The scholar without peer, tireless researcher, gifted esotericist, occultist and alchemist, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, was motivated by a metaphysical vision concerning the nature of cosmic harmony and an awareness of humanity’s place in the evolution of consciousness. Fortunately, he was the man who wrote the book on Ancient Egypt.
René Adolphe Schwaller was born in the town of Asnières near Paris in December 1887. He spent his boyhood and adolescence in the city of Strasbourg, Alsace. At the age of 20, Schwaller left his Alsatian homeland and settled in Paris to work as a chemist. In 1910 he became a pupil of the painter Henri Matisse and friend of the artists Arp and Leger. In1913 he was admitted to the French Section of the Theosophical Society; and; over the next two years, wrote a total of sixteen articles for the journal Le Theosophe. He was given the title “de Lubicz” in 1919 by the Lithuanian writer, mystic, and diplomat Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz, as a means of expressing his admiration and gratitude.
Schwaller met Jeanne Lamy in the early 1920s, and they were married in 1927. During the 1920s, with his wife (known in their circle as Isha) Schwaller established the Station Scientifique Suhalia in Switzerland. This research center consisted of laboratories for physics, chemistry, microphotography, and the manufacture of homeopathic tinctures, along with an astronomical observatory, a machine shop, workshops for woodworking, blacksmithing, printing, weaving, glassmaking, and a theater.
In Paris, Schwaller had developed a keen interest in alchemy, reading every text he could find, including those by Paracelsus and Ramon Lull. Robert Lawlor, later to translate major works by Schwaller, points out that the ancient name for Egypt was “Kemi,” meaning “Black Earth,” the field of vital transformation, and that the Arabs called Egypt “Al-Kemi.” (Lawlor, Foreword, The Temple In Man).
The vast extent of his research and personal experience would enable Schwaller, aided by Isha and his adopted daughter, Lucie Lamy, to undertake the monumental task of interpreting and decoding the hieratic mysteries embodied in the Egyptian temple. From 1938 through 1952, he and his family lived in Luxor, conducting painstaking research into its various monuments including an exhaustive body of measurements, and drawings of the Temple of Luxor, which took eight years. This resulted in his series of books, including Esotericism and Symbol, The Temple in Man, Symbol and the Symbolic, The Egyptian Miracle, Sacred Science, and the two-volume magnum opus, The Temple of Man.
In his works Schwaller brought a new dimension to light in addressing the nature of Egyptian civilization. His perspective necessarily raised major issues contrary to the prevailing views of Egyptologists and archaeologists of that time, which continue to this day. He argued that Egyptian civilization is much older than orthodox Egyptologists admit; he argued that the core of ancient Egyptian culture integrated all science and religion into a coherent whole that expressed the laws of creation and the nature of man and his relation to the cosmos, and he argued that to understand the Pharaonic mind, a different kind of intelligence is required.
“There is a sacred science, and for thousands of years countless inquisitive people have sought in vain to penetrate its ‘secrets.’ It is as if they attempted to dig a hole in the sea with an ax. The tool must be of the same nature as the objective to be worked upon. Spirit is found only with spirit, and esotericism is the spiritual aspect of the world, inaccessible to cerebral intelligence.” (R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Esotericism and Symbol).
Today, thanks in part to Schwaller’s work, we have a body of alternative research into archaeology and Egyptology that defies the dogma of academia and mainstream science by producing examples of ancient technology and myth borne out by physical structures that predate the 4,000-year timeline espoused by its adherents. Schwaller was among the first to confront this belief, offering a range of sources, which indicated otherwise.
The Royal Papyrus of Turin gives a complete list of kings who ruled over Egypt including, in most cases, their duration. The (Egyptian) Ancients considered their prehistory to date back 36,320 years; added to the historical list of kings at 4,240 years, the total is some 40,000 years. Classical historians provide similar time frames: Diodorus of Sicily gives a span of 33,000 years; Manetho, a total of 24,927 years; George the Syncellus reported that the Egyptians had a tablet recording 36,525 years, and Herodotus accounted for 39,000 years.
