I have travelled by the roads of Rostau on water and on land … these are the roads of Osiris; they are in the sky …

— from the Book of the Two Ways, written on the inside of coffins of the Middle Kingdom, El Bersheh

I Where is the Benben Stone?

Looking at a map of the Memphis-Heliopolis region as it was when the Giza pyramids were built, we see that the position of Heliopolis, and where the great obelisk of Sesostris I (c. 1970BC) stands today,1 is on a line that extends from the south-east corners of the three pyramids of Giza. This was brought to my attention by Dr Gerhard Haeny of the Swiss Institute of Archaeology in Cairo, in a letter he wrote to me in 1986. He said that it had been pointed out to him that the south-east corners of the three pyramids were in alignment and that if that line was extended, it attained the site of the obelisk of Heliopolis. He wondered if this obelisk perhaps replaced an earlier construction.2

21. The Benben through the Ages
(a) The original Benben of Heliopolis as it may have looked
(b) A pyramid surmounted by a pyramidion or Benben
(c) An obelisk tipped by a Benben-T

Actually the Sesostris I obelisk did replace an earlier landmark, and an important and mysterious one at that. Where the obelisk now is at Heliopolis, there once stood the House or Temple of the Phoenix. And in this temple was kept the sacred Benben Stone. Sesostris I, who restored the sacred city of Heliopolis, confirms that his obelisk replaced the Benben Stone – presumably by then ‘lost’ – for he ordered an inscription to be carved on a stela at Heliopolis: ‘My Beauty shall be remembered in His House, My Name is the Benben and my name is the lake …’3

What Sesostris appears to imply is that the pyramidion or Benben making the apex of his great obelisk was now raised in the house or temple where the original Benben Stone had stood not long before. James Breasted tells us that ‘this object was already sacred as far back as the middle of the third millennium BC, and will doubtless have been vastly older’.4 He adds, ‘an obelisk is simply a pyramid upon a lofty base which has indeed become the shaft.’5 However, many questions remain. Who was Sesostris I? Why was it necessary to mark the place of the Benben Stone with an obelisk? And where had the Benben Stone gone? To answer these questions, we need to look at the history of Ancient Egypt after the Old Kingdom.

It seems that there was much political and social upheaval in the reign of Amenemhet I (c. 1990BC), father of Sesostris I. This is attested by several well-preserved papyrus texts, in one of which Amenemhet I gives what at first sight seems rather Machiavellian advice to his son:

Hearken which I say unto thee, that thou mayest be king of the earth … harden thyself against all subordinates, the people give heed to him who terrorises them, approach them not alone, fill not thy heart with a brother, know not a friend, nor make for thyself intimates … for a man has no people in the days of evil. I gave to the beggar, I nourished the orphan … but he who ate from my hand made insurrections …6

Yet this terrible pessimism seems to be mitigated by a messianic hope of a return of a ‘Great One’, expressed by a solitary scribe, Ipuwer, in the reign of Amenemhet I.7 This text is known to Egyptologists as ‘the admonition of an Egyptian sage, Ipuwer’, who was undoubtedly a priest at Heliopolis. It is the lament of a sage-priest who finds much confusion at court and in the land. There seems to be total chaos, with the populace entering and defiling the temples once carefully guarded by the priests; holy inscriptions are defaced, departmental offices are raided, and so on.8 The text clearly refers to the aftermath of a revolution, with the chaos and killings which follow such events: ‘Behold, the district councils of the land are expelled … a man smites his brother and the same mother. What is to be done?’9

The sage-priest is obviously addressing the court, which seems to be in emergency council and at a loss what to do next.10 Ipuwer, apparently the only one with the sense and courage to speak, says: ‘The districts of Egypt are devastated … every man says “we know not what has happened to the land” … civil war pays no tax … what is treasure without revenue? … woe is me for the misery of this time.11

