Monday, August 15, 2011

A reflection on Sepdet and Ma'at

I'm a very visual person, and have been fascinated by the stars since I was very small. I learned their constellations and how they moved through the skies as a kid, and treasured my first (and subsequent) telescope(s). Gazing into the sky at night gives me a sense of peace, of coming home to friends I know well. And as I meditate, grow, and learn more as a shaman, I see deeper into mysteries that I've only glimpsed in the past.

As an older child, I became fascinated by the star, Vega. I could see it out my window at night in San Francisco; nights when I couldn't sleep because of the tensions in my family. I would find myself entranced by the star's light, feeling some transfer of light—energy—knowledge going on just below my consciousness. This was long before I encountered paganism or Egyptian mythology in this lifetime; my father had helped me focus on science because I was good at it, and I tried to think in that framework.

But it didn't really work, because my main defense from the abuse of my family life was to retreat into "fantasy," beyond just reading; to let my mind wander where it would go without constraining its direction to only those things that made sense in "reality." When you live with people who consistently tell you that what you're seeing or experiencing through your senses is not "the truth" or "real," you learn to look elsewhere to see what reality may be. Somewhere out there had to be something better, right?

In any case, I became strongly attuned to Vega, which is a beautiful blue-white star in the northern sky of summer, much like Sirius is in winter. Many years later, when I took up art again, I tried to capture some of my sense of resonance with Vega, with its light flowing into my hands and spirit, filling me up with clean, clear energy and healing.

This was around 1994, when I had also chosen to re-enter my spiritual studies, and was working through my initiation year. I began paintings for some of the Tarot cards as I meditated on them and their relevance to me—hence, my vibration with Vega. As I studied further, using Richard Hinkley Allen's Star Names: Their meaning and lore, I found a key insight in my growing resonance with the Egyptian neteru. Just as Sirius/Sepdet was considered the star of Isis/Satis, Vega was known as the Star of Ma'at.

Now, this turns out to be a very important piece of information about the development of beliefs and myths in the stellar "cults" of ancient Egypt, because Vega is one of several stars that can become the north Pole star through precession. When most of us think of precession—if we do so at all—we think of the great Zodiacal ages: Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, etc. These are defined by the movement of the Spring Equinox "point" backward through the Zodiac as the Earth wobbles like a top around its axis. The whole precessional cycle takes roughly 26,000 years.

[The Spring Equinox "point" is the position where the Sun is against the Zodiacal background at the beginning of spring. We get our current astrological calendar system (tropical Zodiac) from the Sumerians and Babylonians, who fixed the spring point at the beginning of Aries. Thus, each of the four seasons of the year begin on a cardinal sign, initiating action. But actually the Sun's spring point is in Pisces, a mutable sign of change and dissolution of the old ways, and when it shifts into Aquarius, all of the seasonal points will fall in fixed signs of stability and consolidation.]

The north and south poles of the Earth project into the sky as it precesses like a top, pointing to different stars in the course of its 26,000 year cycle. Currently, in the northern hemisphere, the north polar axis is marked by Polaris, a moderately bright yellow-white star lying a degree or so off the actual pole. If you watch it through the night, Polaris and the stars nearby appear to remain in the sky all night, never setting. In ancient Egypt, this gave them the name of the Imperishable Stars, and was one of the locations of the Dwt where the hallowed dead traveled to be reborn.

The north pole precessed through other stars in past times, including Etamin and Thuban in the constellation of Draco, which the Egyptians visualized as a female hippopotamus, Isis-Tauret, who lived in the heavens to constrain the forces of Set, symbolized by a bull's foreleg (the Big Dipper asterism). You can see these Egyptian constellations on the Denderah zodiac. If you go back far enough, to roughly 12,000 BCE, Vega was the pole star.

This was also the time we would call the "Age of Leo," when the last Ice Age ended, and conditions began to warm up significantly. In Egypt, the middle East, and in the Sahara, conditions warmed such that the monsoon rains fell farther north, and parts of the Sahara that are now deep desert had rivers and seasonal lakes (playas) that the ancestors of the Egyptians roamed and used. As Robert Bauval and Thomas Brophy point out in their book, Black Genesis: The prehistoric origins of ancient Egypt, navigating in this part of the Sahara requires one to be aware of where the stars are, particularly north. Vega, bright and blue, would have clearly stood out to the north, and become associated with the establishment of order and balance after the chaotic conditions of the Ice Age. Hence, the star of Ma'at, the foundation of ancient Egypt!

