ESSAY 3

Massey and his Critics

 

Although his works have been reprinted on numerous occasions, they still have not received a modern critical appraisal; their influence on other great thinkers of our day is virtually negligible. Indeed, after his death, his critics have been few and far between. And modern critics who have bothered to read his works completely misconstrue his theories. One in particular, Stan Gooch, suggests in his book Cities of Dreams that the overall arguments put forward by Massey, W. J. Perry and Elliott Grafton Smith, as well as other diffusionists, are interesting and, 'It would, I think, be salutary for our present-day philologists and other academics, despite the above disclaimers, to go back and read the books of these early diffusionists for themselves,' his main objection being—and it seriously undermines their work, and Massey's in particular—'because the time span the authors are forced to work in—that they force themselves to work in—is far too short. For what these books say is that around 5000 years ago the bearers of civilisation set out from some central point, usually either Egypt or Africa, and carried the seeds to all other parts. The setting-out point of these alleged voyagers cannot go back more than 5000 years because earlier than this, in the view of these authors that is, there would have been no civilisation for them to carry.'1 This is to completely misunderstand Massey and the time-scale of his theories. Gooch has obviously never read Massey thoroughly, for if he had he would have been aware that Massey postulated that the first civilisation that once inhabited the Nile goes further back than even modern day Egyptologists would allow.

He was the first to demonstrate that the Egyptians had kept records of precisely seven pole-star changes which gave rise to their notion of the Great Year, based on a calculation of these changes measuring a total of 25, 868 years.2 In order to even begin to arrive at such a calculation they must have been observing the heavens for a considerable length of time, perhaps several thousand years to note the true risings and settings of the stars on the horizon and the motions of the fixed stars at the pole. He also demonstrated that the Egyptians were fully aware of precession of the equinoxes, a fact which is now only becoming increasingly clear as other speculative historians of ancient civilisations like Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval have echoed his thoughts, although they are not aware he had said it a hundred years earlier. Indeed, when confronted with books like Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods and Bauval's Orion Mystery, you are compelled to give up reading them in frustration at their total ignorance of Massey's work. One could almost wish that, along with the philologists and academics suggested by Gooch, people like Hancock and Bauval should be forced to read Massey for they would have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had got their information direct from the horse's mouth, so to speak, from one who really knew that the Egyptian myths, temple alignments, eschatology, etc., were based on a thorough understanding of astronomy. These two authors find it outstanding that an Egyptologist, Jane Sellers, should suggest that the Egyptians had intimate knowledge of precession encoded in the Osirian myth, and that her revelation marks her out as something of a radical amongst her fraternity.3 Bauval, in a later work, calls Sellers' book a 'landmark study' for persuasively arguing the 'astronomical and textual evidence to show that the prehistoric Egyptians—at least as far back as 7300 BC—had observed and tracked the slow precessionally induced changes that constantly relocate the cosmic "address" of the constellation of Orion.'4 The emphasis is on chronology, this dating back to an earlier epoch than orthodox Egyptologists would have us allow, in the same way that Gooch cannot allow Massey to give a far earlier one. Again, Wilson takes up the same strand regarding Sellers' announcement because she 'argues powerfully that the ancient Egyptians knew all about precession.'5 So did Massey, a hundred years before her. But Sellers was a recognized Egyptologist, Massey wasn't. I have already discussed this point elsewhere, and I do not wish to resume it again, yet my point here is that it is somehow revelatory of an Egyptologist to even suggest an idea, when someone working outside the field had proposed it years earlier. He was not taken so seriously since he was not a recognised authority in this field. And a larger obstacle against the acceptance of this revelation is the ingrained notion taught at all schools that it was Hipparchus, of course, who discovered precession in the 2nd century BC during his observation of the fixed stars and by comparing his 'observations with those of his Greek predecessors, he incidentally made the discovery for which he is most famous.'6 He did not discover it as so much as re-discover it, possibly through the Babylonians since he was 'personally instructed, and supplied with translated material, by one of the astronomer scribes at Babylon,'7 who in turn had got it from the Egyptians.

