John Anthony West believes the sacred arts of ancient Egypt may have originated in Atlantis. Is there room for such heresy in the Church of Progress?
The Sphinx may be humanity’s most enigmatic monument. Its proximity to the famed pyramids at Giza, Egypt, only serves to increase the timeless mystery of this sculpted lion with a human face.
The Giza monuments just outside Cairo have fascinated travelers, scholars, and cranks for many centuries. They were already ancient when the Greek historian Herodotus visited them around 500 b.c. Academic Egyptologists assure us that the Sphinx was built around 2500 b.c., during Dynasty IV of the Old Kingdom, and that it represents Pharaoh Khafre or Chephren, who built it along with the nearby second pyramid of Giza. But some independent Egyptologists and scientists today take issue with this interpretation, insisting that it was built thousands of years earlier.
So who, then, built the Sphinx?
In October 1991, a member of an interdisciplinary team headed by author and explorer John Anthony West shocked the academic community when he presented a paper to the American Geological Society in San Diego. Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of geology at Boston University, proposed that the Sphinx’s lower body was eroded by running water, not just wind and sand as had been previously accepted. Schoch made a similar presentation in 1992 to members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago. According to historic weather patterns, this would push the Sphinx’s age back at least 3,000 years, to a time when frequent rainfall drenched the now-dry Egyptian desert. This alternative theory presented a problem for traditional archaeology in that Egyptian civilization had not yet emerged at the earlier date.
Schoch’s theory received considerable media attention, and in 1993 an estimated 30 million viewers watched an NBC special about it, The Mystery of the Sphinx. The show, narrated by Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, featured West’s Sphinx research team. Other team members included Houston geophysicist Dr. Thomas Dobecki, who studied the rocks in and near the Sphinx with special non-invasive instruments called geophones, and New York police investigator Frank Domingo. After a forensic comparison between the Sphinx’s face and a statue of Pharaoh Chephren from the Cairo Museum, Domingo concluded the faces did not match, meaning the Sphinx must represent someone else.
West won an Emmy Award for his research work for his work on the NBC special. But academic Egyptologists reacted with horror to what they perceived as West’s heresy regarding the Sphinx’s age. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s undersecretary of state for the Giza monuments, who controls access for archeological research at the site, then withheld permits initially given to West and his team.
"It was a real battle," West recalls during an interview with FATE. West goes on to discuss the impact of his mentor, Schwaller de Lubicz, on his work in Egypt. Taken together, their research opens a wider and deeper appreciation of ancient Egypt and its sacred knowledge, which manifests as a combination of religion, science, and the arts.
The Dogs of Ibiza
It’s a long way from West’s hometown of New York City to the Giza plateau, and his starting point for the journey was equally improbable. "Spain played a big part," he explains, recalling how it all began some 42 years ago. After his first short story was published in 1957, the 25-year-old West left his copywriter job with a Manhattan ad agency and headed for the Spanish island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean.
At the time, Ibiza "was a beautiful and completely unsoiled place," West recalls, "the home of what was a very bohemian colony...a lot of writers and painters and so on." In addition, there were "the dogs of Ibiza, the Ôpodenco Ibicenco’, which are thought to be and almost certainly are the purebred descendants of the old Egyptian hunting dog," he adds. "I loved those dogs and I’ve always had them."
It was in Ibiza’s bohemian circle that West discovered the work of G. I. Gurdjieff -- a mystical writer from Armenia. Gurdjieff traveled widely in central Asia at the turn of the century; he later developed and taught exercises to awaken human consciousness in Europe. West moved to London in 1966 to follow Gurdjieff’s teachings. There, he became interested in the work of French philosopher R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz while working on a book about astrology. De Lubicz would come to have a great influence on West’s later work.
A unique figure, Schwaller combined formal studies in the Western sciences of chemistry and mathematics with a deep knowledge of philosophy, orientalism, and hermetic sciences. Starting in 1938, Schwaller spent 15 years at Luxor, Egypt, taking meticulous measurement during his study of the Great Temple there. Schwaller published many monographs and essays about Egypt, but his masterpiece was a 1957 book about Luxor, The Temple of Man. West’s mediocre French made it difficult to digest Schwaller’s work, he recalls, but did not halt his self-directed studies.
