The Ship of Heaven
Copyright David Talbott
This is a follow-up article to my earlier "Reconstructing the Saturn Myth" and "On Testing the Polar Configuration" (AEON I: 1-2). It is assumed that readers have read these articles and are familiar with the general context of the theory discussed in the following pages.
In two previous essays, I have outlined a theory of the Saturnian age, claiming that only a few thousand years ago (some time before the dawn of civilization) the Earth participated in a planetary system unlike anything known today. Though all of modern science presumes the ancient sky to have looked much like our sky today, I have argued that early man witnessed a remarkable assembly of planets moving close to the Earth and presenting a spectacular apparition in the heavens. I have called this apparition the polar configuration, and suggested that its tangible forms are mirrored in all of ancient myth and symbol.
In fact, the history of this celestial apparition was the history of the gods.
I have claimed also that the theory of the polar configuration can be tested and verified through a comprehensive survey of ancient records; and that the validity of the theory will become increasingly apparent as one descends to particulars: the very level at which other explanations collapse is that at which the explanatory power of the polar configuration is most definitive.
To further illustrate the thesis, I shall here take up an example familiar to all students of myth: The ship of heaven. Because ancient sources offer a huge volume of data on this subject (including many incontrovertible and previously-unexplained facts), it is a chance to see how well the theory is able to unify what has previously ap-peared as contradiction and absurdity.
A Model of the Ship
If the cosmic ship of the myths has any reference in the model I have proposed (Fig. 1), it is without doubt a figure of the revolving crescent. For if ancient man did indeed gaze up at the vast crescent of the proposed polar configuration, watching it move in a daily circuit around the massive orb of Saturn, it is not difficult to imagine that they would see a ship of light revolving in a daily cycle:
Figure 2. The four phases of the polar configuration
According to the model, the apparition began to grow bright as the crescent descended to the left of Saturn (Fig 2:a); reached its point of greatest splendor when the crescent was directly below Saturn (b); began to diminish as the crescent rose to the right (c); and was its weakest when the crescent was directly over Saturn (d). This daily cycle, I have claimed, is reflected in all ancient symbolism of the Saturnian "day" and "night."
Since the behavior of the crescent in this model is unambiguousQand invites no confusion with the behavior of our "new Moon" todayQthere should be no difficulty in confirming the true identity of the ship if the model is fundamentally valid. It will be useful, then, to enumerate the ways in which the model distinguishes itself from conventional interpretations of the ship. As we have emphasized, the advantage of the model is that each of the components of the configuration reveals a specific, testable relationship to the others. The crescent, for example, not only behaves in a clear, easily- defined way, but has an equally-clear relationship to the central sun, the surrounding band, the comet-like streams radiating from the band, the four directional streams of the sun-cross, the polar column, and the revolving cometary curl. And in each of these defined relationships the predicted imagery provides a stark contrast to any likely descriptions of the Sun, Moon and stars as they appear to us today.
For starters, our model suggests these fundamental characteristics:
The cosmic ship was originally the vehicle of the god and planet Saturn.
Since Saturn was the ancient sun god,1 Saturn's ship must be the universal "ship of the sun."
The ship was a crescent.
The crescent-ship was not our Moon as usually supposed, but the illuminated half of a band around the sun god.
The band of the enclosed sun was also the celestial "pathway" traversed by the ship.
The ship revolved around the stationary sun god each day. (That is, while the ship was Saturn's vehicle, only the ship moved.)
The ship revolved around the summit of the polar column, the axis-pillar of the world wheel.
The ship traversed the four "quarters" of the celestial enclosure each day.
The ship was above the sun god at "night" and below during the "day."2
The ship meant the same thing as the two peaks of the world mountain, the horns of the bull of heaven, the outstretched wings of the mother goddess and the outstretched arms of the heaven-sustaining giant.
As I will seek to show, each of these predictions is confirmed in the most explicit way, removing any doubt as to the ability of the model to account for the most common features of the ship. Moreover, as we begin to address these specific features, it will become increasingly clear that, by interpreting each attribute in a particular way, the model produces a series of additional predictions, all of them highly concrete, extraordinarily improbable under modern-day assumptions, and testable, so that there is almost no limit to the extent to which a researcher can verify, on this singular theme, the far- reaching predictive power of the model. In many of these instances, the deduced requirement of the model poses not only a black and white contrast to the conventional solar and lunar interpretations, but highly novel identities and associationsQall extraordinarily unlikely under our familiar sky. For example:
If the ship means the same thing as the two peaks of the cosmic mountain, then it must be concluded that the two peaks literally sailed around the central sun.
If the mythological phrase "sailing upstream" means the rising of the crescent to the right of Saturn, then the sun god must sail upstream in the (archaic) evening, and downstream in the (archaic) morningQa reversal of the language anticipated by the solar interpretation.
By the same logic, when the ship is in its "day" position it is below Saturn and upright but when it is in its "night" position it is above Saturn and it is inverted
. If the revolving cometary curl is the magical towing rope pulling the ship on its circular journey, then the towing rope must be the same thing as the celebrated sidelock of the god-king.
If the cometary streams radiating from the band of the enclosed sun are the mysterious "hair" of the celestial dwelling, then the radiating hair must be the same thing as the "oars" of the cosmic ship.
It needs to be emphasized that such predicted oddities as these follow inexorably from a straightforward application of the model to ancient imagery. Keep in mind also that these anomalies are not predicted by any previously- established theory. In fact, from any conventional viewpoint, they could only be regarded as absurdities without any possibility of a coherent explanation. Hence, in these instances, verification of the model's predictive ability becomes all the more significant.
Lastly, it is in the nature of a unified theory that it should explain all of the relevant data. If the mythology of the cosmic ship was inspired in its entirety by our proposed celestial forms, then no verifiable attribute of the ship should contradict the model at any level, general or specific. I gladly submit the model to this test, and welcome rebuttal from any critic on any point.
Archetype and Symbol
In evaluating ancient evidence on this subject, it is important to distinguish between the symbol and the thing symbolized. My claim has been that the objects and events of myth point to a coherent and ultimately very simple set of celestial forms. For the sake of clarity, we will call these forms of the polar configuration the archetypes and their mythological representations in ritual and art the symbols. The archetypes, then, evolve only in the sense that the original celestial forms evolved through a series of transformations. The symbols, on the other hand, though inspired originally by tangible objects in the sky, are human concepts subject to endless evolution. And just as soon as the age of the gods ended, the immediate perceptual tie between symbol and archetype was broken, cutting the human concepts loose and setting in motion an evolutionary chain that could only lead to the progressive dilution of all mythical and symbolic constructs.
I will therefore follow what is a self-evident tenet within the framework of the theory, that the oldest sources are the most "authentic." We will concentrate on those sources closest to the primitive experience, in the conviction that they are most likely to suggest the true character of the archetypes.
Archetypes in Art
In looking at the symbolism of the ship, we must consider the interacting evidences of pictures and words, the one category serving to illuminate the other, and neither standing alone.
Pictorial evidence begins in the prehistoric period, and includes as a most vital contribution the simple pictographs incorporated into the first languages. In a later period come more elaborate artistic renderings on papyrus and stone, often removed many centuries, or thousands of years from the primeval experience. Though the central concepts are not lost in the later epoches, the pure forms of the archetype have, on the whole, been fully transformed into human and animal forms and combined in fascinating symbolic complexes. Though still powerful, these leave no possibility that the artistic portrayals as a whole would actually look like the original celestial apparition. Since the most fundamental concepts remain, however, it would be entirely inappropriate to ignore this body of evidence. In fact, by allowing the earlier sources to serve as a guide, we will discover more meanings embedded in the later artistic elaborations than modern viewers have ever imagined.
More than a century and a half ago G. S. Faber remarked that the god Saturn is "literally represented as sailing over the ocean in a ship," and this ship, according to Faber, was synonymous with a host of other ships of world mythology.3 Ovid tells us that because the god traversed the entire sphere of the "earth" in his primordial voyage, his special token was a ship.4 It is generally agreed that Ovid is correct in saying that this ship of Saturn is that which appears on the reverse of coins stamped with the double face of Janus.5 The latter god, Saturn's acknowledged alter ego, was remembered as the "inventor" of ships.
Figure 3. Babylonian sun god in his cosmic ship
Long before the age of Latin poets and historians, however, the Sumerians and Babylonians celebrated the ship of the planet god Saturn. The priests of Lagash knew Saturn as Ningirsu, owner of "the beloved ship," a celestial vehicle "that rises up out of the dam of the deep."6 Similarly, the god Enki (translated by the Greeks as Kronos/Saturn) rides "the ship of the antelope of the Apsu [cosmic ocean]."7 In fact, Saturn's ship, called the Magur-boat and esteemed as the "Great Boat of Heaven,"8 is one of the more frequently- depicted images in Mesopotamian art (Fig. 3).
Ship of the Sun
As we have already documented, the ancient sun god was Saturn, so there can be no basis for separating the ship of Saturn from the often-noted ship of the sun.
