VI. Our Holy Fraternity and the Source of the 108-year Cycle
Last year, I posted several articles discussing the significance of the Rosicrucian 216 year activity cycles from an operational point of view as to historical significance. As most of you know, traditionally, the whole cycle is divided into 108 years of public activity and 108 years of silence.
However, I did not initiate anyone into the time and place of the origination of such cycles. In this post, I will remedy this omission.
To my knowledge, I do not think the Order has previously disclosed the origin of the cycle of 108 years, as it is not taught within the standard teachings. In order to locate this source, we must look outside the early civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Minoan Crete. In fact, we need turn towards the East to the Aryans and the Indus Valley Civilizations (hereafter “IVC”)
The Indus Valley Civilization arose in the environs of the Indus River and its tributaries, now in modern Pakistan. It first came to the attention of archeologists and anthropologists with the excavation of two ancient cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in the 1920s. Continuing excavations have shown that the social complexity of this cultural center rivaled Dynastic Sumer and Egypt.
During the time of its peak influence, Indus Valley Civilization covered an area in the Indian subcontinent that was larger than the present day Europe. The civilization flourished roughly between 3500 BC and 2000 BC, with its antecedents dating as far back as 7000 – 6000 BC during the Neolithic period.
The IVC was urbanized, characterized by well-designed cities, built according to the needs of the residents and the geographical and climatic challenge inherent in the local environs. They built high rise structures, knew agriculture, pottery and metallurgy, familiar with drainage and water supply systems and traded with other peoples by navigating in boats along the river routes and also probably across the seas [it is well-established that artifacts from Mesopotamia have been found in the Indus Valley excavations and vice versa suggestive of trading].
Some scholars are of the opinion that the nidus for the advanced urbanization of Dynastic Sumer and Egypt were colonists from the Indus Valley Civilization. Such colonists created, or at least was a significant stimulus to the existing peoples, for creating urban centers and introducing writing and other advanced concepts. This hypothesis seems probable as the IVC economy depended significantly on trade, which was facilitated by major advances in transport technology. They may have been the first civilization to employ wheeled transport. These advances may have included bullock carts that are identical to those seen throughout South Asia today, as well as boats. Most of these boats were probably small, flat-bottomed craft, perhaps driven by sail, similar to those one can see on the Indus River today. Archaeologists have discovered a massive, dredged canal and what they regard as a docking facility at the coastal city of Lothal in western India (Gujarat state) suggesting seafaring capabilities.
During the transition between the neolithic and chalcolithic periods (4400 – 3200 BCE), the IVC presents ceramic similarities with southern Turkmenistan and northern Iran which suggest considerable mobility and trade. During the Early Harappan period (about 3200 – 2600 BCE), similarities in pottery, seals, figurines, ornaments, etc. document intensive caravan trade with Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.
Judging from the dispersal of IVC artefacts, the trade networks, economically, integrated a huge area, including portions of Afghanistan, the coastal regions of Persia, northern and western India, and Mesopotamia. Studies of tooth enamel from individuals buried at Harappa suggest that some residents had migrated to the city from beyond the Indus Valley. There is some evidence that trade contacts extended to Crete and possibly to Egypt.
There was an extensive maritime trade network operating between the Harappan and Mesopotamia civilizations as early as the middle Harappan Phase (2600 – 1900 BCE), with much commerce being handled by “middlemen merchants from Dilmun” (modern Bahrain and Failaka located in the Persian Gulf). Such long-distance sea trade became feasible with the development of plank-built water craft, equipped with a single central mast supporting a sail of woven rushes or cloth.
Although, a number of theories have speculated, as to the people who founded this civilization, the current consensus opinion among Indologists states that the Indus valley civilization was probably part of Vedic civilization or not much different from it, an idea that also confronts and repudiates the classical Aryan invasion theory. Indus people were probably a mixture of Dravidians, who lived in ancient times in parts of north western India, Afghanistan, parts of the Mediterranean, Central Asia and Europe, and Aryans from the central Asian Steppes north of the Caspian Sea arriving before the Rig-Veda was put into writing around 2000 BCE.
Regardless, the preexisting religious beliefs of the Aryans and the Dravidians merged over time so to form the Vedanta (end of the Vedas) series of texts called the Upanishads by 800 BCE. Here is where the most probable answer, as to “Why does the number 108 hold such a significant place in the Vedanta schools of India to this day?”
