Lord of Eternity
Are There Any Secrets Left in Egypt?
During the early evening of 26 November 1922 the British
archaeologist Howard Carter, together with his sponsor Lord Carnarvon, entered the tomb of a youthful pharaoh of the Eighteenth
Dynasty who had ruled Egypt from 1352-43 BC. The name of that
pharaoh, which has since resounded around the world, was
Two nights later, on 28 November, the tomb’s ‘Treasury’ was
breached. It was filled with a huge golden shrine and gave access to
another chamber beyond. Rather unusually, this chamber, although
heaped with a dazzling array of precious and beautiful artifacts,
had no door: its entrance was watched over by an extraordinarily
lifelike effigy of the jackal-headed mortuary god Anubis. With ears
erect, the god crouched doglike, forepaws stretched out, on the lid
of a gilded wooden casket perhaps four feet long, three feet high
and two feet wide.
The Egyptian Museum, Cairo, December 1993
Still perched astride his casket, but now locked away in a dusty
glass display case, Anubis held my attention for a long, quiet
His effigy had been carved out of stuccoed wood, entirely
covered with black resin, then painstakingly inlaid with gold,
alabaster, calcite, obsidian and silver—materials used to particular
effect in the eyes, which glittered watchfully with an unsettling
sense of fierce and focused intelligence. At the same time his
finely etched ribs and lithe musculature gave off an aura of
understated strength, energy and grace.
Captured by the force field of this occult and powerful presence, I
was vividly reminded of the universal myths of precession I had been
studying during the past year. Canine figures moved back and forth
among these myths in a manner which at times had seemed almost
plotted in the literary sense. I had begun to wonder whether the
symbolism of dogs, wolves, jackals, and so on, might have been
deliberately employed by the long-dead myth-makers to guide
initiates through a maze of clues to secret reservoirs of lost
Among these reservoirs, I suspected, was the myth of Osiris. Much
more than a myth, it had been dramatized and performed each year in
Ancient Egypt in the form of a mystery play—a ‘plotted’ literary
artifact, passed down as a treasured tradition since prehistoric
times.1 This tradition, as we saw in Part V, contained values for
the rate of
precessional motion that were so accurate and so consistent it was
extremely difficult to attribute them to chance.
1 See, for example, Rosalie David, A Guide to Religious Ritual at Abydos, Aris and Phillips, Warminster, 1981, in particular p. 121.
Nor did it seem
likely to be an accident that the jackal god had been assigned a
role centre-stage in the drama, serving as the spirit guide of Osiris on his journey through the underworld.2 It was tempting, too,
to wonder whether there was any significance in the fact that in
ancient times Anubis had been referred to by Egyptian priests as the
‘guardian of the secret and sacred writings’.3
Under the grooved
edge of the gilded casket on which his effigy now crouched was found
an inscription: ‘initiated into the secrets’.4 Alternative
translations of the same hieroglyphic text rendered it variously as
‘he who is upon the secrets’, and as ‘guardian of the secrets’.5
2 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, pp. 262-6.
3 Lucy Lamy,
Egyptian Mysteries, Thames & Hudson, London, 1986, p. 93.
Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, The Egypt of the Pharaohs at the Cairo
Museum, Scala Publications, London, 1987, p. 118.
Ibid.; see also R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Sacred Science: The King
of Pharaonic Theocracy, Inner Traditions International, Rochester,
1988, pp. 182-3.
But were there any secrets left in Egypt?
After more than a century of intensive archaeological
investigations, could the sands of this antique land yield any
Bauval’s Stars and West’s Stones
In 1993 there was an astonishing new discovery which suggested that
there was much still to learn about Ancient Egypt. The discoverer,
moreover, was not some astigmatic archaeologist sieving his way
through the dust of ages but an outsider to the field: Robert Bauval, a Belgian construction engineer with a flair for astronomy
who observed a correlation in the sky that the experts had missed in
their fixation with the ground at their feet.
What Bauval saw was this: as the three belt stars of the Orion
constellation crossed the meridian at Giza they lay in a not quite
straight line high in the southern heavens. The lower two stars, Al Nitak and
Al Nilam, formed a perfect diagonal but the third star,
Mintaka, appeared to be offset to the observer’s left, that is,
towards the east.
The three pyramids of Giza plotted against the three belt stars of
the Orion constellation.
Curiously enough (as we saw in Chapter Thirty-six), this was exactly
the site-plan of the three enigmatic pyramids of the Giza plateau.
Bauval realized that an aerial view of the Giza necropolis would
show the Great Pyramid of Khufu occupying the position of Al Nitak,
and the Second Pyramid of Khafre occupying the position of Al Nilam,
while the Third Pyramid of Menkaure was offset to the east of the
diagonal formed by the other two—thus completing what seemed at
first to be a vast diagram of the stars.
Was this indeed what the Giza pyramids represented? I knew that
Bauval’s later work, which had been wholeheartedly endorsed by
mathematicians and astronomers, had borne out his inspired hunch.
His evidence (reviewed fully in Chapter Forty-nine) showed that the
three pyramids were an unbelievably precise terrestrial map of the
three stars of Orion’s belt, accurately reflecting the angles
between each of them and even (by means of their respective sizes)
providing some indication of their individual magnitudes.6
this map extended outwards to the north and south to encompass
several other structures on the Giza plateau—once again with
However, the real surprise revealed by Bauval’s astronomical calculations was this: despite the fact that
some aspects of the Great Pyramid did relate astronomically to the
Pyramid Age, the Giza monuments as a whole were so arranged as to
provide a picture of the skies (which alter their appearance down
the ages as a result of precession of the equinoxes) not as they had
looked in the Fourth Dynasty around 2500 BC, but as they had
looked—and only as they had looked—around the year 10,450 BC.8
I had come to Egypt to go over the Giza site with Robert Bauval and
to question him about his star-correlation theory. In addition I
wanted to canvass his views on what sort of human society, if any,
could have had the technological know-how, such a very long while
ago, to measure accurately the altitudes of the stars and to devise
a plan as mathematical and ambitious as that of the Giza necropolis.
I had also come to meet another researcher who had challenged the
orthodox chronology of Ancient Egypt with a well-founded claim to
have found hard evidence of a high civilization in the Nile Valley
in 10,000 BC or earlier. Like Bauval’s astronomical data, the
evidence had always been available but had failed to attract the
attention of established Egyptologists.
