The Ancient Egyptian Zodiac
Star signs and characteristics were introduced to Egypt by the Greeks, and the Egyptian Zodiac reflects the Ptolemaic period. The way we know astrology today first began in Ancient Greece.
But… there are similar maps and charts in ancient Egypt, although not as thorough. So this page is more fun than factual and it will only give you a brief idea of the ancient Egyptian zodiac.
In Dendera there is a very famous depiction of the Zodiac that dates back to the Greco-Roman period. That’s what we’ll be focussing on in this page.
The Dendera Temple Complex is one of those ancient sites that kept being built upon by pharaoh after pharaoh. The first buildings had begun as early as King Pepi I’s reign, the last addition seems to be the chapel containing the ancient Egyptian Zodiac of Dendera which was built during the Roman Period.
This chapel is where part of the Osirian Mysteries took place – specifically his resurrection.
The sandstone slab of the zodiac itself was cut out of the ceiling of the temple and taken to France. It is now housed at the Louvre.
It is more of a map of the sky rather than a proper astrological zodiac. But still, there are zodiac signs and astrological meanings there.
Symbolism of the Egyptian Zodiac
The outer disc, representing the heavens, is being held up by four pillars. As you can see, these pillars are women holding up the sky. Helping these women are eight falcon spirits, in a half-kneeling position, also holding up the sky.
On the inside at the center are the constellations of the northern sky. They include:
- The Great Bear (Ursa Major) in the form of a bull’s foreleg.
- A hippopotamus goddess, opposite Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, representing the constellation of the Dragon.
As you can see there are 12 constellations, each one made of 3 decans (10 days). Each decan represents a major star. The five planets known at the time are also shown. They include:
- Venus, called “the god of the morning”
- Jupiter, called “Horus who reveals the mystery”
- Mars, called “Horus the red”
- Mercury, called “the inert”
- Saturn, called “Horus the bull”
We are not sure what all the symbols represent. Some of them are obvious, like Taurus, Libra and Pisces, and some of them we’re not so sure. Aquarius, for example, is actually taking the form of the god Hapy, who is the ancient Egyptian god of the Nile flood. Hapy is shown pouring water from two vases – which is very similar to how Aquarius is shown in astrology.
Take a look and see which signs you recognize.
Another very interesting thing that is shown on the Dendera Zodiac are two eclipses:
“The solar eclipse of 7 March 51 is depicted as the goddess Isis holding a baboon (the god Thoth) by its tail, signifying her attempt to stop the moon from hiding the sun. The lunar eclipse of 25 September 52 is represented by an udjat-eye (the “whole one”), because a lunar eclipse only occurs when the moon is full.” – The Louvre Website
It seems that the ancient Egyptians didn’t really have astrological signs or horoscopes, though they were exceptional astronomers. But at some point when the culture mixed with Greek, Assyrian, Babylonian and other cultures, ancient Egyptian astrology started to become a melange of the different styles.
That’s why the ancient Egyptian zodiac of Dendera had such an eclectic mix.
But if you’re up for a bit of fun, there are a couple of theories about ancient Egyptian zodiac signs that you can check out. Just keep in mind they are unverified and not researched.
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