goddess Hathor receives an offering from one of her sons. A man in an underworld boat is sailing past, holding a lotus flower. The scene depicts one “serpent cell”, as Robert Temple has called the “light bulb”.
The south wall has two such cells. Hathor is seated at the right, holding the uas sceptre. Again, an offering is made by one of her sons and again, Sokar, in his falcon form, is present. Austrian “ancient astronaut authors” Peter Krassa and Reinhard Habeck have posited that these “serpent cells” are light bulbs. Firstly, they argue that some form of high-tech lighting system would have been required to do whatever was done in this crypt, it being far removed from natural daylight. They further argue that the snakes represent the electric current; the lotus flower, from which the snake issues forth, is seen as the socket of the bulb. Specifically, Geissler and Crookes tubes have been put forward as the “likeliest” devices that these light bulbs depict. Their conclusion is that the ancient Egyptians were, “light bulb wise”, as technically advanced as we were in the 20th century.
Though naturally sceptical of these interpretations, Egyptologists are nevertheless quite silent about the depictions in this chamber. They have explained the scene as lotus flowers spawning a snake, symbolising creation as a manifestation of consciousness. Some have interpreted the lotus flower as the blue lotus, whereby the pharaoh breathing in its scent, was to provide him immortality.
Robert Temple speculates that a ritual was performed inside this chamber and hints at the presence of the scent of the blue lotus, and that the chamber might have been filled with the blossoms at the proper season, or “otherwise some method of capturing the scent and the alkaloids in concentrated form may have been used.” The blue lotus was linked with immortality, but also with ecstasy and access to the otherworld, perhaps through hallucinogenic means, as some researchers have tried to explore. “Symbolising creation as a manifestation of consciousness” is an interesting conclusion for Egyptologists to draw. First of all, it is a conclusion that is not your standard Egyptological “stuff”. If anything, it is in correspondence with quantum mechanics, which postulates that conscious thought creates reality. As such, this subterranean chamber could be seen as a “thought chamber”, in which the ancient Egyptians tried to manifest – or at least depict – how they tried to manifest reality, which in their realm was all about how order should control chaos, for the greater good of Man and the Egyptian nation.
Some of the other aspects of this depiction therefore fall into place. Sometimes, there is only one serpent cell, depicted with the “avenging angel”, Uputi, standing before it with raised knives. The serpent cell is issuing from a lotus, beneath which crouches a worshipper in prayer. The hands, of the ka, are raised upwards underneath the “serpent cell”, either as a djed pillar, or a man with raised hands. Or also, one of the sons of Hathor, with a solar disk on his head, supports the serpent cell, with the arms in the ka position, sitting on a plinth. The ka is the Egyptian equivalent of the soul, the monad, the divine spark resident in each of us. It is that aspect of us that is divine, and it is that part of us that is able to create. So rather than a light bulb, i.e. a very technical interpretation, there is also a completely metaphysical explanation available as to what is being depicted in these scenes.
Though often seen as a “unique” scene, there are variations that can be found elsewhere. For example, in the New Kingdom, steles depict offerings made to Renenutet in the form of a cobra with a woman’s head. The offered material is a lotus. The only “missing ingredient” in this depiction is the “bulb” surrounding the cobra itself.
Renenutet was linked with the harvest festival, which occurred in March/April and which was celebrated twice. The festival began with the new moon in the month of Renenutet, the 8th month. It was at the new moon that the first fruits were offered to the goddess after which the month was named. But the main celebrations occurred at the full moon.
She was a goddess of the people and was worshipped in village shrines, rather than temples, which is why we are not too aware of her, and why a depiction in a temple is quite rare. During the gathering of the corn and pressing of the grapes, offerings were made at her shrines.
With such attributes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that she became assimilated to Isis in later times, and from there, a depiction in the temple of Denderah, linked with Hathor, is not a far or difficult leap of faith – it is, rather, an obvious next step. However controversial the “light bulb” theory is, electricity is a raw power of the universe, and hence quite similar to the “raw power of magic”. The djed pillar is indeed an expression of power; the snake is indeed a current, of life. And the baboon-like demon holding two knives, which are interpreted as a protective and defensive power, is not so much electricity, but magical protection. When von Däniken wrote that “the monkey with the sharpened knives symbolizes the danger that awaits those who do not understand the device”, he is absolutely correct – for those who tangle with magic and do not understand, are indeed as dead as being hit by an electric discharge.
