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The Origin and Significance of the Great Pyramid, by C. Staniland Wake, [1882], at

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THE Great Pyramid was intended to be something more than the tomb or even a temple in honour of Cheops. The astronomical character of many of the chief features of the structure confirms this view, and it is supported by the arguments used by Mr. Proctor to establish its connection with astrological observances. The pyramid had, indeed, a religious character of its own, which probably supplied the primary object of its erection. It is true that Mr. Proctor remarks that it is not "easy to understand why any building at all, except an astronomical observatory, should be placed so that its four faces front the four cardinal points." He says, however, that "a temple devoted to Sun-worship, and generally to the heavenly bodies, might be built in that way. For it is to be noticed that the

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peculiar figure and position of the Pyramids would bring about the following relations: when the sun rose and set south of the east and west points, or (speaking generally) between the autumn and the spring equinoxes, the rays of the rising and setting sun illuminated the southern face of the pyramid; whereas, during the rest of the year, that is, during the six months between the spring and autumn equinoxes, the rays of the rising and setting sun illuminated the northern face. Again, all the year round the sun's rays passed from the eastern to the western face at solar noon. And, lastly, during seven months and a half of each year, namely, for three months and three quarters before and after Midsummer, the noon rays of the sun fell on all four faces of the pyramid, or, according to a Peruvian expression (so Smyth avers) the sun shone on the pyramid 'with all his rays.'" Such conditions as these might have been regarded as very suitable for a temple devoted to Sun-worship. And yet Mr. Proctor declares that the temple theory is as untenable as the tomb theory, on the ground, first, that the pyramid form is unsuited for all "the ordinary requirements of a temple of worship," and, secondly, that it gives no explanation

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of the fact that each king built a pyramid, and each king only one. *

These objections would, however, present no difficulty if the temple theory were restricted to the Great Pyramid, the other pyramids being probably intended only for the tombs of their founders. That the erection of the former had a distinctly religious purpose can hardly be denied. What that purpose was may be gathered from the statements of certain Arab writers. Thus Soyuti mentions from earlier writers that the Sabæans made pilgrimages to the Pyramids and had opened one of them, and that they sacrificed hens and black calves, and burnt incense. He says also that Seth took possession of Egypt, and his son was Hermes, and that he introduced Sabaism, which inculcated, among other things, a pilgrimage to the Pyramids. He adds that, according to some accounts, one pyramid is the tomb of Seth.  An earlier writer, Eddin Ahmed Ben Yahya, does not refer to Seth, but he says that each pyramid was consecrated to a star, and that the Sabæans performed religious pilgrimages to the greatest

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and also visited the others. He observes that every pyramid presents the form of a lantern surrounded by equilateral sides, which indicates that it was sacred to a star. * Abd Allatif, who wrote nearly 200 years earlier, also refers to the pilgrimages made to the Pyramids, and he affirms that he had read in ancient Sabæan books that one pyramid was the tomb of Agathodæmon, and the other of Hermes.  Agathodæmon was none other than Seth, and according to some writers Hermes was his son. 

A modern author, Mr. Palgrave, states that frequent enquiries were made of him in Oman regarding the Egyptian Pyramids, a memory, he thinks, derived from old Sabæan times. § This traveller remarks elsewhere that the Arab writers give us the following information as to the ancient Sabæans. "That they worshipped the seven planets, and pre-eminently the sun; that they observed a fast of thirty days, set apart in the early spring, before the vernal

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equinox; that their chief annual feast coincided with the entrance of the sun in the sign of Aries (a fact which supposes a solar, not lunar, computation of the months); that they had a special veneration for the two great pyramids of Egypt, believed by them to be the sepulchres of Seth and Idrus (Enoch); that their stated prayers recurred seven times a day . . . . and that during their devotions they turned their faces towards the north; lastly, that they possessed a book, or code of laws, ascribed to Seth himself (in what language, unhappily, it is not said), and believed to contain the dogmas and institutions of that primeval patriarch." Mr. Palgrave adds, that two points of great importance seem to have distinguished the ancient form of Sabaism: one, the absence of image-idols and idolatry; the other, the absence of any priestly caste * These points are, indeed, of great importance, and if it can be shown that the two great pyramids had really anything to do with Sabaism, it is not surprising that their founders were regarded with hatred by the Egyptian priests. The builder of the Third Pyramid, Mycerinus, was not so regarded, however, and