It is also an easily verified fact that virtually all of the great gods of myth sail in a ship, though no one has yet offered a theory to account for the many unusual traits of this celestial vehicle, which is constantly invoked as a visible form moving across the waters of the sky. The ship of Helios is a "golden goblet" sailing on the all-encompassing river Oceanus. A ship of "self-made light" transports the Iranian god Yima.9 The Japanese creator god Sukuna-Biko-Na rides "on the crest of the waves in a heavenly Kagami boat."10 "A golden ship of golden tackle moved about in the sky," reads the Hindu Atharva Veda.11 Natives of the Marquesas say that in the beginning there was only the sea on which the creator Tiki floated in a canoe.12 The Hawaiian god Tanaroa sailed above in a "flying canoe," much like the great shaman of the Yenisei Ostiaks, who "rows his boat in heaven."13 So also did the legendary Hiawatha navigate "a white canoe which moved without human aid."14
In ancient Egypt the ship is an extremely popular theme in all local traditions. It was the hope of every pious Egyptian, on their death, to be crowned like the sun god, to enter the celestial city and to alight "upon the forehead of Ra in the bows of his boat which is in heaven,"15 or to "see the Sektet boat of the sacred Sahu passing forth over the sky."16
O come and acclaim ye Ra, the lord of heaven, the Prince (Life, Health, Strength!), the Creator of the gods, and adore ye him in his beautiful form at his shining forth in the Atet boat.17
I shall advance to my throne which is in the boat of Ra. I shall not be molested, and I shall not suffer shipwreck from my throne which is in the boat of Ra the mighty one.18
I am the King, I am glorious, shining, besouled, strong, mighty, far-reaching, and far-striding. I go aboard, for I am pure; I receive the oar, I take my seat in the rowing-side of the sky, I row in the rowing side of the sky, I ply my oar in the rowing side of the sky.19
What is immediately clear in these texts is that, to those who lived under the influence of the former sky, the celestial ship was no less a visible part of the heavens than the sun god himself. To what celestial object, then, did the ship refer?
Few comparative mythologists would deny that the original form of the ship was a crescent. The crescent form prevails in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, China, Greece, Scandinavia, and even the AmericasQgiving rise to the popular belief that the sun god travels nightly in "the ship of the new moon." The specific character of the ship as a crescent and the relationship of the crescent to the sun god is well illustrated by the Sumerian and Babylonian Sin, probably the most familiar crescent-divinity in the ancient world. While Sin is titled Udsar, "the crescent," he is also proclaimed to be "the shining bark of the heavens."20 In view of the acknowledged identity of Saturn as the sun god, it is significant that in numerous Mesopotamian illustrations of the Sin-Crescent, the sun is shown resting in the center of its embrace.21 And to this fact one can add the expert opinion of Peter Jensen, Alfred Jeremias and others that the Sin-crescent was considered as an aspect of Saturn.2
Of course the usual identification of the crescent-ship with the Moon is due to one fact alone: the new Moon is the only crescent familiar to the modern age. And though our Sun never rests within the hollow of the Moon, the standard identification is so routine that mythologists give almost no attention to the actual imagery of the crescent-ship, every detail of which suggests a radically different interpretation.
Ship and Enclosure
One feature of our model distinguishing its interpretation of the ship from all conventional understanding is the virtual identity of the crescent and the revolving wheel of the sun. The universal sun-in-crescent , I have argued, cannot be understood apart from the basic character of the enclosed sun . Illuminated by the solar orb, Saturn's celestial dwelling presented a brightly lit half, so that as the Earth turned on its axis, earthbound observers saw two revolving semicircles of light and shadow moving in a vast pathway around the stationary orb of Saturn. Hence, our model implies that the ship was part and parcel of the sun god's enclosure.
In the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, King Unas announces, "I revolve round heaven like Ra, I sail round heaven like Thoth."23 While Ra's image is the enclosed sun , the common symbol of Thoth is the crescent-enclosure
. Allowing the one image to explain the other, we see that Unas does not here engage in two separate acts, but in a single act depicted in two different ways: to revolve within the Aten is to sail in the crescent ship of Thoth. "I stand up in thy enclosure, O Maa; I sail round about," reads the Book of the Dead.24 From such declarations as this, together with other evidences cited below, it is clear that to enter the sun god's enclosure is to enter the cosmic ship. This is why the royal barge of Amenophis III, for example, bore the name "Aten gleams. "25 The ship itself is the gleaming, brightly illuminated face of the Aten- band. Thus the ship's common name: "ship of the Aten." Of course, to recognize that the ship is half of the Aten-band is simply to accept the explicit Egyptian depictions of the band with a great crescent wrapped half way around it:26
Figure 4. The Egyptian crescent-enclosure
Not surprisingly, this direct connection of the crescent-boat with the sun- god's enclosure will be found also in Mesopotamia. Though the crescent of Sin is the Magur-boat possessed by Ninurta-Saturn, the sign for gur means "circular enclosure."27 And here, too, reckoning with the symbolism only requires one to accept the explicit presentations of the crescent in Mesopotamian art, showing it as part of the sun god's enclosure.28
From this unambiguous evidence one perceives that Egyptian pictures of the Aten-band resting in the ship simply give a distinctly mythical expression to the abstract, archetypal form of the crescent-enclosure. In Egyptian illustrations of the crescent-enclosure, the crescent frequently evolves toward a larger receptacle for the band, as can be seen in the three versions of the band offered below (these being taken from different portraits of Khensu, an Egyptian counterpart of the Babylonian crescent god Sin). While the initial portrait retains the archetypal form, the last shows significant evolution:
Figure 5. Evolution of the Egyptian crescent-enclosure
A more dynamic and complex process can be seen in the evolution of the crescent-enclosure's mythical concept as a ship. Let us start with an illustration from the Papyrus of Anu.
Figure 6. Elementary form of the Egyptian ship
The picture shows an uncomplicated profile of the ship, whose basic form is easily related to the crescent-enclosure images above. In Fig. 7 below the portrait is only slightly more complex, with the significant addition of a vital conceptQthe resting sun god within the enclosure.
Figure 7. Sun god resting in ship
Then, in Fig. 8, the relative size of the enclosure is reduced and it is pushed to the left to accommodate the resting god, who also wears the enclosure on his head.
Figure 8. Ship with diminished Aten-band
Another example shows the enclosure only on the head of the resting god, and the remaining image is complicated by the addition of two other symbolic figuresQsteersman and ibisQboth associations vital to the total symbolism of the ship.
Figure 9. Sailing god accompanied by others
An illustration from the Papyrus of Nu presents an array of gods in the ship, and though the enclosure is present, it has been reduced and pushed aside:
Figure 10. Further displacement of the Aten-band
In noting these simpler levels of evolution, one sees how easily the archetypal forms were distorted, even as the artists added important mythical associations.
The other, equally fundamental principle is that, with time, the functional attributes of the symbol came to dominate over the archetypal forms. I offer as an example of this process two pictures of the ship, based on the same symbolic concepts. In the first (Fig. 11), we see the Aten-band in the ship, and the sun god, now portrayed conceptually as the beetle god Khepera, inside the enclosure. Around the band and helping to preserve one of its most crucial mythical identities, is an encircling serpent with tail in mouth, the folds of the serpent being presented in such a way as to state pictorially another mythical attribute of the band: it was conceived as a surrounding stream of water.
Figure 11. Khepera in boat
Now notice the evolution of the idea in the illustration from the Book of Gates (Fig. 12). The watery serpent is still there, but no longer as an unbroken enclosureQand the band has disappeared, having been replaced by a more functional form of the god's dwelling.
Figure 12. Sun god in navicular shrine
As a concluding example of the evolutionary process, I offer an illustration from Denderah. Here the accretion of symbols combines with the progressively dominating influence of functionality to almost displace the archetypal band. The band is, however, still there, with god-child inside, though both appear in highly diminished form and are pushed virtually out of the ship, allowing the imposing functional symbol to dominate the portrait completely.
Figure 13. A popular functional form of the ship
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the evolution of the artistic tradition destroyed the evidential value of later Egyptian art. As will become clear, by combining interacting symbols the artists helped to preserve many aspects of the original conceptual unity even as they displaced the archetypes. And these incremental additions and distortions cannot hide the fact that, in its original concept, the ship (crescent) is inseparable from the Aten-band.
The Sun God's Dwelling is a Ship
With this crucial identity in hand we possess the simplest possible explanation for a heretofore unexplained (and all too frequently overlooked) fact of ancient symbolism: virtually every mythical form of the sun god's dwellingQbe it mother-womb or world wheel, city, temple or kingdom, egg, throne, or circular serpentQwas declared to be a "ship" sailing on the cosmic waters. The ancient mother goddess, conceived as a luminous "womb" in the sky, was also invoked as the "ship."29 Thus, "ship" is a name of the womb of the Sumerian Inanna.30 Correspondingly, "the ship of the brilliant offspring" was an epithet of the Babylonian goddess Bau.31 The Egyptians conceived the band of the enclosed sun as the womb of the goddess Nut, called also a "ship." The Pyramid Texts say, "Row me, O mother of mine; row me O abode of mine."32 "O Boat of the sky. . .O Boat of Nut."33
The ship of heaven is indeed a crescent, but the crescent is an aspect of the sun-god's enclosure, remembered as Saturn's world wheel. This is why the Sumerian Ma-gur boat, ship of the planet-god Saturn, received the appellation "chariot."34 (Remember that the "chariot" itself was originally nothing but the cosmic wheel.) So too did the Chinese Huang-ti (identified with the planet Saturn) possess a magical vehicle that served as both ship and chariot.35 It is not surprising, then, to find Scandinavian rock carvings showing the wheel of the sun resting in the cosmic boat, or to discover thatQfrom Assyria to Britain and from India to PolynesiaQimages of cosmic ships either contained wheels or were set on wheels and conveyed around dry land in the rites.36 As symbols of the sun god's enclosure, ship and wheel merge as one.
