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Did the Dogon Know about Sirius B?

by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

Many people believe that the world was visited in antiquity by aliens. They cite the African tribe of the Dogon, who supposedly received knowledge of the invisible companion to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. What is the truth? Did this remote tribe in Africa really receive extraordinary knowledge from extraterrestrials?

Sirius, the Dog Star, and Sirius B, the PupIn my article about the entities called "the Anunnaki," I provide the mythological background of these Sumerian deities, as opposed to the current "ancient aliens" theory. A related subject is the so-called mystery of the Dogon people and the star Sirius, a theory also popular within UFO circles. This "Sirius mystery" purports to show that this African tribe possessed extraordinary "alien" knowledge of an invisible, tiny, white and heavy stellar "companion" to the night's brightest star, called "Sirius B" and nicknamed "the Pup," as Sirius itself is the Dog Star. This white dwarf star was discovered in the late 19th century and could not have been known before the modern era and sophisticated astronomical instruments. Thus, it has been asserted, as by Robert Temple in The Sirius Mystery, the Dogon must have been visited by aliens from Sirius who conveyed the astronomical secret to them. However, as is often the case, things with the Dogon story are not what they seem to be, and there exists a natural explanation for this apparent coincidence.

"Things with the Dogon story are not what they seem to be, and there exists a natural explanation for this apparent coincidence."

Dogon Cosmology

Dogon people, Mali (Photo: Devriese)The Dogon people have thrived in the region south of Timbuktu, Mali, for many centuries. They are "well known to anthropologists for their elaborate indigenous cosmology." Since the 1930's, European and other scholars have been studying Dogon lore and tradition. The most famous Dogon cosmological story concerns Sirius, extremely significant to a number of peoples globally, including the Dogon's African neighbors, the Egyptians. According to the anthropologists' reports, the Dogon believe that the Dog Star, "or rather an invisible companion they claim resides with Sirius, is one of the most important objects in the sky" and that this "very tiny, invisible partner" is called po tolo or "deep beginning." (Krupp, 222)

Star and Grain

In his book Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths & Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars & Planets (222), professional astronomer Dr. Edwin C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, remarks that this "second star," po tolo, is "closely associated with the fonio grain" and is styled the "star of the fonio."

This cereal, fonio, is the smallest grain the Dogon know and was "the first of eight different seeds fabricated by the creator god Amma." The Dogon claim the star po tolo is identical with this seed. In other words, they are one and the same, the seed considered to be a divine gift from Amma and tied into Sirius as the star's "invisible companion."

Apollo riding in his fiery chariotThis gift of grain is associated modernly with extraterrestrials of a strange appearance, because the sky god Amma's creations, the Dogon's mythical ancestral spirits called "Nommos," were depicted as amphibious fish-like creatures. These "Nommos" purportedly were portrayed as descending "from the sky in a vessel accompanied by fire and thunder":

After arriving, the Nommos created a reservoir of water and subsequently dove into the water. The Dogon legends state that the Nommos required a watery environment in which to live.

Firstly, this description is no more historical, representing aliens in a spaceship, than is the depiction of the Greek sun god Apollo, also a divine giver of important gifts to humanity, including laws. Like Helios before him, Apollo too arrived in the sky in a fiery chariot, appearing in myths with his father, the sky god Zeus, styled "the Thunderer," a motif commonly associated with solar and storm deities. Secondly, a watery origin for mythical fishlike amphibian deities is logical, since these species live in the water.

Divine Gift Giving

Furthermore, the history of a deity or deities presenting gifts to humanity is very old and widespread. It can be found in practically every culture that has religious ideas, in fact, so this part of the myth is not extraordinary but to be expected. Indeed, stories of gods with strange appearances proffering divine presents to humanity also are common in many ancient cultures.

The ibis-headed god Thoth on this throne (E.A. Budge, 'Gods of the Egyptians')As but one example, the ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth, identified by the Greeks with Hermes, was considered to have given many gifts to humanity, including the all-important writing. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs do not represent an alien alphabet brought by a birdlike extraterrestrial, however, but are completely indigenous to the time and place in which these African humans existed. The Egyptians considered these symbolswhich they themselves derivedto be divinely inspired, and they created a deity to whom they attributed this sacred gift.

