The Sirius Question is Rephrased
We shall turn now to the star Sirius in history. What was its
importance, if any, in ancient religions ? Is there evidence from the
ancient cultures that the mysterious details of the Sirius system
were known to others than the Dogon tribe? And can we discover where
the Dogon got their information?
I must warn the reader that Part Two is difficult, by the nature of
its subject matter. I have tried to make it readable, but beg the
reader's indulgence if have not succeeded. It is exciting material
and the reader should stick with it I am certain he will come out at
the end of the tunnel with a great deal of amazement.
ancient cultures are far more bizarre than the ordinary person is
generally led to expect.
Once there was a beautiful bright star named Sothis, as fine as any
goddess. She had long held a dominant position in the sky and been
admired by all for her beauty. But of late she had felt unwell;
indeed, it distinctly seemed to her that she felt her life ebbing
away. Night by night she fell further from her high, proud place in
the sky - closer to the skyline and what must surely be her certain
Failing, failing, she clung to any
companion star she could find, only to discover that they too felt
this deathly weakness, and were sinking into a kind of sweet sleep.
What was she to do ? She felt her strength going nightly; she could
hardly shine the way she wished. Once she had been as glamorous, as
scintillating a queen of the night sky as ever had been seen.
And now she felt she was as worthless as
any old woman, her position at the centre of things gone, and her
beauty fading steadily. . . . Towards the end she wept bitterly and
her eyes reddened with the shame of her coming eclipse. She was so
ill, her discomfort so acute. She was almost glad to welcome her
fate, and that terrible line of earth and hills which she had
dreaded, at last devoured her brilliant presence entirely. The night
came and she was no more. Beneath the earth she rested in the balm
But because this queen of the sky had been good during her
ascendancy and had not been too haughty or vulgar, there were many
admirers of her beauty to mourn her passing. Down on the lowly earth
moved less brilliant mortals. Many nights they had stood in awe of
the beautiful Sothis when she was in her prime.
Some, indeed, had watched her birth
when, red as a baby from the womb or as the Sun when he rises daily,
this bright and beautiful immortal (or so she had seemed) had first
flashed the most piercing and glittering rays of her incomparable
presence sideways across the earth seeming almost to scorch the very
ground with her flaming beauty. This first appearance had been
brief, for immediately behind her had come the all-engrossing
grandeur of the great Sun himself. Heedless of Sothis, he soon
washed the sky white with his splendor.
All the stars dissolved like tiny drops
of milk, lost when their bowl is suddenly filled to overflowing. So
great was the Sun, so irresistible his presence - he whom some
compared to a great wild bull bellowing and lording it over the
heavens and the earth alike. But every night the Sun retired to his
resting place, and night by night the flaming goddess Sothis
entranced and bewitched mortal men, as she rose steadily higher and
grew to great perfection. And further and further ahead of the Sun
she rose each night.
But with her absence, how barren, how bleak, the sky now seemed. The
disappearance of this renowned beauty from the vault of the heavens
seemed such an unbearable deprivation. How the goddess was missed!
Many mortal men shed bitter tears not to see the beauty who had
infatuated them with her glancing eyes, her winsome smile, her slim
waist and delicate feet. Were they never again to see her light
tread in the celestial round dance of the stars ?
Day followed night, and the sorrow of many became soothed by time's
healing wings, which slowly fold themselves around the sufferer in
invisible layers of sleep, forgetfulness, and the new interests
which life must bring. The beautiful Sothis, though mourned, was
lost only to the sight. For all remembered her, and that image of
her burned into memory was so glorious, that to expect her actual
presence came to seem almost too much to ask of many-hued, shifting,
and various Fate.
Seventy days had elapsed. Hope had long since been abandoned to
acceptance; sorrow had become numb. A shepherd had gone out before
sunrise to his lambs now fully six months old. The Sun would not
long be delayed, it was approaching the time of daybreak. The
shepherd looked towards the skyline in the east. And as he looked,
he saw the horizon burn with a refulgent fire, and the shimmering
red birth of the goddess. It was she, it must be she! No other star
had that aura, such a penetrating persona.
The shepherd stood transfixed; his eyes
were seared by this fresh star, dripping it seemed, with the waters
of life, and aflame also with the fiery resurgence of its renewed
existence. As the quick Sun behind her moved up to erase Sothis's
tantalizingly brief appearance, the shepherd turned and ran to the
nearest settlement. 'Awake! Awake! The goddess has returned! She is
reborn, immortal, come back from death!' And all the devotees
assembled with excitement and renewed hope. They heard the tale, saw
for themselves the next morning, and they instituted a yearly
This celebration exists to this day, and
many are the temples, many are the priests, who gather in the month
of July throughout all our land of Egypt to witness the
much-heralded yearly rebirth of the great Sothis, Mother Isis,
bestower of concord and blessings to her people. And in honor of her
seventy days spent in the underworld, we have instituted the
seventy-day embalming and mummification rites for our own dead, as
it is pious and indeed right that we should do.
I wrote this fairytale, from the point of view of an ancient
Egyptian priest, in order to convey to the reader not only certain
facts but also certain equally important and, unfortunately, extinct
emotions. For the attitudes and feelings of ancient peoples are just
as important as the dry description of what facts they believed.
Sothis was the ancient Egyptian name for Sirius as it was spelt by
the Greeks. The Egyptians had a Sothic calendar and the first
appearance of Sirius on the eastern horizon just before the sun -
after 70 days in the Duat (Underworld) — was what is called the
heliacal rising (or 'with-the-sun' rising) of Sirius.
occurred once a year and gave rise to the Sothic Calendar, whose
details we need not go into.
The heliacal rising of Sirius was so
important to the ancient Egyptians (as Indeed it is to the Dogon as
well1) that gigantic temples were constructed with their main aisles
oriented precisely towards the spot on the horizon where Sirius
would appear on the expected morning. The light of Sirius would be
channeled along the corridor (due to the precise orientation) to
flood the altar in the inner sanctum as if a pin-pointed spotlight
had been switched on.
This blast of light focused from a
single star was possible because of the orientation being so
incredibly precise and because the temple would be otherwise in
total darkness within. In a huge, utterly dark temple, the light of
one star focused solely on the altar must have made quite an impact
on those present. In this way was the presence of the star made
manifest within its temple.
One such temple to the star Sirius was
the temple of Isis at Denderah. An ancient hieroglyphic inscription
from that temple informs us:2
She shines into her temple on New Year's Day, and she mingles her
light with that of her father Ra on the horizon.
(Ra is an ancient Egyptian name for the sun.)
The heliacal rising of Sirius was also important to other ancient
peoples. Here is a dramatic description by the ancient Greek poet
Aratus of Soli of the rising of Sirius3 (often known as the Dog Star
as it is in the constellation Canis, or 'Dog'):
The tip of his [the Dog's] terrible
jaw is marked by a star that keenest of all blazes with a
searing flame and him men call Sirius. When he rises with the
Sun [his heliacal rising], no longer do the trees deceive him by
the feeble freshness of their leaves. For easily with his keen
glance he pierces their ranks, and to some he gives strength but
of others he blights the bark utterly.
We see that this dramatic description of
the rising of the star indicates an event which was certainly
noticed by ancient peoples. Throughout Latin literature there are
many references to 'the Dog Days' which followed the heliacal rising
of Sirius in the summer. These hot, parched days were thought by
that time to derive some of their ferocity and dryness from the
'searing' of Sirius.
Traditions arose of Sirius being 'red' because
it was in fact red at its heliacal rising, just as any other body at
the horizon is red. When making rhetorical allusion to the Dog Days,
the Latins would often speak of Sirius being red at that time, which
We tend to be unaware that stars rise and set at all. This is not
entirely due to our living in cities ablaze with electric lights
which reflect back at us from our fumes, smoke, and artificial haze.
When I discussed the stars with a well-known naturalist, I was
surprised to learn that even a man such as he, who has spent his
entire lifetime observing wildlife and nature, was totally unaware
of the movements of the stars.
And he is no prisoner of smog-bound
cities. He had no inkling, for instance, that the Little Bear could
serve as a reliable night clock as it revolves in tight circles
around the Pole Star (and acts as a celestial hour-hand at half
speed - that is, it takes 24 hours rather than 12 for a single
I wondered what could be wrong. Our modern civilization does not
ignore the stars only because most of us can no longer see them.
There are definitely deeper reasons. For even if we leave the
sulphurous vapors of our Gomorrahs to venture into a natural
landscape, the stars do not enter into any of our back-to-nature
They simply have no place in our outlook
any more. We look at them, our heads flung back in awe and wonder
that they can exist in such profusion. But that is as far as it
goes, except for the poets. This is simply a 'gee whiz' reaction.
The rise in interest in astrology today does not result in much
actual star-gazing. And as for the space program's impact on our
view of the sky, many people will attentively follow the motions of
a visible satellite against a backdrop of stars whose positions are
absolutely meaningless to them.
The ancient mythological figures
sketched in the sky were taught us as children to be quaint
'shepherds' fantasies' unworthy of the attention of adult minds. We
are interested in the satellite because we made it, but the stars
are alien and untouched by human hands - therefore vapid. To such a
level has our technological mania, like a bacterial solution in
which we have been stewed from birth, reduced us.