This same relationship of sun god's dwelling and cosmic ship can be confirmed in all mythical forms of the dwelling. The myths deem this band to be a circle of "land" brought forth by Saturn in the creation; and "the Barge of Earth" (the celestial land) is at once a name of the sun god's ship and the kingdom in the sky over which the god rules.37 In both Egypt and Mesopotamia, throne, temple and city all appear as "ships" floating on the cosmic waters. When the Egyptian texts say, "This great god travels in this city, on the water,"38 they mean that cosmic city and cosmic ship are one. Compare the Mesopotamian Surripak, "the City of the Ship," or the Sumerian Kes temple, described like or as "the princely Magur-boat floating in the sky."39 In exactly the same way, one will find on examination that the sun god's eye, throne, shrine, shield and even the circular serpent either appear as a ship or are depicted as an integral part of the ship, despite the fact that the respective terrestrial objects themselves possess no "nautical" quality to explain the pervasive association.
It is an interesting fact, for example, that around the world the former sun- god or creator-king is said to have sailed on a ship constituted from the form of a great serpent or dragon. (The myths declare that in a spectacular celestial event this fiery monster had wrapped itself around the god.40) One of the most universal symbols in the ancient lexicon, the circular serpent- dragon is indisputably a figure of the sun god's enclosure, as in the well- -known sign of the Aten:
Figure 14. Aten-band as circular serpent
That this enclosing serpent is presented mythologically and ideographically as a "ship" simply confirms that ship and enclosure are one. In Egypt the famous serpent-dragon Set becomes the throne and ship of Osiris, and the serpentine form of the ship occurs throughout Egypt (Fig. 15, a). Likewise, on Mesopotamian cylinder seals, we see repeated instances of a god sailing on a ship that is the dragon of the deep (Fig. 15, b). So too does every Viking ship seem to have been conceived in mythical terms as a dragon on the waters, in the same way that a serpent forms the ship of the Hindu Vishnu and the Mexican Quetzalcoatl.41
Figure 15. (a) Egyptian serpent-ship; (b) Mesopotamian dragon-ship But whether it is a city, temple or circular serpent rendered as a ship, our model interprets these as coherent images and says that the implied celestial forms can be taken in the most literal sense. In the former age of the gods a great wheel turned in the sky. And the rim of the wheel displayed a brightly- illuminated crescent.
It must be added, finally, that our model does not merely identify the crescent ship as an aspect of the band, it says that the crescent is exactly half of the band. As noted above, the Egyptian ship is identified frequently with the god Thoth, whose symbol is the crescent-enclosure . If the ship itself is the crescent, the sign leaves no doubt that here it is precisely half of the enclosure. That the ship does indeed divide the god's dwelling in half is clear from the etymology of the Egyptian At-boat. The root at means "to divide in half," "to bisect." Moreover, this same, very precise relationship can be confirmed in Hindu symbolism. There the celestial enclosure is termed "the world egg," while the ship of the gods is Argha, identified as the lower half of the egg.42
Another equally specific feature of the ship in our model is its unique relationship to Saturn, the polar sun: for the model claims that, in the sun god's journey, only the ship moves.
Egyptian sources continually depict the ship circling in the sky, and as I intend to fully demonstrate, it does not rise or set in the fashion of our Sun and Moon. Perhaps the most common Egyptian word for "to sail" is seqet, from the root qet, "a circle"Qwritten with the determinative , the form of the Aten-band. Literally, seqet means "to go in a circle." Hence one text declares that "the barge circles in the sky,"43 while another extols "the circlings of the Henhenu-bark."44 And the ship does not simply revolve above the observer, it circles around the central sun, which is motionless or remains em hetep, "at rest" or "in one place." The ship is thus "the Boat of Rest (Hetep]."
O god Ra, grant thou that the Osiris Nu may travel on in thy boat em hetep.45
Let me embark in thy boat, O Ra, em hetep.46
Thy resting place is the barge of Khepri.47
Thus, for a proper understanding of the language one must refer to the universal tradition of a central, resting, polar sun. While the sun god stands motionless the ship and crew circle around him:
The crew of Ra circles about.48
The dwellers in the Sektet Boat go round about thee.49
As the model predicts, then, this is the only sense in which the central sun "moves."
Enclosure and Pathway
From a number of indications it can be assumed that the band visually enclosing the orb of Saturn possessed a fluid appearance, giving rise to the idea of an encircling river or ocean. To an observer on Earth the real sense of revolution was provided not by the band per se, but by the crescent and the arms of the sun crossQboth appearing to revolve around Saturn as the Earth turned on its axis. To those who viewed this spectacular daily cycle, it appeared as if the great ship sailed daily around an immense, fiery river or ocean.
It is, to say the least, unlikely that anyone looking out at our rising and setting Sun would wish to declare that it dwells in the center of a band that is also the "path" of a ship on which it is seen to sail. So the unique implications of our model constitute a very clear contrast to the solar interpretation, which always identifies the pathway with the circuit of the solar orb.
Like many other ancient races, the Egyptians celebrated a circular stream or ocean around which the sun god sailed each day. "I have made my way and gone round the heavenly ocean on the path of the bark of Ra,"50 reads the Book of the Dead. "Lo, I sail the great Bark on the Stream."51
Other hymns similarly depict the ship going around the "Pool of Fire."52 The language makes clear that this visible pathway was not conceived just as water, but also as a flaming circle. Thus chapter CXXXVI of the Book of the Dead is titled "The Chapter of Sailing in the Great Boat of Ra to Pass over the Circle of Bright Flame."53 "I have traversed the circle of fire," reads a Coffin Text.54 What was this fiery circle around which the Egyptian ship sailed?
Pathway and Aten
While Egyptologists have from the beginning identified the Aten as our Sun in the sky today, my claim is that the Aten is the band housing the primeval sunQand this leads to the corollary tenet that the Aten was the pathway of the ship, a wholesale contradiction of the prevailing interpretation.
That the Aten-band did indeed signify "the celestial pathway" can be confirmed through numerous lines of investigation. A common hieroglyph which was interchangeable with the Aten-band, for example, was the Shen-sign, representing the band as a circle of rope:
Figure 16. The Shen-rope
This rope-enclosure of the Shen denoted the tangible "boundary," "edge," or "border" of the celestial kingdom, yet was used repeatedly to signify the celestial oceanQthe path of the ship. Thus the Aten-sign was often the determinative in hieroglyphic words for the shen-rope.55 In other words, there is no possible way to separate the Shen-rope from the Aten band, and both are certifiable terms for the celestial pathway. (Why this enclosure was interpreted mythologically as a rope can be answered only by the history of the cometary curl, seen at once as a serpent and as a magical rope wrapping itself around the god to form an enclosure. The vital role of the cometary curl, in connection with the ship, is discussed below.)
It is well known that in Greek thought the serpentine Chronos, representing the boundary of the primeval cosmos (sun-god's enclosure), forms the path of the ship of Helios, whom we have discovered to be Saturn. An early prototype of this imagery is surely Babylonian symbolism, in which the ship of the gods sails on a circular "ocean" described as both a serpent and a rope and represented pictographically as the band of the enclosed sun .56 In the "interior" of this surrounding stream or ocean is said to shine the planet god Saturn.57
Figure 17. Serpent ship sailing on serpent path
Egyptian sources similarly identify the cosmic serpent as the watery "pathway" traversed by the boat. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, describes the ship sailing over the "back" of the serpent-dragon Apepi,58 a literary motif which finds many correspondences in Egyptian art. (Thus in Fig. 17 we see a ship constituted by a double-headed serpent sailing on the back of a second serpent.)
We are on solid ground, therefore, in observing that the circular serpent fills two roles, one as the ship and one as the pathway. While in the artistic elaborations of later ages, the two may appear as separate symbols, they are only as "separate" as the crescent and enclosure.
Pathway and Temple/City Wall
It follows further from this line of reasoning that the ship, in its daily circuit, revolved around the wall of the cosmic temple or the boundary of the celestial city. And though the idea may seem bizarre (certainly nothing in the character of our Sun or Moon would suggest such a belief), it is hard to imagine that ancient symbolists could have overlooked the idea if our model of the ship is valid. It is therefore significant that throughout ancient Egypt, the priests commemorated the ship's daily revolution by fashioning an image of the ship, placing it on a sledge-shaped stand, and dragging it around the walls of the city.59 Clearly, the city wall denoted symbolically the path of the ship.
Yet in other rites we find models of the same cosmic ship being pulled around the wall of the temple, in imitation of the ship's daily circuit.60 Thus the two practices can be seen as complementary rites, both pointing to precisely the same origin and confirming from one more vantage point that the path of the ship was the wall, border, or boundary of the sacred space organized by the creator-king.
Pathway and Goddess
That the circular pathway is the band of the Aten is clear from many other lines of evidence as well. It is known, for example, that in Egyptian symbolism the cosmic ocean, lake, or river means the circular womb (or body) of the mother goddess Nut. But Nut, as we have already observed, simply personified the Aten-band. Thus numerous reliefs show the sun god's boat sailing over the body of the goddess (Figs. 27, 28).
