Category Archives: cosmology

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.


Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

Hermes and the Heap of Stones, Snakes Among the Hills

This post is an attempt to gather some thoughts… please feel free to add comments if you have any insights or ideas!  I enjoy exploring ideas, and a good discussion 🙂

In his book ‘The Old Straight Track’ , which is one of the first studies into what are now more often referred to as Ley Lines, Alfred Watkins has a chapter dedicated to Hermes and Hermits.

Watkins writes of how the straight tracks (or leys) were used by man since the earliest times as a means of crossing the country, with strategic markers placed as a guide, these being ‘sighted’ by specialists  (hermits) who have been commemorated in folklore as being able “see” through hills or to tunnel through the earth.

He quotes another writer, Sir John Lubbock, as remarking on all of the different activities associated with Hermes, but who reached the conclusion that they all follow from the custom of marking boundries by upright stones. Watkins believes the word ‘trackways’ should be substituted for ‘boundries’.

Lockyer, among others has spoken of the Egyptian god Thoth becoming Hermes in Greece and Mercury among the Romans. Stone heaps with pillars were sacred to Hermes. These could be found at crossroads, or paths that traders or merchants would use, and he became associated with the Roman god Mercurius as a patron to tradesfolk in this manner. He was also seen as a shepherd with a crook, eventually becoming the messenger of the gods with his staff or caduceus.

Watkins quotes from a book named ‘History of Hampshire’ in which the author, Shore,  has collected records of hermits and hermitages, and says that ideas concerning hermits are very different from the truth. The hermit did live a solitary life, but it was not just for the sake of seclusion; rather, they received means of support for the role they played in guiding travellers on their way. There were 8 in Hampshire, all of whom were employed in this way – guiding travellers across dangerous waterways or through Ancient Forests. Similar hermits are recorded in Cornwall, and those recorded all have archaeological evidence to support that they lived on ley ‘sighting’ points. These sighting points on leys are often marked with an upright stone or mound.

The majority of mounds are sited on the highest point the eye can see, and in-between, the paths regularly go out of sight, though another mound will mark the direction needed to be followed.

If this was not the case, then I’m wondering if there would always have been a hermitage, with the guide taking travellers, traders etc. to the next point where a mound could be viewed?  Did such ‘hermits’ exist in other countries, performing the same duty – might the priests of Thoth have been employed in this capacity? Would hermits (in Britain for instance) also have been seen as performing a ‘priestly’ duty when guiding travellers? And would the travellers have known they were following the earth’s own ‘map’, and considered the paths sacred in some way, or have just known it was the simplest way to get from A to B without getting lost? Would these same people then have trusted the hermit to be able to guide them in the Otherworld – would all hermits have also been Shamans?  Paul Devereux has suggested that the straight lines/leys were used by shamans to guide the spirits of the deceased from one sacred place to another, using the paths and mounds as landmarks.

There is an alchemical illustration ‘Snakes Among The Hills’ included in one of the most famous of all Alchemical books entitled, The Book of Abraham the Jew – who is purported to have been met by – and who influenced – the legendary alchemist, Nicolas Flamel, in the 14th century as he made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.
It shows the Earth’s landscape littered with shimmering snakes or serpents in between mounds. It seems that the artist was trying to convey that the Earth’s landscape is littered with “snakes” and “serpents” – which we might now interpret to be twisting, spiralling and snaking lines of positive and negative energy .

Nicolas Flamel – The Figures of Abraham the Jew: This series of seven figures, purports to be a copy of an original ‘Book of Abraham the Jew’ which Nicolas Flamel is supposed to have found in the 14th Century, and which inspired him to undertake his quest for the secrets of alchemy. There are no early manuscripts of these figures, but there are many beautifully coloured manuscripts dating from the late 17th and the 18th century.

Flamel figures

individual links
Mercurius meets with Saturn
Planetary dragons on a hill
The workers in the garden
The massacre of the innocents
The winged caduceus of Mercurius
The crucified snake
Snakes among the hills

Watkins compares Thoth and the Celtic God Tout (Romanised as Toutates) as guides over pathways. Caesar wrote of the Gods of the Druids that ‘Mercury, whom they regard as the guide of their journeys and marches, also had influence over mercantile transactions and was their chief divinity.’ The God’s name was inscribed on a Romano-British altar.

He draws attention to the fact that many mounds are called Tot, Toot, Tout, Tute and Twt. This is pronounced Toot (places like Tottenham and Tooting in London get their names from this root).

Watkins speaks of how easily it would be to associate these stones with spirits; I would imagine the next step, would be towards actually associating them with ‘personalities’ – maybe as the origin of deities.

The most interesting thing for me is that a collection of real people – who were ‘sighting’ the land, and invaluable to travellers, may have eventually evolved into deities – spiritual guides as well as practical guides.

The Oracle of Delphi – Know Thyself

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.” – Richard Bach

I was watching a tv documentary last night by Michael Scott about the oracle at Delphi (link for UK readers ) and he was explaining how those who visited the Oracle should have paid more heed to the motto at the site, which read “Know thyself”.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, but many people don’t spend the time thinking about its meaning, and still less spend the time learning to “Know Thyself”.  It means understand yourself, but so much more than merely self observation.

The quote above from Richard Bach explains far better what Michael Scott was getting at – that the answers given by the Oracle were ambiguous, and could only be understood when a person interpreted them using their own intuition. It’s often said that we know the answers to our own questions, so why is it that we don’t trust our own answers?

Usually, this is because we have limiting beliefs about ourselves. We are basing our ideas about ourselves on what others say about us and others. A woman recently told me that her mother had always told her before a job interview that she wouldn’t be “what they are looking for”, regardless of the work. The mother’s limiting observations were not only related to interviews but to other areas of the woman’s life, and it was only many years later that she realised how much her mother’s words had affected her beliefs about herself.

We have all been affected by similar words from others, quite often without being aware of it, and we are also unaware that many of the beliefs we hold are not our own. So how do we undo this past conditioning? How does one “Know Thyself”?

We can start by listening to what we say, or write. Whenever you say “I am….” this or “I am…” that, stop for a moment and ask yourself if you really are, or if that is what you have come to believe, based on what others have said either about you or about other people.

What if you’re not sure? Start to become aware of your own emotions, your reactions to what people say or do around you – are those reactions genuine or conditioned? What pushes your buttons? When you notice what has pushed your buttons, then start to ask why?

You’ll be surprised at the answers you come up with. And when you begin to understand the answers, you’ll also begin to trust your own answers more, and will be on the way to understanding what the motto meant at the temple to the Oracle at Delphi. You already know.

For an earlier, more esoteric post on the subject of  to Know Thyself, see here: