Riddle of the Sphinx
The Sphinx symbolises eternal life.
Although this famous monument has suffered over the centuries the archetype itself is perennial—representing the cycle of death and rebirth. When we understand this, we will come to love it as the most profound secret in the cosmos.
The picture above hints at the awesome expanse of time that has passed since this guardian was carved from the living limestone. In fact, records show that for centuries only the head was visible above the desert sands. Even today it remains the most enigmatic sculpture on Earth and has influenced many cultures around the world—versions can be seen in Greece, Turkey, India, Burma, Thailand and the Phillippines.
The Sphinx is different from most other deities because it has a human face with the body of an animal. Usually, the Egyptian gods are depicted the other way around. The inference here is that the Sphinx represents something radically different from the gods of the Egyptian pantheon. To begin exploring this, we are reminded of two animal emblems often depicted on the foreheads of initiates: a vulture and a cobra.
The vulture represents the Egyptian goddess Nekhbet. In turn, the cobra symbolises the Egyptian goddess Wadjet. These protective symbols of death and life were referred to as the Two Ladies. Indeed, Nekhbet victimises the world as the vulture of death but simultaneously Wadjet rejuvenates the world as the serpent of life.
Above: the Eye of Horus (pineal gland) was also known as “the uterus of the brain”
There is much disagreement over the age of the Sphinx but the water erosion around its enclosure would suggest that is radically predates dynastic Egypt. By studying the weathering, geologists have concluded that construction was started sometime during the archaic Zep Tepi. By looking up instead of down however, a much more specific build date can be inferred. Regardless of these findings, it’s apparent that the Sphinx had the body and head of two goddesses:
» Mafdet the cheetah of death «
» Wadjet the serpent of rebirth «
Mafdet was known as the “flying cat” and was often depicted as a cheetah running up the side of an executioner’s staff. It was said that Mafdet ripped out the hearts of the guilty, delivering them to the pharaoh’s feet. Here we are reminded of this predator’s fixed claws—a rarity in the big cats. Mafdet then, makes up the feline body of the Sphinx.
Wadjet was portrayed as the Uraeus emerging from the forehead of the Sphinx. The Nemes headdress resembled the hood of a rearing cobra and implied protection for the pharaoh. Wadjet was revered as the goddess of birth, protector of children and in later dynasties the guardian of pharaohs. Wadjet (the winged serpent) is one of the oldest Egyptian goddesses and The Going Forth of Wadjet was celebrated annually on December 25.
Above: Wadjet means “papyrus-coloured one”
So this iconography is symbolic of the breathing out and in of the universe: Mafdet delivers attack and death and Wadjet resurrects with protection and rebirth. Built by our ancestors before dynastic Egypt, the Sphinx describes how contrary forces can be expressed within us all: in reality extremes actually give rise to each other. So the Riddle of the Sphinx deals with the relationship between perceived opposites:
Name the two sisters: one gives birth to the other who in turn gives birth to the first?
If you answered “Mafdet and Wadjet” then a most curious thing happens: you transcend the opposites. This is the intent of the riddle: it reminds us to honour the eternal cycle of corruption and rejuvenation within ourselves. So the two goddesses known for their devouring and sustaining traits must be identified within us as the “sisters” they truly are. This sacred process leads in one direction: immortality. Eventually we accept death and rebirth as a simultaneous event. As the late John Anthony West put it:
When death is regarded not (as with us) as an ultimate dissolution, but rather as a transitional (and crucial) stage of the journey, then the apparent Egyptian preoccupation with death becomes exactly the opposite of what it seems to be. It is, in fact, a preoccupation with life in the deepest possible sense.
Below is a representation of Hermes Trismegistus—an initiate who mastered the three royal realms. If we examine the geometry around his face it speaks to the crowns of POWER, LOVE and SERVICE as aspects of consciousness (at centre).
Hermeticism states that all phenomena of the material universe are really manifestations of an infinite LIVING MIND. Here we are reminded of the Eye of Providence which is often depicted as an all-seeing eye within a triangle. This implies that all things share a connection because they exist within the awareness of THE ALL and are therefore subject to the laws of created things. This universe can be explained as a vast awareness that is also called pure consciousness.
This intelligence has a geometry that is often called the triquetra. The three circles also represent early cell division and by extension the simplest conceivable form of the Flower of Life. This geometry also inspired la fleur de lys and heralds the rebirth of the soul—as implied by the face in the middle.
The Sphinx lost its crown thousands of years ago. We can still see its shape reflected however, in the kings of Egypt throughout the ages. It remains a powerful reminder of the sacred path that Thoth championed over 11,000 years ago.