The three-tongued flame of the four wicks

By David Reigle on January 1, 2021 at 11:43 pm

The Book of Dzyan, Stanza 7, verse 4, begins:

“It is the root that never dies; the three-tongued flame of the four wicks . . .”

In the commentary on this (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 237), Blavatsky appears to quote a parallel passage from the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

“‘I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,’ says the defunct. ‘I enter into the domain of Sekhem (the God whose arm sows the seed of action produced by the disembodied soul) and I enter the region of the Flames who have destroyed their adversaries,’ i.e., got rid of the sin-creating ‘four wicks.’ (See chap. i., vii., ‘Book of the Dead,’ and the ‘Mysteries of Ro-stan.’)”

If the defunct really says “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal” in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, this would be a parallel passage of much significance. So, years ago the late Jeanine Miller contacted me to see if I could find this in the improved translations published since Blavatsky’s time. Blavatsky used the 1882 French translation by Paul Pierret, Le Livre des morts des anciens Égyptiens, for her references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In Pierret’s translation, Blavatsky’s reference to chapter i, line vii, is in the midst of a sentence. I here quote the whole sentence (p. 5):

“Je suis avec Horus ce jour d’envelopper Teshtesh, d’ouvrir la porte au vengeur de l’immobile de coeur

l. 7.  et de rendre mystérieux les mystères de Ro-stau. Je suis avec Horus dans l’acte de pétrir ce bras gauche de l’Osiris qui est à Sekhem; je sors et j’entre dans la demeure des flammes, détruisant les adversaires,

l. 8.  autrement dit les rebelles dans Sekhem.”

Pierret’s French translation was translated into English by Charles H. S. Davis, and published in 1895, titled The Egyptian Book of the Dead. That sentence was rendered into English as (p. 69):

“I am with Horus on this day for covering Teshtesh, for opening the door to the avenger of the god with a motionless heart

7. and for making mysterious the mysteries in Restau. I am with Horus in the act of supporting this left arm of the Osiris who is in Sechem; I go out and enter the blazing-abode, exterminating the opponents,

8. in other words, the rebels in Sechem.”

As may be seen, this is indeed what Blavatsky referred to in her commentary on this stanza from the Book of Dzyan; but the phrase “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal” is not there in either Pierret’s French translation or in its translation into English by Davis. The only reference to flame there is “blazing-abode,” “demeure des flammes.”

Notice that Ro-stau in Pierret’s “mystères de Ro-stau,” Restau in Davis’s “mysteries in Restau,” is Ro-stan in Blavatsky’s “Mysteries of Ro-stan.” This is obviously nothing more than a typographical error in The Secret Doctrine, reading the “u” in Blavatsky’s handwritten Ro-stau as “n.” This was then repeated in The Theosophical Glossary, but without the hyphen: “Rostan. Book of the Mysteries of Rostan; an occult work in manuscript.” As we shall see, other Egyptologists use other variant spellings of this word. More importantly, the “occult work in manuscript” referred to must be the source of the phrase, “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,” and the source of Blavatsky’s interpretation of it. Contrary to Jeanine Miller’s hopes, the improved translations published since Blavatsky’s time do not have this phrase.

Since Pierret’s 1882 French translation used by Blavatsky, the Egyptian Book of the Dead has been translated a few more times. The most famous of these translations is by E. A. Wallis Budge, published in 1895, with a revised translation in 1913. Despite the popularity of the Budge translations up to the present, Egyptian language studies have progressed much since then, and these have been superseded by what are regarded as the more accurate translations made by Raymond O. Faulkner (1972), and by Thomas George Allen (1974), independently of each other. As is well-known, there is no single Egyptian Book of the Dead, but rather a number of somewhat differing collections of “spells.” There are nearly 200 of these spells. A numbering system for them was introduced by Karl Richard Lepsius in the mid-1800s, and it is still in use by Egyptologists. So it is easily possible to locate the same spell in the different published translations of the various versions.

In the 1972 translation by Raymond O. Faulkner, as reprinted in The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (University of Texas Press, Austin, Published in Cooperation with British Museum Press, 1985), this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 35):

“Thoth has helped me so that I might be with Horus on the day of the clothing of the Dismembered One and of the opening of the caverns for the washing of the Inert One and the throwing open of the door of the secret things in Rosetjau; so that I might be with Horus as the protector of the left arm of Osiris who is in Letopolis. I go in and out among those who are there on the day of crushing the rebels in Letopolis so that I may be with Horus on the day of the Festival of Osiris; . . .”