Bauval and Brophy also note that the subterranean shaft from the Great Pyramid points directly to Vega at this epoch (i.e., where Vega would have been in 12,000 BCE), which is consistent with the idea that parts of the Giza complex were older and used for different things over long periods of time. If this point at the end of the last Ice Age was indeed the Egyptian's Zep Tepi, or "first time," then associating Vega with Ma'at makes perfect sense.

In addition, at the 12,000 BCE epoch, one would have observed a strange phenomenon with Sirius from the latitude of the Giza plateau. Precession causes all the stars to move up and down the sky, and at this ancient time, Sirius reached its furthest southern point. Near midnight around mid-July, while Vega shone brightly in the North, Sirius would have just skimmed the southern horizon. The horizontal passage leading to the Queen's Chamber in the Great Pyramid is at ground level and points to this southern meridional mark for Sirius. We know from other research that the upper shafts in the pyramid target different northern stars, as well as Sirius and Orion's belt at later dates, so it is at least plausible that people who had long observed the skies would find this phenomenon worthy of marking.

Bauval and Brophy's book makes a good case for alignments of the megalithic structures of Nabta Playa to determine right angles, and track changes in the star positions over time. The monsoon rains that fed the playa and the grasslands in the Sahara of this time came around the summer solstice, as they do now, reaching their peak around mid-July. The builders of the megalithic structures at Nabta Playa set out alignments toward the heliacal rising point of Sirius just before dawn, and also at northern stars in the Bull's Thigh (Big Dipper) that reached the meridian at that point—primarily Dubhe, the brightest star in the Dipper. The builders laid out rows of stones forming a right angle between Dubhe and Sirius, and may well have used them to key in on the time to expect the rains. Since there are clearly three different sets of orientations as the site was used over thousands of years, the builders knew that the stars changed position over time.

After 5000 BCE, the monsoon rains shifted to their current position, over the mountains of Ethiopia and the Sudan, and the southwestern Sahara dried out. The people living there had domesticated a local breed of cattle, and followed the herds to new grass throughout the rainy season. Once the rains stopped, it takes little thought to find them migrating toward the Nile. Their first place seems to have been at the first cascade of Elephantine, where later myths said the Nile flood rose from two underwater caverns. Satis, the Goddess who releases the flood, was associated with Sepdet/Sirius, and with Isis. Excavations of her temples at Elephantine show repeated reorientation toward Sirius each time a new temple was built atop the old.

So, all this is by way of introducing a vision that I've had for many, many years. Much of the information I've presented is new to me—I just finished reading Bauval and Brophy's book, after all. But what they've said helps me make sense of what I've been seeing/experiencing.

In the vision, I feel quite young—a young girl, maybe 9 or 10. I know that I am a candidate for initiation into the Temple of Isis, and the elders have brought me to a dark, enclosed space. It feels heavy, like it was underground, and they have me sit before a pool of water.  They tell me to pray and wait until I see the light of Isis, then leave me in the dark, alone.

I sit by the water for a long time, feeling the weight of the stone and darkness around me. Suddenly, a glimmer of blue-white light appears in the pool of water; I lean forward in surprise, trying desperately not to disturb the image.  The light grows in intensity, and I feel it on my face and hands. Shortly thereafter, another bright blue-white star appears in the pool, and the image merges with the light of the first.

I feel the light enter my heart, and spread throughout my body, washing away old patterns, ideas, and beliefs, and leaving behind a pure, clean energy that is calm, balanced, and peaceful. I sit, filled with this light, until my elders return the next morning, long after the star images are gone. They can look into my eyes and see my spirit filled with the light of Isis-Ma'at, and know my initiation was accepted by the Goddess.

The material I read in Bauval and Brophy merely gave some structure to this vision—I've been re-experiencing the vision/phenomenon consciously since the early 90s. I suspect that this vision is part of what enraptured me as a child when I became entranced by Vega; my conscious development was not yet at the point the vision could break through. I don't know whether I actually sat in the subterranean chamber under the Great Pyramid and experienced the midnight culmination of Vega and Sirius, but what I did experience was something very similar.

Now you know why my temple is called "Isis of the Stars."

1 comment:

  1. Michael, I feel you have identified the power you need for the cleansing, self-healing and re-birth you are thrust into undertaking. Your subconscious has told you so purely and clearly. Listen to the message you have given yourself! Aset will heal and transform. Ma'at will bring balance and justice. With these two great powers combined, you will find the spirit to "leap to the fray". Blessings of Ht-Hr upon you. I wish you Ast Ab, Heart's Desire.