Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Emile Brugsch had a pre-eminent position in Egyptology in 1904, when a young Englishman came to see him in Cairo. At age 62, Brugsch was famous as the man who in 1881 had brought the royal mummies from their hiding place at Deir-el-Bahri to Cairo, where they remain to this day. It was a spectacular find: some of Egypt’s best-known rulers along with their relatives and unknown others, all hidden safely away for more than two millennia.
Modern Egyptologists are not entirely delighted with how the extraction was done, because to preserve them from local tomb-robbers (who were tortured to reveal their find), he had the more than 50 coffins brought out in two days. This resulted in damage to several, and he’d not thought to make a careful record of how they had been positioned before removal. As result, the identity of some of the mummies is still debated, despite later expeditions to the tomb to look for more data.
But that was archeology in the 19th Century: more Indiana Jones than forensic enquiry.
Working with his Egyptologist brother Heinrich, Brugsch had founded the Boulaq Museum, the collections of which later formed the basis of today’s Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It was in one or other of these two places that the honeymooning Aleister Crowley approached him for help in translating Boulaq exhibit 666, a funerary stele of the 26th Dynasty that had been moved to the main museum two years earlier. Brugsch passed the task off to an assistant, who duly gave his work to Crowley a day or so later.
It’s often forgotten that Brugsch was a French-speaking Belgian, and the assistant too was French. The stele was therefore translated using conventional French spellings. The god Montu is rendered as “Mentu,” Bes-en-Mut, Ankh-af-na-Khonsu’s father, is rendered Bes-na-Maut and a ch (as in ‘champagne’) is used in the name of his mother, Ta-Nesh or Ta-Neshi. For over a century since, Thelemites have said Liber Resh with a Frenchified version of Ancient Egyptian. But then, the Golden Dawn tradition itself is like that: for example, it took me ages to find out that “Auromoth” is Mut.
The Stele of Revealing, to give it its modern designation, measures about 12 x 20 inches, and is of painted gesso on wood. It is unexceptional except, perhaps, in having Nut/Nuit around its perimeter. Many men with the resources had such funerary testaments made, stating their virtues and piety.
I’m struck by the fact that Ankh-af-na-Khonsu was a priest of the Theban war-god Montu, yet his stele is devoted to Ra-Harakhty, or Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Presumably his allegiance to the one was ‘professional,’ and to the other, personal. His burial was protected in peace by one or both of these deities for 23 centuries, until their discovery, along with the Stele, in 1858. Even disregarding what Crowley and Thelema made of the Stele, he is now one of the most famous priests Egypt ever produced.
Because I’ve been around copies of the Stele for over 20 years, I’ve tended to take it for granted most of the time. In my own temple, it was there for … Thelemic politeness? A theurgic good-luck charm? More than that, obviously, but not something that had a discernible impact on me any more. When I recently moved back to Mexico, for the first week I worked solely with a votive candle on my altar, only gradually unpacking other things I’d brought.
It was when I put the Stele up in the East that I felt it more strongly than I had in ages. It filled out the temple, or warmed it up: I can’t quite describe the sensation. But there was a sense of renewing contact with a mentor; a rounding-out and enriching, and a call to action.
As a result, I re-read the story of Crowley’s encounter with it in 1904, and how The Book of the Law came to be; and I gave a talk on aspects of it to my Temple. Beyond that, though, I was – and remain – struck by how it compresses a Universe into a simple scheme of images. And how it kick-started the entire process of Thelema, through Crowley’s life and for seven decades beyond it.
Whether Emile Brugsch was at all moved by what the Crowleys told him over dinner, we don’t know. Probably, his eminence in his field allowed him to forget about them. Yet this man, who lived until 1930, by which time he was almost 88, occupies his own little corner of the Thelemic story as Brugsch Bey, the man who could not permit the “abstruction” of the Stele from the ill-ordered house. He’d have found the term insulting, no doubt, but I wonder if his rushed carelessness at Deir-el-Bahri 23 years earlier was also reflected in how he curated museums.
I should have some particular revelation to offer here, I suppose; some grain of little-known wisdom about the Stele and its copies. But I feel bidden merely to tell people simply to explore it for themselves. It exists in multiple dimensions, the historic aspect being only one of them. The one thing I would advise is to let the Stele itself “speak” to you, without trying to extract a meaning from it. Its real story lies in what it pulls out from each of us, not in its past.
Love is the law, love under will,