It is only the integral part of the landscape which can relate to
the stars. Man has ceased to be that. He inhabits a world which is
more and more his own fantasy. Farmers relate to the skies, as well
as sailors, camel caravans, and aerial navigators. For theirs are
all integral functions involving the fundamental principle - now all
but forgotten - of orientation.
But in an almost totally secular and
artificial world, orientation is thought to be unnecessary. And the
numbers of people in insane asylums or living at home doped on
tranquilizers testifies to our aimless, drifting metaphysic. And to
our having forgotten orientation either to seasons (except to turn
on the air- conditioning if we sweat or the heating system if we
shiver) or to direction (our one token acceptance of cosmic
direction being the wearing of sun-glasses because the sun is 'over
We have debased what was once the integral nature of life channeled
by cosmic orientations - a wholeness - to the enervated tepidity of
skin sensations and retinal discomfort. Our interior body clocks,
known as circadian rhythms, continue to operate inside us, but find
no contact with the outside world. They therefore become ingrown and
frustrated cycles which never interlock with our environment.
We are causing ourselves to become
meaningless body machines programmed to what looks, in its
isolation, to be an arbitrary set of cycles. But by tearing
ourselves from our context, like the still-beating heart ripped out
of the body of an Aztec victim, we inevitably do violence to our
psyches. I would call the new disease, with its side effect of
'alienation of the young', dementia temporalis.
When I tried to remedy my own total ignorance of this subject
originally, I found it an extremely difficult process. I discovered
that I was reading coherent explanatory matter which I 'understood'
but did not comprehend. For comprehension consists of understanding
from the inside as well as understanding from the outside.
that do not really matter to us, or into which we do not
imaginatively project our own consciousness, remain strange to us;
we understand them outside (like a man feeling the skin of an
orange) but we have no inherent relation with the thing, and hence
are ultimately divorced from its reality.
This increasing isolation and
alienation, a cultural blight of which there is almost universal
complaint in the 'civilized' world, is yet another consequence of
dementia temporalis. For how can you get inside anything in the
end if you have ceased to be inside your own local universe with its
cycles and natural events? To be outside nature is to be an outsider
in all things.
With these observations in mind and a child's fairytale to help
guide us into the anteroom of the Egyptian psyche, let us prepare to
take a plunge over a waterfall in the certainty that there is no
chance of drowning. I have been ever this particular waterfall
before, and I assure you that the thrill is absolutely delicious if
you just let yourself go. But there is no question about the fact
that will have to swim pretty hard.
We're off. . . and immediately
we are in the frothing rapids where names and basic guidelines must
be established quickly.
Professors Parker and Neugebauer, who are
experts in such matters as these, tell us:4
The Egyptian calendar-year on which the
diagonal star clocks (hitherto called 'diagonal calendars') were
constructed is the well-known civil or 'wandering' year which
consisted of twelve months of three 10-day weeks, divided into three
seasons of four months each, followed by five epagomenal days,
called by the Egyptians 'the days upon the year'.
The total of 365 days did not vary and
as a consequence the Egyptian year moved slowly forward in the
natural year by, on the average, one day in four years. As we shall
see later . . . this was a continuously vexing complication in
keeping the star clocks adjusted.
The basis of these clocks was the
risings of the stars (conventionally referred to as 'decans') at
twelve 'hour' intervals through the night and in 10-day weeks
through the year.
The main star or decan was Sirius. The four decans
immediately before it in order comprise the constellation Orion. The
last portion of Orion rises above the horizon one 'hour' before
Sirius. It was for this reason that Orion took on significance in
the Egyptian mythology and religion. The Egyptians were so concerned
with Sirius, the star whose rising formed the basis of their entire
calendar, that the decan immediately preceding it came to be
looked on as Sirius's 'advance man'. Sirius itself was known to the
Egyptians as Spd or Spdt (a 't' ending is feminine).
sometimes spelt Sept and pronounced thus. Orion was known to the
Egyptians as Ssh which is transliterated as Sah or Sah, and
Now that we have established a few names and facts, we have to
consider the next fundamental point. We must establish, on the
professors' word for it, that the star Sirius was actually
identified with the famous goddess Isis, the head of the Egyptian
pantheon. This will be a major breakthrough in our search for
understanding. We must be careful not to be just saying things
The most common and most offensive
characteristic of previous books about 'visiting spacemen' has often
been the impossibility of checking any of their statements about
ancient cultures (aside from the many obvious errors). Sometimes
there are even references to newspaper articles which never existed,
or to mysterious professors behind the Iron Curtain who have gone
into hiding, taking their unpublished manuscripts with them.
are some such writers who claim that mysterious hierarchies of
'initiates' exist some of them residing in secret caves deep in the
centers of mountains - and some of these 'initiates' are directly in
touch with and take their orders from 'flying saucers'!
Now on to the Egyptians: The heliacal rising of Sirius is called in
Egyptian prt Spdt.
Neugebauer and Parker
'We offer the suggestion that Spdt
was in origin a nisbe of spd referring to Isis as
"the one of Spd". That spd and spdt Sothis are both identified
with Sirius is one of the rare certainties in Egyptian
Sothis is a goddess firmly identified
with Spdt and residing there. Sothis is also identified with
the goddess known to us as Isis but whose Egyptian name is ast which
is transliterated as Ast.
Professor Wallis Budge makes this interesting observation :8
'The throne or counterpart of Osiris,
and it is very probable that originally the same conception
underlay both names.'
Osiris as the husband of Isis was
identified with the constellation Orion.
Wallis Budge also said, after giving the
following hieroglyphic forms of Osiris:7
From the hieroglyphic texts of all
periods of the dynastic history of Egypt we learn that the god
of the dead, par excellence, was the god, whom the Egyptians
called by a name which may be tentatively transcribed As-Ar, or
Us-Ar, who is commonly known to us as 'Osiris'. The oldest and
simplest form of the name is that is to say, it is written by
means of two hieroglyphics the first of which represents a
'throne' and the other an 'eye', but the exact meaning attached
to the combination of the two pictures by those who first used
them to express the name of the god, and the signification of
the name in the minds of those who invented it cannot be said.
There is a great elaboration of what As-Ar does not mean,
referring to the use of puns which particularly delighted
Egyptian priests, etc. Two pages later he winds up by saying:
'The truth of the matter seems
to be that the ancient Egyptians knew just as little about
the original meaning of the name As-Ar as we do, and that
they had no better means of obtaining information about it
than we have.'
The Bozo tribe in Mali, cousins to the
Dogon, describe Sirius B as 'the eye star', and here we see the
Egyptians designating Osiris by an eye for reasons which are not
clear. And Osiris is the 'companion' of the star Sirius. A
coincidence? The Bozo also describe Sirius A as 'seated' - and a
seat is the sign for Isis.
A little later Budge adds:
'... in some passages (As-Ar or "Osiris")
is referred to simply as "god", without the addition of any
name. No other god of the Egyptians was ever mentioned or
alluded to in this manner, and no other god at any time in Egypt
ever occupied exactly the same exalted position in their minds,
or was thought to possess his peculiar attributes.'
'The plaque of Hemaka proves that a
centre of the Osiris cult existed at Abydos under the 1st
Dynasty, but we are not justified in assuming that the god was
first worshipped there, and ... it is difficult not to think
that even under the 1st Dynasty shrines had been built in honour
of Osiris at several places in Egypt.' *
Emery estimates the First Dynasty as commencing around 3200 B.C.
Thus we see the immense antiquity of the
recognition of Ast and Asar (Isis and Osiris), going back well
before the dynastic period in Egypt.
Wallis Budge says :9
'The symbol of Isis in the heavens
was the star Sept, which was greatly beloved because its
appearance marked not only the beginning of a new year, but also
announced the advance of the Inundation of the Nile, which
betokened renewed wealth and prosperity of the country. As such
Isis was regarded as the companion of Osiris, whose soul dwelt
in the star Sah, i.e. Orion ...'
Wallis Budge also says:10
Notwithstanding the fact that As, or
Ast, i.e. Isis, is one of the goddesses most frequently
mentioned in the hieroglyphic texts, nothing is known with
certainty about the attributes which were ascribed to her in the
earliest times. . . . The name Ast has, like Asar, up to the
present defied all explanation, and it is clear from the punning
derivations to which the Egyptians themselves had recourse, that
they knew no more about the meaning of her name than we do....
The symbol of the name of Isis in
Egyptian is a seat, or throne,
, but we have no means
of connecting it with the attributes of the goddess in such a
way as to give a rational explanation of her name, and all the
derivations hitherto proposed must be regarded as mere guesses.
. . .
An examination of the texts of all
periods proves that Isis always held in the minds of the
Egyptians a position which was entirely different from that of
every other goddess, and although it is certain that their views
concerning her varied from time to time, and that certain
aspects or phases of the goddess were worshipped more generally
at one period than at another, it is correct to say that from
the earliest to the latest dynasties Isis was the greatest
goddess of Egypt.
