|THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FOUNDATIONS OF WESTERN ASTROLOGY
Special for THE NEW TIMES HOLLER!
© Amir Bey, 2007
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The study of ancient Egypt is necessary in order to prevent misconceptions concerning the origins of terms and techniques found in ancient and modern western astrology. Because of over-reliance on Greek and Roman sources, the depth of Egyptís full role in the formulation of astrology is difficult to see clearly. The loss and destruction of original Egyptian institutions and records plus the complex symbolism of Egyptian religion are responsible for this. The priesthood were the custodians of the traditions, science and history of Egypt, yet relatively little original documentation survived through the centuries. In addition, Egyptians of the New Kingdom dynastic period did not know some aspects of their ancestorsí lives of the Old Kingdom, the pyramid builders. Historians in the modern sense did not exist until Egyptís waning centuries. Accounts of battles, the list of the pharaohsí names, love poems, fables, enduring monuments and other sources have survived. Much of the surviving materials are religious in nature, or were associated with burials. Papyrus containing significant information for archaeologists was used to wrap mummies; this is the incidental nature of archeology, and of Egyptian archeology in particular. The Dead were not to be disturbed, and what has been found was not meant for our eyes. Outright destruction occurred through conquest, with successive waves of invading armies, religions, and cultures gradually destroying or incorporating what remained of the sciences and indigenous institutions of Egypt. Finally during the Christian era hieroglyphic writing was forbidden, and along with it much of the subtleties of the language was lost, and information laid dormant for centuries until the expedition of Napoleon and the resultant decipherment by Champollion in 1822.
The astronomical ceiling of Chamber A of Senenmut's tomb. Note the wheels which are believed to be representative of feast days for the lunar months.
This left most of the surviving written documentation on Egypt coming from Greek and Roman sources, except for contemporary diplomatic records in cuneiform that are still being translated. For example, the names of the pharaohs still used in most textbooks are often Hellenized names, when their original names are known. Even the name Egypt is from the Greek Aiguptos, originating from Ha(t)-ka-Ptah [H(w).t-k3-ptH], one of the names of the ancient capitol Memphis, meaning "House (Temple) of the Soul of Ptah", as it held a major temple of that godhead. The original name was Kemet [k m.t]meaning Black Land, that is: land of the fertile dark earth of the Nile Valley. The inhabitants often simply called called themselves "People of Kemet" ("People of the Black Land") [rmT n km.t]most often just "People" [rmT]The original Middle Kingdom pronunciation for "Egyptians" was something like rama-ni-KUma. They also referred to their land as Ta-meri [t3-mri], meaning "The Beloved Land", and Tawi or Taui, [t3.wy], meaning "The Two Lands". This last name refers to the idea that there were once two kingdoms, Upper and Lower Kemet. The two kingdoms were united by the first dynastic pharaoh, Narmer. In order to better evoke those people, the civilization, the land and that distant time, they will be referred to as the Rama ni Kuma and the land as Kemet in this paper.
Kemet had a great influence on the civilizations of the Mediterranean. There is linguistic, cultural, religious, astronomical and astrological evidence of Kemetís influence on Greece and Rome, and the surrounding area before horoscopic astrology came to be. Like most significant human developments, the horoscopic astrology that was developed in Alexandria was the result of an amalgamation. Chaldea (Babylon), Greek, and Rama ni Kuma astronomical and astrological concepts fused together at a critical juncture in African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean history. During this time the transition from the dominance of the older civilizations of Kemet and Mesopotamia to that of the Greek, and later the Roman eras was taking place.
DEITIES AND HELIACAL STARS
Ancient Kemet arguably had the most complex polytheistic religion that any civilization ever possessed. The gods that are of interest here are those who were sky-gods. Major gods such as Re, or Riawho was the Sun, and Djehuti [DHwty] (Thoth), who was the Moon and the precursor of Hermes and Mercury, symbolized those planets, yet had other meanings. Their roles often blended or overlapped with other deities, and had different aspects, such as Kheper-Re (the Becoming -rising) Sun, or Re-Sherayu, the Little Sun (winter).
