Lectures 

Contact: info@philipcoppens.com

The Truth About Egypt's Star Religion

The Canopus Revelation

Delivered at the Questing Conference, London, November 5 2005


Orion, the Hunter

Alan Alford in The Phoenix Solution stated: “The identification of Osiris with the star constellation of Orion is well-established, and requires no justification in these pages.”
The constellation of Orion has indeed been identified with the Egyptian “Sahu”, which is the stellar visualisation of Osiris. The academic identification was largely the work of Otto Neugebauer; it was made popular by Robert Bauval, who argued that Orion represented the basic layout of the Giza monuments. Bauval thus made the straightforward identification: Orion = Sahu = Osiris.
Orion has since the days of Neugebauer been seen as the god Osiris, Lord of death and resurrection in the underworld, just as Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, reflected the light of his sister-wife Isis. Osiris’ role in ancient Egypt has inspired a generation of writers and researchers to investigate mythologies worldwide looking for and finding “Orion correlations” with respect to ceremonial landscapes and archaic star lore, elevating this asterism to that of the highest importance among our earliest ancestors.

The central question which needs to be asked is: does this identification indeed require no justification?
Plutarch, in De Iside and Osiride, writes: “Further [the Egyptians] call Osiris a general and Canobus a steersman, after whom they say the star was named. They add that the vessel which the Greeks call the Argo is the image of the vessel of Osiris and that, adorned with stars, it voyages not far from Orion and the Dog star; the former of these the Egyptians hold sacred to Horus, the latter to Isis.” Isis is therefore Sirius; Horus is Orion; Argo is the vessel of Osiris; Canopus is the leader of Argo, hence Osiris.
It shows that in Antiquity, Orion was not identified with Osiris, but instead with his divine offspring and successor, Horus. It undermines the present position of Egyptology, which is largely due to the influence that Neugebauer had on the community – and from which Egyptology still has not recovered.
One lone voice in the wilderness was Henry Lutz, who in the 1940 argued that “there were certain rites connected with the couch of Osiris, rites which, it must be assumed, were executed in each and every Osiris temple, including in a special way the sanctuary of Canopus.” Lutz was referring to the Canopus sanctuary that existed in the vicinity of Alexandria, at the site where the river Nile meets the Mediterranean Sea. He thus followed in the footsteps of Plutarch and placed emphasis on a relationship between Osiris and Canopus, not with Orion.

Starlore Canopus

Though Orion and Sirius are now far more famous than Canopus, the second brightest star in the sky is not an unknown.
Robert Temple in The Sirius Mystery insisted that the town of Canopus inherited the fame of Behdet, a pre-dynastic capital of Egypt: “In earlier times the fame of Canopus was held by a city called Behdet, which was a pre-dynastic capital of Egypt […] just as Canopus became superseded by Alexandria, Canopus itself had superseded the extremely ancient Behdet which existed before 3200 BC as the most important city on the Egyptian coast.”
Temple’s reference to Behdet/Canopus was the prime driver in my research into the mystery of this town, and its possible connection to the star.

Together with Sirius, Canopus was said to action as the “Plumb Line”, measuring the depths of the Abyss. One of the reasons why Sirius and Canopus are deemed to measure the Abyss is because Canopus is situated virtually directly south from Sirius. Visually, a line connecting Sirius and Canopus would thus be considered a “plumb line”, with Canopus the weight at the bottom of it. Robert Temple knew this, as he had stated that Canopus, when connected to Sirius, was called “Ponderosus”, meaning “the Weight”. Hamlet’s Mill links the Arabic name for Canopus, Suhail el-wezn, meaning “heavy-weighing”, with the weight at the end of a plumb-line.
We should note that one of Osiris’ names translates as “plumb line”. This was mentioned by Jane Sellers, where Sellers herself links this epithet with Canopus. The same applies to Utterance 518 of the Pyramid Texts, where there is a reference to a plumb-line. “I am the herald of the year, O Osiris.” This is very precise, for not only do we have Osiris here, but also an indicator of a new era.
This link with the Plumb Line is due to the location of Canopus, forming the southern polar stars, around which the other stars evolve. Together with Sirius, it is therefore said to pierce into the “Underworld”, the “Abyss”, which is “below” the Southern Polar star – invisible in the sky, and perhaps to be interpreted as residing within another dimension, in which Canopus would act as a type of star gate.

