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Historical Study As Initiation
By Norman Harris, Ph.D.
(Excerpted from the African World Reference CD)
Overview: History is generally defined as the chronological record of events. But this
definition says nothing about the criteria for selecting, verifying, and ordering events.
Nor does this definition tell us anything about why we study history. While there are
many ways to answer these questions, the approach used here is one which views
historical study as a process of initiation into the best traditions of one's culture
As used here, initiation is "an act that sets in motion some course of events." Ideally,
the course of events that historical study "sets in motion" has the result of individuals
discovering their unique potential for humanistic contribution within the framework of
the best traditions of their history and culture. As initiation, historical study begins with
the assumption that reality is a unified phenomenon with infinite variations of itself.
Within this framework, the purpose of all activity is to discover the unity within
diversity. Historical events are therefore like any experience in that they occur to provide
humanity the opportunity to grow into an awareness that sees the interconnectedness of
all things.
With the preceding in mind, we turn to the four stages of initiation that are here the basis
for historical study: (1) systematic exposure to meanings associated with names, dates,
places, and events; (2) engagement in activities meant to assist self-discovery within the
context of history; (3) collaboration for the purpose of problem solving; (4) “networked
intelligence” activities associated with meditation and technology. These stages of
historical initiation help the student / initiate discover the cyclical nature of history, and
those points within the cycle which suggest spirals in human development beyond what
said cycles suggest.
The first stage--the systematic exposure to meanings associated with various
phenomenon--is a stage of initiation which socializes the spirit/intellect to know and
venerate the best traditions of an individual’s culture--in this case, African world culture.
Aside from the obvious result of accumulating information, the successful completion of
this stage of initiation into historical understanding eliminates the need to ever doubt
either the existential worth and legitimacy of the individual or the worth and legitimacy
of her/his community.
The second stage of initiation--self-discovery within the context of cultural history-begins the process of individuals finding and refining their various talents in the terms of
the best traditions in their history and culture. In effect, a lifelong dialogue with history
is commenced, and its best and most useful expressions are captured in the present--the
only dimension of time which, after all, is eternal. More will be said about relationships
among time, space, and knowing later. The point here is that self-discovery within the
best traditions of one’s history and culture is intended to positively impact the present.
The third stage--collaboration among the student/initiate--is intended to demonstrate the
unity within diversity. This is accomplished through structured activities which require
sharing and creating information and experiences. This process will assist the
student/initiate in seeing the multiple, one might say, limitless ways in which responses
to opportunities might be shaped
The fourth stage of initiation into historical understanding--the utilization of meditation
and technology to assist in developing “networked intelligence”--extends the third stage
by focusing on techniques to acquire historical understanding. The meditation techniques
are timeless, and are supported by a variety of research on how the human brain works:
essentially the purpose of meditation in this initiation process is to free the creative and
unifying dimensions of the right hemisphere of the brain to conceptualize and understand
reality. From this perspective, the left hemisphere of the brain, with its ability to
segregate, analyze and implement, is put in the service of the unifying solutions posed by
the right hemisphere.
The idea of “networked intelligence” derives from the digitalization of information and
the placing of the same on the Internet. This technology has the potential to create
learning communities and learning opportunities consistent with life’s purpose--the
discovery of the unity within diversity. Just as various meditative techniques can train
the human mind/spirit to see within and beyond what is immediately available and
verifiable via the techniques of left brain dominated science, so too can the Internet
extend the consciousness of an individual and of various cultures.
So for us, historical study is ideally a process of self-conscious initiation into the best
traditions of one's history and culture. The discussion below of African and non-African
world historians is shaped by the idea of initiation
World History: In one form or the other, African historians have chronicled world
history from the outset of human history. How could it be otherwise? This rhetorical
question is answered by reference to the following: (1) humanity originates in Africa; (2)
the world's first civilizations originate in Africa; and (3) in order for civilizations to
develop and perpetuate themselves, there had to have been a procedure for recording,
verifying, and transmitting the events and methods that a civilization felt important to its
way of life. In effect, African world historians were a necessary part of the earliest
The early historians mapped the internal topography of the African mind, and in doing so
also mapped the external topography of the world itself. The "internal topography"
means the characteristic ways that Africans have answered the following set of
questions: What is the purpose of life? How do I relate to others, to nature, and to a
supreme being? And how do I acquire or produce food, shelter, and clothing? Answers
to these questions are the basis for African religious and philosophical beliefs.