The man responsible for
bringing it before the public now was the American scholar, John
Anthony West, who argued that the specialists had missed it—not
because they had failed to find it, but because they had found it
and had failed to interpret it properly.9
West’s evidence focused on certain key structures, notably the Great
Sphinx and the Valley Temple at Giza and, much farther south, the
mysterious Osireion at Abydos. He argued that these desert monuments
showed many scientifically unmistakable signs of having been
weathered by water, an erosive agent they could only have been
exposed to in sufficient quantities during the damp ‘pluvial’ period
that accompanied the end of the last Ice Age around the eleventh
6 The Orion Mystery.
9 Serpent in the Sky, pp. 184-242.
10 Ibid., 186-7.
The implication of this peculiar and extremely
distinctive pattern of ‘precipitation induced’ weathering, was that
the Osireion, the Sphinx, and
other associated structures were built before 10,000 BC.11 A British
investigative journalist summed up the effect: West is really an
academic’s worst nightmare, because here comes somebody way out of
left-field with a thoroughly well thought out, well presented,
coherently described theory, full of data they can’t refute, and it
pulls the rug out from beneath their feet. So how do they deal with
it? They ignore it. They hope it’ll go away ... and it won’t go
The reason the new theory would not, under any circumstances, go
away, despite its rejection by droves of ‘competent Egyptologists’,
was that it had won widespread support from another scientific
branch of scholarship—geology. Dr Robert Schoch, a professor of
Geology at Boston University, had played a prominent role in
validating West’s estimates concerning the true age of the Sphinx,
and his views had been endorsed by almost 300 of his peers at the
1992 annual convention of the Geological Society of America.13
Since then, most often out of the public eye, an acrimonious dispute
had begun to smoulder between the geologists and the
Egyptologists.14 And though very few people other than John West
were prepared to say as much, what was at stake in this dispute was
a complete upheaval in accepted views about the evolution of human
According to West:
We are told that the evolution of human
civilization is a linear process—that it goes from stupid cavemen to
smart old us with our hydrogen bombs and striped toothpaste. But the
proof that the Sphinx is many, many thousands of years older than
the archaeologists think it is, that it preceded by many thousands
of years even dynastic Egypt, means that there must have been, at
some distant point in history, a high and sophisticated
civilization—just as all the legends affirm.15
My own travels and research during the preceding four years had
opened my eyes to the electrifying possibility that those legends
could be true, and this was why I had come back to Egypt to meet
West and Bauval. I was struck by the way in which their hitherto
disparate lines of enquiry16 had converged so convincingly on what
appeared to be the astronomical and geological fingerprints of a
lost civilization, one that might or might not have originated in
the Nile Valley but that seemed to have had a presence here as far
back as the eleventh millennium BC.
12 Mystery of the Sphinx, NBC-TV, 1993.
13 Conde Nast Traveller,
February 1993, p. 176.
E.g, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago,
1992, Debate: How Old is the Sphinx?
15 Mystery of the Sphinx.
John West and Robert Bauval worked in isolation, unaware of each
other’s findings, until I introduced them.
The way of the jackal
Anubis, guardian of the secrets, god of the funerary chamber,
jackal-headed opener of the ways of the dead, guide and companion of
It was around five o’clock in the afternoon, closing-time at the
Cairo Museum, when Santha pronounced herself satisfied with her
photographs of the sinister black effigy. Down below us guards were
whistling and clapping their hands as they sought to herd the last
few sightseers out of the halls, but up on the second floor of the
hundred-year-old building, where ancient Anubis crouched in his
millennial watchfulness, all was quiet, all was still.
We left the sombre museum and walked down into the sunlight still
bathing Cairo’s bustling Tahrir Square.
Anubis, I reflected, had shared his duties as spirit guide and
guardian of the secret writings with another god whose type and
symbol had also been the jackal and whose name, Upuaut, literally
meant Opener of the Ways.17
Both these canine deities had been
linked since time immemorial with the ancient town of Abydos in
upper Egypt, the original god of which, Khenti-Amentiu (the
strangely named ‘Foremost of the Westerners’) had also been
represented as a member of the dog family, usually lying recumbent
on a black standard.18
17 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, p. 264.
Blue Guide, Egypt, p. 509; see also From Fetish to God in Ancient
Egypt, pp. 211-15; Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, volume I,
p. 31ff; The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 197.
Was there any significance in the repeated recurrence at Abydos of
all this mythical and symbolic doggishness, with its promise of high
secrets waiting to unfold? It seemed worthwhile trying to find out
since the extensive ruins there included the structure known as the Osireion, which West’s geological research had indicated might be
far older than the archaeologists thought.
Besides, I had already
arranged to meet West in a few days in the upper Egyptian town of Luxor, less than 200
kilometers south of Abydos. Rather than flying
directly to Luxor from Cairo, as I had originally planned, I now
realized that it would be perfectly feasible to go by road and to
visit Abydos and a number of other sites along the way.
Our driver, Mohamed Walili, was waiting for us in an underground
carpark just off Tahrir Square. A large genial, elderly man, he
owned a battered white Peugeot taxi normally to be found standing in
the rank outside the Mena House hotel at Giza. Over the last few
years, on our frequent research trips to Cairo, we had struck up a
friendship with him and he now worked with us whenever we were in
We haggled for some time about the appropriate daily rate for
the long return journey to Abydos and Luxor. Many matters had to be
taken into account, including the fact that some of the areas we
would be passing through had recently been targets of terrorist
attacks by Islamic militants. Eventually we agreed
on a price and arranged to set off early the following morning.
Chapter 41 -
City of the Sun, Chamber of the Jackal
Mohamed picked us up at our hotel in Heliopolis at 6 a. m. when it
was still half dark.
We drank small cups of thick black coffee at a roadside stall and
then drove west, along dusty streets still almost deserted, towards
the River Nile. I had asked Mohamed to take us through Maydan
al-Massallah Square, which was dominated by one of the world’s
oldest intact Egyptian obelisks.1 Weighing an estimated 350 tons,
this was a pink granite monolith, 107 feet high, erected by Pharaoh Senuseret I (1971-1928 BC).
It had originally been one of a pair at
the gateway of the great Heliopolitan Temple of the Sun. In the 4000
years since then the temple itself had entirely vanished, as had the
second obelisk. Indeed, almost all of ancient Heliopolis had now
been obliterated, cannibalized for its handsome dressed stones and
ready-made building materials by countless generations of the
citizens of Cairo.2
Heliopolis (City of the Sun) was referred to in the Bible as
was originally known in the Egyptian language as Innu, or Innu Mehret— meaning ‘the pillar’ or ‘the northern pillar’.3 It was a
district of immense sanctity, associated with a strange group of
nine solar and stellar deities, and was old beyond reckoning when Senuseret chose it as the site for his obelisk. Indeed, together
with Giza (and the distant southern city of Abydos) Innu/Heliopolis
was believed to have been part of the first land that emerged from
the primeval waters at the moment of creation, the land of the
‘First Time’, where the gods had commenced their rule on earth.4
‘Saqqara, Egypt: Archaeologists have discovered a green limestone
obelisk, the world’s oldest-known complete obelisk, dedicated to
Inty, a wife of Pharaoh Pepi I, Egypt’s ruler almost 4300 years ago,
who was regarded as a goddess after her death.’ Times, London, 9 May
1992; see also Daily Telegraph, London, 9 May 1992.
Atlas of Ancient Egypt, pp. 173-4; Rosalie and Anthony E. David, A
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Seaby, London, 1992, pp.
133-4; Blue Guide, Egypt, p. 413.
3 The Encyclopaedia of Ancient
Egypt, p. 110.
4 George Hart, Egyptian Myths, British Museum
Publications, 1990, p. 11.
The Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, p. 110; Traveller’s Key to
Ancient Egypt, p. 66;
Heliopolitan theology rested on a creation-myth distinguished by a
number of unique and curious features. It taught that in the
beginning the universe had been filled with a dark, watery
nothingness, called the Nun. Out of this inert cosmic ocean
(described as ‘shapeless, black with the blackness of the blackest
night’) rose a mound of dry land on which Ra, the Sun God,
materialized in his self-created form as Atum (sometimes depicted as
an old bearded man leaning on a staff):5
The sky had not been created, the earth had not been created, the
children of the earth and the reptiles had not been fashioned in
that place ... I, Atum, was one by myself ... There existed no other
who worked with me ...6
Conscious of being alone, this blessed and immortal being contrived
to create two divine offspring, Shu, god of the air and dryness, and
Tefnut the goddess of moisture:
‘I thrust my phallus into my closed
hand. I made my seed to enter my hand. I poured it into my own
mouth. I evacuated under the form of Shu, I passed water under the
form of Tefnut.’7
Despite such apparently inauspicious beginnings, Shu and Tefnut (who
were always described as ‘Twins’ and frequently depicted as lions)
grew to maturity, copulated and produced offspring of their own: Geb
the god of the earth and Nut, the goddess of the sky. These two also
mated, creating Osiris and Isis, Set and Nepthys, and so completed
the Ennead, the full company of the Nine Gods of Heliopolis. Of the
nine, Ra, Shu, Geb and Osiris were said to have ruled in Egypt as
kings, followed by Horus, and lastly—for 3226 years—by the
Ibis-headed wisdom god Thoth.8
Who were these people—or creatures, or beings, or gods?
figments of the priestly imagination, or symbols, or ciphers?
the stories told about them vivid myth memories of real events which
had taken place thousands of years previously?
Or were they,
perhaps, part of a coded message from the ancients that had been
transmitting itself over and over again down the epochs—a message
only now beginning to be unravelled and understood?
Such notions seemed fanciful. Nevertheless I could hardly forget
that out of this very same Heliopolitan tradition the great myth of
Isis and Osiris had flowed, covertly transmitting an accurate
calculus for the rate of precessional motion.
Moreover the priests
of Innu, whose responsibility it had been to guard and nurture such
traditions, had been renowned throughout Egypt for their high wisdom
and their proficiency in prophecy, astronomy, mathematics,
architecture and the magic arts. They were also famous for their
possession of a powerful and sacred object known as the Benben.9
From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 140.
Papyrus of Nesiamsu, cited in Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic
Theocracy, pp. 188-9; see also From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt,
From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 142. In other readings Shu
and Tefnut were spat out by Ra-Atum.
New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology, p. 27. The figure 3126 is
given in some accounts.
The Pyramids: An Enigma Solved, p. 13; C. Jacq, Egyptian Magic, Aris
and Phillips, Warminster, 1985, p. 8; The Death of Gods in Ancient
Egypt, p. 36.
The Egyptians called Heliopolis Innu, the pillar, because tradition
had it that the Benben had been kept here in remote pre-dynastic
times, when it had balanced on top of a pillar of rough-hewn stone.
The Benben was believed to have fallen from the skies.
Unfortunately, it had been lost so long before that its appearance
was no longer
remembered by the time Senuseret took the throne in 1971 BC. In that
period (the Twelfth Dynasty) all that was clearly recalled was that
the Benben had been pyramidal in form, thus providing (together with
the pillar on which it stood) a prototype for the shape of all
The name Benben was likewise applied to the
pyramidion, or apex stone, usually placed on top of pyramids.10 In a
symbolic sense, it was also associated closely and directly with
Ra-Atum, of whom the ancient texts said,
‘You became high on the
height; you rose up as the Benben stone in the Mansion of the
Mansion of the Phoenix described the original temple at Heliopolis
where the Benben had been housed. It reflected the fact that the
mysterious object had also served as an enduring symbol for the
mythical Phoenix, the divine Bennu bird whose appearances and
disappearances were believed to be linked to violent cosmic cycles
and to the destruction and rebirth of world ages.12
Kingship and the Gods, p. 153.
Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. 246.
For a more detailed discussion see The Orion Mystery, p. 17. Bauval
suggests that the Benben may have been an oriented meteorite: ‘From
depictions it would seem that this meteorite was from six to fifteen
tons in mass ... the frightful spectacle of its fiery fall would
have been very impressive ...’, p. 204.
Connections and similarities
Driving through the suburbs of Heliopolis at around 6:30 in the
morning I closed my eyes and tried to summon up a picture of the
landscape as it might have looked in the mythical First Time after
the Island of Creation13—the primordial mound of Ra-Atum—had risen
out of the flood waters of the Nun.
It was tempting to see a
connection between this imagery and the Andean traditions that spoke
of the emergence of the civilizer god Viracocha from the waters of
Lake Titicaca after an earth-destroying flood. Moreover there was
the figure of Osiris to consider—a conspicuously bearded figure,
like Viracocha, and like Quetzalcoatl as well—remembered for having
abolished cannibalism among the Egyptians, for having taught them
agriculture and animal husbandry, and for introducing them to such
arts as writing, architecture, and music.14
13 The Penguin Dictionary of
Religions, Penguin Books, London, 1988, p. 166.
E.g. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Introduction, p. XLIX; Qsiris
And The Egyptian Resurrection, volume II, pp. 1-11.
The similarities between the Old and New World traditions were hard
to miss but even harder to interpret. It was possible they were just
a series of beguiling coincidences. On the other hand, it was
possible that they might reveal the fingerprints of an ancient and
unidentified global civilization—fingerprints that were essentially
the same whether they appeared in the myths of Central America, or
of the high Andes, or of
The priests of Heliopolis, after all, had taught of the
creation, but who had taught them? Had they sprung out of nowhere,
or was it more likely that their doctrine, with all its complex
symbolism, was the product of a long refinement of religious ideas?
If so, when and where had these ideas developed?
I looked up to discover that we had left Heliopolis behind and were
winding our way through the noisy and crowded streets of down-town
Cairo. We crossed over to the west bank of the Nile by way of the 6
October Bridge and soon afterwards entered Giza. Fifteen minutes
later, passing the massive bulk of the Great Pyramid on our right,
we turned south on the road to upper Egypt, a road which followed
the meridional course of the world’s longest river through a
landscape of palms and green fields fringed by the encroaching red
wastes of pitiless deserts.
The ideas of the Heliopolitan priesthood had influenced every aspect
of secular and religious life in Ancient Egypt, but had those ideas
developed locally, or had they been introduced to the Nile Valley
from elsewhere? The traditions of the Egyptians provided an
unambiguous answer to questions such as these. All the wisdom of
Heliopolis was a legacy, they said, and this legacy had been passed
to humankind by the gods.
Gift of the Gods?
About ten miles south of the Great Pyramid we pulled off the main
road to visit the necropolis of Saqqara. Rearing up on the desert’s
edge, the site was dominated by a six-tier ziggurat, the
step-pyramid of the Third Dynasty Pharaoh Zoser. This imposing
monument, almost 200 feet tall, was dated to approximately 2650 BC.
