July (Mensis Iulius) is named for Gaius Julius Caesar (b. July 12, 100 BCE – d. March 15, 44 BCE). Julius Caesar was a Roman general, statesman, scholar and orator. He was the last dictator of the Roman Republic as well as the first Roman to attain “divine” status. Caesar’s interest in his own divinity intensified during his love affair with Cleopatra VII, the last true Pharaoh of Egypt. Cleopatra saw herself as the embodiment of the goddess Isis and Hathor. Even with all of his conquests and achievements, Caesar’s most enduring legacy was the creation of the Julian calendar, which lasted for 1500 years. He replaced the old Roman lunisolar calendar with a 365.25 day solar calendar. This new calendar was based on the civil calendar of Egypt, which centered around the sun and its interrelationship with the north star and the date palm.
Date palms, Phoenix dactylifera first appeared in the Fertile Crescent, between Egypt, Mesopotamia Arabia and the Indus Valley over 50 million years ago. They grew in desert environments where little else thrived. The sight of a date palm signaled a desert oasis, which meant water, shade, dates (food), shelter and more. Date palms were seen as Trees of Life to those who traveled out of central Africa, over 100,000 years ago.
The genus name Phoenix, comes from the Greek word for date palm, phoinikos (Phoenix), which is based on the mythical sun-bird that rises from its ashes. This “sun-bird” was inspired by the ancient Egyptian Bennu, a birdlike deity linked to creation and the never-ending cycle of the sun. Date palms grow by sprouting new fronds on a singular trunk that reaches toward the sun. The old fronds die off as new ones sprout, which may have inspired the legend of the sun-bird.
The species name dactylifera, meaning “date-bearing”, is based on the Greek words daktylos (digit) and fero (to bear), because dates, the fruit of a date palm, resembled fingers as digits.
Finger counting, also known as daktylonomy, was first recorded by the Ancient Egyptians who created a base 10 (decimal) numbering system. This was inspired by the fact that humans have 10 fingers and 10 toes. A finger/digit was a standard unit of measurement, which equaled about one inch. A palm was the width of four fingers or 4 inches. A foot was the length of a foot, which equaled 12 fingers or 12 inches. A cubit was the length from the fingertips to the elbow. A decan, as a unit of ten, organized time within a day and a year. A decade was a unit of ten years. Ten was the unit of measurement for time and space.
When early Egyptian astronomers began to reach for the stars, they looked into the night sky and noticed two stars that circled around a stationary void in the center of the cosmos. They named these circumpolar stars “the indestructibles”. Today we known them as Kochab, (in the bowl of the Little Dipper – Ursa Minor) and Mizar, (in the handle of the Big Dipper – Ursa Major). This void, that all other stars revolved around, led them to believe that this was a portal to the afterlife.
Iunu “city of pillars” or “city of the sun”, later named Heliopolis, for Helios the Greek sun god), was located in northern Egypt. This was a land of date palms and desert near the delta of the Nile River. It attracted seekers and scribes who functioned as mathematicians, astronomers, architects and builders.
Inspired by the sight of date palms seeming to touch the stars, they began to construct tapered stones and mud pillars to replicate them. These pillars helped the early scribes of Heliopolis to record the movements of the stars that rotated around the “north portal”. The believed it to be the place where the soul’s “ba” could travel after death and be reborn in the afterlife. These pillars also allowed them to measure the sun’s shadows from sunrise to sunset.
This gave birth to one of Egypt’s most important creation myths, the Ennead. The Ennead “nine gods” of Heliopolis, builds upon the Ogdoad “eight gods” of Hermopolis, which focused on the eight primordial gods of the Nile River. In the Ennead, Atum-Ra (creator god) emerged (sunrise) from the watery world of Nu (Nile) to release his “ba” (soul) in the form of the Bennu bird (sun-bird/Phoenix). This act of releasing the Bennu bird separated the star-filled heavens from the watery world below. At sunset Atum-Ra disappeared into the darkness of night, leaving the Bennu to rest on a Benben (sacred mound of dirt where a date palm grew). Miraculously the Bennu arose on the Benben as Atum-Ra rose in the east the following morning. The Bennu (ba of Ra) had successfully separated light from dark, while the Benben (container of Ra) defined the sun rays by day and the stars by night. Atum-Ra then created: Tefnut (moist air/rain) and Shu (dry air/wind). Tefnut and Shu created: Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Geb and Nut hold each other so tightly that Shu must separate them so live can breathe. Geb and Nut created: Osiris (god of fertility and regeneration), Isis (goddess of motherhood and magic), Set (god of chaos and transformation) and Nephthys (goddess of air and protection).
