Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
Newgrange before excavations and restorations. Photograph by William A. Green.
An early image of Newgrange before excavations and restorations. Photograph by William A. Green.

Newgrange and the Great Pyramid Compared

W. Y. Evans Wentz.

Caliph Al Mamoun in A. D. 820, by a forced passage, was the first in modern times to enter the Great Pyramid, and he found nowhere a mummy or any indications that the structure had ever been used as a tomb for the dead. The King's Chamber, so named by us moderns, proved to be a keen disappointment for its first violator, for in it there was neither gold nor silver nor anything at all worth carrying away. The magnificent chamber contained nothing save an empty stone chest without a lid. Archaeologists in Egypt and archaeologists in Ireland face the same unsolved problem, namely, the purpose of the empty stone chest without inscriptions and quite unlike a mummy tomb, and of the stone basin in New Grange. 

The first drawing of Newgrange by Edward Lhuyd, 1699, showing the mound to be a huge truncated cone of stone with a standing stone at the summit.
The first drawing of Newgrange by Edward Lhuyd, 1699, showing the mound to be a huge truncated cone of stone with a standing stone at the summit.

Certain Egyptologists have supposed that some royal personage must have been buried in the curious granite coffer, though there can be only their supposition to support them, for they have absolutely no proof that such is true, while there is strong circumstantial evidence to show that such is not true. Sir Gardner Wilkinson in his well-known publications has already suggested that the stone chest as well as the Great Pyramid itself were never intended to hold a corpse; and it is generally admitted by Egyptologists that no sarcophagus intended for a mummy has ever been found so high up in the body of a pyramid as this empty stone chest, except in the Second Pyramid. Incontestable evidence in support of the highly probable theory that the Great Pyramid was not intended for an actual tomb can be drawn from two important facts:--

(1) 'the coffer-has certain remarkable cubic proportions which show a care and design beyond what could be expected in any burial-coffer'--according to the high authority of Dr. Flinders Petrie;

(2) the chamber containing the coffer and the upper passage-ways have ventilating channels not known in any other Pyramid, so that apparently there must have been need of frequent entrance into the chamber by living men, as would be the case if used, as we hold, for initiation ceremonies.

It is well known that very many of the megalithic monuments of the New Grange type scattered over Europe, especially from the Carnac centre of Brittany to the Tara-Boyne centre of Ireland, have one thing in common, an astronomical arrangement like the Great Pyramid, and an entrance facing one of the points of the solstices, usually either the winter solstice, which is common, or the summer solstice. 

Plan of Newgrange.
Plan of Newgrange showing solstice axis.

The puzzle has always been to discover the exact arrangement of the Great Pyramid by locating its main entrance. A Californian, Mr. Louis P. McCarty, in his recent (1907) work entitled The Great Pyramid Jeezeh, suggests with the most logical and reasonable arguments that the builders of the Pyramid have placed its main entrance in an undiscovered passage-way beneath the Great Sphinx, now half-buried in the shifting desert sands. If it can be shown that the Sphinx is the real portal, and many things tend to indicate that it is, the Great Pyramid is built on the same plan as New Grange, that is to say, it opens to the south-east, and like New Grange contains a narrow passageway leading to a central chamber. South-easterly from the centre of the Pyramid lies the Sphinx, 5,380 feet away, a distance equal to 'just five times the distance of the "diagonal socket length" of the Great Pyramid from the centre of the Subterranean Chamber, under the Pyramid, to the supposed entrance under the Sphinx' --a distance quite in keeping with the mighty proportions of the wonderful structure.

And what is important, several eminent archaeologists have worked out the same conclusion, and have been seeking to connect the two monuments by making excavations in the Queen's Chamber, where it is supposed there exists a tunnel to the Sphinx. In all this we should bear in mind that the present entrance to the Pyramid is the forced one made by the treasure-seeking Caliph.

The passage at Newgrange bt W. A. Green.
The passage at Newgrange by W. A. Green shows how the passage-stones or orthostats have leaned inwards over time. Photograph © NMNI.

This very probable astronomical parallelism between the great Egyptian monument and the Irish one would establish their common religious, or, in a mystic sense, their funereal significance. In the preceding chapter we have set forth what symbolical relation the sun, its rising and setting, and its death at the winter equinox, were anciently supposed to hold to the doctrines of human death and re-birth. Jubainville, regarding the sun among the Celts in its symbolical relation to death, wrote, 'In Celtic belief, the dead go to live beyond the Ocean, to the south-west, there where the sun sets during the greater part of the year.' 

This, too, as M. Maspero shows, was an Egyptian belief; while, as equally among the Celts, the east, especially the south-east, where, after the winter solstice, the sun seems to be re-born or to rise out of the underworld of Hades into which it goes when it dies, is symbolical of the reverse--Life, Resurrection, and Re-birth. In this last Celtic-Egyptian belief, we maintain, may be found the reason why the chief megalithic monuments (dolmens, tumuli, and alignements), in Celtic countries and elsewhere, have their directions east and west, and why those like New Grange and Gavrinis open to the sunrise, and on the Greek temples also opened to the sunrise, and on the divine image within fell the first rays of the beautiful god Apollo. In the great Peruvian sun-temple at Cuzco, a splendid disk of pure gold faced the east, and, reflecting the first rays of the rising sun, illuminated the whole sanctuary.' 