Describing the unique mindset of pharaonic Egypt, Schwaller says: “According to the evidence inscribed during a period of over four thousand years, ancient Egypt did not have “religion,” as such; it was religion in its entirety, in the broadest and purest acceptation of that term.” (Sacred Science, Chapter 1, “Concerning Theocracy”). In another example in Chapter 5 of The Temple of Man, we see the following: “Whether it was a question of spirit, life cosmogony, theology or geometry… in general the pharaonic sages did not conceive of any separation in principle among these domains.”
It is hard to imagine a world where every aspect of life is informed by a single, unified sense of being, a seamless tapestry composed of vegetative, animal, and human activity from daily routine to the movement of the stars, ordered and purposeful as part of a transcendent liturgical drama. The temple, Schwaller believed, would express this sacred science in all its aspects if the observer could “read” its murals, walls, axes, materials and their inherent symbolism correctly. His two, directly related works are The Temple in Man, a brief prelude to the major work published later, the two-volume The Temple of Man. His premise is that the temple’s purpose is to teach or reveal, not to hide, and other considerations are always subordinated to this goal.
A primary characteristic of the pharaonic mentality is the use of Nature as the source of symbolism, rather than conceptual abstractions. In the temple, the quality of Life—meaning change, growth, and movement—also must be embodied in the forms used there. Part 1 of The Temple of Man addresses the doctrine of anthropocosmos, which evokes the idea that man is the measure of the universe.
In the introduction Schwaller says, “In speaking of the Anthropocosmos we have nothing to reveal. At issue here are truths as old as the world. The Ancients have admirably expressed them but in a language we no longer understand. Western thought gets closer and closer to the concept of the unity of the world through the developing perception of the original unity of the substance of matter. But this is as yet only an intuition because the mechanistic mentality still prevails, and there is nothing to fill the gap between material form and its energetic cause, between body and spirit.”
Since his body of work devoted to interpreting the legacy of ancient Egypt is so vast, it’s necessary to focus on a few key themes and the evidence Schwaller provides for his conclusions. On an obvious level, the correspondence of Man the Microcosm with the Macrocosm is evident in mathematics as the Golden Ratio, which informs living organisms from the pinecone to the proportions of a human body. But the meaning of this correspondence exists in many dimensions; in alchemy it is recognized that the zodiacal signs have their individual correspondence to the major parts of the human body.
Schwaller adds, “The Temple of Luxor is indisputably devoted to the Human Microcosm. This consecration is not merely a simple attribution: the entire temple becomes a book explaining the secret functions of the organs and nerve centers…”
A key element at Luxor is the outline of a human skeleton—traced according to anthropometrical methods and very carefully constructed bone by bone, superimposed on the general plan of the temple. The head (full face for the skeleton) is located exactly in the sanctuaries of the covered temple; the sanctuary of the barque of Amun is in the oral cavity; the clavicles are marked by walls; the chest is located in the first hypostyle of the covered temple and ends with its platform.
The pharaonic teaching shows us Man composed of three beings: the sexual being, the corporeal being, and the spiritual being. Each has its own body and organs. These three beings are interdependent in the flux of juices and the nervous influx, and the spinal marrow is the column of “fire” that connects the whole. The being correctly called corporeal is the chest and abdomen, where the organs for the assimilation of solids, liquids, and air are located. The head is the container of the spiritual being, where the blood, built in the body, comes to be spiritualized in order to nourish the nervous flux and prepare the “ferments” of the blood and the “seed.” This is a greatly condensed aspect of Man in the image of the Universe.
The consistency of symbolic expression evident at Luxor can be recognized by extraordinary methods employed within the architecture itself, which Schwaller refers to as transposition and transparency. In The Temple In Man, he notes, “This precision in measurements enabled me to relate the figures of the bas-reliefs on one partition with those on the other side of the same wall; here is where transposition completes an idea. I call this process “transposition” because the complements of an idea set forth in a given room, in which it is developed, are given in another room, dedicated to another development.”