These diviners, astronomers and scribes were deified in the form of the self-created goddess Seshat “female scribe”. She is recognized by the stylized palm tree that grows from her head in the form of a seven-pointed star under a domed crescent with a central bubble or shaft. This “star” represents a date palm pointing toward the seven stars in the Big and Little Dipper. The crescent dome is the northern sky and the bubble or shaft is the portal to the afterlife.
Seshat was seen as the inventor of writing, measurements and building. She was the ruler of books who recorded the astronomical measurements of the stars and sun. She knew how to align objects on earth, to the stars at night and the sun during the day. Seshat is often depicted making notches in the rib of a date palm, (renpet), to record important dates. She was responsible for recording the number of years of a rulers reign during the Sed Festival. She also recorded their births, coronations and funerals as well as triumphs and treasures. These records were instrumental in determining the length of time each ruler lived in the afterlife. Her image is etched on pyramids, dating back to 2900 BCE.
Thoth or Djehuty, was the self-created male aspect of Seshat. Thoth was seen as a lunar god, in contrast to Seshat who was associated with the sun and stars. His center of worship was Hermopolis, originally Khemenu, meaning “Eight Town” after the eight primordial deities of the Ogdoad. The Greeks renamed Khemenu after their messenger god Hermes, in honor of Thoth.
Thoth was seen as the god of sacred language and magical words. He was often depicted with the head of an Ibis or baboon, and is credited with writing the “Book of the Dead” and other funerary texts. Thoth assisted Osiris and Isis in conceiving Horus the younger, before Osiris became lord of the underworld. Thoth’s legacy eventually overshadowed Seshat and her enormous impact on Egyptian cosmology was diminished.
Around 3150 BCE, before the construction of pyramids, Heliopolis was known for its tall four-sided stone obelisks. The Egyptians called them tekhenu, which meant “to pierce the sky”. The word “obelisk” is based on the Greek word obeliskos, meaning “skewer”. In Arabic it’s masalla, meaning “needle”.
Obelisks were inspired by date palms, which became monuments in honor of Egypt’s great Kings, Queens and Pharaohs. These early rulers believed so strongly in life after death that they erected obelisks to record their divine rule and to help them on their journey to the afterlife.
These large singular red granite stones were quarried in Aswan, 500 miles south, and floated down the Nile River to Heliopolis. They were carved into tapered, four-sided pillars and engraved with hieroglyphs. When an obelisk was erected, a capstone or Benben pointed the way to afterlife.
The word Benben comes from the Egyptian verb wbn, meaning “to rise shining”, which symbolized the rising sun. The Benben was seen as the embodiment of the immortal soul or “ba” of Atum Ra, who accompanied Egypt’s rulers into the afterlife. These pyramidions defined the point where the Stars and Earth meet.
The Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BCE), known as the “Age of Pyramids”, marked the beginning of a time when the rulers of Egypt began to see themselves as living gods. The actual title of Pharaoh, meaning “great house” wasn’t used until 1210 BCE. As living gods, they knew the secrets of the afterlife, which meant they knew how to align their funerary temples to the portal in the north.
Seshat (or an actual scribe/architect like Imhotep) assisted kings, queens and later pharaoh’s in the ritual called “stretching of the cord”. This process determined the correct placement and orientation of obelisks, pyramids and solar temples. This was done by using two merkhets (a bar with a plumb line at one end), a cord and a bay (date palm rib with a sliced “V” at one end). Together they were able to align these instruments to the two stars of the Little and Big Dipper (Ursa Minor and Ursa Major) and determine the direction of “true north”.
They would then dig a trench to define the foundation based on the four directions. It was critical that all pyramids had a north-south orientation, so the soul “ba” of the ruler would know the correct path to travel in the afterlife.
