Author of the Month

The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt
Jane B. Sellers

In this essay, specially written for, Jane Sellers, our Author of the Month for November 2003, sets out some of the key insights and discoveries that led her to her classic book The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt. Now reprinted and available for the first time in several years, copies of the new edition can be obtained only from Lulu Books. Jane Sellers has agreed to join us on The Mysteries Message Board during November for on-line discussions of her work and ideas.

Thirty years ago I traveled six hundred miles to the middle of the Atlantic to experience my first total solar eclipse. This particular eclipse would have a long period of totality, slightly over 7 minutes, almost the maximum period of totality possible. Arthur Clarke was aboard our ship, the Adventurer, as a guest speaker. Our sister ship, off the coast of Africa, had Isaac Asimov. Science fiction writers you say? Ah yes, good science fiction demands good science; it is the science of tomorrow, or so the astronomers on board insisted. And both these writers were scientists, if not astronomers.

On the day of the eclipse, preparation was intense. Those with cameras and telescopes picked out what they considered the best spots on deck, others staked out chaises, and all felt the heightening sense of anticipation. Of course, much attention was focused on the moments leading up to first contact, the first bite out of the sun, but it was not until second contact, the beginning of totality, that the excitement really began. As the moon's shadow covered the sun completely, and the signal came to remove eye and lens protection, a great ball of light... the first of two Diamond Ring Effects... suddenly appeared... or "leapt up."

This amazing image seemed to me to hang there forever...and our shipboard world became absolutely, and eerily, silent. The duration of the Diamond Ring Effect can vary and the longest I have seen it last was 10 seconds, ten awesome seconds, during the eclipse of 1998, off the coast of Aruba. This experience and its effect on me, and the part that the Diamond Ring Effect plays in my theory of the origins of the ancient Egyptian religion is easy and fun to present. It is certainly much easier to defend than is my contention that Egypt's Neolithic inhabitants, perhaps as early as 7300 BC, and conceivably earlier, were involved in sky observations and oral record keeping. I have suggested that this record keeping enabled them to be aware that the arrival time of important stars had been delayed, and as this process continued, the basic myths of Egypt were born. I have also contended that eventually this mystifying backward pull of the heavens could be measured by the ancient Egyptians.

These are difficult positions to defend, and there are difficult concepts to explain. In the preface of Hamlet's Mill, before presenting their support for their premise that the roots of the world's myths are found in the observable results of precession, the authors wrote,"He that will have a cake out of wheat must needs tarry the grinding."

I echo this, and one can appreciate my preference here for speaking about the conclusions that involved eclipse phenomena. I thoroughly believe that both phenomena served as origins of their most important religious stories, and indeed, became linked in an important eighty-year period described in the mythic record as the "Eighty Years of the Gods' Contending."

The precessional changes had presented a very thorny problem... "Should the office go to the murderer?" A trial and the solution, as related in the Egyptian writings, was novel, but I believe that it was a solution that has long muddied understanding of many traditions in this ancient religion.

After my first eclipse experience I had realized that a total solar eclipse, and especially the Diamond Ring Effect, could be the explanation for those seemingly ridiculous and baffling passages that are found in almost all writings and at all periods of ancient Egypt. In truth, my thinking really was, "This eerie ball of light just could be "The Eye of Horus." The Eye of Horus was ancient Egypt's most sacred object: the Eye promised rebirth, and life, "forever, and forever."

Photo by Jane Sellers - June 11, 1983, Tuban, Java

In the split seconds just before the appearance of the brilliant flash of the Diamond Ring, one may see tiny beads along the periphery of the black disk, which is really the sun's corona peeking through the valleys of the moon. Then, this last, seemingly magnified, bead appears, sometimes on top of the sun, sometimes on the bottom, or sometimes anywhere in between, depending on the eclipse path. The "Diamond" itself is accompanied by the corona starting to appear thinly all around the dark sun's circumference --like the band of a ring.

Then the corona (the sun's faint outer atmosphere, visible only during totality), flashes out around the eclipsed sun. When this happened on the Adventurer, a great shout went up...and for almost seven minutes one could view the eclipse through unprotected eyes, camera lens, or even the telescope. However, my profoundest emotions were had during the long seconds of wonder right at the beginning of second contact, the seconds when I stared naked eyed at the Diamond this enigmatic "thing" hovering on top of our most important giver of light and sustenance, now blotted out.

Who then is it?
Those above their braziers-it is.
The image of the Eye of Re, together
With the image of the Eye of Horus
From Chapter 17, The Egyptian Book of the Dead
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