The Sphinx Blinks

This article has been scanned from the March 2001 issue of Sky & Telescope (S&T) without changes other than formatting for the web page. The purpose of the article is to allow for completeness in the presentation of the essay, Crossing the Leo-Cancer Boundary.

The familiar stone lion with a human head that peers out over the Nile was built in adoration of the Sun. 
By E. C. Krupp

ITH A ROCK-STEADY GAZE, Egypt's Great Sphinx has faced due east for roughly 4,500 years. If the Sphinx ever blinks, it must be in March and September, when the equinox Sun rises and shines straight in its eyes. This monumental sculpture, carved from a natural bedrock limestone outcrop on the doorstep of the Giza pyramids, is a crouched lion with a human head. Our gatefold all-sky map for March displays one of the proposals once offered for its hybrid character. The composite creature was allegedly engineered through the symbolic fusion of Leo, the Lion, and Virgo, the Maiden, both now climbing out of the east on our monthly star chart. [See also, Siloamnet star chart.]

In Star Names and Their Meanings (1899), Richard Hinckley Allen explained that the Sphinx was constructed "with Virgo's head on Leo's body, from the fact that the sun passed through these two constellations during the inundation of the Nile." Allen acknowledged the objections of Egyptologists to this astronomically facile answer to the riddle of the Sphinx but nevertheless asserted the lion's solar significance in ancient Egypt.

Thanks to ancient Egyptian texts, we now know the Sphinx represents Horemakhet ("Horus of the Horizon') and is the divine personification of the rising disk of the Sun, fully poised on the eastern horizon. Intentionally aligned toward cardinal east, the Sphinx reflects the ritual significance of the cardinal directions in the Old Kingdom period (2686-2181 B.C.). Cardinal directions originate astronomically in the daily rotation of the sky around the north celestial pole, a location of high interest to the ancient Egyptians. The entire Giza necropolis adheres to an accurate cardinal grid.

Despite the worldwide fame enjoyed by the Sphinx today, two of antiquity's celebrated historians failed to mention it. Herodotus visited Egypt in the 5th century B.C. and saw the Great Pyramid but was silent on the Sphinx. Another Greek, Diodorus Siculus, also wrote about Egypt but said nothing of the Sphinx. Part of Khafre's pyramid can be seen to the left of the Sphinx. All photographs by E. C. Krupp.


The Sphinx is said to be the vigilant guardian of the Giza cemetery, but its name and its eastward dedication also reflect ancient Egyptian ideas about cyclical celestial renewal and its affiliation with the divine destiny of the dead pharaoh. Some evidence suggests the face on the Sphinx was a portrait of the pharaoh Khafre, the son of Khufu (or Cheops, as the Greeks called him), who built the Great Pyramid.

Giza's second-largest pyramid belongs to Khafre. The Causeway that connects Khafre's Mortuary Temple, on the east side of his pyramid, to his Valley Temple passes next to the Sphinx, and this architectural bond with the Sphinx supports Khafre's claim on it. His Valley Temple is also right next to the Sphinx Temple, just east of the paws of the beast. 

The sides of the Sphinx Temple, like most of the rest of Giza, are cardinally aligned, and a pair of sanctuaries on its primary axis --- one on the east and one on the west --- amplify a connection with equinox sunrise and sunset. Felicitously positioned with respect to the Sphinx, the temple retains a clear line of sight due west. This axis just skirts the lion's southen flank with a clearance for the equinox sunset. On that line, the Sun touches the horizon at the southern edge of Khafre's pyramid and reinforces, with solar adhesion, Khafre's bond with the Sphinx. Additional astronomical and calendrical connotations have been spotted in the Sphinx Temple's interior colonnade. Its 24 red granite pillars have been interpreted as a reference to the 24 hours of the day, an Egyptian convention we still observe today. Most of the evidence attributes the construction of the Sphinx to Khafre, but Giza Egyptologist Mark Lehner believes the Sphinx was intended to portray a manifestation of Atum, the solarized aspect of the divine Creator. Certainly, by the New Kingdom (1570-1070 B.C.) Egyptian pharaohs believed the Sphinx was a solar god and gave it names that expressed that character. As a predator near the top of the food chain, the lion was already an emblem of power associated with royalty before the Giza pyramids. If the Sphinx was also Khafre, it promoted Khafre's solar deification.

A temple dedicated to the Sphinx was built in front of it. A pair of interior niches face each other on the temple's eastern and western walls and establish an axis aligned with equinox sunrise and sunset. In this view taken from the eastern niche, the western niche is visible on the far left of the frame (arrowed), just left of the Sphinx.