Long before the copies of the
Texts which we possess* were written
the attributes of Isis were well defined, and even when the priests
of Heliopolis assigned her the position which she held in the cycle
of their gods between b.c. 4000 and b.c. 3000 the duties which she
was thought to perform in connection with the dead were clearly
defined, and were identical with those which belonged to her in the
Budge believes those of the Vth and Vlth Dynasties to be copies of
earlier writings including those of the 1st Dynasty; see p. 117 of
I had begun to suspect that the sister-goddess of Isis, who is
called Nephthys, represented a possible description of Sirius B, the
dark companion star that described a circle around Sirius. (For we
have just seen that Isis was identified with Sirius quite precisely
by the Egyptians, a fact which no Egyptologist would ever dream of
disputing, as it is quite undeniably established as we have seen.)
But I must confess that I was not
prepared to discover this following passage :11
On the subject of Anubis Plutarch
reports (44;61) some interesting beliefs. After referring to the
view that Anubis was born of Nephthys, although Isis was his
reputed mother, he goes on to say, 'By Anubis they understand
the horizontal circle, which divides the invisible part of the
world, which they call Nephthys, from the visible, to which they
give the name of Isis; and as this circle equally touches upon
the confines of both light and darkness, it may be looked upon
as common to them both - and from this circumstance arose that
resemblance, which they imagine between Anubis and the Dog, it
being observed of this animal, that he is equally watchful as
well by day as night.
This description could be taken to be
one of the Sirius system. It clearly describes Isis (whom we know to
have been identified with Sirius) as 'the confines of light' and
'the visible', and her sister Nephthys is described as being 'the
confines of darkness' and 'the invisible', and common to both is the
horizontal circle which divides them - the horizontal circle
described, perhaps, by the orbit of the dark companion about the
And here, too, is an explanation of the
symbolism of the dog which has always been associated with Sirius,
which has borne throughout the ages the name of the 'Dog Star'.
Anubis is variously represented as jackal-headed and dog-headed in
Wallis Budge adds:12
'Thus much, however, is certain,
that in ancient times the Egyptians paid the greatest reverence
and honor to the Dog. ..."
Anubis was also variously represented as
the son of Nephthys by Osiris and as being really identical with
Osiris himself. A famous tale has him embalm the corpse of Osiris.
Osiris was known as Anubis, though, at Oxyrhynchus and Cynopolis.13
A name similar to Anubis (which is really Anpu in Egyptian) and
which is also associated with Isis-Sothis (Sirius), is Anukis, a
fellow-goddess of Sothis who, along with the goddess Satis, sails in
the same celestial boat with Sothis in the Egyptian paintings. There
are thus the three goddesses together, possibly a description of
Sirius A, Sirius B, and Sirius C, and emphasizing that the Sirius
system is really thought to be a three-star system.
Just to underline the point, Neugebauer
'The goddess Satis, who like her
companion Anukis is hardly to be taken as a separate
constellation but rather as an associate of Sothis.'
The goddess Anukis holds two jars from
which she pours water, possibly indicating two watery planets around
her star ? All the references to the Sothic heavens are to a watery,
reed-growing paradise. Many archaeologists have surmised that this
refers to some specifically Egyptian locale. But no one is sure.
What is known is that heaven is almost invariably associated with
the Sirius system and is described as being prolific of vegetation
In Plutarch's famous and lengthy treatise (from his immense work the
Moralia, which is even longer than his Lives), 'Isis and Osiris'
(356) we read:
'. . . Isis was born in the regions
that are ever moist.'
In the Loeb Library edition of this, the
translator F. C. Babbitt adds a footnote at this point saying:
'The meaning is doubtful. ..."
In other words, no one is really sure
what is meant by all these references to Isis-Sothis and the 'moist
regions', which are supposed by most scholars quite sensibly to be
projections of local Egyptian conditions around the Nile into an
ideal celestial region. But most scholars admit that this is mere
conjecture. The 'moist regions' could just as well be an attempt to
describe some watery planets.
It is worth pointing out that in the event of planets in the Sirius
system being watery, we must seriously consider the possibility of
intelligent beings from there being amphibious. This ties in with
the legend of Oannes which I mentioned in Part One. He was the
amphibious being mentioned by the astronomer Carl Sagan from the
Sumerian tradition, and was the bringer of civilization to man. In
other words, beings of this type would be a bit like mermaids and
mermen - and might in some way resemble our intelligent friends the
dolphins. I discuss this subject further in Part Three of this book.
Perhaps 'the sirens' are, figuratively, a chorus of mermaids
recalled from earlier times. By coincidence, in zoology a siren is
'one of a genus (Siren) of eel-shaped amphibians having small
forelimbs, but destitute of hind legs and pelvis, and having
permanent external gills as well as lungs'. It would be interesting
to see how far back in time these creatures were called by their
As for the singing sirens who lure
sailors to the rocks, they are called in Greek Seiren (singular),
Seirenes (plural) and are first mentioned in Homer's Odyssey.
knew of two sirens, but later there was a third, and some added a
fourth. (Plato decided there were eight because of that number
matching the number of musical notes in the octave.) It is
interesting that in Greek Sirius is Seirios. Liddell and Scott in
their definitive Greek lexicon give a meaning of the previous Seiren
as 'a constellation, like Seirios, Eust. 1709. 54'.
Another similar word Seistron became in Latin sistrum and Liddell
and Scott define it as 'A rattle used in the worship of Isis, . . .'
Let us now turn our attention to a remarkable book, Star Names,
Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Hinckley Allen. In this book,
under a discussion of the constellation Canis Major (The Dog), which
contains Sirius,15 on p. 130, in a description of the star of the
constellation represented by the Greek letter 8 (delta):
It is the modern Wezen, from (the Arabic) Al Wazn, Weight, "as the
star seems to rise with difficulty from the horizon," but Ideler
calls this an astonishing star-name.'
Yes, concerning what we know, it is astonishing!
Before leaving the star, it is worth noting that Allen says the
Chinese knew it is well as some stars in Argo as 'Hoo She, the Bow
and Arrow', and that the bow and arrow is a variation motif
associated with the Sirius system by the Egyptians. In Neugebauer we
'The goddess Satis, who like her
companion Anukis is hardly to be taken as a separate
constellation but rather as an associate of Sothis. In Dendera
B, the goddess holds a drawn bow and arrow.'
More information regarding Al Wazn,
'Weight', is found in Dr Christian Ludwig Ideler's
Untersuchungen ueber den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Sternnamen,
Berlin, 1809, which Allen describes as,
'the main critical compendium
of Information on stellar names - Arabic, Greek, and Latin
especially. It is to him that we owe the translation of the original
Arabic text of Kazwini's Inscription of the Constellations, written
in the 13th century, which forms the basis of the Sternnamen, with
Ideler's additions and annotations from classical and other sources. From this much information in my book is
Ideler might well comment that Al Wazn is 'an astonishing
star-name'. To call a star in the same constellation as Sirius 'too
heavy to rise over the horizon with ease' looks suspiciously like an
attempt to describe a 'heavy star' such as Sirius B.
Could this reference to a 'heavy star' be a reference to Sirius B by
people who have inherited a slightly garbled version of the
tradition of its being a super-dense star invisible to the unaided
eye - resulting in their seizing on one of Sirius's apparent
companions (as seen from the Earth) and giving it a description
properly applying to its actual companion?
The Arabs do not mention '480 ass loads'
to describe its weight in the quaint fashion of the Dogon, but the
substance of the idea seems to be present. It is well known that
ancient Arabic astronomical lore derives from Egypt and is found in
Arabic traditions in a degenerate form. Obviously the search must
now be on for this concept of a super-heavy star in Egyptian
traditions! I had always suspected that this most secret tradition
of the Dogon reached them from Egypt, just as the lore of stars
reached the Arabs from Egypt.
It will not be easy for us to discover,
as it must have been an extremely esoteric and secret teaching of
the Egyptians, just as it was the most secret teaching of the Dogon.
A further use of the name Wazn is its loose application to the star
Canopus in the constellation Argo.17 Allen, in describing the Argo,
quotes the ancient Greek poet Aratos, in a passage showing us
something of the relation Argo bears to Canis Major, the Great Dog:
Sternforward Argo by the Great Dog's
tail Is drawn . . .
Argo is the constellation representing
both Jason's ship with its fifty Argonauts and Noah's ark.
Jason's Argo 'carried Danaos with his fifty daughters from Egypt to
Rhodes', as Allen puts it. He adds: 'The Egyptian story said that it
was the ark that bore Isis and Osiris over the deluge; while the
Hindus thought that it performed the same office for their
equivalent Isi and Iswara.'
Allen's old-fashioned spelling 'Iswara' is a reference to the word 'Ishvara'.
There are some interesting facts to be gleaned from perusing the
meanings of the Sanskrit word ishu, which basically means 'an
arrow'. Recall the connection of the bow and arrow with Sirius among
both the Egyptians and the Chinese. (Further examples are given in
the book Hamlet's Mill, along with interesting illustrations.)
