by Lynda Whall

Luxor temple by moonlight. It seems to symbolise all that is most mysterious and intangible in Egypt, evoking feelings that go beyond mere emotion, grasping for something higher, out of reach to the rational, 20th century mind. Banks of floodlights strangely enhance the magic, here turning a colossus of Ramesses II into a gigantic prop from a Hollywood epic, there casting pools of inky shadow dark as the midnight sky. As you creep, insect-like, between the huge statues into the vastness of the temple, its famous skewed axis seems to move and float around you. It is like being inside the skeleton of a still-living, breathing being.

And that is exactly how it was designed to be.

That was the conclusion of one of the greatest esoteric thinkers of the 20th century, R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz. A man of vast erudition and spiritual vision, Schwaller's breadth of knowledge ranged across the entire Western esoteric tradition, and he was also a trained chemist with wide knowledge of other scientific disciplines such as mathematics, physics and geometry. In addition he was a practising alchemist. This unusual breadth of expertise enabled him to combine scientific rigour and intellectual analysis with his spiritual insights - in much the same was as Rudolf Steiner he was a "scientist of the spirit".

While visiting Luxor in 1937, Schwaller had a revelation in which he realised that the temple was a deliberate exercise in harmony and proportion - the 'Parthenon' of Egypt. He spent the next 15 years at Luxor, making a systematic and meticulous record of every aspect of the temple, assisted by his wife Isha (author of the Her Bak books) and her daughter, Lucie Lamy (author of Egyptian Mysteries.)

From his researches, Schwaller produced an encyclopaedic body of evidence in support of his initial intuition, culminating in his masterwork of 1957, Le Temple de l'Homme. In over 1000 pages of exhaustive (and often exhausting!) detail he demonstrates how Egyptian civilisation was based on a complete and precise understanding of universal laws. This manifested as a coherent unity of science, art and religion, where every aspect illuminated every other part of the system - the 'Sacred Science'.

Symbolist Egypt

According to Schwaller, this unified body of universal knowledge is encoded into the art and architecture of Egypt. The temples embody it by means of an architectural 'grammar' in which every element of the building contributes to the 'parts of speech' which enable the initiated to read the message of the stones. And this message is always an elaboration of the same theme - the universal cycle of spirit becoming matter and returning again to spirit, or as he put it, "the Becoming and the Return".

Therefore nothing in Egypt is accidental or purely ornamental - every element from the type of building material used, the size of the blocks, the dimensions of the walls, number symbolism, the placement of hieroglyphs and symbols, the orientation of the site - all were consciously chosen to have a predetermined effect.

Even apparently mundane scenes of daily life can have profound symbolic importance. For example, scenes of the Pharaoh single-handedly overcoming an enemy army are not merely vainglorious boasting; they represent the forces of light overcoming those of darkness - the same battle that each evolving human being must fight every day.

In Le Temple de l'Homme, Schwaller demonstrates how the Egyptians were aware of, and consciously used, advanced mathematical concepts normally attributed to the Greeks. One of these was the Golden Section, a mathematical function which occurs throughout nature, for example in the ratios of a spiral galaxy or the orbits of the planets. When used in architecture, it allows the building to become an embodiment of these same universal principles, which were later used in Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals, and which account for some of their power.

All these elements work synergistically together to express the particular nature of the Neter (god, or more precisely, cosmic principle) which is incarnated in the temple.

Of course, the visitor does not have to be consciously aware of the builders' intentions to be moved by the mysterious power of the temples. Schwaller's doctrine of the Anthropocosmos states that we, as human beings, are the embodiment of the universe, an "incarnation of cosmic functions", the "final cosmic fruit". So the universal laws expressed in the structure and artwork of the temples will resonate within us on a level which cannot be analysed rationally, but which must be experienced with the whole of our being.

Yet, for all his accomplishments, Schwaller has been virtually ignored by the Egyptological establishment, and is little known outside of a small circle of supporters.

There are several reasons for this:

Firstly, orthodox Egyptologists are working from an assumption of 20th century superiority, which is generally based on a rationalist and materialistic outlook.