This alignment also provided the opportunity to record the shadows and rays of the sun as proof of the infinite nature of Ra on earth.
Around 2450 BCE the Egyptians developed a 365 day solar “civil” calendar. It featured twelve 30-day months (360 days) with an additional 5 days at the end of the year. They also defined a 24 hour day, that was defined by 11 hours of daytime and 11 hours of night, with an additional hour for sunrise and sunset. They divided the year into three seasons, known as Akhet – flooding of the Nile, Peret – growth of crops, Shemu – harvest of crops. Each season consisted of twelve – 10 day weeks (120 days). The Egyptian year began in July (based on the Julian/Gregorian calendar) when the Nile River flooded.
King Sahure (2458-2446 BCE) was the first to build a pyramid complex that included a separate solar temple, he was also the first to introduce palm columns that resembled date palms. His temple complex, “the rising of the ba of Sahure” was built in Abusir near Heliopolis. Palm capitals and columns became a staple in Egyptian architecture.
A notched palm rib, a palm frond stripped bare of it leaves, was called a renpet. The word renpet meant “to renew life”. It functioned as a ruler that recorded the number of years in a “rulers” reign, which in turn mirrored their time in the afterlife. A circular ring at the base of the palm rib was called a shen ring, which represented eternity or eternal protection. After a Pharaoh died, the soul of “ba” would travel in a solar barge into the underworld. The Pharaoh was typically accompanied by Ra in the form of the Bennu bird, or Horus, Thoth, Seshat, etc…depending on the gods and goddesses they most aligned with. The renpet, which counted the years of the Pharaoh’s reign was also carried on the journey into the afterlife.
The offering of a renpet, or an actual date palm frond to a king, queen or pharaoh was common during coronations and Sed festivals. Sed festivals typically took place after a ruler sat on the throne for thirty years. This was a time to celebrate and rejuvenate the ruler’s strength and stamina for their continued reign. Once they reached thirty years, they could request a Sed festival every three to four years.
Alexander the Great, a Macedonian Greek king, took note of Heliopolis, as he seized power from the Persians who had been ruling Egypt since 525 BCE. Alexander was crowned Pharaoh of Egypt, and seen as a living descendent of Amun Ra in 332 BCE. This is when Heliopolis was named for the Greek sun god Helios. Alexander the Great founded the port city of Alexandria, he envisioned it as the new capital of Egypt that would house a great library. Alexander’s untimely death in 323 BCE meant he never saw his vision come to life.
His general, Ptolemy I Soter installed himself as Pharaoh and united the two major gods of Egypt and Rome into one universal deity, Zeus Amon in 305 BCE. Ptolemy’s son, Ptolemy II completed the Library of Alexandria in 255 BCE. Some of the records and scrolls of Heliopolis moved to Alexandria, but many of its wisdom teachings were lost.
Eventually Heliopolis fell out of favor and its temples were desecrated and forgotten. Almost all of its obelisks were moved to Alexandria and then Rome. Today, little remains of the ancient birthplace of Egypt’s soul. Most of it is buried under the urban sprawl of modern day Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The main exception is the amazing obelisk of Atum-Ra.
Egypt became an important yet complicated ally to Rome during the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BCE).
In 48 BCE, Julius Caesar, an admirer of Egyptian culture, was in pursuit of Pompey, a fellow statesman and political rival who was seeking Egypt’s protection. When Caesar arrived in Alexandria, he was presented with Pompey’s severed head by Ptolemy XIII, the younger brother of Cleopatra VII.
Upset at this turn of events, Ceasar chose to join Cleopatra, in the Battle of Alexandria, as they fought against her brother and half sister Arsinoe. When they claimed victory in 47 BCE, Caesar became the master of Egypt and Cleopatra regained her position as Pharaoh and Queen of Egypt. Cleopatra VII was also pregnant with Caesar’s child. His son, Ptolemy XV Caesar, known as Caesarion “Little Caesar”, was born in 47 BCE.
In 46 BCE, after returning to Rome, Caesar threw a quadruple triumph based on his military accomplishments. He carried a date palm frond as a symbol of his victories. The Julian Forum (Forum of Caesar) was officially dedicated to him at the end of his Triumph.
