The Esoteric Symbolism of Egypt´s Crook & Flail

Egypt´s “Crook & Flail” staffs were often depicted in the hands of the Pharaohs. These instruments are described by Egyptologists as “symbols of kingship and royal authority.” But this vague and unclear definition ignores the occult view that the Crook & Flail served a much more important purpose—a purpose specifically related to the “Great Work” of spiritual transformation. We´ll take a closer look at the Crook & Flail staffs and reveal their true esoteric meaning as tools a spiritual seeker can use to transform his/her lower (animal) self into a servant of his higher (spiritual) Self.            

The Crook & Flail staffs, here depicted on the coffin of King Tutankhamun, are called “symbols of divine authority” by Egyptologists.

A longstanding esoteric tradition teaches that the ancient Egyptians were in possession of an advanced metaphysical doctrine. This doctrine was based on the idea that humans possess two intertwined natures—a human “animal” self and a divine “spiritual” Self.

“Man is a god in the body of an animal according to the pronouncement of ancient philosophy…”

—Alvin Boyd Kuhn

Egypt´s metaphysical doctrine taught that humans should not identify primarily with their “physical” animal lower self. Instead, we should focus on rediscovering our “spiritual divine higher Self, which is who we really are.


The difference between the lower self and higher Self is described in Buddhism’s Tathagatagarbha Sutra (c. 3rd century AD), which teaches that we all have a “Buddha within” (tathagata), a “perfect soul” or “divine spark.” However, our Buddha nature is covered by layers of vestures (garbha) in the form of bodily passion, anguish, greed, anger, ambition, lust, confusion, and so on.

Life’s goal is not only to rediscover this Buddha inside, but also to remove the outer layers of clothing that bury him.

Buddhism’s Tathagatagarbha Sutra (c. 3rd century AD) teaches that we all have a “Buddha within.”

The 20th century mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote:

“We are all manifestations of Buddha consciousness, or Christ consciousness, only we don’t know it. The word “Buddha” means “the one who waked up.” We are all to do that—to wake up to the Christ or Buddha consciousness within us.…”

—Joseph Campbell


In Egypt, there was a spiritual model in the form of a person who had achieved his “Buddhahood” or “Christhood.” He did so by using the Crook & Flail, as we’ll see in a moment. But his name was not “Buddha” or “Christ.” It was “Asar” (Osiris in Egyptian), the central figure of the ancient Egyptian religion for thousands of years. We´re told by the esoteric author and Freemason, W.L. Wilmshurst:

“…the Mystery-systems have always exhibited an example for the instruction, encouragement and emulation of those prepared to make the attempt and the necessary sacrifice. To hearten them to the task the Initiatory Colleges have held up a prototype in the person of some great soul who has already trodden the same path and emerged triumphant therefrom. …In Egypt the prototype was Osiris.”

—W.L. Wilmshurst

It was the aim of every follower of Osiris to live exactly like Osiris, to “become” Osiris in every way. Imagine living so pure you “become” a living Buddha or a living Christ. Austrian philosopher, social reformer, and esoteric author Rudolf Steiner tells us:

“Man becomes perfect when he lives as an Osiris…In this way the Osiris myth receives its deeper significance. It becomes the example of a man who wishes to awaken the eternal within him.”

—Rudolf Steiner, Christianity As Mystical Fact

The ancient Egyptians were so focused on “becoming an Osiris” in life that when they died they buried themselves in his image. Indeed, Egyptologists tell us that the entire funerary ritual of the Egyptians was designed to transform the deceased into an Osiris to show they lived as he did.

But how exactly did the Egyptians transform their dead into the god Osiris?


The name “Asar” (Osiris) is constituted by three hieroglyphs—one of which is the image of a bearded man with long hair:

The name Asar” (Osiris) in Egyptian hieroglyphs features the image of a bearded man with long hair.