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perhaps, therefore, he may be referred to in the legend which spoke of one of the pyramids of Ghizeh as the tomb of Hermes. This personage was not only the son of Seth, but probably also the same as Thoth, the Egyptian god of Wisdom; and to the reign of Mycerinus was assigned the discovery of a mystical text, which formed the most profound passage in the Book of the Dead. M. Lenormant states that numerous legends of the discoveries of books of a supernatural and divine origin were current among the Egyptians, who generally placed them under the earliest dynasties. *

We have already had occasion to notice that the city of Memphis, near which the Pyramids were situated, was founded by Menes, who established a political and military monarchy on the ruins of the priestly authority. Prior to his reign, the priests had exercised supreme power, the chief seat of which was in the middle part of Upper Egypt. 'In this region, says Lenormant, was situate Abydos, the principal centre of the. worship of Osiris, whose tomb was there shown, the only worship which was common to all Egypt; Thebes, which boasted itself to have

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been the birth-place of the same god; Tentyris, the favorite abode of the goddess Hathor; Deb or Edfou, where Har-m-akhouti, with his son Har-houd, are supposed to have assembled the army with which they combatted Set or Typhon. * Set or Seth is thus brought into connection with the Egyptian mythology, and he occupies a remarkable position in relation to it. "Seth was at one time," says Bunsen, "a great god, universally adored throughout Egypt, who conferred on the sovereigns of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties the symbols of life and power. The most glorious monarch of the latter dynasty Sethos, derives his name from this deity. But, subsequently, in the course of the Twentieth Dynasty, he is suddenly treated as an evil demon, inasmuch that his effigies and name are obliterated on all the monuments and inscriptions that could be reached." The hatred of the Osirian priests to the worship of Seth, which this conduct betokens, cannot, however, have had a sudden rise. It must have been merely the culmination of a feeling similar to that which led to the detestation in which the memory of Cheops and Cephren was held. It was, indeed, probably

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connected with the hatred of the Pyramid builders, if we may judge from the position occupied by the god Seth. According to Bunsen, this deity was the primitive god of Northern Egypt and Palestine, and appears as the background of religious consciousness among the Semites. Moreover, his genealogy as "the Seth of Genesis, the father of Enoch (the man) must be considered as originally running parallel with that derived from the Elohim, Adam's father." * Seth, therefore, is not only the primitive god of the Semites, but also their semi-divine ancestor. We have here, probably, the explanation of a fact mentioned by Herodotus, who, after speaking of the aversion of the Egyptians for the memory of Cheops and Cephren, says, "they will not even mention their names, and for this reason they call the Pyramids after the Shepherd Philitis, who at the time of their erection used to feed his flocks near the spot." The occupation of a keeper of sheep was an abomination to the Egyptians, and if a shepherd prince dwelt near Memphis there must have been some very powerful reason for his doing so. That there was a religious reason we may infer from the

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stories related to Herodotus by the priests, who told him that the temples were closed during the reigns of Cheops and Cephren. M. Lenormant has, indeed, shown that this statement cannot have been correct, as an inscription preserved in the Museum at Boulak enumerates the temples built by Cheops, the pious foundations made by him, and his splendid offerings to the gods, * thus confirming the opinion expressed by Dr. Ebers. Nevertheless, there may have been some ground for the accusation of impiety made against Cheops, and it was probably his recognition of the supremacy of a god foreign to the strictly Egyptian Pantheon, which might be quite consistent with his continuing to show respect for the native gods. Who the strange deity was may probably be determined by the nationality of Philitis, whose name is mentioned in connection with the Pyramids, although they may have been erected long before his time; unless indeed the name stands for a people and not merely an individual. M. Büdenger  ingeniously identifies Philitis with Salatis, the first Hyksos king, and Prof. Duncker states that the name of the former