Cleopatra, now considered a living goddess in Egyptian culture, saw herself as the incarnation of Hathor and Isis and the mother of Horus. Influenced by Cleopatra’s belief that she was an incarnation of Isis, Caesar began to embrace his own divine lineage.
Caesar’s family name, gens Iulii (Julii), claimed to be descendants of Venus. Venus was the legendary mother of the Trojan prince Aeneas, father of Iulus, and great grandfather of Romulus and Remus the founders of Rome. Julius Caesar built the Temple of Venus Genetrix, to claim her divine connection with the Julii. Caesar had a golden statue of Cleopatra placed next to the statue of Venus in the Temple of Venus Genetrix. This officially symbolized the merge of Cleopatra as Isis, with the Greco-Roman goddess Venus/Aphrodite.
Venus (planet/star/goddess) had been associated with the ancient Sumerian and Mesopotamian goddess Inanna/Ishtar since 4000-3100 BCE. The “Queen of the Heavens” embodied the date palm as a goddess of fertility, power and justice. She was later known as Astarte, Asherah and Aphrodite until the Romans named her Venus. Inanna’s twin bother was the sun god Utu/Shamash. Her father was the moon god Nanna. Her husband was Dumuzi/Tammuz, who embodied the fruit/seed of the date palm. Their fertility story was similar to the Egyptian fertility story of Isis and Osiris as each one was used as a way to explain the merging of male (seed) and female (womb/earth) energy. These stories helped to inspire the creation of solar calendars that could track the cycles of the agricultural year.
Julius Caesar was also focused on updating the outdated lunisolar calendar of Rome to a solar calendar. He consulted with Sosigenes of Alexandria, a Greek astronomer and member of Cleopatra’s court, to help him create a new solar calendar that aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Together they created a 365 day calendar with an extra day every four years (leap year) and moved the beginning of the “legal” year to January 1 versus March 1. This new calendar went into effect on January 1, 45 BCE.
One year later, Caesar was appointed dictator perpetuo, “dictator in perpetuity”, which aligned with his vision of “infinite divinity”. It also led to Caesar’s death, as 60 members of his own senate assassinated him on March 15, 44 BCE, known as the Ides of March. After Caesar’s death, a comet appeared for seven days in July, that became known as the “Julian Star” or “Caesar’s Comet”. This was interpreted to be the soul of Caesar, which was a true sign of his divinity. Coins were minted in his honor with symbols of the comet/star on one side and Venus Genetrix with a notched renpet on the other.
In death, Julius Caesar achieved his goal of becoming the first Roman to be deified as Divus Iulius (divine Julius) on January 1, 42 BCE. A temple dedicated to Divus Iulius was built in the Roman Forum and completed by Octavian Augustus Caesar in 29 BCE.
Cleopatra VII also wished to honor the deified Julius Caesar with a temple called the Caesareum of Alexandria. After her death by suicide in 30 BCE, the construction of the Caesareum was left to Caesar’s heir, Octavian Augustus Caesar. In 12 BCE, Emperor Augustus Caesar had two obelisks moved from the Temple of the Sun in Heliopolis to the Caesareum in Alexandria. These obelisks, sourced from the Aswan region, were carved during the reign of Thutmose III (1479-1425 BCE).
After they arrived in Alexandria, they became known as “Cleopatra’s needles” and stood there for nearly two thousand years. The Caesareum was converted to a Christian church in the 4th century CE. Cleopatra’s needles stayed in Alexandria until the late 1800’s.
They were sold to help pay for the modernization of Egypt in the 1800’s. One was re-erected on the Victoria Embankment along the Thames River, London in 1877. The other was re-erected in Central Park, New York City in 1881.
Another obelisk, named “Caesar’s needle”, was brought to Alexandria from Heliopolis between 30 – 28 BCE. It was intended to be erected in Heliopolis but was never engraved. In 37 CE Roman Emperor Caligula had it transferred to Rome in tribute to Augustus Caesar, “son of the divine Julius” and Tiberius “son of the divine Augustus”.