It stood within its own compound, surrounded by an elegant enclosure
wall, and was reckoned by archaeologists to be the earliest massive
construction of stone ever attempted by humanity.15 Tradition had it
that its architect was the legendary Imhotep, ‘Great of Magic’, a
high priest of Heliopolis, whose other titles were Sage, Sorcerer,
Astronomer and Doctor.16
15 Tradition had it that its architect was the legendary Imhotep, ‘Great of Magic’, a high priest of Heliopolis, whose other
titles were Sage, Sorcerer, Astronomer and Doctor.
16 16 Ibid., p.
We shall have more to say about the step-pyramid and its builder in
a later chapter, but on this occasion I had not come to Saqqara to
see it. My sole objective was to spend a few moments in the burial
chamber of the nearby pyramid of Unas, a Fifth Dynasty pharaoh who
had reigned from 2356 to 2323 BC.17
The walls of this chamber, which
I had visited several times before, were inscribed from floor to
ceiling with the most ancient of the Pyramid Texts, an extravaganza
of hieroglyphic inscriptions giving voice to a range of remarkable
ideas—in acute contrast to the mute and unadorned interiors of the
Fourth Dynasty pyramids at Giza.
A phenomenon exclusively of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (2465-2152
the Pyramid Texts were sacred writings, parts of which were
thought to have been composed by the Heliopolitan priesthood in the
late third millennium BC, and parts of which had been received and
handed down by them from pre-dynastic times.18 It was the latter
parts of these Texts, dating to a remote and impenetrable antiquity,
which had particularly aroused my curiosity when I had begun to
research them a few months previously.
17 Atlas of Ancient Egypt, p. 36.
18 From Fetish to God in Ancient
Egypt, p. 147: ‘Judging by the Pyramid Texts, the priests of Heliopolis borrowed very largely from the religious beliefs of the
predynastic Egyptians ...’ See also The Ancient Egyptian Book of the
Dead, p. 11.
I had also been amused—and a
little intrigued—by the strange way that nineteenth century French
archaeologists appeared almost to have been directed to the hidden
chamber of the Pyramid Texts by a mythological ‘opener of the ways.’
According to reasonably well-documented reports, an Egyptian foreman
of the excavations at Saqqara had been up and about at dawn one
morning and had found himself by the side of a ruined pyramid
looking into the bright amber eyes of a lone desert jackal:
It was as if the animal were taunting his human observer ... and
puzzled man to chase him. Slowly the jackal sauntered towards the
north face of
the pyramid, stopping for a moment before disappearing into a hole.
The bemused Arab decided to follow his lead. After slipping through
the narrow hole, he found himself crawling into the dark bowels of
Soon he emerged into a chamber and, lifting his light,
saw that the walls were covered from top to bottom with hieroglyphic
inscriptions. These were carved with exquisite craftsmanship into
the solid limestone and painted over with turquoise and gold.’19
Today the hieroglyph-lined chamber beneath the ruined
pyramid of Unas is still reached through the north face by the long descending
passage the French archaeological team excavated soon after the
foreman’s astonishing discovery. The chamber consists of two
rectangular rooms separated by a partition wall, into which is let a
low doorway. Both rooms are covered by a gabled ceiling painted with
myriads of stars.
Emerging stooped from the cramped passage, Santha
and I entered the first of the two rooms and passed through the
connecting doorway into the second. This was the tomb chamber
proper, with the massive black granite sarcophagus of Unas at its
western end and the strange utterances of the Pyramid Texts
proclaiming themselves from every wall.
Speaking to us directly (rather than through riddles and
mathematical legerdemain like the unadorned walls of the Great
Pyramid), what were the hieroglyphs saying? I knew that the answer
depended to some extent on which translation you were using, largely
because the language of the Pyramid Texts contained so many archaic
forms and so many unfamiliar mythological allusions that scholars
were obliged to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with
Nevertheless it was generally agreed that the late
O. Faulkner, a professor of the Ancient Egyptian Language at
University College London, had produced
the most authoritative
Faulkner, whose translation I had studied line by line, described
the Texts as constituting,
‘the oldest corpus of Egyptian religious
and funerary literature now extant’ and added, ‘they are the least
corrupt of all such collections and are of fundamental importance to
the student of Egyptian religion ...’22
The reason why the Texts
were so important (as many scholars agreed), was that they were the
last completely open channel connecting the relatively short period
of the past that humanity remembers to the far longer period that
has been forgotten:
‘They vaguely disclose to us a vanished world of
thought and speech, the last of the unnumbered aeons through which
prehistoric man has passed, till finally he ... enters the historic
19 The Orion Mystery, pp. 57-8.
Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt, pp. 166; The Ancient Egyptian
Pyramid Texts, p. V: ‘The Pyramid Texts ... include very ancient
texts ... There are many mythological and other allusions of which
the purport is obscure to the translator of today ...’
Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.
22 Ibid., p. v.
James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience, Charles Scribner’s
Sons, New York,
1944, p. 69.
It was hard to disagree with sentiments like these: the Texts did
disclose a vanished world. But what intrigued me most about this
world was the possibility that it might have been inhabited not only
by primitive savages (as one would have expected in remote
prehistory) but, paradoxically, by men and women whose minds had
been enlightened by a scientific understanding of the cosmos.
overall picture was equivocal: there were genuinely primitive
elements locked into the Pyramid Texts alongside the loftier
sequences of ideas. Nevertheless, every time I immersed myself in
what Egyptologists call ‘these ancient spells’, I was impressed by
the strange glimpses they seemed to afford of a high intelligence at
work, darting from behind layers of incomprehension, reporting on
experiences that ‘prehistoric man’ should never have had and
expressing notions he should never have been able to formulate.
short, the effect the Texts achieved through the medium of
hieroglyphs was akin to the effect the Great Pyramid achieved
through the medium of architecture. In both cases the dominant
impression was of anachronism—of advanced technological processes
used or described at a period in human history when there was
supposed to have been no technology at all ...
Chapter 42 -
Anachronisms and Enigmas
I looked around the grey-walled chamber of Unas, up and down the
long registers of hieroglyphs in which the Pyramid Texts were
inscribed. They were written in a dead language. Nevertheless, the
constant affirmation, repeated over and over again in these ancient
compositions, was that of life—eternal life—which was to be achieved
through the pharaoh’s rebirth as a star in the constellation of
As the reader will recall from Chapter Nineteen, (where we
compared Egyptian beliefs with those of Ancient Mexico), there were
several utterances which voiced this aspiration explicitly:
Oh King, you are this Great Star, the Companion of Orion, who
traverses the sky
with Orion ... you ascend from the east of the sky being renewed in
season, and rejuvenated in your due time ...’1
Though undeniably beautiful there was nothing inherently
extraordinary about these sentiments, and it was by no means
impossible to attribute them to a people assessed by the French
archaeologist Gaston Maspero as having ‘always remained half
Furthermore, since Maspero had been the first Egyptologist
to enter the pyramid of Unas,3 and was considered a great authority
on the Texts, it was hardly surprising that his opinions should have
shaped all academic responses to this literature since he began to
publish translations from it in the 1880s.4 Maspero (with a little
help from a jackal) had brought
the Pyramid Texts to the world.