In Written in Stone I theorized that this image of a bearded man with long hair is an image of how Osiris looked. More precisely, this image—which signifies the word “god” or “godhood” in the Egyptian system of hieroglyphics—symbolized the “godhood” or “god nature” or “higher Self nature” that vivifies and animates every human being.

I also theorized that the two main funerary items placed on the deceased—the “nemes headdress” placed on the head and the “plaited beard” placed on the chin—were props used to transform the outward appearance of the deceased into an image of this “god nature” that exists within each of us, which the Egyptians called Osiris. The headdress is a depiction of long hair; the headdress was tied into a ponytail at the back of the head, as is often done with long hair. The braided goatee is clearly a beard.

Look closely at the image below: Can you recognize the long hair and beard?

The dead were dressed in the image of Osiris, a bearded man with long hair. The “headdress” is a depiction of long hair; the headdress was tied into a ponytail at the back of the head, as is often done with long hair.

If my theory is correct, then this means that for thousands of years the ancient Egyptians were buried in the image of a bearded man with long hair—identical to the popular image of Christ!  In the year 2000, I commissioned the following painting to present my hypothesis:

In my book, “Written in Stone,” I theorize that the Egyptians were buried in the image of Osiris—a bearded man with long hair—so they could follow his resurrection.

By going to their graves in Osirian form, the Egyptians were showing that they had found their higher Self within—what we would today call their “Buddha consciousness” or “Christ consciousness” within.

Watch this video I produced, based on research I published in my book Written in Stone:


Esoteric schools teach that early Christianity purposely misrepresented the ancient Egyptian teaching of the “inner Osiris,” and that Christianity grew to become a bastardized version of the Egyptian religion. We find this idea in the research of countless professors, scholars and intellectuals like Gerald Massey (1828 – 1907), an English poet who studied the parallels common to the Egyptian and Christian religions; Alvin Boyd Kuhn, an American academic and amateur Egyptologist who took up Masseys work; and Rhodes Scholar Tom Harpur, author, columnist and theologian:

“…what the Egyptian knew that his Christian imitator did not, was that the Osiris whose death and resurrection were thus portrayed was the divine element within his own constitution and not a man perishing on a wooden cross and pushing away a rock from his hillside tomb two days later…”

—Alvin Boyd Kuhn


“…Christ was the Immortal Spirit in man… It did not and could not depend on any single manifestation in one historic personality…Historic Christianity originated with turning the…teachings inside out and externalizing the mythical allegory in a personal human history. …a huge and hideous mistake…”

—Gerald Massey


 “…the Christ principle is potentially in every one of us…Christ of the myth became a flesh and blood person identified with Jesus.”

—Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ

Osiris had “mastered” his lower animal self. You might say that his higher Self, or the “god” part of himself, was able to overpower or “master” the lower animal part. But such mastery does not come easily. One needs tremendous discipline to be able to control one´s emotions, feelings, aggressions, appetites, desires, etc.

How exactly does one succeed in doing this?


Enter the Crook & Flail, two instruments directly related to the “Great Work” of spiritual transformation and, more specifically, with “mastery” of the lower animal self. The Crook & Flail staffs were tools every Egyptian seeker used to transform his/her lower (animal) self into a servant of his higher (spiritual) Self.

                                           The Crook & Flail are shepherd’s instruments—an epithet of Osiris was “Good Shepherd” (i.e., shepherd of one´s lower nature).

The Crook (heka) & Flail (nekhekh) were often shown held in the hands of Osiris in various paintings, statues and amulets. They were also held in the hands of the Osirianised dead, telling us they aided / assisted the deceased in accomplishing his / her most important mission in life—becoming “an Osiris”:

Left: Images of Osiris holding the Crook & Flail. Right: The “Osirianised” dead holding the Crook & Flail.