The purely astronomical deities had more specific roles. There were deities for months, the days of the month, and for the hours of the day. The star the Rama ni Kuma called Sepdit, known as Sirius today, was probably the most important of the astronomical deities. To understand why, we must look at the natural environment of Kemet. Some major forces of nature in Kemet were : The Nile River, whose yearly rise and fall occurring in regular cycles were crucial in a land where there was hardly any rainfall. The Nileís regularity and predictability contributed to Kemetís development as the first nation-state with a stable society and enduring traditions; The Sun, which is extremely hot and has a strong presence there, notably during summer. This is due to Kemetís proximity to the Tropic of Cancer, which crosses the Southern portion of the country. The Nile and the Sun determined the seasons, for which there were three: Axhet("inundation" or "Verdure", mid-July through mid-November), Peret("Coming Forth", or "Sewing", of the previously flooded fields, mid-November through mid-March), and Shemu("Warmth" or "Harvest", mid-March through mid-July). The Nile's and the Sun's cycles joined when they reached the peaks at the same time; the Nile would flood and the Sun moved furthest north and thus closest to all of Kemet at the Summer Solstice. After a period of absence in the sky, the star Sepditís sudden appearance announced this time by its heliacal rising (just before sunrise). Sepditís heliacal rising precisely coincided with dawn at the summer solstice around the year 3,300BC, near the beginning of Kemetís dynastic period. The Rama ni Kuma observation of the heliacal rising of Sepdit and its coincidence with the Nileís flooding at the Summer Solstice enabled them to plan for the economic administration of the country.
This was the New Year, and indeed it was a time of spiritual as well as material significance for Kemet. The heliacal risings of stars and planets were observed in all the stages of Rama ni Kuma history. Their representations can be seen in countless religious artifacts. One early religious form was the association of the goddess Aset [3st] (Isis), with a heliacal rising star or planet. In this regard she was depicted holding in her lap the nursing infant Her [Hr] (Horus), who symbolized the rising Sun, she the heliacal body. This is not to say the Aset-Her allegory and icons were limited to representing heliacal risings. The heliacal body, as Aset, was seen as mother to the Sun, Her. While the mother and child is an ancient and universal theme in art, the Rama ni Kuma version of this icon along with Asetís title Mut-netjer [mwt-nTr] , or "Mother of God", later evolved into the Madonna and child icons found in Roman Catholic religious art.
It is unknown at what time the Rama ni Kuma began observing the cycles between the Sun and heliacal stars and planets. We can get an idea from other examples of heliacal risings of importance that this knowledge reached back far into Kemetís long history, before the dynastic period. Taking Sepdit's heliacal rising in 3,300 BC and its coincidence with the Nile's flooding at the Solstice, - just before the dynastic era- we have a date for such an observance. The Pleiades also suggest a possible date for early knowledge of heliacal risings. This group of stars rose before the Sun when the Spring Equinox occurred in what would be known as the constellation of Taurus, spanning the period from about 4,200BC to 2,100BC (the age of Taurus). The Rama ni Kuma name for these stars was Atauria, or Tauri, associating these stars with Het-Her [Hwt-Hr] (Hathor). The Chaldeans and the Hebrews also used this name for these stars, and the name for the sign and constellation Taurus was derived from it.
During that same period the scorpion goddess Serqetrose before the Sun at the Autumnal Equinox. (Her name is sometimes transliterated as Selqet, as the L sound (the hieroglyph of the lion couchant) was later added to the language.) Her name and meaning lent itself to the sign and constellation where the Sun transited at that time, Scorpio. Depictions of Serqet often feature a scorpion on her head. One image of immaculate conception shows her and another protective deity Net presiding over the god Amun and Djehuti-mes [DHwty-ms] (Thoth-mes) IVís wife Mutemwia at the moment of orgasm. The goddessí hands are holding the feet of the lovers, while their heads hold the sky that the lovers were perched upon. This was the way in which the future pharaoh Amenhetep III was to have been conceived! A graceful golden anthropomorphic sculpture of Serqet was among the treasures found in Tutankhamonís burial chamber, as she was guardian to the deceasedís organs during its journey in the after life. She also symbolized the heat of the Sun.
The association in astrology of the eyes with the Sun and Moon originates from the wedjat, the eye of Her. The Rama ni Kuma believed the two luminaries were the two eyes of the god, with the Moon as his left eye, and the Sun as his right eye. In astrology this association can be reversed, depending on the sex of the individual.
The Rama ni Kuma had different constellations than those now used. The appearance of the sky has changed little since then, yet the Rama ni Kuma had different concepts about the groupings of the constellations. For example the circumpolar constellations were: the Hippopotamus (now Drago), the Jackal(now the Little Bear), an ox-leg, or the Thigh(now the Great Bear). Later, Rama ni Kuma symbols, names and attributes for their deities associated with certain times of the year were incorporated into those for the signs of the zodiac.
