The Star Sirius in Ancient Egypt

The Star Sirius in Ancient Egypt

By as early as 3285 B.C.E., the culture of ancient Egypt had developed a pronounced emphasis on a star then called Sothis, Sept, or Sepdet, today called Sirius. Sirius is a highly noticeable star in the heavens, the brightest star in the night sky. It’s prominently positioned just southeast of dramatic and easily distinguished Orion. Sky viewers in the northern hemisphere can most readily observe Sirius in the winter and early spring night sky, while viewers in the southern hemisphere will Pnd Sirius most readily viewed in the summer and early fall night sky. In either case, viewers can Pnd Sirius by locating the constellation of Orion, the Hunter, and following the line made by Orion’s belt stars to the left and downward to the obvious bright star southeast of Orion. That’s Sirius.

By the early third millennium B.C.E., Sirius had become a major star of orientation to the night sky for the Egyptians. Moreover, around that same era, Egypt had begun to deeply revere the star Sirius, (1) so much so that it was once thought that Sirius had been the only individual star formally worshipped by the Egyptian culture, (2) though certain constellations, such as Orion and the Great Bear, are now known to have been signiPcant as well. (3)

Why Sirius Was So Important

The question immediately comes to mind as to why Sirius claimed such a position of importance in ancient Egypt. The answer lies in part in the need for accurate and reliable measurement of time and its passage.

In particular, an accurate way to determine the length of the year was urgently needed if the ^oods of the Nile were to be reliably predicted, managed, and capitalized upon. One of the best methods the ancient Egyptians ever discovered for this purpose hinged on an accurate sighting of the star Sirius at a certain time of year. As a result of being used this way, Sirius came to symbolize order, predictability, and regularity to ancient Egypt; knowledge of its sky positions made possible the keeping of time records and the planning of civic organization around the ^oods of the Nile, with their subsequent and all-important periods of crop growth and harvest. It is not too great an exaggeration to say that knowledge of Sirius equated to survival in ancient Egypt.

A society profoundly oriented to the observation of the stunning and star-strewn night sky, ancient Egypt pondered the sky and its relation to the Earth. As early as 3000 B.C.E., ancient Egypt deduced through observational astronomy the fact that the year is about three hundred and sixty Pve days long, (4) a key item of knowledge for an agrarian society. Of the three hundred and sixty Pve days thus making up a year, in honor of the star that made it all possible to measure, the ancient Egyptians set aside the Pnal Pve days of their calendrical year to a feast celebrating Sirius, (5) so that every year began and ended with a reference to Sirius. As a result, the star Sirius functioned as a time deity, or watcher over the year. In fact, one of the famous pyramid texts calls Sothis (or Sirius) the Year itself. (6) This role for Sirius as a time-keeper or time marker is of great signiPcance, and has led to speculation that Sirius was the kosmokrator, or cosmic time measurer, not only of ancient Egypt but of the entire ancient Mediterranean world. (7)

Sirius Associated with Osiris, Isis, Horus, Hathor, Anubis, and Thoth

Yet in the vision of ancient Egypt, the star Sirius gained importance not only on account of its practical uses, but also for its profound religious signiPcance. In this role, Sirius was identiPed by ancient Egypt with several gods and goddesses of the Egyptian religion, including Osiris, Isis, Horus, Hathor, Anubis, and Thoth. (8)

The primary religious Pgure of Egyptian religion, Osiris symbolized the power of resurrection and immortality, a belief in which was widespread from the earliest times in Egypt. (9) The soul of Osiris was thought to dwell close by Sirius in the constellation Orion, (10) with which constellation Osiris was therefore identiPed, in addition to Sirius.

Isis was the main Egyptian goddess and the female counterpart of Osiris, the greatest of goddesses from the earliest to the latest Egyptian dynasties. (11) She was a benePcent goddess and mother who personiPed the feminine creative power, and whose in^uence and love pervaded all heaven, the Earth, and the abode of the dead. (12) Isis was also known as the goddess of the Earth, the goddess of the Underworld, the power which caused the Nile Flood, producer of fertility, giver of life, goddess of cultivated Pelds, goddess of the harvest, and goddess of food. (13) As the goddess of the underworld, she was said to assist in transforming the bodies of the dead into those in which they would inhabit the realm of Osiris. (14) The symbol of Isis in the heavens was considered by the ancient Egyptians to be the star Sept, which is one of their names for Sirius, (15) and this star was thought literally to be the resting place for the soul of Isis. (16) Hathor was an aspect of Isis, (17) depicted as a cow lying in a boat with a star between her horns, (18) and in her aspect as a symbol for Isis is also therefore linked with Sept or Sirius.

Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris, and a Sun deity himself, (19) frequently represented with by a walking god Pgure with the head of a hawk. (20)

Jackal-headed Anubis was the god of the underworld, the guide of the deceased in the after death state. (21) He was charged with tending the scales whereupon were weighed the hearts of the dead, making sure that the cross-beam was entirely even and true. (22) Further, Anubis was connected with the concept of time. (23)

Often depicted as the ibis-headed god, Thoth was thought to be the personiPcation of the reason and mental power of the great Egyptian over-god, Ra. (24) Sometimes Thoth was described as the mind, reason, and understanding of Ra, these three terms resulting in a title of Thrice Great, or Trismegestos in the Greek language. (25) This great intellectual power called Thoth was of astounding perspicacity, for Thoth was considered to have been the inventor and god of all the arts and sciences, to have made the original calculations establishing the heavens, stars, and Earth, to be the master of all physical and moral law, to be the master of books, the scribe of the gods, and to have knowledge of divine speech. (26) In fact, it was Thoth who spoke the word whereby the wishes of Ra were carried into effect. (27)

Thoth it was who reckoned the times and seasons, and who directed the motions of the heavenly bodies. (28) Thoth as director of the heavens is of particular importance, for the knowledge and application of astronomical cycles became part of the ancient Egyptian initiatory tradition. (29)

Great Thoth was also considered to be the force which kept hostile forces in equilibrium, (30) appearing in one of his forms as the dog-headed ape who sits atop the scales of justice or karma and ensures their correct balance. (31) In the judgment scene in The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Thoth takes the role of a recording scribe.

Thus, Sirius was in ancient Egypt identiPed with several deity Pgures – Osiris as emblem of immortality, Isis as the life-sustaining power of fertility and food, Horus as the power of the Sun, Anubis as guide of the dead, and Thoth as the mind of Ra, reckoner of time, and the establisher of all necessary sciences of measurement and calculation. In other words, to the ancient Egyptians, Sirius was synonymous with the basic incontrovertible elements of life – the continuity of life beyond physical death, the nurturing power of Mother Nature as Isis, the power of the heavenly vault in general and the fundamental role of light from our local star, plus the advanced knowledge necessary for accurate calculation of time periods, both annual and eonic.

Sirius the Model for Egyptian Funerary Practice

In addition to its association with speciPc gods and goddesses and their jurisdictions, Sirius Pgured prominently in ancient Egyptian spirituality because it was directly linked with the afterlife, as is plainly revealed in funerary and burial custom. Ancient Egypt adopted seventy days as the amount of time spent in the embalming of the dead, the same amount of time Sirius is invisible each year due to its proximity to the rising Sun. Thus, following a death, the ancient Egyptians set aside seventy days for the careful, ritualistic treating and wrapping of the body of the deceased, a process held in the highest regard. Astronomical fact regarding Sirius was instrumental in establishing the duration and nature of this practice, for the Egyptians regarded the seventy-day invisibility of Sirius as the archetype of experience in the after-death state. In this linkage of the star Sirius with Egyptian funerary practice, it is obvious that the star Sirius outright symbolized the themes of death and rebirth in ancient Egyptian thought. (33)

Sirius: Part of the Egyptian Duat

Moreover, Sirius rated of high value to ancient Egyptian religion due to its location in a part of the sky held to be particularly potent for the attainment of immortality. In fact, not only Sirius, but also several stars of importance to ancient Egyptian religion are located in that same area of the sky. The star Sirius is mentioned speciPcally in The Egyptian Book of the Dead as a point to which the souls of the deceased go, (34) as are four stars of the Great Bear, (35) a constellation nowhere near the Duat, but in fact right at the celestial north pole. According to late twentieth-century research, certain stars were singled out by the builders of the Egyptian pyramids as sacred. SpeciPcally, it was the stars in a region of the sky called by the ancient Egyptians the Duat which attracted the primary attention of the Egyptians and their pyramid builders. The Duat included the star Sirius and part of the constellation Orion. (36) This region of the sky was considered to be spiritually activated and capable of properly receiving the souls of the departed only at the time of the summer solstice, when Orion and Sirius appeared on the eastern horizon in the Pnal moments of dark sky before the Sun would rise. (37) Note that Sirius played a signiPcant role in visually announcing the onset of this period. Here again is indication of the importance of Sirius to the ancient Egyptian world.