In this translation there is no mention of flame. Instead it has “among those who are there.”

In the 1974 translation by Thomas George Allen, The Book of the Dead, or Going Forth by Day (The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, University of Chicago Press), this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 5):

“I was with Horus on the day of wrapping the Dismembered One and opening the pits, of washing the weary-hearted one and secreting the entrance to the secrets of Rosetau. I was with Horus as savior of that left shoulder of Osiris that was in (Letopolis), going into and out of the devouring flame on the day of expelling the rebels from (Letopolis).”

As in Pierret’s translation used by Blavatsky, there is a reference to flame, but nothing about “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.”

To be more complete, in the 1895 translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum. The Egyptian Text with Interlinear Transliteration and Translation, a Running Translation, Introduction, Etc., this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (pp. 271-272):

“I am with Horus on the day of the clothing of Teshtesh and of the opening of the storehouses of water for the purification of the god whose heart moveth not, and of the unbolting of the door of concealed things in Re-stau. I am with Horus who guardeth the left shoulder of Osiris in Sekhem, and I go into and come out from the divine flames on the day of the destruction of the fiends in Sekhem.”

Budge here adds a footnote on Re-stau: “I.e., ‘the door of the passages of the tomb.’”

In the 1913 revised translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of ANI, the Translation into English and An Introduction, this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 358):

“I am with Horus on the day of dressing Teshtesh. I open the hidden water-springs for the ablutions of Urt-ab. I unbolt the door of the Shetait Shrine in Ra-stau. I am with Horus as the protector (or defender) of the left shoulder of Osiris, the dweller in Sekhem. I enter in among and I come forth from the Flame-gods on the day of the destruction of the Sebhau fiends in Sekhem.”

Budge here adds a footnote on Ra-stau: “Ra-stau is the name given to the entrance to the corridors which led down to the Kingdom of Seker at or quite near to the modern region of Sakkarah.”

The Budge translations refer to “the divine flames,” or “the Flame-gods,” but again, nothing like the phrase “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.”

The first ever English translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead was made by Samuel Birch, and was included in the 1867 book, Egypt’s Place in Universal History, volume 5. This translation was not used by Blavatsky. In it, this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 162):

“I am with Horus the day of clothing Tesh-tesh [the Nile], to open the door to wash the heart of the meek one, keeping secret the secret places in Rusta. I am with Horus supporting the right shoulder of Osiris in Skhem. I come and go from the Realms of Fire [the Phlegethon]. I expel the wicked [or the opposers] from Skhem.”

None of these translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead have anything like the phrase, “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.” Nor do they suggest anything like Blavatsky’s interpretation of this phrase. We must therefore assume that this phrase, and this interpretation, come from the “Book of the Mysteries of Rostan [i.e., Rostau]; an occult work in manuscript.”

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Parabrahman | 4 comments

  • Dewald Bester says:

    I think the quote is not there for 2 reasons. Firstly, its just not there. Secondly, the Egyptians did not conceive of the human being i.t.o. 3 immortal aspects and 4 perishable ones – so it cannot be there. Only Theosophists think in this way, and we’ve not justified ourselves sufficiently. Who amongst us would go to an Academic Egyptology Conference and claim they did? My own thoughts on this could be found online by searching my name and Egypt. Or for my more mature speculations, my name and theosophy/comparative religion. But, I make no great claims for this. It was my attempts to defend Theosophy in the academic arena.
    Erik Hornung, an acclaimed Egyptologist, in his “Secret Lore of the West” distinguished between Egyptology (the scientific study of ancient egypt) and Egyptosophy (whatever it is we feel we are doing). Perhaps we could problematise this, but he does have a point.
    HPB in IU could still refer to Crata Repoa as containing Egyptian knowledge. But, is there any evidence for this outside our own books? It was evidently published before hieroglyphics were translated.
    HPB though the book of the dead was the oldest Egyptian text. It isnt. She was writing as the pyramid texts were just coming to public light.
    Her dating of the pyramids? Can we justify it. I dont say it may not be so, I am talking about what what levels of justification do we apply to our statements.
    It does seem to me there is a distinction to be made between what HPB was justified in saying in her time, and the state of the field now.
    But, so profoundly problematic did the issues seem to me, that the only way forward to my mind was to redescribe what it means to interpret a text or a religion. There is no such thing as an ‘objective’ study of text. (certainly Theosophy is no such study) There are only ‘interested’ and contextualised studies. Of which we are one, and Egyptology is another. We dont find the ‘truth’ of a text, we engage in a conversation with texts and religions for our own purposes. So i turned to literary theory, and a philosophical anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism. I see no way of proving our position ‘right’ in opposition to other presentations.
    David has, to some extent ‘squared the circle’ with his studies on Tibetan Buddhism and Theosophy. Justifying our statements in the Academic setting. To me the larger issue is not our engagement with one particular religion. Being a perennial philosophy we engage with them all in exactly the same, very particular way. This is an almost impossible burden. It seemed to me we needed to understand what we are are doing when we interpret a religion. How do we interpret a religion, what methodological tools do we apply etc.
    Here’s a question. HPB says there are 7 interpretive keys to religious texts. Does anyone know of a Theosophical study of any religious text in which these keys are deliberately applied? I wonder sometimes if we have the courage of our convictions.
    Dewald Bester