The monumental astronomy associated with the Sphinx is completely consistent with what we know about ancient Egyptian religion and Egypt's symbolism of power. Another astronomical dimension has been promoted, however, by Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval. Both have written books containing free-wheeling interpretations of antiquity. Bauval is the coauthor of The Orion Mystery (1994), which matches the three main pyramids at Giza with the three stars in the Belt of Orion, the Hunter. I have already described a debilitating internal contradiction of this claim in this column (S&T. February 1997, page 64), in Skywatchers, Shamans, & Kings, in lectures, and on television. For the moment, however, we'll accept this flawed premise to examine the argument Hancock and Bauval more recently presented in The Message of the Sphinx (1996).

Hancock and Bauval insist the landscape of Giza replicates the sky. Equating the Sphinx with Leo, identifying the Nile River with the Milky Way, and committed to mapping Orion's Belt in pyramids on the ground, they claim the reflection of the Egyptian sky in terrestrial monuments doesn't make sense for 2500 B.C. Presuming the Sphinx was intended to face vernal-equinox sunrise, they argue that Leo and Orion are incorrectly placed for a recapitulation of what they believe were the celestial circumstances of the Creation time in Egyptian myth.

According to The Message of the Sphinx by Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval, the primary monuments on Egypt's Giza plateau mapped the celestial configuration of the vernal-equinox sunrise in 10,500 B.C. Although this era is too early for construction at Giza, as far as Egyptologists are concerned, it positions the vernal-equinox Sun in Leo and places Orion on the meridian at sunrise. According to Hancock and Bauval, the Sphinx is Leo, the Nile is the Milky Way, and the three Giza pyramids are the Belt of Orion. If so, the Sphinx is on the wrong side of the river.

Because the equinox-aligned Sphinx is supposed to represent Leo, the vernal-equinox Sun should have been in the stars of Leo, but in 2500 B.C. it was in Taurus, the Bull. Also, because Orion's Belt was targeted by the south shaft from the King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid when it was due south and crossing the meridian, and because the pyramids allegedly map Orion's Belt, they say Orion should have been on the meridian when the Sphinx primordially stared at equinox sunrise. However, Orion was still east of the meridian at equinox sunrise in 2500 B.C.

To resolve what Hancock and Bauval judged to be an incorrect configuration of the sky with respect to Giza, they precessionally displaced the constellations back to 10,500 B.C. In that era, the vernal-equinox Sun was in Leo, and at sunrise Orion was not only on the meridian but at its lowest elevation above the southern horizon in the entire precessional cycle.

Allied with advocates for an unorthodox age for the Sphinx that would affiliate it with the inhabitants of the legendary lost continent of Atlantis, Hancock and Bauval astronomically dated the Sphinx to 10,500 B.C. To endorse this result, they reminded their readers about the Dendera zodiac, a circular Egyptian relief that maps the constellations. It once filled a ceiling of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. Now it is displayed in the Louvre in Paris, and it includes Egyptianized images of the 12 zodiacal constellations, including Leo.

Dendera, however, does not tell us the Sphinx is Leo. In fact, the zodiacal Lion was not even an Egyptian constellation. We find it in Egypt only in the Ptolemaic era and in the last half of the 1st century B.C., when the Dendera Temple was built. This is long after the Pyramid Age and really long after 10,500 B.C.

Although Leo, the Lion, is depicted on the Dendera zodiac, this Egyptian sky chart was carved around 30 B.C. and incorporates Greco-Roman astronomical traditions. Indigenous Egyptian astronomy did not include familiar zodiacal constellations such as Leo, which is visible here at the bottom of the picture. Near the upper middle of the frame, a figure that looks somewhat like a broom and is actually the leg of a bull represents the stars of the Big Dipper. Just beneath the bull's "knee" is the curved shape of a small crouching feline. This is the lion that does appear in early Egyptian images of the northern constellations near the celestial pole.

A lion constellation is depicted on the astronomical ceilings of pharaonic tombs of the New Kingdom, but that lion is not Leo. It is part of Egypt's indigenous Northern Group of constellations, and the paintings show a crouched lion near what we now recognize as the stars of the Big Dipper. That same crouched lion appears next to the Bull's Leg (the Big Dipper) on the Dendera zodiac, which also features Leo.

We understand enough about Egypt's astronomy in the early periods to know Egypt did not recognize the zodiac that is so familiar to us today. The zodiac is really a gift from the Greeks, primarily rooted in Mesopotamian star lore.

The "message of the Sphinx" is, however, even more mistranslated. Here's the problem: In the sky, Orion is located to the west of the Milky Way. Leo is on the other side of the celestial Nile, east of the Milky Way, and it faces Orion. On the ground, however, the Sphinx, the terrestrial reflection of Leo, is west of the Nile and on the same side of the river as the pyramids that allegedly symbolize the Belt of Orion. It also faces away from Orion. The Sphinx is on the wrong side of the river and facing the wrong way to match the sky.

