December 24, 2015
The round Egyptian hypocephalus, really a circle within a circle, represents both the solar pupil and the solar iris (the hypocephalus rim). Being the Eye of Re, it encompasses all that the sun sees and all that he governs as he rounds the universe and sets its boundaries. Within its compass--though opposites sharply demarcated within the pupil--appear reflected the topsy-turvy realms of night and day, darkness and light, the netherworld and the sidereal heavens.
Which brings us--perhaps--to Algol, an eclipsing binary star. . .
"In this eclipsing binary, the dimmer star partially covers the brighter star with a period of 2.867 days." "These eclipses, says Lauri Jetsu, "last about ten hours and they can be easily observed with unaided eyes" (Renu Rangela, "Ancient Egyptian documents may carry records of important astronomical events," Ibtimes, 21 December 2015).
A team of scientists and egyptologists at Helsinki, in an intriguing though not convincing study, now "present evidence indicating that the period of Algol was 2.850 days three millennia ago. For religious reasons, the ancient Egyptians have recorded this period [along with the lunar period] into the Cairo Calendar (CC) [a register of lucky and unlucky days], which describes the repetitive changes of the Raging One" (Lauri Jetsu, et al., "Did the Ancient Egyptians Record the Period of the Eclipsing Binary Algol--the Raging One?"The Astrophysical Journal, 773:1 (10 August 2013), Abstract; the latest article is L. Jetsu, S. Porceddu, "Shifting Milestones of Natural Sciences: the Ancient Egyptian Discovery of Algol's Period Confirmed," PLoS ONE, 10 (12), 17 December 2015).
that n ≈ 200 good prognoses would induce PMoon and PAlgol
in CC, even if the remaining n ≈ 700 good and bad prognoses
had aperiodic origins (Leitz 1994; e.g., diseases, floods, feasts,
winds)" (L. Jetsu, 2013, 1).
In other words, not only did the Ancient Egyptian scribes discover and measure the period of Algol (if not its binary nature), they also paired the symbolism of the lunar cycle with that of the star and applied both to the workings of the Calendar. Measure and analogy were no small thing for the Egyptians. The priesthood held as sacred duty "the measurement of time by observing stars while they conducted
the proper nightly rituals that kept the Sun safe during its journey
across the underworld. The timing of these rituals was important, because
it had to appease the terrible guardians, who opened one gate of
the underworld at each hour. The Sun was reborn
at the 12th hour, but only if Ancient Egyptian Scribes performed the rituals absolutely
right. The risk that the Sun would never rise again was imminent" (L. Jetsu, 2013, 10-11, italics added). There comes to mind a classic scriptural moment of astronomical observation and its subsequent portrayal in the form of a cosmic circle or sphere: "And I saw the stars" (Book of Abraham 3:2).
We return to the round hypocephalus, which itself depicts the moment of sunrise at the morn of creation. The Latter-day Saint reader will here recall how the Prophet Joseph Smith's Explanation of the hypocephalus begins with "the measurement of time"; even "the measurement of celestial time" "according to the measurement of the earth" (which varies by season, note the Helsinki scientists, as the days and nights wax and wane). It is the moment in which the celestial kicks off the earthly time clock. The Prophet further discerns "numerical figure[s]" in the mythological representation of the stellar firmament "answering to the measurement of the time" of a great star, which then perfectly accords with the "revolution" and "measuring of time" of another, like star. Hugh Nibley sorts the Prophet's "brief explanation" under the following headings: Cosmology, Measurement and number, Transmission of power or energy, Hierarchy or dominion (intelligence and purpose), Ordinances and procedures (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 240, 244ff., 256). Ritual procedure thus accords with cosmic measurement to ensure the continuing downward flow of divine power--that's the Egyptian picture and that's the Egyptian practice.