Now note from Monier-Williams's
definitive Sanskrit dictionary that ishu means not only 'arrow' but
'ray of light'. Ishvasa means 'a bow' or 'an archer'. Remember the
three goddesses and note this: that Ishustrikanda, which literally
means 'the threefold arrow', is specifically meant to be the name of
a constellation! Monier-Williams says it is 'perhaps the girdle of
Orion' (which has three prominent stars). The interested reader must
Hamlet's Mill by Santillana
and von Dechend for a great deal of discussion of Sirius the
But to return to the celestial Argo-boat (or ark); we have
previously encountered this Egyptian idea of the celestial boats in
which their gods sailed through the waters of the heavens. The three
Sirius-goddesses: Sothis, Anukis, and Satis, were all in the same
boat. So it is interesting to see that Argo was a boat connected
with Isis and Osiris, for a concept which seems to be peculiarly
stubborn in attaching itself to Argo is the number fifty. It is my
suspicion that this is a remnant of the concept of Sirius B taking
fifty years to complete an orbit around Sirius A.
This suggestion is not as far-fetched as
it may seem at first sight. Indeed, the reader will discover as he
proceeds that the suggestion will become more and more obvious. We
must realize that in Egyptian terms the orbit of Sirius B around
Sirius A could have been expressed in terms of a celestial boat. Now
since Argo is the boat of Isis and Osiris, what better way to
express the fifty-year orbit than by giving the boat fifty oarsmen?
And that is what Argo has - in the
tradition there are fifty rowers, or Argonauts.
In order to fortify my argument I shall quote Allen's precise way of
'Mythology insisted that it was
built by Glaucus, or by Argos, for Jason, leader of the fifty
Argonauts, whose number equalled that of the oars of the ship
In other words, it is not the men but
the number of oars laid out in line round the ship that is
important. A ship (an orbit) with fifty oars (fifty 'markers' or
And just so that we don't miss the importance of the
figure fifty, we are told there were fifty daughters of Danaus
transported from Egypt on the Argo! (Readers who wonder what other
connection there may be between the Argo of the Greeks and ancient
Egypt must be patient.) Argo is therefore totally involved in the
picture, as we now see. There are many further ramifications of
this, not only of Argo, but of the number fifty.
But before moving on to what that entails, it is worth giving an
illustration of the concept of 'the rower' in the celestial barque
from an ancient Egyptian coffin text 'The Field of Paradise'.19
is quite likely that from concepts such as these the idea of a rower
and his oar developed and became incorporated in the Argo myth and
came to be symbolic:
'. . . in the place where Re (the
Sun) sails with rowing. I am the keeper of the halyard in the
boat of the god; I am the oarsman who does not weary in the
barque of Re.' (Re is another form of the more familiar Ra.)
The first person in this text refers to
the deceased Pharaoh. This is one of the examples of the common
Egyptian conception that when a Pharaoh died he became a celestial
rower. It should be obvious, then, how the concept of 'fifty rowers'
by fifty positions, or oars, came to be important as symbols. It
harks back to this Egyptian motif.
Now we must turn to
the Sumerian civilization (which later developed
into the Babylonian civilization). We shall be back in Egypt soon
enough, with more Argo material. But we must go east. Sumer-Akkad
was roughly contemporaneous with ancient Egypt, and the lands are
known to have been in contact.
In a major source we read20 of the
Sumerian word Magan:
'The land Magan is usually
identified either with Arabia or with Egypt.'
But whatever contact the two
civilizations may have had, we must first investigate the Sumerian
religion and mythology. For this we rely primarily on the excellent
work of Samuel Noah Kramer of the University of Pennsylvania. The
Sumerian heaven-god is called Anu. (In Sanskrit anupa means 'a
I had a considerable shock when I discovered that
Alexander Heidel says in The Babylonian Genesis:
'. . . just as the departed spirits
of Enlil and Anu were pictured as the wild ass and the jackal,
Anu is represented by the jackal. Well,
of course, the jackal is the symbol (interchangeable with the dog)
of the Egyptian Anpu (Anubis)!
I shall explain later why I consider Anu to be related to the Sirius
question, apart from this obvious parallel. At the moment I shall
deal with further related parallels which I consider amazing. Anu is
the king of some attendant deities called the Anunnaki. We shall
shortly see why they are so involved in the Sirius question.
note the recurrence in Sumer of 'Anu' in both Anu and the
and in Egypt with both Anpu (Anubis) and Anukis. In all these cases
Sirius is involved. Even the jackal or dog is common as a symbol to
the 'Anu' in both countries. There are other parallels, but we shall
come to them in due course.
In Sumerian the word an means 'heaven' and Anu is the god of heaven.
Wallis Budge says22 that the Egyptian god Nu was often identified
with Nut, which is 'heaven'.
Significantly, he expressly states:23
It is surprising therefore to find
so much similarity existing between the primeval gods of Sumer
and those of Egypt, especially as the resemblance cannot be the
result of borrowing. It is out of the question to assume that
Ashur-banipal's editors borrowed the system from Egypt, or that
the literary men of the time of Seti I borrowed their ideas from
the literati of Babylonia or Assyria, and we are therefore
driven to the conclusion that both the Sumerians and the early
Egyptians derived their primeval gods from some common but
exceedingly ancient source. The similarity between the two
companies of gods seems to be too close to be accidental ... it
is certain that the company of primeval gods . . . was quite
different from . . . those which formed in Babylonia and Assyria
when these countries were inhabited by Semitic populations.
I had come to all these conclusions
myself before seeing this passage by Wallis Budge.
But to return to Anu. Osiris is sometimes known as An.24
In a hymn
to Osiris25 he is called the 'god An of millions of years . . .' and
also 'An in An-tes, Great One, Heru-khuti, thou stridest over heaven
with long strides'. Therefore this designation as An is specifically
connected with heaven and the long strides mean heavenly motion.
In considering An and Anu we must look again at Anubis. But as we do
so we shall take a glance at the Sanskrit. Recall that Anubis in
Plutarch's account seemed to refer specifically to the orbit of
Sirius B. In Sanskrit the word anda means 'ellipse', and the
word anu means 'minute, atomic, "the subtle one", an atom of
matter' and animan means 'minuteness, atomic nature, the
smallest particle, the superhuman power of becoming as small as an
The first word could describe an orbit.
Since Kepler, we have known that our planets move in elliptical
orbits rather than circular ones, and the orbit of Sirius B is that
of an ellipse. As for the next two forms anu and animan,
they seem to have meanings perilously peripheral to an account of
that level of matter (the atomic) where the nature of Sirius B is
We shall see much later in the book that
other similarities exist between certain Sanskrit terms relevant to
the Sirius question and like terms in Egypt and the Near East. But
we shall leave those philological matters until later, when they
will be shown to have considerable importance.
Back to Anubis.
Wallis Budge says of him:28
is very ancient, and there is no doubt that even in the earliest
times his cult was general in Egypt; it is probable that it is older
than that of Osiris.'
Also he points out here, as elsewhere, that
the face of the deceased human becomes identified with Anubis, and
it is just the head of Anubis which is symbolically represented by
the jackal or dog. I have already pointed out that he is described
as the circle or orbit separating the dark Nephthys from the light
Isis or Sirius. In other words, I take Anubis to represent the orbit
of Sirius B around Sirius A.
We also find him described as 'time',27
a particularly intelligent way of looking at an orbit as progressive
and sequential in time. 'Time the devourer', a motif common to us
all, is no stranger to the Egyptians. It should not surprise us that
Anubis is also represented as a devourer! More specifically, he is
accused of devouring the Apis bull.
The Apis bull is the animal into which
the dead Osiris was sewn and transported, according to a late legend
which is widely known. But more basically, the 'Apis Bull' (the
deity known under the Ptolemies us Serapis) is Asar-Hapi. It is
Osiris himself! In The Gods of the Egyptians, we read 'Apis is
called "the life of Osiris, the lord of heaven" ' and 'Apis was, in
fact, believed to be animated by the soul of Osiris, and to be
So, consequently, when Anubis (devoured Apis,
he was eating the husband of Isis! It is very colorfully represented in
these dramatic mythological terms, but the meaning is clear.
We read later:29
'Others again are of the opinion
that by Anubis is meant Time, and that his denomination of Kuon
[the Greek word for 'dog'] does not so much allude to any
likeness which he has to the dog, though this be the general
rendering of the word, as to that other significance of the term
taken from breeding; because Time begets all things out of
itself, bearing them within itself, as it were in a womb. But
this is one of those secret doctrines which are more fully made
known to those who are initiated into the worship of Anubis.'
Exactly. A secret doctrine! What one
would give for a fuller account!
This is the trouble with most of our
sources; they give away little except by inference. Secret doctrines
are not scribbled down too frequently and left for posterity. The
most secret doctrine of the Dogon was only revealed with great
reluctance after many, many years, and following upon a conference
by the Initiates. The Egyptians were no fools, and we can hardly
expect them to have left papyri or texts specifically revealing in
so many words what they were not supposed to reveal. We can only try
to piece together clues. But we will see our clues eventually turn
into a veritable avalanche.
The last passage from Wallis Budge was a quotation by him from Plutarch's 'Isis and Osiris'. Many Egyptologists have remarked on
the irony that we have nowhere in Egyptian sources a full, coherent
account of Isis and Osiris not even in all the sources put together!
And we are forced to rely on Plutarch, who did preserve a long
account which he wrote in his native Greek. Plutarch in thought to
have been a priest himself, and was certainly a Delphic initiate.
