A Vision of Early Egypt (1/4) / 1991-2001 by Franz Gnaedinger, Zurich, fg(a)seshat.ch, fgn(a)bluemail.ch / www.seshat.ch


Egypt 1 / Egypt 2 / Egypt 3 / Egypt 4






A Vision of Early Egypt: predynastic figurines;

life symbol ankh; Isis and Osiris; pyramid program;

a new method for the calculation of the circle


peri Aigypton hai mathaematikai proton technai synestaesan

Aristotle, metaphysics, book 1, chapter 1; Conversions

and 55 problems from the RHIND MATHEMATICAL PAPYRUS


The Babylonian Clay Tablet YBC 7289; Plimpton 322


All is equal, all unequal


"territoire imaginaire" (die Schweiz im Jahr 2050)



Franz Gnaedinger Zurich 2001







Dear reader,

you are probably familiar with the famous dictum by Descartes: cogito ergo sum. Allow me to modify it as follows: amo ergo sum. We feel truly alive when we love someone. New ideas prosper and evolve best in a climate of sympathy. I cannot ask you to like my book, but I do hope that my Vision of Early Egypt and my interpretation of a series of problems in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus will find a few sympathetic readers. / In my opinion, the basic task of the humanities consists in keeping alive a sense of the complexity of life and nature. If my book helps establish a more complex picture of the human past my work has not been in vain. An equitable global society can only be realized when all contributions to the rise and evolution of civilization are recognized and honored, including those of non-European peoples, and those by women. Please consider my book as a contribution to a history of human reasoning in this light./ I thank all the kind people who have supported me in one way or another in my efforts, some for years or even decades. Without your warm-hearted, patient and magnanimous help no line of this book would have been written. / Katherine did her very best to correct and improve my rather free English (- remaining mistakes and tedious passages are entirely my fault). / I always enjoy the letters written to me by professor Gerhard Goebel, whom I shall honor in volume B (see preview). / Franz Gnaedinger, Zurich, October 2000









Archaeology is not an exact science but a speculative one:

a science of imagination Cal de Guichen



Part 1: The Primeval Goddess; How she created the world; The origin of the River Nile / The angry goddess and her helpful daughters / Hill sanctuaries; a rite of creation / The Followers of Horus; a long war; a good king and his queen / Unification of Egypt / King Narmer, holding a speech




1) The Primeval Goddess; How she created the world; The origin of the River Nile


In the beginning was the Primeval Goddess. In the form of a bird she laid the World Egg. She picked open the shell and revealed the Primeval Mountain. In the guise of a woman, she divided the Primeval Mountain into eastern and western sections, and then shoved these apart to create a valley between. She placed a sky over the valley. Then she plucked a pair of loose feathers from her eyebrows and blew them into the sky, where they became the moon bird and the sun bird, casting light on her creation.


There were four oases: one each in Nubia, Libya, Arabia and Syria. The wells there were surrounded by blooming bushes and trees full of sweet fruits. In the Nubian oasis thrived large gourds. The Goddess chose a lovely round gourd and used it as a vessel. She picked ripe fruit, which she bound together and hung around her waist and over her shoulders. Now she had always plenty of water and fruit when she wandered through her lands.


One evening, she filled her gourd in Arabia, heaved it onto her head, and made for Libya. Miss Sun was down and was chatting with Miss Moon, who was already late: hence it was rather dark when the Goddess crossed the valley. In the dusk she stumbled on the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari, and her gourd fell onto the Western Mountain of Thebes. The water flowed out, rushed down through the valleys, sprang over cliffs, and filled the plane of Thebes, creating the Primeval Lake.


A few drops splashed on the sky and hung there as glittering stars. How lovely! Miss Moon exclaimed. The Goddess cupped her hands, filled them with water, and threw it onto the sky: she created the Milky Way. Again she filled her hands and threw. This time the water fell into the Libyan desert, creating the bow of oases Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra, Baharija and Faiyum.


Weary, the Goddess shaped sand dunes as pillows, lay down, and slept. Miss Moon smiled. Using a little water, she dotted the Goddess's picture onto the sky. There her image remains to this day in the constellation of Orion: Betelgeuse and Bellatrix are her shoulders; Al Nitak, Al Nilam and Mintaka form the wreath of fruits hanging from her waist; the stars of the Orion Nebula are her womb; Rigel and Saiph are her upper thighs; Heka is her beak; Aldebaran and Alhena are her elbows; the Pleiades, Castor and Pollux are her hands. Sirius represents the gourd falling from her head. The stars below Sirius form the Primeval Lake, and Eridanus its western shores.