The external topography means the characteristic ways that Africans have implemented
their answers to religious and philosophical questions. The implementations of these
answers are seen in African social, political, and economic systems, architecture, science,
and other creative expressions Answers to religious and philosophical questions and the
attempt to implement those answers determine how a civilization creates, records, and
values its history.
How did Africans answer basic religious and philosophical questions? Contemporary
historiography asserts that much of African historical antiquity was not documented.
However, some historians point to African "myths" and oral histories as a ways to
understand African world history. Wayne Chandler writes that "Mythology is the
repository of man's most ancient science and when myth is examined within the context
of an African belief system it becomes a dynamic vehicle for the transmission of truth"
(Chandler, 216). Chandler's observations provide a basis for part of the approach taken
From various creation myths, most notably the story of Ausar and Auset, The Book of
Knowing the Manifestations of Ra, and a variety of other sources, the internal portrait
that emerges of the African mind is similar to the stages of initiation noted above. The
sources just noted, portray a people who are initially in a state of ignorance. That
ignorance is often symbolized by darkness, disorder, and violence. This state of
ignorance is perhaps most dramatically symbolized by an ignorance of what it means to
be human. Within the initiation framework used here, to be human (having selfknowledge) means that women and men are essentially limitless beings who have the
free will to do good or evil.
The acquisition of self-knowledge is caused by an intervention. The intervention is often
symbolized as a person or entity who either singularly or with her mate, brings order.
This person or couple, is a fountainhead: a single entity that encapsulates the core values
that a given culture/civilization holds important. Generally, the core values held in
highest esteem by Africans are unity, wisdom, and power. These core values have both
a theoretical meaning and a practical application. Unity means the ability to see reality as
a web of interdependent relationships. Practically, unity means the ability to intuit the
proper relationships among different expressions of reality. The ability to intuit such
relationships is wisdom. Wisdom means knowing without going through a logical
process (Ra Un Nefer Amen). The practical application of wisdom involves the creation
of proper institutional relationships in the following areas: education, social
organization, political organization, economic organization, and spiritual practices
(adapted from Karenga). Power means the harmonious application of purpose in
accordance with the meanings of unity and wisdom. The purpose of life is to find in all
experiences the unity in diversity. For the ancients, the ability to discover life's purpose
required a systematic immersion into the best traditions of one's culture. As used here,
this systematic exposure is an initiation.
To reiterate: the internal topography of the African mind is derived from answers to the
following set of questions: What is the purpose of life? How do I relate to others, to
nature, and to a supreme being? And how do I acquire or produce food, shelter, and
clothing? Answers to these questions are revealed in the core values of the culture, and
those are unity, wisdom, and power.
Ashanti Home Page
Belief Systems Overview: In the story of Ausar and Auset, we have a complimentary
couple that has both the ability to intuit the will of God--which this tradition defines as
the ability to know without going through a logical process (wisdom)--and the practical
techniques to implement the will of God in the world. Using the Kemetic model, we see
a related arrangement in the Yoruba religion/philosophy. In the Yoruba example below,
the Yoruba deity is followed by its Kemetic progenitor: Obatala is similar to Ausar in
that both represent the divine aspects that the creator shares with humanity; Ifa is similar
to Tehuti in that both represent the ability to intuit or divine the will of God; and Elegba
is similar to Sebek in that both represent the ability to use technique (intelligence) to
implement the will of God. For these two representative systems, the purpose of life is to
discover and experience ourselves as Divine Beings.
It is worth pausing here to consider the implications of these core beliefs to the way the
first humans created, ordered, recorded and valued history. Among the remaining
marvels of antiquity, the Great Pyramid at Giza stands as a towering mystery for
modern civilizations: How was it built? Who built it? And, perhaps, most
fundamentally, why was it built? Any answer to these questions involves conjecture;
however, when these questions are posed within the framework noted above--the
Kemetic and the Yoruba--we have a way to answer them. In the most fundamental sense,
the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed so that humanity might experience itself as
Divine. This explanation of why also suggests a reason for the difficulty the current era
has in discovering the who and how of the Great Pyramid. Eurocentric scholarship has
historically had difficulty acknowledging the role of African people in shaping world
civilizations. This racism has led to theories which alternately have the pyramids being
constructed by aliens or by foreign slaves. The point here is that how we interpret
historical artifacts depends on the angle of vision from which we view the artifact.
