The Secret Wisdom of Thoth: Pt. 3 Why a semiotic approach is necessary
Ancient mystical texts, such as the Ancient Book of Thoth, are rich in symbolism, allegory and sometimes on purpose obscure with hidden meanings. Therefore the process of a literal translation can often lead to a loss of meaning and context. This is why it is important to understand that sometimes, these texts should not be translated literally but figuratively and a semiotic approach is necessary.
Semiotics is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something, usually called a meaning, to the sign’s interpreter.
Semiotics is often used in advertising to create associations between a product and a certain image or idea. For example, a car advertisement that features a family driving through a picturesque countryside may use the image of the countryside to create an association between the car and the idea of freedom and adventure.
Semiotics is also used in literature to convey meaning through the use of symbols, imagery, and motifs. For example, in the novel “The Great Gatsby” the green light in the end of the dock represents the unattainable dreams and desires of the characters.
Symbolic and metaphorical language
Ancient mystical texts often use symbolic and metaphorical language to convey deeper truths and teachings. When translated literally, these symbols and metaphors can lose their meaning and the text can become confusing or misleading. A semiotic approach with a figurative translation, on the other hand, allows for the discovery of the original intent and meaning of the text.
In the Corpus Hermeticum we read:
“For my teacher, Hermes, often used to say to me privately and also in the presence of Tat, that the composition of my books would appear most simple and clear to those who read them. He added, however, that they are obscure and keep the meaning of the words hidden.“Asclepius to King Ammon concerning: God; matter; evil; fate; the Sun; spiritual substance; divine nature; Man; the law of that which fills the universe; the seven stars; the image of man ~ Corpus Hermeticum
As we see above, mystical texts such as the hermetic texts often use esoteric language and imagery to convey hidden meanings and teachings. Some examples of semiotics in alchemical texts include the use of alchemical symbols, such as the caduceus and the alchemist’s furnace, to represent specific concepts or stages in the alchemical process.
The use of allegory, such as the story of the “Philosopher’s Stone” to represent spiritual enlightenment, is also a common semiotic device in alchemical texts. The use of different colors, shapes, animals, and other symbols in the alchemical text is an example of semiotics.
Translating Demotic Egyptian texts
The Book of Thoth is written in a difficult form of Egyptian script called Demotic, the standard form of priestly writing in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Today the study of Demotic is still neglected, sometimes even within Egyptology itself. A huge number of Demotic papyri survive from the Ptolemaic period and the first few centuries of Roman rule in Egypt, often fragmentary, mostly still unedited.
“He said they were inscribed in a sacred language and priestly characters by Thoth, the first Hermes, and translated after the flood from the sacred language with hieroglyphic characters. They were committed to books by the son of Agathodaimon, the second Hermes, father of Tat, in the inner sanctuaries of the temples of Egypt.“The Book of Sothis, Syncellus
Demotic Egyptian texts are a rich source of knowledge and insight into the culture, history, and beliefs of ancient Egypt. However, translating these texts can be a difficult task, and a literal translation may not always be the best approach. A semiotic approach, which takes into account the symbolic and metaphorical language used in the texts, can provide a more accurate and meaningful translation.
Most experts agree that the Ancient Book of Thoth is an initiatory text whereby a mentor, usually called “He-who-praises-knowledge” instructs a student, called “He-who-loves-knowledge” in what to do, know and learn so he is able to reach the secret inner chambers of the already secret and exclusive House of Life. Such a deeply spiritual and esoteric text would probably not be written in a way that outsiders can easily divulge its secrets.
A Demotic Egyptian text like the Ancient Book of Thoth uses a rich and complex system of symbols and metaphors to convey deeper truths and teachings, such as bulls, cows, agricultural tasks, and a mention of the “writings of the House of Darkness,” probably a reference to the Underworld.
When “he-who-loves-knowledge” asks his master “What is writing? … Compare it to its like, O overflowing one!” the master replies, “Writing is a sea. Its reeds are a shore. Hasten therein, little one, little one!”
These symbols and metaphors are an integral part of the text and cannot be fully understood through a literal translation. A semiotic approach, which examines the meaning and function of these symbols and metaphors, can provide a deeper understanding of the text and its original intent.
Semiotics in Ancient Egyptian texts
Ancient Egyptian texts often used semiotics, or the use of symbols and imagery, to convey meaning and convey religious, political, and cultural beliefs. Some examples of semiotics in Ancient Egyptian texts include:
1 The use of hieroglyphics: hieroglyphs are a system of writing that uses symbols and pictures to represent words and ideas. These symbols were often used in religious texts, such as the Book of the Dead, to convey spiritual teachings and beliefs.
2 The use of religious symbols: various symbols were associated with specific gods and goddesses, such as the ankh, which represented life and was associated with the god Osiris, and the Eye of Horus, which represented protection and was associated with the god Horus.
3 The use of royal imagery: Pharaohs and other members of the royal family were often depicted in art and hieroglyphs in specific ways, such as wearing crowns or holding specific symbols, to convey their power and status.
4 The use of symbolism in art: Egyptian art often used symbolism to convey specific ideas and beliefs, such as the use of the scarab beetle to represent the sun and the concept of rebirth.
5 The use of numbers and measurements: specific numbers and measurements were used to represent certain concepts, such as the number 42, which represented the number of sins in ancient Egyptian religion and the number of parts of the soul.
A semiotic approach is therefore necessary to discover the spiritual and mystical aspect of the text. The Ancient Book of Thoth contains teachings on spiritual practices and ways of understanding the world that are unique to ancient Egypt.
A literal translation can strip away the spiritual and mystical elements of the text, making it less effective as a tool for understanding ancient Egyptian spirituality. A semiotic approach, on the other hand, can preserve the spiritual and mystical elements of the text, allowing for a deeper understanding of ancient Egyptian spirituality.
It’s worth noting that semiotic translation is not a substitute for literal translation, but it can provide additional insights and understanding of the text that a literal translation may miss.
Order the book
The Secret Wisdom of Thoth offers a unique semiotic approach to The Ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth. This ancient book of sacred wisdom is a dialogue between a spiritual master, perhaps the god Thoth himself, and a student. The book can be ordered in different formats:
Digital format (epub, mobi) – US $ 12.99 : books2read.com/b/4Nod5J
Print format – Hardcover – US $ 29.95 : blurb.com/b/11475881
Print format – Paperback – US $ 14.95 : blurb.com/b/11476826
image was originally posted to Flickr by berniedup at https://flickr.com/photos/65695019@N07/36316065400. It was reviewed on 22 August 2017 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.