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, lines 882, 883; see also, inter
alia, lines 2115 and 2116.
2 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I, p.
3 He did so on 28 February 1881; see The Orion Mystery, p. 59.
4 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. v.
Thereafter, the dominance of his particular prejudices about the
past had functioned as a filter on knowledge, inhibiting variant
interpretations of the more opaque or puzzling utterances. This
seemed to me to be unfortunate to say the least. What it meant was
that, despite the technical and scientific puzzles raised by
monuments like the Great Pyramid at Giza, scholars had ignored the
implications of some striking passages in the Texts.
These passages sounded suspiciously like attempts to express complex
technical and scientific imagery in an entirely inappropriate idiom.
Maybe it was coincidence, but the result resembled the outcome that
we might expect today if we were to try to translate Einstein’s
Theory of Relativity into Chaucerian English or to describe a
supersonic aircraft in vocabulary derived from Middle High German.
Broken images of a lost technology?
Take for example some of the peculiar equipment and accessories
designated for the pharaoh’s use as he journeyed to his eternal
resting place among the stars:
The gods who are in the sky are brought to you, the gods who are on
earth assemble for you, they place their hands under you, they make
a ladder for you that you may ascend on it into the sky, the doors
of the sky are thrown open to you, the doors of the starry firmament
are thrown open for you.5
The ascending pharaoh was identified with, and frequently referred
to, as ‘an Osiris’. Osiris himself, as we have seen, was frequently
linked to and associated with the constellation of Orion.
Osiris-Orion was said to have been the first to have climbed the
great ladder the gods had made. And several utterances left no doubt
that this ladder had not extended upwards from earth to heaven but
downwards from heaven to earth. It was described as a rope-ladder6
and the belief was that it had hung from an ‘iron plate’ suspended
in the sky.7
Were we dealing here, I wondered, simply with the bizarre imaginings
of half-savage priests? Or might there be some other explanation for
allusions such as these?
‘The King is a flame, moving before the wind to
the end of the sky and to the end of the earth ... the King travels
the air and traverses the earth ... there is brought to him a way of
ascent to the sky ...’8
Switching to dialogue,
Utterance 310 proclaimed,
‘O you whose vision is in his face and whose vision is in the back
of his head, bring this to me!’
‘What ferry-boat shall be brought to you?’
‘Bring me: “It-flies-and-alights”.’9
Utterance 332, supposedly spoken by the King himself, confided,
am this one who has escaped from the coiled serpent, I have ascended
in a blast of fire having turned myself about. The two skies go to
5 Ibid., p. 227, Utt. 572.
Ibid., p. 297, Utt. 688: ‘Atum has done what he said he would do for
this King; he ties the rope-ladder for him.’
7 The Gods of the
Egyptians, volume II, p. 241.
8 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts,
p. 70, Utt. 261.
9 Ibid., p. 97.
10 Ibid., p. 107.
Utterance 669 it was asked, ‘Wherewith can the King be made
The reply was given:
‘There shall be brought to you the
[italicized word untranslatable] and the ... [text missing] of the
hn-bird [italicized word untranslatable]. You shall fly up therewith
... You shall fly
up and alight.’11
Other passages also seemed to me worthy of more thorough
investigation than they have received from scholars. Here are a few
O my father, great King, the aperture of the sky-window is opened
‘The door of the sky at the horizon opens to you, the gods are glad
at meeting you
... May you sit on this iron throne of yours, as the Great One who
is in Heliopolis.13
O King, may you ascend ... The sky reels at you, the earth quakes at
Imperishable Stars are afraid of you. I have come to you, O you
whose seats are
hidden, that I may embrace you in the sky ...14
The earth speaks, the gate of the earth god is open, the doors of
Geb are opened
for you ... May you remove yourself to the sky upon your iron
O my father the King, such is your going when you have gone as a
travelling as a celestial being ... you stand in the Conclaves of
the horizon ... and
sit on this throne of iron at which the gods marvel ...16
The constant references to iron, though easy to overlook, were
puzzling. Iron, I knew, had been a rare metal in Ancient Egypt,
particularly in the Pyramid Age when it had supposedly only been
available in meteoritic form.17 Yet here, in
the Pyramid Texts,
there seemed to be an embarrassment of iron riches: iron plates in
the sky, iron thrones, and elsewhere an iron sceptre (Utterance
665C) and even iron bones for the King (Utterances 325, 684 and
In the Ancient Egyptian language the name for iron had been bja, a
word that meant literally ‘metal of heaven’ or ‘divine metal ’.19 The
knowledge of iron was thus regarded as yet another gift from the
11 Ibid., p. 284.
12 Ibid., p. 249, Utt. 604.
13 Ibid., pp. 253-4, Utt. 610.
14 Ibid., p. 280, Utt. 667.
15 Ibid., p. 170, Utt. 483.
16 Ibid., p. 287, Utt. 673.
B. Scheel, Egyptian Metalworking and Tools, Shire Egyptology,
Aylesbury, 1989; G. A. Wainwright, ‘Iron in Egypt’, Journal of
Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 18, 1931.
18 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
Texts, pp. 276, 105, 294, 311.
19 Egyptian Metalworking and Tools,
p. 17; ‘Iron in Egypt’, p. 6ff.
Among the many mysterious aspects of the Pyramid Texts it is perhaps
inevitable that a fully qualified Opener of the Ways should put in
an appearance. ‘The doors of the sky are opened to you, the starry
sky is thrown open for you, the jackal of upper Egypt comes down to
you as Anubis at your side.’ (The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts,
288-9, Utt. 675.) Here, as in other contexts, the function of the
canine figure seems to be to serve as a guide to secret hoards of
esoteric information often linked to mathematics and astronomy.
Repositories of a lost science?
What other fingerprints might these gods have left behind in the
Pyramid Texts? 20
In my readings—here and there among the most archaic of the
Utterances—I had come across several metaphors that seemed to refer
to the passage of epochs of precessional time. These metaphors stood
out from the surrounding material because they were expressed in
what had become a clear and familiar terminology to me: that of the
archaic scientific language identified by Santillana and von Dechend
The reader may recall that a cosmic ‘diagram’ of the four props of
the sky was one of the standard thought tools employed in that
ancient language. Its purpose was to assist visualization of the
four imaginary bands conceived as framing, supporting and defining a
precessional world age.
These were what astronomers call the
‘equinoctial and solstitial colures’ and were seen as hooping down
from the celestial north pole and marking the four constellations
against the background of which, for periods of 2160 years at a
time, the sun would consistently rise on the spring and autumn
equinoxes and on the winter and summer solstices.22
The Pyramid Texts appear to contain several versions of this
diagram. Moreover, as is so often the case with prehistoric myths
which transmit hard astronomical data, the precessional symbolism is
interwoven tightly with violent images of terrestrial destruction—as
though to suggest that the ‘breaking of the mill of heaven’, that is
the transition every 2160 years from one zodiacal age to another,
could under ill-omened circumstances bring catastrophic influences
to bear on terrestrial events.