Then he speaks of a great messianic hope, obviously intended for the son of the old and discredited Amenemhet I, who seems to have lost control over the people and the land. Ipuwer calls for a full resumption of the sacred rituals and observances at the temples, and reminds them of the time when an ‘ideal king’ had ruled Egypt in justice and peace: ‘Remember … it is said he is the shepherd of all men. There is no evil in his heart … Where is he today? Does he sleep perchance? Behold his might is not seen …’

Ipuwer makes a strange allusion to something ‘concealed’ within the pyramid, something he fears might not be there any more: ‘that which the pyramid concealed has become empty …’ Whatever the pyramid concealed was something of great value, indeed something so important that Ipuwer found it necessary to voice a powerful warning about it at court. While we cannot be sure what it was that so concerned Ipuwer, Sesostris I, who seems to have fulfilled Ipuwer’s messianic hopes, placed a great obelisk to mark the place where once had stood the most sacred of ‘pyramids’, the Benben Stone. Perhaps the knowledge of what had once been concealed inside the Great Pyramid had been lost. Certainly, when the pyramid was opened many centuries later by the Caliph Al Ma’a-moun, nothing was found.

However, one further hope remained. Could the genius architect who designed the Great Pyramid have ensured that ‘that which was concealed in it’, was impossible to find and even more impossible to reach? Impossible, that is, without a little mechanical robot guided by electronic devices?

II Signpost to the Benben Stone

Let us take a look at the geographical environment where this drama may have taken place. The distance from Giza to the supposed position of the Temple of the Phoenix, going north-east, is about twenty-four kilometres. The distance from Giza to Letopolis, going due north, is just under sixteen kilometres, and that from Letopolis to the Temple of the Phoenix, due east, about eighteen.

22. Geodesic system linking Benben ‘Beacons’ at Heliopolis, Letopolis and Giza and final route of funeral procession

Both Letopolis and Heliopolis are mentioned many times in the Pyramid Texts and were important religious centres in the Pyramid Age. Seen together, Letopolis and Heliopolis were aligned along a latitude and straddled the river Nile.12 In the so-called Book of the Two Ways, written on the inside of coffins of the Middle Kingdom, El Bersheh,13 we are told, ‘I have travelled by the roads of Rostau on water and on land … these are the roads of Osiris; they are [also] in the sky …’.

It is clear that the roads of Rostau (Giza) were across water and then on land, two major geodetic arteries or ways. This seems to define a religious procession starting from Heliopolis and travelling due west, across the Nile to Letopolis, then due south on land to Giza, ancient Rostau. We may thus suppose that before Giza there was a gateway into the Necropolis proper, symbolising the Gate of the Duat. We may also conjecture that the region which encompassed the cities of Heliopolis, Letopolis, Memphis and the pyramid region was a vast sacred site, a symbolic landscape with its counterpart in the sky near Sirius, Orion and the Hyades, along the banks of the Milky Way. We are satisfied that the case has been substantiated as far as present evidence allows, but there are these two major sites, Heliopolis and Letopolis, to account for. These cities also played a crucial part in the royal rebirth rituals of the Pyramid Age, for at Heliopolis was the Benben Stone, symbol of Osirian rebirth, and at Letopolis was the Horus of Letopolis priest responsible for the opening of the mouth of the Osirianised-king, and where the sacred adze instruments of bja were kept.14 Where do these locations fit into the sky correlation map?

Egyptologist Georges Goyon, in his book Le Secret des Batisseurs des Grandes Pyramides: Kheops, comments on the position and alignment of the Great Pyramid:

The monument [was] placed under the stellar protection of the god Horus, lord of Khem (Letopolis) … In order to direct the monument towards the sacred city of Khem, the astronomers determined the north targeting the north star, the polar (Alpha Draconis) … The recent discovery on the principle of orientation is based on the fact that all Egyptian pyramids of the Old Kingdom are oriented so that their north coincides with a sacred site or another pyramid which belonged to a venerated ancestor … Cheops’s pyramid [is aligned] on Khem (Letopolis-Aussim) …15

Goyon believed that all Egyptian pyramids of the Old Kingdom were linked to a geodesic system involving a meridional grid across the Memphis region. Although he emphasised the meridian looking north, this same line is the south meridian if you direct yourself 180 degrees the opposite way, and it is likely that both the southern and the northern star systems were used by the ancient builders to fix the monuments on a meridian.16 This is seen in the southern and northern shaft systems in Cheops’s pyramid, where the southern shafts were directed to Zeta Orionis and Sirius, and the northern to Alpha Draconis and the star Beta Ursa Minor (Kochab) in the head of this constellation.