“Caesar’s needle” stood in the center of Caligula’s and Nero’s circus, where chariot races were held. A bronze sphere was placed on top of the 84 ft. granite obelisk, which according to legend, contained the ashes of Julius Caesar.
In 64 CE, a great fire tore through Rome. Looking for a scapegoat, Nero blamed it on the Christians, which led to the circus becoming the site of mass executions and the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul. In 326 CE, Emperor Constantine, who had converted to Christianity, had the Old St. Peter’s Basilica built over the grounds of the circus.
In 1506, the Old Basilica was torn down to make way for a new Basilica. This era signaled the beginning of the “Reformation”. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar. The true astronomical dates of the Spring and Fall Equinox as well as the Summer and Winter Solstice had shifted since the Julian calendar was introduced in 45 BCE. The Earth’s axial tilt wobbles like a top as it orbits the Sun, which causes the star that is closest to true north to change within a ring of six stars over a period of 25,800 years (Platonic Year). This is known as the Precession of the Equinoxes.
During the “Age of the Pyramids”, 5000 years ago, Earth’s North Star was Thuban in the constellation Draco (Dragon). The other North stars are Gamma Cephei, Alderamin, Denab, and Vega along with Polaris (Pole Star).
In 1586, during the construction of St. Peters Basilica, the obelisk was moved to its permanent location and renamed “St. Peter’s needle”. The bronze sphere was replaced with a cross and star, which is now thought to contain a “relic of the true cross”.
Between 1657-1667 Gian Lorenzo Bernini was commissioned by the Vatican to create the Piazza San Pietro (St. Peters Square). The obelisk aligns to the North Star, making it a giant gnomon “one that knows” that functions as a sundial. Bernini designed the Piazza in such a way that the shadows of the obelisk become a calendar, a clock and a compass. The Vatican has on several occasions “cleansed” it of its “pagan” origins.
In the 1800’s, marble discs were embedded into the piazza to mark the 16 directions of the Wind Rose Compass and the 12 aspects of the Zodiac. A meridian line was embedded into the square that indicates the hour of the day as well as the exact timing of the summer and winter solstice.
Today there are only 21 Egyptian obelisks still standing in the world. Egypt claims fewer than five, while Rome has thirteen (all of which were transported during the time of the early Roman Empire).
Date palms can grow to heights of 100 feet and live to be 200 years old. Fossil records indicate that date palms first appeared at least 50 million years ago. Date palms are native to Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Indus Valley. Dates palms were cultivated in Mesopotamia and were a culturally significant tree to the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians, which ultimately influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each of these cultures saw it as a sacred tree that connected earth with the heavens.
For this reason, date palms and their branches are symbols of fertility, triumph, peace and eternal life.
July is a month when the days are long and languid. The sun shines on gardens bursting forth with fresh fruits and vegetables. The air feels a bit more relaxed and encourages us to go out and enjoy life. It is also a month filled with festivals and celebrations.
In the United States of America, July is also the month that celebrates its independence from British rule – July 4, 1776. The Washington Monument was built in 1884, to recognize general George Washington’s legacy as one of the founding fathers and the first President of the United States.
The Washington Monument was designed in the style of an Egyptian obelisk. The reflecting pool reminds us to honor the timeless wisdom of ancient civilizations. The date palm inspires us to reach higher as we continue to grow and evolve.
July reminds us to reflect on the fact that we live on this one earth with 7.8 billion people, who all feel the same sunshine, gaze at the same moon and marvel at the night sky filled with billions of stars. Each star is a point of light that could inspire a new dream.
Ideas for July
- Go out and enjoy the life giving energy of the sun.
- Lay on a beach, or on the grass in a park, or in your own backyard.
- Embrace your freedom and empower yourself to protect it.
- Reconnect with nature and your family or friends, have a picnic or outing.
- Eat a few dates and enjoy its sweetness and connect with its ancient history.
- Look for the North Star, now Polaris, located at the end of the tail of the Little Dipper.
- Create your own sundial with sticks or stones and align it to the North Star.
- Begin a new journal or write in an existing one, record your thoughts and observations.
- Feel the expansive energy of the night sky.
- Enjoy and honor the balance of day and night, as well as the sun and moon.
- Have a party for yourself and or with others to celebrate the Super Full Moon.