Seth … originally connected with the Hyades, the V-shaped, head-like part of our constellation, TAURUS. As the brother of Osiris, his position in the sky was adjacent to ORION … an important court decision gave the office of Osiris to Horus, and Seth was banished to a position bearing the ‘southern’ constellation of ORION …’
— Jane B. Sellers, The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt
I The Southern Pyramid Fields of Dashour
With the awareness that a correlation or duality existed between the sky-Duat and the Memphis-Duat on the ground, and that the central region was expressed by the Giza-Orion’s Belt cor-relation, I had a sort of map of the Duat of Memphis. Although the evidence so far was compelling, I also knew if the theory was to hold water, not just the three Giza pyramids but the other four pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty had to be considered in the stellar correlation of the Duat of Memphis. These were the two large pyramids of Sneferu at Dashour in the southern part of the Memphite Necropolis, and those allocated to Nebka and Djedefra at Zawyat Al Aryan and Abu Ruwash.
In my first article in Discussions in Egyptology, I had left the issue open by asking, ‘does this master plan include a wider correlation between the geomorphy of the sky landscape about Orion and the landscape about the Giza Necropolis?’1 Now, in 1992, this question had to be answered.
I had long been aware that two other Fourth Dynasty pyramid sites — Zawyat Al Aryan and Abu Ruwash — flanked the three Giza pyramids in much the same way as the stars Saiph and Bellatrix in Orion flanked the three stars of Orion’s Belt. These pyramids, as we have seen, also had star names: one, ‘Djedefra is a Sehetu (Duat) Star’ and the other ‘Nebka is a Star’.2 The stars in question had to be those of Osiris-Orion in the Duat, the stellar destiny reserved for these kings. It all fitted neatly together, with most of the pattern of Orion — five of its seven main stars — correlated to Fourth Dynasty pyramids in the Memphis-Duat. With ‘Bellatrix’ located south-east of Giza, it was not difficult to see how the three or four little stars forming Orion’s ‘head’ could fit the three or four3little pyramids at Abusir, a kilometre or so south-east of Zawyat Al Aryan. Indeed, in the Westcar Papyrus, which speaks of Khufu (Cheops) and his ‘horizon’ (his cosmic pyramid), specific mention is made of the ‘three children’ of a priestess of Heliopolis who were said to have founded the Fifth Dynasty and who erected their small pyramids at Abusir.4 A fifth pyramid, now lost, is also believed to have been built at Saqqara.5 Whoever inscribed the Pyramid Texts in Unas’s pyramid, and whoever commissioned them, were living at the close of the Fifth Dynasty, and had on display in the Memphis Necropolis all that was already built there. As far as the true geometrical pyramids are concerned, these included all those of the Fourth Dynasty plus the three or four smaller pyramids at Abusir. In stellar terms of the Osirian Duat, these made up the ‘leg’ (Abu Ruwash=Saiph), ‘phallus’ (Giza=Orion’s Belt), and ‘shoulder’ (Zawyat Al Aryan=Bellatrix) of the giant Osiris-Orion. Yet one of his most evocative features was his fully extended ‘arm’, seen on many drawings such as the pyramidion of Amenemhet III, with the open hand cupping a bright star. In Greek mythology this star is Aldebaran in the Hyades, and marks the position of the mace of Orion the Hunter or the Giant. Their angular distance placed the Hyades roughly in the correlation map of the Memphis-Duat with the position of Dashour, which demarcated the southern portion. I now had a pretty good idea where and what to look for.
The pattern of the stellar Duat was defined by the cluster of stars, from the Hyades to Canis Major with Orion inbetween, all found on the ‘west bank’ of the Milky Way. On land, in the Memphis-Duat, this corresponded to the pyramid fields from Dashour to Abu Ruwash, with Giza somewhere in the middle, all found on the west bank of the Nile. With the three Giza pyramids sited in ancient Rostau and fitting the location of Orion’s Belt in the centre of the sky-Duat, the implication that Dashour was to be correlated to the Hyades was indicated by the layout principle of the master plan. The Giza group had shown that the layout was based on the heliacal risings of the stars of the Duat and their projection to the ground, each represented with a pyramidal monument fixed on a meridian. The things to look at, then, were the heliacal rising of the Hyades for c. 2550BC, the estimated time of Sneferu’s reign, and the meridians of each of his allocated pyramids at Dashour. If this hunch was right, a relationship between the two should be found.
In February 1992, just before sunset, I was on a British Midland flight making its landing approach to Cairo. The approach was from the west, the plane flying low over the Memphite Necropolis, and the view below was breathtaking. I could see all of the major pyramids, from Giza to Dashour, their west faces catching the orange light of the setting sun. As the plane crossed over Giza, the two pyramids of Dashour revealed their meridional layouts, that of the northern one offset to the west of the southern pyramid. Like Giza, this was another ‘anomaly’ which, again like Giza, would be elucidated by a stellar siting.