Goyon visualised the meridional link between the Great Pyramid and the city of Letopolis in an ingenious way. He lived in Egypt for many years and was the Egyptologist to King Farouk I;17 he spent much of his time investigating the Memphis-Heliopolis-Letopolis region, and felt it necessary to ask:

Did the Egyptians of the Pyramid Age already have astronomical and geodetic knowledge more advanced than we accord them? Did they know the geography of their country much better than we think? Had they already, in the third millennium BC, measured and gridded their land, in a manner claimed later by the Greek philosopher-mathematicians such as Thales, Pythagoras, Eudoxis, Plato, Democratis …?18

According to Goyon, the Greek geographer Strabo19 said there was a great observatory near Letopolis called Kerkasore, which is also reported by Herodotus,20 who says that Eudoxis and Plato made observations there.21 Goyon asks whether there was not in the Pyramid Age ‘another cause, an order of geodesy and mathematics?’22 Much suggests that there was, and that the original geodetic centres were Heliopolis and Letopolis, which established a basic latitude and meridian. It was on this meridian that the unknown astronomer-priest, probably Imhotep as Chief of the Observers, fixed the position of the future Great Pyramid, the work of which began in the reign of Cheops (Khufu).

The correlation map of the terrestrial and celestial Duats of the Pyramid Age was established when the full sky-images of the risen Osiris-Orion and Isis-Sirius were seen over the eastern horizon: the moment when the sun was rising on the day of the heliacal rising of Sirius and near the summer solstice. Looking more closely at this sky-image, as reconstructed by the Skyglobe computer program, we see that the rising point of Sirius is about 26.5 degrees south of east and that the sunrise point is about 26.5 degrees north of east. Sirius lies almost directly below Orion’s Belt and more precisely Zeta Orionis, which corresponds in the correlation map with the Great Pyramid. The horizon thus links the sunrise point and the star Sirius, sweeping a long line which divides the visible world and the invisible world beneath the horizon. At this point the sun is on the left side of the Milky Way, and Sirius, directly opposite, is on the right side, so the line between them has to cross the celestial river.

As we discussed in Chapter one, Heliopolis was the sun city par excellence, on the east bank of the Nile, and the city of Letopolis, on the west bank, is opposite Heliopolis.23 Goyon confirmed that there seem to have been two high points, or mounds, one at Heliopolis and the other at Letopolis, from which the geographers made their geodetic sightings by observing gilded discs on top of pillars or obelisk-like monuments.24 It is likely, however, that the gilded object at Heliopolis was not a disc but a pyramidion, probably the Benben itself gilded with gold-leaf and put (as Frankfort and Mercer25 believed) on the pillar of Heliopolis, which originally belonged to Atum.26

A fairly implicit text from the Middle Kingdom, now in the Louvre Museum,27 addresses Osiris:

Hail Osiris, son of Nut [sky goddess] … whose awe Atum set in the heart of men, gods, spirits and the dead; to whom rulership was given in Heliopolis; great of presence in Djedu [the Osirian pillar28]; lord of fear in Two-Mounds; great of terror in Rostau [Giza] … such is Osiris, king of gods, great power of heaven, ruler of the living, king of those beyond [the horizon] … who owns the choice cuts in House-on-High, for whom sacrifice is made at Memphis …29