One major aspect, if not the major aspect of Rama ni Kuma religion and culture is the cult of death and everlasting life. To be sure there are astrological corelations: Usar [wsir] (Osiris)with Pluto/Hades; Djehuti [DHwty] (Thoth)with Mercury/Hermes; and as mentioned above, Serqet with Scorpio.
The complexity of the calendar of Kemet does not permit a full treatment of it here except to mention a few important points. The Rama ni Kuma concept of time involved cycles that reached beyond centuries, into eras. Essentially, there were two calendars used simultaneously, one can be called the seasonal year of 365 and one fourth days, which was based on Sepditís heliacal cycle (also called the Sothic Cycle), and the shifting, or civil year of 365 days. With these two calendars a great year of 1,460 years was derived. The civil year started its New Yearís Day one day earlier than the seasonal year for every four years of time that passed. It would then take approximately one great year of about 1,460 years (365 x 4) for the two calendars to have the same New Yearís Day again. The Rama ni Kuma used this calendar since the beginning of the dynastic period. This indicates they had the knowledge of these cycles well into pre-dynastic times to make the kinds of observations of stellar and seasonal cycles necessary for its creation.
The method of marking time for the civil year was not based on impractical, stubborn tradition. It measured days more precisely than the seasonal year. It had a practical function since it had 12 months of 30 days each giving it 360 days annually. This allowed for the distribution of materials from granaries by 360, which is conveniently divisible by many numbers. There were five intercalary days added later to match the true length of the year. Thus the 365 day year was important for the administration of the country, which is why it was a civic calendar. With its saint days and Lunar feast days, it had a religious purpose as well. While the true length of time was known to them, each new pharaoh did not adjust the civic calendar to coincide with the seasonal year. The observance of the precise time of the Nileís inundation was solely in the priestsí hands, as it was their duty to plan for the most important event of the year.
While complicated, this arrangement is highly scientific and it combines knowledge of the seasonal year based on a stellar cycle and seasons, with the shifting civic year. The Rama ni Kuma knew how far on the stellar cycle they were. They knew that the calendar based on Sepditís heliacal rising was slightly longer than the year based on the Summer Solstice. This gave them the knowledge of the natural, or solar length of the year as well.
When Julius Caesar wanted to simplify and correct the Roman calendar, which was a lunar one, he was advised by a scientist from Alexandria, Sosigenes. The resulting Julian Calendar was based on the 365 and one fourth day calendar of Kemet. Our present calendar combines some of these concepts of time also, but it is a faint echo of the sense of time the Rama ni Kuma had. However, it should be noted that the Rama ni Kuma calendar became too complicated with so many cycles merged into its body. At times it is difficult for archeologists to know which calendar dates were used on some monuments. The Kemetu did not date their calendars relative to a specific time such as BC or AD, or the "Common Era", nor did they use segments of time such as centuries and dynasties is a convenient modern concept. Beginning in the Middle Kingdom, they related calendrical time by the reign of the pharaoh. Thus, January 4, 2001 would be considered year 9,month 1, day 4 of President Clinton by the civic calendar's reckoning. There was a more elaborate formula that included the year, month of the season, day in that order, and the throne name of the pharaoh, such as "Year 10, 1 month of Inundation , 6th day, during the incarnation of the King of Upper and Lower Kemet, User- MAat-Re" (Ramses the Great).
The Rama ni Kuma used the heliacal rising of the 36 decans to observe the progress of time during the course of the year, as well as to mark passage of the hours during the night. The 36 decans originally marked the sky at approximately 10 degree intervals each. Thus the heliacal rising of a decan star or stars would span a 10 day period, which are often referred to as the Rama ni Kuma week. This gave each month 3 decan-weeks, and they were sometimes written in hieroglyphic as"Head 10-day period" for the 1st decan, "Heart 10-day period" for the 2nd decan , and"Tail ten-day period" for the 3rd decan. During the time when Sepditís heliacal rising coincided with the Summer Solstice, it started the yearly cycle of the 36 decans. Because of the precession of the Equinox, the beginning decan was eventually shifted to the succeeding decan-star. Later the culminations of the decan stars were used in place of the heliacal risings. During the Hellenistic period, the 36 decans were adapted into the astrology of the Greeks, with a slightly different definition.
