By Deborah Johnson (Edited by Holly Merton)
Copyrighted © 11.15.2002, all rights reserved.
As we view the sun’s journey from earth each day, it appears to travel in the sky daily from east to west. This journey from east to west is described in the ancient Egyptian texts and connected to the concept of Akeru. Akeru is represented in different forms in the ancient records. One form of Akeru is that of two lions back to back. A second image is the form of two human heads, sharing a lion body back-to-back. The back-to-back position is clearly understood to portray the watchful post of guardianship over the eastern and western horizons. As guardians of the horizons, one head faces east, while the other head faces west.
Akeru is also understood to have the responsibility of opening the gates that lie on these two horizons. Akeru opens the horizon gates and provides safe passage for the sun god’s boat journey through the divisions of the Duat. The two lions respectively are named Sef and Tuau, names whose meanings translate into the words yesterday and tomorrow.
Fig. #1 The dotted line represents the empty space left blank in the original tomb drawing
The sun has a second motion as viewed from earth in the course of one year. The sun moves (north and south) along the horizon at the rising and setting points as the earth makes its way around the sun in the course of a year. The solar boat resting upon the back of Akeru (as depicted in figure one) brilliantly depicts the understanding of the solar boat’s journey as the movement of the sun on the horizons. As mentioned above the two-headed Akeru back-to-back represent east and west. Centered on the back of Akeru is the solar boat with two lifted ends. At each end of the boat a deity is pushing the boat in the opposing direction. In this author’s opinion the two deities on the outside ends of the boat represents the two maximum positions (north and south) of the sun on the horizons. The five deities in the solar boat represent the space between the two maximum positions. A total of seven deities are present, each one equal to that of one-month’s time. As an example of how the pattern of seven deities explains the twelve months of the Egyptian year, begin counting the first standing deity on the right side of the boat (the suns northern most position) as June. The next deity on the left (Horus) represents July. The scarab headed deity represents August. The ram deity in the center represents September (equinox). Continue on counting the deity left of center as October, and the deity second to the left of center as November. The deity outside the boat and to the far left represents December (the suns southern most position). The December deity pushes the solar boat back to the north, only this time through the positions the first deity in the left of the boat now represents January. The Second deity from the left in the boat represents February. Continuing on, the next position is the centered ram deity who represents March (equinox). The first deity right of center now represents April and the second deity right of center represents May. Continuing on to the left the count ends or begins again with June. The two deities outside of the boat (June and December) are playing an endless game of eternal back and forth with the solar boat.
After the death of the living pharaoh the ancient Egyptians believed the Ba (spirit) of the pharaoh joined with the sun god Re and journeyed to the underworld in a grand solar boat. The solar boat is understood to sail for eternity with the company of the gods on board. The ancient Egyptians expressed their understanding of eternity in the records they left behind to present a formula that expresses what eternity meant to a society that worshiped and celebrated the sun. The ancient Egyptians observed, measured, and documented their understanding of the sun’s nature until it was ingrained into the culture and belief system. By observing the motion of the sun and the interaction it makes with the world around the ancient Egyptians left us their legacy and formula for eternity in the combined form of Akeru and the solar boat.
Researchers (via personal communications with the author) define the twelve divisions of the Duat as covering an eighteen-hour period, in a twenty-four hour cycle. In this interpretation, the Duat is considered to start at the time the sun is highest in the sky (at it’s zenith, or ninety degrees perpendicular to the horizon) and begins its decent in the sky. The Duat ends at the time when the sun is on the eastern horizon. This period of the sun’s motion would be similar to the motion of the big hand on a clock moving from the twelve o’clock position to the nine o’clock position on a twelve-hour clock face (covering a total of eighteen hours). In this interpretation of the twelve divisions of Duat, the sun god Re in the solar boat is on the western horizon (sunset) in the fifth division of the Duat. Six hours (that is the nineteenth through the twenty-fourth hours) in the twenty-four hour cycle are non-Duat, and represent the sun’s journey of sunrise (eastern horizon) to its zenith. By the eleventh hour, the solar boat with the sun god Re, is just below the eastern horizon moving towards the horizon for rebirth at sunrise. In the twelfth and final hour, the creator god Nu arises out of the Nun (primordial abyss). In pictorial form, the records show Nu raising the solar boat above the horizon, and uplifted in his arms, rest the solar boat that holds twelve deities (each deity representing one month) above the Eastern horizon (see figure two).
