Saturday, 8 September 2007

The Serpent Path Around the Sun

The Serpent Path Around the Sun : A Planetary Perspective on the Eye of Ra

The cobra goddess encircles Ra, the Sun disk, throughout his journey across the sky. This cobra, Wadjyt, was equated with the Eye of Ra, linking her to Hathor and more specifically Hathor-Sekhmet, who was also given this name, Eye of Ra. As we shall see in a moment, Hathor, in this role of she who surrounds, encircles, protects the Sun god, was said to shine as a star in the twilight periods of dawn and dusk, in the direction of the eastern and western horizons respectively, and to be with the Sun at his rising and setting. There is a hypothesis that may be formed from this, because the bright heavenly body that continually circles the Sun in a snaking movement, and is never too far from the Sun, from our perspective on Earth, and who also shines brightly as either a morning or evening star in the East and the West, is Venus.

A clear and unambiguous reference to Hathor shining in the twilight of dusk may be found in the lyrics of a song to the goddess inscribed in the tomb of Kheruef at Thebes, an important official of Amenhotep III. This song includes the lines:

Come, rise, come
That I may make
Jubilation at twilight for you
And music in the evening
Oh Hathor, you are exalted in the hair of Ra…
Adoration of Gold [Hathor] when She shines forth in the sky…
Oh my lady, come and protect king Nebmaatre, given life.

Hathor as bovine goddess is frequently shown in association with the cobra, and Egyptologist Alison Roberts went so far as to write that Hathor is “the venomous cobra coiled around the …[Sun god’s] head.”1 The similarity of Hathor’s characteristics to those of Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus is obvious, and the Greeks of the Hellenistic period were quite happy with the assimilation of the two sensual goddesses of sexuality and attraction, but whether a shared connection to the planet Venus derives from coincidence or contact is not a question we shall look at here.

From at least the Middle Kingdom, according to Egyptologists Shaw and Nicholson2, the five planets from Mercury through to Saturn were recognized and depicted sailing in boats across the heavens. Venus was known as God of the Morning and The One Who Crosses, and it has been speculated that this ‘crossing’ shows that the Egyptians knew that it was the same planet that appeared as the Evening Star that then crossed over to become the Morning Star. The crossing may have referred to the intermediary period where Venus transits (crosses) or passes near the Sun so as to be swallowed by the brighter light for a time, appearing neither in the morning nor the evening.

The retrograde movements of Venus, when the relative movement of Earth causes her to appear to move backwards in her course, are distinctly serpentine in shape and call to mind the patterns produced by serpents snaking their way across desert sands, and indeed the looping shape of the cobra hanging down from the Sun disk in the Egyptian representations. The serpentine s-shaped pattern occurs when the Earth-Venus alignment (type 1, central in the diagram) is near one of the Venus nodes (when Venus is crossing the plane of the ecliptic). The four other retrograde movements are like coils or loops and still serpentine in nature.

The cobra continued to encircle the Sun morning, noon, and evening. Roberts tells us that in the coronation “only after the palace snake has coiled herself around…[the Sun king’s] brow does he make his ‘glorious rising.’”3

In Papyrus Chester Beatty I there is a poem in which the beloved is associated with this goddess of attractiveness and with a morning star, and though in this context it sounds more like Sirius, it is still worth mentioning since it fits into the matrix of a general association between the beautiful goddess and a morning star:-

The One, the sister without equal
The most beautiful of all
She resembles the rising Morning Star
At the beginning of a happy year.

At noon the following was sung of Ra, the Sun god:

It is your uraeus snake who has enchanted your enemies4

Then in the evening, as we read in the Book of the Dead, they would sing:

Hail Ra-Atum at your beautiful crossing…
You set in life in the holiness of the western horizon
Your uraeus snake surrounds you.5

In conclusion, there does appear to be a distinct possibility that the Egyptian goddess of beauty and sensuality, in her more fiery Eye of Ra aspect of the cobra encircling the Sun protectively, was in fact a personification of the same planet later identified as the goddess she would finally be assimilated with in Ptolemaic and Roman times, namely Venus.

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