Second, the very complexity, length and erudition of his work makes for difficult reading, and only those who are willing to have their minds expanded to accommodate it are likely to make the effort. It cannot be boiled down into a Reader's Digest condensed book format or 30-second sound bites.

And third, Le Temple de l'Homme only appeared in English in 1998 as The Temple of Man. Schwaller's other books have been available in English for some time, but have suffered the same fate.

Serpent in the Sky

But Schwaller has not been entirely without his supporters, and some of his ideas have begun to trickle through into more mainstream works. Some examples of this are Peter Tompkins' Secrets of the Great Pyramid and the works of Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock.

His greatest champion, however, has been maverick Egyptologist and scourge of the establishment, John Anthony West. West is mainly known as the man who started the debate on the age of the Sphinx - based on a remark by Schwaller that the erosion on the Sphinx could only be caused by water. West's TV special, The Mystery of the Sphinx (1993) was watched by over 30 million people and won an Emmy Award.

His book, Serpent in the Sky: the High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, is a masterly introduction to Schwaller's thought, written in a highly readable style. His other works include The Traveler's Key to Ancient Egypt, the only guidebook based on Schwaller's Symbolist theories.

For over 15 years West has been conducting the only tours to Egypt based on Schwaller's and his own insights. I went on one of these tours, and discovered how this extraordinary civilisation becomes even more astounding when viewed through Symbolist eyes.


Like just about every other tour, ours starts at Giza, where our hotel offers a stunning view of the pyramids, just a short stroll away through the Cairo smog. Our first experience is a sunrise visit to the Sphinx, before the hordes of other tourists and souvenir sellers descend like locusts onto the dusty plateau.

The argument for the age of the Sphinx, with its claims and counterclaims, evidence and counter-evidence, is far too complex to go into here, and whole lakefuls of ink have already been spilt on the subject. Those who want to follow West's theories in greater detail are referred to Serpent in the Sky or The Traveler's Key to Egypt. But to reduce the evidence to its bare bones, West has obtained corroboration from the eminent geologist, Professor Robert Schoch, that the weathering in the Sphinx enclosure could only be caused by rainfall. As the last substantial rains fell in Egypt around 10,000 BC, then this would imply that the Sphinx must be considerably older than the conventional dating of around 2,500 BC. This ties in with the Bauval/Hancock theory that it was built around 10,500 BC during the Age of Leo.

However, West's claims are even more outrageous. Based on ancient Egyptian records and other material, he believes the Sphinx could date from as far back as 25,000 - 40,000 BC - the previous Age of Leo.

Certainly, the Sphinx itself, and the walls of the enclosure quarried out to contain it, are far more weathered than the pyramids or other structures known to date from the time of the Pharaohs. This is despite the fact that the giant statue has spent most of the last 2,500 years up to its neck in the sand which accumulates in the enclosure in just a few years if not constantly swept away.

In any event, West is adamant that the Sphinx does not represent Chephren as the orthodox camp insists, and again he has brought in an expert to examine the evidence. An eminent forensic artist from the New York Police Department made a thorough analysis of the Sphinx's features, comparing them with a known statue of Chephren. His conclusions, based on the angles of both faces, was that they could not be the same individual. The head also appears to have been re-carved at some stage, as it is out of proportion with the body, which only adds to the mystery.

From a purely subjective point of view, seen up close the Sphinx exudes a sense of extraordinary antiquity, and emanates an impenetrable mystery that seems impervious to any attempts to crack its enigma.

But the Giza Plateau is full of mysteries. Apart from the pyramids, which we will return to later, there are plenty of other anomalies. Directly in front of the Sphinx stands the Valley Temple, built of limestone blocks some 100 tons in weight. The weathering patterns on these confirm that they must be as old as the Sphinx, and some of them have been cut in a strange jigsaw pattern which also occurs on some other sites. Similarly huge blocks - up to 200 tons in some cases - have been used in some of the other structures on the Giza plateau. West has established that even the most modern cranes today would have difficulty lifting and placing such gigantic pieces of rock, especially within the confines of a small building like the Valley Temple. How and why the Egyptians chose to use these huge slabs is yet another unanswered question.