The importance of Canopus in the Middle East is further underlined by John North, who argues that the axis of the temple housing the Ka’ba, the black stone of meteoric origin that is at the centre of Muslim religion, was aligned to the rising of Canopus. That Canopus was therefore of major significance to the builders of that temple cannot be disputed.
On a lighter note, there are also references to Canopus in science fiction literature. In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the “actual” name for the planet is Arrakis, which had been positioned as the third planet of Canopus. As Canopus was called the “ship of the desert”, Dune was a desert-like planet. Nothing grew there, except a spice, which “bent time and space”. It is an intriguing reference, for the Argo, of which Canopus stands at its helm, is indeed the “ship” – which Herbert transformed into spaceships and their pilots.

As to Lutz, he argued that the name of Canopus had been deliberately misinterpreted in ancient times, to fit a religious interpretation that connected it to the words “basket”, “couch” and “chest”. All three were linked to the cult of Osiris.
“The couch on which Osiris rests is mentioned in reference to the hour gods who functioned in the service of the dead god. Thus in the second hour of the day the serving deities are gathered about his couch. At the eighth hour of the day Nepthys arrives for the protection of the couch of Osiris; and the tenth hour of the day is the time of prayer by the gods at the funerary couch. Thus it is seen that there were certain rites connected with the couch of Osiris, rites which, it must be assumed, were executed in each and every Osiris temple, including in a special way the sanctuary of Canopus.”

The famous dean of Egyptology Budge points towards a drawing in the temple of Denderah, wherein the resurrection of Osiris is detailed. Osiris is often seen rising from his funeral bier, or couch, but there is one depiction of Osiris “rising up out of a basket, which rests upon a pedestal; behind him stands Isis with her wings stretched out on both sides of him.” On the right hand side of the image, Osiris is seen kneeling within a boat, Osiris having the title of “Osiris Seker, lord of the funeral chest [at] Abydos”. Seker is better known as Sokar, an ancient deity ruling Abydos.
Lutz then points out that this couch could be the constellation Argo, with the dead Osiris being Canopus. Isis is of course Sirius.

Ascension

Canopus also plays an intriguing role in the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. Another person to talk about Canopus was the infamous Pierre Plantard, who was said to be the helmsman of the Priory of Sion, made famous in The Da Vinci Code. This is largely a modern fabrication, but in my opinion, Plantard used key alchemical imagery that we know existed in France in the earliest half of the 20th century – and which could thus easily have been adapted by Plantard.
The role of Canopus is specifically related to “the encoffined Osiris” – Man in his tomb, unsure of whether there is anything beyond death. The role of the tomb is therefore very important. In the story of Rennes-le-Château, we know of the so-called Poussin Tomb, which sits in nearby Arques, along the side of the road. It is named after Nicolas Poussin, who is supposed to have painted the imaginary tomb in the 17th century, as the central focus of his painting The Shepherds of Arcadia.
Nearby is the enigmatic “Sacred Tomb of Arles sur Tech”, which is a most enigmatic feature; water flows from the tomb, undisturbed by meteorological conditions.
The author Gerard Lacoste has linked it with Canopus, specifically because its key aspects, tomb and water, are also prevalent in Canopus. To briefly highlight the role of Canopus and water, we need to refer to Osiris in his form of Hapi, the Nile God, whereby we note the important positions of Canopus at the terminal of the Nile, both in Upper and Lower Egypt. Dieterlen and von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill link Canopus with being the cover stone that holds back the Waters of the Abyss, which caused the Deluge at the end of the previous world age.