You don't have to be an Egyptologist to realize there is no Orion mystery or 12,000-year-old message from the Sphinx. You just have to ask questions like a sphinx.

E. C. Krupp winks at the Sphinx from Giffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Sky& Telescope, March 2001   86-88

Links within this essay.

Crossing the Leo-Cancer Boundary Read more about the land of the dead.
Sky & Telescope
Nefer-rohu Papyrus An evaluation of an ancient papyrus.
Book of Q A detailed study of the Denderah zodiac.
Software Bisque The Sky 5 planetarium software publisher's site.

SiLoam.Net Home Page

SU International
1342 East Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92866

Return to Top

Copyright © 2001 SU International. All rights reserved.
Last Update: March, 2001

Comments on referenced notes:

1: According to Hancock and Bauval, the Sphinx is Leo, the Nile is the Milky Way, and the three Giza pyramids are the Belt of Orion. If so, the Sphinx is on the wrong side of the river.

Krupp, Bauval and Hancock, all miss the point of putting necropolises on the west side of the river. From the perspective of a culture that is future oriented, the west bank is the land of the past, while the east bank is the land of the future. For a necropolis, every healthy person on the east side does not want to be on the west side. The Sphinx is reminding the living that the day is coming when they would rather have life than death. This reminder is the essence of every religion under the sun, and from the Egyptian perspective, every righteous intention within the disk of the sun, our Milky Way. That is why the Sphinx has to be on the west bank looking directly into the future. Bauval and Hancock's idea that the heavens were placed on the Giza plateau as a reflection of life is totally consistent with the Egyptian use of necropolises. (Return to text.)


2: However, Orion was still east of the meridian at equinox sunrise in 2500 B.C.

In fact, Orion still rose south of the east horizon, as well as not being fully risen on the meridian. The rising of Orion was predicted to occur some 4500-4900 years after the construction of the Pyramids. Egypt had hoped to still be a viable culture when Orion had risen to the summer solstice. This is the fundamental reason for using the belt of Orion. But, even if the great culture should fail to survive, the people who dedicated their lives to the cosmic perception would remain in the minds of man. And so they have. (Return to text.)

3: Although Leo, the Lion, is depicted on the Dendera zodiac, this Egyptian sky chart was carved around 30 B.C. and incorporates Greco-Roman astronomical traditions.

The carving of this temple monument had to be earlier than 30 B.C., because the image of Cleopatra and her son Caesarian are engraved on the external walls of the temple. Cleopatra committed sacred suicide in 35 B.C., and Caesar Augustus (Octavian) had Caesarian murdered within months in order to place Egypt into submission to his rule in Rome. But, Krupp has totally missed the point with regard to his 30 B.C. date. The zodiac monument is an historical record more closely aligned to the great churches of Europe, because it was a working temple in which initiation rites were performed to train a priesthood to serve Egypt. The planning of the temple had to precede the construction by a hundred years, or more. The location of Sirius on the head of Hathor and the north alignment arrow represents a date of 561 B.C. This is the date when Darius I released the captives to return to their native lands and spread the astrological religion of Zoroastrianism. The crux of the problem that Krupp, Bauval, and Hancock, are having is that the monument is not a sky chart, it is an historical mandala. Time is the essence of its story. The purpose was to reestablish spiritual order in a world which had recently gone through one of the most traumatic cultural shocks in human history. Alexander had reversed the Assyrian conquests which had dominated the region for the better part of 700 years. A significant part of the wealth that was taken from Darius III by Alexander was returned to Egypt by Ptolemy I, Soter. The Denderah temple is part of the reconstruction process that followed Alexander's liberation feats. The priests were reconstructing temples to the ideals of cosmic consciousness in order to defeat tyranny. In the end, tyranny succeeded, and demonstrated to the world that the male dominated rationalizing culture of the Aryans was a spiritual force which needed to be constrained. But, it would take two millennia, or more, before the ideals of the rational law givers would be brought out into the open. Had the ideals of the Denderah temple succeeded, Western Culture would not have become as insensitive to the earth, as it has. The monument clearly predicts the demise of male dominated Western Culture (Seth, Cepheus) and the return of Mother Earth (Hathor, Virgo) perspective when Aries gets properly oriented behind Thoth's wife, Seshat.. This prophecy was known from India to Ireland, and it became the Judeo-Christian-Moslem-Mormon religious tradition of the West. This is far more than a "star chart." (Return to text.)

4: Just beneath the bull's "knee" is the curved shape of a small crouching feline.