Union with Certain Stars Indicative of Immortality

In general, the Egyptian religious doctrine held that the soul of the deceased became one with the stars, (38) with certain stars speciPed, as described. It might be fairly said then that to the Egyptian mind, union with certain stars equated to immortality, a fact re^ected in the plea of Horus for the deceased, “May his soul rest among the stars that never set!” (39) Of course, the only stars which never set from Earth’s point of view are those found nearest the celestial north pole. Sirius is not one of these in our era, and was not in ancient times either. Thus, the quoted invocation of Horus does not address the stars of the Duat, which include Sirius, unless Horus speaks from a cosmic standpoint well beyond that of Earth. Perhaps there were other such invocations made by Horus speciPcally to guide earthly souls back to their spiritual star homes located in the Duat. What is certain is that spiritual union with speciPc stars was a fundamental tenet of ancient Egyptian spiritual practice. Sirius as a member of the Duat was one of the stars which the souls of departed were thought to join.

Blavatsky on the Pyramids, Astronomical Cycles, and Initiatory Teachings

This vital interest in the nature of the sky and in the stars expressed itself in yet another way in ancient Egyptian culture, carrying forth the interests of the god Thoth as reckoner of time.

According to famed nineteenth century Theosophical leader and clairvoyant writer H.P. Blavatsky, at the core of the Egyptian mystery initiations dwelled a revelation which dealt with a fundamentally stellar phenomenon called the precessional cycle. The precessional cycle is a long time cycle dePned by the sweep of the vernal equinox point through the 360 degree arc of the starry heavens, as seen from Earth, during a period of just less than 26,000 years. In her monumental occult study titled The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky wrote about this cycle. Blavatsky held that a program of mysteries and a series of initiations structured speciPcally upon the sophisticated and astronomically-based precessional cycle had been in the possession of the builders of the Egyptian pyramids. The pyramids themselves she praised as “…the everlasting record and the indestructible symbol of these Mysteries and Initiations on Earth, as the courses of the stars are in Heaven.” (40) Again, the precise content of these mysteries, Blavatsky stated, was directly related to the precessional cycle, the period for which she gave as 25,868 years, diverging only slightly from the 25,920 year measurement accepted by many contemporary sources. At any rate, it was this very cycle which dwelled at the core of the Egyptian mysteries, Blavatsky claimed. According to Blavatsky, the Egyptian course of initiations, reproduced in miniature that great series of cosmic changes to which astronomers have given the name of tropical or sidereal year and to which she attached the Pgure of 25,868 earth years, plainly the same time period referred to as the precessional cycle. To calculate the duration of such a cycle is a sophisticated and complicated astronomical and mathematical matter. That ancient Egypt could perform such a calculation therefore reveals the presence in that culture of advanced knowledge which came forth from somewhere. Might that somewhere be the star Sirius?

Blavatsky’s Opinion Validated by Modern Researchers

On the basis of information given to her clairvoyantly and telepathically by the Masters of the Wisdom, in the late 1800s Blavatsky articulated her position on the pyramids and their builders, maintaining that the latter were in possession of extensive and advanced stellar and astronomical knowledge. A full century later, contemporary Egyptological researchers Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock would arrive at the same conclusion on the basis of detailed research into Egyptian religious texts, architectural features of the Giza complex and other monuments in Egypt, and computer generated maps of star positions in antiquity. The evidence led Bauval and Hancock to develop a theory that the entire arrangement of Egyptian monumental architecture and the religion from which it sprang were suffused with great astronomical sophistication, demonstrating a comprehensive grasp of the precessional cycle and the changes in the sky positions of various stars and constellations as wrought by that important celestial dynamic. (42)

Egyptian Architecture Designed to Feature Stars by the Followers of Horus

According to twentieth-century researchers Bauval and Hancock, the monumental architecture of Egypt was designed to embody profound references to and alignments with celestial bodies. Bauval and Hancock concluded that these references and alignments were built into the pyramids and the Sphinx at the Giza complex by a brotherhood of initiates and temple builders called the Followers of Horus. (42) Given that Horus is one of the several Egyptian deities associated closely with the star Sirius, then the Followers of Horus might perhaps also be considered the Followers of Sirius. If that proposition is accepted, then it becomes apparent that Sirian in^uence directly resulted in the conceptualization, designing, and construction of the famed Egyptian pyramids. The inescapable conclusion is that the pyramids owe their existence to inspiration originating in stellar sources, Sirius in particular.