Over the decades, people have proposed various solutions to this problem based upon interpretation of specific geometrical and astronomical observations. The geometric theories are based upon angles of various figures, e.g., the number 108 is the number of degrees between the top arms of the pentagram. Hosts of other mathematical manipulations have been devised to equal 108, e.g., 1*22*33 = 108,
Personally, I have yet to find any sound mathematical reason too related the number 108 to either the macro- or the microcosm.
The astronomical theories employ convenient astral observations, e.g.,
1. The solar system has 9 planets and 12 zodiac signs [9 x 12 = 108, though in ancient times this would be 7 x12 = 84].
2. The ratio of the diameter of the Sun (1,392,000 km) to the diameter of the Earth (12,756 km) = 109.125, while, the diameter of the Earth to the Moon (3,476 km) = 3.670.
3. The distance to the Sun from the Earth (1,500,000 km) divided by the Earth’s diameter = 117.591, the distance from the Earth to the Moon (384,000 km) divided by the Moon’s diameter = 110.47.
4. The mean time interval for the Precession of the Equinoxes is near 25, 920 years (note the sum of the digits reduces to 9 by serial addition). If we distribute this interval equally for the zodiac signs, each sign reigns for a period of 2160 years (again reduces to 9). Divide 2160 by 10 (the number of days in an Egyptian week) we have 216. As a day is ruled by the Sun and the night by the Moon, we arrive at daily activity and inactivity periods of 108 years.
I imagine such reasoning would have worked in Dynastic Egypt given a wily priest who wants to marry the Pharaoh’s beautiful daughter, but it is nothing more than cogent manipulation of natural numbers. I am sure I could devise more examples, but I opine that they are ill-founded, as they bare no relationship to any significant aspect of any known ancient, religious beliefs.
If we want to find a plausible answer to our supposition, we must look to the Vedic Civilizations in the Indus Valley. The answer is found within the written texts of the four Vedas (dating back to 2500 BCE) and the post-Vedic Upanishads written sometime prior to the 9th Century BCE. It seems ludicrous to propose that a stray geometric or astronomical ratio, alone, would serve as the foundation for the 10, 800 stanzas in the Rig-Veda. Rather, the sacred number 108 must be related to the foundation principles of the Vedic religion.
“Come tiptoe through the Upanishads with me,” so to find the answer (paraphrase of a song written by Al Dubin in 1929 and made famous by Tiny Tim in 1968). Hurry up, Ms Vicky!
The first Upanishad we will consult is the second in age (circa 800 – 700 BCE) is the Chandogya. The Creation stories in the Upanishads speak of an eternal, soundless, source composed of Sat (ultimate Reality) – Cit (pure awareness) – Ananda (perfect Bliss). Generally, such ultimate Reality is known as Brahman and is conceived in the guise of a person.
In section 2.23.2-3, we are taught that the Creator Divinity, Prajapati uttered on primordial vowel sound so to begin creation. The Khanda says (Robert Hume translation),
“The syllable ‘ Om,’ the acme of the cosmogony
2 (3). Prajapati brooded upon the worlds. From them,
when they had been brooded upon, issued forth the threefold
Knowledge. He brooded upon this. From it, when it had
been brooded upon, issued forth these syllables: bhur, bhuvah,
3 (4). He brooded upon them. From them, when they
had been brooded upon, issued forth the syllable Om. As
all leaves are held together by a spike, so all speech is held
together by Om. Verily, Om is the world-all. Verily, Om is
Curiously, a great similarity exists between the Vedic contemplations and several religious doctrines prevalent in the Occident. For example, the 8th Century BCE Shanbaka Stone contains a Creation story Ptah, the patron god of craftsmen, metalworkers, artisans, and architects was viewed as a creator-god, a divine craftsman of the universe who was responsible for all existence. Creation was first a spiritual and intellectual activity, facilitated by the divine heart (thought) and tongue (speech/word) of Ptah. Then, creation became a physical activity carried out by Atum, who, created by Ptah’s teeth and lips, produced the Ennead from his seed and hands
In Genesis 1New International Version (NIV), we find Creation by the Word,
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
In the gospel of John (KJV), it is written,
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.