Fig. #2 Twelfth hour of the Duat depicted at Abydos. Nu emerges from the abyss holding the solar boat above the eastern horizon.
The Authors personal observations of sunsets on the Egyptian horizon in 1998 brought this researcher new insight. The theory of the solar boat’s journey was sparked by an image seen in nature. A boat image that is reflected in the “real” or physical world of the natural terrain of Egypt as the sun travels to rest on the horizon. While standing in the east of burial sites and looking west, this author noticed dished-out areas in the horizons of the Egyptian mountain ranges. The dished-out areas took on a curved boat-shape. As the sun lowers against the backdrop of these dished-out areas, a natural boat image is produced. The dished-out area in the hillside appears to capture the rays of the sun and forms a boat image that can be seen with the sun being held in the center. As the sun begins to disappear behind the horizon, a gold lining often forms across the entire hillside, thereby simulating the rope that tows the solar boat as shown in temple pictures.
A solar boat image can be seen against a flat horizon as well, at the time when the sun sets directly on the horizon. The light of the sun overpowers the horizon silhouette and illuminates the image of a boat. However, scooped-out horizons enhance the boat image by the boat-like contours that appears to hold the light of the sun. It has been noticed that in areas where enhanced horizons occur, there is a correspondence with burial sites and unique sun positions.
The movement the sun makes on the horizon (i.e. the change of position it makes each day on the horizon) in the course of a year could refer to the solar boat’s journey of eternity (as suggested above). The change in the suns position is a round trip horizon journey (as it rises and sets) from north to south, and north again, on both horizons, throughout the course of one year. For example in Egypt the sun’s point of setting at the time of winter solstice begins in the southern part of the sky when a person is looking west. The sun’s point of setting then moves north each day on the horizon until the sun has reached it’s most northern position for summer solstice. The sun’s point of setting then reverses along the same path, to the point where it once again reaches the most southern position (winter solstice).
Fig. #3 Giza sunset against the pyramids, in May, boat shaped horizon to the south (left).
An example of significant place and time (with respect to pyramid/sun alignments) with regard to the sun’s journey is offered next. If a person stands far to the east of the Giza plateau, facing west in front-view of the sphinx with Khephre’s pyramid behind it (all three are aligned to the west), a dished-out boat shape can clearly be seen to the south on the western horizon. In the winter the sun sets south (to the left) of the Khephre’s pyramids from this location. In the summer the sun sets to the north (to the right) of Khephre’s pyramid when viewed from this same location.
Fig. #4 The tomb of Tuthmosis III in the Valley of the Kings depicting the fifth hour of the Duat.
Compare the Giza Plateau’s sphinx, Khephre pyramid, and horizon (seen in figure three) to the tomb painting of the fifth division from the tomb of Tuthmosis III (see figure four). This fifth hour painting shows what is understood to represent Akeru (or the east facing sphinx), and a symbol of the original primordial mound (Khephre’s large pyramid) behind it. To the left of the primordial mound and preparing to journey the mountain is the solar boat and rope. You can see how the dished-out horizon at Giza corresponds to the tomb art representation of the solar boat. In fact the boat’s rope position represents the sun’s slow moving myriad of positions from the maximum position in the south, to the maximum position in the north for the yearly course, when viewed from the suggested alignment.
The north to south orientation of the solar boat’s journey on the horizon is similar to that of the Nile that runs north and south through Egypt with a northerly flow. The journey of the sun on the horizon is similar to a boat journey on the Nile, a boat that travels upstream then down stream. The path of the sun on the horizon when viewed from the suggested alignment sets a fixed position with the Khephre pyramid and works as the means for observing the passage of time. At a distance looking due west upon the Khephre pyramid (in an off-set alignment with the sphinx similar to the tomb art of Tuthmosis III), the sunsets over Khephre’s pyramid during the spring and autumn equinox months. These times are depicted in the top of the second register of the tomb art as the lifted rope (as seen in Figure four). Equinox is the center of the suns maximum northern position and the center of the maximum southern position on the horizon and occurs twice a year (March and September). In this authors opinion the tomb painting depicts the suns journey on the Giza horizon and helps to support the nature of this solar boat theory.
The solar boat image in nature, reflecting the sun’s journey on the horizon theory can be taken and applied to the western horizon of Luxor as well. When viewed from Karnak, the location of the sun on the mountain’s western horizon during its most northerly summer position shows it setting in the center of the depressed area that the author calls the Amon-Re Barge (see figure six).
Fig. #5 Far view of western Luxor horizon showing the contour of the Amon-Re barge.
Fig. #6 Silhouette of Amon-Re barge shaped horizon with centered sunset. Photo taken at end of June, near the Karnak Temple.
Following the summer solstice, the sun’s journey travels south along the horizons at the end and beginning of each day and eventually sets in the west at the location of a second boat shaped horizon. The sun’s journey continues farther south to form a third solar boat image on the horizon. The sun ends its movement (the path of each setting sun point along the horizon) south in December (winter solstice). This course reverses as the sun’s setting points start traveling north on the horizons, once again performing the yearly cycle of continued cosmic order.
Fig. #7 A second solar boat image taken of the western Luxor horizon, near the Karnak temple in May.
The silhouette drawing that represents relief work at Abydos shows the Amon-Re barge with twelve men towing the barge (seen in figure eight). These twelve may symbolize the twelve months of the year as well. Compare the silhouette drawing to the boat shapes in the horizon of Luxor (seen in figure six, and ten) correlations can be found. For example, to the right in the tomb art silhouette is seen the Amon-Re Barge. Compare the Amon-Re barge in art to the large boat shaped horizon (seen in figure six). This is the location on Luxor’s western horizon where in fact the sun rests centered, in June, when viewed from Karnak. In the silhouette drawing (shown in figure eight), the first five men (seen to the right) are pulling the rope of the Amon-Re barge to the south (left). These five figures could be thought of as representing the first of three seasons (the inundation season), and the suns journey south on the horizon after its summer solstice position. Notice the star above the head of the first deity who symbolizes the month of June, known by the ancient Egyptian to be the month the Dog Star Sirius is seen on the eastern horizon at dawn. Next in this procession (to the left), are four seated deities, perhaps representing the second season (the planting and growing season). At the southern end of the rope (left), three men (symbolizing the season of harvest) are pulling the rope back to the north. To the far left a smaller solar boat appears (i.e. at the left end of the rope). The smaller boat in the relief is equivalent to the smaller solar boat shape located on the horizon at the southern end of the Luxor mountain range (see in figure 10). The Abydos bas-relief (as seen in figure eight), in this author’s opinion represents the twelve months of the year (represented by twelve figures) when compared to the sun’s movement against the boat shaped horizons on the Luxor mountain.
Fig. #8 Silhouette drawing of Bas-relief at Abydos showing solar boat to the left and the Amon-Re barge to the right.
When comparing the southern solar-boat horizon seen on the western mountain of Luxor (shown in figure ten) to the carved stone bas-relief found in the Luxor temple, one can see similarities. The carved relief (shown in figure nine) depicts the solar boat with a pedestal in the boat’s center. The sun disk rests upon this pedestal. The solar boat itself sits upon a sled and a priest is shown towing the sled by a rope across land. This bas-relief is located in the east bank Luxor temple, in a location directly opposite the section of mountain that forms the horizon of the boat with the pedestal in the center. If one stands within the Luxor temple entrance, looking west across the Nile, two pillars at the temple’s original entrance frame the section of the mountain that form the two solar boat images on the southern end of the horizon. In this case what is reflected in the temple’s art and design shows reverence for the two solar boat images in the local landscape.
Fig. #9 Photo by Alan Woode showing bas-relief art of solar boat (Luxor Temple).
Fig. #10 Solar boat sunset, southern end of the mountain, viewed from the Nile near Karnak temple.
There appear to be at least three significant boat horizons (i.e. boat shaped silhouettes on the landscape) on Luxor’s west bank where the sun sets throughout the year. To achieve this visual perspective of the solar boat in nature, one needs to view the horizon from the east bank city of Karnak. The temples of the East bank ironically housed three carved and gilded solar boats shrines that were used in the Luxor festival celebrations. The Amon-Re barge shrine was housed in the northern temple at Karnak opposite the horizon that depicts the Amon-Re barge. The Mut and Khonsu boat shrines were housed in the southern Luxor temple opposite the horizon that forms the image of two enhanced boat images.
The most important festivals of the New Kingdom (the Opet Festival Procession) are in this author’s opinion, celebrations that mirror the sun’s journey throughout the year on the horizon. What is in nature is celebrated in festival (as above, so below). The combination of the sun and horizon’s boat shape, as well as the movement of the sun on the horizon, is mirrored and celebrated by the boat shrines used in the festival procession. Participants of the Opet festival honor the beginning of the inundation season for the Nile at a time that coincides with the maximum position north of the sun on the western horizon. The peak of the summer festivities involves a procession of the three boat shrines: the Amon-Re barge shrine, and the boat shrines of Mut and Khonsu.
