The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt
Jane B. Sellers
The theory advanced by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill had ended up supplying the unexplained part of my own theory for the origin of Egypt's basic religious beliefs. It was a very necessary addition because there are two distinct myths that are at the very center of the Egyptian belief system. One is The Death and Resurrection of Osiris; the other is The Contendings of Horus and Seth. Basic to both stories is the very important Eye of Horus, which was taken down to the Netherworld and bestowed eternal life on Osiris... and any Egyptian who partook of a ritual offering that symbolized this sacred object.
The Egyptian texts indicate that they associated their god, Osiris, a god that died and experienced resurrection, with the constellation that we call Orion. It is known that they also associated Osiris with such things as grain, and that Egyptians saw his death and rebirth played out in the seasonal cycle of growing things. However, the writings make it abundantly clear that Osiris' rebirth was prominently seen in the rising of the distinctive star group, Sahu-Orion. (Are we to suppose that this is the reason for the powerful and enduring legend of Osiris's death and rebirth? No, we are not. Regarding Orion's seasonal absence, the texts are clear, "there is no evil in it.")
If this was a precessional death, as the theory in Hamlet's Mill suggests, it strongly indicates that there was a star worshipping culture in Egypt, with strong ideas about death and rebirth, much further back in time than Egyptologists will allow. It suggests attempts were being made to establish some kind of benchmark for the year other than one using the moon and its phases,a difficult benchmark at best.
My acceptance of the theory of Hamlet's Mill hinged on the probability and possibility of very ancient awareness of delayed heliacal risings. (Such a rising is the first appearance of a star after its seasonal invisibility). The important heliacal risings would be those of the stars that heralded the coming of the sun, the sun that would rise either at midpoint on the horizon or at its two extremes, or solstice positions. The midpoint position would be the sunrise that marked the occasion of equal hours of light and darkness between sunrises, an important marker for keeping track of the year, and a twice a year event. (As most will know, there are two equinox dates, the Vernal Equinox and the Autumnal. Historically, the spring date has been the more important of the two.)
My next quest became one to determine, with first-hand experience, the height over the horizon when the heliacal risings of the last stars of Orion could be seen, and then to do the same for the bright stars Aldebaran and Antares, (in a later era the two beautifully acted in concert, visibly marking the date of the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes.) Then, with the recent availability of computer programs, compute the dates that these stars would start, then cease, marking ancient equinox dates with this first appearance after absence. I did not want or need the date of the appearance, or disappearance, of the whole of any star group, such as those that we call Orion and Taurus, I needed information on just one star that might have been used, but it was here that I had difficulty in accepting what my computer program was indicating.
All stars of Orion had ceased an equinox rising by 6700 BC. For Orion's precessional death to have been noticed, centuries had to have passed during which his arrival time was noted to be later and later, and it must also be conjectured that much earlier than this "death," the return of Orion had been noted as special, and this specific day given importance. One must speculate a date at least as early as 7300 BC.
The late Michael Hoffman wrote: "Predynastic settlement in the region [of Nekhen in Upper Egypt] was much older than was formerly believed...For a time between 7000 and 2500 BC the deserts bloomed and human societies colonized the areas that have been unable to support such dense populations since."
I suggest that in the centuries after this loss, the heliacal risings of the bright star, Aldebaran, and the bright star Antares, marked the two equinoxes...Horus and Seth ruled equally, and the Egyptian world was in a wonderful state of balance. That is, until a turbulent period in which the occupier of the most honored position, that of the herald of the vernal equinox sun was also slipping from view. (The date of this would be delayed eighty years as one went south up the Nile).
Amazingly true to the mythic record of eighty years of contending, computer predictions suggested an unusual eighty year period that would carry the eclipse paths of three total eclipses and one annular eclipse over the predynastic settlements along the Nile during this very same period. (4867 BC to 4787 BC.) It is clear in the writings of the ancient Egyptians that they yearned for permanence and stability in their gods...and this was denied them. This long ago period was a time for great myths to be born. It was the time of the eighty years of contending between Horus and Seth. And it was a time when a purpose was given for the eastward movement of Aldebaran to below the horizon.
I became different from the other dwellers in the light beams...and appeared as a Divine Falcon. Horus has invested me with his soul in order to take his news to Osiris in the Underworld. The Egyptian Coffin Texts