Author of the Month

Anubis, Companion to Osiris (Cont)

By Lee McGiffen

The Shamanic Ascent to the Pole

In shamanic traditions the world over the destination of the shaman was the celestial pole. Among the Siberian shamans, for example, the sky was imaged as a tent, and the celestial pole was the pole supporting the sky-tent, or the nail that kept the sky-tent in place. In modern shamanism, the imagery of the pole has fused with that of the pole star Polaris, so we cannot be sure whether it is the pole itself or the nearest star that holds up the sky. In any case, the celestial pole was thought of as an opening in the sky.

The celestial pole is the object of the shaman's ascent in all mythologies, not Orion's Belt. Since the priests were shamans, they climbed the ladder or stairs to the polar region of the sky, rather than to a non-polar or southern destination. Alnitak was certainly a non-polar destination.

The Great Pyramid is a model of the heavens too. The summit is the celestial pole and the four corners are the four colures. By ascending the Great Pyramid to its summit, the priest was ascending to the top of heaven, the celestial pole.

The Djed column is another figure of the ladder by which the shaman-priest ascended to the celestial pole. The four crossbars, or rungs of the ladder, are the four colures, which come together at the pole. Sometimes the Ladder is depicted with seven rungs. These may represent the seven stars of the polar constellation, Ursa Minor.

The four crossed oars sometimes seen in the celestial barque symbolize the four colures, crossing at the pole. There are actually two barques - Mandet, the day barque and Mesktet, the night barque. The night barque is Ursa Minor. Sometimes the staircase is seen in the boat in the position of the mast. The mast of the boat and the staircase are both symbols of the pole. The socket of the mast, the aker, is a figure of the hole or opening at the centre of the sky, the celestial pole. Another interpretation is that the two oars sticking out are the two stars sticking out from the arc of five stars: Pherkad and ηUMi.

This is the boat that sails in the Elysian Fields or Uat/Duat. The destination of the barque, its final resting-place if you will, is the pole. In the funerary context, the pole is the final resting-place of the soul of the deceased king. In the shamanic context, the pole is the destination of the journey of the shaman-priest.

Ursa Minor has been the pole constellation since 1300 BC. The movement of the pole from Draco to Ursa Minor occurs about then. In the iconography, this is Set slaying the Apep monster, or Horus or Upuaut defeating the dragon from the prow of the celestial boat. The keel of the boat represents the crescent formed by the five stars in the "backbone" of Ursa Minor. The five gods sometimes seen in the boat may be these five stars, with Kochab at the prow and Polaris at the stern.

In 1300 BC, during the reign of King Seti I, there were three pole stars - Thuban, Kochab and Kappa Draconis. These three stars form an equilateral triangle in the northern sky, and in 1300 BC, the celestial pole was situated in the middle of this equilateral triangle. I believe this is the meaning of the equilateral triangle that appears in the apron of the priest in depictions from the time of Seti I. This triangular apron is the basis of the triangular Masonic apron which is plainly stellar in representation. It is only fair to mention that Sirius, Procyon and Betelgeuse also form an equilateral triangle in the southern sky.

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