The Temple of Man

At Luxor we enter into the 'Temple of Man', where Schwaller had the revelation which he would explore in detail for the remainder of his life. For the 'Temple of Man' is not just a figure of speech. In this extraordinary structure, Schwaller intuited a master plan - the temple, in every aspect, embodies the laws relating to the creation of mankind, its spiritual development and destiny. It is uniquely constructed on three separate axes relating to the sun, moon and Jupiter, the planet of growth.

Even more astonishing, Schwaller claimed that a human skeleton superimposed over the plan of the temple relates in all its parts to the symbolic functions and activities portrayed in the corresponding part of the temple. For example, in the Lower Court, which relates to the leg of the skeleton, West points out the colossal statues of Ramesses II striding forth, drawing the viewer's attention irresistibly to their huge trunklike legs. At the site of the umbilical chord, the king's birth is announced. His names are written in the sanctuary corresponding to the vocal chords, showing his spiritual birth through the power of the Word uttered by the Neters. The names of the Neters themselves are written at the site of the mouth.

Finally we arrive at the Triple Sanctuary, corresponding to the skull and the three endocrine glands contained within it - the Triple Word or three-in-one of virtually every major religion. Interestingly, the crown of the superimposed skeleton would extend outside the sanctuary, and Schwaller states that this is because the cranium contains the portion of the brain controlling the self-will or ego, the dualising function. The temple itself represents man before the 'Fall' into ego-consciousness; it is a diagram of the cosmic human, in a state of unity with the universe. The ego structures, although vital, deal in duality and separateness, so they must be excluded from the temple.

Luxor was begun under Amenhotep III (1391-1353 BC) and completed in four stages, each leaving an 'anchor' for the next, with the final additions being made in Roman times. Yet even then, the original axes were strictly adhered to - proof, West says, that the temple was constructed according to a master plan handed down throughout the ages.

The approach to the temple is dominated by an avenue of human-headed sphinxes (as befits the symbolism of the Temple of Man) and was originally part of a processional way leading to Karnak temple some two miles away. At Karnak, the approach is lined by ram-headed sphinxes, representing the god Amun, and relating to the Age of Aries (c2160 BC - 1 AD), when the temple was begun, and when the cult of Amun was prominent.


We enter this enormous site, covering over 100 hectares, before dawn, feeling lost in its half-ruined immensity. As we stand by the sacred lake where the priests of old performed their ablutions, the rising sun turns the waters pink and gold, and a hawk soars past, like the sun god Horus greeting the dawn. It is one of those timeless moments that Egypt unrolls like a magic carpet day after day.

Later on, in the chapel of Sekhmet, we crouch in the darkness before the black granite statue of the goddess, illuminated only by a shaft of light from an opening in the ceiling above. She seems older than the universe itself, the mother of us all. Again we enter a timeless zone, and for some it is an almost unbearably moving experience.

Now that our emotions have been stimulated, it's time for our brains to do some work. Karnak dates back to at least the Middle Kingdom (2055 - 1650 BC) and, like Luxor, it was added to up to the Roman period (30BC - 295 AD). In the hypostyle hall, which is acclaimed as one of the world's great architectural masterpieces, a forest of huge columns crowded close together rises far overhead. West explains how this represents the process of physical creation in the form of a papyrus thicket emerging from the primeval swamp. The entire theme of Karnak is that of perpetual creation from the void, and parts of the temple have been deliberately left unfinished in recognition that the process of creation is never complete.

If it took Schwaller 15 years to read the architectural grammar of Luxor, it would take a lifetime, or several, to begin to understand the master plan behind Karnak, and we have only a few hours in which to experience it. All that is possible in the time available is to be overwhelmed. emotionally and intellectually, by a sense of awe that it exists at all. This is a theme repeated time after time during our Egyptian odyssey.

More Magic and Mystery

To visit Egypt is to be immersed in the miraculous; every day brings new adventures of discovery and nothing is ordinary. Superlatives begin to dry up as we trek from one architectural masterpiece to another, each with its own special atmosphere and features.

Seti I's temple at Abydos is renowned for the perfection and delicacy of its artwork, and right behind it sits the mysterious Oseirion. Like the Valley Temple of the Sphinx, it is constructed of huge slabs of stone and it was built in a depression which has been prone to flooding since around 10,000 BC. West takes this as evidence that it must have been constructed before then, as it hardly makes sense to build on such an unsuitable site.