The morning sun shed light on a shimmering golden river. Wavelets ruffled the surface, fanned by a gentle wind. Birds flew out of the lovely green papyrus on the river banks. Some of the water from the Goddess's gourd must have trickled into the fissures and holes of the rocky ground, for, in the warm sun, all kinds of animals were growing up out of them. And so where the first human beings, who reached the size of giants, emerged from the rock shaking their stiff limbs, strolled to the shining river, and settled themselves on its green banks.


Evening came. Miss Moon awoke and saw that Orion was about to rise over the horizon. What will the Goddess say when she sees her starry image in the sky? Miss Moon thought, and veiled her face. Orion rose, and the Goddess recognized herself. She was pleased and found her picture very funny, whereupon Miss Moon joyfully unveiled her face. From then on the Goddess wandered all through the world, creating rivers, lakes, oases or wells wherever she passed. Yet never again did she create such a magnificent river as her first. Now, every year, she returns to the Nubian mountains and empties her gourd in order to fill and renew the Nile.


Predynastic figurine from el-Mamariya (c. 3600 BC, Brooklyn Museum New York); palette from el-Faiyum (c. 3000 BC, Egyptian Museum Cairo); drawing of a woman with raised arms on a Naqada vessel (c. 3600 BC)

Hypothetical Orion goddess and her Sirius gourd




2) The angry goddess and her helpful daughters


The human giants of the Golden Age led a peaceful life. They swam in the river, ate the apples of huge trees and looked up at a sparkling starry sky on warm evenings and refreshing nights.


Yet some of the men sought new pleasures, and they went out hunting gazelles. When the Goddess returned and saw what these men had done to her beloved animals, she was angry, and emptied her gourd violently such that its water rushed through the valley and washed away many apple trees. The following year she did not return. The Nile dried up, and the remaining trees withered. The people became hungry, and lost their former size. They began to fear lions, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, snakes, scorpions, and even mosquitoes.


Predynastic ivory figurine of an angry looking woman with a vessel on her head (Ashmolean Museum Oxford)


The Goddess had a pair of daughters who kept an eye on womankind. They filled their mother's gourd and poured its life-giving water over the Nubian mountains. The Nile rose again. There were no longer any apple trees, but in their place were bushes yielding berries, and grasses bearing edible grains.


As the men were lazy, and did not like collecting berries and grains, this work was done by the women. The daughters of the Goddess deliberated as to how to help them. One night they flew down to Earth, found some women sleeping near a bush, and softly flapped their wings, thus fanning to them sweet dreams of a blooming valley, and making them believe that they could perform the same wonder with their own small hands and the help of some of the more thoughtful men.


How astonished these women were when they awoke and recounted to each other the same dream. They told the men of their vision. The men laughed. Some laughed because they considered women to be lovely, diligent but rather gullible creatures; but others laughed because they, too, saw the valley blooming in their imagination. These men helped the women to plant grains, in much the same way as in the dreamers' vision.


Yet the seedlings dried up, and the skeptical men said: Your idea of a blooming valley was bound to fail.


Whereupon the daughters of the Goddess sent their group of women new dreams, showing them how the farming could be done in better ways:


--- The women and their helpers shall irrigate the fields; drawing water is hard work, yet it may be done easily by means of a moveable pole on a pair of wooden or stone legs; the up and down of the pole is amusing, and when work is fun it is only half so tiresome


--- The women and their helpers shall observe the level of the Nile by means of a wooden pole stuck in the water: if the level rises fast they shall protect the fields; and if it rises slowly they shall be very careful with their provisions, store them in vessels made of clay and baked in fire, and sign the vessels with intelligible marks.


Whenever a problem arose, the women received a new dream, and were given another idea which they and their helpers realized in a new and useful invention.




3) Hill sanctuaries, a rite of creation


Do you remember the Orion Goddess? Her raised arms (shoulders, elbows and hands) are formed by Bellatrix, Aldebaran and the Pleiades, by Betelgeuse, Alhena, Castor and Pollux. Epsilon Tauri in the Hyads, a star near Betelgeuse in Orion, and Castor in Gemini are the radiants of three meteor showers, namely the Taurids, Orionids and Geminids. These were seen as the souls of the worthy deceased, born again by the heavenly Mother Goddess (whose daughters were a part of her and were seen in Aldebaran and in Sirius).