Thus it was said that
Ra-Atum, the god who created himself, was originally king over gods
together but mankind schemed against his sovereignty, for he began
to grow old,
his bones became silver, his flesh gold and his hair [as] lapis
When he realized what was happening, the
ageing Sun God (so
reminiscent of Tonatiuh, the bloodthirsty Fifth Sun of the Aztecs)
determined that he would punish this insurrection by killing off
most of the human race. The instrument of the havoc he unleashed was
symbolized at times as a raging lioness wading in blood and at times
as the fearsome lion-headed goddess Sekhmet who ‘poured fire out of
herself and savaged mankind in an ecstasy of slaughter.24
Part V for full details.
23 Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 181.
24 The pouring fire
allusion is cited in Jean-Pierre Hallet, Pygmy Kitabu, p. 185.
The terrible destruction continued unabated for a long period. Then
at last Ra intervened to save the lives of a ‘remnant’, the
ancestors of present humanity. This intervention took the form of a
flood which the
lioness thirstily lapped up and then fell asleep. When she awoke,
she was no longer interested in pursuing the destruction, and peace
descended upon the devastated world.25
Meanwhile Ra had resolved to ‘draw away’ from what was left of his
‘As I live my heart is weary of staying with Mankind. I
have gone on killing them [almost] to the very last one, so the
[insignificant] remnant is not my affair ...’26
The Sun God then rose into the sky on the back of the sky-goddess
Nut who (for the purposes of the precessional metaphor about to be
delivered) had transformed herself into a cow. Before very long—in a
close analogy to the ‘shaft-tree’ that ‘shivered’ on Amlodhi’s
wildly gyrating mill—the cow grew ‘dizzy and began to shake and to
tremble because she was so high above the earth.’27
complained to Ra about this precarious state of affairs he
‘Let my son Shu be put beneath Nut to keep guard for me
over the heavenly supports—which exist in the twilight. Put her
above your head and keep her there.’28
As soon as Shu had taken his
place beneath the cow and had stabilized her body, ‘the heavens
above and the earth beneath came into being’. At the same moment,
‘the four legs of the cow’, as Egyptologist Wallis Budge commented
in his classic study The Gods of the Egyptians, ‘became the four
props of heaven at the four cardinal points’.29
Like most scholars, Budge understandably assumed that the ‘cardinal
points’ referred to in this Ancient Egyptian tradition had strictly
terrestrial connotations and that ‘heaven’ represented nothing more
than the sky above our heads. He took it for granted that the point
of the metaphor was for us to envisage the cow’s four legs as
positioned at the four points of the compass—north, south, east and
He also thought—and even today few Egyptologists would
disagree with him—that the simpleminded priests of Heliopolis had
actually believed that the sky had four corners which were supported
on four legs and that Shu, ‘the skybearer par excellence’, had stood
immobile like a pillar at the centre of the whole edifice.30
25 Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 181-5.
26 Ibid., p. 184.
27 Ibid., p. 185.
28 The Gods of the Egyptians, volume II, p. 94.
29 Ibid., p. 92-4.
30 Ibid., p. 93.
Reinterpreted in the light of Santillana’s and von Dechend’s
findings, however, Shu and the four legs of the celestial cow look
much more like the components of an archaic scientific symbol
depicting the frame of a precessional world age—the polar axis (Shu)
and the colures (the four legs or ‘props’ marking the equinoctial
and solstitial cardinal points in the annual round of the sun).
Moreover, it is tempting to speculate which world age was being
signalled here ...
With a cow involved it could have been the Age of Taurus, although
the Egyptians knew the difference between bulls and cows as well as
anyone. But a much more likely contender—at any rate on purely
symbolic grounds—is the Age of Leo, from approximately 10,970 to
8810 BC.31 The reason is that
Sekhmet, the agent of the destruction
of Mankind referred to in the myth, was leonine in form.
way to symbolize the troubled birth of the new world age of Leo than
to depict its harbinger as a rampaging lion, particularly since the
Age of Leo coincided with the final ferocious meltdown of the last
Ice Age, during which huge numbers of animal species all over the
earth were suddenly and violently rendered extinct.’32 Mankind
survived the immense floods and earthquakes and rapid changes of
climate that took place, but very probably in much reduced numbers
and much reduced circumstances.
31 Skyglobe 3.6.
32 See Part IV.
The train of the Sun and the dweller in Sirius
Of course the ability to recognize and define precessional world
ages in myth implies that the Ancient Egyptians possessed better
observational astronomy and a more sophisticated understanding of
the mechanics of the solar system than any ancient people have
hitherto been credited with.33
There is no doubt that knowledge of
this calibre, if it existed at all, would have been highly regarded
by the Ancient Egyptians, who would have transmitted it from
generation to generation in a secretive manner. Indeed, it would
have ranked among the highest arcana entrusted to the keeping of the
priestly elite at Heliopolis and would have been passed on, in the
main, through an oral and initiatory tradition.34 If, by chance it
had found its way into the Pyramid Texts, is it not likely that its
form would have been veiled by metaphors and allegories?
I walked slowly across the dusty floor of the tomb chamber of Unas,
noting the heavy stillness in the air, casting my eyes over the
faded blue and gold inscriptions. Expressed in coded language
several millennia before Copernicus and Galileo, some of the
passages inscribed on these walls seemed to offer clues to the true
heliocentric nature of the solar system.
33 For a detailed discussion see Sacred Science: The King of Pharaonic Theocracy.
The issue of priestly secrecy and the oral tradition is discussed at
length in From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, e.g. p. 43: ‘It is
impossible to think that the highest order of the priests did not
possess esoteric knowledge which they guarded with the greatest
care. Each priesthood ... possessed a “Gnosis”, a “superiority of
knowledge”, which they never put into writing ... It is therefore
absurd to expect to find in Egyptian papyri descriptions of the
secrets which formed the esoteric knowledge of the priests.’ See
also page 27, and Sacred Science, pp. 273-4.
In one, for example, Ra, the Sun God, was depicted as seated upon an
iron throne encircled by lesser gods who moved around him constantly
and who were said to be ‘in his train’.35 Likewise, in another
passage, the deceased Pharaoh was urged to ‘stand at the head of the
two halves of the sky and weigh the words of the gods, the aged
ones, who revolve around Ra.’36
If the ‘aged ones’ and the ‘encircling gods’ revolving around Ra
should prove to be parts of a terminology referring to the planets
of our solar system, the original authors of the Pyramid Texts must
have enjoyed access to some remarkably advanced astronomical data.
They must have known that the earth and the planets revolved around
the sun rather than vice versa.37
The problem this raises is that
neither the Ancient Egyptians at any stage in their history, nor
even their successors the Greeks, or for that matter the Europeans
until the Renaissance, are supposed to have possessed cosmological
data of anything approaching this quality.
How, therefore, can its
presence be explained in compositions which date back to the dawn of
Another (and perhaps related) mystery concerns the
which the Egyptians identified with Isis, the sister and consort of
Osiris and the mother of Horus. In a passage addressed to Osiris
himself, the Pyramid Texts state:
Thy sister Isis cometh unto thee rejoicing in her love for thee.
