(Image: Great Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel
XIXth Dynasty – New Kingdom)
This is just a brief excerpt from an exceptional paper written by Joanne Conman. The full article (also downloadable as a pdf) is highly recommended and can be found at the link at the end of the excerpt.
Speculation on Special Sunlight and the Origin of the wSAw Hour – © 2007 Joanne Conman
At its maximum elongation, Venus may be visible for over three hours after sunset in Egypt. Most often, however, it is seen for less time, and, of course, Mercury is always seen for less time. As stated above, the onset of the wSAw hour, marked by the rise of the Sn dwAt stars, occurs about four to six and a half hours after sunset, depending on the time of year. Given the association of Venus and Mercury with the gods Osiris and Seth, (17) as well as the significant roles those particular gods play in aiding the sun to return each day, (18) it is reasonable to consider that the wSAw hour may have originated from an awareness that there is a time late at night when neither of these two planets can ever be seen. The counted system of decan stars could have been derived from determining the time when the two planets closest to the sun cannot be seen. In other words, the determination by counted place of the Sn dwAt star may have been inspired by the recognition or realization that, in each week, a certain star could not rise until after Venus (at greatest elongation) had set, regardless of the time of year.
The names of the Sn dwAt stars were not spoken when they were in this phase of their existence. (19) They were in a powerful holy state. Texts tell us these decans are entering a state of Hsi . This word can be understood to mean that these stars are favored or praised ones. (20) A similar word means “to turn back to a place” or “to face aggressively; to turn back an enemy.” This is appropriate applied to stars who may assist Seth in the defeat of Apep and whose influence is strongest when Re is in communion with Osiris in the dwAt . Originally, the word Hsi , meaning “praise” and “turn back” had (voiced) “z,” while Hsi meaning “sing” had (voiceless) “s,” but that distinction ceased by the Middle Kingdom. The word Hsi meaning “sing,” is consistent with the references to “praising” or “uttering” that are found so often concerning the Sn dwAt stars. The word dwAt can pun with “praises.” The word wSAw is itself a pun on “utter,” taken as figurative use of wSA , “pour out,” used concretely in “pouring out sand” as a ceremony. (21) The Sn dwAt stars were also called “Sheseru,” (22) a word that means “arrows,” and is yet another word that puns with “utterances.” Possibly, the priests recited or sang as they watched for the Sn dwAt star to rise, marking that division of the night when there was no possibility to see Venus or Mercury, when they would know the moment of Re’s rejuvenation. Perhaps the first recognition that a decan star’s rising could announce the moment of the sun’s rejuvenation occurred to someone who was watching stars at night while reciting to keep Re safe.
The Egyptians divided the year into three 120-day seasons that were based on the agricultural cycle: Axt (Inundation), Prt (Planting) and Smw (Harvest). It is Prt that suggests an explanation for the concept of wSAw . The name of the season is linked to the verb pr , which carries a number of meanings that are consistent with creation or recreation of the land, i.e., “burst forth,” “emerge,” etc. The land emerged after the annual inundation. Then planting was begun, and the crops burst forth from the land. Winter solstice was the mid-point between planting and harvest. The season of Prt began approximately 60 days before and ended about 60 days after winter solstice. Thus, Prt coincided with the time of the longest nights of the year. Unlike Europeans and other northern peoples, the Egyptians would not have associated these long, dark nights with death and deprivation, but instead, would have associated them with the magical creation and regeneration of life.
It is these long, dark nights of the growing season that provide the most likely origin of the concept of wSAw : a good, (i.e., praiseworthy), fattening darkness, linked with gestation and the sacred renewal of life. The understanding that the sun regenerates each night and that this regeneration takes place in the dark hour of middle night suggests a parallel with the sun’s yearly regeneration at winter solstice. New Kingdom texts tell us that the sun is briefly stopped as it passes through the dwAt . Only after the serpent Apep is defeated by the god Seth can the sun’s passage continue. That brief moment of stopping echoes the solstice itself, suggesting that the sun’s passage through the dwAt each night is an allegorical year. Just as the stars that marked the sun’s nightly passage through the dwAt were in a holy, praised condition, (23) it may be that the sun itself was understood to be in a holy, praised condition during Prt season.
Full article, including footnotes: http://independent.academia.edu/JoanneConman/Papers/397558/Speculation_on_Special_Sunlight_and_the_Origin_of_the_wSAw_Hour