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points to a Semitic tribe for the Hyksos, "and one immediately bordering on Egypt on the Syrian coast—the Philistines (Pelischtim), from whom the whole Syrian coast was called by the Greeks Palæstina." * The first Hyksos king fixed his residence at Memphis in the neighbourhood of the great pyramids, which had perhaps already become connected with the shepherd princes, and among a people who were probably prepared to receive him as a friend rather than as an enemy. M. Lenormant remarks that the Delta, and especially its eastern part, "appeared to have been inhabited from the highest antiquity by a population somewhat different from that of the rest of Egypt—of a more Asiatic character, and probably mixed in a certain measure with Semitic element." That region, before even the foundation of Memphis by Menes, was for Egypt "the cradle of he worship of more important deities, who took a leading place in the national Pantheon, but in their origin were connected with the cycle of Euphratico-Syrian divinities." One of those deities vas Hathor; the other was Set, "the special god of the northern country—in opposition to Horus, the god of the southern

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country—of whose name the Soutekh of the Shepherds and of the Kheta is only an enlarged form; whom we find adored under the name of Schita in several parts of Assyria; and whom it is perhaps necessary to compare with the antediluvian patriarch Scheth (Seth) in the narrative of Genesis." * We see thus that not only was Set (Seth) by his name Soutekh the rational god of the Hyksos, but he was also the chief deity of the semi-Semitic population of the Memphitic region in which that shepherd race established itself. It is not surprising, therefore, that the hatred of the native Egyptians for the Hyksos was afterwards entertained in an intensified form towards the god whom they adored, although previously, as the special deity of Lower Egypt, he had been recognised as the Agathodæmon.

The Hyksos and their congeners of Northern Egypt, however, were probably more closely connected with the ancient Cushite race, referred to by Arab tradition as the people of Ad, than with the pure Semitic stock. The Arabian branch of that race was thought to have become extinct before the establishment of the later Arabs in the peninsula. Remnants of it, however, are still

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to be found in the territory between the Hedjaz and Yemen, and also in the Hadramaut and Mahrah, between Yemen and Oman, where a large number of independent tribes exist. * The religion of these tribes was down to a comparatively recent period star-worship, and their ancestors, the people of Ad, were adherents of the Sabaism which was so widely spread in the ancient world. To this cult the Hyksos belonged, as shown by the identification of their god Soutekh with the Seth of the Sabæans. The race connection between the population of Lower Egypt and the Hyksos, with the position occupied by Seth as the national deity, agree with the fact of Sabaism being the religion also of the northern Egyptians. Dr. Tiele, remarks that "star-worship was not unknown to the Semites, but the highly-developed astrology and magic which we find among the Babylonians and Assyrians were derived from the Akkadians," to whom the early population of Arabia, known as the people of Ad, were related. That early race, moreover, furnished the Babylonians with the

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models on which their temples were built, "namely, in the form of terraced pyramids, such as were erected also in Elam, and among the oldest inhabitants of Media and India, to which class belonged the famous Tower of Babel." * The Great Pyramid of Egypt may well, therefore, have been a monument of star-worship, dedicated to the god Seth.

