“The Egyptian Sphinx is closely related to the Greek legend of Oedipus, who first solved the famous riddle propounded by the mysterious creature with the body of a winged lion and the head of a woman which frequented the highway leading to Thebes. To each who passed her lair the sphinx addressed this question, ‘What animal is it that in the morning goes about on four feet, at noon on two feet, and in the evening on three feet?’ Those who failed to answer her riddle she destroyed. Oedipus declared the answer to be man himself, which in childhood crawled upon his hands and knees, in manhood stood erect, and in old age shuffled along supporting himself by a staff. Discovering one who knew the answer to her riddle, the sphinx cast herself from the cliff which bordered the road and perished.
“There is still another answer to the riddle of the sphinx, an answer best revealed by a consideration of the Pythagorean values of numbers. The 4, the 2, and the 3 produce the sum of 9, which is the natural number of man and also of the lower worlds. The 4 represents the ignorant man, the 2 the intellectual man, and the 3 the spiritual man. Infant humanity walks on four legs, evolving humanity on two legs, and the redeemed and illuminated magus adds the staff of wisdom. The sphinx is therefore the mystery of Nature, the embodiment of the secret doctrine, and all who cannot solve her riddle parish. To pass the sphinx is to attain personal immortality.” ~Manly P. Hall
Today, when someone mentions the Egyptian Sphinx, we all think of the great and mysterious statue that stands in the same area as the Great Pyramid. In the above quote, however, Hall seems to be talking about the Sphinx in two different senses. One is an actual living creature of legend, the other is the famous statue. So it was not the giant statue that proposed its great riddle on travelers who came near “her lair”.
The symbolism of the Egyptian Sphinx
The strange shape of the sphinx may seem like something out of a nightmare, but it is actually symbolic. The body of the lion is a symbol of strength and courage. Another meaning not often mentioned is that the lion is sometimes a symbol of the sun, probably because it’s majestic head and mane resembles the sun in shape and color, but also because the sun is a thing of great strength. Of course, the sphinx doesn’t have a lion’s head, but I think the symbolism still applies.
The wings of the Egyptian sphinx have the obvious symbology of being able to fly or soar beyond the earth in one way or another. But they are also eagle wings, so the symbology of the eagle has to be considered as well. Like the lion, the eagle is a symbol of strength and courage, but it is also a symbol of leadership, wisdom, and vision. And the eagle is a variation of the Phoenix or Firebird, so the symbology of those mythical birds must be considered as well. You can click here to read an earlier post on the Phoenix.
Finally, we come to the head of a woman. While some think of a woman as being a symbol of sin (as in Eve) or materialism, we should not forget that in Gnostic writings, Wisdom is a female being called Sophia. It seems clear to me that the questioning ways of the sphinx indicate that it is the Sophia interpretation that applies.
So overall, the Egyptian Sphinx combines symbols of strength, courage, leadership, and wisdom. It is also a solar symbol, and I think we can assume that means the Spiritual Sun. Continue reading “The Egyptian Sphinx and Oedipus”