The crook was a cane with a hooked handle, sometimes gold-plated and reinforced with blue copper bands. The crook was used by shepherds; the hook of the crook served to hold a runaway sheep. The crook symbolized the concept of rule, and it serves as the hieroglyph for the Egyptian word “rule, ruler.” However, rather than “ruling” over others, the crook seems to have also conveyed the idea of ruling one´s “lower self” by gently guiding one´s own behavior upward. This is how one becomes an Osiris.

In the other hand was the flail or shepherd’s “whip,” a rod with three attached beaded strands. The flail was a simple agricultural tool used for threshing or beating grain from the ear by hand and it was also a weapon. Yet here it doesn´t seem to have been an “outward” weapon used on others, but rather a weapon one might use on their own lower nature to aggressively whip one´s lower self into line.

Occultists will quickly note that the two opposing and yet complementary concepts described here—Mercy (Crook) and Severity (Flail)—play a key role across various occult schools. Mercy is conveyed by the Crook, as the Crook is a merciful way to gently “guide” a straying animal back to the fold. Severity is conveyed by the Flail, as the Flail is a severe way to “reprimand” a rebellious animal and force that animal back into line. In this way these two tools help to “mercifully” and “severely” guide the lower animal that is you—your lower animal self.

“Quit then, this Tomb, O Aspirant, with thine arms crossed upon thy breast, bearing in thy right hand the Crook of Mercy and in thy left the Scourge of Severity, the emblems of those Eternal Forces betwixt which the equilibrium of the Universe dependeth; those forces whose reconciliation is the Key of Life, whose separation is evil and death.”

—Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn

The “crossing” of the two staffs above the chest has various meanings and connotations, but the one most pertinent for our discussion is the act of “combining” their power together (the two instruments are held in the right and left hands in a parallel manner) showing they have equal strength. The Osirianised dead, by crossing these two symbolic staffs over his or her chest, were conveying the idea that he / she had used both tools to help them become the Master of his / her own self—to help them become an Osiris. By using these twin instruments of self-control to subdue their lower animal nature, the deceased had “followed in the footsteps” of Osiris (the Egyptian Buddha or Christ) and found their higher Self.

Researcher Gary Osborn, author of The Shining Ones, provides excellent insight into the symbolism of the Crook & Flail:

“What has not yet been acknowledged, is that again, the crook and the flail are ‘Duality’ symbols, symbolising the opposite, positive and negative, male and female, yang and yin energies and forces. The flail is held by the right hand connected to the male-related left brain, and the crook is held by the left hand connected to the female-related right brain. Now the reason why they were seen as symbols of power and kingship was because being held in this way, the point where the crook and flail were brought together, and the point where the crook and flail crossed over each other at the heart or centre of the body, symbolised the ‘neutral point’ of balance, a condition that can lead to the rebirth associated with enlightenment and resurrection, and one’s vertical alignment with the ‘heavenly kingdom’ . . . the Godhead . . . the source-centre of creation.

—Gary Osborn,

Osborn believes these symbols also may record the phenomenon of the Solstices and Equinoxes, whereby the Egyptians were linking the Solstices to the “opposites” / “duality” and the Equinoxes to the “center” / “balance.” Posting the following image, Osborn writes:

“In esoteric thought, the crook and flail would also represent the opposites of Summer and Winter in the yearly cycle. The flail, a kind of whip, or ‘fly whip,’ is associated with Summer. The flail is also used to reap the corn. The crook is associated with the shepherding of the flock during Winter, and of course images of shepherds holding crooks are often displayed on Christmas greeting cards. Summer is related to the Sun and the colour Red, and therefore the male principle, and Winter is related to the Moon and the colour White, and therefore the feminine principle. So symbolically, these two items represent the opposites of Summer and Winter…”

—Gary Osborn,

It’s interesting to note that the duality of Egypt’s Crook & Flail match the duality of the Mercy & Severity Columns—the twin opposing yet complementary concepts of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, as shown here:

 The Tree of Life. Note the twin outer pillars named “Mercy” and “Severity.”