There was a hill sanctuary on the Giza plateau, overlooking the Nile. Here the Orion Goddess, her Aldebaran daughter and her Sirius daughter were worshipped and the stars observed. When seen from a certain position on the west of the hill, the morning sun rose between a pair of curved tops:










There was also a grotto of roughly this shape:



o o o o o o

o o

o o grotto

o o o o o

o o

o o pit

o o o



Once each year the pit was filled with Nile water, in which the priestesses then bathed to renew their powers. Around the pit was drawn a circle of red ochre which symbolized the Primeval Snake seizing her tail in her mouth and thus creating the circular universe and a cycle of time ...


Another hill sanctuary stood in the most impressive rock circus of Deir el-Bahari. It consisted of a ring, a pond, and a circle of trees, bushes, and natural statues in human-like forms taken from the base of the cliffs where the Goddess had stumbled and lost her gourd (the water from which had formed the Primeval Lake). The latter event was celebrated every summer when the Nile rose. People of all tribes gathered in the area of Karnak, traversed the Nile and wandered in the footsteps of the Goddess. On their heads the women balanced round gourds, the rims of which were decorated with zigzag patterns so that each gourd, when seen from above, resembled a star - Sirius. The women's gourds were filled with the Holy Water of the Rising Nile. Singers and dancers accompanied the gay procession to Deir el-Bahari, where the women emptied their gourds into the pond of the hill sanctuary. A feast ensued which lasted for three days and three nights, and many a young couple fell in love during the joyful festival.


Hypothetical predynastic sanctuary in the rock circus of Deir el-Bahari


Half a year later another ceremony was celebrated on the islet of Gebelein in Upper Egypt, near el-Mamariya. There was built a statue of the Goddess emerging from the ground and rising up to heaven. The lower part of her body was supposed to take the form of a carrot extending into the ground; her broad hips, the upper part of her body, her breasts and raised arms were the ones of a woman, her head that of a bird. The statue was 10 cubits or some five meters high, made of branches and twigs, filled with hay, plastered with clay and painted with a mixture of red ochre, milk and blood. The invisible lower part of her body symbolized the earth; her breasts the apples of the Golden Age, and the food we find on earth; her raised arms the Nile Valley and the slopes of the eastern and western mountain. Her hands signified the stars which rise above the horizon, travel over the sky, set on the western horizon and appear again on the eastern horizon, promising a new life after death. Her birdlike head represented heaven, and her eyes the sun and moon. A priestess of the Orion Goddess performed a ritual dance which was meant as a speech to an unborn child (or a soul waiting to be reborn:


Hands on the womb: My dear child


Hands on the breasts: May nourishing plants grow for you


Hands on the head: My thoughts are with you


Arms raised over the head, curved to form a closed circle: You await your birth (or your rebirth)


Opening the closed circle of the arms: You shall soon be born (reborn). I shall open the World Egg for you, I shall reveal and part the Primeval Mountain, I shall create the Nile Valley once again for you and vault a sky over it


Spreading the fingers: Your sky will be full of sparkling stars


Opening the arms and spreading the fingers: Out of the Primeval One shall emerge the number 2, and this number shall give way to the numbers 3, 4, 5, and then also to the numbers 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, meaning the multitude of living beings and of things; for nothing shall lack in your world and in your life.





4) The Followers of Horus, a long war, a good king and his queen


The priestesses of the Orion Goddess and their helpers made many simple yet clever inventions. They instructed the people in how to lead their lives, how to work in the best way, how to prepare their food; which gazelles, plants, fish and birds were taboo. A majority followed their advice, and, although working in the fields was tiresome, and the villages were often plundered by Libyan nomads, they lived fairly well.


Then, around 3,400 BC, the situation changed dramatically.


The average level of the Nile sank, and many fields dried up. A warrior tribe from Asia Minor passed the Wadi Hammamad and entered Upper Egypt. Let us call these warriors HORUS people, or Followers of Horus. They built a fortress at Hierakonpolis and a royal court at Abydos. Their first king was called 'Fingersnake', for a mollusk living in the shallow waters near the shore of the Red Sea.


His successors incited the native population to conflicts. Many of the dark-skinned natives perished in the disastrous battle of Hierakonpolis. The surviving men - let us call them SETH men - fled to the eastern oases. Many of the priestesses followed the Seth men. Let us call these women NEPHTYS women.


The Nephtys women survived in the Faiyum, where they taught their knowledge, much of which had now been forgotten in the Nile valley, to girls and young women.


Sometime between 3,200 and 3,100 BC a new king came to power, this time a benign man who sought peace. Let us call him OSIRIS. He loved a native woman, and she him, and they married. Let us call her ISIS. She often interceded on behalf of her people, and with success: for not only did Osiris love his beautiful, kindly wife such that he believed their marriage to have been closed in heaven, but he also asked: why should we continue to fight when we need our men for irrigating the fields?