Mistakes, whether by von Däniken or scientists, are often made when we look at items in isolation. It happens with the Great Pyramid, about which intricate theories have been built, but which are in essence worthless unless one incorporates the equally grand Second Pyramid, standing right next to it, into the theory. In the case of this chamber, note that it is one of five subterranean crypts, that are aligned along a straight hallway. Each of the crypts housed precious temple statues and objects, including two gilt statues of Hathor decorated with precious stones. In short, these were the relic vaults. Though now long vanished, it is known that one of the statues was that of the ba of Hathor, a golden statuette representing a bird with a human head capped with a horned disc.
So, rather than look at this chamber in isolation, let us look at it in context. But first of all a technical detail: the entire temple was constructed of sandstone, but to create these depictions, a block of limestone was inserted into this crypt. The crypt itself would have contained other statues, of Hathor, and would have been used for the New Year celebration and the festival of Harsamtawy, which is the name of the deity that appears out of the lotus flower – the conscious creation. On New Year’s day, the objects inside the crypt were transported to the vault, which sat above the crypt.
Harsamtawy, a son of Hathor, was, according to Wallis-Budge, Horus, who “was believed to have sprung into existence out of a lotus flower which blossomed in the heavenly abyss of Nu at dawn at the beginning of the year.” Hence, this scene depicts the birth of the divine Horus, on New Year. And with this detail, as placed within the proper context, do we begin to realise that was is depicted in this scene, is the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage. Francois Daumas, who did the most extensive of research into this temple complex, stated that it was from this easternmost of the southern crypts that the sacred procession began on the eve of the first day of the new year, bearing the image of the goddess from the subterranean room just as the created world rose from the abyss on the First Day.
Such an explanation might seem – at first – to be far less interesting than light bulbs, but in truth, it is not. If anything, it is far more interesting. For Horus was the divine child. He was the one who would revenge his father, Osiris, killed by Seth, yet partially restored by Isis, so that Horus could be born. Again, Horus was the divine child, a soul born out of pure love, through magical means. He was the result of a hieros gamos, a conscious union of souls. It is a theme that one can find in all magical teachings, whereby the powers of the hereafter and the here and now co-operate, in order to bring forth a special human being, with a special purpose. And in certain cases, they even tried to make sure that the birth of this divine child occurred at New Year, to completely fulfil the message of Horus. And in later times, the room in which the two lovers were meant to procreate, was filled with the scent of flowers – lilies – whereby the “scent of heaven” in Egyptian times seems to have been the lotus scent. It is within this context that we should read the following inscription in the Denderah temple, in which the king is shown to offer the lotus to Horus: “I offer thee the flower, which was in the beginning, the glorious lotus of the great water. Thou camest forth from the midst of its petals… and did lighten the Earth, which was still wrapped in darkness.” Horus was meant to be the dawn of a new world, a new age, a child that would incarnate with his “ka” completely intact. No wonder therefore that the likes of Rundle Clark have said how “what rises from the opening flower is the world soul which is the light, [and] life …of the sun.” From the lotus womb of light, the divine child is therefore birthed into matter, heralding in a new age. It is indeed light, but of a far more interesting kind than a traditional light bulb. And it is a myth of far greater portent than any… and it is a myth that has been frequently encountered in esoteric tradition, and which was known – of course? – to the ancient Egyptians, but which in our technically materialistic modern days has become – sadly – lost and forgotten.
As to why the lotus? Apart from its scent, the lotus is a flower that opens itself up towards the light at dawn, and that opening, this coming forth, is precisely what was vital to be symbolised: it was the Coming Forth into the day… into the light. And what better text sums up the hieros gamos than the following inscription, written down in this crypt: “I came to you, to your place (destroyed section). Beautiful one, whose looks are perfect. I have the Amulet of gold (destroyed section) attached with live on the day of the celebration (destroyed section) of your body.”
Hence, somewhere deep inside the crypt of Denderah do we find the room in which a sacred statue – or statues – were once held that symbolised the truest expression of love ever on earth; an even that was celebrated at Denderah in Greek times, but which no doubt stretches back further back in time, perhaps all the way to the mythical times, when Isis and Osiris created Horus. The divine child.