These portrayals of the ship reveal all of the characteristics of later- evolved art, but preserve the very idea stated in texts such as this from the Book of the Dead: "I am a Sahu [radiant, glorified being], who assigneth the bounds as he saileth round the starry throng of Heaven, the body of thy mother Nut."61 In fact, to say that the ship travels around the body of Nut is simply to reiterate that the pathway is the wall or boundary of the sun-god's dwelling, for the dwelling of Ra is the womb of Nut.62
Pathway and Circle of the Gods
What is the "starry throng" that (in the above-cited text, as translated by Budge) constitutes the body of the enclosure-goddess Nut? The prevailing view of Egyptologists has always seen the goddess/pathway as nothing but a metaphor for the expansive sky across which the Sun and Moon move in their respective journeys. Our view of the goddess, on the other hand, is vastly more concrete. The goddess is a shining band around the central sun, and the "starry throng" or circle of secondary gods means nothing other than the literal, constituent parts of the band. In the archaic creation legend, vast quantities of material erupted from the sun god as living "Outflow," and it was from this ejecta that the band was constituted.63
For the modern interpretation much confusion is created by the fact that this fiery ejecta is recorded pictographically as an assembly of "star"-images. (Hence the "stars" on the body of Nut.) Because we are today so accustomed to seeing these little five-pointed images used for the stars that fill our night sky, no one has felt any need to ask whether that was the original meaning.
But in the hieroglyphs these stars mean the companions of the sun god, and they are not spread randomly across the sky but constitute a visible circle of fiery spirits revolving around the god. This is why the "circle of the gods" is represented hieroglyphically by a crescent-enclosure Qan absurdity under the usual interpretation of the gods. In truth, the circle or band of secondary gods is the enclosure of the Aten; which means not only that the great god in the ship resides within the circle of lesser gods, but also that these gods or light spirits stand on the "pathway" of the ship. Again, we arrive at a radical but testable reinterpretation of the symbolism. And the verification comes from this highly explicit statement of the Coffin Texts:
Every god who is on the border of your enclosure is on the path of your boat. 64
While modern Egyptology could make nothing of this bold statement, it agrees in every way with the previously-discussed images. And as I have surely emphasized enough, it is only their lack of a concrete reference that prevents Egyptologists from perceiving the literal meanings.
Ship and Four Quarters
In my previous essay, I noted that the Egyptians represented the sacred space organized by the creator as an enclosure divided by four life-bearing streams. 65 The land of the gods possessed four "quarters," with the central sun (the universal "lord of the four quarters") standing at the juncture of the four streams. Clearly, if the model is fundamentally accurate in representing the former appearance of the sky, the original idea has nothing in common with the vague modern concept of "the four corners of the world."66
The Egyptians represented the celestial land of the gods by the sign , a hieroglyph also for the goddess Nut. When the sign is interpreted by our model, there is little room for doubt that in sailing around the "border" of Nut, the ship must circumnavigate the "four quarters" of the cosmic dwelling. So once more the requirements of the model are easily distinguished from any meaningful image of the Sun and Moon today: There is no sense in which either our Sun or Moon could be said to sail daily round the "Four Quarters" as they are conventionally defined. Will the texts, then, support the unusual interpretation of the model?
. . .The King crosses the sky over its four quarters.67
I have travelled around the sky over its four corners, and I sit in the place where I desire to be.68
I go round about heaven in the four quarters thereof.69
While I present these quotes as translated by others, it needs to be understood that what is here rendered as the "sky" or "heaven" (Egyptian pet) means the circle of the goddess Nut: in sailing around the band of Nut the ship traverses the four quarters.
Ship and World Mountain
In identifying the cosmic ship as the Saturnian crescent our model leads to two conclusions: 1) the crescent-ship revolved around the summit of the world mountain and, 2) the ship itself provided the cosmic mount with its cleft or horned peak. Consequently, while neither of these ideas would make any sense under a solar or lunar interpretation of the ship, they are both logical tests of the predictive ability of the model.
It is significant that from Egypt to Mesopotamia and from India to Scandinavia, one finds the cosmic ship brought into connection with the image of a crescent and pillar. And while the connection may be nearly lost in the renderings of later ages, drawings of the cosmic ship from the prehistoric period have preserved the very forms anticipated by our model. Examples in Fig. 18, from southwest Norway, can be compared to closely parallel prehistoric images from Egypt (Fig. 19).
Figure 18. The ship of heaven in Scandinavian rock drawings
If these "ships" of ancient art and ritual were derived from the image of a crescent resting on a pillar, we have an explanation for the fact that in both lands, a pillared crescent is displayed within the ship. (This, as we shall see again and again in this series of articles, typifies the process by which the original abstract form is kept alive in the early pictographic and artistic records of the ship.)
Figure 19. Prehistoric Egyptian ship drawings
As archetypal emblems of the ship above the polar column, the pillared crescents in these drawings keep alive a fundamental principle. And these examples can be compared with a later Egyptian image of the ship (Fig. 20), in which the symbolic link to the pillared crescent-enclosure has not been forgotten
Figure 20. Egyptain ship carrying archetypal image
For a more stylized version of the ship and mount I offer details from two illustrations in the Book of the Dead (Fig. 21, a, b). In both drawings the ship, in the form of a double serpent, rests upon the world mountain or Primeval Hill, presented in the first instance as a supporting stand or pillar and in the second as a colunn of water. "I have reached the high portals of the Entourage of Ra, who reckon up the pillared bark," announces the king in a Coffin Text.70 This distinctive phrase, "the pillared bark," is used more than once in Egyptian sources and cannot be understood apart from the Egyptian image (discussed below) of the pillar god Shu raising the ship aloft on outstretched arms.71 Since the ship is acknowledged to have possessed a crescent form, it is clear that the pillared bark and the pillared crescent are synonymous.72
Figure 21. (a) Ship on the Primeval Hill (b) Ship on column of water
The pictographic evidence is complemented by the texts, which show that the subject is a revolving ship, traversing a circle around the summit of the cosmic pillar or world mountain (i.e., the mount serves as the axis of the ship's revolution):
I assume my pure seat which is in the bow of the Bark of Ra. It is the sailors who convey Ra round about the Mountain of Fire-Light, and it is they who will convey me round about the Mountain of Fire-Light.73
Hail, Only One! Behold, thou art in the Sektet boat as it goeth round about the Mountain of Fire-Light.74
The reader will recall that what I have rendered literally as "the Mountain of Fire-Light" (Egyptian Aakhut), is conventionally translated as "horizon." In the texts quoted above, for example, Budge's translation has the sun god sailing "round about the horizon"Qa meaningless description of the Sun. This is not the only instance in which the translation of highly literal and colorful concepts into vague language more suitable to the solar interpretation has destroyed the integrity of the original symbolism.
Ship and Twin Peaks
In my preceding article I noted the apparently universal idea that the world mountain possessed twin peaks or a cleft summit, which our model interprets as the crescent resting upon the central column. (The fact that the mythical twin peaks are formed by a crescent on the summit of the mount was observed many years ago by Faber.75) Two distinct symbols (ship and twin peaks) thus point to the same celestial form (pillared crescent). And if one can say that the Egyptian ship images reviewed above adapt the crescent to its mythological interpretation as a sea-faring vessel, our theory can claim with equal assurance that the Egyptian "mountain" image adapts the same form to its mythological interpretation as two peaksQthis, despite the fact that a ship and a two-peaked mountaintop, as things in themselves, would appear to have nothing in common.
It is, of course, the universal opinion of Egyptologists that the mountain glyph represents two geographical peaks, real or imaginary, from which the solar orb rises each morning. So it is well worth asking whether the proposed identity of the twin peaks as the cosmic ship can be verified in Egyptian sources. But asking this question raises the further question as to how such an odd identity might have been recorded symbolically. How would an artist, for example, in depicting mythological forms and events, preserve the secret identity of two such disparate objects or symbols? As I have already suggested, and intend to demonstrate through numerous examples in this series of articles, the most common practice was to simply superimpose the one image upon the other. This single habit, while creating unbelievable confusion for Egyptologists, has preserved a wealth of hidden identities against which our model can be tested.
Here is a fact for which no Egyptologist can offer even the beginnings of an explanation: in countless illustrations of the cosmic ship, the two peaks of the Aakhut are shown either as part and parcel of the ship or being carried by the ship. Five examples will be found in T. R. Clark's Ancient Egypt, proclaiming the essential identity of the two and proving that, unlike any mountain on earth, the two peaks literally sailed around the sky.
Figure 22. Twin peaks sailing in the ship
In the instances found in Clark's work, the Aten-band rests between the peaks of the right and left, which in turn sit squarely in the cosmic ship. Responding to one instance, Clark calls the cleft hill the "eastern horizon," adding that "this hill is incongruously placed in the solar boat."76 In another, the Aten "rests on the twin-peaked mountain of sunrise. Against all verisimilitude this figure, mountain and all, is being conveyed across the waters of the heavenly ocean in a boat."77
Actually, there are two ways in which Egyptian artists preserved the secret identity of the ship and twin peaks. One was to place the two peaks in the boat (Fig. 22). The other was to place the boat squarely on the two peaks as shown below.
Figure. 23. Ship resting on the twin peaks
The improbable sailing mountaintop is clearly no anomaly of the artistic tradition, for other evidence as well suggests that the two peaks move in the very fashion we have claimed the crescent to move around the central sun in a daily cycle. It has been demonstrated by Heinrich Sch fer, for example, that the two peaks are not always displayed upright: in connection with the symbolism of the "night," they are presented in an inverted position above the sun godQexactly where our model would have them in the "night" phase of the daily cycle.78
From these considerations the conclusion is inescapable: the two peaks were anything but a fixture of the local landscape; and the Egyptian symbolists recognized them to be synonymous with the cosmic ship.