The Resurrection Machine

From a tomb in the South of France, we need to return to Egypt, to the pyramids. The author Michael Rice pointed out that the Zoser complex was unique. “Once again, it is totally without precedent, not merely in Egypt but in the entire world.” The building of pyramids seems to have been a particular enterprise of the priests of Heliopolis – those linked with the sun god, Ra, with whom Sirius rose heliacally. Imhotep was the chief priest at Heliopolis. There is also a connection with the most impressive pyramids of all: those on the Gizeh plateau. A sacred road connected the Gizeh pyramids to Heliopolis – and all pyramids lie in the general vicinity of Heliopolis; none were built in Upper Egypt. Dr. Gerhard Haeny of the Swiss Institute of Archaeology in Cairo stated that the pyramids of Gizeh align to the obelisk of Heliopolis, which replaced the Temple of the Phoenix, where the benben stone had previously been kept. Mark Lehner also pointed out that the pyramids of the 5th Dynasty, at Abusir, were aligned to Heliopolis. The link between the pyramids and Heliopolis therefore seems quite solid – as solid as hewn stone pyramids.

The Pyramids are also notorious for containing copies of the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead was the manual for the deceased to find his way in “death”. It is a subject that few Egyptologists have analysed, as the discussion of religion is normally considered to be outside of the bailiwick of archaeologists. It has resulted in little understanding of what ancient Egypt was all about.
So what did the ancient Egyptians think happened to the soul after death? It is clear that they had a vastly defined concept of “the afterlife”. They believed that the knowledge of certain formulae would allow them access to a divine realm, where they would be met by the ancestors, deities, and remain there forever.
Further debates on the contents of the ancient Egyptian religion are – to say the least – scant. It is largely discussed by “New Age” authors, whose thinking often does not make it into print, but is “published” on the Internet. One exception of a careful thinker who went a long way, was Charles Muses (1919-2000), who was, however, also inclined towards New Age thinking. Muses based his interpretation on a coffin that was in the museum of Torino, Italy. The coffin came from the Egyptian village of “Two Hills” (Gebelein), which depicted the plan of the Duat, as written down in the Coffin Texts, spell 650.

It visualises the three paths the soul can take when it enters “death” – the Egyptian Duat. These options are: floating about in the Duat, return to our physical world or a spiritual voyage. It is depicted as a fork in which the central path leads to regeneration (the voyage) and the other two diverge from it, postponing the regeneration. Muses further identified each path with the types of couch, or bier – or coffin – on which the deceased, and Osiris laid. The central path was identified with the lion couch, the hippopotamus couch with return to the shore and the cow couch with the floating about in the Duat.
There are various depictions of the “lion couch”, as this was the path obviously favoured by all those who were buried – it was no doubt obligatory that the pharaoh showed his nation the proper path forward. Examples of a hippopotamus and cow bier were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and his tomb shows that each couch was furnished, as to a large extent, what would happen after death could only be confirmed once the deceased Pharaoh was dead – it was then that the choice had to be made.

The state of the Duat – what others have called the bardo – is therefore identical to the encoffined Osiris: though dead, he is not “dead dead”: there is still potential, not for a continuation of his present earthly life, but for a life “elsewhere”. The “soul” is in a “land of nothingness”, at a crossroads, where the soul is also in need of a guide. In the sky, this gateway was identified with Canopus – it lead to the Duat, a metaphysical state of the soul following death.

Let us go through each option one by one. At death, the easiest path was the path of reincarnation: one body was exchanged for another and the cycle of life continued. In nature, this cycle was visible in the snake shedding its skin, the sun rising and setting, the seasons, the deer renewing its antlers – symbols and “physical evidence” that has been found at many sacred sites. It was the path chosen by most souls, apparently for a variety of reasons: the sahu might have too much fear to go on a voyage or even dwell in the Duat for too long; the life review might have been specifically negative: life was not led properly, and hence a successive incarnation is required for the soul to grow before it might be ready to return to the Source – in ancient Egypt identified as Atum, the supreme deity of Heliopolis.
The path of the Cow was to sail about in the Sacred Boat in the Duat. It is believed that this was literally “biding time”: the soul was undecided what to do. But at some point, the soul could either reincarnate, or the boat could set course towards the “Lion Path’s Gateway”.
It is now clear what is meant when the Book of Am Duat (Book of That Which Is In the Duat), describes the twelve divisions (or hours of the night) in the Duat, the dark tunnel through which the deceased or initiate travelled before entering the heavenly realms. It is similar to the near death experiences (NDEs) that many people have experienced and we can only wonder whether NDEs were at the origin of the ancient Egyptian belief.