Then there is the dark magical atmosphere of Hathor's temple at Dendera, with its mysterious crypts, famous zodiac and stunning rooftop views. Or the lovely island temple of Isis at Philae, which was moved stone by stone from a neighbouring island because of rising water levels when the Aswan dam was built in the 1960s. This was the last practising Egyptian temple, which was not overtaken by Christianity until 550 AD.

At Abu Simbel, deep in the southern desert at Nubia, another rescue mission has saved the temple of Ramesses II, where four gigantic statues of the pharaoh now project their power into eternity across the waters of Lake Nasser. The temple was designed so that the on the anniversaries of Ramesses' birth and coronation, the rising sun would penetrate into the sanctuary at the rear of the temple, illuminating the gods seated there with Ramesses among them.

It was here that I made a personal discovery. On one of the walls in the hypostyle hall are some strangely familiar images - a man plummeting from a tower, a chariot, the sun (Horus), moon (Thoth), star (the goddess Sesheta with a seven-rayed star on her head), the Devil (Set). Is it just a coincidence that these same symbols later turn up on the Tarot cards? Does this indicate that the Tarot really did originate in Egypt, as is sometimes claimed?

Completing the Cycle

Our time in Egypt is almost at an end, so we complete the cycle and finish where we began, back at Giza. The setting is like the grand finale of an opera - the pyramids are huge triangles of darkness against a sunset of red, orange and peach, with a full moon hanging overhead.

Nothing sums up Egypt in the popular imagination more than these enigmatic structures. Are they tombs, observatories, initiation chambers, geodesic markers, or something else entirely? West demolishes the tomb theory by pointing out that no coffin or mummies have been found in any of the eight 'great' pyramids of the 3rd or 4th dynasties. Unlike in genuine tombs, the interiors are devoid of inscriptions and artwork, and there would be more than one tomb per Pharaoh in any case. The question of how and why they were built, and what the various chambers, passages and shafts were for has been debated ever since visitors have been coming to Egypt, and seems destined to remain a mystery.

Bent double, we clamber 130 feet up the low ascending passageway of the Great Pyramid into the cathedral-like space of the Grand Gallery. As West says, it is like being inside an enormous instrument of some kind. Then into the King's Chamber, starkly bare apart from the granite sarcophagus at the far end. The atmosphere is thick with pent-up power. West explains that the chamber, like many of the other structures we have seen, is built using the proportions of the Golden Section, symbolising the generation of the universe out of the void.

Then the lights go out and we are plunged into the primal dark. The blackness is so absolute that we can't even tell if our eyes are open or closed. As in the Sekhmet chapel at Karnak, we seem to be suspended in the realms of primordial energy before the world began. Even the gentle snoring of those who found the climb too much cannot totally destroy the illusion. It is like being in a flotation tank in a state of sensory deprivation; spontaneous dreamlike images begin to arise before the eyes. Are we picking up images from the past, or is it simply the brain, desperately casting around for something to occupy itself with?

Suddenly the brutal lights flare on and time begins again. A rapid bent-double scuttle down to the very root of the pyramid, where the strange subterranean chamber lies. This jumble of ruins is another of those anomalies that could almost come from megalithic Europe. It feels even more powerful than the King's Chamber, and even stranger. Then the guards come to shoo us up and out onto the moonlit plateau and we plod in silence back to our hotel. Thus ends one of the most extraordinary chapters in any of our lives.

Egypt represents the highest accomplishments of the human spirit; its architecture is the embodiment in stone of the eternal concerns of human life. For, as Schwaller summed it up, "Man is the temple where the mystery of the everyday is accomplished, the place of combat of the eternal antagonisms, and because of this he is also the place of the revelation of the shadowless Light."


R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz (translated by Deborah Lawlor) The Temple of Man: Apet of the South at Luxor (Inner Traditions 1998)

John Anthony West Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt (Quest Books 1993)

John Anthony West The Traveler's Key to Ancient Egypt: A Guide to the Sacred Places of Ancient Egypt (Theosophical Publishing House 1996)

John Anthony West's website, with details of his tours, can be found at