The ibis with its long beak and claws seems to be a natural scribe, as it leaves marks all over the muddy and marshy grounds where it feeds on fish, crabs and other creatures. It should be recalled in this regard that humanity's first writing most likely was drawing with a finger or a stick on the ground, dating back many thousands of years. It is possible that such behavior towards literacy was inspired by birds like the ibis; hence, the bird was given divine honors for this gift.

In addition, the sun, moon, planets, stars, water, air, trees and numerous other elements affecting life on Earth are considered in many myths to be divine giftsdid extraterrestrials bring all these elements as well?

In any event, the belief that a divine gift brought by a strange-looking creature in itself cannot be held up as "proof" of extraterrestrial visitation.

Dagon, the Assyrian fish godFish Gods

Moreover, like the bird-headed deity, fish-headed or fishlike gods are known elsewhere, as a reflection of the genius of that species, a valued indigenous animal that helps sustain humanity globally, and not an alien being who landed in a spacecraft. As another example, the Assyrian fish god named (coincidentally) Dagon and the Babylonian water-god called "Oannes" were also considered to have come out of a pool or sea of water, as is to be expected from a fish that one may catch and throw up onto the bank. Anything that could be learned from a fish would be attributed to the deity that humans created, not a real extraterrestrial landing in a spacecraft and producing a puddle whence they emerged or other mythical motif.

Stellar Seed

Furthermore, it is clear that the star-seed mythology existed before it was attached to Sirius. Hence, it would not represent extraterrestrial knowledge about Sirius B. As Krupp (223) remarks:

Because the fonio grain is very small and white, the star po tolo is very small and white. According to the story of creation, all things emerged from the star, just as all things emerged from the primordial grain. The Dogon liken the star po tolo to the husk of a seed. Some of the blood of all the things that were created was left inside the star after they were released, and this makes po tolo very heavy. The Dogon say it is the heaviest of stars. It used to be located where the sun is now, but it moved away.

The star po tolo is the genius of the grain po tolo, tiny, white and nearly invisible because of the seed's characteristics, and heavy because of its status as the container of the blood of everything created.

Genius Companions

The original Latin word genius refers not to a brilliant person but to "the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing." In this regard, a genius was defined in antiquity by writers such as Horace (Epist. II, 2, 379) as "the companion which controls the natal star..." Hence, we can see that the star with a companion is a very old concept that reflects the projection of divinity upon numerous elements and aspects of life.

The po tolo seed-genius was located near the sun originally, not near Sirius, but was moved. Did the aliens come to straighten out the Dogon by telling them the seed-genius actually belonged to Sirius, rather than the sun? Or was this development a natural transference by the Dogon, as the brightest star began to take on significance greater in this regard than the solar deity? In a desert regionpossibly one increasingly desertifiedit is understandable how the sun would be viewed as a pestilence, especially towards crops, and how the brightest star in the night sky would take on greater importance, particularly since it heralded the rains, as did Sirius when it rose with the sun in the summertime.

Siriusly Important

The star Sirius, in fact, has played a hugely important role in humanity's past, including and especially in Egypt, where Sirius mythology is complex and sophisticated. It is no wonder that this brightest and all-important star was said to have "invisible companions," which would be the geniuses of various plants and animals that it appeared to influence in some way. In this regard, other mythologies project "companions" on Sirius, including the Egyptian.

The green-skinned Osiris, Lord of Everything, with his companions, the jackal-headed god of the underworld Anubis and the hawk-headed solar deity Horus.For example, the god Osiris is associated with Sirius, appearing in myths as Sah, the star itself, which means that all of his siblings, including Isis and Anubis, would be "companions" of Sirius. The green-colored Osiris is "Lord of Everything," particularly fertility, water and foliage, reflecting photosynthesis. Hence, when in other myths Isis herself is Sirius, Osiris too is the seed and companion of the star. Osiris, however, is not an alien but a mythical god.

It needs also to be asked, did these alleged aliens speak Dogon? Why did they land in a remote region to tell only the Dogon about Sirius B and then leave again, without this extraordinary knowledge serving any purpose? Since the Egyptians were keen astronomers who revered highly the bright star Sirius and who had a large network whereby they could spread this knowledge provided by aliens, why would these extraterrestrials not approach them instead?

