190 Coffin Spell 223, as quoted in Marshall Clagett: “Ancient Egyptian Science, Volume 1, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1989, page 301.
191 Book of the Dead Spell 54, as quoted in Marshall Clagett: “Ancient Egyptian Science, Volume 1, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1989, pages 301 and 302.
192 Richard H. Wilkinson: “Reading Egyptian Art: A hieroglyphic guide to ancient Egyptian painting and sculpture”, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992, page 97.
193 Hieroglyph G 38 in Sir Alan Gardiner’s “Egyptian Grammar”, Griffith Institute, Oxford, 1927, edition consulted 1982, page 471.
195 Erik Hornung: “The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife”, cited above, page 139. On page 143 the sun god Re is also a migratory bird.
196 Wordings and Spell numbers from R.O. Faulkner: “The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts”, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1969.
197 Spells 26 and 82 in Raymond O. Faulkner: “The Egyptian Book of the Dead”, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1994, Plates 15 and 27.
Solomon's Sky : The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
6.1.2. Holy Geese in ancient Egypt
As to the goose head on that one board, and the similar bird head on the other, the goose was a favorite not only on ancient Egyptian dinner plates but also in the mythology of their owners because it had made the world and kept symbolizing it.
A passage from the Middle Kingdom Coffin Spells asserts that the world had hatched out of the egg laid by the “Great Cackler” or “Great Honker”, and that the deceased himself is another egg inside that “Great Cackler”190, apparently waiting to hatch the same way from that goose.
The word forms used in those inscriptions made that egg-laying goose male, but other creator gods were addressed as both mother and father of all there is, sometimes in the same hymn. The gender-confusing invocation of the Great Cackler does therefore not necessarily imply that our world is made from gander droppings, but it conveys that the universe had grown from a very small beginning, as from an egg, anticipating our modern conception of its expansion from a Big Bang.
Unlike modern cosmologists who still puzzle over the origins of that Bang before it got Big, or how that modern world egg came into being, the ancient Egyptians knew that eggs come mostly from birds (unless crocodiles had laid them). The only question was which bird had produced that first world egg, and the candidate many of them picked for having produced it was good old mother/father goose.
184.108.40.206. The cosmic goose as creator and divine emblem
Their choice was logical because geese are migratory birds. They disappear mysteriously for a part of the year and return just as suddenly out of nowhere. They also court, mate, and hatch usually in their winter quarters and not along the Nile. To people who saw them only in summer, they were self-created and therefore easily credited with the subsequent creation of all else that needed a creator.
Some of the New Kingdom Books of the Dead elaborated on this primeval role of the goose as the first cause of the world :
“He cackled, being the Great Cackler, in the place where he was created, he alone. He began to speak in the midst of silence. He opened all eyes and made them see. (...) His cry spread about when there was no one else in existence but him. He brought forth all things which exist. He caused them to live. He made all men understand the way to go and their hearts came alive when they saw him.”191
220.127.116.11. Goose and snake as earth god
With these achievements in its résumé, the Goose landed several high-profile and long-term jobs. From the earliest times on, a goose was the emblem of the earth god Geb and sacred to him192.
One species, the white-fronted goose, was even called the “Geb-Goose”193. This matches the Goose’s association with the Snake Game because snakes dwell on and in the earth and usually stay so close to the ground that they became an almost universal symbol for earth and things below. This dovetails perfectly with the renewal part of the snake’s job description because the earth renews the seed buried in it and brings it to new life.
An excellent illustration for this co-existence of goose and snake as earth god emblems survives inside a coffin from the time of the 21st Dynasty (1070 to 945 BCE). Its lid shows a black-painted figure sitting on a throne and holding a lizard. That figure has two heads; the one looking forward is that of a goose with black feathers, and the one looking back is that of a snake. That two-headed figure is presumably Geb the earth god since the Egyptians referred to their country as “the black land”, and lizards are underground animals.
Below the throne sits Anubis, the god of embalming and guide to the underworld, and above it you see the front view of a vaulted temple, symbol of the sky, so the location of the black figure also matches the place of the earth between underworld and heaven.
Geb the Goose and Snake god was the father of Osiris, the ruler of the netherworld and model for resurrection. Geb further was the owner and original occupant of the Egyptian throne on which he placed first Osiris and then each human Horus king who was the son of Osiris and became Osiris when he died.
Osiris had a falcon as one of his several emblems but was occasionally also called a “migratory bird”195 which does not apply to this stay-at-home raptor but would fit his father Geb's goose. His son Horus was always a falcon or had the head of one, but the anserine genes of Horus’ grandfather Geb became soon dominant again because the children of those Horus-falcon-kings were called “goslings”.
Geb was also a patron of the dead in his own right. In many Pyramid Text utterances he gives the king his hand to lift him to heaven, raises him, makes him complete, causes him to fly up to the gods “on account of the plumes of your father Geb”, guides him into the gateways of the sky, opens his doors, and announces him to the sun god. It was all part of the day’s work for that busy goose god.
In Spell 682 the king himself flies up as a goose, one of several avian and insect species into which he changes for this purpose, and in 734 the funerary priests offer a thousand each of three kinds of geese, another hint how much his Majesty counted on the Cosmic Goose to get him to heaven196.