Mount as Mooring Post.
Several scholars, among them Uno Holmberg and Mircea Eliade, have observed the widespread tradition wherein the world pillar or world mountain appears as the Binding Post, Tethering Post or Hitching Post to which the revolving celestial lights are bound.79 In the symbolism of the cosmic ship there is an apparently similar themeQa celestial "Mooring Post" or "Great Mooring Post," and this our model would identify as the same cosmic column. An important level of evidence is provided by the Sumerian dimgal (Babylonian tarkullu) and the Egyptian mena or menat, both of which may be translated either as the "Binding Post" or "Mooring Post." The Egyptian image of the Menat or celestial Mooring Post is.
Figure 24. Egyptian Menat, the celestial "Mooring Post
This image, showing the enclosure of the sun resting on the cosmic column, can help us interpret the corresponding Mesopotamian concept. For as noted by Eliade and others the Sumerian and Babylonian Great Binding Post is a figure of the axis-pillar.80 And if this is so, then it can be assumed that the "Mooring Post" simply adapts the archetypal cosmic column to the mythology of the sun god's ship, which revolved around the summit of the column each day. In such a role, "Mooring Post" is a very apt term for the world mountain.
In the phase of the polar configuration we have illustrated the central column of the mount visually passes through the crescent, forming a central boss or spike:
If the cosmic ship has its reference in this proposed celestial image, the projection of the mount into the hollow of the crescent provides a direct and obvious explanation of the ship's "mast," a frequently-cited attribute of the ship of the sun. So our model not only places the ship in a unique role as the twin peaks of the world mountain, it interprets the "ship's mast" in a highly unusual wayQindeed as an absurdity in any natural context apart from the actual experience of the polar configuration.
Yet the identity of the axis-pillar and ship's mast is confirmed in Hindu symbolism noted by Ananda Coomaraswamy. An introductory verse of the Dasakumaccrita, for example, lists the "mast of the ship of the earth" [i.e., ship of the world wheel] as an aspect of "the axis of the universe."81 In the construction of Hindu stupas the axis-pillar was represented by a central finial often extending upward to an impressive height. The column bore the title "sky-scraping" yasti, or "mast."82 Another mythical image of the polar column was the famous Mount Meru; and in agreement with the claimed identity, the Hindus designated the mount as the "mast" of the Argha, the ship of the gods.83
That the Egyptians, too, designated the ship's mast as an extension of the cosmic mountain can be seen from the steps which rise in the center of the Egyptian boat in Fig. 20, a. The symbol does not just mean "steps;" it is the most common Egyptian sign of the Primeval Hill, here replacing the ship's mast. And it is no accident: for while the Primeval Hill is Khet, the same word means also "ship's mast." The significance of the language is only increased by the fact that the Sumerian dimgal, the polar column conceived as the "binding post" or "mooring post," is often used for "ship's mast."84 In our world a mast and a mooring post are wholly distinct, but in the symbolism of the cosmic ship and mountain they mean the same thing, as we should expect.
It should be noted that the identity of mast and polar column simply reinforces the above-stated role of the cosmic ship as the twin peaks of the mount. For it is only through the unique placement and appearance of the ship on the mountaintop that the mountain can fulfill its designated role as "mast. " In fact the symbolic identity of world mountain and ship's mast was observed more than 150 years ago by G. S. Faber: "A vast centrical mountain formed the mast or boss of the mundane boat: and the great father, rising out of the sacred umbilicus of the arkite world, supplied to it the place of a mast. That mountain was the hill of paradise."85 Faber noted that the Hindu ship on the mountaintop was represented symbolically by the trident of Shiva, composed of a rod or staff surmounted by a "lunette" (crescent with a spike rising in its center). The trident, he stated, denotes "the ship Argha under its sidereal form of a crescent, with Shiva standing in the midst of it and supplying the place of a mast."86
We conclude, therefore, that even while the language and symbolism of the ship's mooring post and mast violate all mundane functions of such objects, as cosmic symbols they answer with one voice to the archetype of the polar configuration.
Ship and other crescent-forms
The highly unique appearance of the central sun within the pillared crescent of our model implies a series of telling identities. As one applies the model to the mythical record, an increasing body of evidence will suggest that, in the brightly illuminated face of Saturn's enclosure, men saw not only a cosmic ship resting on a heaven-reaching column, and not just the twin peaks of the cosmic hillQbut also the shining horns of a celestial Bull or Cow; the outstretched arms of a heaven-encompassing or heaven-sustaining god; and the outstretched wings of the winged god or goddess.
It follows that the ship must possess a previously-unexplained symbolic tie to each of these crescent-formsQa virtual identity which no conventional perspective would either anticipate or consider intelligible responses to celestial appearances today. Specifically, we should expect to find in the most original sources an unusual identification of the ship with celestial horns, outstretched arms and outstretched wings, finding also in each case that the respective objects reveal the same form and behavior. Over the centuries of wondering about ancient man's myths and symbols, no one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever suggested this range of symbolic equationsQa fact which underscores the distinctiveness of our model's predictions: the interpretations of the model stand wholly apart from all perspectives based on the way the sky looks now.
Ship and Horns
One of the few identities that does not seem to surprise or frustrate comparative mythologists today is the equation of the great god's ship with the bull or cow of heaven. Perhaps the reader can already see why this is the case.
The Sumerian Nannar, Babylonian Sin, esteemed as a celestial bull with glistening horns, is also "the shining bark of the heavens."87 An identical role of the celestial bull occurs in Egypt, where the Pyramid Texts declare: "May you ferry over by means of the Great Bull."88 "The Bull of the Sky has bent down his horn that he may pass over thereby."89 Thus a Coffin Text celebrates the "long-horn which supports the bark of Anubis."90 And if these are not explicit enough, we have this from the Coffin Texts:
O Horn, ferry across Him who is in his shrine.91
Prehistoric drawings from Egypt repeatedly associate the ship and a horned creature, and later Egyptian art continued the theme.92 The same connection occurs in many Scandinavian rock drawings.93 So too, a rock picture from the Nubian desert south of Kerma shows the ship so placed on the back of a bull that the boat and the galloping animal are one.94
It is well worth asking here why comparative mythologists have no difficulty in perceiving the identity of the ship and shining horns. The obvious reason is that they think they have a self-evident reference for both in a single celestial form: the crescent of the New Moon. If a single underlying form can explain two different symbols, I am sure that all comparative mythologists would agree that it brings a measure of welcome coherenceQeven though the two objects involved (ship and bull), in and of themselves, have nothing in common. In this particular case it is easy for the mythologists to see that in literature and in art the underlying identity is stated by simply superimposing the one image upon the other. I hope the moral of this truism will be clear as we explore other symbolic equationsQthese having no conceivable reference in anything in the sky today and yet fulfilling down to astonishing detail the predictions of our model.
Ship and Outstretched Arms
Since our crescent Moon does not look like a pair of outstretched arms, our model is, to say the least, on novel ground in implying that the same crescent which the symbolists recorded as a cosmic ship was also recorded as the two arms of a cosmic giant holding aloft the celestial enclosure.
In the Pyramid Texts, the deceased king ascends to the land enclosed within the mother womb, and by this ascent to heaven comes to dwell at once in the cosmic ship and within the outstretched arms of the heaven-containing Atum:
I have come to you, O Nephthys;
I have come to you, O Night-bark. .. .
It is pleasant for me and for them,
Within the arms of my father,
Within the arms of Atum.95
Elsewhere in the same texts we find that the King is raised up "in the Day- -bark. . .within the arms of Anubis."96 Or again, a prayer to the sun god reads: "Make ready your arms for me, O Ra, come and ferry me over to yonder side. . ."97 Any doubt as to whether the priests were here identifying the ship and outstretched arms is removed by the description of the cosmic ship in the Coffin Texts:
Her starboard side is the right arm of Atum. Her larboard side is the left arm of Atum.98
Thus in the Book of Caverns the sun god "sails over this cavern [the enclosure] on the arms of the mysterious one."99 In the same way, Osiris sails "on the two arms of Horus."100
It is this unequivocal identity of ship and outstretched arms that explains the juxtaposition of the two images in the well-known illustration from the papyrus Khensu-mes below: The god Nu, with arms outstretched, bears aloft the ship of heavenQin the very manner we have come to expect .when the artists are combining alternative mythical interpretations of the crescent.
Figure 25. The ship raised aloft on the arms of Nu
Perhaps it is unnecessary to state the obvious: the idea of sailing on the arms of a human-like figure could hardly have been suggested by any experience of nature as we know it, and it is certainly not suggested by the Moon in any phase. Yet who would deny that this unique mythical concept is predicted by the model?
The reader is referred again to the prehistoric Scandinavian and Egyptian images of the cosmic ship (Figs. 18 and 19). Notice in the Scandinavian instances that more than once the ship replaces the arms of the heaven- sustaining god; and notice that the pillar and crescent carried by the ship yield the very archetypal form claimed to underlie the myths of both the heaven-sustaining giant and the pillared ship. Thus, in the Egyptian ship images, the pillared crescent blends almost imperceptibly into the image of the god with upraised arms. Is it possible to review these images and not see the operative ideaQthat the outstretched arms of the pillar-god are the cosmic ship?