It is the same with the speculations regarding the dating of the Sphinx. Massey had always maintained that the Sphinx was of considerable age. However, it must be borne in mind that chronological dating between Egyptologists at the time on not just the Sphinx itself, but also the dynasties, were exceedingly disparate, with no two authorities agreeing unanimously. It took two non-Egyptologists to really question the accepted age of the Sphinx, namely John Anthony West and Prof. Robert Schoch, who were convinced—based on their on-site investigations—that the erosion displayed on the face and body of the Sphinx could only be caused by water. Since we know this part of the Giza plateau, as well as most of Egypt in general, has seen little or no rain for thousands of years, possibly dating back to just after the last Ice Age, it could only mean the Sphinx must predate the accepted date of 2,500 BC by possibly 8,000 years, approximately around the time when the constellation Leo was in the vernal equinox. Although Massey may not have demonstrated the precise dating of the Sphinx through an intimate inspection of its erosion having never set foot on Egyptian soil, he certainly regarded it as being carved well before the construction of the pyramids of Giza through a computation of the numbers and types preponderating in astronomical mythology, concluding it was at least 13,000 years old.8  The obvious reason why only the body shows such signs of erosion is that the head was re-carved much later to resemble a pharaoh's head, although the resemblance to Chephren has been summarily dismissed by a trained police artist, Detective Frank Domingo, after a close analysis of statues of that pharaoh and close-up photographs of the face of the Sphinx from various angles. It is also curious that the head of the Sphinx is much smaller in proportion to the rest of the body. The re-carving would account for this.

To return to Gooch's initial remarks, not only does he dismiss Massey's theories on the grounds of a too narrow time-frame, but also on grounds of poor philology. It is well known that etymology is a pliant science in that it is possible to get almost any two words to match in whatever language when they are stripped to their roots, but at the time comparative philology was still a young science inaugurated by Sir William Jones nearly a hundred years before BB when he visited India. It was Jones who noted the distinct similarity of Sanskrit to Latin and Greek, seeing them as being possibly akin to one another. This is what Gooch says:

'It is no good Massey showing some interesting parallels between the actual vocabulary of, say, Maoris and Egyptians, and then suggesting on this basis that the Maoris had an Egyptian origin. For after only a mere 5000 years we would expect still to see very substantial parallels not just in occasional words (some of Massey's examples are in any case debatable) but in syntax, grammar and so on. But it is very remarkable, for example, that both the ancient Egyptians and the Maoris had the same name for their sun god, Ra.'9

This displays a complete lack of understanding of Massey's approach to his subject: the typological level. That is, words came later, symbols came first. As early man did not have the vocal capability to utter a recognisable form of speech, nor words to communicate, he must have done so using symbols, these being drawn from the outer environment as types. And it is through types that we are enabled to trace back to the source the first conventionalised forms of symbols which later manifested as words drawn from the natural vocabulary of the earliest utterers, animals (i.e., zootypes). Massey was concerned at getting to the roots of language, not just words, any such parallels in their higher manifestation was simply incidental; beneath them he believed lay a common root for all were united in the same tree of types, and therefore it would be possible, I believe, to strip down the entire total of the world's vocabulary to a estimated 25,000 vocative sounds dependent on their similarity as homonyms and phonemes, regardless of their meaning. In other words, it would be possible to convey anything dependent on this amount of sounds alone.10

Although Massey may not have been correct in his original premise, other men of repute have also noted the possibility of a connection between certain words, their meanings and their sounds. Max Muller and Jakob Grimm—the latter formulated a much respected law concerning comparative philology later denoted Grimm's Law—are two of the many that can be mentioned, although belonging to the Aryan school, seeing the origins of a proto-language as deriving from the East. Fewer still have attempted to trace language to its source. A casual remark, current at the time, can be found in Robert Brown's The Races of Mankind; having classified the various races into broad categories, he says, 'This classification, though widely adopted, is open to many objections. Other classifications have been based on the formation of the skull, and particularly on the languages. The latter especially is apt to be fallacious, many races which have an almost identical language being of widely different origin, while others have dropped their original language and taken that of the people among whom they are placed. An ingenious philologist may unite the most distant families, but all this only points to the pristine unity of man.'11 Massey sought to do just that. 'But despite recent developments in philological classification which have produced some surprising—and controversial—results, much of Massey's philological derivations remain doubtful.'12 Nevertheless, there are strong possibilities in a connection between ancient Egyptian and the Indo-European languages.