Returning to our internal topography of the African mind, it is worth noting The Book of
Coming Forth by Day (the popularly referred to Book of the Dead), The Paut Neteru
(Tree of Life), and The Pyramides of Heremes Trismegesis as sources to help construct
our . This last reference is to Greek corruption of the Kemetic Tehuti, the neter
associated with knowing, writing and wisdom. In both texts, we get an elaboration of the
African mind. The Book of Coming Forth By Day is not a single text, but rather is the
name given to texts accumulated over time. All these texts concerned the relationship
between the goodness of one's life and the ability to move into a revered space in the
The judgment scene associated with this relationship is called the "weighing of the heart:"
After a person dies, the heart is weighed against the feather of Maat (the neter associated
with divine law and justice). The scales are read by Anubis (the jackal-headed god of
embalming) and the results recorded by Tehuti (the neter associated with intuiting, and
recording the will of God). If a person lived a just life, the heart balanced with the
feather of Maat and the person was rendered worthy to live forever in paradise with
Ausar. Conversely, if the person lived an unjust life, then the heart is heavy and can not
achieve equilibrium with the feather of Maat. The concepts of balance, cause and
effect, and justice are among internal topography of the African mind suggested by
The Book of Coming Forth by Day.
Reiteration: The internal topography of the African mind
is structured by the
following concepts: unity, wisdom, power, balance, cause and effect, and justice. In
theory, these concepts have the following relationships:
Unity is a foundation for Balance (unity = balance or equilibrium)
Wisdom is a foundation for Balance and Cause and Effect (wisdom =
balance + cause and effect)
Power informed by Unity and Wisdom is the foundation for justice ( power + wisdom
+ cause and effect = justice)
World History Foundations: The Paut Neteru (Tree of Life, TOL) as presented and
interpreted by Ra Un Nefer Amen, is a "field theory" or a paradigm for every aspect of
existence. It is composed of eleven branches, each of which is in some way dependent on
and complimented by the other. Tehuti and Maat are two branches of the TOL, that pick
up on the observations noted above concerning The Book of Coming Forth by Day.
These branches are also useful to determining how in writing history, events are selected,
ordered, and verified. A useful way to understand how these two factors work in
historiography is to contrast them to fundamental aspects about how western
historiography generally proceeds.
Western historiography relies on a number of checks and balances to prove the veracity
of historical events and their interpretation. While this kind of historiography has the
ability to establish logical connections between things and ideas, it does not have the
ability to establish the truth of the premise on which the logical connections rest. A
classic example is Aristotle's three laws necessary to syllogistic logic: 1.the law of
identity - (A is A); 2. the law of contradiction - (A must be either A or not A); 3.and a
law of an excluded middle - (A cannot be both A and not A). The relationships between
A,B and C are usually stated: "If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C." This
seemingly straightforward assertion is contradicted not only by quantum physics, but by
common sense. How can this be?
This kind of logic is labeled syllogistic logic. It can be contradicted because its basic
premise is not true. The basic premise is that reality is represented by concrete objects
and that concrete objects within a given category (e.g., snowflakes, hemoglobin
molecules, diamond crystals, zebra, corn, pennies, water molecules, etc.) are identical.
For example, we can let A represent the concrete object "snowflake" and then state that
A = A. However, no two snowflakes are the same. Tracing our example further, let us
assume that A represents a single snowflake, and then return to Aristotle's law of
identity--that A = A. Put another way, Snowflake A = Snowflake A. However, common
sense tells us that A (our snowflake) is not static. So, a question might be asked: at what
point in the existence of A (our snowflake) is it identical to itself ((A = A)? There is no
such moment when A is identical to itself. If there were such a moment, then reality
would cease to be. A comparison and contrast between syllogistic logic, which is a
foundation for western public education, appears below: .
Syllogistic Logic
Quantum Physics and Common Sense
1. A Law of Identity - (A is A)
2. A Law of Contradiction - ( A must
be either A or not A)
in quantum reality A is both A and not A,
in quantum reality A is both A and not A,
3. A Law of an Excluded Middle - (A
cannot be both A and not A)
in quantum reality A is both A and not A,
So what is the point? The point is that quantum physics and common sense are more
consistent with the internal topography of the African mind than is the syllogistic logic of
Aristotle and his progeny. Again, the concepts which represent the internal topography
are unity, wisdom, power, balance, cause and effect, and justice. The common-sense
logic of quantum physics is necessary for history to serve as a process of initiation (see
above ) When Aristotelian logic serves as the basis for historical exploration, initiation is
not possible. Rather, what occurs is the accumulation of information largely for itself-knowing is an end itself and has little to do with self, and community development.