Let us, then, carry the logic one step further. If the proposed identity is correct, then one must conclude that, from the vantage point of this particular mythical equation, only the "neck" and the "head" of the heaven- containing god rise in the center of the ship. We are thus led to anticipate the idea expressed in this bizarre Egyptian illustration, showing "the face of Ra" within the ship:
Figure 26. Head and neck of Ra in the ship
Here the neck and head rise in the center of the ship in the very fashion necessary for the ship to represent symbolically the shoulders and outstretched arms of the heaven-containing god. (That this placement of neck and head in the ship is not an aberration on the part of the symbolists, will become clear when we take up the role of Mars below.)
Ship and Outstretched Wings
In the Pyramid Texts the deceased king ascends to the realm of the sun god and demands: "If you do not ferry me over, I will leap up and put myself on the wing of Thoth, and he will ferry me over to yonder side."101
Since the symbol of Thoth was the crescent enclosure, the god's association with a crescent is clear. But is there any evidence that this crescent, which we have determined to be the cosmic ship, was also the wing or wings of Thoth? Other texts declare that it is not simply the winged god Thoth that ferries the deceased; the wings themselves are the ship:
O you gods who cross over on the wing of Thoth to yonder side of the Winding Waterway.102
O wings of Thoth, ferry me across, do not leave me boatless.103
O Thoth. . .put me on the tip of your wing, on yonder northern side of the Winding Waterway.104
"Ferry me over, O Thoth, on the tip of your wing.105
The equation of ship and outstretched wings could not have been stated more emphatically. And if the ship was a revolving crescent, then the wings surely meant the same form. But again, we must remember that it is not the crescent alone which provides the impression of outstretched wings; it is the crescent in its unique relationship to central sun and polar column.
With these secret identities in hand, we are able to see from a new perspective the amazing extent to which the related images are combined in Egyptian sources. The Pyramid Texts say:
I have gone up on Shu, I have climbed on the wing of Khoprer, it is Nut who takes my hand, it is Nut who makes a way for me. Hail to you, you two falcons, who are in this [bark] of Ra, which conveys Ra to the East.106
Through these seemingly incompatible images, the priests were in fact keeping alive the lost language of a former epoch. To alight upon the outstretched arms of the pillar god Shu is to rest within the outstretched wings of Khoprer, and both the arms and the wings mean the boat of Ra. Similarly, to enter the boat is to enter the womb of Nut, the goddess who "makes a way" for the boat because she is the celestial pathway. The two "falcons" of the ship are the two arms-peaks-wings which together constitute the boat of the sun. (What is translated as the "East" to which Ra is conveyed means the side of the band occupied by the revolving ship during the phase of growing bright. See below.)
Ship of Day and Night
Our model involves four basic phases in the journey of the cosmic ship: 1) the descending ship to the left of Saturn (phase of growing bright); 2) the ship directly below Saturn (phase of greatest brillianceQthe most celebrated moment in the archaic day); 3) the ship rising to the right of Saturn (phase of diminishing brightness); and 4) the ship inverted directly above Saturn (least visible phase, the archaic night).
What is immediately clear in this requirement of the model is its wholesale contradiction of all behavior of the ship predicted by the solar interpretation. Not just because in our model the ship revolves around the stationary sun, but because of the direction of movement and the location of the ship in connection with the different phases.
In Egypt, one of the well-documented themes noted in all of the familiar commentaries is that of the two ships of the sunQa ship of "day" (or "morning") and a ship of "night" (or "evening"). In the Pyramid Texts there is a reference, for example, to the sun god "and his two boats."107 In the Coffin Texts the deceased desires to be rowed "in the Night-bark and the Day- bark like Ra every day."108 Though one finds several variations on the names of the two boats, the most common titles were Sektet or Semktet (evening- or night-boat) and Atet or Matet (morning- or day-boat). The deceased says, "May I grasp the bows of the Sektet boat and the stern of the Atet boat."109 "The Sektet boat draweth on, and Ra advanceth in the Atet boat with fair winds."110 "May you sleep in the Night-bark [Sektet], May you wake in the Day-bark [Atet]."111
What did the Egyptians mean by this idea? In the usual exposition, it is explained that when the sun god rises in the east, he steps aboard the day or morning boat to sail across the sky; then boards the evening boat to journey through an imagined underworld, to rise again in the East.112 On the subject of the two boats, Budge writes: "And as a matter of fact they believed that it [the Sun] passed over the first half of its course in one boat and over the second half in another."113
There is, however, no basis for considering the ships as two separate entities (there were not two crescents in the sky): the two ships simply meant two contrasting phases in the daily cycle. In our model they would obviously mean the phase of growing bright (morning-boat) and the phase of waning brightness (evening boat) and would have nothing to do with a rising and setting sun. Budge's explanation of the literal meanings of the two boats is therefore highly relevant to our thesisQ
The morning boat of the sun was called Matet, i.e., "becoming strong," and the name of the evening boat was Semktet, i.e., "becoming weak."114
Does this suggest a rising and setting sun, or the waxing and waning of an ever-present celestial object? Though the language could never be reconciled with the ship's popular identification as the new Moon, it is the very language we should expect in relation to the contrasting phases of the revolving crescent in our model. It is appropriate, therefore, to pursue this line of investigation further.
Ship of the Right and Left
The four phases in our model offer two natural pairs of opposites: The ship above and below (archaic night and day); and the ship to the right and left (archaic evening and morning). Since the ship itself occupies precisely half of the sun god's enclosureQthe celestial pathwayQboth pairs of opposites are equally appropriate for representing in their symbolic union a full circle or daily cycle.
Consistent with this aspect of the model is the Egyptian terminology of the "left" and "right" phases of the ship's journey. For example, the Egyptians brought together two originally-independent goddesses, Isis and Nephthys, to represent the two halves of the circuit, or the two phases of the cycleQone phase associated with the "left" (Egyptian Abtet) and the other phase associated with the "right" (Amentet). In all cosmological sources the reference for these two relative terms is the sun god himself. That is, in depicting the two positions of the "twin" goddesses in relation to the two halves of the full circuit, the Egyptian artists always showed them to the left and right of a central celestial figure. And these same goddesses are said to represent the "two ships" of the sun, one to the left and the other to the right. In our model, the ship to the left would be the morning boat, while that to the right would be the evening boat. And the fact acknowledged by all Egyptologists is: the boat Sektet ("growing weak") stands to the right of the sun god and the boat Atet ("growing strong") stands to the left the very locations predicted by our model.115 Now I ask the reader: is there anything in the character of the daily circuit of our Sun today that might have suggested this idea of a boat standing on two opposed sides of the sunQin connection with a phase of growing "strong" and a phase of growing "weak"?
It will be instructive to consider the way the translators of the texts deal with this imagery, as they attempt to achieve a fit with the universally accepted solar interpretation. The region of the left is, as stated, connected with the growing bright of the sun. This region occupied by the ship the translators render as "the East," though the literal meaning is simply, "the left." In the same way, the literal region of "the right" becomes "the West." So when the sun's ship reaches the left and the god "grows bright, " the translators say the sun "rises in the East." And by the same token, when the ship reaches the right and the sun "grows weak," the translators have the sun "setting in the West." Though in these readings one mistranslation is added to another, it is easy to see how, assuming that the subject is our rising and setting Sun, the translators looked for more "intelligible" readings.
It happens that our model provides an acid test, however. For in relation to the morning and evening phases of the boat, there is a point on which the model implies a blatant contradiction of the movement of the Sun: one would obviously assume that in connection with a solar sun rise, the ship of the sun would be rising. But in our model, the morning shipQthe ship to the left of the central sunQis descending, a reversal of the "obvious" direction assumed by the solar interpretation. Conversely, the evening ship, in our model, is rising, though the solar interpretation could never make sense of such an idea. We have, then, a black and white issue worth pursuing to a conclusion.
Upstream and Downstream
Mythically, the pathway of the ship is, as we have seen, an encircling stream or river. From the vantage point of our model, the ship sails downstream as it begins to grow bright, passes under Saturn in its period of greatest brilliance, then begins to diminish as it sails upstream, reaching its weakest point as it crosses above Saturn.
On the other hand, if the Egyptian ship's journey originated in the experience of our rising and setting Sun, there is surely no possibility that the sources would agree with this extraordinarily specificQand "absurd"Qrequirement of the model.
Egyptian texts do indeed describe the ship sailing upstream and downstream. "O you who fare downstream or upstream," reads a spell of the Coffin Texts.116 "O Horus, Lord of Life, fare downstream and upstream."117 And as we would expect, the two directions of the ship are clearly related to the phases of the day. The god comes to life or grows bright while sailing in one direction, and his light or life diminishes as he sails in the other directionQbut the directions consistently agree with our model and contradict the solar interpretation! Here, for example, is the statement of the Coffin Texts: "Ho N! You shall go up upon the great West [literally the right] side of the sky and go down upon the great East [literally the left] side of the earth."118 The translator R. O. Faulkner is at a loss to explain the language: "This unexpected reversal of the points of the compass is incomprehensible. We should expect the deceased to go up on the east and down on the west as does the sun. Perhaps we have here a blunder in an early copy which no one has noticed or at least attempted to correct." The comment assumes there are other texts which have the sun sailing upstream in the morning or downstream in the evening. But wherever the direction of the ship's movement is explicitly connected with the phases of morning and evening the texts always reverse the direction expected by the solar interpretation. In the Book of the Dead, the god sails downstream "as a living soul" and upstream as the Bennu, symbol of the dying sun. Thus the Pyramid Texts say, "The doors of the firmament are thrown open for me at dawn, that I may go down and bathe in the field of Rushes,"119 while a spell from the Coffin Texts declares: "The mighty ones sail upstream to me on that night of faring upstream."120 Another spell from the same texts reads: "The sun has shone when going downstream to the north from the south."121 What are here translated as "north" and "south" are literally the lower region and the upper region: the god shines forth as he sails downstream toward the lower region. Such literal meanings are a key to appreciating a text such as this: "May you sail southward [literally upstream, toward the upper region] in the Night-bark and northward [literally downstream, toward the lower region] in the Day-bark."122
On this issue I will stick my neck out: having analyzed a considerable number of instances, I do not believe there is a single contradiction of this idea in either the Pyramid Texts or the Coffin Texts, the earliest mythical and ritual sources in Egypt: the god sails downstream in his coming to life, waxing, awakening, growing bright or coming forth and upstream in his diminishment, waning, dying, weakening, sleeping. Because this is indeed a black and white test, it is a perfect opportunity for a critic to prove me wrong if there is any text (taken in the accepted literal meanings and without alteration to accommodate the solar premise) which refutes this claim.