Both Shaw, in his biography, and Gooch, have overlooked a fundamental flaw in Massey's treatment of words: calligraphy, how the words were originally written. Massey's long list of comparative words in his books, especially the Egyptian and Sanskrit, are quite useless for in these two instances without the hieroglyphics of the one, and the Nāgarī of the other, any such attempt at comparison is pointless. Both the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Indians considered their languages and scripts to be divine, that is, hailing from the gods, not just in the meaning of the words, their intonation, but the very shape of the letters. A Hindu would complain about the transliteration of his divine Nāgarī—'let not cow's milk be polluted by being put into a dog's skin,' is the saying in India13—as would an ancient Egyptian priest if there was one around today, for the 'letters' in themselves are of symbolic value and their arrangement and juxtaposition to one another is of more significance than what they spell. Not only that, but an Egyptian word, for example, can be spelt in many ways using different hieroglyphs to mean the same thing, and it is the spelling that is important, as well as the determinative at the end.14 This is why Records of the Past, a set of small volumes issued by the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and one that Massey was very reliant upon, is perfectly useless for none of the original scripts of the texts are given, nor their transliteration, only their translation. Hence all symbolic meaning is lost.

Before leaving this last point, it is also worth noting that Gooch's criticism's are questionable coming from a man, who a few pages on, says, 'When the explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt returned from Mexico in 1816, he announced in a book (Vues des Cordillθres) that he had discovered striking similarities between zodiacs there and in Tibet. Similarly, Bernadino de Sahagun, writing in Spanish a little later (Historia de las cosas de la Nueva Espaρa, Mexico, 1829) considered he had identified a series of signs closely equivalent to that of the Old World zodiac.'15 I only cite this passage as an example of the lack of scholarship on Gooch's part, for if he had bothered to be more exacting in his research, he would have discovered his embarrassing mistake: Sahagun preceded Humboldt by about two hundred years.16

Other writers working in the same field completely ignore him or do not give him the credit he deserves. Williamson, in his work, The Great Law,17 a study of religious origins and the unity underlying them, for example, says in his preface, 'The scholarly investigation of recent years, by such writers as Robertson-Smith, Tylor, Lang, Hartland, and Frazer, has now placed the study of comparative mythology on a more scientific basis,'18 and yet quotes from Massey twice in his work. Williamson obviously does not hold Massy in such high regard, although drawing upon the Arkite theorists like Bryant and Davies makes his sources highly dubious. It is interesting here, in this list of authorities, to note the complete absence of Massey's name and the occurrence of Frazer's, his arch nemesis. Here is Massey being marginalized.

This is more apparent in Godwin's study of esotericism in England from the late 18th to early 20th century and the influence of eastern ideas in the Occident and its culmination in the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875. As Massey was a contemporary of Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, who gained much useful information from his writings—she in fact quotes him twenty four times in her Secret Doctrine19 —one would have thought his influence would have been felt sufficiently to warrant an examination of his work by Godwin. On the contrary, Massey is reduced to an endnote on page 407 that is hardly worth including. Nor is there any reason given for this omission as Godwin discusses his possible predecessors like Godfrey Higgins—author of seminal works Anacalypsis and Celtic Druids—Knight, Moor and Taylor amongst others. Being precluded by Godwin, it appears he too has marginalized Massey.

