Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sopdet, Egyptian Goddess of the New Year

With the new calendar year fast approaching, now is the time that many of us start to contemplate a fresh start and new beginnings.  To the ancient Egyptians, the Goddess who marked the coming of the new year was Sopdet ("skilled woman"), or Sothis, who is more commonly personified as the "dog star" Sirius, a star that held great importance to the ancient Egyptians.

When the heliacal rising occurred (when Sirius became visible above the eastern horizon prior to sunrise), this marked the time when the Nile River, the life blood of the country, started to flood*.  It was the silt that came from this flooding that enabled the farmers to grow their crops, and thus the flooding was associated with bringing fertility to the land.   

The ancient Egyptians connected the two events and so, over time, Sopdet took on the aspect of a Goddess of not only the star and of the inundation, but of the fertility that came to the land of Egypt with the flood. The flood and the rising of Sirius also marked the ancient Egyptian New Year, and so she also was thought of as a Goddess of the New Year, and later was linked to the pharaoh and his journey in the afterlife.

Sopdet's association with the pharoah was that it was she who cleansed the pharaoh in the afterlife.  This embalming period of the dead took about 70 days, the same amount of time that Sirius was not seen in the sky, before its yearly rising.  This connection made her a Goddess associated with both the living as well as the dead.

Although Sopdet started out as an agricultural Goddess, closely associated with the Nile River, by the Middle Kingdom she was also considered to be a mother Goddess. This probably related to her growing connection with the Mother Goddess Isis. This connection was further strengthened by Sopdet´s role in assisting the Pharaoh find his way to the imperishable stars. It may be no coincidence that Sirius disappeared for 70 days every year, and mummification took 70 days.

In the First Dynasty ivory tablets Sopdet was depicted as a reclining cow with a unidentified plant-like emblem (possibly signifying representing the new year) between her horns.  However, she was most often depicted as a woman wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt topped by a star or a headdress with two plumes.  Less often, she is portrayed as a large dog, and by the Roman period the hybrid Goddess Isis-Sopdet was depicted as a woman riding side-saddle on a large dog.

Sopdet was occasionally shown as a male deity. During the Middle Kingdom the male Sopdet was in associated with Horus as one of the Gods who held up the four corners of the earth and held Nut (the sky) in place. During the Greek period she was linked to Anubis as Sopdet-Anubis, possibly because of her canine associations.

Sopdet is also linked with other Goddesses including Isis, Hathor and Bast.

*The inundation of the Nile River occurred from July to September prior to the construction of the Aswan Dam in 1970.


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Great Goddess Isis

Great Goddess Isis

Exhortation of Isis

You are She in the dust of whose feet is the hosts of Heaven,
Whose body encircles the Universe,
Who turns the Earth in its orb,
Who gives light to the Sun,
Who rules the World.

You tread death underfoot.
To Thee, the stars are responsive,
To Thee the seasons turn and the Gods rejoice
And the elements are in subjugation.

You are She that is the natural Mother of all things,
Mistress and governor of all elements,
The initial progeny of worlds,
Chief of Divine powers,
Queen of Heaven,
Principle of all the Gods celestial and the light of Goddesses.

At Your will are disposed the planets of the air,
The wholesome winds of the seas
And the silences of the unseen world.