13. The Pyramids of Dashour showing meridional offset
The ancient architects again presented us with a curious discrepancy. After setting the axis of one pyramid along a meridian, they set the axis of the second pyramid some 500 metres to the west and the pyramid itself about 1850 metres farther north.6 This was an odd choice. It would have saved them many problems if the same meridian had been used, and would have been better to have the two sites closer so that preliminaries, such as labour huts, open quarries, ramps from the Nile and other organisational requirements, could be deployed for both sites with the works on each pyramid staggered to the required rate of progress.7 Again, this choice of different meridians and the pyramids 1850 metres from each other contradicted engineering logistics. It therefore had to be religious and, as at Giza, this meant astronomical. Recalling that the anomalous offset of Menkaura’s pyramid had been imposed by the configuration of the stars of Orion’s Belt, and the south-west alignment by the slant of the three stars relative to the axis of the Milky Way, a similar situation ought to have prevailed for the Hyades in the sky and Dashour on the ground.
14. The Rising of the Hyades
Back in England, I again used the Skyglobe 3.5 computer program to simulate the rise of the Hyades when the reign of Sneferu began. My reasoning was that, if Khufu’s reign began in c. 2450BC,8 the reign of his father would have begun in about 2475BC, since Sneferu was believed to have reigned for some thirty-four years.9 Adjusting the epoch on the computer for 2475BC, I found that the Hyades would rise heliacally during April. Looking at the odd triangular or V-shape of this ancient constellation, the two stars at the base of the triangle were Aldebaran and another catalogued No. 311 (Epsilon Taurus). No. 311 rises first, due east, and when it is at three degrees altitude Aldebaran follows. These two stars, seen together after rising, had the exact layout relative to each other and the axis of the Milky Way as the two Dashour pyramids relative to each other and the axis of the Nile. Transposing the two stars on the correlation Memphis-Duat map, they fitted the position of the two Dashour pyramids. This gave us the complete stellar pattern of the sky-Duat, from the outstretched hand of Osiris (the Hyades) to his leg (Saiph) and took into account all the Fourth Dynasty pyramids and the cluster of small Fifth Dynasty pyramids at Abusir. It was as though the mist lifted to show a new landscape, clear and sharp in the image of Osiris-Sahu.
At about this time, while I was looking for the meaning of the Hyades in Egyptian astronomy, I came across a recent book which confirmed that I was not alone in exploring the influences of stellar precession on the Ancient Egyptians. Jane B. Sellers, an American Egyptologist whom we have mentioned earlier, had done an elaborate study on this subject and presented it in The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt.10 What really got me interested in her work was that the Hyades and Orion were very much in her mind too. Using the powerful Lodestar V.202 astronomical computer program, she had come up with some startling findings. These, coupled with her knowledge of ancient Egyptian religion and texts, made her work exactly what I was hoping to find.
II The Lady of Precession
Jane B. Sellers is described by her publishers as ‘having spent much of her sixty years questioning puzzles in the fields of astronomy and ancient Near Eastern civilisations’. She comes across as one of those grand ladies of the stamp of Maria Reiche, the German mathematician who has devoted her life to studying the Nasca lines of Peru near the Andes highlands.
After getting a degree at Goddard College in Vermont, Sellers studied Egyptology at Chicago’s Oriental Institute. A keen admirer of the late Dr Giorgio de Santillana, historian and author of Hamlet’s Mill,11 she has broken new ground for modern Egyptology by drawing attention to the need to use astronomy and, more particularly, precession of the stars for the proper study of Ancient Egypt and its religion. Her main focus, like mine, has been on the Pyramid Texts and the so-called Memphite Theology. With the aid of scientific astronomy, she has sought to explain the development of the religious ideas of pre-dynastic and early dynastic Egypt. In her words:
Archaeologists, by and large, lack an understanding of the precession, and this affects their conclusions concerning ancient myths, ancient gods and ancient temple alignments. Philologists, too, ignore the accusation that certain problems are not going to be solved as long as they imagine that familiarity with grammar replaces scientific knowledge of astronomy. For astronomers, precession is well-established fact; those working in the field of ancient man have a responsibility to attain an understanding of it.12
A proper and detailed review of Sellers’s thesis is outside the scope of this book. Briefly, one of her important contentions13 is that the Ancient Egyptians had noticed the precessional changes of the stars even though they may not have understood them scientifically. She also feels that they had even worked out the rate of change, and brings a range of arguments to support her views. In all this I fully agreed with her. Precession had to be taken into account if the basis of the religious rituals of an ancient people was to observe the stars diligently. In Appendix 2 we have provided a full discussion on precession, but a short paragraph to explain its effects is in order before proceeding with our discussion.