Another instance of misunderstanding Massey can be found in Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians by Manly P. Hall, the President-Founder of the Philosophical Research Society in LA. He says:

'Egyptians metaphysics is a field as yet almost untouched. The scarcity of material is due to the surprising fact that in spite of all our discussions, excavations and so forth, we are still for the most part ignorant of the real elements of Egyptian mythology. The diffidence with which such men as Belzoni, Maspero and Massey approach the subject and their resultant confusion when they do attempt an interpretation, furnish adequate proofs of the insufficiency of their knowledge.'20

We wonder on what authority Mr Hall rests his case, for the testimony he delivers in this work amply demonstrates his own confusion of Egyptian metaphysics and the progression of ideas when he has said on the previous page, 'The sacred books of the Hindus are far older than those of the Egyptians,' when it is quite clear that Massey has proved it is the other way round. One has only to read his interpretation of Plutarch's Myth of Isis and Osiris in this book to appreciate how inept he is a bottoming the simplest of truths.

A less unkindly remark, but still far from the truth, is offered by Dr Thomas Stewart in his Symbolism of the Gods of the Egyptians. In his chapter dealing with the symbolism of the Book of the Dead, which is incidentally headed by Massey's poem from the title page of AE, he has this to say:

'The fascination which accompanies the study of Egyptian lore tempts one to dwell too much with the popular notions of that wonderful civilization of the distant past. There are some few and notable exceptions, Gerald Massey is one of them, he thinks that there is a need of the modern adaptation of evolution to the different problems in Egyptian science and philosophy; and with him it is a gradual development of savage ideas upward toward better things.'21

Apart from the obtuseness of his remarks, we could ask to what problems he is referring, for there are no problems in Egyptian science and philosophy since they have all been resolved using the Masseian method of interpretation, namely typology. Only in this way does all the nonsensical talk of respected authorities in this field clearly make sense. And not just in this field either, for once the Masseian method of interpretation has been mastered it can be applied to any branch of knowledge, including all myths, folktales and folklore which are essentially embodiments of types. It is the same as applying Jungian dream analysis to dreams. Once the method of interpretation is understood, the dreams themselves make sense in Jungian terms, although it is curious to note that when studying the works of Carl Gustav Jung one's dreams invariably become Jungian in a strange way.22 And we can also ask what he means by 'savage ideas' for it presupposes that in our western cultures we adapted and advanced to a state of society where all 'savage' notions are in contrast profoundly inferior. This is the mistake of all bad anthropologists undertaking field-research. It prevents a thorough understanding of the customs, beliefs and rituals of the tribe you are studying and their meanings and relevance to the tribe as a whole. To understand their ways you have to drop the ludicrous belief in your own superiority and theoretically become like them whilst maintaining constant objectivity, in the same way that in order to be able to understand Egyptian symbolism you have to think Egyptian. Dr Stewart has missed the point, for it is only by going back, retrogressing on the intellectual level to primitive (conjecturally simpler) forms of mentation are we able to comprehend the origins of the symbols and types that are to be met with, not only in Egypt and Africa, but all over the inhabited parts of the world and arrive at the original gnosis before it was degraded. This degradation, or vulgarisation, of the gnosis was through a misunderstanding of the types resulting in a distorted system of symbolism by those who thought themselves highly knowledgeable without realising their own total ignorance of the subject. And it is only by 'catching' it in its purest forms are we are to fathom it to its most simplest truth. This is why Massey placed a great emphasis on early texts in the hope that they would still contain the pristine wisdom without embellishments, interpolations and accretions from later sources. And the same applies to 'primitive' tribes. For it is only through studying the beliefs and myths of a people untainted by the contagious cancer of Christianity and other institutionalised religions is it possible to find the types in their genuine modes of expression. Sadly this is not the case as the missionaries of the past who have gone out into the world have afflicted their pernicious, misguided and ignorant beliefs on almost all of the purer, nobler races left in this world with few now left unscathed.

To sum up, although the above are not representative of all the critics of Massey, if they can be called as such, they all display an unseemly lack of comprehension of what he was really saying. The only people who have understood his work in the past are his followers, who I will examine in another essay. (See Essay 5.)