Thre stones from the Great Circle at Newgrange, photographed by William A. Green.
Four of the Great Circle stones at Newgrange photographed by William A. Green. These massive rocks are 2.5 meters high and weigh several tons. The circle was erected quite some time after the mound of Newgrange was finished.

How Christianity was Shaped by Paganism.

The cave-temple of the Florida Red Men opened eastward, and within its entrance on festival days stood the priest at dawn watching for the first ray of the sun, as a sign to begin the chant and offering. The East Indian performs the ablution at dawn in the sacred Ganges, and stands facing the east meditating, as Brahma appears in all the wondrous glory of a tropical sunrise.  And in the same Aryan land there is an opposite worship: the dreaded Thugs, worshippers of devils and of Kali the death-goddess, in their most diabolical rites face the west and the sunset, symbols of death.  

The chamber of Newgrange by W. A. Green.
The chamber of Newgrange, photographed by W. A. Green, shows the granite basin in the centre of the chamber and containing liquid.

How Christianity was shaped by paganism is nowhere clearer than in the orientation of great cathedral churches (almost without exception in England), for all of the more famous ones have their altars eastward; and Roman Catholics in prayer in their church services, and Anglicans in repeating the Creed, turn to the east, as the Hindu does. St. Augustine says:--'When we stand at prayer, we turn to the east, where the heaven arises, not as though God were only there, and had forsaken all other parts of the world, but to admonish our mind to turn to a more excellent nature, that is, to the Lord.' 

Though the Jews came to be utterly opposed to sun-worship in their later history, they were sun-worshippers at first, as their temples opening eastward testify. This was the vision of Ezekiel:--'And, behold, at the door of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the Altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east.' 

All this illustrates the once world-wide religion of our race; and shows that sun-cults and sun-symbols are derived from a universal doctrine regarding the two states of existence--the one in Hades or the invisible lower world where the Sun-god goes at night, and the other in what we call the visible realm which the Sun-god visits daily. The relation between life and death--symbolically figured in this fundamental conception forming the background of every sun-cult--is the foundation of all ancient mysteries. Thus we should expect the correspondences which we believe do exist between New Grange and the Great Pyramid. Both alike, in our opinion, were the greatest places in the respective countries for the celebration of the Mysteries.

High up in the body of the Great Pyramid, after he had performed the long underground journey, typical of the journey of Osiris or the Sun to the Otherworld or the World of the Dead, we may suppose ( knowing what we do of the Ancient Mysteries and their shadows in modern Masonic initiations ) that the royal or priestly neophyte laid himself in that strange stone coffin without a lid, for a certain period of time--probably for three days and three nights. Then, the initiation being complete, he arose from the mystic death to a real resurrection, a true child of Osiris. In New Grange we may suppose that the royal or priestly neophyte, while he 'fasted on the Tuatha De Danann for three days with their nights ',sat in that strange stone basin after the manner of the Orient. 

An early photograph of the chamber of Newgrange.
An early photograph of the large right-hand recess in chamber of Newgrange. The granite basin has been replaced on the larger basin where it was originally found. The concrete pillar was added around 1890.

The Great Pyramid seems to be the most ancient of the Egyptian pyramids, and undoubtedly was the model for all the smaller ones, which 'always betray profound ignorance of their noble model's chiefest internal features, as well as of all its niceties of angle and cosmic harmonies of linear measurement'. Dr. Flinders Petrie says:--'The Great Pyramid at Gizeh (of Khufu, fourth dynasty) unquestionably takes the lead, in accuracy and in beauty of work, as well as in size. Not only is the fine work of it in the pavement, casing, King's and Queen's chambers quite unexcelled; but the general character of the core masonry is better than that of any other pyramid in its solidity and regularity.'  

And of the stone coffers he says:--'Taking most of its dimensions at their maximum, they agree closely with the same theory as that which is applicable to the chambers; for when squared they are all even multiples of a square fifth of a cubit. . . . There is no other theory applicable to every lineal dimension of the coffer; but having found their proportion in the form of the Pyramid, and in the King's Chamber, there is some ground for supposing that it was intended also in the coffer, on just one-fifth the scale of the chamber.'  

The triple spiral
Back Recess: Right-hand walling stone (ingenious pattern of three linked spirals).

And here is apparent the important fact we wish to emphasize; the Great Pyramid does not seem to have been intended primarily, if at all, for the entombment of dead bodies or mummies while 'the numerous quasi-copies' were 'for sepulchral purposes' without doubt. There appears to have been at first a clear understanding of the esoteric usage of the Great Pyramid as a place for the mystic burial of Initiates, and then in the course of national decadence the exoteric interpretation of this usage, the interpretation now popular with Egyptologists. led to the erection of smaller pyramids for purposes of actual burial.

And may we not see in such pyramid-like tumuli as those of Mont St. Michel, Gavrinis, and New Grange copies of these smaller funeral pyramids;  or, if not, direct copies, at least the result of a similar religious decadence from the unknown centuries since the Great Pyramid was erected by the Divine Kings of prehistoric Egypt as a silent witness for all ages that Great Men, Initiates, have understood Universal Law, and have solved the greatest of all human problems, the problem of Life and Death?

An early image of a group of visitors at Newgrange. Photograph by Robert Welch .
An early image of a group of visitors at Newgrange. Photograph by Robert Welch.