Following the star in the east: By Barbara G. Walker

By Barbara G. Walker

History tells us a different mythology story about three wise men and a savior than the one you normally hear around this time of the year.

Thousands of years ago in the land of Egypt, people waited anxiously every year for the natural event on which all their lives depended: the annual flooding of the Nile, which brought blessed water to irrigate their fields.

The water came more than 4,000 miles from melting snows in the Ruwenzori, which means Mountains of the Moon. Egyptians knew little about those distant places beyond their southern horizon, where there were trackless swamps and dark jungles. But they did say all waters came from the moon, which they envisioned as the life-giving breast of Mother Isis, who gave birth to the savior. Another title of the Moon Mother was Nut, the goddess of the sky; her breasts produced the Milky Way composed of all the stars.

The savior was the god Osiris, who embodied the grain that grew in their irrigated fields. Every year he died in the reaping, and was born again as the new wheat sprouted. His flesh was the bread, his blood was the wine. People thought they could become godlike by eating him sacramentally; then they could go after death to the Paradise of Osiris, where they could live in eternal happiness.

Osiris was also identified with his father Ra, the sun god, and so was born at the winter solstice. The father/son amalgamation of Ra/Osiris formed a holy trinity with Isis, the Holy Mother. In the Gnostic period, even Christians viewed the third person of the trinity as female, depicting her as the dove, an ancient goddess totem. Though she was later masculinized as the holy spirit, and the all-male trinity accepted by the early church, they eventually adopted the official solstitial birthday of the sun as their own version of the savior’s birth. (No writings of any kind had ever mentioned any official birthday for Jesus.)

Egyptian legends told of a time when the Nile flood had failed for seven years in a row. The land dried up. There was no food; many people starved to death. (The seven-year famine also made its way into the Old Testament.) Such stories reminded everyone of the vital importance of grain storage techniques, and also of the vital necessity of the Nile flood.

Egyptian priests and priestesses anxiously studied the night sky to learn from this celestial calendar just when the rising of the waters could be expected. Over the centuries, they allegorized their observations. They noted that the star Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, rose in the east about the time that the flood was due, so they identified this star with the coming of Osiris. They called this star Sothis, and associated it with Anubis the Great Dog, jackal god of the dead, who held the soul of Osiris and prepared him for his annual rebirth. We still call Sirius the Dog Star, and its constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog.

Egyptians also identified the “three wise men” who pointed the way to the savior’s birth: The three stars in the belt of Orion — Mintaka, Anilam and Alnitak — which rise ahead of Sirius and lie in a line pointing directly toward it. They said the “three wise men” had seen the star of Osiris in the east and announced his coming. When the savior was born, the Egyptians celebrated the Festival of the Inundation, rejoicing at the savior’s birth and honoring the holy mother and child with a traditional chant: “The virgin has brought forth! The savior is born!”

In summoning the spirit of the new grain from the earth, God said, “Out of the land of Egypt I have called my son” — a phrase considered prophetic by Gospel writers who invented a flight into Egypt for their holy family, just so Jesus could be said to have come from there. (The reason given in the Gospels for their flight — King Herod’s attack on newborn children — was quite impossible because Herod died in 4 BCE.)

Eventually the “three wise men” received the Persian title of Magi (sacred magicians) from the religion of the Zoroastrian Savior Mithra, to whom the priests presented symbolic birthday gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Christians pretended that the Magi traveled from their eastern land to present these tokens to the new savior.

Since Bethlehem lies far to the west of Persia, isn’t it odd that the “three wise men” got there by following a star in the east?

Florida FFRF Life Member Barbara G. Walker is the author of Belief and Unbelief, Man Made God, Feminist Fairy Tales and many other books.

Freedom From Religion Foundation