He had a talent for befriending priests and priestesses. One of his
best friends was the priestess Clea of the oracle at Delphi. His
treatise 'Isis and Osiris' is dedicated to Clea and addressed to
It begins with these words:
'All good things, my dear Clea,
sensible men must ask from the gods; and especially do we pray that
from those mighty gods we may, in our quest, gain a knowledge of
themselves, so far as such a thing is attainable by men.'
some indication of what Plutarch was like as a man.
The Introduction to the Loeb edition of Isis and Osiris by F. C.
'[Plutarch] once visited Egypt, but
how long he stayed and how much he learned we have no means of
knowing. It is most likely that his treatise represents the
knowledge current in his day, derived, no doubt, from two
sources: books and priests.'
It is certain that Plutarch's friend
Clea, who was so important at Delphi, would have seen to it that
Plutarch had ample introductions to leading priests of Egypt.
This sort of thing was standard practice
— as with the study of Egyptian religion and astronomy undertaken
centuries earlier by the Greek scholar Eudoxus (colleague of Plato
and Aristotle), who was given a letter of introduction to the last
of the native Pharaohs, Nectanebo, by the Spartan general Agesilaus,
and who in turn sent him off to associate with his priests. The fact
that Plutarch's treatise is addressed to Clea may indicate a debt to
her for its preparation as well as common religious enthusiasms.
So, no doubt Plutarch did with the
Egyptian priests what Griaule and Dieterlen did with the Dogon -
drew some secret traditions out of them. It is thus not surprising
that Plutarch's essay is more respected by Egyptologists than by
'Some are of the opinion that Anubis
Chronos, of course, was the Greek 'time
the devourer', spelt with an h. Cronos in Latin is Saturn. There is
a considerable debate among scholars whether Cronos (Saturn), the
former chief god prior to Zeus (Jupiter), has any definite relation
to the word chronos spelt with the h and sometimes used as a proper
name for Time.
From this latter word we derive
chronology, chronicle, etc. The Sumerian god Anu is quite similar to
the Greek Cronos because both Cronos and Anu were 'old' gods who
were displaced by younger blood - by Zeus and Enlil respectively.
Thus another possible link between Anu and Anubis, if one be willing
to grant that Cronos and Chronos are not entirely separate words and
concepts in ancient pre-classical Greece.
Wallis Budge continues with reference to Plutarch:
Referring to Osiris as the 'common
Reason which pervades both the superior and inferior regions of
the universe', he [Plutarch] says that it is, moreover, called 'Anubis,
and sometimes likewise Hermanubis (i.e. Heru-em-Anpu); the first
of these names expressing the relation it has to the superior,
as the latter, to the inferior world. And for this reason it is,
they sacrifice to him two Cocks, the one white, as a proper
emblem of the purity and brightness of things above, the other
of a saffron color, expressive of that mixture and variety
which is to found on those lower regions.'
Here is what I take to be a possible
reference to the white Sirius A and the 'darker' Sirius B. But also,
the 'lower regions' are the horizons, where white heavenly bodies at
their 'births' and 'deaths' become saffron-colored.
There is a clearer translation by Babbitt in the precise description
of Anubis as 'the combined relation of the things'31 rather than as
'the common Reason which pervades' the light world and the dark
A circular orbit is just that - 'a
combined relation' between the star revolving and the star revolved
around. In order to make this more firmly established less as fancy
than as fact, I shall cite Plutarch's words from his next paragraph
'Moreover, they (the Egyptians)
record that in the so-called books of Hermes (the
Trismegistic literature?) it is written in regard to the
sacred names that they call the power which is assigned to
direct the revolution of the Sun Horus . . .'
This is important because we see here
that they specifically call the orbit of the sun by a god's name. If
they can call the revolution of the sun by a god's name, they can
call the revolution of Sirius B (assuming they really knew about it)
by a god's name. We are dealing with a precedent.
Now we resume this
quotation because it is interesting for other reasons:
'. . .but the Greeks call it Apollo;
and the power assigned to the wind some call Osiris and others
Serapis; and Sothis in Egyptian signifies "pregnancy" (cyesis)
or "to be pregnant" (cyein): therefore in Greek, with a change
of accent, the star is called the Dog-star (Cyon), which they
regard as the special star of Isis.'
A further piece of information from
Plutarch about Anubis is:32
'And when the child (Anubis, child
of Nephthys by Osiris) had been found, after great toil and
trouble, with the help of dogs which led Isis to it, it was
brought up and became her guardian and attendant, receiving the
name Anubis, and it is said to protect the gods just as dogs
If Anubis is conceived of as an orbit
around Sirius, then he would indeed he attendant upon Isis! He would
go round and round her like a guard dog.
Plutarch has an interesting tale:
'Moreover, Eudoxus says that the
Egyptians have a mythical tradition in regard to Zeus that,
because his legs were grown together, he was not able to walk .
This sounds very like the amphibious Oannes of the Sumerians who had a tail for swimming instead of legs
Plutarch provides us with an important and crucial clue linking Isis
with the Argo and the Argonauts and demonstrating a probable
derivation of an idea that has puzzled classicists enormously (and
later on we shall see the links between Isis and the Argo
'Like these also are the Egyptian
beliefs; for they oftentimes call Isis by the name of Athena,
expressive of some such idea as this, "I came of myself," which
is indicative of self- impelled motion.'34
It must be remembered that the Greek
goddess Athena, the goddess of the mind and of wisdom, was reputed
to have sprung full-fledged from the brow of Zeus. She was not born.
She came of herself.
However, the quotation must be continued
to make the point:
Typhon, as has been said, is named
Seth and Bebon and Smu, and these names would indicate some
forcible and preventive check or opposition or reversal.
Moreover, they call the lodestone the bone of Horus, and iron
the bone of Typhon, as Manetho records. For, as the iron
oftentimes acts as if it were being attracted and drawn toward
the stone, and oftentimes is rejected and repelled in the
opposite direction, in the same way the salutary and good and
rational movement of the world at one time, by persuasion,
attracts and draws towards itself and renders more gentle that
harsh and Typhonian movement, and then again it gathers itself
together and reverses it and plunges it into difficulties.
The identification of Isis with Athena here in connection with
lodestones and 'self-impelled motion' brings to mind the placing
by Athena of a cybernetic * oak
timber from the holy sanctuary of Dodona (supposedly founded by
Deukalion, the Greek Noah, after his ark landed) in the keel of
Norbert Wiener in Cybernetics, the pioneer textbook of computer
theory, said: 'We have decided to call the entire field of
control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in
the animal, by the name Cybernetics . . . (from the Greek for)
H. W. Parke in his books Greek
Oracles and The Oracles of Zeus refers to this:
'Athena when the Argo was built took
a timber from the oak tree of Dodona (the oracular centre of
Zeus) and fitted it into the keel. This had the result that the
Argo itself could speak and guide or warn the Argonauts at
critical moments, as it actually is represented as doing in our
extant epics on the subject.
The original epic is lost, but there
is no reason to doubt that this miraculous feature went back to
it, and, if so, was at least as old as the Odyssey in which the
Argo and its story are mentioned.'
Parke then emphasizes most strongly that
it is the timber itself that acts as guide. It is self-sufficient
and not merely an oracular medium.
Thus we see that the Argo had a unique
capacity for 'self impelled motion' which was built into it by
Athena (whom Plutarch identifies with Isis).88
Now is a suitable stage to return to the Sumerians, as in their
culture we shall find many significant references to 'fifty heroes',
'fifty great gods', etc. But first we shall leave the fifty
Argonauts and their magical ship to turn our attention to what
appears to be a rather precise Egyptian description of the Sirius
system preserved in an unusual source.
The source is G. R. S. Mead (who
was a friend of the poet Yeats and is mentioned by his nickname 'Old
Crore' in Ezra Pound's Cantos), whose three volume Thrice Greatest
Hermes36 contains a translation of, with extensive prolegomena and
notes to, the obscure and generally ignored ancient 'Trismegistic
literature' of the Hermetic tradition. These writings are largely
scorned by classical scholars who consider them Neoplatonic
Of course, ever since the wild
Neoplatonic boom in the Italian Renaissance period when Marsilio
Ficino translated and thereby preserved for posterity (one must
grant the Medicis the credit for finding and purchasing the
manuscripts!) such Neoplatonists as Iamblichus, as well as these
Trismegistic writings, the Neoplatonists have been in the doghouse.
The Loeb Classical Library still has not published all of Plotinus
But most readers will not be familiar either with the term 'trismegistic'
or with the Neoplatonists. So I had better explain. The
Neoplatonists are Greek philosophers who lived long enough after
Plato to have lost the name of Platonists as far as modern scholars
are concerned (though they were intellectual disciples of Plato and
considered themselves Platonists).
Modern scholars have added the prefix
'Neo-' to 'Platonist' for their own convenience, in order to
distinguish them from their earlier predecessors, those Platonists
who lived within 150 years of Plato himself. The Platonic Academy
existed for over nine centuries at Athens. In actuality, scholars
talk about 'Middle Platonists', 'Syrian Platonists', 'Christian
Platonists', 'Alexandrian Platonists', and so on. I suggest the
reader look at my Appendix I, which will tell him a lot about the
Neoplatonists and their connection with the Sirius mystery, and
which deals primarily with Proclus.