Precession is caused by a very slow motion of the earth, a sort of wobble that takes about 26,000 years to complete a full cycle. The effect is not real but apparent, and only involves the stars. The stars do not actually move but appear to move because of the earth’s precessional wobble. To show the effect, take Orion’s Belt as seen from Giza. Imagine it sitting on the meridian, due south. Today it is at 59 degrees altitude above the south horizon. In the time of the Pyramid Age, c. 2500BC, it was much lower, at about 45 degrees. In about 10400BC it was even lower, at 11 degrees. The precessional effect is also clearly visible at the rising of Orion’s Belt in the east: imagine Orion’s Belt just over the eastern horizon at rising time. Today it rises almost due east, at azimuth 91 degrees.C. 2500BC, it rose farther to the south of east, at azimuth 106 degrees. In 10400BC, even farther south of east, at azimuth 169 degrees. The full cycle of precession, if we measure the effect at the meridian, consists of a half-cycle of 13,000 years from, say, maximum to minimum altitude, and another half-cycle of 13,000 years from minimum to maximum altitude. For Orion’s Belt, since about 10400BC a half-cycle has started at minimum altitude of 11 degrees above the horizon (observed from Giza). It then slowly moved in an upward direction so that by the Pyramid Age it was at 45 degrees above the horizon, and today it is at 59 degrees.
This acts as a sort of star-clock for our planet. Knowing the exact rate of precessional change and the co-ordinate of a star,14 we can determine its altitude, say, at the meridian for any given epoch or, if you prefer, its rising point on the eastern horizon. We deduced that the southern shaft of the King’s Chamber pointed to the star Zeta of Orion’s Belt, so precessional calculations give us, with a fair degree of accuracy, the period of c. 2450BC.
Returning to Sellers’s thesis on the astronomy of Ancient Egypt, her principal premises for fixing certain prehistoric and early historic events rested on her belief that the Ancient Nile dwellers not only noticed precession but focused their attention on the spring equinox. There, I did not agree with her. It is not clear what importance the spring equinox had for Ancient Egyptians, other than the sun’s reaching mid-point in its annual changes, the effect noticed at rising or setting, or at the meridian transit. But this also applies for the autumn equinox. Those who have studied Egyptian religion or astronomy agree that the period of the year which dominated the mind of the early Nile dwellers was, without a doubt, the summer solstice. In the epoch immediately preceding the Pyramid Age, the summer solstice coincided with the heliacal rising of Sirius and the start of the Nile’s flood, and it was on this fascinating conjunction that many of the cultic ideas were based. The heliacal rising of Sirius also denoted the New Year and served as the basis of calendrical computations; Egyptologists and archaeo-astronomers are at one on this. E. C. Krupp, the well-known archaeo-astronomer and director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, wrote:
The Nile, with its annual flooding, made civilisation possible in Egypt … [it] was the real ruler of Egypt … The apparent connection between celestial and terrestrial phenomena greatly affected the Egyptian view of the world … [they] considered the heliacal rising of Sirius to be so important that they marked the beginning of the new year by this event. Even more compelling was the fact that the heliacally rising Sirius and the rising Nile coincided, approximately, with the summer solstice …15
The astronomer James Cornell was of the same opinion:
From the very time the first humans settled in the Nile Valley, the periodic event of prime importance to their lives — their very survival — was the annual flooding of the river … this cyclical event, crucial to the establishment of Egyptian civilisation, also led naturally to the concept of time … [and] the development of the calendar.… By happy coincidence … Sirius first appeared in the morning sky around the summer solstice and at about the same time as the start of the Nile flood … the length of the Egyptian solar year was thereby set as the interval between the successive (heliacal) risings of that star.16
It is crucial in the study of Ancient Egyptian religion in relation to astronomy that the importance of the summer solstice be clearly appreciated. Not only did it mark the apogee of the sun’s annual changes in declination but it provided a rough marker for the ‘year’ and, more importantly, the coming of the annual flood. This last was the real ‘mystery’ of Egypt: the fact that the waters began to rise at the time of the summer solstice and the heliacal rising of Sirius deeply affected the psyche of the Ancient Egyptians. A sort of stellar mechanical omen was witnessed in the sky a few weeks before the Sirius-summer-solstice-flood conjunction, and this, of course, was the appearance at dawn of fully risen Osiris-Orion.
Sellers’s greatest contribution, in my view, was to bring home the fact that without the tool of scientific astronomy and a basic knowledge of observational astronomy and precession, it is impossible to interpret correctly the mass of funerary texts and rituals and (I might add on her behalf) religious monuments. In that, she has rendered a great service to Egyptology. Another important point which she raised, and one which was to enlighten me in my Dashour-Hyades correlation, was her conclusion that Seth, the brother of Osiris, was from very early times identified with the Hyades.17 She also drew my attention to the astronomical connotations in the Memphite Theology, a theological tract based on the legandary unification of Egypt,18 often also called the Shabaka Texts. In 1987 I had suspected a strong astronomical value in these texts but had shelved studying it until later.19 Sellers’s comments not only regenerated their importance but triggered the answer to the Dashour-Hyades correlation and tied up a lose end in the Memphis-Duat correlation.