  • I briefly checked the hieroglyphic in E.A. Wallis Budge’s 1895 edition, on p. 19:


    Wallis Budge renders this word as ammu, “the flames”. On p. 271-272 we see that he translates it as “the divine flames”. In his vocabulary to the Theban recension, on p. 37 we can find it as ȧmu, “gods of fire”. In his hieroglyphic dictionary Vol. I we find it on p. 49 under ȧm/ȧmit, the “plural form” “flames, fire gods”. The second last element is the sign for “god”, a determinative indicating that the word is the name of a god. Apparently we are not talking about fire or flames per se, so this element seems essential in any translation.

    On the page mentioned by David, p. 272 of Wallis Budge’s 1895 edition, there is a note to the translation “divine flames”, where three “chief variants” are listed, which I followed up on.

    Note Wallis Budge

    In any of these there is no three-tongued flame to be found, with or without four wicks.

  • Dewald: Could a quotation from your masters thesis be of interest here?

  • Dewald Bester says:

    Hi. Another interesting post. I am not an Egyptologist, but I too tried to locate this quote, in much the same way as David, in a very modest masters thesis in 2012. I came to the same conclusion as David. I also could not find that other great quote of HPB -“Oh god Ani (the spiritual sun), thou residest in the agglomeration of thy divine personages”, even though HPB appears to reference it to an Egyptian text.

    My conclusion was then, as it is still now, that Theosophy is in some trouble interpreting Egyptian texts. I dont think any (mainstream) academic scholar finds a Theosophical type reincarnation in Egypt. And, if as HBP says, the adepts always cremated, we’ve some interpretive dancing to do to explain the universal practice of mummification in Egypt. I am aware of the Theosophical rationalising around these 2 issues, but as the TS lacks an “Egyptian Reigle or Mead” we just seem like amateurs. I am not even sure many scholars think there were Greek like Mysteries in Egypt, though some peripheral scholars like Jeremy Naydler seemed to be working that way.

    Where is the Theosophical equivalent of: Assmann, J 2005, Death and salvation in Ancient Egypt, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London? (My point here being, who is actually putting in the real effort?)

    But, what concerned me most was the notion that Egyptologists seemed to have that the Ancient Egyptians did not have a conception of the individual based on a Greek and Christian division of body, soul, and spirit. They had a completely different conception of the individual wherein each ‘aspect’represented the complete individual. See: Finnestad, RB 1986, ‘On transposing soul and body into a monistic conception of being: an
    example from Ancient Egypt’, Religion, vol. 16, no. 4, pg. 359-373; and , Zabkar, LV 1968, A study of the ba concept in Ancient Egyptian texts, The University of
    Chicago Press, Chicago. I found this tremendously challenging as someone very sympathetic to Theosophy, and I am not sure I had a solution.

    In the end, Theosophy will fall back to ‘esoteric’ interpretations or simply ignore full scale interpretations of Egyptian texts – for e.g. Is there a proper in-depth Theosophical interpretation of any Egyptian text or the Egyptian religion (which anyway spanned thousands of years), confronting academic interpretations? I only found brief articles.

    It seemed to me that there is so much work to be done (in interpreting religion), but the TS is not even in the game. Perhaps, I am a little pessimistic here.



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