Some authors, in particular Andrew Collins, have argued that the Duat was physically represented underneath the Gizeh complex. Although at present still undiscovered – if indeed ever present there – the idea does not seem farfetched. But if the Duat was represented on the Gizeh plateau, I do not think it is hidden underneath its sandy surface. Could it be in front of our very eyes? Could anyone who has visited the Great Pyramid have walked in it?

Central to the imagery of the Duat is a central path, a tunnel, from the world of the living, into the darkness of the Duat. In that tunnel, the soul is given three paths, each leading to a specific destiny, and identified, at least at the times of Tuthankhamun, with three different couches: a cow, a hippopotamus and a lion.
This imagery translates straightforwardly to the Great Pyramid: the entrance leads down into a dark, low tunnel. By default, the path descends to the Lower Chamber. However, there is an entrance towards another tunnel, leading to the “Queen’s Chamber” or the “King’s Chamber”. A lot of ink has been written as to how this stone blocking this tunnel was put in place, and whether it could pivot or not. That is less important than the observation that there was a “guarded” entrance in this fork in the road. Once in the ascending passage – an apt description for those trying to attain heaven – a further fork occurred, one leading to the Queen’s Chamber, another that continued to climb, towards the King’s Chamber.
Did each of the tombs symbolise a path? The path of reincarnation, of the Hippopotamus, would be the Underground Chamber: easiest to reach, but very “basic”: earth to earth. The path of the Cow would be the Queen’s Chamber: in between both, specifically there for a soul stalling to make the final ascent to the King’s Chamber. The Lion’s path would be the continued ascent towards the King’s Chamber, where the “tomb of God”, the coffin, was the symbol of resurrection – initiation in the Divine Abode.

This interpretation of the Great Pyramid as the three-dimensional visualisation of the Duat would explain many anomalies, too many to list here. But one intriguing anomaly is the “Well shaft”, a roughly hewn path that connects the Lower Chamber with the fork in the tunnel towards respectively the Queen’s and King’s Chambers. This path was the “loop” from the second path, that of the Cow, either to reincarnation or regeneration. It would, by default, have to bypass the original “choice” (the original fork in the road), but would have to lead to both other chambers. For the architect, this presented a problem, but I believe the shaft and its execution display exactly the nature of the path: it was rough, “unhewn”. To some extent, the architect had made the passage from the Queen’s Chamber to the Lower Chamber more difficult than the passage towards the King’s Chamber: It was a reminder that the seeker “had come so far, why not go all the way” – towards ascension?
The Well Shaft is not open to the public and few people officially enter it, though it seems that the guards on the Plateau must occasionally practice climbing it, as they normally act as decent guides for those who do enter it, such as Mark Lehner. Its purpose is unknown and whatever scenario has been proposed for its function, it has always failed. I believe that the theory that the Great Pyramid was the three-dimensional representations of the Duat and the paths within, not only makes sense of the number of chambers, but specifically of the reason behind the presence of the “Well Shaft”. It would also firmly set into place the presence of the Sphinx, the guardian of the Duat – and above all, why the Sphinx was in the form of a lion with a human head. Was it because those who entered were humans on the Lion’s Path, towards the Abode of Osiris?

The Dark side of the Force

The story of the encoffined Osiris forms the spine of the myth of Osiris and Isis, no doubt the most potent legend that has influenced Mankind over the past millennia – including the stories of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The story is about balacing good and evil – order vs. chaos – in which the role of the bad guy is played by Seth. René Guenon remarked that Seth, as the rebel, was the deity that created incarnations.
For the ancient Egyptians, Seth was not evil. He is the expression of the love of the material world, which should not be defined as materialism as we know it today, but also of the fact that many of us appreciate a beautiful landscape. Seth is the human attraction to the “good things” in life, which in Catharism became defined as the evil temptations…
Plutarch asked in De Iside and Osiride what would become of the world if the element that incarnated Seth would no longer work? He went on to say that the soul of Seth was visualised as the Great Bear, one of the most important constellations in the Northern skies.