Would changes in the locations of the stars brought about by the precession of the equinoxes have caused the Rama ni Kuma to make distinctions between sidereal and tropical cycles? Could the battle between the god Set, who represented not merely evil, but the circumpolar stars, and the god Her the Sun, been symbolic of these two cycles of the sky? One was shifting, dark, and distant, the other constant, bright, and life-giving. They may not have seen the need to distinguish between the cycles, just as they would not have seen the need to draw distinctions between astrologers and astronomers. It was more practical to combine the new adjustments within the traditional scientific and ceremonial practices. That is how their calendar evolved. It is possible astrology will always have to make adjustments, with the battle between Her and Set bringing renewal.
The astronomical ceiling of the tomb of the official Senenmut who lived during the New Kingdom contains the earliest preserved list of decans that is in good condition. There is a poorly preserved list from much earlier in the Middle Kingdom coffin from one called Heny. Interestingly, there is a lunar calendar on the ceiling of Senenmutís tomb that has twelve circles divided into twenty-four sections. These circles are representative of the feast days of each of the lunar months, and their twenty-four sections represent the twenty-four hours of those days. They are striking in their similarity to present-day horoscopic wheels and houses when viewed amongst the traditional hieroglyphics and images of the Rama ni Kuma gods. The cardinal points on the wheel used in astrology originates with the Rama ni Kuma. They faced South and called West "right", and East "left". This orientation stems from the direction of the Nile Riverís current, which flows from the South ( "Upper Kemet") to the North ("Lower Kemet"). There are no planets or stars placed in any of those sections of the wheels in Senenmut's tomb as an astrological chart would have. That would come later, during the Ptolemaic era. Nevertheless, these are examples of the foundations laid by ancient Rama ni Kuma cosmology and geography for astrology.
Kemetís calendar could be called a "structural ancestor" for western astrology. It had decans, 12 months, a 365 and one fourth day year, 24 hour day, and 24-hour wheels that are suggestive of the horoscopic wheels and houses used today. The Rama ni Kuma had to accurately know when the inundation of the Nile would occur. They knew this time corresponded to the Summer Solstice and the heliacal rising of Sepdet. This led them to develop an accurate means to predict their occurrence. They worshipped the Solstice and had temples oriented to it. The Rama ni Kuma recognized the importance of the Equinox, yet because of the cycle of the Nile, the Summer Solstice was emphasized. This is in contrast to the Babylonians, who oriented their temples to the Spring Equinox, when the Tigris and Euphrates flooded in Mesopotamia. Significantly, they both used the seasonal changes in the year to orient their calendars.
The people of Kemet called their hieroglyphic writing Medu Netjer, meaning "Words [of] God". The Rama ni Kuma source for the names of the signs Taurus and Scorpio have been shown above to be from star deities. There are many pre-Coptic Rama ni Kuma sources for words, letters, and symbols found in the Greek, Romance, and Germanic languages as well as some astronomical and astrological terms, some that evolved from combining Medu Netjer with other languages. This interaction would seem logical when considering Greece and Romeís proximity to Kemet. Moreover, Kemetís extensive influence in the area for over a millennium before Greeceís "golden" age would have brought about more than shallow exchanges between these cultures. For instance, there is evidence of Rama ni Kuma colonies in pre-Hellenistic Greece and pre-Roman Italy with resultant linguistic influences.
Each of the deities for the months, days, and hours also had priests for those designated times. The word for hour was unut, and one word for priesthood was also unut,An imy-unutwas an hour-watcher, or an astronomer whose function it was to watch the rising of the decans. There is speculation that this was also the name used for astrologers, but it is likely that this kind of distinction was not made. There were different functions for the various priestly castes, and being an imy-unut was one. There was an importance associated with the rising star of an hour, and a priest whose function it was to observe and conduct duties for that hour. This is much different from the concept of the astronomer of today. However, the imy-unut can be seen as a precursor to both the astrologer and the astronomer. While modern astrologers do not conduct watches for the hours, we do focus our attention on the meaning of time, down to the degree, down to the second!
In my opinion there are some connections between the Rama ni Kuma language and terms denoting time presently in use. I am not a linguist, but I would like to suggest some possible relationships. As mentioned above, the word for hour and a small period of time was unut, and an imy-unut was the title for an "hour watcher." If the Latin word minuo, meaning to make smaller, to diminish, is added to unut you get a word that reads minuo-unut. The combination of these two words would mean a smaller amount of time, or a diminished hour: a minute. The word minute could also be derived solely from the title imy-unut. The word hru, in Medu Netjer meant day specifically, and was the word for time in general. There may be a connection between this word and the name for the solar deity Her (Horus), which was pronounced with a more emphatic "H" sound. The Medu netjer word hru as the root for the words hour (English), heur (French), hora (Spanish), and hora (Greek), seems possible if not likely.