"I realized that he had done something of immense importance which was to document the existence of what he called a sacred science -- a science of cosmic principles, existing throughout the course of dynastic Egypt," says West. "And it is the science, not just luck or artistic genius, that is responsible for those incredible temples, tombs, pyramids, and so on.
What began as a chapter in an astrology book developed into a full-blown study. In the 1979 book Serpent in the Sky, West laid out Schwaller’s theories of symbolic Egyptology in detail. "The Temple of Man is unique," he wrote. "For it provides a complete, coherent doctrine fusing art, science, philosophy, and religion into a single body of wisdom that can account for the civilization of ancient Egypt in its entirety."
Church of Progress
This sacred knowledge was initially introduced to the Western world through the Greek philosopher Pythagoras -- who drew his doctrine of numbers as cosmic principles from the Egyptians -- and later through Plato and his intellectual heirs. Though a great deal of ancient wisdom and science went up in smoke during the infamous burning of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, the sacred arts and sciences were not completely lost, according to West.
This knowledge "was preserved, not intact, through alchemy, through Masonic traditions, to a certain extent even through Catholicism," says West, who believes that some key elements of Catholic doctrine actually originated in ancient Egypt. "The whole thing of the Annunciation and the virgin birth and divine birth and resurrection [of Christ], all of this comes right out of the Egyptian mythology, right out of the Osiris-Isis-Horus cycle," he adds. "It’s all there; there is no argument about this, but unfortunately the Christian Church lost the science in the process and ultimately left themselves vulnerable to the Church of Progress."
This last item refers to modern Western materialistic and scientific philosophy, based on the theory of evolution and a belief in linear progress between primitive and modern man. The Church of Progress exhibits a heavily Eurocentric emphasis. Yet, according to both Schwaller and traditional Egyptology, Nile civilization during Dynasty I was already highly developed in terms of its written hieroglyphic language, religion, and artistic traditions. The architectural, mathematical, and geodetic accomplishments of the Giza Pyramids show that by Dynasty IV, the Egyptians possessed a complete knowledge of this sacred science.
Schwaller suggested that this knowledge was probably a legacy from an earlier civilization: the mythical continent of Atlantis. The only ancient historical documents that describe Atlantis are Plato’s dialogues, Critias and Timaeus, in which he clearly states that the Greek legislator Solon learned of Atlantis from priests of the Temple of Sais in the Nile.
The search for Atlantis has consumed numerous writers since Plato’s day and the location of the doomed continent has been suggested to be just about everywhere. Schwaller didn’t really write about Atlantis. He suggested that the Egyptians were its descendants, however, and that the one place to look for evidence of great antiquity was the mysterious Sphinx.
"Schwaller observed that the Sphinx was weathered by water and not by wind and sand [which] led me on my own quest to try to back that up," West says, describing the genesis of what became his Sphinx project.
"I realized that I could make a case for the antiquity of Egypt through the writers of antiquity and so on, but that wasn’t science; to prove by geology that the Sphinx was weathered by water and not by wind and sand, you would make a very strong case for the existence of a still earlier civilization," he adds. "You want to call it Atlantis [but] I am always careful about that. Robert Schoch and myself, we call Atlantis the A word."
Digging for Peace
When the NBC television documentary The Mystery of the Sphinx was broadcast in 1993, academic Egyptologists harshly criticized the program as slick pseudoscience. Hawass refused to allow West and his team to conduct further research on the Sphinx.
Later, another project headed by Dr. Joe Schor was allowed to do some preliminary work. Schor’s team was funded by the Virginia-based Edgar Cayce Foundation, leading West to question the wisdom of the group’s approach.
Though West has both lectured for and received support from the ECF, he believes the group’s interest is limited to confirming one of the late prophet Edgar Cayce’s most famous predictions. Cayce believed there is a "Hall of Records" buried underneath the left paw of the Sphinx, which could prove once and for all the link between Atlantis and Egypt.
"They [the ECF] are more interested in the Hall of Records and finding that it exists than they are in the science and the scholarship," cautions West. "To put all your eggs in the Hall of Records is a dangerous procedureÉ. We are pretty sure that there is a chamber of some sort underneath the left paw of the Sphinx, but what’s in that chamber absolutely remains to be seen."
By the mid-1990s the relationship between Hawass and independent researchers like West, Graham Hancock, and Robert Bauval became a virtual battle, punctuated by acrimonious statements from both sides. This was followed by a détente of sorts, marked by increasingly cordial relations, if not friendship.