III A Black Stone
There is a slab of stone, a single block of black granite measuring about 1.3 metres by 1.5 metres, in the British Museum, classed as Item No. 498. On it are carved dozens of lines of hieroglyphic inscriptions, many unfortunately damaged when this stone was used in modern times for grinding wheat.20 Some call them the Shabaka Texts; to others they are the Memphite Theology. Although the stone dates from the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (c. 710BC) the inscriptions are believed to be copies from sources as far back as the Pyramid Age. The American philologist, Miriam Lichtheim deduced that the language used in the inscriptions on the Shabaka stone ‘much resembles that of the Pyramid Texts’ and takes this as evidence of ancient sources.21 This view is held by many scholars, including Jane Sellers.22
The Shabaka Texts begin with a curious introduction by the scribe commissioned to copy the texts. It seems that the pharaoh, Shabaka, wanted to have preserved for posterity certain ancient writings which were worm-eaten (presumably written on papyrus or wood) and ordered that they be copied on to a black granite slab, the Shabaka stone. In the ancient scribe’s words: ‘This writing was copied out anew by his majesty in the house of his father … for his majesty found it to be a work of the ancestors which was worm-eaten …’ [1–2].
The first part of the text seems to be a sort of Solomon’s judgement on the apportioning of the ‘Two Lands’ (Egypt) between Seth and Horus after the death of Osiris. Let us briefly reiterate the story: Seth was the brother of Osiris and Horus was the son of Osiris. The story begins with Seth and Horus being called by Geb, the earth god. Geb was the legitimate husband of the sky goddess, Nut, mother of Osiris and Seth. As such, he was the legitimate father of Osiris and, by virtue of his earth role, the highest authority on territorial matters.23 After some deliberation,
He made Seth king of Upper Egypt … [and] made Horus the king of Lower Egypt up to the place where his father (Osiris) was drowned, which is at the ‘division of the Two Lands’. Thus Horus stood over one region and Seth over one region. They made peace over the Two Lands at Ayan. That was the division of the Two Lands. [7–9]
This allusion to Osiris being ‘drowned’ is another version of his death, not at the hands of Seth, but by drowning in the Nile somewhere near Memphis. Ayan is thought to be outside the north wall of the city of Memphis, and seems to have marked a frontier line which separated the kingdom of Seth (Upper Egypt) from that of Horus (Lower Egypt). At the time the text was written, this would have implied a line of demarcation dividing the Memphite Necropolis just south of Zawyat Al Aryan and, by necessity, would have created a lower or northern part of the Duat of Memphis containing Orion proper (Giza), and an upper or southern part containing the Hyades (Dashour).
Immediately after taking this seemingly fair decision, Geb had second thoughts and retracted it. His new decision was to give both kingdoms to Horus. This, of course, created a major conflict between Horus and Seth, and an epic battle ensued, with Horus being the victor. Horus was thus the ‘uniter of the Two Lands’ and was so acclaimed in the Memphite Theology: ‘He is Horus who arose as king of Upper and Lower Egypt, who united the Two Lands in the Nome of the Wall (Memphis), the place in which the Two Lands were united. [13c-14c].
The Texts then inform us of the true meaning and particular sanctity of this holy place adjacent to Memphis:
This is the Land … [of] the burial of Osiris in the House of Sokar (Memphite Necropolis) … [you must call] Isis and Nephthys without delay, for Osiris has drowned in his water … Horus speaks to Isis and Nephthys: ‘Hurry, seize him …’ Isis and Nephthys speak to Osiris: ‘We come, we take you …’ They brought him to [the land]. He entered the hidden portals in the glory of the lords of eternity … thus Osiris came into the earth at the royal fortress, the north of [the land] to which he had come … There was built the royal fortress … [17c-22]
Isis urges Horus and Seth to ‘fraternise so as to cease quarrelling in whatever place they might be’. [15c].
As with the Pyramid Texts, I gave the Shabaka Texts the chance to speak for themselves. They provided an image of the body of Osiris lying along the west bank of the Nile, stretching over the demarcation line between the southern and northern part of the House of Sokar (the Memphite Necropolis). The story has a cosmic ring and suggests the same imagery in the sky-Duat. In this ‘place’, which is ‘at the north of the royal fortress’ (obviously Memphis) we are told that ‘Horus stood over one region and Seth stood over one region … that was the ‘division of the Two Lands’.