Fig. #11 Tomb image of solar boat procession (Amon Shrine).
Personal research points to these festival events as going something like this. The original processions it is believed were floating processions where the individual boat shrines of the Theban triad were taken to the Nile to journey the waters through the events. These events changed in time to a land procession. The golden statue of Amon-Re is placed in the Amon-Re barge and carried once a year in a musical and joyful procession that begins in the northern Karnak temple. The shrine is carried south through the 2.5-kilometer Avenue of the Sphinxes, to the southern Luxor temple. Here the Amon-Re shrine joins with the shrines of Mut (his wife) and Khonsu (their son). The journey that brings them together is the annual visit for conception, rebirth, and renewal for Amon-Re and Mut. The Theban triad of Amon-Re, Mut, and Khonsu in their individual boats then cross the Nile to the west bank, where the procession will spend time in the company of the ancient ancestors. Closure of the festivities occurs when the three boat shrines are brought back in procession the same way in which they came from. The boat shrines are placed back in their respective chapels within the Luxor and Karnak temples where they reside until the next summer’s festivities.
It appears the ancient Egyptians observed their place in nature as one small aspect of a bigger worldview. They based their belief systems on the surrounding natural settings. Although it may appear to be highly imaginative, it all flows together within the realms of practicality with admiration for continued stability. Were the shrines placed on the boat shaped horizons by rows of priests pulling the ropes, thereby reflecting a ceremony that mirrored nature? Were they creating the ritual act of reaching for Re, or of being in a place where Re touched the Earth? Did the deity Amon become Amon-Re at the time of coming together (of Amon and Re) on the horizon. In bas-relief on the temple walls of Edfu, it is interesting to note that boat shrines are seen placed upon larger boats. The combination of natural and altered settings would have created meaningful images in the horizons where human interaction could take place. Using the sky and earth, the sun and moon, the stars and horizons, as a ritual backdrop they may have interacted with nature in an elaborate performance. Using the horizons for a stage as part of festival celebrations, they could have placed the boat shrines in these horizons to align them with the sun. This is the image we see within some of the temple art, when the sun is located behind the deity. If these images in art reflect physical reality, then the horizon is where the barge of Amon-Re would have to be in order to create the image portrayed.
In addition to celebrations and festivals, the recorded burial processions of ancient Egypt also expressed a high regard for the journey into the Duat upon the solar boat. It is a time when Re touches the earth in the form of a boat, a place where that thin, shimmering, or glowing rope of demarcation appears on the horizon at the time of sunset. The environmental cross-over was a delicate moment of uncertainty within the ancient Egyptian mythology, a changing of the guards so to speak; yet an event that occurred victoriously and flawlessly for millions of years. Did the funeral processions of the past stand along the horizon with the burial shrine boats, waiting for just the right moment, when the solar boat appears on the horizon to align with the boat image of the setting sun? During funeral processions, did the east bank mourners cry out from their perspective; signaling the coming together of the two images into one. Is this the moment the Ba of the deceased crossed over to board the solar boat (in nature) for eternity. Temple images show boats were carried in procession as a mobile shrine with the intention of being in just the right place at just the right time. Correct placement of the shrine on the horizon would be necessary for the ancients to be true to the symbolic images seen in the tomb paintings.
Fig.#12 Solar boat silhouette, west bank as viewed from the Luxor Temple.
As one sails the Nile, in the natural beauty within which life exists, there is ever-changing scenery of the hills and valleys. Each horizon has it’s own character, yet the solar astral existence of the sun remains an unalterable law as it connects daily with the earth at sunrise and sunset. Those horizons with the dished-out areas present the boat shape throughout Egypt, as are created by the natural occurrence of mountain building and erosion. Such appearances of the solar boat in geological features upon the horizon may simply have been the understanding of everyday life in Egypt. Most horizons along the Nile will have valley areas. By placing oneself in the correct location, one can provide the human interaction necessary to create the desired effect of a solar boat image on the horizon. Horizons of particular interest to this author’s work include those seen above burial locations, those from an east bank perspective, and those where possible deliberate enhancement or alignments of specific places became solstice markers as the sun journeyed across the horizon throughout the year. There was (and continues today) a cycle of continuity as witnessed by the sun’s journey whereby the night changes into day, the days into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into a year, and the years into eternity.