Primitive Astronomy

Moreover, the astronomy associated with the Dogon otherwise does not provide anything out of the ordinary for the star-gazing ancients and, indeed, is flawed with errors typical of primitive cultures without advanced astronomical instruments. As Krupp (223ff) states:

Bypassing Temple's distorted interpretation of Dogon beliefs and byzantine handling of their origin, we still have to deal with what the Dogon have to say. Some have suggested that Dogon astronomy has been influenced by foreign visitors—from earth, not outer space. The Dogon, after all, have lived for centuries near a major West African trade node that hosted markets and trans-Saharan caravan traffic. They have been exposed to considerable foreign influence and other beliefs, especially Islam....

Even if we rule out contamination of Dogon tradition by European travelers and traders, other explanations are still possible. Dr. Philip C. Steffey, an American astronomer, has examined the astronomical symbols and myths rather carefully and suspects some of the stars mentioned by the Dogon may have been misidentified by the anthropologists....

Also, Dogon astronomy and cosmology contain much that is at odds with the facts. For example, the Dogon say there is a third star in the Sirius system…. It is supposed to be larger and four times brighter than Sirius B. Despite a few reported telescopic sightings of a third star in the Sirius system, its existence has not been confirmed. Further painstaking analysis of the wiggling motion of Sirius allows no room for any more than two stars. If the Dogon say there are three stars in Sirius, and we detect only two, perhaps it is time to review what else the Dogon said to find out what they really meant.

During the 1990's, when Krupp wrote this book, a debate occurred about whether or not the original anthropologists recorded the Dogon's cosmology accurately:

More recently, doubts have been raised about the validity of Griaule and Dieterlein's work. In a 1991 article in Current Anthropology, anthropologist Walter van Beek concluded after his research among the Dogon:

"Though they do speak about sigu tolo [which is what Griaule claimed the Dogon called Sirius] they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant; for some it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that, through a different position, appears as sigu tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule." ("Dogon people," Wikipedia)

Thus, we can see this contention that the sigu tolo star was a gift not from aliens but from a modern human. It is doubtful, however, that the Dogon did not know about and revere Sirius long before the anthropologists arrived. The po tolo star-seed myth makes perfect sense for its time and place, reflecting nature worship or astrotheology, not "history" involving the supernatural or extraterrestrial.

"The po tolo star-seed myth makes perfect sense for its time and place, reflecting nature worship or astrotheology, not 'history' involving the supernatural or extraterrestrial."

Sacred Sacrifice

Regarding this myth's enduring importance, Krupp concludes:

Astronomical and agricultural associations in Dogon religious symbolism all suggest that the Dogon idea of an invisible companion of Sirius is a product of their view of the fonio kernel and of the seasonal cycle as it is linked with the broad theme of renewal of fertility. Normally the companion of Sirius can’t be seen, but it does appear in the po crop. It dies that others might live and through death is itself returned to life. For the Dogon, too, the harvest is a necessary sacrifice….

The parallel between the grain and the companion of Sirius also means that Sirius in some way participates in sacrifice. When the rains come, Sirius withdraws from the sky in a kind of sacrifice…. By exploiting the seasonal behavior of Sirius in this baroque symbolic system, the Dogon, like so many others, contrived their own charted territory in the starry sky.

Fonio seed As we can see, the invisible, tiny, white and heavy "star" is the divine genius of the nearly invisible, tiny and white "seed of creation," mythologically heavy with "blood." This fonio seed was associated first with the sun, a completely different star, and was moved to Sirius after the latter became important for planting, as it is all along the Nile.

This move of the invisible, tiny, white and heavy stellar seed-genius from the day star to the brightest star in the night sky occurred not because of a visitation from a fishlike extraterrestrial species but through logical and natural means. The fact that there does exist in actuality a real stellar companion of Sirius with similar qualities is purely coincidental, not the result of extraordinary knowledge conveyed by aliens to a remote tribe in Africa thousands of years ago.

Sources and Further Reading

Krupp, Edwin C. Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths & Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars & Planets. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Temple, Robert. The Sirius Mystery. 1987.
Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled
Who are the Anunnaki?
Are UFOs and Aliens Real?
Dogon people
Nommo
Dagon
Ancient Aliens TV Show (forum)
Astrotheology of the Ancients
Astrotheology of the Ancients (forum)



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