G. R. S. Mead, at the beginning of his work Thrice Greatest Hermes,
explains fully what 'the Trismegistic Literature' is. He calls it 'Trismegistic'
instead of by its earlier designation 'Hermetic' (from the name of
the Greek god Hermes) in order to distinguish it from other less
interesting writings such as the Egyptian Hermes prayers and also
the 'Hermetic Alchemical Literature'.
The Trismegistic writings are now
fragmentary and consist of a large amount of exceedingly strange
sermons, dialogues, excerpts by Stobaeus and the Fathers of the
Church from lost writings, etc. I hesitate to give a brief summary
of them and suggest that the interested reader actually look into
this subject himself. There are some matters which defy summary, and
I consider this to be one of them.
The writings contain some 'mystical'
elements and certainly some sublime elements. Old Cosimo de Medici
was told by Ficino that he could translate for him either the
Hermetic Literature or the dialogues of Plato, but not both at once.
Cosimo knew he was dying. He said
'If only I could read the Hooks of
Hermes, I would die happy. Plato would be nice but not as
important. Do the Hermes, Ficino.'
And Ficino did.
As I explain fully in Appendix I, the Neoplatonists are so
thoroughly despised through the bias of the moment, however one
cares to define that bias, that the Trismegistic literature suffers
with Neoplatonism under the onus of being considered too far removed
from reality and logic and being inclined inwards the mystical.
This does not fit well with the hard
rationalism of an age still bound by the (albeit decaying) fetters
of nineteenth-century scientific deterministic prejudice. The
sublime irony is, of course, that proven and authentic Egyptian
texts are obviously mystical, but that is considered all right.
However, as long as there is a belief that the Trismegistic
literature is Neoplatonic it will be despised because it is
The Trismegistic literature may be Neoplatonic. But that does not
make what it has to say about Egyptian religion any less valid per
se than the 'Isis and Osiris' by the Greek Plutarch, who was only
slightly earlier in time than the Neoplatonist Greeks. It is time
for scholars to pay some attention to this sadly neglected material.
Much of the Trismegistic literature probably goes back to genuine
sources or compilations such as Manetho's lost Sothis.
Or the literature may be quite ancient,
in which case some of it cannot, in its present form, be earlier
than the Ptolemaic period when the Zodiac as we know it was
Introduced into Egypt by the Greeks who in turn had it from Babylon.
(I cannot here discuss the matter of earlier forms of zodiac, such
as at Denderah.)
Mead quotes an Egyptian magic papyrus, this being an uncontested
Egyptian document which he compares to a passage in the Trismegistic
'I invoke thee, Lady Isis, with whom
the Good Daimon doth unite, He who is Lord in the perfect
We know that Isis is identified with
Sirius A, and here we may have a description of her star-companion
'who is Lord in the perfect black', namely the invisible companion
with whom she is united, Sirius B.
Mead, of course, had no inkling of the Sirius question. But he cited
this magic papyrus in order to shed comparative light on some
extraordinary passages in a Trismegistic treatise he translated
which has the title 'The Virgin of the World'. In his comments on
the magic papyrus Mead says:
'It is natural to make the
Agathodaimon ("the Good Daimon") of the Papyrus refer to Osiris;
for indeed it is one of his most frequent designations.
Moreover, it is precisely Osiris who is pre-eminently connected
with the so-called "underworld", the unseen world, the
"mysterious dark". He is lord there . . . and indeed one of the
ancient mystery-sayings was precisely, "Osiris is a dark God."
'The Virgin of the World' is an
extraordinary Trismegistic treatise in the form of a dialogue
between the hierophant (high priest) as spokesman for Isis and the
neophyte who represents Horus. Thus the priest instructing the
initiate is portrayed as Isis instructing her son Horus.
The treatise begins by claiming it is 'her holiest discourse' which
'so speaking Isis doth pour forth'. There is, throughout, a strong
emphasis on the hierarchical principle of lower and higher beings in
the universe - that earthly mortals are presided over at intervals
by other, higher, beings who interfere in Earth's affairs when
things here become hopeless, etc. Isis says in the treatise:
'It needs must, therefore, be the
less should give place to the greater mysteries.'
What she is to disclose to Horus is a
great mystery. Mead describes it as the mystery practiced by the
arch-hierophant. It was the degree (here 'degree' is in the sense of
'degree' in the Masonic 'mysteries', which are hopelessly garbled
and watered-down versions of genuine mysteries of earlier times),
'called the "Dark Mystery" or "Black
Rite". It was a rite performed only for those who were judged
worthy of it after long probation in lower degrees, something of
a far more sacred character, apparently, than the instruction in
the mysteries enacted in the light.'
'I would suggest, therefore, that we
have here a reference to the most esoteric institution of the Isiac tradition . . .', Isiac meaning of course
'Isis-tradition', and not to be confused with the Book of Isaiah
in the Bible (so that perhaps it is best for us not to use the
It is in attempting to explain the
mysterious 'Black Rite' of Isis at the highest degree of the
Egyptian mysteries that Mead cited the magic papyrus which I have
already quoted. He explains the 'Black Rite' as being connected with
Osiris being a 'dark god' who is 'Lord of the perfect black' which
is 'the unseen world, the mysterious black'.
This treatise 'The Virgin of the World' describes a personage called
Hermes who seems to represent a race of beings who taught earthly
mankind the arts of civilization after which:
'And thus, with charge unto his
kinsmen of the Gods to keep sure watch, he mounted to the
According to this treatise mankind have
been a troublesome lot requiring scrutiny and, at rare intervals of
After Hermes left Earth to return to the stars there was or were in
Egypt someone or some people designated as 'Tat' (Thoth) who were
initiates into the celestial mysteries. I take this to refer to the
Egyptian priests. However, one of the most significant passages in
the treatise follows immediately upon this statement, and indicates
to me that this treatise must have some genuine Egyptian source, for
no late Greek should have been capable of incorporating this.
But in order to recognize this one must
know about the extraordinary Imhotep, a brilliant genius,
philosopher, doctor, and Prime Minister (to use our terms) during
the Third Dynasty in Egypt circa 2600 B.C. under King Zoser, whose
tomb and temple he constructed and designed himself. (This is the
famous step-pyramid at Sakkara, the first pyramid ever built and the
world's earliest stone building according to some.)
Imhotep was over the centuries gradually
transformed into a god and 'a son of Ptah'. One reason why the
process of his deification may have been retarded for some thousands
of years is that writings by him survived, rather like the survival
of the Gathas by Zarathustra (Zoroaster), making it impossible to
claim that a man who left writings could in fact have been a god.
Just like Mohammed and Zoroaster, Imhotep remained a sort of
'prophet' through his surviving writings.
For the significant passage, now, here is the entire paragraph:
'To him (Hermes) succeeded Tat, who
was at once his son and heir unto these knowledges [this almost
certainly implies a priesthood]; and not long afterwards
Asclepius-Imuth, according to the will of Ptah who is
Hephaestus, and all the rest who were to make enquiry of the
faithful certitude of heavenly contemplation, as Foreknowledge
(or Providence) willed, Foreknowledge queen of all.'
Now this is a really striking passage.
We have the mysterious 'Hermes' succeeded by an Egyptian priesthood
of Thoth. Then 'not long afterwards' we have someone called
Asclepius-Imuth 'according to the will of Ptah'. This is I mhotep!
Ptah, known to the Greeks as Hephaestus, was considered the father
of Imhotep in late Egyptian times. In fact, it is interesting that
this text avoids the late form 'son of Ptah' to describe Imhotep.
Imhotep was known to the Greeks and
provided the basis for their god Asclepius (the Greek god of
medicine, corresponding to Imhotep's late form as Egyptian god of
medicine). Imhotep is also spelled Imouthes, Imothes,
Hence the form in this treatise 'Asclepius-Imuth'.
There is absolutely no question that Imhotep is being referred to
here. And in the light of that, certain other statements in this
passage become quite interesting.
It has already been mentioned that in a treatise like 'The Virgin of
the World', where gods' names are thrown round like birdseed, the
authors were exceedingly restrained to have avoided labeling
Asclepius-Imhotep as 'a son of Ptah-Hephaestus'. This may, indeed,
point to a genuine early source from the time before that when the
Egyptians ceased to regard Imhotep as a mortal.
For many years Egyptologists have
been puzzled to explain why Imhotep, who lived in the days of
King Zoser, ca. 2900 B.C., was not ranked among the full gods of
Egypt until the Persian period, dating from 525 b.c. The
apotheosis of a man, however distinguished, so many centuries
after his lift on earth seems mysterious.
The explanation appears to be that
first suggested by Erman, viz. that Imhotep, at any rate during
a large part of the interval was regarded as a sort of hero or
demigod and received semidlvlne worship. Erman suggested that
this rank of demigod was bestowed on him at the time of the New
Kingdom, i.e. about 1580 B.C., but more recent evidence seems to
indicate that this demigod stage was reached at a much earlier
Here a bit of chronology helps.