An alignment link between the mound of Heliopolis and that of Letopolis, using gilded reflectors such as Goyon described, establishes the horizon of a terrestrial Egypt (the terrestrial Duat) as the specific latitude (east-west line) which links up Heliopolis, the Sun City, with Letopolis, the city of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, and, in astral terms as the Pyramid Texts say, Horus who is in Sirius [PT 632]. Heliopolis is therefore positioned to mark the place of sunrise when transferred on the sky-correlation map, which is east of the Milky Way and its terrestrial counterpart, the river Nile. It can also be seen that Horus who is in Sothis, i.e., the stellar god of Letopolis, marks the position of the heliacal rising of the star Sirius. In this completed sky-correlation map we thus have the full expression of the Osirian Duat, not only in its visible form in the sky but of its ‘time’, denoted by the heliacal rising of Sirius and the rising sun near the summer solstice as they both align on the eastern horizon.

With this geodedic linkage or ‘road’ established between Heliopolis and Letopolis, the great funerary procession could then proceed from the ‘Sun City’ to Letopolis and collect the ‘Horus’ and his ‘four sons’. ‘Horus’ brought along his magical adze and his ‘four sons’ probably acted as pallbearers for the coffin of the Osiris-king. In great pomp and grief the procession headed for Rostau (Giza), gateway to the Duat, the Osirian kingdom on earth and in the sky. We begin to see what was meant by Horus saying, ‘I have travelled by the roads of Rostau on water and on land … these are the roads of Osiris; they are in the sky …’. In Rostau the coffin was placed in a temple, probably at the north entrance of the pyramid. Eventually the coffin, which may have resembled a golden form of Osiris,30 was taken into the pyramid and probably placed in the rebirth or Queen’s Chamber.

Judging from later drawings in the Book of the Dead, the mummy was then stood upright with its face towards the northern shaft of the chamber, perhaps representing the adze of Ursa Minor (though the shaft was of course sealed). It is also possible that the mummy was stored temporarily in the mysterious niche on the east wall of the chamber. Standing in front of the mummy was the Horus, carrying his adze, with its potent astral connotations, and leading his four sons and any other celebrants present. Then there was the ceremony of the opening of the mouth, giving new stellar life to the mummified king. If the opening of the mouth ritual did take place in the Queen’s Chamber, it is probable that it was timed to coincide with when the star Kochab was aligned with the northern shaft of the chamber.

When the Osiris-Orion mummy was deemed to have been struck with the magical force that brought about astral rebirth, the star of the pharaoh was born. Since the ancient name of the Great Pyramid was ‘the Horizon of Khufu’, in astral terms this meant that the ‘star of Khufu’ would have to be reborn, i.e., to rise over the eastern horizon, and in c. 2450BC this actually happened. For as the tip of the celestial adze struck the meridian and aligned with the northern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber, Khufu’s star Alnitak (Zeta Orionis) appeared on the horizon! Osiris-Orion Khufu was indeed reborn as a star when the tip of the celestial adze struck midnight on the circumpolar meridional clock.31

As with the original Osiris, the last earthly duty of the reborn king was to seed the womb of Isis-Sothis and ensure a successor to the throne of Egypt. There may have been some sort of ritual enactment of the stellar copulation between Osiris-Orion and Isis-Sirius, as described in the Pyramid Texts [PT 632], may have involved the southern Sirius shaft of the Queen’s Chamber.

His earthly duties completed, the Osiris-king (the mummy) was probably taken out of the Queen’s Chamber, up through the Grand Gallery and into the King’s Chamber. Another ceremony may have taken place here: the ‘weighing of the heart’ before the mummy was placed facing the chamber’s southern shaft. Now came the great dramatic moment when the soul of the star king liberated itself from the material mummiform and rose, through the southern shaft, towards the stars in Orion’s Belt, the phallic region of Osiris-Orion in the sky. There the stellar king met the stellar form of his consort, Isis-Sirius, to create and give power to the new Horus-king, Horus who is in Sirius: ‘Your sister (wife) Isis comes to you rejoicing for love of you. You have placed her on your phallus and your seed issues into her, she being ready as Sirius, and Horus-Sopd has come forth from you as Horus who is in Sirius.’ [PT 632].