Where does the eclipse come in? Hugh Nibley gives us a lead in his commentary on the Book of Breathings, or Sensen Document, this last a ritual serving to unite (snsn) the deceased with his solar father, which is also analogous to the reunion of the solar Ba-spirit and the Osirian corpse:
That he might enter the horizon along with his father Re;
To cause his Ba to appear in glory in heaven
(and) in the disk (itn) of the Moon
that his corpse might shine in (or as) Orion
in the womb (or body) of Nut (ll. 2-3)
The Egyptian verb that describes the fusing of the Ba-spirit of the king with Re is hnm: and "one wonders," says Nibley, "if the meeting or fusing (hnm) of the disks [in the above and related passages] could be anything but an eclipse" (Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 83)?
Note the following phases of funerary ritual, which also mark phases of fusing, as that which is celebrated on earth matches, in timed precision, what unfolds in heaven (cf. Moses 6:63 = Hugh Nibley, Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 256).
1) "In the darkest moment of the royal funeral in the deepest and darkest of chambers, the restoration process begins to take place, with the Ba assuming the most tenuous of forms, that of smoke provided by scented candles"(Nibley, Message, 82).
2) "The rites of royal burial ended exactly at sunrise, when the Ba of the dead king joined his father on the horizon" (81). This last is also "The meeting of Re and Osiris in their astral aspects" (Philippe Derchain on the secret ceremony of the Uniting of Re and Osiris in the House of Life = Nibley, Message, 83).
The discerning reader will draw the connection between the dim star--the ghoul of Algol, as the Arabs have it--and the scented smoke (or between the darkened moon and the scented smoke). Here is the Ba of Re on the shadowy night journey to join its corpse, in the form of Osiris, the god of the underworld. The Egyptian scribes who penned the Amduat (the Book of What is in the Underworld) do picture the night sun as traversing, at once, both underworld and stellar expanse (in the form of a star). As for the sunrise, Cannot the event also be figured in the bright star of Algol, as it emerges from eclipse? Would it were true! What a find that would be!
The scenario would certainly evoke the appearance of glory in the disk (itn) of the moon--another eclipse, says Nibley. The disk of the sun and the disk of the moon both figure the place and moment of hnm. Meeting in one disk, or meeting in one star or in a single constellation, so signifies the fusing of two (or more) Ba-spirits. Thus the Ba of Isis famously is the star Sothis (Sirius); that of mighty Horus, the constellation Orion. Hugh Nibley sums it up: "The idea that the Ba of one exalted being may unite with that of another is the ultimate expression of the mystery of identity" (Message, 82).
And of all identities, that of Re and Osiris is the most paradoxical; the ceremony that works the meeting in the House of Life thus becomes the most prohibitive, the most mysterious, and the most sacred event in the Egyptian view of the universe (Papyrus Salt 825). The gist of the matter is not, as the Helsinki scientists describe it, the daily return of the sun on the horizon--things are much more fraught with moment than that! The purpose of the ceremony is to work the unity of the sun with its own dark twin and thus to effect the continuation of all life, despite all death, as manifest in Re-Osiris, the ultimate and ineffable power of the universe.
The work at Helsinki, despite its cargo of statistics, remains unproved (see links and the brief, dismissive comments in Electronic Egyptian Forum News 905). Grasp of the intricacies of Ancient Egyptian religion appears tenuous. One might also hope for the discovery of a second reference to Algol, or to its period, in the textual corpus. Still, all such work ought to be encouraged. As Professor Barry J. Kemp points out, students of Egyptian may stumble across ideas and connections very much in line with the sort of thinking pursued by the ancient scribes (Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization). The ancient tradition lives on in such discoveries, though we must tread with care.
To identify Algol with Horus, the living king, or with the Eye of Horus, in "his" (read, her) benign and wrathful aspects, intrigues, though it also falls short of the textual evidence. Not that the Calendar holds no surprises. Fascinating is the description of Re viewing the world through the Eye of Horus, as if through a special instrument, or, as described in other places, through a special messenger traversing the expanses (cf. the Explanation of Facsimile 2, no. 7; or even Abraham 3:2). He then invites the "great ones" (wr.w) to see what he has therewith seen. They cower before the flaming wrath of the Eye in the presence of Re. Fascinating, but what has it to do with Algol? Nothing. Besides, it is Sirius in her (read, his) form as Horus Sopdet that flares as the "raging one."