Followers of Horus Observed Long Astronomical Cycles

Study of the starry sky and its basic astronomical dynamics was the pre-occupation of the initiate-priests and temple builders called the Followers of Horus. According to Bauval and Hancock, the Followers of Horus carried out detailed observations of not only the solar year but also the precessional cycle, the latter being the period of just less than 26,000 during which the vernal equinox point migrates all the way around the ecliptic, as seen from Earth. In regard to this cycle, the temple building initiates of ancient Egypt appear to have recognized a 25,920 duration, composed of twelve sub-periods, or astrological ages, each lasting for 2160 years. (43)

As is evident, this conclusion matches up with Blavatsky’s earlier contention, though hers was based on clairvoyant perception while that of the modern research team was founded on maps, measurements, and computer analyses. In both cases, the critical role of the starry heavens in the society which generated the pyramids emerges as an undeniable fact. Of equal importance is the connection of the Followers of Horus, who built the pyramids and calculated their stellar alignments, with star wisdom linked to Sirius.

Conclusion

As has been shown, ancient Egyptian culture and religion were profoundly oriented to an inquiry into the nature of the stars and toward a reverence of the stars as the sacred incarnate. More speciPcally, particular stars seemed to the ancient Egyptian sensibility to be endowed with outstanding potency for spiritual union with deity and eternity. The star Sirius is prime among these. As archetype of the afterlife journey, source of wisdom leading to the ability to calculate important time cycles, and point of inspiration for the temple-building Followers of Horus, Sirius was chief among the stars of importance to ancient Egypt, thus rightly commanding the attention of all spiritual seekers in the New Age and the Western Esoteric Traditions.

Footnotes

1. R.H. Allen, Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning. New York: G.E. Stechert, 1899, 123.
2. Ibid.
3. Jack Lindsay, Origins of Astrology. London: Muller, 1971, 148 – 149.
4. John A. Wilson, The Culture of Ancient Egypt. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951, 61; Lindsay, Origins, 156. 5. R.R. Clayson, Egypt’s Ancient Heritage. San Jose, Supreme Grand Lodge of AMORC, 133.

6. Lindsay, Origins, 148.
7. George De Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill. Jaffrey: Godine, 1977, 286.
8. Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, The Orion Mystery. New York, Crown, 2010; H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary. Adhyar: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1892, 300; Lindsay, Origins, 147 – 148; Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough. 1890, 430; R.K.G. Temple, The Sirius Mystery. New York: St. Martin’s, 1976, 63, 79, 179; Allen, Star Names, 124; Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma. Supreme Council Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, 376.
9. E.A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead. New York: Dover, 1967, 113, 123, 126.
10. E.A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, v. 2. New York: Dover, 1969, 215.
11. Ibid., 63.
12. Budge, Gods, v.2, 203.
13. Ibid., 216.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., 215.
16. Allen, Star Names, 124.
17. Blavatsky, Glossary, 136.
18. Lindsay, Origins, 148.
19. Blavatsky, Glossary, 145.
20. Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock, The Mystery of the Sphinx. New York: Broadway Books, 1997,16, 20.
21. Budge, Gods v. 2, 261 – 262.
22. Ibid., p. 262.
23. Budge, Gods v.2, 264, 265; Temple, Mystery, 69.
24. Budge, Gods v. 1, 407.
25. Ibid., 415.
26. Ibid., 403.
27. Ibid., 407.
28. Ibid., 407, 408.
29. Peter Tompkins, The Secret of the Great Pyramid. New York: Penguin, 1979, 256.
30. Budge, Gods v. 1, 405.
31. Ibid., 403.
32. Temple, Mystery, 164.
33. E.H. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, 221.
34. Budge, Book of the Dead, cv.
35. Ibid., lxxxvi.
36. For a thorough exploration of this theme, see Bauval and Hancock, The Mystery of the Sphinx, particularly 210.
37. Bauval and Hancock, Sphinx, 138.
38. Ibid., lxxiii.
39. Geoffrey Barborka, The Divine Plan. Adhyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972, 409.
40. H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine. 1888. V. 2, 314.
41. Bauval and Hancock, Sphinx.
42. Ibid., 210.
43. Ibid., 213 – 214.

About Maureen Richmond

Maureen Temple Richmond (Author of Sirius)

Born in 1951 American writer and researcher Maureen Temple Richmond is a scholar and enthusiast of the Western Esoteric and Initiatory Tradition. For that purpose,…

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Sirius by Maureen Temple Richmond

Sirius

Sirius A Scholarly Study of the Role the Star Sirius Plays in the Western Initiatory Tradition By Maureen Temple Richmond A nonfiction scholarly study, Sirius… 

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