Thou settest her upon thee, thy issue entereth into her, and she
becometh great with child like the star Sept [Sirius, the Dog Star].
Horus-Sept cometh forth from thee in the form of Horus, dweller in
Many interpretations of this passage are, of course, possible. What
intrigued me, however, was the clear implication that Sirius was to
be regarded as a dual entity in some way comparable to a woman
‘great with child’. Moreover, after the birth (or coming forth) of
that child, the text makes a special point of reminding us that
Horus remained a ‘dweller in Sept’, presumably suggesting that he
stayed close to his mother.
Sirius is an unusual star. A sparkling point of light particularly
prominent in the winter months in the night skies of the northern
hemisphere, it consists of a binary star system, i.e. it is in fact,
as the Pyramid Texts suggest, a ‘dual entity’. The major component,
Sirius-A, is what we see. Sirius-B, on the other hand—the dwarf-star
which revolves around Sirius A—is absolutely invisible to the naked
Its existence did not become known to Western science until
1862, when US astronomer Alvin Clark spotted it through one of the
largest and most advanced telescopes of the day.39 How could the
scribes who wrote the Pyramid
Texts possibly have obtained the information that Sirius was two
stars in one?
35 Pyramid Texts cited in The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I, p.
36 Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, volume I, p. 146.
Sacred Science, pp. 22-5, 29.
38 Osiris and the Egyptian
Resurrection, volume I, p. 93.
39 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991,
In The Sirius Mystery, an important book published in 1976, I knew
that the American author Robert Temple had offered some
extraordinary answers to this question.40 His study focused on the
traditional beliefs of the Dogon tribe of West Africa—beliefs in
which the binary character of Sirius was explicitly described and in
which the correct figure of fifty years was given for the period of
the orbit of Sirius-B around Sirius-A.41
Temple argued cogently that
this high quality technical information had been passed down to
the Dogon from the Ancient Egyptians through a process of cultural
diffusion, and that it was to the Ancient Egyptians that we should
look for an answer to the Sirius mystery. He also concluded that the
Ancient Egyptians must have received the information from
intelligent beings from the region of Sirius’.42
Like Temple, I had begun to suspect that the more advanced and
sophisticated elements of Egyptian science made sense only if they
were understood as parts of an inheritance. Unlike Temple, I saw no
urgent reason to attribute that inheritance to extra-terrestrials.
To my mind the anomalous star knowledge the Heliopolitan priests had
apparently possessed was more plausibly explained as the legacy of a
lost human civilization which, against the current of history, had
achieved a high level of technological advancement in remote
antiquity. It seemed to me that the building of an instrument
capable of detecting Sirius-B might not have been beyond the
ingenuity of the unknown explorers and scientists who originated the
remarkable maps of the prehistoric world discussed in Part
Nor would it have daunted the unknown astronomers and measurers
of time who bequeathed to the Ancient Maya a calendar of amazing
complexity, a data-base about the movements of the heavenly bodies
which could only have been the product of thousands of years of
accurately recorded observations, and a facility with very large
numbers that seemed more appropriate to the needs of a complex
technological society than to those of a ‘primitive’ Central
40 The Sirius Mystery.
41 Ibid., p. 3.
42 Ibid., p. 1.
43 See Part III.
44 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. cxi.
Millions of years and the movements of the stars
Very large numbers also appeared in the Pyramid Texts, in the
symbolic ‘boat of millions of years’, for example, in which the Sun
God was said to navigate the dark and airless wastes of interstellar
space.44 Thoth, the god of wisdom (‘he who reckons in heaven, the
counter of the stars, the
measurer of the earth’) was specifically empowered to grant a life
of millions of years to the deceased pharaoh.45
Osiris, ‘king of
eternity, lord of everlasting’, was described as traversing millions
of years in his life.’46 And figures like ‘tens of millions of
years’ (as well as the more mind-boggling ‘one million of millions
of years’)47 occurred often enough to suggest that some elements at
least of Ancient Egyptian culture must have evolved for the
convenience of scientifically minded people with more than passing
insight into the immensity of time.
Such a people would, of course, have required an excellent calendar—
one that would have facilitated complex and accurate calculations.
It was therefore not surprising to learn that the Ancient Egyptians,
like the Maya, had possessed such a calendar and that their
understanding of its workings seemed to have declined, rather than
improved, as the ages went by.48
It was tempting to see this as the
gradual erosion of a corpus of knowledge inherited an extremely long
time ago, an impression supported by the Ancient Egyptians
themselves, who made no secret of their belief that their calendar
was a legacy which they had received ‘from the gods’.
We consider the possible identity of these gods in more detail in
the following chapters. Whoever they were, they must have spent a
great deal of their time observing the stars, and they had
accumulated a fund of advanced and specialized knowledge concerning
the star Sirius in particular. Further evidence for this came in the
form of the most useful calendrical gift which the gods supposedly
gave to the Egyptians: the Sothic (or Sirian) cycle.49
The Sothic cycle was based on what is referred to in technical
jargon as ‘the periodic return of the heliacal rising of Sirius’,
which is the first appearance of this star after a seasonal absence,
rising at dawn just ahead of the sun in the eastern portion of the
sky.50 In the case of Sirius the interval between one such rising
and the next amounts to exactly
365.25 days—a mathematically harmonious figure, uncomplicated by
further decimal points, which is just twelve minutes longer than the
duration of the solar year.51
45 Ibid., p. cxviii. See also The Gods of the Egyptians, volume I,
46 The Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. 8.
47 Osiris and the
Egyptian Resurrection, volume II, p. 248.
48 For a full discussion
see Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, particularly pp. 328-30.
Sacred Science, p. 27.
50 Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 27.
Sacred Science, p. 172.
The curious thing about Sirius is that out of an estimated 2000
stars in the heavens visible to the naked eye it is the only one to
rise heliacally at this precise and nicely rounded interval of 365
and a quarter days—a unique product of its ‘proper motion’ (the
speed of its own movement through space) combined with the effects
of precession of the
Moreover, it is known that the day of the heliacal
rising of Sirius—New Year’s Day in the Ancient Egyptian calendar—was
traditionally calculated at Heliopolis, where the Pyramid Texts were
compiled, and announced ahead of time to all the other major temples
up and down the Nile.53
I remembered that Sirius was referred to directly in the Pyramid
Texts by ‘her name of the New Year’.54 Together with other relevant
utterances (e.g., 669 55), this confirmed that the Sothic calendar
was at least as old as the Texts themselves,56 and their origins
stretched back into the mists of distant antiquity.
enigma, therefore, is this: in such an early period, who could have
possessed the necessary know-how to observe and take note of the
coincidence of the period of 365.25 days with the heliacal rising of
Sirius—a coincidence described by the French mathematician R.A.