Above and Below
The above-cited test does not end the matter. For just as the ship is descending in the (archaic) morning, it is, according to the model, below Saturn in the "day" or phase of brightness; and just as it is rising in the (archaic) evening, it is above Saturn in the "night" or phase of diminished light.
The respective positions of the ship above and below during distinct phases of the daily cycle are a polar opposite of those required by the solar interpretation: for all conventional interpretations assume the sun-god's night journey to take place beneath the earth and his day journey to carry him across the sky above.
In their mythology of the ship's circuit, the Egyptians developed an elaborate symbolism of the two regions or halves above and below. To express the idea, they brought into combination various sets of originally independent words for the sun god's dwelling, pairing them as opposites (in the very fashion that two independent goddesses, Isis and Nephthys, were combined to represent the left and right halves of the circuit). The two most frequently-employed pairs were Pet and Ta. When these two words for the land of the gods are presented in combination, it can always be assumed that pet means "the upper region," or "above" and that ta means "the lower region" or "below." These are the accepted literal meanings of the terms. And, as in the symbolism of the left and right, the reference for above and below is the stationary sun god, who always stands between the symbols of the two regions.123
Unfortunately, however, the translators rarely give the literal meanings, but render the words instead as "heaven" and "earth." Thus, as translated, one text reads: "I travel upon that upper road of the sky [Pet] and that lower road of the earth [Ta]."124
Again, though the translation may seem logical under the assumptions of the translators, the words are entirely inappropriate for two halves of the celestial land of the godsQthe explicit subject of the cosmological references. Moreover, even with these distortions of actual meanings, the conventional translations cannot resolve the inherent contradictions of the solar interpretation: for it is an easily verified fact that, in Egyptian symbolism, the Night-ship occupies the upper region and the Day-ship occupies the lower region.
Consider first this Coffin Text, as translated by Faulkner:
My bread is in sky and earth, my bread is in the house of Horus and Thoth. It is the Night-bark and the Day-bark which bring to me from the shrine of Horus. . .My bread is in sky and earth. . .it is the Night-bark and the Day-bark which lift (things) up to me.125
Remember that what Faulkner translates as sky and earth are literally the upper region and the lower region of the land of the gods. In this text, the two regions are cited twice, and in both instances they are associated with the two ships of night and day. In both instances, the order of identification connects the night ship with the upper region and the day ship with the lower region.
Concerning the food of the gods, another Coffin Text has: "Four portions are in the sky with Orion and three are on earth in the Day-bark"126Qthat is, three portions are in the lower region, in the Day-bark.
Using the literal translations of pet and ta we obtain these additional instances from Faulkner:
Three portions are in the upper region with Ra, four portions are in the lower region with Geb. It is the Night-bark and the Day-bark which bring them to me daily in the two ships of Ra.127
Seven portions are in the house of Horus, three portions are in the upper region and two are in the lower region. It is the Night-bark and the Day-bark which will bring to me all portions from upon the altars of the Souls of On. 128
The consistency with which the texts juxtapose the terms makes clear that this is a deliberate association of the night ship with the upper region and the day ship with the lower. Thus, in the Pyramid Texts, we find the Night Bark of Ra "sailing over pet," the upper region.129 Or elsewhere: "Thou sailest on high in the evening barge."130 And the same placement is confirmed in Chapter 141 of the Book of the Dead, which defines two "Aterts" or regions of the divine land, one above and one below. The Night-ship it connects with the upper Atert; and the lower Atert it identifies with the Day-ship.131
Clearly, this placement is no accident, for the same idea is stated consistently in Egyptian art. The two regions of Pet and Ta were frequently represented by the originally-independent god and goddess Geb and Nut, with Geb always representing the lower region and Nut always representing the upper region. And without exception the artistic tradition always has the ship of the sun sailing over the upper region of Nut in its night journey. This anomaly for the solar interpretation could hardly have been more boldly stated, and it is a wonder that virtually no one has ever asked why the boat of the sun is above at night, rather than below, where the solar mythologists claim the god crosses to the East in his ship.
The Night Crossing
One of the preeminent themes of Egyptian ritual, myth and art is that of the sun god's night passage through the land of the "dead," from which journey the god is rejuvenated with the "morning." When an Egyptian king or noble died, much attention was given to ritual and magical means of assisting the deceased in accomplishing a similar journey. Hence, the ritual texts are filled with images of the deceased taking his place in the ship of the sun and "crossing over" in a perilous night journey, with much celebration on the arrival at the place of the dawn.
It would be fair to say that among all of the assumptions of solar mythology the presumed bedrock is the idea that the sun god passes through an underworld, i.e., beneath the earth in his night journey, and his rebirth or rejuvenation means ascent on the eastern horizon. It is this assumption, of course, that underlies the distorted translations we have noted in this essay.
To this bedrock of the solar interpretation we can contrast the claim of our model. Here the "night"-journey begins with the crescent-ship rising to the right of Saturn and reaches its most "perilous" point when the ship is directly over Saturn and the life and light of Saturn is most diminished. This image of the night journey we should expect to dominate over all others. As the crescent-ship continues its crossing, it arrives at its position to the left of Saturn and a now-darkening sky begins to bring the celestial apparition to life. This, then, is the celebrated "dawn," when the ship reaches the "region of the left."
In the Pyramid Texts, as translated by Faulkner, the deceased king says, "I am ferried over to the eastern side of the horizon, I am ferried over to the eastern side of the sky, and my sister is Sothis, my offspring is the dawn light." 132 A similar text says, "And I am ferried over thereon to yonder eastern side of the sky, to the place where the gods fashioned me, wherein I was born, new and young."133
As translated, all will agree that these lines sound very much as if the night journey has the sun god passing beneath the earth to rise in the east. Literally, however, the god is "ferried over to the left side of the Mountain of Fire Light," and this, divorced from the solar interpretation, does not sound like the Sun sailing beneath the earth at all. Furthermore, if the artistic tradition can serve as a guide to the texts, the ship does not simply travel over to the left side, but travels up and overQfor that is exactly what the artists portray in showing the ship sailing over the body of NutQin every instance.
One particular prediction of the model adds a fascinating twist. When the ship is sailing across the upper region, the model says that it is inverted or upside down. A ship sailing upside down is indeed an oddity (and certainly not an idea rooted in useful navicular experience "down here"!). So it is appropriate to inquire whether, in the sun god's perilous "crossing over," the ship was said to be upside down.
Figure 27. The sun god's night journey over Nut, the upper region
It will have to be admitted that in the customary portrait of the ship's night journey the ship is not shown inverted, but is upright (Fig. 27). One might assume, therefore, that on this secondary point the sources fail to support the model.
Another class of evidence, however, indicates that the ship did appear inverted as it journeyed over the upper region. There are, in Egyptian sources, many indications of a lasting fear of travelling upside down during the night passage. The first spell in Faulkner's presentation of the Coffin Texts, for example, reads: "Here begins the book of vindicating a man in the realm of the dead." To which one version adds "and not going upside down in the realm of the dead."134 Another text is a "Spell for not walking upside down in the realm of the dead,"135 and another simply saysQ"Not to walk upside down."136 Still others sayQ
I will not be head downwards among those who are head downwards.137
I detest travelling in darkness, for then I cannot see those who are upside down.138
The King will not be hanged head downwards.139
If the ship of the sun was, in fact, inverted in its night crossing, we would have an explanation for both the expressed fear and the self-evident (but as yet unexplained) ritual intent to protect the deceased from the imagined fate of such a journey. The deceased declares: "It is the Night-bark and Day-bark which bring to me daily; I walk on my feet, I am not upside-down in the presence of Ra."140 This widespread fear suggests that the common artistic tradition may not accurately represent a crucial idea in the symbolism of the ship. And this, in turn, prompts us to look further.
The evidence we are looking for comes from the Papyrus of Amen-Hetep in the Cairo Museum. In the second scene depicted on the papyrus, the goddess Nut is shown in the usual arched or semicircular fashion as representative of the upper region. And the ship of the sun is depicted in its night journey crossing the body of the "pathway" goddess. But here, unlike the more familiar versions, the ship is not upright, but is inverted:
Figure 28. The daily cycle, with inverted ship in night journey
It remains to be asked, then, whether this remarkable portrait is a meaningless aberration or speaks for a true tradition commonly distorted out of the fear of "travelling upside down."