The formulas and the theories equating Algol and royal Horus do not take into full consideration the Egyptian fondness for analogy, multiplicity, fusion, and, well, fuzziness. Like anything else in the Egyptian cosmos, Algol cannot be boxed into a sole star. Neither can Horus: various planets, famously including red Mars, all take the name of Horus. In this case, we speak principally of Horus the Eldest, the prehistoric falcon that encompasses the universe in his revolutions. Horus the child and royal Horus, though tethered to the Eldest in a manner not altogether clear, come into a different story.
According to the Coffin Texts (VII 491h), Horus the Eldest paradoxically stands both in the middle (Hrj-jb = "over the heart") of the stars in the northern hemisphere and also in the middle of all the southern stars. The wording is: "in the middle of the stars of the upper region and of the opposing lower region," a view of the cosmos something recalling the schema of the opposing halves of the spherical hypocephalus. The four Sons of Horus the Eldest also make their appearance in the heavens, one of whom appears as the red star, Dosh-iati-imi-hawt-ins, the One whose two eyes are red, who dwells in the House of Scarlet, that is, the Horizon (for Horus Smsw, see Bernard Mathieu, "Les enfants d'Horus, theologie et astronomie," ENIM 1 (2008), 7-14).
For the Latter-day Saint reader, the Eldest Star standing "over the heart" evokes Kolob as "Heart Star" (qrb; Kolob is fig. 1 in the hypocephalus). Dosh-iati-imi-hawt-ins evokes Enish-go-on-dosh (fig. 5: the Hathor cow), both a star and also the sun, according to the Egyptians--so Joseph Smith. "Said by the Egyptians to be the sun." The four-headed ram that the Prophet names Kolob, and which Daniel Klotz terms the Cosmic Amun, likewise "depicts [both] the creator god in its most powerful manifestation,
and thus also the sun at the peak of its glory," according to the very latest study (Gyula Priskin, "The encounter between the sun and the moon on hypocephali," Birmingham Egyptology Journal 2015 (3:24-41), 26). We, here, recall the configuration of the hypocephalus as a circle within a circle, pupil and iris, the dark pupil and the blazing iris or corona. Do we see a solar eclipse here as well?
Kolob and Enish-go-on-dosh make up the dominant celestial figures in their respective, and inverse, hemispheres on the hypocephalus (see Explanation of Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham). Enish-go-on-dosh appears just below the red horizon. The n in go-on-dosh, as far as that goes, hints at the Egyptian imi, thus imi-dosh, as the one who is in the dosh, or red horizon, or even the hw.t dSr, the house of red--again, inside the horizon. I suggest transcribing Enish-go-on-dosh as insi.t q3j.t imi dSr.wt, the Exalted Scarlet One, that is the Scarlet Eye, who is in her Red Resplendence.
Lovely Hathor, the Feminine Sun at Dendera, takes the epithet 'n.t x'w, the One who is beautiful [on-] in her manifestations [-go = x'w?], that is, in her manifestations as the solar Eye. Other readings for Enish-go-on-dosh (again, the Hathor cow on the hypocephalus), spring to mind. Consider ond- dosh(t): 'n.t or 'jn.ty dSr.ty (the One whose Wedjat Eye is red--with anger). 'n.t dSr(.ty) also much recalls the divine epithet dSr or dSr.ty ir.ty (dosht-iat) attached to one of the sons of Horus, as we have seen.
I favor reading Enish-go-on-dosh as either the Red Solar Eye (jns.t) or as the Living Solar Eye ('nx.t; 'nsh.t) in her exaltations (-go = q3j.t), even the Beautiful Eye in her Red Resplendence ('n.t dSr.wt). Enish-go-on-dosh, a fused name, thus signifies the conceptual unity of the Solar Eye at the powerful moments of both sunrise and sunset.
Of one thing we may be sure: Egyptian cosmology is more than what the handbooks tell.
"And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them" (Genesis 15:5). Abraham's is an expanding universe.
So where does Algol, a blue star, fit in? The keen-eyed Egyptians could not have failed to spot the ghoulish star. The question remains Whether it signified? Perhaps Algol, like Sirius, like Orion, like the moon, may yet unfold as "ultimate expression of the mystery of identity."
Now to find the Egyptian name for the star!