Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sirius worship in various religions

Human religions are very complex expressions of culture, history, and world view but have one thing in common - the importance of stars in the night sky.

For modern citizens of cities with massive light pollution the awesome effect of a dark night and sparkling brilliant stars is not immediately clear. Religious minds tend to pick targets for worship and apparently in most if not all pre-modern cultures star worship has been quite significant in one way or another.

Sirius not in the Bible
As far as I know, Sirius is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. In modern Hebrew it is called אברק avreq "shining".

The first chapter of the Bible is a veritable slaughterhouse of gods for God alone is the creator of everything, including Sun, Moon and stars. Elsewhere in the Bible there are passages with strong condemnation of pagan star worship, especially in Jeremiah speaking against the Babylonian cult Queen of the Heaven (Ishtar, Venus).

But let us keep in mind that the Scriptures also shows understanding of the meaning of stars to humanity to the point where Daniel was made the head of Chaldean astrologists. Even more so, the birth of the Son of God was marked by the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem as a beautiful sign the wise men from the East interpreted meaning the birth of a great king in Palestine.

Sirius worship among nations
What it means when we modern people say that a star represents a divinity? What was Mars for the ancient Romans or Ishtar for the ancient Babylonians but a physical presence of the divinity in the night sky? Human religious mind hardly confines Mars to the Red planet or hindu god Rudra to Sirius, but somehow the heavenly body is a mighty Sign of divine presence. (We can study this mental construct with authentic material when analysing the oratio to Sun by emperor Julian the Apostate).

Since so many different cultures connect Sirius with dog I suspect that there may be a prehistoric substratum to this association perhaps reaching even Neolithic when we have the first evidence of domesticated dogs joining human camp fires.

Traces of common memes from the distant past in different civilizations ... perhaps!

Ancient Egypt
As the brightest star of the night and visible in both hemispheres Sirius is known to all nations. It has religious and also practical significance as a calendar for ancient Egyptians.

The Sothic cycle or Canicular period is a period of 1,461 ancient Egyptian years (of 365 days each) or 1,460 Julian years (averaging 365.25 days each). During a Sothic cycle, the 365-day year loses enough time that the start of the year once again coincides with the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (the Latinized name for Greek Σείριος, a star called Sopdet by the Egyptians, in Greek transcribed as Sothis; a single year between heliacal risings of Sothis is a Sothic year). This rising occurred within a month or so of the beginning of the Nile flood, and was a matter of primary importance to this agricultural society. It is believed that Ancient Egyptians followed both a 365-day civil calendar and a lunar religious calendar.

At the Temple of Hathor in Dendera there is a painting in which the goddess of Nile flooding (arrows) Satet has drawn her arrow at Hathor associated with Sirius. (These few notes are just the tip of an ice berg in the complex and deep relationship of ancient Egyptians with the star they called Sodpet).

Ancient Greece and Rome
The archaic Greek name for Sirius, Seirios, could well be derived from the major Egyptian god Osiris as the Osiris-Isis-Horus myth is closely related to the agricultural seasons, the cycle of nature dying and rising again with the Nile.

It was classically depicted as Orion's dog. The Ancient Greeks thought that Sirius's emanations could affect dogs adversely, making them behave abnormally during the "dog days," the hottest days of the summer. The Romans knew these days as dies caniculares, and the star Sirius was called Canicula, "little dog." The excessive panting of dogs in hot weather was thought to place them at risk of desiccation and disease. In extreme cases, a foaming dog might have rabies, which could infect and kill humans whom they had bitten. Homer, in the Iliad, describes the approach of Achilles toward Troy in these words:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity

Pre-islamic Arabia
Sirius is mentioned in Surah, An-Najm ("The Star"), of the Qur'an, where it is given the name الشِّعْرَى (al-shiʿraa.) The verse is: "وأنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَى", "That He is the Lord of Sirius (the Mighty Star)." (An-Najm:49)  Ibn Kathir said in his commentary "Ibn 'Abbas, Mujahid, Qatada and Ibn Zayd said about Ash-Shi`ra that it is the bright star, named Mirzam Al-Jawza' (Sirius), which a group of Arabs used to worship