I surmise that the similarity between the various stories, and there are others, arose from the migrations of the Vedic peoples into both the Levant and Egypt such that Vedic concepts were added to Egyptian concepts.
The Taittiriya Upanishad primarily deals with instructions for the priests in properly pronouncing each word of a mantra, or chant, from the Vedas so to actualize a potent sacrifice to one of the gods. Clearly, the sages of the Upanishads recognized the cosmic power in the breath (prana) which is released into the physical world when the Sanskrit vowel sounds were spoken. For in 1.2.1, it is written,
Lesson on Pronunciation
Om! We will expound Pronunciation:
Thus has been declared the lesson on Pronunciation.
In section 1.8, the sages declare the power and importance of the first syllable spoken at the beginning of Creation,
Glorification of the sacred word ‘Om’
Om is Brahma.
Om is this whole world.
Om that is compliance.
Om says a Brahman about to recite,
may I get the sacred word (Brahma)
‘He does get the sacred word.
The power of the breath and the spoken word is frequently discussed within the thirteen major Upanishads.
Conclusion I: At Spoken Sound, or Vibration, was uttered by the Creator so to set the Universe into motion so to manifest, sound is the avenue to sacrifice.
Continuing our journey, we come to many sections of the Chandogya Upanishad dealing with the significance of the seven-fold Saman chants contained in the Sama-Veda. Hidden within such chants is a key to the Vedic understanding of sound and its creative potential. In the Tenth Khanda 2.10.1-6, we find,
The mystical significance of the number of syllables in
the parts of a sevenfold Chant
1. Now then, one should reverence the Saman, measured
(sammita) in itself, as leading beyond death.
hinkara has three syllables, prastava has three syllables.
That is the same (sama).
2. adi has two syllables, pratihara has four syllables.
One from there, here that is the same.
3. udgitha has three syllables, upadrava has four syllables.
Three and three that is the same, one syllable left over.
Having three syllables that is the same.
4. nidhana has three syllables. That is the same, too.
These are twenty-two syllables.
5. With the twenty-one, one obtains the sun. Verily, the
sun is the twenty-first from here. With the twenty-two one
wins what is beyond the sun. That is heaven (nakam). That
is the sorrowless.
6. He obtains the victory of the sun, indeed, a victory
higher than the victory of the sun is his, who, knowing this
thus, reverences the sevenfold Saman, measured in itself
If one is observant, he or she quickly notices that the Saman chant is based upon the heptatonic music scale (eight notes to the Octave, Do1 – Re- Mi- Fa- Sol- La- Si- Do2). The Sanskrit word, Saman, is being used here in the same sense as the vowel, Om. Following the text we see that this Sacred Vowel expands itself into a descending Octave and distributes the primary vowels so to fill it. The lengths of the intervening notes from the first ‘Do’, in order are 3, 3, 2, 4, 3, 4, and 2 (nidhana is length 2 as to the final ‘Do,’ but length 3 so to pass out of creation by liberation). The final Do is sounded on a frequency twice the lower.
The number 21 refers to the maximum number of notes filling the Octave in a heptatonic scale containing equally distributed flats and sharps. The number 22 also refers to the total notes counting both ‘Dos.’
It is most revealing that the Sanskrit language places all sound and power into the vowels alone (the consonants cannot be sounded until connected with a vowel). As to such vowels, they teach that the primordial Vowel Om, first divided into the eight prime vowels [C to C], which subsequently are divided into the full complement of 21 vowels.
Normally, the Octave is western music is divided as ‘eighths’ between the low and higher ‘do,’ endpoints, 8/8 and 16/8, which the intervening notes are generally given by 9/8, 10/8, 4/3, 3/2, 5/3, and 15/8. Using this division the notes which sound in an ascending scale would be: C – D – E – F♭ – G – A – B♯ – C; in an descending scale: C – B♯- A – G – F♭ – E – D – C.
It seems that Indian music is similar to western heptatonic scales, untempered or equally tempered.
However, I always thought it strange that as the heptatonic full music scale possesses 7 major notes, and 14 flats and sharps, evenly distributed. Subsequently, the major notes should be given in one-twenty firsts (1/21) such that the ascending series is given [C to C] as: 21/21, 8/7, 9/7, 29/21, 11/7, 12/7, 40/21, and 42/21. This is a most curious scale for rather than possessing the 3/2 note of the western scale, we find the note 11/7 was is a good approximation for π/2. In fact, if this note is set equal to half of pi, we can adjust all the other notes slightly so to possess a music scale related to a fundamental and ubiquitous constant of the universe.