There has long been speculation why the dividing line or border between Lower and Upper Egypt was made at Memphis. The usual suggestion that it was an ideal strategic location is not really tenable; in later times Memphis stopped being the seat of pharaohs and the capital was transferred to Thebes, nearly 1000 kilometres upstream. It should be remembered that Egypt is an elongated country, a 1200-kilometre stretch formed by the narrow Nile Valley. A demarcation line of the ‘two lands’ at Ayan near Memphis would divide Egypt rather unevenly, with Lower Egypt running northwards only 220 kilometres to the Mediterranean coast, albeit with the rich Delta region, whereas Upper Egypt would stretch 1000 kilometres from Memphis to Aswan, hardly a fair parcelling of Egypt for two feuding pretenders.
I began to get the impression that the ‘land’ in question was not all of Egypt as we know it, but a holy region with a cosmic duality and which specifically contained the ‘House of Sokar’ (the Memphite Necropolis). In the Memphite Theology we are not dealing with a typical territorial dispute but with a cosmic event, with the protagonists, Horus and Seth, considered as ‘gods’. After the mythical death of Osiris, the real prize to be shared was the god’s earthly domain, that is the earth-Duat of Memphis, which now contained the ‘Pyramid Fields’, the symbols of pharaonic theocracy and the material expression of the state religion.
In cosmic terms this ‘land of Osiris-Sokar’ was the starry Duat along the west bank of the Milky Way/Celestial Nile; there, too, Osiris was lying along a region contained by Canis Major in the lower sky and the Hyades in the upper sky with the constellation of Orion between them. But what, I wondered, was the ‘border’ that supposedly divided the lower sky and the upper sky? Was there some feature separating the Hyades from the rest of the starry Duat of Osiris?
I considered the location of Ayan immediately north of Memphis and traced the demarcation line as a latitude going through the Memphite Necropolis. The line passed just south of the Abusir pyramid field, with Saqqara and Dashour at its south (Upper Egypt), and Abusir, Zawyat Al Aryan, Giza and Abu Ruwash at its north (Lower Egypt). The original decision by Geb would have thus given Horus the lower portion of the Memphis-Duat containing the pyramids of Abusir, Zawyat Al Aryan, Giza and Abu Ruwash, and the upper portion to Seth, containing the pyramids of Saqqara and Dashour.
The body of Osiris in the sky was the giant Sahu sky-image, which we saw as a striding man with one arm outstretched, the open palm cupping a star. The sexual part, i.e., the phallus, is clearly fixed with the stars of Orion’s Belt, and these must have evoked the sexual potency and seeding of the stellar Osiris. In the Osiris-Isis myth, the crucial moment was the making by Isis of an artificial phallus so that she could fertilise her womb with the seed of Osiris, and become pregnant. Oddly, there exists an ancient text called the Inventory Stela which is in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.24 Its date remains a mystery, though Egyptologists date it at around 1500BC. It was found by Mariette in 1800, while he was excavating the ruins of a small chapel called ‘The House of Isis’, next to Cheops’s pyramid. This stela refers to Cheops and the Great Pyramid and nominates Isis as ‘Mistress of the Pyramid’.25 If this is correct, it is tempting to visualise the artificial phallus as being the southern shaft of the King’s Chamber in Cheops’s pyramid, which was aimed at Orion’s Belt, the phallus region of the Osiris-Sahu image in the sky. This reminds us of that passage in the Pyramid Texts concerning the stellar copulation and seeding ritual between Osiris and Isis:
Your sister (wife), Isis, comes to you rejoicing for love of you. You have placed her on your phallus (shaft?) and your seed issues into her, she being ready as Sothis (Sirius), and Horus-Sopd (a star) has come forth from you as ‘Horus who is in Sothis’ [PT632]
What now needed to be deciphered from the Shabaka Texts was why Geb had given the southern portion of the Memphis-Duat to Seth, only to revoke his decision soon afterwards. Was there an event in the sky-Duat which might have made Geb consider that the corresponding Memphis-Duat had to be separated into an upper and lower portion? Was there a change in the position of the Hyades, for example, which moved it from the lower sky into the upper sky c. 2500BC? And what feature divided the sky into an upper and a lower part?
IV The Equator in the Sky
Seen from the earth, the sky appears as a huge hemispherical vault covering the flat and apparently circular land, its bottom rim resting on the horizon. In scientific astronomy we separate the east and west sides of this celestial hemisphere by the meridian, an imaginary line conjured as running overhead from due north to due south. We also separate the celestial hemisphere into a south and a north side, with an imaginary line, the celestial equator, running due east to due west, but the line is directly overhead only if you are on the earth’s equator; otherwise it always inclines towards the south,26 crossing the meridian line at an altitude equal to ninety degrees less the latitude where you are standing. Thus, if you are near London, the celestial equator crosses the meridian at 90 − 51 = 39 degrees altitude above the southern horizon. If you are near Cairo, it crosses the meridian at 90 − 30 = 60 degrees altitude over the southern horizon. The celestial equator is, therefore, the astronomical ‘border’ which divides the upper and lower skies.