The kingdom of Set was supposed to be placed in the northern sky, and his abode was one of the stars which formed the constellation of Khepesh, or the “Thigh,” which has been identified with the Great Bear, and it was from this region that he made use of his baleful influence to thwart the beneficent designs of Osiris, whose abode was Sah and of Isis, whose home was Sept, or Sothis.
It thus becomes clear why the ancient Egyptians had Horus and Seth fight each other as bears. It also seems to indicate that the Northern sky was identified with chaos, and the stars of the Southern sky with order. We may note in passing that the Hebrews called the region of darkness, Sephon, a name which is connected with Saphon, “North.”

We thus see that the constellation of the Northern pole is linked with Seth, and the Southern constellation of Argo and Canopus, the South Pole, with Osiris. The meridian that connects them can therefore be seen as the “spine”.

As above, so below

A lot has been said about sacred geometry in relation to Egypt. I want to repeat the basic premises on which this is founded. A key aspect can be found in the Leyden Papyrus: “When a message comes from heaven, it is heard at Heliopolis, it is repeated at Memphis to Ptah and it is made into a letter written in the letters of Thoth [at Hermopolis] for the City of Amun [Thebes].”
This passage from the Leyden Papyrus gives us the initiatory version of creation, as exemplified by the four ‘centres of instruction’ of ancient Egypt: Heliopolis, Memphis, Hermopolis and Thebes.

In Egypt, the river Nile runs from North to South and could therefore be considered to be a depiction of a “meridian” – a natural one. The Nile had its root in Canopus of the South, grew and than diversified, like a tree, around the Nile Delta, with a further Canopus in the North.

Creating a meridian for ancient Egypt has been a favourite pass-time for many Egypt-enthusiasts. The best-known example is the meridian defined by the Great Pyramid by Livio Stecchini, which he identified as the “the central meridian of ancient Egypt”.
The establishment of this meridian bisected the Nile Delta (at 31 degrees 14 minutes East), allegedly predated the building of the Great Pyramid. Stecchini built upon observations from Napoleon’s savants who observed, when they arrived in Egypt in 1798, that the Great Pyramid is situated at the exact apex of the Nile Delta such that an arc centred on the Great Pyramid defined the extent of the Delta, perfectly enclosing its outer perimeter. The northern promontory of the Delta is due North of the pyramid.
In 1882, Robert T. Ballard pointed out that this placement of the Great Pyramid would have allowed the residents of the Nile Delta to easily resurvey their fields every year after the annual flood using only a plumb line, by sighting on the apex of the Great Pyramid. He further demonstrated that the combination of the three Gizeh pyramids would have improved this operation and provided more information than a single pyramid by itself could have.
Stecchini pointed out that the original name that was used by the ancient Egyptians for their country was To-Mera, “The Land that was Measured”. The hieroglyph for the mer phonetic used in this name is the picture of the hoe, or tilling instrument, supporting the intended reading of “measured”. Mer, of course, is also the name for a pyramid.

The Egyptians were extremely concerned with determining exact boundaries and areas of land surface. The annual inundation of the Nile erased all boundary lines between fields. Herodotus, Plato, Diodorus, Strabo, Clemens of Alexandria, Iamblichus and others, ascribe the origin of geometry to changes which annually took place from the inundation, and to the consequent necessity of adjusting the claims of each person respecting the limits of the lands.
The imagery of the ancient Egyptians measuring their land after the annual deluge, from the primeval hill of Gizeh, using the plumb-line was a practical necessity that at the same time contained all the required symbolic ingredients, including the “plumb line” of Sirius and Canopus to measure the depths of the Abyss – the annual inundation.