Ancient Iran
In Iranian mythology, especially in Persian mythology and in zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia, Sirius appears as Tishtrya and is revered as a divinity. Beside passages in the sacred texts of the Avesta, the Avestan language Tishtrya followed by the version Tir in Middle and New Persian is also depicted in the Persianepic Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. Due to the concept of the yazatas, powers which are "worthy of worship", Tishtrya is a divinity of rain and fertility and an antagonist ofapaosha, the demon of drought. In this struggle, Tishtrya is beautifully depicted as a white horse.

India today
In Sanskrit Mrgavyadha (Deer hunter) Sirius represents the god of wind, storm and hunt Rudra (Shiva). Since the worship of Shiva continues today in India there it is the possibility to ask living people what significance Sirius (and other stars in the night sky) have on their lives.

In the Tamil related language Malayalam Sirius is called Makarajyotii and is associated with the ongoing pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage center located in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District in Kerala. It is the largest annual pilgrimage in world with an estimated 45–50 million devotees visiting every year. Sabarimala is believed to be the place where the Hindu God Ayyappan meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi. Ayyappan's temple is situated here amidst 18 hills. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468 m (1535 ft) above mean sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests.

Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional and intact temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi, and Karimala, remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills.

Sabarimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter the temple, since the story attributed to Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group. This is because Ayyappan is a Bramachari (Celibate).

The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately November 15 to December 26), Makaravilakku (January 14- "Makara Sankranti") and Vishu (April 14), and the first six days of each Malayalam month.

Ancient Scandinavians
In Norse tradition Sirius is called Lokabrenna ("Loki's torch"). Loki is in some myths a god and in others a  giant.

Loki's relation with the gods varies by source. Loki sometimes assists the gods and sometimes causes problems for them. Loki is a shape shifter and in separate incidents he appears in the form of a salmon, mare, seal, a fly, and possibly an elderly woman. Loki's positive relations with the gods end with his role in engineering the death of the god Baldr. Loki is eventually bound by the gods with the entrails of one of his sons.

It is interesting that Loki was also projected to the sky and associated with Sirius. We may assume that the star Sirius was important aid in navigation for the seagoing Vikings who even were able to cross the Atlantic in their slender boats. Loki was not an easy character in dangerous trips as he was known as a trickster god.

Native Americans
Sirius has religious meaning for the Cherokees who paired the bright white star with the reddish Antares as dog-star guardians of either end of the "Path of Souls". Other tribes also associated Sirius with dogs, wolfs or coyotes, and so did the Inuit of Alaska.

Ancient Far East
Chinese called Sirius the star of the "celestial wolf" in the Mansion of Jǐng. However, I do not know was there any religious meaning or cult of Sirius in ancient China, Korea or Japan.


  1. This overview forgets the most important contribution to Mankind about knowledge of Sirius which comes from the Dogon (mali, Africa) who source their origin in Sirius and have shown maps of Sirius being a double star before western science hat the means to corroborate it.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I left the exotic Dogon Sirius story out on purpose as it seems to me not to be genuine African cult but rather Western import.

  2. Since so many cultures who produced calendars pointed to Sirius, could Sirius be the "fixed star" used to calculate when the age of Aquarius starts? I am leaving a lot out of this question.

    1. This is a rather big question. I wrote a small study on the Age of Aquarius trying to see in what cultures the concept is kown and what is its history.

  3. Hi,I was going to let this pass but I can't let this ignorance from you slip,when you say the Divine borrowed the Sirius concept from the European s,it makes me laugh,I wanna mention the the cradle on all mankind was in Akebulan (Africa).3.5 million years.So if humanity started in Africa,why have you not started with the Key people(egpty) Ethiopians(Abisinia)South Africa West Africa and finally Kikuyu people from Kenya.This is where all wisdom was stolen.