The answer comes from hieroglyphic evidence preceding by many centuries the familiar artistic portrayals of the night journey. In Spell 211 of the Coffin Texts, the night path of the ship is described in the instruction to the deceased. He is to learn the path of the right (Amentet, the ascending path), then to "ferry across the upper region when the divine land is turned upside down." The position of the ship at this moment is presented in the hieroglyphic text: Not just the land of the gods, but the ship itself is upside down:
Figure 29. Hieroglyph for the inverted ship in the Coffin Texts
The idea that the land of the gods could be turned upside down is perhaps no less mystifying (to those who have noticed this bizarre language) than the inversion of the ship. But when we realize that the crescent-ship is the brightly illuminated half of the divine land or enclosure, we see that the inversion of the crescent-enclosure at "night" could reasonably be viewed as an inversion of both the land and the ship.141
Ship's oars and Cometary "Hair"
In the prehistoric drawings from Egypt and Scandinavia presented in Figures 18 and 19 above one notes the peculiarity of the short perpendicular lines either extending out of the boat, or into the boat, some appearing to represent oars, other perhaps considered as inhabitants of the boat. This is a feature sufficiently common in prehistoric art to warrant the question: do these lines signify a verifiable feature of the cosmic ship?
Our model would suggest that these lines mean the cometary gas or dust streaming out from the enclosure. Around the world, the simple portrait of the enclosed sun is often made more complete by the depiction of lines radiating from the band in all directions:
Figure 30. Portraits of the rayed enclosure
Though the above instances are taken, respectively, from Denmark, Spain, Venezuela and the Arue Islands, closely parallel images will be found on all continents.
In a future essay, I will take up the rayed enclosure in detail and intend to show that while, in the illustrated phase of the polar configuration, the lines tend to radiate from the band, there were apparently occasions in which they were directed inward, the contrasting appearances being considered as outbreathings and inbreathings of the central sun. I will also have much to say on the origin of the crescent-enclosure and the cometary debris from which the band was constituted. It will be shown that a primary mythological interpretation of this radiating gas or dust was as hair (the cometary symbol par excellence), a pervasive image bearing directly on the concept of the ship's oars. In view of the ship's relationship to this cometary band, the unique implication of the model is that these radiating streams were also viewed as oars of the sun god's boat. Let us consider, then, the interesting mythical equation implied by this identity: ship's oars = radiating hair.
One of the puzzles of Egyptian symbolism that few have even attempted to resolve is that of the "hair" from which the sun god, as creator, fashioned the land of the gods. One text, for example, speaks of the "hair of the sky which fashioned the earth [divine, celestial land] and the fillet of Horus. "142 The language appears so bizarre to Faulkner that he places an emphatic (sic!) after "hair"Qas if the author or scribe of the text could not have been using the right word. Yet there is much evidence that the band was conceived as a circle of (cometary) hair. For example, the pathway of the ship (as we have seen) was the shen-circle. That shen was probably the most common Egyptian word for "hair" is not a mere quirk of language evolution. In the Book of the Dead, the watercourse of the ship is identified as "the Lake of Hair."143 So too, the celestial Ta, land of the gods, is said to display "hair." This language, while appearing laughable under conventional assumptions, will become increasingly compelling as we discover the cometary nature and origin of the band.
Equally enigmatic is the concrete language with which the texts depict the "oars" of the cosmic ship. In the Pyramid Texts the deceased king says: "I go aboard [the sun god's boat], for I am pure; I receive the oar, I take my seat in the rowing-side of the sky, I row in the rowing side of the sky, I ply my oar in the rowing side of the sky."144 What is meant by the rowing side of the Pet? Permit our model of the ship and enclosure to explain the terminology: since the reference is to a side of the Pet, it can be assumed that Pet here stands for the celestial circle as a whole (i.e., it is not here paired with Ta to represent the upper and lower portions of the circle). Hence a side of the Pet-circle means one half of the band. And since the ship, as the illuminated portion, is exactly half of the full circle, it follows that the ship with its projecting oars is the "rowing" half or side of the Pet-band, not a meaningless "rowing side of the sky."
Is there any directly-stated evidence that the Egyptians recognized these oars of the ship to be the "hair" of the sun-god's enclosure? In Spell 395 of the Coffin Texts, the deceased goes aboard the cosmic ship and asks for the name of the oars. The answer is that they are called nesi shen, which means something likeQ"The projecting hair." In commenting on the texts, Faulkner notes the curious usage. "The projecting banks of oars on either side of a boat are likened. . .to spreads of hair." This and other language, he says, is "perhaps an allusion to the resemblance of the oars to scanty straggling locks."145
Compare this version of the identity in the Book of the Dead, as translated by Budge: "'Assembler of Souls' is the name of my boat; 'Making the hair to stand on end' is the name of the oars."146 When viewed in the light of our model, what is a ludicrous statement from any conventional perspective becomes a predictable underlying unity.
mars and venus
Up to this point I have offered only the briefest outline of the roles of the planet Mars and Venus in the model, though in the total corpus of myth and lore no figures loom more frequently than the personifications of these two planetary powersQthe warrior hero and mother goddess. While it is a bit premature to dwell on their roles here (their interacting symbols will be the subject of my next article), we would be amiss in ignoring altogether their symbolic ties to the ship of the sun.
In the illustrated phase of the polar configuration under discussion, the planet Venus is the small body at the end of the spiralling, comet-like stream appearing to curl out from the band. Considerable evidence indicates that Venus is revolving around the polar axis in the opposite direction of the Earth's rotation, because it moves in the direction of the visual revolution of the crescent, only faster (that is, while the apparent revolution of the crescent is due to the rotation of the Earth; the faster apparent movement of Venus is due to the direction of its independent revolution around the shared planetary axis.)
In the forthcoming article I will review an array of symbols pointing to Venus' former cometary appearance. Among these will be the famous "sidelock" of the sun god, described as a luminous apparition revolving in the sky: As spiralling, cometary "hair", the prehistoric comet Venus was conceived originally as the sacred lock of the sun god and later as that worn by the warrior hero (Mars). It should not surprise us, then, to encounter the celestial sidelock in the symbolism of the sun god's ship. With respect to the daily circuit of the ship, the deceased says, "I have gone forward over the circle of bright flame which is behind the lord of the lock of hair which moveth round about."147 This celestial sidelock the Egyptians knew as Hensektet, and the goddess Hensektet is an acknowledged form of the Venus goddesses Isis and Hathor.
But as we shall see, the revolving sidelock merges with many other key images of the cometary curl. In our investigation of the cosmic ship, it would seem reasonable to look for a mythical expression adapted explicitly to the nautical theme. One such symbol is surely the towing rope. In their various portraits of the ship, the Egyptians showed the barge of the sun being pulled in its journey by a coil of rope, held by fiery spirits moving in the company of the sun god.148 An interesting example occurs in the illustration of the ship from the papyrus of Amen-Hetep (Fig. 28). In addition to showing the night journey over the upper region of Nut, the illustration depicts the day- ship in its upright position, being towed by a rope that is itself conceived as a serpent and is being held by light- or fire-spirits of serpentine form.
In the illustration below, the beings carrying the towing rope are presented as human-headed "soul-birds."
Figure 31. Train of souls towing the ship
These illustrations are complemented by the hieroglyphic texts. In the Coffin Texts, the deceased says, "Hail, thou who towest along the Makhent boat of Ra. . ."149 "Hail, ye gods, who tow along the boat of the lord of millions of years, who bring [it] above the underworld and who make it to travel over Nut. "150
It would be useless to attempt a full explication of the towing rope in advance of an adequate summary of the Venus-comet theme. I will simply state for now that the "souls" associated with the rope are identifiable as the cometary train itself. (Venus is the externalized heart or soul of the sun god; the flaming train is "the train of souls"). And what gives meaning to the idea of a towing rope is the relative motion of the spiraling comet in relation to the revolving crescent: because the rope is revolving faster than the ship, it appears to be pulling the ship on its celestial circuit.
It should be added that other texts present the ship's "rope" under many mythical variations. For some, it was the "mooring rope" of the ship. The deceased announces in a Coffin Texts: "O you who fare downstream or upstream. . .I have tied the mooring-rope in Djedu."151 Sometimes the reference is simply to the "rope" of the bark. "I will cast the rope of the great bark, "152 says the deceased in the Coffin Texts. And very frequently, the reference to a rope of the ship alludes to strange mythical settings that can only baffle the specialists.
This is a reminder that I have found the rope which was severed and I have knotted it. I have found the ferry-boat which was lost [in] its flood water. 153
'Tell me my name,' saith the Rope. 'Hair with which Anpu (Anubis) finisheth the work of my embalmment' is thy name.154
Horus secures the rope of Seth when he ferries him across.155
In each of these instances, the rope of the ship appears in different contexts, not one of which finds even a hint of meaning under conventional interpretations. (Yet when the roles of Venus and Mars have been fully outlined, the reader will see that each of these strange associations and many hundreds more are explicable through the character and behavior of these two planets).
Chapter 99 of the Book of the Dead is devoted to an extended description of the cosmic ship and its respective symbols. Like the sun god, the deceased wishes to be towed over the back of the serpent-dragon Apep (the circular serpent). But he must answer a series of questions put to him by the different parts of the ship. One of these parts is the towing rope, and here the proper answer, according to the text, is that the towing rope is henseket, i.e., the "sidelock." Why would the ship's towing rope bear the name of the celestial sidelock? Our model simply says that they are one and the same. The (cometary) Venus goddesses Isis and Hathor, both of whom are called Hensektet, may thus be regarded equally as personifications of the revolving sidelock and of the towing rope.