Why Is the Hippo Goddess Holding a Bull by a Chain in the Northern Sky?

Here is the ancient Egyptian depiction of the Big Dipper, seen here in the shape of a bull’s leg. It includes seven stars and is tied to a stake by a goddess in hippo form (right). The Big Dipper is considered the manifestation of the evil god Seth, who murdered his brother Osiris. The goddess prevents Seth from reaching Osiris in the underworld — a myth made possible because the constellation never dips below the horizon. (Image: © Ahmed Amin)

This carving comes from a Greco-Roman-era Egyptian temple in Esna,where decorated walls are being carefully cleaned and original colors seen again.

As workers in Egypt remove soot and dirt from the temple, sometimes with a mixture of alcohol and distilled water, the original painted carvings and hieroglyphics beneath are so vibrant, “it looks like it was painted yesterday,” project leader Christian Leitz, a professor of Egyptology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, told Live Science. “But we are not repainting anything, we are just removing the soot.”

So what is Taweret, the Hippo Goddess, doing? She is holding onto a chain attached the Bull’s Leg, one Egyptian name for the north polar constellation called Ursa Major or the Big Dipper—and as explained in the caption above, she is keeping evil at bay.

This constellation has also been called The Plough or Charles’ Wain (Wagon), and that Charles would be Charlemagne (748–814) the Frankish emperor sometimes called the “Father of Europe” but who also ordered the killing of thousands of Pagans (mostly Saxons) who resisted his missionaries.

It is called “the Wagon” in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer’s time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum “freight-wagon, ox cart” and arctos “bear,

At the time the carving was created, the Dipper/Plough/Wagon/Bull’s Leg/Seven Oxen never dipped below the horizon, as seen by Mediterranean viewers, so it never entered the Underworld. “The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes).”

For more photos of the temple, see this article:

It is made out of sandstone with 24 columns supporting the roof and 18 free-standing columns with colorful plant decorations. The experts believe that the temple was decorated for up to 200 years. Its ceiling is especially exceptional for its astronomical and hieroglyphic inscriptions. The inscriptions are also evidence of religious beliefs and cult movements at the time.

Very nice, but I prefer to think back to when Thuban was the pole star. Now those were shining times! It has all been downhill since.

1 thought on “Why Is the Hippo Goddess Holding a Bull by a Chain in the Northern Sky?

  1. “Very nice, but I prefer to think back to when Thuban was the pole star. Now those were shining times! It has all been downhill since.”

    That’s okay. In 20346 CE, it will again be the pole star, that year reaching a maximum declination of 88° 43? 17.3?, at right ascension 19h 08m 54.17s.

    ::grin::

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