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The Arabic phrase Ikhwan al-Safa (short for, among many possible transcriptions, Ikhwān aṣ-Ṣafāʾ wa Khullān al-Wafā wa Ahl al-Ḥamd wa abnāʾ al-Majd, meaning "Brethren of Purity, Loyal Friends, People worthy of praise and Sons of Glory") can be translated as either the "Brethren of Purity" or the "Brethren of Sincerity"; various scholars such as Ian Netton prefer "of Purity" because of the group's ascetic impulses towards purity and salvation.
A suggestion made by Goldziher, and later written about by Philip K. Hitti in his History of Arabs, is that the name is taken from a story in Kalilah wa-Dimnah, in which a group of animals, by acting as faithful friends (ikhwan al-safa), escape the snares of the hunter. The story concerns a ring-dove and its companions who get entangled in the net of a hunter seeking birds. Together, they leave themselves and the ensnaring net to a nearby rat, who is gracious enough to gnaw the birds free of the net; impressed by the rat's altruistic deed, a crow becomes the rat's friend. Soon a tortoise and gazelle also join the company of animals. After some time, the gazelle is trapped by another net; with the aid of the others and the good rat, the gazelle is soon freed, but the tortoise fails to leave swiftly enough and is himself captured by the hunter. In the final turn of events, the gazelle repays the tortoise by serving as a decoy and distracting the hunter while the rat and the others free the tortoise. After this, the animals are designated as the "Ikwhan al-Safa".
This story is mentioned as an exemplum when the Brethren speak of mutual aid in one rasa'il, a crucial part of their system of ethics that has been summarized thus:
In this Brotherhood, self is forgotten; all act by the help of each, all rely upon each for succour and advice, and if a Brother sees it will be good for another that he should sacrifice his life for him, he willingly gives it.
The Brethren regularly met on a fixed schedule. The meetings apparently took place on three evenings of each month: once near the beginning, in which speeches were given, another towards the middle, apparently concerning astronomy and astrology, and the third between the end of the month and the 25th of that month; during the third one, they recited hymns with philosophical content. During their meetings and possibly also during the three feasts they held, on the dates of the sun's entry into the Zodiac signs "Ram, Cancer, and Balance"), besides the usual lectures and discussions, they would engage in some manner of liturgy reminiscent of the Harranians.
I am really loving all the implications of that
I am sort of stunned at the moment and I am going to have to read through a couple of more times to get my bearings and digest what you have contributed.
The zodiac is a planisphere or map of the stars on a plane projection, showing the 12 constellations of the zodiacal band forming 36 decans of ten days each, and the planets. These decans are groups of first-magnitude stars. These were used in the ancient Egyptian calendar, which was based on lunar cycles of around 30 days and on the heliacal rising of the star Sothis (Sirius).
Its representation of the zodiac in circular form is unique in ancient Egyptian art. More typical are the rectangular zodiacs which decorate the same temple's pronaos.
Denderah zodiac in real colors
The celestial arch is represented by a disc held up by four pillars of the sky in the form of women, between which are inserted falcon-headed spirits. On the first ring 36 spirits symbolize the 360 days of the Egyptian year.
On an inner circle, one finds constellations, showing the signs of the zodiac. Some of these are represented in the same Greco-Roman iconographic forms as their familiar counterparts (e.g. the Ram, Taurus, Scorpio, and Capricorn, albeit most in odd orientations in comparison to the conventions of ancient Greece and later Arabic-Western developments), whilst others are shown in a more Egyptian form: Aquarius is represented as the flood god Hapy, holding two vases which gush water. Rogers noted the similarities of unfamiliar iconology with the three surviving tablets of a "Seleucid zodiac" and both relating to kudurru, "boundary-stone" representations: in short, Rogers sees the Dendera zodiac as "a complete copy of the Mesopotamian zodiac".
The Indestructibles is the name given by the Egyptians to refer to two bright stars that always could be seen circling the North Pole. Today we know them as Kochab, in the bowl of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), and Mizar, in the middle of the handle of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).
The Egyptians believed that the unmovable area the stars circled was heaven. The pyramids were built to align north with a single, perfectly aligned vent. The shaft itself, built into the structure, started at the chamber of King Khufu, and ending at the outside. The shaft was built at an angle, so it could always see The Indestructibles. Their naming "Indestructibles" is directly related to the fact that they encircle heaven. The Egyptians built this vent in the pyramids in order to ensure a perfectly (although recent researches have rendered them not completely perfect) aligned path towards heaven. Because the builders who built those pyramids participated in the act of easing the King or Queen's path to the Indestructibles, they too were guaranteed a position in heaven.
How's that going?
