(Sopdet) Sothis is the way the Greeks wrote the name of the Goddess whose name appears in hieroglyphic Egyptian as ‘Sopdet’. Sothis is the deity immanent in the star Sirius, which in addition to being the brightest star in the sky, also played a key role in the Egyptian calendar. The Egyptian new year was fixed to the heliacal rising of Sirius, that is, the first day on which Sirius is visible before dawn after a period of invisibility which, in the case of Sirius, is about seventy days. The heliacal rising of Sirius varies depending upon the observer’s latitude; at Egypt’s latitude, this event would have occurred in late July. The heliacal rising of Sirius was particularly significant for Egyptians because it marked the beginning of the period within which the Nile’s annual inundation could be expected, and all Egyptian agriculture depended upon the Nile’s inundation. Sothis is depicted as a woman wearing a crown like the White Crown of Upper Egypt, but with antelope horns at the sides, like the crown worn by Satis, with the addition of a five-pointed star at the top. Sothis has for consort Sah, the deity immanent in the constellation of Orion, and is the mother of Soped. Both Sirius and Orion undergo a period of invisibility during which they are in the netherworld, but they emerge again, and thus are symbols of resurrection.
PT utterance 216 says that Orion (Sah) and Sothis are “swallowed up by the Netherworld, pure and living in the horizon,” i.e., they depart alive; so too the deceased king says “I am swallowed up by the Netherworld, pure and living in the horizon. It is well with me and with them, it is pleasant for me and for them, within the arms of my father, within the arms of Atum.” In the Pyramid Texts, the relationship between the deceased king and Sothis is either that of son or of consort, in which latter case the Morning Star is said to be their offspring. This union is frequently identified with that of Isis and Osiris, as in PT utterance 366: “Your sister Isis comes to you [the deceased] rejoicing for love of you. You have placed her on your phallus and your seed issues into her, she being ready [seped] as Sothis [Sopdet], and Horus-Soped has come forth from you as Horus who is in Sothis.” In PT utterance 477 Sothis is called the beloved daughter of Osiris “who prepares yearly sustenance for you [Osiris; not here identified with the deceased king] in this her name of ‘Year’ and who guides me [the deceased king] when I come to you.” In PT utterance 509, the deceased king affirms that “I ascend to the sky among the Imperishable Stars [i.e., the northern circumpolar stars], my sister is Sothis, my guide is the Morning Star, and they grasp my hand at the Field of Offerings,” a location in the northeastern sky. In CT spell 467 (cp. BD spell 110), for becoming lord of the Field of Offerings, and which details a number of sites within this place, it is said of the “Town of the Great Lady” that “Sothis speaks to me [the deceased] in her good time,” perhaps the heliacal rising of Sirius. PT utterance 569 indicates that the heliacal rising of Sirius could be seen as the “birth” of Sothis. PT utterance 609 says of the deceased king, “Your sister is Sothis, your offspring is the Morning Star, and you shall sit between them on the great throne which is in the presence of the Two Enneads [a general term conveying the sense of ‘all the Gods’],” while it is said in PT utterance 691A of Re that “his brother is Orion [Sah], his sister is Sothis, and he sits between them in this land forever.” CT spell 6, which speaks of the resurrection of the deceased at the new moon festival, it said of the deceased that “You suck at your mother Sothis as your nurse who is in the horizon, while CT spells 36 and 37 affirm that the deceased has been “ennobled in the House of Sothis.” CT spell 44 invokes Sah, Sothis, and the Morning Star to encircle the deceased, saying “may they set you within the arms of your mother Nut, may they save you from the rage of the dead who go head-downwards,” an idiom in Egyptian afterlife literature for those lacking awareness in the netherworld, “for you are not among them and you shall not be among them, you shall not go down to the butchery of the first of the decade,” referring to the ‘death’ suffered by decanal stars when they disappear for seventy days, as is explained in a text from Papyrus Carlsberg I, where it is said of these stars that “one dies and another lives every ten days,” in a cycle of death and rebirth which is “the life of [these] stars,” (Neugebauer and Parker, vol. I, 68). This death of stars each decan might trigger the ‘second death’ of souls who have not the means of fixing their state. The stars themselves suffer no ill fate for undergoing this cycle, however, as is clear from the deceased’s affirmation in BD spell 149 that “I have eaten of the foods of the field of offerings, being gone down to the meadow of the stars that set.” The role of certain stars, such as Sirius, the stars in Orion, and the Morning Star, was apparently to assist in the transition to a state of permanence. CT spell 469 and its much abbreviated version, CT spell 470, serve to equip the operator to be among the spirits “belonging to … He of the Dawn,” who is “ever between the two great Gods when they are in the sky, one of them in the west of the sky and one of them in the east of the sky.”
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Neugebauer, Otto, and Richard A. Parker. 1960-9. Egyptian Astronomical Texts. Providence: Brown University Press.