Sirius and the Flooding of the Nile

Every year in August, the constellation Orion returns to northern hemisphere skies at dawn, bearing with him the brightest star in our sky after the Sun ~ the star Sirius.

Sirius played a significant role in every aspect of Ancient Egyptian culture, a role that carried on well into the 20th century, because its heliacal rising in mid-August each year was the signal from the natural world that the mighty river Nile was about to flood. At the heliacal rising of Sirius, people would move off the flood plain to make way for the river, which would rise up to 46 feet in some places!

The ‘heliacal rising’ is the first appearance of a bright star in the morning sky, before sunrise. It’s a word that derives from Helios, the Greek God of the Sun who bore the Sun through the sky in his golden chariot.

The Ancient Egyptian Sun God was Ra, who was credited with the creation of all forms of life.

In Ancient Egyptian culture there were two calendars for measuring the cycle of the year: the solar calendar of Ra; and the calendar used for measuring the return of Sirius. The year itself was divided into three seasons (inundation, growth, harvest) all based on the rhythmic return of Sirius.

There is no appreciable rain fall in Egypt, and this, coupled with population growth and technological advances, eventually led to the building of the Aswan Dam, which opened in 1970, causing the annual flood cycle of the Nile to come to an end.

Still, Sirius continues to rise, and ceremonies celebrating the annual flood still occur, which is understandable, given that the dam is not quite 50 years old, but the cultural life inspired by the Nile’s annual flooding has existed through all ages of recorded history, and was rooted in the stars.
The Aswan High Dam was opened in 1970, after which centuries of Nile River flooding ceased.
You can hear my “Storyteller’s Night Sky” radio segment on this same at this link.
And also, as you watch for Sirius in the morning sky, herald of the annual flooding of the Nile through the centuries, consider this below regarding the moving of the sacred temples of Ramsees and Nefertari, which was part of the project to control the flooding, thereby altering the rhythmic relationship between the mighty river and the stars:“The Abu Simbel temples are two massive rock temples at Abu Simbel (Arabic: أبو سمبل‎), a village in Aswan Governorate, Upper Egypt, near the border with Sudan. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC, during the 19th dynasty reign of the Pharaoh Ramesses II. They serve as a lasting monument to the king and his queen Nefertari.

“The complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968 under the supervision of a Polish archaeologist, Kazimierz Michałowski, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. The relocation of the temples was necessary or they would have been submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River.”