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A Critical Look at The Orion Mystery


Chris Loethen

The Orion Mystery by Bauval and Gilbert

Written by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, The Orion Mystery postulates that many, if not all, of the pyramids of Giza were conceived as part of a unified design that sought to map the "Duat," or heavens, and specifically the constellations of Orion and the Hyades, onto the plains of Giza. The Orion hypothesis has its roots in Bauval’s initial observation regarding the curious misalignment of Menkaura’s pyramid in relation to those of Khufu and Khafra and from his re-examination of a series of wall paintings, known collectively as "The Pyramid Texts," that were discovered over a century ago inside one of the pyramids at Saqqara. According to Bauval’s reinterpretation of these texts, the Egyptian religion was, at its outset, a religion based in the stars. While this book is both innovative and refreshingly free from the rather outlandish, pseudoscientific claims of writers such as Erich Von Daniken and Graham Hancock, its argument fails to be compelling because Bauval and Gilbert 1) never produce an overlay of the monuments on the Giza plateau and the stellar bodies involved, 2) fail to provide evidence that the elaborate coronation ceremonies that they suggest occurred within the Great Pyramid ever took place, and 3) cannot explain the linear decline in pyramid construction technology that followed the end of the Fourth Dynasty.

The Orion Mystery, in relation to other popular books about the pyramids of Egypt, posits a fairly modest hypothesis. There are no grandiose claims about alien visitation, Atlantean technology, or dates of construction. Instead it proffers the relatively straightforward premise that the pyramids were an ambitious attempt to map the heavens onto the Giza plateau, and this was because the Egyptians had a stellar religion that identified Osiris, Isis, and Seth with Orion, Sirius, and the Hyades respectively.

Although Bauvel and Gilbert’s hypothesis of a stellar religion is in contradiction to traditional thoughts of Egyptologists regarding the religion of ancient Egypt, who regard ancient Egyptian theology as sun-based, they do not reach their conclusions after examining some "newly discovered" text that had been hidden in some dusty attic. Rather, they base it on a re-interpretation of the "Pyramid Texts," writings that have been known for over a century, and they offer several examples from the "Pyramid Texts" that support a stellar slant toward re-birth in Egyptian theology: "[B]e a soul as a living star" (90). More important than the examples they offer, is the fact that Bauvel and Gilbert provide a source for their claims so that others may make their own determinations based on an independent examination of the "Pyramid Texts."

In addition to this, Bauvel and Gilbert should be applauded for the comprehensive way that they seek to unify the pyramids and also for the manner in which they make their argument. Not only do they provide all of the measurements, which is essential for anyone seeking to replicate or falsify their results, they also supplement the text with a series of appendices designed to explain in greater detail some of the complex ideas (e.g. precession) that the text employs. This emphasis on a rigorous mathematical theory takes The Orion Mystery out of the realm of wild speculation that has branded many popular books on the pyramids as "pseudoscience" and grounds it in the concrete. However that is not to say that their theory, though rational, is correct.

The strength of The Orion Mystery argument hinges on the seeming preponderance of astronomical data that is time and again elucidated by the authors. Their data makes use of a principle of astrophysics called "precession" in which the constellations appear at varying degrees above the horizon at different points in time because of the natural wobble of Earth. They then compare the layout of the Egyptian pyramids and the shafts inside the Great Pyramid with the precession of Orion in an attempt to draw correlations between both the angles of the shafts and the layout of the Giza plateau as a whole.

To their credit Bauval and Gilbert are able to show that one of the shafts in the Great Pyramid did indeed point directly at a star in Orion’s belt at around 2450 b.c. This date happily coincides with the date that Egyptologists generally ascribe to the construction of the Great Pyramid. They also provide pictures of Orion’s belt and demonstrate how the pyramids of Khafra, Khufu, and Menkaura mimic the curious misalignment of Orion’s belt.