Jane Sellers was to conclude that
Seth … originally connected with the Hyades, the V-shaped, head-like part of our constellation, TAURUS. As the brother of Osiris, his position in the sky was adjacent to ORION … an important court decision gave the office of Osiris to Horus, and Seth was banished to a position bearing the ‘southern’ constellation ORION …27
The gigantic Sahu sky-figure stretched from the Hyades (the ‘southern’ constellation of Sahu) past Orion proper and finally to Canis Major and Sirius. How did the celestial equator divide this ‘land’?
Running Skyglobe 3·5, I went to epoch 3100BC, when Egyptologists say the unification of the two lands of Egypt took place, and then projected the sky-Duat star region (Hyades, Orion and Canis major) on the meridian. The celestial equator passed just above the Hyades, meaning that they were in the lower sky (corresponding to ‘Lower Egypt’). Knowing that the precessional effect caused an upwards shift of the stars, I decided to see when the Hyades, and especially the two stars, Aldebaran and 311 (Epsilon Taurus), which I equated to the two Dashour pyramids, would cross the celestial equator and move into the upper sky (‘Upper Egypt’). I went up the centuries, 3100BC, 3000BC, 2900BC UNTIL 2000BC. I was astounded to see on the monitor screen the events of the unification as explained in the Memphite Theology. It was a thrilling sight! Bearing in mind that the celestial equator is at zero declination, and that negative declinations are in the lower sky and positive declinations in the upper sky, I refined the dates to the nearest decade and the readings obtained are reflected in the table.
+ 2° 13′
These precession events were very revealing; they showed that at exactly the time King Khufu (Cheops), the alleged builder of the Great Pyramid, came to power, star 311 was poised to cross the celestial equator and leave the lower sky for the upper sky. Then, in c.2080BC, at the time when the Pyramid Texts were put into the Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids, the same happened to Aldebaran. In correlation, this meant that the Dashour (Hyades) pyramids now ‘belonged’ to Upper Egypt, a territorial dispute settled not by land deeds but by the precessional mystery of the stars. No priest could confront the decision of the office of the sky gods, the Great Ennead of Heliopolis.
The basis of archaeological and chronological evidence leading Egyptologists to date the unification of the Two Lands at c. 3100BC was therefore not confirmed by precession; this suggested that it was at a later date, possibly after 2400BC, and thus after the Fourth Dynasty, not before.
Precession does not depend on archaeological or chronological interpretations; it relies on the natural cyclical period of the precessional wobble, and thus behaves as the true epoch marker, a great star-clock behaving according to the laws of natural physics. I now began to see that the unification was prompted by the shifting further north of a sacred demarcation line or divider latitude, an event not to be considered as the start of dynastic Egypt but a religious dispute that occurred after the Fourth Dynasty. Such a dispute, though evidence was scant, was suspected by many Egyptologists including Dr Edwards, who indicated a political upheaval at the close of the Fourth Dynasty by noting that ‘… although documentary records are lacking, the character of the political events which attended the close of the Fourth Dynasty may be conjured from a number of indications’.28
These indications, according to Edwards, are the adoption of the suffix ra in the royal names: Kharf-ra, Menkau-ra, Djedef-ra, Sahu-ra and so on. To him this meant that the solar cult was gaining authority and becoming the state cult, because of the incorporation of the sun god’s name into the royal names. Also, the term ‘Son of Ra’ became part of the title of pharaohs ‘from the Fifth Dynasty onward’, even though the Horus-name, denoting the king as Son of Osiris remained the dominant title of kings.29 There is too, of course, the material evidence of the drastic decline of pyramid construction: Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids became smaller and their masonry was of much poorer quality, also an indication of political upheaval or cultic change.
The Memphite Theology seems, therefore, to narrate in mythological and cosmic terms a real dispute over the throne of Egypt which occurred at the close of the Fourth Dynasty. If that is so, the golden age of Osiris’s reign came to an end with the completion of the Giza necropolis, and a dispute ensued over who should inherit his pharaonic legacy. The title ‘son of Ra’ may have been used by a pretender who claimed direct descent from the head of the ‘father’ of the Heliopolitan pantheon of gods, the Great Ennead, to gain supremacy over any pretender claiming to be the son of Osiris.
Oddly enough, this seems to be confirmed by the Westcar Papyrus.30 In 1947, Edwards drew attention to this mysterious document, which reveals the story of the coming to power of the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty, as seen by the Ancient Egyptians themselves.31 Two of these, Sahura and Neferirkara, built their pyramids at Abusir.