I am really interested in why certain types of information seem to struggle so hard on its journeys through different cultures and how human politics influence its dissemination. It always circles around the same stuff I suppose, or the same few things; in this case important information about our past hidden in the proprietary cant of "secret societies".
That's what the Ikhwan al-Safa make me think of, a proto-benevolent-brotherhood, ala the Freemasons or even certain Sufic sects I have heard of. One of the things that has always struck me about "fraternal orders" and "benevolent societies" is that much of what they vow to uphold for one another, when society will not I guess, is/are the basic features of human dignity; having someone around to bury you when you die has always been a biggie, and they also usually have a vow to "visit the suffering". That sort of thing.
I don't know, of course, I'm rambling but like I said, could take weeks. What stuck with me most was thinking about the Ikhwan al-Safa and groups like them and how humans just sort of know how to set that all up no matter what part of the world they come from.
I guess in a way I am becoming interested in management systems theory and economics, game theory too. I want to know how and why we organize ourselves like this. I want to understand the politics and economies that are involved in information sharing. I think these days they are starting to call it Library Science.
1 80th Chapter.
The Eight (1) were Your first manifestation (2),
until You completed these, You being Single (3).
Secret was Your body among the elders,
5 and You kept Yourself hidden as Amun,
at the head of the gods.
The material principle ("Tatenen" or "primeval hill") offers the land, not the seed, the creative principle ("Re", source of an eternity of everlasting life & regeneration). So Amun creates a material pre-condition (a matrix or space, field, realm of options). Primeval matter is made manifest by Amun out of Himself in His primeval time, which is a liminal, mythical, "cross-over" from the Single Amun (in non-ogdoadic pre-creation) to the Amun as "head of the gods" (in ogdoadic pre-creation and in enneadic creation).
Ramesside and Memphite theologies go a step further : the Nun is a manifestation of Amun (or Ptah). The 8th Chapter (the beginning of which is lost) ends with these words about Amun : "God with souls more powerful than those of the gods, because He is the One who remains unique, Divine, whose Name is hidden among the Ogdoad." Taken here a step higher (80), and more explicit, the present enclosure reaffirms this, but starts with the affirmation that the Ogdoad is a manifestation or transformation of Amun.
1 200th Chapter.
Secret of manifestations and sparkling of shape.
Marvellous God, rich in forms.
All gods boast of Him,
5 to magnify (1) themselves in His beauty,
to the extent of His Divinity.
Re himself is united with His body.
He is the great one in Heliopolis.
He is called Tatenen.
Amun, who comes out of the Nun,
to guide the peoples (2).
10 Another of His forms are the Eight,
primeval one of the primeval ones, begetter of Re.
He completed himself as Atum,
being of one body with him.
He is the Universal Lord,
who initiated that which exists.
Indeed, in this song, Amun is described in positive ("katapathic" - lines 3 - 17) and negative ("apophatic" - lines 18 - 28) terms. In the former, the immanence is affirmed and the "neteru" appear as sparkling manifestations of Amun, so many of His forms, each form becoming "greater" not through themselves, but in His beauty and perfection. In the latter, His absolute transcendence is put to the fore in terms of concealment, secrecy, hiddenness, un-saying and unknowing. In a pantheism, God and His attributes are identical and transcendence is undone. This is not the case here. Hence, our Amun theologians were pan-en-theists, for Amun is transcendent (as preexisting essence) and immanent (as the created existence of His forms, the "neteru" or Divine Names). Everything happens "in" Amun, in other words, nothing falls outside Him ("pan-en-theos", "all-in-God").
"Every being came into being when His being began being.
There is nothing outside Him."
Praise of Amun in the Decree for Nesikhonsu, 6, XXIth Dynasty (the "Credo of Amenism").
The division implied by the diad is applied to Amun Himself. Hence, our title for this chapter ("the Two Lands") is a metaphor for the bi-polarity of the Divine. Amun, on the one hand, equals created existence as a countless variety of manifestations (perfect as the "neteru" and imperfect as the rest of creation). On the other hand, Amun is unknown to both the "neteru" of creation as well as to the Ogdoad. Such a one-and-millions-theology was also at work in the Great Hymn to the Aten :
"You created the sky far away in order to ascend it,
to witness everything You created.
You are alone, shining in Your form of the living Aten.
Risen, radiant, distant and near.
You made millions of forms from Yourself alone :
cities, towns, fields, the river's course."
Akhenaten : Great Hymn to the Aten, 72 - 75.
The "noble" and "base" Divine Names of Amun are the ontological roots of everything in existence. Nearness and remoteness are thus both applied to Amun. Much later, we witness the same theological structure with regard to the all-comprehensive Name of God in the Koran, namely "Allah" and His Most Beautiful Names, which can also be divided in "perfect" and "imperfect".