The Tree of Life is a design that can be described as showing the act of “Creation” as it flows downward from the spiritual to material plane in increasing sephiroth or “emanations.” On the way downward, the sephiroth ultimately form a structure reminiscent of the Fall of Man, or, better the Fallen Man. The bodily physical part of this Fallen Man is marked by twin Pillars—the Pillar of Severity on one side and the Pillar of Mercy on the other side. The spiritual side of this Fallen Man is marked by the center Pillar, which is often called the Pillar of the Soul.

Viewed in its entirety, the Tree of life is actually an image of you—the spiritual eternal you (Middle Pillar) inside your body’s duality (Twin outer Pillars). Life’s goal is to rediscover this center pillar—the Osiris nature (i.e., Buddha nature, Christ nature) within you. Once you do that, you´ve found your higher Self.

Visualize yourself for a moment stepping into and becoming the tree. The Pillar of Mercy corresponds to your body’s right side, and the Pillar of Severity to your left side. These two pillars are symmetrical, like your body. As mentioned above, Mercy and Severity are opposites. The eternal you, however, is the Middle Pillar, known as the Pillar of the Soul and the Pillar of Balance.

20th Century mystic Israel Regardie, student of occultist Aleister Crowley, wrote:

“There are two contending forces and one always uniting them…Unbalanced Mercy is weakness and the fading out of the Will. Unbalanced Severity is cruelty and the barrenness of Mind.”

—Aleister Crowley

Regardie, once a member of a Masonic-like order called “temple of the Golden Dawn,” quotes from the order’s initiation ceremony:

“…only in and by the reconciliation of opposing forces is the Pathway made to the true occult knowledge and practical power…”

—Israel Regardie

Here, Regardie’s words echo the position of the Crook & Flail held in the hands of the Osirianised deceased, forming a perfect visual representation of what he calls the “reconciliation of opposing forces” which he claims creates a “Pathway” to “true knowledge and practical power”:

“Pharaoh holds twin “opposites”—shepherd´s staff (MERCY) and flail (SEVERITY)—in balance. Both are used to subdue animals. Here they symbolize mastery over one´s lower “animal” nature. The shepherd´s staff is used to pull stray animals by the neck without hurting them (MERCY). The flail is used to beat animals into submission (SEVERITY). Mastering these symbols means mastering your lower animal nature to find your true Self in the center (MIDDLE PILLAR / BALANCE).”                                                             

Richard Cassaro, Written in Stone

Egypt´s metaphysical doctrine—which was not confined to Egypt, and which I´ve described in my books, articles and lectures as the “Universal Religion of Antiquity,” as it was shared worldwide among the world´s first cultures—was inherited by Western occultists, Hermeticists, alchemists and philosophers during the past two thousand years since the decline of dynastic Egypt. It branched out over the course of centuries and it became grouped into different subgenres called by different names, including the Perennial Philosophy, Sacred Science, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and so on. However, its basic teachings on the fundamental physical/spiritual dichotomy of man have always remained the same.

You can learn more about my research into ancient Egyptian symbolism and meaning in my books Written in Stone and The Missing Link:


 Richard Cassaro’s new book, The Missing Link, explores the meaning, transformations and propagation of the ancient world’s most important religious icon. His first book, Written in Stone, is a wide-ranging exploration of hitherto-unknown connections among Freemasons, medieval cathedral builders and the creators of important ancient monuments, in support of his theory that a spiritually advanced mother culture, lost to history, is behind many of the world’s architectural and artistic traditions.

Prior to the publication of Written in Stone, Cassaro enjoyed a successful career as a U.S. correspondent, professional journalist, and photo researcher for Rizzoli Publications, one of the world’s leading media organizations. Cassaro, who is a graduate of Pace University in New York City, has examined first-hand the ancient ruins and mystical traditions of Egypt, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Sicily, France, England, India, Peru and Spain; he has lectured on his theories to great acclaim in the United States, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Peru.

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