Nor is this conclusion, that the Great Pyramid was intimately associated with the worship of Seth, inconsistent with the fact that it appears to have been sometimes referred to by the Egyptians as the tomb of Osiris.  This opinion is connected with the myth of Osiris and Isis in its later form, which introduces Seth (Typhon) as the great enemy of Osiris. According to Bunsen, however, this form was not known earlier than the 13th or 14th century B.C., so that the Great Pyramid would not be spoken of as the tomb of Osiris before that date. It could not have been thus regarded originally, as we know that neither Cheops nor Cephren received the name of Osiris, an honour which was conferred by the Egyptian priests on the later monarch, Mycerinus, owing

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to his great benevolence and justice—or, shall we say, his orthodox religious views. The learned Dupuis expresses the opinion that the Agathodæmon, or Good Spirit, whom the Sabæans believed to repose under the pyramid, was in reality Osiris, the benevolent god of Nature. The Agathodæmon of the early Egyptians was, however Seth, the special deity of Northern Egypt, and we shall not be wrong in supposing the Great Pyramid to have been erected by the Sabæans in his honour.

In so doing, we explain perfectly the scientific features which have been traced in the structure. The worshippers of the heavenly host would, undoubtedly, in so grand a religious monument as the Great Pyramid, embody all the astronomical knowledge they possessed, and this must have been considerable. The Arabian historian, Abulfaraj, as quoted by Dupuis, * says that the religion of the Chaldeans and of the Sabæans was the same, and that the former were distinguished by their astronomical observations and studied the nature of the stars and their secret influences. Nor was this true merely of the later Chaldeans. Mr. Proctor remarks, that "no one

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who considers the wonderful accuracy with which, nearly 2,000 years before the Christian era, the Chaldeans had determined the famous cycle of the Saros, can doubt that they must have observed the heavenly bodies for several centuries before they could have achieved such a success." * As to the later Chaldeans, the Jewish writer Philo observes that they make everything depend on the movement of the stars, which they regard as the sovereign arbiters of the order of the world. They limit their homage to the visible, and do not form any idea of the invisible and intellectual being; on the contrary, in observing the order of the world, they think they see in it the divinity itself, which exercises its power by the movements of the sun, the moon, the planets, and the fixed stars, by the successive revolutions of the seasons, and by the combined action of the heaven and the earth. 

A religion such as this could have no fitter monument than a vast astronomical observatory, which the Great Pyramid probably was, until at least it was completed on the death of its royal founder. The building was a worthy

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symbol of the remarkable system of religion which, according to ancient writers, once pervaded nearly the whole world, and was said to have been founded by Seth, the son of Adam. According to Philo, Abraham was educated in its principles, which he held, until having opened his eyes, he saw the light and recognised in the Universe a sovereign guide, whom he had not before suspected.


56:* "Myths and Marvels of Astronomy," p. 89.

56:† See Vyse, "Operations," etc., Vol. ii. p. 358.

57:* Vyse, "Operations," Vol. ii. p. 349. According to the Platonists, a pyramid is the figure of fire.

57:† Vyse, vol. ii., p. 342.

57:‡ See Appendix I. for various ancient references to Seth and Hermes, as give by Dr. Sprenger.

57:§ Vol. ii. p. 264.

58:* Vyse, vol. ii. p. 258.

59:* "Histoire Ancienne de l’Orient," 9th edition, Tom. ii. p. 74.

60:* Tom. ii. p. 55.

61:* God in History, Vol. i., pp. 233-4.

62:* Tom. ii., p. 72.

62:† Quoted in Duncker's "History of Antiquity." Vol. i. p. 98 n.

63:* Ducker, Vol. i. p. 127.

64:* Histoire Ancienne de l’Orient, Tom. ii. p. 147.

65:* M. Vivien de Saint-Martin, in his "Nouveau Dictionnaire de Geographie Universelle,"—art. Arabie. And see the "Preliminary Discourse," in Sale's "Koran," as to the tribe of Ad, and other early peoples of Arabia.

66:* "Outlines of the History of Religion" (Eng. Trans.), p. 75.

66:† Dupuis, "L’Origine de tous les Cultes," Tom. i. p. 424.

67:* Tom, i. p. 7.

68:* "Myths and Marvels of Astronomy," p. 73.

68:† Treatise on Abraham, Sec. 15.

Next: Chapter V. Seth And Serpent Worship