V The ‘Triplets’ of a Priestess
The Westcar Papyrus has preserved an ancient legend concerning the creation of the Fifth Dynasty which, we are told, came about when a high priestess of Heliopolis was seeded by Ra, the sun god.32 This was a typical ploy used when a dynastic change or coup was in the making. For example Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, claimed that Zeus-Ammon had made love to her, making her son the ultimate contender to the throne of Macedonia and Greece;33 Caesar claimed a descent from Venus, generatrix.34Divine intervention in matters of dynastic disputes was an easy way to sway the credulous populace to believe a shaky or even illegitimate claim to the throne. A ‘miraculous’ birth was always effective and as late as the seventeenth century in Europe they were still going strong. Louis XIV of France for example was said to have been conceived miraculously,35 when after twenty-six years of sterile union between Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, the couple produced a ‘solar’ heir, nicknamed Dieudonné, (God-given).36
The claim of a solar pregnancy by the priestess of Heliopolis was probably a carefully orchestrated plot and seems to have worked. According to the Westcar Papyrus, Ra came down to earth and seeded the all-too-willing wife of the high priest at Heliopolis. This resulted in her giving birth to triplets, all of whom were to become kings of Egypt: the pharaohs Userkaf, Sahura and Neferirkara. With the Westcar Papyrus, as with the Memphite Theology, I believe we are dealing with a historical event explained in cosmic terms, which resulted in the creation of the Fifth Dynasty. The site chosen for their pyramids by this new solar dynasty, to express its connection with the Fourth Dynasty and its dominant astral cult of Osiris, was the flat region of Abusir. Here a triplet of little pyramids was built which, in the Memphis-Duat correlation, denoted the ‘head’ of Osiris-Sahu sky-image. I believe there is an astronomical event which connects the story of the Westcar Papyrus with that of the Memphite Theology and which, in turn, explains the curious variation in the Osirian myth, his ‘drowning’ in the Nile at the exact spot where the dividing line runs through Ayan and near Abusir.
Skyglobe 3·5 shows that, in epoch 2300BC, which fits the Fifth Dynasty according to the latest chronology, the sun approached the Milky Way from the west, and reached the western shore in early May (Julian). The sun ‘drowns’ in it for about twenty-four days, to emerge on the eastern shore at the end of May (Julian). At that moment it is in line with the calculated rising time of the ‘head’ of Osiris, those three little stars which I correlate to the three little pyramids at Abusir on the Memphis-Duat map. The horizon thus joins both the ‘head’ of Osiris-Sahu and the place where the sun ‘emerges’ from the waters of the Nile. This astronomical evidence suggests that there was, indeed, an attempt to solarise the cult of Osiris and possibly Osiris himself.37 Clearly the astronomical evidence brought by the Heliopolitan priests was the concurrence of the ‘drowning’ of the sun in the celestial Nile and the appearance of the ‘head’ of Osiris-Sahu. The name of one of the Fifth Dynasty kings who placed his pyramid at Abusir, Sahu-ra, indicates an attempt to merge, and possibly to control, the Osirian astral cult by the Heliopolitan solar faction. It seems to have worked until the end of the Sixth or even the Seventh Dynasty, but the Osirian cult re-emerged, with even more cogency, in the epoch known as the Middle Kingdom which came after the Pyramid Age.38
The other version of the death of Osiris was his being killed by Seth and his body cut into pieces and thrown all over Egypt. The six pyramids of the Fifth Dynasty,39 together with the seven of the great Fourth Dynasty, gives a total of fourteen which comprised the Memphite Necropolis at the time the Pyramid Texts were written. Interestingly, this number ties in closely with another specific aspect of the death of Osiris under the knife of Seth; Seth cut up the body into fourteen pieces.40 As Wallis-Budge pointed out:
later tradition asserts that the body of Osiris was cut into fourteen or fifteen pieces, and that over the place where each was buried Isis caused a sanctuary to be built … these tomb-chapels, or funerary temples of Osiris may represent the Aats (the Elysian Fields) of Osiris mentioned in the Pyramid Texts … the tombs of Osiris on earth had their counterparts in heaven …41
Returning to the epic quarrel between Horus and Seth, which followed the death of Osiris, we are told in the Pyramid Texts that in the great fight which took place Horus ‘lost his left eye’.42 This curious mutilation can also be explained by precession. In all sky mythologies and especially in the Egyptian one, there always existed a great bull in the sky represented by the vast constellation of Taurus.43 This celestial bull is closely connected with Orion the Hunter, such that classical depictions generally show Orion’s left arm extending with his hand up to the ‘head’ of Taurus. Recently, it has been recognised that the Mithraic bull, slain by the Persian-Roman deity, Mithra, is offering an astronomical scene where Mithra is Orion and the ‘head’ of the celestial bull is none other than the Hyades.44 This imagery conforms with the classical Greek and Roman representation of Orion and Taurus, with the Hyades being the ‘head’ of Taurus.45 It is therefore interesting to note that the ‘eyes’ of the bull were Aldebaran and star 311 (Epsilon Taurus), the latter being the ‘left eye’.46 We have shown how star 311 crossed the celestial equator going from the lower sky to the upper sky in c. 2450BC. Was it then that Horus, who was allocated Lower Egypt, ‘lost his left eye’?