'The Virgin of the World' correctly
described Imhotep as 'not long afterwards', following upon the
creation of the Egyptian priesthood, presumably in the First Dynasty
after Menes, in the form in which it would be known after the
unification of Egypt. Imhotep lived in the Third Dynasty, at the
beginning of the Old Kingdom. I. E. S. Edwards39 estimates this as
commencing about 2686 B.C. He puts the start of the First Dynasty
about 3100 B.C. Imhotep is thus literally 'not long afterwards'.
Whoever wrote 'The Virgin of the World' knew his Egyptian chronology
and also did not call Imhotep 'son of Ptah'.
There is another point. Looking at this statement from 'The Virgin
of the World': '. . . and all the rest (i.e. after Imhotep) who were
to make enquiry of the faithful certitude of heavenly contemplation
. . .', we find that we have a reference to successors of Imhotep
who 'enquired' into the riddles of the universe and also a
description of Imhotep's own activities as an 'enquirer'.
This also is accurate and reflects
considerable knowledge of the subject.
For Imhotep is often described as the
first genuine philosopher known by name. And on p. 30 of his book,
Hurry refers to apparent successors mentioned in an Oxyrhyncus
papyrus (in Greek, edited by Grenfell and Hunt) which relates that 'Imhotep
was worshipped as early as the IVth Dynasty, and his temple was
resorted to by sick and afflicted persons'.
Hurry further says:
'The other persons are Horus son of
Hermes, and Kaleoibis son of Apollo (Imhotep being a son of Ptah);
it is not known who these were.'
Could they have been successors of
Imhotep at 'enquiring' ?
It seems likely that we shall be learning
more of these people as excavations in Egypt proceed. In 1971-2
there came to light at Sakkara a remarkable group of texts written
by a man named Hor (from Horus), describing his life at an Egyptian
temple in the Ptolemaic period, recounting his dreams and his
political encounters. These texts should have been published by 1976
by the Egypt Exploration Society.
Hurry refers to the Trismegistic (Hermetic) literature as follows:
'If the references to Imhotep in
Hermetic literature can be trusted, he was also interested in
astronomy and astrology, although no special observations are
associated with his name. Sethe gives various references to that
literature, showing that Imhotep was reputed to have been
associated with the god Thoth (Hermes) in astronomical
Obviously Imhotep, as chief priest under
King Zoser (for he held that office as well), was associated with
Thoth (Tat) in the form of the priesthood previously mentioned who
had the 'Dark Rite' as their highest mystery. Here is actual
confirmation, then, that it was astronomical matters with which they
dealt. In other words, my astronomical interpretation receives some
confirmation from this source as well. It is nice when loose ends
Inscriptions in a temple at Edfu built by Ptolemy III Euergetes I
(237 B.C.) describe Imhotep as 'the great priest Imhotep the son of
Ptah, who speaks or lectures'. Hurry says 'Imhotep enjoyed the
reputation of being "one of the greatest of Egyptian sages";41 his
fame for wisdom made so deep an impression
on his countrymen that it endured as a national tradition for many
'As regards his literary activities,
he is said to have produced works on medicine and architecture,
as well as on more general subjects, and some of his works were
extant at the dawn of the Christian era. ... his eminence as a
man of letters led him to be recognized as the "patron of
In other words, he was the first great
philosopher. And he obviously 'spoke and lectured' in his lifetime.
Perhaps he was the first classical Greek in prototype. We also have
something to look forward to - his tomb has yet to be discovered. It
is thought to be at Sakkara, and the late Professor Emery more than
once thought he had come close to discovering it in his excavations
there, which are now being carried on by Professor Smith, who is a
man with a strange enough aura about him to convince anyone that he
is capable of making a discovery which would be the most important
in archaeological history and beside which the minor and later tomb
of a boy Pharaoh named Tutankhamen would entirely pale by
But perhaps the most interesting thing
about the possible forthcoming discovery of Imhotep's tomb is that
it will almost certainly be full of books. Would a man like Imhotep
be buried without them ?
Bearing these books in mind (and I am sure they are there waiting
underground like a time bomb for us), it is interesting to read this
passage in 'The Virgin of the World' following shortly upon that
The sacred symbols of the cosmic
elements were hid away hard by the secrets of Osiris. Hermes,
ere he returned to Heaven, invoked a spell on them, and spake
these words: . . . 'O holy books, who have been made by my
immortal hands, by incorruption's magic spells ... (at this
point there is a lacuna as the text is hopeless) . . . free from
decay throughout eternity remain and incorrupt from time! Become
unseeable, unfindable, for every one whose foot shall tread the
plains of this land, until old Heaven doth bring forth meet
instruments for you, whom the Creator shall call souls.'
Thus spake he; and, laying spells on them by means of his own
works, he shut them safe away in their own zones. And long
enough the time has been since they were hid away.
In the treatise the highest objective of
ignorant men searching for the truth is described as:
'(Men) will seek out . . . the inner
nature of the holy spaces which no foot may tread, and will
chase after them into the height, desiring to observe the nature
of the motion of the Heaven.
'These are as yet moderate things. For nothing more remains than
Earth's remotest realms; nay, in their daring they will track
out Night, the farthest Night of all.'
We 'will chase out into the height' of
space to 'observe the nature of the motions of the Heavens', says
this old (indeterminately old) treatise.
How correct it was. We have
now landed on the moon, which is 'chasing out into the height' with
a vengeance. And we are indeed 'observing the nature of the notion
of the Heavens'.
And the treatise is also right in saying that
'these are yet moderate things'.
For, as everyone knows, the people in
the space program feel as if they have only just begun. Man will
only pause properly again when he has made the entire solar system
his familiar and his own. Then we shall be faced with the
limitations of our solar system and the barrier that separates it
from the stars. What then ? Yes, what we have done to date certainly
deserves the description of 'yet moderate things'. Vasco da Gama
may have congratulated himself on his brilliant navigational
accomplishments, but as we can clearly see in his case, a beginning
is only a beginning. It is 'yet moderate things'.
According to the treatise, after these moderate things we shall 'in
our daring' even learn the greatest secret ... we shall discover
'Night'. And the meaning of the 'Dark Rite' will become clear.
And as this rite and this mystery
concern Isis and the star Sirius and by the context of this prophecy
clearly concerns the heavens,
Can we be accused of
sensationalism in making the suggestion that nothing would
shake up the human race more than having the discovery of
intelligent life elsewhere in the universe proven for the
first time ?
And what if the dark companion
of Sirius really does hold the answer to this mystery?
What if the nearest centre of
civilization really is based at the Sirius system and keeps
a watchful eye on us from time to time ?
What if this is proven by our
detecting on our radio telescopes actual traces of local
radio communications echoing down those nine light years of
space in the vast spreading ripple of disintegrating signals
that any culture remotely near to us in development would be
bound to dribble forth into the surrounding universe ?
What if this happens?
It will be like the sky falling
in, won't it?
Sirius was the most important star in the sky to the ancient
Egyptians. The ancient Egyptian calendar was based on the rising of
Sirius. It is established for certain that Sirius was sometimes
identified by the ancient Egyptians with their chief goddess Isis.
The companion of Isis was Osiris, the chief Egyptian god. The
'companion' of the constellation of the Great Dog (which includes
Sirius) was the constellation of Orion. Since Isis is equated with
Sirius, the companion of Isis must be equated, equally, with the
companion of Sirius. Osiris is thus equated on occasion with the
We know that the 'companion of Sirius' is in reality Sirius B. It is
conceivable that Osiris-as-Orion, 'the companion of Sirius', is a
stand-in for the invisible true companion Sirius B.
'The oldest and simplest form of the name' of Osiris, we are told,
is a hieroglyph of a throne and an eye. The 'eye' aspect of Osiris
is thus fundamental. The Bozo tribe of Mali, related to the Dogon,
call Sirius B 'the eye star'. Since Osiris is represented by an eye
and is sometimes considered 'the companion of Sirius', this is
equivalent to saying that Osiris is 'the eye star', provided only
that one grants the premises that the existence of Sirius B really
was known to the ancient Egyptians and that 'the companion of
Sirius' therefore could ultimately refer to it.
The meanings of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and names for Isis and
Osiris were unknown to the earliest dynastic Egyptians themselves,
and the names and signs appear to have a pre-dynastic origin - which
means around or before 3200 B.C., in other words 5,000 years ago at
least. There has been no living traditional explanation for the
meanings of the names and signs for Isis and Osiris since at least
2800 b.c. at the very latest.
'The Dog Star' is a common designation of Sirius throughout known
history. The ancient god Anubis was a 'dog god', that is, he had a
man's body and a dog's head.
In discussing Egyptian beliefs, Plutarch says that Anubis was really
the son of Nephthys, sister to Isis, although he was said to be the
son of Isis. Nephthys was 'invisible', his was 'visible'. (In other
words, the visible mother was the stand-in for the invisible mother,
who was the true mother, for the simple reason that the invisible
mother could not be perceived.)
Plutarch said that Anubis was a,
'horizontal circle, which divides
the invisible part... which they call Nephthys, from the
visible, to which they give the name Isis; and as this circle
equally touches upon the confines of both light and darkness, it
may be looked upon as common to them both.'
This is as clear an ancient description
as one could expect of a circular orbit (called 'Anubis') of a dark
and invisible star (called 'Nephthys') around its 'sister', a light
and visible star (called 'Isis') - and we know Isis to have been
equated with Sirius.