However, before their claims can be accepted the astronomical data must be called into question. Bauvel and Gilbert devote page after page to their calculations and measurements that are almost impossible for the lay reader to fully decipher and comprehend. While this rigorous scientific approach is refreshing, at times it can be construed as almost abusing numbers since many readers will be unable to properly evaluate their calculations. What they could have done instead would have been to construct a scaled, gridded model of the Giza plateau with an overlay of the constellations that they purport were being mapped. This would virtually eliminate all doubt and prove the Egyptians were incredibly skilled cartographers. However, no such image is produced, and without such a diagram it is impossible to prove their overall hypothesis of a unified design that encompassed all of the Egyptian pyramids, despite whatever correlations they are able to draw between the shafts in the Great Pyramid and Orion. Rather, there are a few scattered pictures that compare parts of Orion to parts of the Giza plateau, but never is the whole plain of Giza shown in comparison to the complete constellation of Orion. This technique of showing bits of data can be likened in a sense to Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, where parts are collected and sewn together in order to give life to their theory.

Additionally, criticisms regarding the authors’ interpretation of the "Pyramid Texts" can be raised. Bauvel and Gilbert give several examples of passages that they feel establish the stellar nature of Egyptian religion. However, even by examining the pro-stellar examples that Bauvel and Gilbert supply, a flaw emerges in their reasoning. In Chapter 4 Bauvel proposes to let "The Pyramid Texts" speak for themselves and quotes a series of passages: "I am a soul...I (am) a star of gold." While a few stars like Betelgeuse have a noticeable tint to them, the majority appear as white and would certainly not be confused with "gold." There is only one star in the sky that appears to be gold, and that is the sun. So this passage that the authors’ quote to strengthen the stellar precept could very well have been meant as a veneration of the sun.

One of the other keys to The Orion Mystery argument is the idea that the pyramids were designed as one massive, state-funded project, and that they were not intended to be associated with any particular pharaoh. Thus, by mistakenly identifying each pyramid with an individual pharaoh, Egyptologists have been unable to see the forest through the trees. Bauvel and Gilbert state that the Great Pyramid, as the centerpiece of Orion’s belt, was the sight of an elaborate ceremony that served as both a funeral and a coronation where the heir to the throne helped the dead king begin his journey into the heavens. Yet if this is the case, then why and by whom was the Great Pyramid ultimately sealed? Their only answer to this is a vague reference to "civil war" that they offer no historical evidence to support. Additionally, where are the ceremonial objects that would have been used? Why have they not been found in the Great Pyramid? Bauvel and Gilbert claim that such objects were discovered by an associate of Charles Piazzi Smyth, the patron saint of pyramid numerology, but the objects were subsequently lost or possibly buried under Cleopatra’s Needle in London. An altogether too convenient explanation.

Also, the Orion hypothesis fails to explain the linear decline in pyramid construction technology that occurred after the fourth dynasty. If a civil war, as Bauvel and Gilbert suggest, resulted in a shift from a stellar-based religion to a sun cult, then why were any pyramids built after the fourth dynasty since according to the Orion hypothesis the pyramids served as symbols of a stellar religion? Surely the newly empowered practitioner’s of the heliotheology would want to distance themselves as far as possible from the old religion. So it would seem more likely that pyramid building would reach an abrupt halt rather than follow the linear decline that is evidenced in the shoddy workmanship of the Abusir pyramids.

In the final analysis, Bauvel and Gilbert offer an alluring, unifying hypothesis that they simply fail to prove. While their innovative and more scientifically rigorous approach to an age-old mystery should be commended, by no means should their theory be accepted as a whole. Likewise, it should not be completely rejected. There is a clear correlation established between the direction of the shafts in the Great Pyramid and the precession of Orion, but exactly what role, if any, Orion played in the layout of the pyramids as a whole is indeterminate.

I hope I have dissuaded you from purchasing this book, but if you still want to buy it, follow this link.