He adds that texts and symbols on one wall take on meaning only through this indirect superimposition through the wall. This superimposition is repeated for hieroglyphs as well as figures, i.e. persons, attributes, and accessories. In the case of transparency, if the wall were made of glass one could see drawn on one side, a sign or a figure that fills a gap on the other side. For example, a barque may appear empty as a container but whose contents are on the other side of the wall in a room where its theme is specially treated. In the case of transparency, the stone goes through the wall to mark an indirect connection between the two images.
Schwaller describes this symbology as a method of teaching that could be called an “architectural parable.” But he contends that currently misunderstood anomalies may come to be realized as evidence of the incredible precision that the Egyptians applied to the composition of their bas-reliefs.
There is a vast amount of information on the treatment of volume, geometry, measure, mathematics, astrology, medicine, and much more material beyond the scope of this article. But we can approach the use of axes at Luxor where, unlike typical buildings, which have one central axis, there are three. Schwaller notes, “For the architecture of the temple… the axis is the spinal column, filled with living marrow and carrying sheaths of nerves.” The axes at Luxor are designed to symbolize the function of vital movement as gestation and growth. Everything lives and necessarily assimilates, grows and reproduces—a fact that extends to monuments and statues conceived and executed on multiple axes simultaneously.
It is also a key to the larger theme of seed, growth or flowering, death and rebirth in a new form that is determined by the one that has gone before. Not only is this a cycle of vegetal and animal genesis, but it serves the Ancients as a metaphor for reincarnation or its alternative, transformation.
At Luxor, the temple was built in three successive stages that represent the alternating stages of growth of the human being: alternating because the growth is first a lengthening and then a thickening. The study of these axes shows that each axis is a theme that rules the direction of the constructions related to it. In fact, each wall was built in relation to one or another of these three axes, with no regard for the obvious disorder that could ensue. Thus we have here a discovery that is extremely important for studying the architecture of the temples and for deciphering the meaning of the pictures and texts traced on their walls.
But the axes play another role, as well. As the entire Temple is to be constructed as a living being, the three axes were conceived as the paths of “celestial influences.” In other words, they were conceived as channels for forces that play an animating role in the living architecture.
It appears clear that the “secret” pharaonic teaching was based on the vital functions for which the organs are the living symbols. We see this in the familiar crown worn by kings and pharaohs. The royal diadem symbolizes the crowning of wisdom, meaning the continual animation of the centers of higher life in the head. Its circuit ends at the central point in the forehead, symbolized in Egypt by the frontal uraeus. When the Egyptians speak of channels in the human body, they are referring not only to physical channels—nerves and vessels—but also to circuits of energy.
Further significance of the royal diadem lies in the separation of the skullcap section of the cranium, which when separated represents the seat of the will and individualistic thinking. Schwaller notes, “The royal diadem is designated by mh, which is also the word for cubit of measure. The circular line of the diadem is indeed the very measure of the royal cubit, thus the pharaoh is not only the son of Ra—perfect and divine being—but he also measures the world….” (Sacred Science, Chapter 10, “The King”)
To attempt to summarize one facet of the symbolism of the temple, in The Temple of Man, Schwaller says, “It becomes increasingly apparent that ancient Egypt, having a ‘vitalist mentality’ in every form of expression, borrows from Man (Microcosm) his limbs, gestures, and organs, in order to symbolize the esoteric functions of Universal Man. It thus fits within the same logic to choose, among the animated creatures, the most characteristic types to represent these organs and functions. Each vegetable or animal species represents, in this philosophy, a stage in the evolution of Consciousness and, so to speak, the ‘animated organ-type’ of this phase of evolution.”
Pharaonic thought affirms the principle that man’s corporeal life is not an end in itself but a state of transition and a means. This is what distinguishes a spiritual from a materialistic concept of existence. In spiritual philosophy there is a permanent element that takes on a corporeal form, momentarily. The purpose of this existence is to evolve consciousness.
Ancient Egypt and its monuments, statuary and temples resonate for generation after generation. Their proportions and gestures convey a sense of timelessness and yet purpose. This is no accident; they were meant to embody the message, visibly and magically, that our transitory, corporeal existence is just a phase of an immeasurable mysterious eternity.