To make the point about the limitations of syllogistic logic, this example is offered:
"Malcolm X is a man. Men are mortal. Therefore Malcolm X. is mortal." Malcolm X is
certainly not among the living. But the premise is not complete, for it does not "sate all
truths." While Malcolm X is certainly mortal, he is also more than that. Like all of
humanity, he is both a physical being and a spiritual being. The essence of Malcolm X,
which of course is his spirit, is tellingly illustrated at the end of Spike Lee's movie,
"Malcolm X:" As Ossie Davis delivers Malcolm's eulogy, the camera pans a class room
of African students who randomly sprout from their seats speaking these words, "I am
Malcolm X. I am Malcolm X." In a very meaningful way, Malcolm X is not dead. He is
not mortal as long as his life inspires others. So what does this mean for Aristotle's
logic? It means that what he says is logical, but that it is not true. To derive the truth
requires a both / and kind of logic, rather than an either / or kind of logic. In our
example above, Malcolm X is both a mortal being and a spiritual being. Thus the
responses of those students in Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X.
If Malcolm X were either a mortal being or a spiritual being, then his life and death
would not have meaning. His mortal life, characterized by a willingness to work against
all odds to uplift humanity, would have been futile, if his actions were not tied to some
higher good. For all contributions to the forward flow of humanity rest on the assumption
that there is some pre-existent order or good at which humanity aims. The relentless
codification of these, both as sacred codes (10 Cardinal Virtues, 10 Commandments, the
142 Negative Confessions, etc) and as secular codes (the codes of Hamarabe, the Magna
Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, etc.) indicates their timeless importance.
Similarly, if we were only spiritual beings, there would be no reason to struggle for the
uplift of humanity. For, in a very real sense, "everything would be everything" in such a
way that the creative tension between potential (our endless ability to achieve) and the
manifestation of our potential (actions that must be undertaken to realize our potential)
we would be static beings. For all of humanity there is always the challenge of finding
the fulcrum point to balance between our mortal selves and our divine selves. The efforts
of women and men to find the fulcrum point between these two selves is a motive force
in history. So, to reiterate, Aristotle's logic is not capable of discovering the truth of a
premise. The best that it can do is to ask that you accept certain assertions as facts.
For logicians, this lack is dealt with by asserting that an argument has to start somewhere,
that reasonable women and men can agree upon a reasonable point of departure. In
contrast, the TOL examines a premise according to the laws of intra-relationships and
inter-relationships. More directly, a true premise is one that deals with the web of
interdependence that structures reality. The core of this interdependence is humanity's
divinity: "in man (is) deposited the triune essence of God: the divine consciousness
(Ausar), will (Tehuti) and spiritual power (Seker)" (158). In the western historiography,
logic exists for its own sake: there is no method of selecting, ordering and verifying
events that is derived from a system which endeavors to explain the meaning and purpose
of life. As a result, western logic directs history to be a tyranny of opinions.
Wayne Chandler discusses The Pyramides of Heremes Trismegesis. Hermes Trismegesis
is the Greek derivation of Tehuti and it is referenced here because the Hermetic teachings
remain largely in tact and they are of Kemetic origins. Chandler derives seven
("hermetic") principles of ancient Egypt. (1) The Principle of Mentalism: "The All is
Mind: The Universal is Mental;" (2) The Principle of Correspondence: "As above, so
below; as below, so above;" (3) The Principle of Vibration: "Nothing rests; everything
moves; everything vibrates;" (4) The Principle of Polarity: "Everything is dual;
everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same;
opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are
but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled;" (5) The Principle of Gender:
"Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender
manifests on all planes;" (6) The Principle of Rhythm: "Everything flows out and in;
everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing manifests in
everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left;
rhythm compensates;" (7) The Principle of Cause and Effect: "Every case has its
Effect; every Effect has its cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a
name for Naw not recognized; there are many planes of causation but nothing escapes
the Law." (Chandler, pp. 225-22)