_____________________

NOTES

1. Cities of Dreams, p. 218.
2. AE 2:595.
3. See Hancock, op. cit., pp. 272-6.
4. Keeper of Genesis, p. 222.
5. From Atlantis to the Sphinx, p. 297.
6. Toomer, in Astronomy Before the Telescope, p. 81. It is instructive to note here the chapter on Egyptian astronomy in the same volume by R. A. Wells of how pedestrian contemporary appreciation of the knowledge of the Egyptians by these experts really is concerning this subject.
7. Toomer, ibid., p. 76.
8. For a brief summary, see Shaw's biog., pp. 217-8. For a full discussion, see the works cited above and West's own book, Serpent in the Sky, Harper & Row, New York, 1979. See also the revised edition, Quest Books, Illinois, 1993, for the preface by Robert Masters. Masters draws a parallel between the work of Schwaller de Lubicz, the Alsatian Egyptologist from whom West derived his initial inspiration, to that of Massey. 'Another example of apparent penetration into the mind and soul of ancient Egypt is that of the curious nineteenth-century poet, scholar and trance visionary Gerald Massey. In three monumental, multivolumed works ... Massey presented an Egypt in many ways very similar, and sometimes seemingly identical, to that presented by de Lubicz. This was especially the case in Massey's last work ... The writings and teachings of these three titans—de Lubicz, Gurdjieff and Massey—deserve to be exhaustively compared.'—op. cit., p. xiv. I should state that although the parallel here is unquestionable, as de Lubicz and Massey both had a thorough grasp of their subject, there is a slight difference; de Lubicz was an established Egyptologist, and that is as far as it goes. It may best be viewed by thinking of these two great men working from different ends towards the same objective—a thorough revision of our accepted understanding of Egyptian history as it is portrayed by orthodox science. De Lubicz discusses in his Sacred Science, first published in French in 1961, the erosion evident on the Sphinx. 'A great civilisation must have preceded the vast movements of water that passed over Egypt, which leads us to assume that the Sphinx already existed, sculpted in the rock of the west cliff face of Gizeh, that Sphinx whose leonine body, except for the head, shows indisputable signs of aquatic erosion.' (Op. cit., Eng. tr., Inner Traditions, VT, 1982, p. 96.)
Incidentally, before I leave this point, there is a funny anecdote related by West in his book about how de Lubicz's book Le Temple de l'Homme was greeted when it was first published in 1957 and how it fared before the time West got to reading it. He relates that a high-ranking official of the Egyptological Department in the British Museum assured him 'that in his opinion, and in the opinion of all other Egyptologists, Schwaller de Lubicz was mad. His work was repudiated in its entirety.' (Op. cit., p. 154, rev. ed.) Perhaps the same would have been said of Massey.
9. Cities of Dreams, p. 218.
10. A good case in point here is Aleister Crowley's experiment with the writer William Seabrook back in 1919 when they conversed like chattering apes. Each of the party knew perfectly well what the other was saying.
11. Op. cit., Cassell, Petter and Galpin, London, 1873, vol. 1, p. 1, my emphasis.
12. Shaw's biog., p. 216.
13. See Monier-Williams' Sanskrit Dictionary, p. xxii, 1899 ed.
14. A case in point here is the word knd which means 'be furious, angry' and has as it determinative the sacred baboon (cynocephalus hamadryas), glyph E 32 in the Gardinerian list, for these animals in general are known to be vicious by nature—as I can testify myself having been severely scratched by a common baboon in Africa as a child—and thus it is a perfect type of anger.
15. Op. cit., p. 223.
16. See the relevant entries in Bibliography.
17. Longmans, Green and Co.; London, 1899.
18. Op. cit., p. viii.
19. See Shaw's biog., p. 179. It seems the admiration was not mutual as he only quotes from her once.
20. Op. cit., p. 21, 3rd ed., PRS; LA, 1971, 1st ed., 1937.
21. Op. cit., p. 46, Baskerville Press: London, 1927.
22. No one yet as far as I know has established a Masseian interpretation dream school, although the benefits are surely to be reaped if this was the case.

 

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This page last updated: 24/10/2010