Look at Krupp's own image and recognize that the "feline" is not crouching, it is looking over its back. This is a symbol of recognition, and is the spirit of Aries. It is not a crouching feline, it is a young ram, in the same position as the ram of Aries. The ox leg is a symbol of a meat offering. Thus, this young ram is about to be sacrificed. That sacrifice, in essence, is the legacy of the Age of Aries. It is summarized in the words of Matt 27:46; "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? In this case, the entrance to Pisces is the ninth precessional hour from the entrance into the heavens above the galactic plane at Ophiuchus, the father. The meaning is clearly presented by the icons  indicating that recognition, which is the father image, had failed the youthful lamb. The children of Aries had failed to achieve the goal of the Universal Brotherhood of Man, which Alexander the great had established for the Hellenistic Age. This is written in a monument conceived a hundred or more years before the Roman Empire killed the ideal completely. But, it was ancient history, even before it was put into a temple monument. Western Civilization was caught up in a cycle of dominance, submission, and salvation. That same vicious cycle is why academics do not understand the Denderah zodiac, and the cosmology of the ancient world today. We are still caught up in the act of attempting to recognize ourselves. The loss of recognition results do to tyranny of the rational mind. The young ram must be sacrificed, so new visions can achieve recognition, and an expanding father image be continually evolving.  

The point that Dr. Krupp made regarding the Bauval-Hancock theories was that they were not supported by the evidence. Yet, Dr. Krupp was not above making intuitive observations of his own. This implication that the intuitive communications are somehow righteous is the essential theme of the sacrifice of the lamb, or the "mother's son." The tyranny of male intuition is that it feels right when we do not go to war, and yet, we feel a compulsion to stand up and fight for what we believe. That is how the father forsakes the son. Greek mercenaries were paid to go to war for over a thousand years, in the interest of their gods. Nothing has changed, except the names of the gods. (Return to text.)

5: We understand enough about Egypt's astronomy in the early periods to know Egypt did not recognize the zodiac that is so familiar to us today. The zodiac is really a gift from the Greeks, primarily rooted in Mesopotamian star lore.

The problem that archaeologists, Egyptologists, and archaeoastronmers, have with ancient Egypt was given to us by the Greeks and the Mesopotamians after the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. These vassals of the 18th Dynasty took the smaller perspective of astrology and used it to gain power over the local peoples. Egypt was founded upon the Big Picture. The object of worship in Egypt was the Sun Disk, not the sun. The Sun Disk is that cosmic structure which gave birth to the sun, the galaxy, or in their own word, Ra-Heru-Khuti, the Horus of Two Horizons. The same small picture analysis of the zodiac brought the great Mesoamerican pyramid builders to ruin, as well. The need for a Big Picture perspective is self evident, however, we cannot teach the Big Picture in educational environments. That perspective require direct involvement in the cosmic experience. Educational institutions will always be plagued by insufficient time to proved a Big Picture perspective to students. Instead a form of compressed wisdom is forced into the neophyte, who then goes on a journey in the cosmos, without a map of the Big Picture. So, when Dr. Krupp says, "we understand enought," he has stopped short of fulfilling the word "enough," in the perception of the pyramid builders. That sophomoric attitude is the plague of childhood, which is timeless. The zodiac was a "plague" to the Egyptains, while the complete cosmic picture was the gift. They tried to give that picture to the world during the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, and the Ptolemaic dynasties. In the Ptolemaic dynasties, the dream was shattered without mercy, as the pharaonic Son of God was replaced by the coming Son of God. But, this was the essence of the Egyptian prophecy written in the pyramid texts at the end of the 4th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom years. What Krupp is really saying is, "We know enough to dictate our point of view." In the ancient texts, that was a king riding into town on a donkey, i.e., Orion on Seth with the power of Aries. (Return to text.)

6: You don't have to be an Egyptologist to realize there is no Orion mystery or 12,000-year-old message from the Sphinx. You just have to ask questions like a sphinx.

The truth is that the pyramids are clearly positioned to be a reflection on earth of the belt of Orion as seen from the north polar, or eternal region of the heavens. It is a message that says, we come down to earth for a mortal experience, and then we ascend to the stars for eternity. Exactly what Krupp means by, "You just have to ask questions like a sphinx," is ambiguous, at best. But, if the sphinx has anything to say, it would be something like, "pride goeth before the fall." And the Sphinx says that on a cycle every 26,000 years throughout billions of years. But, the message can come down to earth as a reflection of the heavens for a period of less than a few million years. It is a miracle of life that we happen to arrive on the cosmic scene when the celestial scene told us what we needed to know. The Egyptians have raised up the question, "Isn't that the way it was intended to be?" They asked the Sphinx to pass that question on for nearly 5000 years, and counting. (Return to text.)