August 23, 2012 TOLS

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The language of the Ancient Egyptians was first effectively translated by a Frenchman, Francois Champollion, in the early 1800s. French scholarship remained dominant in the field for much of the 19th Century, as men such as Auguste Mariette (1821-1881) energetically excavated all they could from the Nile Valley. Mariette in fact had a monopoly on excavation in Egypt for many years, which helped establish the primacy of French scholarship and modes of translating the ancient language.

When Aleister Crowley turned to the museum curator Brugsch Bey to translate the Stele of Revealing in 1904, he was dealing with a Belgian who was another French speaker, and who naturally used the mode of translation most familiar to him.

This means, of course, that there’s continuing confusion about pronunciation of the names from the Stele. We hear people saying “Bes-na-mort,” or “wise Ta-netch,” when “maut” was Brusch Bey’s  way of rendering the goddess-name we normally see written today as Mut (rhymes with ‘put’), and Ankh-af-na-Khonsu’s mother called herself Ta-Nesh, or Ta-Neshi. A French ch is pronounced like an English sh, and the syllable au is (roughly) like an English oh. With Maut, Brugsch was following an established linguistic convention that equated O and U sounds, as occurs with transliterations of the Hebrew letter Vav today. There was a belief at one point in the 19th Century that Hebrew derived from Ancient Egyptian, and there was certainly input from one culture to the other.

Then there’s Mentu. The French en is pronounced roughly like an English on, and the god is now usually called Montu in English scholarly documents. To keep things confusing, the name (like Amen, as in Amen-Ra or Tuthankhamen) might still be written as Mentu, but the on sound is intended by the writer, who is just conforming to a long-established precedent that is understood by scholars (but not necessarily lay people) of many countries.

Similarly, th in French is hard, not soft, so when Hadit is written as Hadith, or Nuit as Nuith, the th at the end should still be a hard t, not the sound used at the end of our word wrath. A reverse confusion comes with the goddess Hathor, since in French words, an initial H is not sounded, but remains silent. Mariette added an initial A to his spelling, to give Ahathor, so that the H would be sounded by his fellow French readers. But the Egyptians, like North American English-speakers, didn’t drop their aitches, and for us the initial A is superfluous.

Hermetic magick has survived since Golden Dawn days despite dubious Hebrew pronunciation, and no doubt the practice of Liber Resh will survive despite mangled Ancient Egyptian. Mispronunciation of the names from the Stele has become almost standard, at least in North America. After all, there was no goddess Nuit corresponding exactly to the Thelemic conception, still less a god called Hadit, and the Adoration is a very free-form translation of the ancient text. So why not just keep on with established (mal)practice?

The risk is that people continue to misunderstand which deities are intended by the Adoration. For example, I’ve had several Thelemites solemnly inform me that Maut is the same goddess as Ma’at, when quite plainly she isn’t. Maut/Mut (the Auromoth of the Golden Dawn rituals) is very much a mother figure, an emblem of Binah, where Ma’at, the goddess of balance, is almost androgynous. They’re important to distinguish.

Lastly, there’s an old saw that still recurs in various places, that “wise Ta-Nech” is an emblem of Chokmah, which after all means Wisdom, while Bes-na-Maut, with the goddess in his name, becomes emblematic of Binah and the female principle. The problem is, as noted above, that wise Ta-Nech was the Stele owner’s mother, and Bes-na-Maut was his father. Androgyny is a familiar concept to magicians, but this misrepresentation muddles things too much. It’s simply not true.


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