The present-day glyphs used in modern western astrology are combinations of Medu Netjer hieroglyphics, the Coptic and Greek alphabets. Coptic is a surviving form of the Rama ni Kuma language which uses mainly modified Greek letters plus modified Demotic, a shorthand script that came into being in the Late Period. Two clear examples of this are the glyphs for the Sun used in astrology which is directly taken from the Medu Netjer hieroglyph for the Sun,,Re, and the wavy lines of Aquarius which is derived from the hieroglyph for water.
The cosmology of pre-dynastic Kemet, like dynastic Kemet, was formed by the unique circumstances of it geography, meteorology, and social history. The earliest known examples of pre-dynastic Rama ni Kuma cosmology are discussed in the April 2, 1998 issue of Nature magazine. The article states that about 11,000 years ago central African monsoons moved into the previously hyper-arid region of what is now Southern Egypt, forming temporary lakes, or playas. Megalithic alignments and stone circles were discovered in the largest one, the Nabta Playa depression, which is around 10km by 7km in area and is located in the Nubian desert. Attracted to the water, pastoralists settled in the area around 10,000 years ago. The structure of the megaliths suggest a symbolic geometry of death, water, and the Sun, which are major components of dynastic Rama ni Kuma religion. Eventually hyper-arid conditions returned to Nabta, becoming so inhospitable that it caused an exodus of the inhabitants. The most recent radio-carbon dating is not more recent than 4,800 years ago. The age of the ceremonial complex at Nabta suggests that the astronomy and ceremonialism there occurred before most of the megalithic features of Europe, Great Britain, and Brittany were established. Within 500 years after the exodus from Nabta, the first pyramid, the step pyramid of Saqqara, was built around 2650BC. This indicates there was a pre-existing cultural base which may have originated in the Nubian desert. The exodus out of Nabta most likely brought social differentiation and cultural complexity that formed pre-dynastic Kemet. These Nomadic groups were better organized and possessed a more complex cosmology than was found in the North.
The few astronomical and astrological materials left by the Rama ni Kuma leaves researchers with the impression they were not as developed in those areas as the Babylonians. They did not leave law codes as the Babylonians did either, yet they had a powerful central authority in the pharaoh, a Vizier or Prime Minister, and a highly efficient bureaucracy. What astronomical and astrological testimonies the Rama ni Kuma did leave are pyramids, and temples oriented to significant risings, star charts, and other circumstantial evidence of their astronomical, astrological and mathematical knowledge. Some of this evidence is in Rama ni Kuma religious imagery that may not convey to our us what it represented to them. As the Rama ni Kuma were tradition-bound in their representations, they would use traditional forms to convey new ideas. Their use of the two calendars is an example of how they blended science and tradition.
The problem that researchers have today is that most information on ancient Kemet that is contemporary to that time is from Hellenistic or other foreign sources. The Rama ni Kuma language was never international, as the Akkadian, Greek, or Latin languages. With most scholarsí training centered in Greek classical models, the material that is in Greek is attributed to the Greeks, when much of it could be derived from Rama ni Kuma sources. The "Greek Magical" Papyri and other papyri found in Kemet that date from the Ptolemaic era are examples. When the Ptolemies became rulers of Kemet, they gradually redesigned the structure of the country, and the Greek language became the official language. Kemet, which then became Egypt, is one of the most well documented countries of that period due to the literature, magical spells and extensive administrative records written on papyri, which were largely in Greek. The Ptolemaic regime adopted the traditions, science, and culture of an advanced and ancient civilization. Funerary art from the Hellenistic occupation can serve as a visual metaphor for this. The mummification process, coffins, and religious observances for the dead were the same as for many centuries in Kemet. The only break with tradition was that the faces painted on the coffins were often in the Greek style.
Researchers must read between the lines as they peer through the Hellenistic lens of the chroniclers and scientists of that time. Modern cosmological researchers would do well to have a background in Egyptology to some degree if they are to follow the evolution of western astrology. This would allow them to place ancient astrological materials in as accurate a context as possible. While ancient Kemet has much of its past buried or irretrievable, there remains a reservoir of information available.
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