Stecchini did not stop there. He claimed that a number of locations throughout the ancient world were located in exact geodetic relation to the longitude meridian of the Great Pyramid. Among the other ancient sites exhibiting similar geodetic precision were: Nimrod, Sardi, Susa, Mycenae, Dodona and Delphi, as well as the Ka’aba at Mecca, and Mt. Gerizim, the original Jewish holy centre, before it was moved to Jerusalem in 980 BC. Another centre was the Persian capital Persepolis, which was located at 30º 00’ north latitude, and three units of exactly 7º 12’ east of the meridian of the Great Pyramid.
According to Stecchini, the reason for this 7º 12’ unit was that the Persian Empire of King Darius the Great was idealised as three geodetic squares of six degrees of latitude, stretching from thirty to 36 degrees North. We need to underline here that that latitude was the northern limit of the visibility of Canopus, with 30 degrees North not only the latitude of Persepolis, but also of the Great Pyramid. At 33º north, the midpoint of this distance, six degrees of latitude is equal to 7º 12’ of longitude, thus making these regions true squares.

map graphic courtesy of Simon Miles

It is perilous to continue on this path, which might lead to insanity. Nevertheless, Stecchini’s observations are factual, and we can only wonder whether they are accidental or not. If not, it is intriguing that an entire network of “centres of centres” existed, between the latitudes of thirty and 36 degrees – the northern limit of visibility of Canopus. Coincidence, or incredible design? If Stecchini had known the importance of Canopus to the ancient Egyptians, he would have been able to argue his case with such fervour that potentially his findings would be taught in schoolbooks. Not only are there six degrees of latitude between Rhodes, the northern limit of Canopus and the Gizeh Plateau, there are a further – precise – six degrees between the Great Pyramid and the Southern boundary of Egypt, Elephantine, the First Cataract – Canopus of the South. I would suggest this “coincidence” is no coincidence at all, but reveals the detailed planning, based on the visibility of the star Canopus, of ancient Egypt.
It would also address the oddity of why Upper Egypt had six degrees of latitude, and Lower Egypt only one – from Gizeh to the Mediterranean Sea. In Stecchini’s model, the area between 30 and 36 degrees would be seen as “Lower Egypt” – though more symbolically that practically.

There is more: the Tropic of Cancer was considered to be located in the times of the earliest dynasties at the latitude 23º51’ North – i.e. virtually identical to Elephantine, with the knowledge that in pre-Dynastic times, the Tropic of Cancer must have coincided at one point with Elephantine – that time might offer us the clue to the true start of ancient Egypt.

This means that the centre of the sun disc appeared overhead at this latitude at midday on the summer solstice. Looking towards the South, instead of directly up – to heaven –, Canopus would mark the South Pole star. Twelve degrees of latitude were then drawn to the North, with Gizeh as the “prime primeval hill” of Egypt; Rhodes in the extreme North of Canopus’ visibility on the 36th parallel. Gizeh and its primeval hill were therefore the centre, and from there, the North-South division was made, along the 30th parallel. However, as the Nile did not run until 36 degrees North, the Northern limit of the Nile had to be defined and marked also – the town of Canopus “of the North”, i.e. near Alexandria.

When we look at Stecchini’s plan, we also note that the Paris Meridian “coincidentally” fits within this Egyptian grid. This is a remarkable coincidence, to say the least. It is of specific interest as it is Poussin’s Tomb which sits virtually on top of the Paris Meridian, of which a lot has been written in the literature on the mystery of Rennes-le-Château.
It would take me too far off subject, but recent research, carried out by members of the Société Perillos, has made it clear that the main characters of the “Rennes-le-Château mystery” were equally intrigued by the mysteries of the death. This should not at all come as a surprise, as the mystery of death forms the core of most religions and intrigues is us all, whether young or old.
What is remarkable about ancient Egypt, specifically in the discoveries related to Canopus, is that this culture which continues to intrigue may have captured material that is key to an understanding of the Afterlife. The final analysis could be based on what they observed in “experiments” or “experiences” such as hallucinogenic séances, or near death experiences.

In the final analysis, Canopus – the South Pole star – is merely a guide, a helmsman, guiding us on the boat that is our life, on the voyage that is our life, from birth to death, and beyond…