Schwaller de Lubicz as ‘an entirely exceptional celestial
We cannot but admire the greatness of a science capable of
discovering such a coincidence. The double star of Sirius was chosen
because it was the only star that moves the needed distance and in
the right direction against the background of the other stars. This
fact, known four thousand years before our time and forgotten until
our day, obviously demands an extraordinary and prolonged
observation of the sky.58
It was such a legacy—built out of long centuries of precise
observational astronomy and scientific record-keeping—that Egypt
seems to have I benefited from at the beginning of the historical
period and that was expressed in the Pyramid Texts.
In this, too, there lies a mystery ...
Ibid., p. 26-7. For numbers of stars visible to the naked eye see
Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion, Collins Guide to Stars and Planets,
London, 1984, p. 4.
53 Sacred Science, p. 173.
54 The Ancient
Egyptian Pyramid Texts, p. 165, line 964. Sacred Science, p. 287.
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, pp. 165, 284; Sacred Science, in
particular p. 287ff.
The established archaeological horizon of the calendar can indeed be
pushed back even further because of the recent discovery, in a First
Dynasty tomb in upper Egypt, of an inscription reading, ‘Sothis,
herald of the New Year’ (reported in Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt,
57 Sacred Science, p. 290.
58 Ibid., p. 27.
E. A. Wallis Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, (2
volumes), John Murray, London, 1920.
Copies, or translations?
Writing in 1934, the year of his death,
Wallis Budge, former Keeper
of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum and the author of an
authoritative hieroglyphic dictionary,59 made this frank admission:
The Pyramid Texts are full of difficulties of every kind. The exact
meanings of a large number of words found in them are unknown ...
The construction of the sentence often baffles all attempts to
translate it, and when it contains wholly unknown words it becomes
an unsolved riddle. It is only reasonable to suppose that these
texts were often used for funerary purposes, but it is quite clear
that their period of use in Egypt was little more than one hundred
years. Why they were suddenly brought into use at the end of the
Fifth Dynasty and ceased to be used at the end of the Sixth Dynasty
Could the answer be that they were copies of an earlier literature
which Unas, the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty, together with
several of his successors in the Sixth Dynasty, had attempted to fix
for ever in stone in the tomb chambers of their own pyramids? Budge
thought so, and felt the evidence suggested that some at least of
the source documents must have been exceedingly old:
Several passages bear evidence that the scribes who drafted the
copies from which the cutters of the inscriptions worked did not
understand what they were writing ... The general impression is that
the priests who drafted the copies made extracts from several
compositions of different ages and having different contents ...’61
60 From Fetish to God In Ancient Egypt, pp. 321-2.
61 Ibid., p. 322.
All this assumed that the source documents, whatever they were, must
have been written in an archaic form of the Ancient Egyptian
language. There was, however, an alternative possibility which Budge
failed to consider. Suppose that the task of the priests had been
not only to copy material but to translate into hieroglyphs texts
originally composed in another language altogether?
If that language
had included a technical terminology and references to artifacts and
ideas for which no equivalent terms existed in Ancient Egyptian,
this would provide an explanation for the strange impression given
by certain of the utterances.
Moreover, if the copying and
translating of the original source documents had been completed by
the end of the Sixth Dynasty, it was easy to understand why no more
‘Pyramid Texts’ had ever been carved: the project would have come to
a halt when it had fulfilled its objective—which would have been to
create a permanent hieroglyphic record of a sacred literature that
had already been tottering with age when Unas had taken the throne
of Egypt in 2356 BC.
Last records of the First Time?
Because we wanted to cover as much of the distance to
Abydos as was
possible before nightfall, Santha and I reluctantly decided that it
was time to get back on the road. Although we had originally
intended to spend only a few minutes, the sombre gloom and ancient
voices of the Unas tomb chamber had lulled our senses and almost two
hours had passed since our arrival. Stooping, we left the tomb and
climbed the steeply
angled passageway to the exit, where we paused to allow our eyes to
adjust to the harsh mid-morning sunlight.
As we did so, I took the
opportunity to look over the pyramid itself, which had fallen into
such a crumbling and thoroughly dilapidated state that its original
form was barely recognizable. The core masonry, reduced to little
more than a nondescript heap of rubble, was evidently of poor
quality, and even the facing blocks—some of which were still
intact—lacked the finesse and careful workmanship demonstrated by
the older pyramids at Giza.
This was hard to explain in conventional historical terms. If the
normal evolutionary processes that govern the development of
architectural skills and ideas had been at work in Egypt, one would
have expected to find the opposite to be true: the design,
engineering and masonry of the Unas Pyramid should have been
superior to these of the Giza group, which, according to orthodox
chronology, had been built about two centuries previously.62
62 Atlas of Ancient Egypt, p. 36.
The uncomfortable fact that this was not the case (i.e., Giza was
‘better’ than Unas and not vice versa) created knotty challenges for
Egyptologists and raised questions to which no satisfactory answers
had been supplied. To reiterate the central problem: everything
about the three stunning and superb pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and
Menkaure proclaimed that they were the end products of hundreds,
perhaps even thousands of years of accumulated architectural and
This was not supported by the archaeological
evidence which left no doubt that they were among the earliest
pyramids ever built in Egypt—in other words, they were not the
products of the mature phase of that country’s pyramid-building
experiment but, anomalously, were the creations of its infancy.
A further mystery also cried out for a solution. In the three great
pyramids at Giza, Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty had reared up mansions of
eternity—unprecedented and unsurpassed masterpieces of stone,
hundreds of feet high, weighing millions of tons apiece, which
incorporated many extremely advanced features.
No pyramids of
comparable quality were ever built again. But only a little later,
beneath the smaller, shabbier superstructures of the Fifth and Sixth
Dynasty pyramids, a sort of Hall of Records seemed to have been
deliberately created: a permanent exhibition of copies or
translations of archaic documents which was, at the same time, an
unprecedented and unsurpassed masterpiece of scribal and
In short, like the pyramids at Giza, it seemed that the Pyramid
Texts had burst upon the scene with no apparent antecedents, and had
occupied centre-stage for approximately a hundred years before
‘ceasing operations’, never to be bettered.
Presumably the ancient kings and sages who had arranged these things
had known what they were doing? If so, their minds must have
a plan, and they must have intended a strong connection to be seen
between the completely uninscribed (but technically
brilliant)—pyramids at Giza, and the brilliantly inscribed (but
technically slipshod) pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties.
I suspected, too, that at least part of the answer to the problem
might lie in the pyramid-field of Dahshur, which we passed fifteen
minutes after leaving Saqqara. It was here that the so-called ‘Bent’
and ‘Red’ Pyramids were located. Attributed to Sneferu, Khufu’s
father, these two monuments (by all accounts very well preserved)
had been closed to the public many years ago. A military base had
been built around them and they had for a long while been impossible
to visit—under any circumstances, ever ...
As we continued our journey south, through the bright colours of
that December day, I was overtaken by a compelling sense that the
Nile Valley had been the scene of momentous events for humanity long
before the recorded history of mankind began. All the most ancient
records and traditions of Egypt spoke of such events and associated
them with the epoch during which the gods had ruled on earth: the
fabled First Time, which was called Zep Tepi.63 We shall delve into
these records in the next two chapters.
63 Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 263.
Continue to Chapter 43