23. The Rising of Al Nitak c.2450BC

From this passage it is tempting to deduce that the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber, targeted towards Sirius, served as a cosmic link between the phallus of the Osiris-king and the womb of Isis, (symbolised by the Queen’s Chamber). There may therefore have been another ritual nine months later for the birth of the new Horus, some form of coronation ceremony confirming the new king as pharaoh of the two lands.

The ‘Horizon of Khufu’, i.e. The Great Pyramid

Viewed in this light, the Great Pyramid becomes the centre of the most important ceremonies of state and it is difficult to believe that it could have been used only once for the burial of Khufu and then sealed up for ever. While the presence of the granite plugs blocking the ascending gallery cannot be denied, we cannot be certain when it was that the pyramid was eventually sealed.32

Gantenbrink’s remeasured angle of the southern (Sirius) shaft of the Queen’s Chamber gave us the chance to confirm the symbolic archaeo-astronomical linkage between this shaft and the southern (Orion’s Belt) shaft of the King’s Chamber.33 However, it should also be noted that there are physical links between the two southern shafts, for Gantenbrink has allowed us to reveal that directly above the place where the door is (at the end of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber) there is a small niche cut into the southern (Orion’s Belt) shaft of the King’s Chamber which passes directly above it.34 This gives a geometrical, and probably a structural, link between the two shafts of the sort we expected to find as an outcome of the rituals described in the Pyramid Texts.

It should also be noted that the Queen’s Chamber lies directly over the east-west axis of the pyramid, and thus on one axial line of the pyramid’s capstone at the apex, where once stood a Benben or pyramidion.35 The size of this Benben is not known, since it disappeared long ago.36 Indeed, some researchers have suggested that it was not placed on the top of the Great Pyramid at all.37

The Great Pyramid is linked to Heliopolis by a geodetic system, so, symbolically, there was a signpost at Letopolis which linked the place of the Benben Stone at Heliopolis to the spot marking the centre-line of the Great Pyramid and thus the line through the two southern shafts towards the stars of the rebirth cult. Is this a clue that the end of the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber may be linked in some way with the Benben Stone?

Since 22 March 1993 the world has been faced with the reality that there is a door at the end of this shaft. So a further question is: could the original Benben Stone be behind the door?

Further study of the Westcar Papyrus and illustrations from the Book of the Dead provide us with exciting possibilities. The Westcar Papyrus tells us that Khufu was deeply interested in finding the secret number of the chambers of Thoth, supposedly kept in a shrine at Heliopolis, so that he could build the same for his pyramid.38 The many illustrations of the opening of the mouth ceremony show the mummy standing with its back to a small shrine topped by a Benben. If we accept that the mummy is looking north (in the direction of the circumpolar constellations), represented, in these depictions, by the adzes of Horus and his four sons who stand in front of the mummy, the shrine must be to the south side of the rebirth room. In many of these illustrations, the shrine is shown to have a little door. We suspect that the southern shaft of the Queen’s Chamber may lead to such a shrine. Now if we suppose that the Benben surmounting it is indeed the original Benben of Heliopolis, a further intriguing possibility presents itself. According to authors such as William Lethaby, the Benben of Heliopolis was itself a shrine,39 believed to contain the lost books of Thoth, which, if they existed would have been written in the First Time, when Osiris was the ruler of Egypt. This again ties in with the prediction of Edgar Cayce40 that, in the last years of the present century, a secret chamber containing records would be found in the pyramid.41 If this prediction turns out to be true, we could be on the brink of finding the archetypes of the Pyramid Texts. The Great Pyramid might not, after all, be mute, as Mariette believed.

Finally, though, we have to ask: what if there is nothing at all and the mystery goes on? We will be content that, even if the Benben Stone and the shrine of Thoth are not at the end of this narrow shaft, we have, for the first time, discovered the true mystery of the pyramids: an earthly map of the stellar landscape of Orion the eternal home of the star-kings of Egypt.

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