He appointed a young man of mixed blood - the son of a noble and a native woman - to be his vizier. Let us call this young man THOTH. King Osiris and Vizier Thoth drew up ambitious plans: the draining of swamps, the irrigation of the plain of Abydos, the division of the Nile and the channeling of a parallel river into the Joseph River, which would free the bed of the latter from sand and send it flowing into the Faiyum.


Isis told her husband Osiris about her sisters in the Faiyum: the wise Nephtys women whose knowledge might be helpful in realizing his plans. And king Osiris, who heeded his wife's advice, sent his vizier on a journey.


Osiris = Khontamenti = King Stork from Abydos?




5) Unification of Egypt


The young vizier reached the Faiyum oasis and found the village of the Nephtys women. He was kindly received, and told the women of the changes that were taking place in the Nile Valley: about King Osiris the peaceful and Queen Isis, and also of their plans. The women liked him and were pleased at his news. He won the love of a young woman, whom we may call SESHAT. Her house was a very special one: on the interior walls she had written the knowledge of the old women in signs she had learned from her mother, and some she had invented herself.


Seshat, Egyptian goddess of writing, measuring, calculating and building, THE ONE WHO WROTE FIRST (relief, Luxor, 18th century, c. 1250 BC)


Thoth learned all the signs, and together they copied the writings onto paper made from the leaves of the Ished tree. They spent a happy year, then they left Faiyum and returned to the Nile Valley, founded Hermopolis Magna and opened a school for girls and boys from every region of the Valley. In his travels up and down the Nile Valley King Osiris always liked to visit Thoth and Seshat in their House of Life.


Osiris reduced the size of the army, and set his men to digging ditches in the plain of Abydos - to realize the most ambitious irrigation project the world ever saw.


All seemed well. However, the Seth men did not have faith in the peaceful aims of King Osiris. On the contrary, they plotted their day of revenge. Every year the king gave a public feast in an open field near Abydos. He would move freely among his people, accompanied only by a few soldiers, and the Seth men planned his murder. They succeeded. However, their triumph was a bitter one. They were no longer supported by the farmers, and were reduced to robbing their own villages. Queen Isis no longer interceded for them, and the murdered king's successors were warriors who took violent revenge. Some Isis women could not bear the situation any longer, joined the Seth men in the valleys of the western mountains and the oases, and tried to persuade them to cease their hopeless battle.


But in vain: the Seth men continued fighting. They had occasional successes, but no real chance in the long term, with their clubs and flint knives against lances with spearheads made of copper and hardened with antimony. In around 3,100 BC the last native village fell, and a war that had gone on for some 200 years finally came to an end.


The kings reduced the size of the army and realized some of the plans of King Osiris and Vizier Thoth, not only at Abydos but everywhere in the Nile Valley. They were thus able to nourish an ever growing population, even though the average level of the Nile was still rather low.




6) King Narmer, holding a speech


I, King Narmer, have finally won the war. Where was your mighty goddess? Why didn't she help you? Has she lost her powers? No. She was ashamed of the Seth people, who joined with Libyan bandits, and this was why she changed over to my side. Follow her, accept me as your king, and I shall defend you from the Libyans whom I seize and judge in the name of Horus.


You worship your goddess in many forms, also as a heavenly cow. From now on, the heavenly cow will be called Hathor: the House of Horus. Four Hathors guard the battlements of my palace, and another four Hathors decorate my belt. Thus I am declared Lord of the four heavenly directions; Upper and Lower Egypt, eastern and western desert.


Could I possibly wear the picture of the goddess if she were my enemy? No. She would never allow such blasphemy. Therefore she must be on my side. Follow her: come to our side, join us.


You worship your goddess as the bearer of the Heavenly Gourd filled with the Water of Life. By now I am the Lord of the Nile, wearing a crown in the shape of a conical gourd. Your goddess appeared in the constellation of Orion, and her daughters in Sirius and Aldebaran. From now on you will see ME in Orion, Horus in Aldebaran, and my servant in Sirius. White, glittering Sirius was the gourd which fell from the head of your goddess when she stumbled on the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari. Now my servant carries a jug of water. His hieroglyph shall be a vessel turned upside down, and a flower in the shape of a star, hovering above him.


The mistress of the heavens has handed over her regalia to me, her king and your king, who will protect you from all enemies, in the name of your goddess Hathor, and in the name of my god Horus.


Narmer palette (James E. Quibell, Hierakonpolis, 1902)





Egypt 1 / Egypt 2 / Egypt 3 / Egypt 4