The Pyramid Texts make it clear that the epic duel where the ‘eye’ of Horus was lost is seen as occurring in the lower eastern sky, on the banks of the Winding Waterway:
Horus has cried out because of his eye, Seth has cried out because of his testicles, and there leaps up the eye of Horus, who has fallen on yonder (right) side of the Winding Waterway … Thoth (the planet Mercury) saw it on yonder side of the Winding Waterway … the eye of Horus fell on Thoth’s wings on yonder side of the Winding Waterway, on the eastern side of the sky … [PT 594–6]
The celestial location is again somewhere near Orion. We read that when Osiris was knocked down near the banks of the Nile, his assailant, Seth, accuses Osiris in front of the gods of having started the fight: ‘It was he [Osiris] who attacked me … when there came into being this his name of Orion, long of leg and lengthy of stride …’ [PT 959].
Thoth and Horus then come to help Osiris to the sky:
Horus comes, Thoth appears, they raise Osiris from upon his side and make him stand … Raise yourself, O Osiris, Isis has your arm, O Osiris; Nephthys has your hand, so go between them. The sky (the Duat sky-region) is given to you, the earth (‘Egypt’ the Duat of Memphis) is given to you, and the Field of Rushes, the Mounds of Horus, and the Mounds of Seth … [PT 956–61]
Are the mounds of Horus and of Seth allusions to the pyramids?
In the British Museum there is a magnificent document dated to the New Kingdom called the Chester Beatty No. 1 Papyrus, where we are given details of what happened in the cosmic courtroom of the gods.47 It seems that the case had been going on for several years before the ‘Heliopolitan Council’ and the gods, angered by the long quarrel, were about to give their final verdict.48 It must have been a difficult one, for in the Chester Beatty No. 1 Papyrus much is made of the efforts surrounding the handling of the matter and how the Egyptians showed ‘the triumph of legality over brute force’.49 It all points to an awkward decision on how the ‘Two Lands’ previously ruled by Osiris be divided between the two kings after what was probably an indecisive battle. Seth is persuaded to abide by the decision of the Heliopolitan Council. As Jane Sellers previously concluded: ‘an important court decision gave the office of Osiris to Horus, and Seth was banished to a position bearing the “southern” constellation ORION’ — that is the Hyades stars.50
I felt I had reached the end of the stellar investigation. In view of the huge amount of textual and archaeological evidence, there were still many loose ends, but the thickest veil, over the Memphite Necropolis, had been removed and I could now discern a complete stellar plan, executed with poetic elegance and grandeur. I was starting to think in the dual mode the ancients of the Pyramid Age had developed so well: a capacity to think in terms of the sky and the land, using the medium of allegories and symbols to express the combined vision. When the Duat was conjured it came in two blended images, one of the sky and the other of the land. The Nile merged with the Milky Way, and stellar alignments and positions projected themselves on the Memphite Necropolis, over the meridians and latitudes which gridded the clusters of pyramid fields.
However, the articles I had published in 1989–90 made no allusion to the wider vision of the master plan which I had now exposed. It was August 1992, nearly nine years since the whole affair had changed the course of my life. I wanted others to know what I had found, and academic articles do not bring discoveries to a wide audience. Egyptologists had a reading backlog of ten years, in some cases twenty, with hundreds of articles, theses, dissertations and papers all waiting to be reviewed. And even then, nothing much came out of all this material. So I took the big decision: to write a book which would popularise the new ideas and highlight the exciting revelations.
When I told Michele, she heaved a big sigh. For years the family had followed my personal quest; the children had grown in the shadow of ‘Ancient Egypt’, telling the other kids at school that daddy worked with King Tut when asked what my job was. Luckily I’d had some good engineering consultancies during the years, and the favourable sale of our property in Sydney, which had trebled in value in three years, meant that we could be financially solvent for another eight months, a year perhaps by stretching the bills a little. It was now or never. Michele sighed again and nodded with a smile.
A good 386 computer with a 40 MB memory, a new word-processing program, the conversion of a spare room into an office and the book was on its way. I felt happy and sure that this was the right thing. I put aside the traumas and worries all new authors face, the doubt of ever getting published and the terrible lacunae when words simply do not come, and forged on. By November I had almost completed a first draft. Then, needing a specialised book which I thought might be found in Oxford, I gave myself the day off and drove my little Mini-Rover to that stimulating city.