What is missing here are the following specific
points which must be at this stage still our assumptions:
circle is actually an orbit
(b) The divine characters are actually
stars, specifically in this context
Actually, Anubis and Osiris were sometimes identified with one
another. Osiris, the companion of Isis who is sometimes 'the
companion of Sirius' is also sometimes identified with the orbit of
the companion of Sirius, and this is reasonable and to be expected.
Isis-as-Sirius was customarily portrayed by the ancient Egyptians in
their paintings as traveling with two companions in the same
celestial boat. And as we know, Sirius does, according to some
astronomers, have two companions, Sirius B and Sirius G.
To the Arabs, a companion-star to Sirius (in the same constellation
of the Great Dog) was named 'Weight' and was supposed to be
extremely heavy - almost too heavy to rise over the horizon. 'Ideler
calls this an astonishing star-name' we are told, not surprisingly.
The true companion-star of Sirius, Sirius B, is made of super-dense
matter which is heavier than any normal matter in the universe and
the weight of this tiny star is the same as that of a gigantic
The Dogon also, as we know, say that Sirius B is 'heavy' and they
speak of its 'weight'.
The Arabs also applied the name 'Weight' to the star Canopus in the
constellation Argo. The Argo was a ship in mythology which carried
Danaos and his fifty daughters to Rhodes. The Argo had fifty oarsmen
under Jason, called Argonauts. There were fifty oars to the Argo,
each with its oarsman-Argonaut. The divine oarsman was an ancient
Mediterranean motif with sacred meanings.
The orbit of Sirius B around Sirius A takes fifty years, which may
be related to the use of the number fifty to describe aspects of the
There are many divine names and other points in common between
ancient Egypt and ancient Sumer (Babylonia). The Sumerians seem to
have called Egypt by the name of 'Magan' and to have been in contact
The chief god of Sumer, named Anu, was pictured as a jackal, which
is a variation of the dog motif and was used also in Egypt for
Anubis, the dog and the jackal apparently being interchangeable as
symbols. The Egyptian form of the name Anubis is 'Anpu' and and is
similar to the Sumerian 'Anu', and both are jackal-gods.
The famous Egyptologist Wallis Budge was convinced that Sumer and
Egypt both derived their own cultures from a common source which was
Anu is also called An (a variation) by the Sumerians. In Egypt
Osiris is called An also.
Remembering that Plutarch said that Anubis (Anpu in Egyptian) was a
circle, it is interesting to note that in Sanskrit the word Anda
means 'ellipse'. This may be a coincidence.
Wallis Budge says that Anubis represents time. The combined meanings
of 'time' and 'circle' for Anubis hint strongly at 'circular
The worship of Anubis was a secret mystery religion restricted to
initiates (and we thus do not know its content). Plutarch, who
writes of Anubis, was an initiate of several mystery religions, and
there is reason to believe his information was from well-informed
sources. (Plutarch himself was a Greek living under the Roman
Empire.) A variant translation of Plutarch's description of Anubis
is that Anubis was 'a combined relation' between Isis and Nephthys.
This has overtones which help in thinking of 'the circle' as an
orbit - a 'combined relation' between the star orbiting and the star
The Egyptians used the name Horus to describe 'the power which is
assigned to direct the revolution of the sun ' according to
Plutarch. Thus the Egyptians conceived of and named such specific
dynamics - an essential point.
Plutarch says Anubis guarded like a dog and attended on Isis. This
fact, plus Anubis being 'time', and 'a circle' suggests even more an
orbital concept - the ideal form of attendance of the prowling guard
Aristotle's friend Eudoxus (who visited Egypt) said that the
Egyptians had a tradition that Zeus (chief god of the Greeks whose
name is used by Eudoxus to refer to his Egyptian equivalent, which
leaves us wondering which Egyptian god is meant - presumably Osiris)
could not walk because 'his legs were grown together'. This sounds
like an amphibious creature with a tail for swimming instead of legs
for walking. It is like the semidivine creature Oannes, reputed to
have brought civilization to the Sumerians, who was amphibious, had
a tail instead of legs, and retired to the sea at night.
Plutarch relates Isis to the Greek goddess Athena (daughter of Zeus)
and says of them they were both described as 'coming from
themselves', and as 'self-impelled motion'. Athena supervised the
Argo and placed in its prow the guiding oak timber from Dodona
(which is where the Greek ark landed, with the Greek version of the
Biblical Noah, Deukalion, and his wife Pyrrha). The Argo thus
obtained a distinctive 'self-impelled motion' from Athena, whom
Plutarch specifically relates to Isis in this capacity.
The earliest versions of the Argo epic which were written before the
time of Homer are unfortunately lost. The surviving version of the
epic is good reading but relatively recent (third century B.C.)
The Sumerians had 'fifty heroes', 'fifty great gods', etc., just as
the later Greeks with their Argo had 'fifty heroes' and the Argo
carried 'fifty daughters of Danaos.'
An Egyptian papyrus says the companion of Isis is 'Lord in the
perfect black'. This sounds like the invisible Sirius B. Isis's
companion Osiris 'is a dark god'.
The Trismegistic treatise 'The Virgin of the World' from Egypt
refers to 'the Black Rite', connected with the 'black' Osiris, as
the highest degree of secret initiation possible in the ancient
Egyptian religion - it is the ultimate secret of the mysteries of
This treatise says Hermes came to earth to teach men civilization
and then again 'mounted to the stars', going back to his home and
leaving behind the mystery religion of Egypt with its celestial
secrets which were some day to be decoded.
There is evidence that 'the Black Rite' did deal with astronomical
matters. Hence the Black Rite concerned astronomical matters, the
black Osiris, and Isis. The evidence mounts that it may thus have
concerned the existence of Sirius B.
A prophecy in the treatise 'The Virgin of the World' maintains that
only when men concern themselves with the heavenly bodies and 'chase
after them into the height' can men hope to understand the
subject-matter of the Black Rite. The understanding of astronomy of
today's space age now qualifies us to comprehend the true subject of
the Black Rite, if that subject is what we suspect it may be.
This was impossible earlier in the
history of our planet. It must be remembered that without our
present knowledge of white dwarf stars which are invisible except
with modern telescopes, our knowledge of super-dense matter from
atomic physics with all its complicated technology, etc., none of
our discussion of the Sirius system would be possible; it would not
be possible to propose such an explanation of the Black Rite at all
- we could not propound the Sirius question.
Much material about the Sumerians and
Babylonians has only been circulated since the late 1950s and during
the 1960s, and our knowledge of pulsars is even more recent than
that. It is doubtful that this book could have been written much
earlier than the present. The author began work in earnest in 1967
and finished the book in 1974.
Even so, he feels the lack of much
needed information: sites remain unexcavated, texts untranslated
from various ancient languages, astronomical investigations are
perpetually incomplete. The author has also found it difficult to
master material from so many different fields and wishes he were
much better qualified.
The Sirius question could not
realistically have been posed much earlier, and future discoveries
in many fields will be essential to its full consideration.
Back to Contents
Le Renard Pale, p. 325. Figure
109 in that book shows it, drawn as 'the meeting of Sirius
with the Sun'.
Mariette, Denderah, Vol. I, p.
Aratus, Phaenomena 331-6.
English translation in Loeb Library series, in volume with
Callimachus and Lycophron. See bibliography.
Vol. I, p. 1, of Egyptian
Astronomical Texts, Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker,
Brown University Press, 1960-7.
Ibid., Vol. I, p. 25.
The Gods of the Egyptians,
London, 1904, Vol. II, p. 114.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 113.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 117.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 215.
Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 202-3.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 264.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 265.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 139.
Neugebauer and Parker, op. cit.
Star Names, Their Lore and
Meaning, R. H. Allen, Dover Publications, New York, 1963, p.
Neugebauer and Parker, op. cit.
Star Names, Their Lore and
Meaning, p. 68.
Ibid., p. 65.
Ancient Near Eastern Texts
relating to the Old Testament, ed. by James B. Pritchard,
Princeton University Press, 1955, p. 33.
Ibid., p. 41.
Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian
Genesis, University of Chicago Press, 1965, p. 86.
Wallis Budge, op. cit., Vol. I,
Ibid., Vol. I, p. 290.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 154, and Vol.
I, p. 446.
Ibid., Vol. I, p. 154.
Ibid., Vol. II, p. 261.
Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 264-5.
Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 195-200.
Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 264-5.
'Isis and Osiris', Loeb edition,
Ibid., p. 145.
Ibid., p. 39.
Ibid., p. 149.
Ibid., p. 147.
The Oracles of Zeus, H. W.
Parke, p. 13.
Thrice Greatest Hermes, G. R. S.
Mead, John Watkins, London, 1964.
Ibid, Vol. Ill, p. 95. He quotes
from Wessley, Denkschr d. k. Akad. (1893), P.37, 1• 500.
See Imhotep, the Vizier and
Physician of King Zoser and afterwards the Egyptian God of
Medicine, by Jamieson B. Hurry, Oxford University Press,
I. E. S. Edwards, The Pyramids
of Egypt, Penguin, 1970.
Hurry, op. cit., p. 20.
Ibid., p. 40.