"We disagree as strongly as ever about the science and the scholarship," explains West. "But we are all agreed that this should be carried out on civil terms or better yet, amicable terms."
West and other Egyptologists cannot do their research without Hawass’ cooperation: He alone has the final word on all permits to conduct research at Giza. "Zahi is very happy to admit that this whole Sphinx and Pyramid controversy is the best publicity for Egypt since the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb," West says. "I mean, the whole world is fascinated by this controversy and the possibility that Egypt is much older than anyone thinks -- as the Egyptians themselves always said."
The Sphinx is "unarguably the world’s most politically sensitive archaeological site," according to West. But, he adds, Hawass is now prepared to allow further research -- with the backing of an accredited university. This condition is difficult for West and other academic outsiders to meet, he notes, since the Egyptology and Archaeology departments at many universities oppose their ideas.
"If we go over there with our seismographs and ground penetrating radar [and] we just do soundings of non-sensitive spots, it doesn’t matter what we find -- sand or water," West says, optimistically. "But we prove that whatever the radar shows or the seismograph shows really is there."
In other words, even if West’s group finds only a natural hole in the limestone, that could help if Hawass is convinced that the technology works and reconsiders his position. Then, perhaps, "he’ll really think about drilling," West says, "down the famous cavity [to] find out if it really is the Hall of Records, or if it’s just an empty hall, or if it’s something that’s been plundered or removed, or tickled about with in antiquity."
The Lost Tombs
Hawass took center stage during a Fox television special that aired March 2, Opening the Lost Tombs: Live from Egypt, hosted by Maury Povich. Prior to the show, rumors discussed on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM and elsewhere suggested that the Fox program would feature a dramatic live opening of Cayce’s Hall of Records. The reality was much tamer, of course.
Three sites in the Giza complex were opened live before Fox’s cameras: a so-called "Tomb of the Unknown" in the western cemetery; the small pyramid of Queen Khamerernebty II, whose husband, Pharaoh Menkare, ordered the third Giza Pyramid to be built; and a mysterious subterranean chamber that proved the most interesting of the three.
The first site contained a 4,500- year-old mummy, described by Hawass as that of Kai, overseer of the King. The burial chamber in Queen Khamerernebty’s pyramid was not even finished and contained only a skeleton -- most likely a thief who died there some 2,500 years ago. But the third site, according to Hawass,contained an elaborate symbolic shrine of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of the dead who was believed to rule the underworld.
The Fox show also included short interviews and profiles of West and other independent researchers like Hancock, Bauval, John van Auken of the Edgar Cayce Foundation, and even the controversial Richard Hoagland, who theorizes a Giza-Cydonia link with Mars. But these segments, which appeared throughout the "special" coverage, are best characterized as pop Egyptology -- especially since they also contained old-time favorites like King Tut’s curse and even speculation about whether this famous boy Pharaoh was murdered.
None of these segments covered the unorthodox views of West and others in great detail, but they did provide an entertaining counterpoint to the live archeological portions of the show. If nothing else, Opening the Lost Tombs showed once again the timeless and enduring fascination inspired by ancient Egyptian civilization, even in today’s "modern" world.
The rich heritage found along the Nile River has much more to offer than mere fascination, however, according to West and his contemporaries. The hermetic knowledge of ancient Egypt civilization united mathematics, art, religion, and science. Though emulated through the millennia, it is largely ignored today.
For example, the so-called Golden Section number, phi (a mathematic function approximated as 1.618), is found in the geometry of the Temple of Luxor and parts of the Great Pyramid. It also appears in later construction such as the Greek Parthenon in Athens and some Gothic cathedrals, but not in modern structures.
Phi may have deeper meaning than mere geometry. In Serpent in the Sky, West says it governs the proportions of some living organisms and complex orbital relationships among some planets in our solar system. Indeed, he believes, understanding phi and other ancient Egyptian concepts may be crucial to humanity’s well being.
Yet, according to West, the Church of Progress reduces the sophisticated civilization of ancient Egypt to a primitive and superstitious society -- obsessed by death, yet somehow able to leave behind an impressive series of lasting architectural marvels. The modern world appreciates the beauty and mystery of these monuments, but the sacred science behind their construction has been forgotten.