The ancient Egyptians saw different constellations in their skies than the ones we identify today. Scholars estimate there are around 38 constellations, but we don’t know all of their names or where their location is/was. However, we do know each one connects to an important deity common to the Egyptian pantheon.
There is no full consensus as of yet, but the prospect of ancient Egyptian constellations is intriguing.
This is due in part to the fact that there is evidence for the layout of the cities in ancient Egypt, called nomes, reflecting all the constellations in the sky.
List of Egyptian Constellations
The issue around the names and meanings behind ancient Egyptian constellations are up for debate.
What compounds this is the fact that the constellations come as hieroglyphs and we haven’t yet been able to decipher all of them.
The tabled list below indicates 32 of these.
|Sirius and accompanying stars
|Orion – head at the belt ; Lepus
|Hyades with Aldebaran
|Myriad or Flock
|Circle or Sheepfold
|Head of Cetus
|sb3 n sꜤr
|Star of Fire
|Triangulum ; Perseus
|The Two Jaws
|Aquila to Pegasus (in the square)
|ṯms n hntt
|The Red One of the Prow
|Sheep or Goat
|The Female Hippopotamus
|area around the pole covering Lyra to Bootes
|Bootes + Arcturus
|The Bull’s Foreleg
|Anu (avatar of the god Horus)
|From Lynx to Canes Venatici
|Its Own Count or Bright Star
|Beta Centauri (Hadar)
|Alpha Centauri (Rigil Kent or Toliman)
|Twins and Two Ladies
|Area around Argo Navis
|Lying on His Feet
|The Divine Lion
|ḥḳw n sꜤḳ
|sb3w nw mw
|Stars of Water
|Predecessor of the Two Stars
|Alhena in Gemini
|Pair of Stars
|Castor ; Pollux
|The Two Tortoises
|Gomeisa ; Procyon
|Puppis ; Canis Major
Sopdet (Sothis in Greek) is an important goddess in Egyptian mythology and her name translates to “skilled woman.”
It’s both the name for the Egyptian constellation and the notorious star, Sirius.
The constellation is triangular and the Egyptians envisioned this as a recumbent cow on a barque (boat) adorned with a five-pointed star in her horns.
Her most common depiction throughout Egypt is as a woman wearing a white crown topped with a star or a dual-plumed headdress.
The appearance of this constellation and star in ancient Egypt marked the annual flooding of the Nile and thus a new year.
She intricately ties into the great Egyptian goddess Isis and is the wife (or daughter) of Sahu (discussed more below).
She holds dominion over agriculture with the flooding of the Nile and as a mother goddess.
Sopdet was also a funerary goddess for the pharaoh, helping him find his way to Sahu upon his death.
In this way, Sopdet is an equal yet opposite goddess to Isis.
Therefore, she also has the name, “Black Isis.”
It’s interesting to note that Sirius disappeared for 70 days each year which happened right before the flood.
70 days is also how long it takes to complete the mummification process.
Location in the Sky
Today, we call this constellation Canis Major, or the Great Dog.
You can see it from both Northern and Southern Hemispheres in January and February.
For northerners, it arcs across the sky in the south and for southerners it arcs in the north.
Sah, or Sahu, means “Hidden One” and this is the constellation that we call today Lepus, the head of Orion’s belt and other stars from surrounding constellations.
He is the consort of Sopdet which essentially makes him the stellar counterpart to Osiris.
Sah is identifiable as a man holding a scepter.
The constellations of Sahu and Sopdet make a triad aspect with their son Sopdu, meaning “skilled man.”
Sopdu as a falcon-headed god is the planet Venus, otherwise known as the Morning Star.
Father of the Gods
Old Kingdom Pyramid texts list Sahu as the “Father of the Gods,” which also connects him to the sun god Ra.
Therefore, while Sahu very much intertwines with Osiris, he is a in his own right.
In connection to Sopdet’s role as a funerary psychopomp, Sahu is the constellation where pharaohs go upon their death.
According to myth, the underworld swallows Sahu at dawn and he would rise again each night.
This is what separates him from Osiris (underworld) and Ra (solar).
Sahu’s dominion is purely stellar.
His association with Osiris in relationship to Sopdet is in his appearance after the 70 days absence before the flood.
Nut is one of the oldest goddesses in ancient Egypt.
She is the mother of all.
Nut is responsible for the living and the dead as well as day and night.
She bore all planets, stars and other celestial bodies along with all the great gods: Osiris, Horus the Elder, Isis, Nepthys and Set.
Today, we call this the Milky Way.
Nut was a goddess valued in Lower Egypt for those living around the Nile.
Her most famous image is her standing on all fours with her body outstretched across the earth.
While one of the most beloved goddesses, there are no temples or shrines erected in her name.
The concept and study around ancient Egyptian constellations is rather new and still quite mysterious to our understanding.
While there’s plenty of documentation on the existence of constellations with pyramid texts and other writings, scholars have yet to decipher it all.
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