To my knowledge, this treatise is the first instance where a reasonable explanation of the number 108 is found and a new kind of musical scale based on sevenths and the transcendental number π.
Conclusion II: The 21 vowels of the Sanskrit language are the vowels of power and significance and so we must look to the Sanskrit language for the answer to our query.
It is likely that pre-Vedic Sanskrit contained 21 vowels, including diphthongs, and 33 consonants. While the consonants carry no sound by themselves, when joined with a vowel can be sounded. Moreover, the arrangement of the 21 vowels is in a descending order of power as to chants and closer to the physical. Subsequently, the Sanskrit primary alphabet contains exactly 54 phonemes, or distinct sounds which can be produced the human vocal apparatus.
If one recognizes that male and female voices are different in tone, the 54 phonemes increases to 108. Voila, the sacred number 108 appears most reasonably. Moreover, the number is not some far-fetched idea unrelated to the religious beliefs of the creators.
This is why prayer strings possess 27, 54, or 108 beads, in many traditional religions.
Moreover, many of the vowel sounds intoned during a Rosicrucian ritual are likely derived from the vowel sounds utilized by the Vedic influenced IVC.
Conclusion III: The most parsimonious explanation for the origin of the sacred number 108 arose from the Vedic Sages. The Sounds of Creation were utilized so to produce the Sanskrit alphabet of 54 letters by conscious decision.
Unified Egypt began to collapse at the end of the Middle Kingdom (2055 – 1802 BCE) with the death of Queen Sobekneferu (circa 1800 BCE) who was childless. Shortly thereafter, the Egyptian rulers of the 13th Dynasty removed the old capital from Itj-tawi to Thebes.
Simultaneously, the first Hyksos settlers moved into Northern Egypt near the city of Avaris. As such settlers came with war chariots, the compound bow, bronze daggers and short sword typical of the Aryan from the Steppes, some experts believe they were migrating Indo-Europeans.
The decision to move the capital to Thebes left Lower Egypt open to whatever power felt it had enough support to dominate it. The port town of Avaris, quickly expanding into a small city through commerce, attracted many of the people known to the Egyptians as ‘Asiatics,’ and as it flourished, their population grew. The Hyksos gained control of the eastern Delta commercially and then moved north making treaties and forging contracts with various nomarchs (governors) of other regions in Lower Egypt until they had taken a sizeable amount of the land and were able to exert political power.
Consequently, the Hyksos began the major controlling party in Lower Egypt from 1782 to 1566 BCE, the latter date corresponding to the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt by Pharaoh Ahmose I. It is curious that the time period of the Hyksos involvement in Lower Egypt was 216 years. Even more interesting is the Hyksos-Egyptian relationship was rather peaceful for the first 108 years and antagonistic for the second 108 years. Such a school most likely being located in the Delta region prior to the Hyksos settlement (circa 1979 BCE).
This occurrence likely would have not been noted by the Egyptians unless the founders of the 18th Dynasty came into contact with a Vedic-Egyptian mystery school understanding the Cosmic significance of the number 108 and the interesting way it arose in their own history.
Based upon my studies and meditations, the collapse of the Middle Kingdom and the settlement of the Hyksos at Avaris circa 1783 BCE occurred approximately 216 years after the founding of said Mystery School Moreover, the priests would have noted that the active conflict between the North and South began around 1655 BCE and was concluded by 1547 BCE with the supremacy of Ahmose I.
The synchronicity of the Hyksos and the life of the Mystery School could not be an accident in their eyes, but was a consequence of the Word (Om) spoken by Ptah or Brahman so to initiate Creation. Therefore, the 216 cycle was established by fiat for the Mystery School and accepted by the House of Pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty. Moreover, it was to be an active cycle.
Conclusion IV. The linking of the spoken vowel sounds of the pre-Vedic alphabet with the operational history of the Avaris Mystery School may be a reasonable explanation as to the existence of the cycle of 108 years active and 108 years quiescent. While, no absolute proof has been located in written documents, I posit that the explanation presented is the strongest to date.