Hidden Chambers and Meaning: Is the Great Pyramid for a King or Priests?
When I first thought of elements in the pyramid, I had no idea that I would end up postulating the existence of another hidden chamber. Can we locate it more precisely and find out how to get into it?
(Click here to read the first part of this theory on the construction of the Khufu Pyramid).
The sun god Ra-Atum’s chamber may be located between Shu’s chamber and Nut’s; between the King’s chamber and the pyramid’s flat top, in the traditional view. It would be an interesting chamber to find, considering the sun god’s importance back then.
RA-ATUM’s Chamber – FIRE (Assumed)
The original altitude of the Khufu pyramid , 280 cubit, equals the radius of a circle with a circumference the length of the four pyramid sides added, each being 440 cubits. This suggests the Egyptians knew and used the value 22/7 for π.
Chefren/Khafre’s pyramid , a neighbor to Khufu’s and Egypt’s second largest, has a half side length, altitude, and slant height that suits the simple 3-4-5 right-angled triangle. Rainer Stadelmann reports in ‘ Die Egyptischen Pyramiden’ that the side length is 215.25 meters (706.20 ft.) and the height 143.50 meter (470.80 ft.)
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Cross-sections of Cheops’ and Chefren’s pyramids showing height and side lengths. (Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
Tefnut’s chamber has its center in almost exactly 1/6 of the pyramid’s total altitude of 280 cubit.
1/6 of 280 cubits = 46 2/3 cubits, or 46.67. Using Pythagoras’ formula and the measurements provided by Flinders Petrie , the hexagon’s center-altitude in the pyramid is 46.83 cubits (1 cubit = 52.4 cm/20.6 inches, so the difference is 0.16 cubit = 8.4 cm/3.3 inches). It is very appropriate that this chamber’s center is the focal point, because Tefnut’s element is the middle element of rain and mist, able to combine both upwards and downwards with air and earth.
Shu’s chamber has its ceiling in exactly 1/3 of the pyramid’s original altitude. Flinders Petrie indicates one cubit to equal 20.6 inches and measures the ceiling’s altitude of the King’s chamber to between 1921.6 - 1923.7 inches/4880.9-4886.2 cm. 1/3 of 280 cubits = 93 1/3 cubits = 1922.7 inches/4883.7 cm. Here the ceiling counts because air is a light element. Which partly explains why the “construction chambers” have elaborated ceilings, not floors. The gods aren’t bound by physical weight...
My guess is that Ra-Atum’s chamber has its ceiling in 2/3 of the 280 cubit. In an altitude of 186 2/3 cubit or 97.74 meters (320.7 ft.)
In the horizontal plan below, one special size and place is ideal for Ra-Atum’s chamber and gives an unexpected meaning to the horizontal positions of the three known chambers; if it’s almost quadratic, 21 cubits in a north-south direction and a little smaller in west-east direction. Nut’s chamber is bound to be centered around the pyramid’s apex and is of a similar size to this one.
Drawing Nut’s chamber is omitted for simplicity. (Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
Every chamber points in one of the cardinal directions . Ra-Atum’s chamber (fire) points to the east, Shu’s (air/King’s chamber) to the south, Tefnut’s (water/Queen’s chamber) to the north, and Geb’s (earth/Subterranean chamber) to the west.
The well in the Subterranean chamber becomes the center of Ra-Atum’s chamber. This center is displaced from the apex in a south-east direction. The well’s diagonal orientation also indicates the importance of this direction.
Every chamber points in one of the cardinal directions. ( Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
Look at the Bent Pyramid For Clues to the Entrance!
Khufu’s father Sneferu is ascribed to at least two pyramids. Three if you count the finishing of his father’s pyramid, the Meidum pyramid. Why he built two pyramids is a mystery. One of them, the Bent pyramid , started off with a side angle of 54 degrees. Halfway up the angle suddenly changes to 43 degrees. Some suggest that he was displeased with the Bent pyramid and had another built with the side angle they used for the upper half of the Bent pyramid .
The Bent pyramid looking west and south, and from above. I.E.S. Edwards ‘The Pyramids of Egypt’. (Author provided)
I find it a pleasing theory that he decided to leave the Bent pyramid for the priesthood’s rituals and kept the northern pyramid for his burial. This way he would be the first to deal with the conflict between a sealed grave and the priesthood’s need for temple functions until a new king had finished his pyramid.
The Bent pyramid is the only pyramid with two entrances: One from the north, as in all other pyramids, and one from the west which leads to this pyramid’s highest placed chamber. Now if this pyramid was built with similar deliberations as Khufu’s than the upper chamber is the sun god’s.
Why two entrances? It is perfectly understandable if the chambers were made to honor the nature gods. When approaching the sun god Ra-Atum’s chamber you naturally walk eastwards, facing the god who brings life back when he rises in the eastern horizon every day.
The north-south corridors lead to the chambers for the gods of the earthbound elements: earth, water, and air - you face the direction from which the life-giving Nile flows.
Entering from the north you first get to a narrow chamber, presumably Geb’s. However, no body could have been buried here. The only thing here is a staircase leading up to the next chamber. Notice that the stairs end higher than the floor - maybe indicating there could be water here? Is there a well, as in Khufu’s pyramid?
Drawing showing the staircase in the lowest chamber, apparently omitted in the drawing to the left. Right: Rainer Stadelmann ‘Die Ägyptischen Pyramiden,’ Left: unknown. (Author provided)
Apparently there are two chambers missing too: Shu’s chamber and Nut’s. They may be hidden, or perhaps Shu and Tefnut, as man and wife, shared a room. Or Ra-Atum may have shared with Nut. What matters is whether or not we can trust the upper chamber to represent the sun. At least it lies southeast from the center, as the presumed Ra-Atum’s chamber in Khufu’s pyramid does.
The northwest-southeast diagonal in the Bent pyramid mirrors the corridors, demonstrating the importance of this direction. The Bent pyramid may show where to find the entrance to the hidden Sun god’s chamber in Khufu’s pyramid. High on the west side.
Khufu’s pyramid including supposed entrance from west. (Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
NUT’s Chamber – ETHER (Assumed)
It’s unlikely that Khufu’s pyramid has a flat top because its stones were removed for other buildings – building materials would be easier to acquire from ground level. The top more likely consisted of casing stones possibly supported by a wooden structure. If an earthquake struck the casing stones fell and the chamber disappeared.
The chamber was Nut’s pyramidal-shaped chamber. This was adequate if the ancient Egyptians had the same understanding of the ether element as the ancient Greeks, who considered it to contain the inner origin of the four other elements.
The King’s or Priests’ Pyramid?
The greatest pyramids were built in the 4th dynasty. The 5th and 6th dynasty brought new developments. Now each king did not only have a pyramid built, a sun temple was also made in a peculiar form. It was like a pyramid which had had it sides cut away, leaving a thick obelisk, a benben. Far fewer stones were needed to build it compared to a true pyramid.
It has been described as the peak period of sun worship. But was it? It may instead have been an attempt to solve a problem the kings of 4th dynasty had - demands from the priesthood to use the magnificent building materials and designs for religious purposes rather than solely for the king’s burial. Perhaps it was also used for worship and initiation rites .
Khufu’s pyramid may have served the king and priesthood even after the king had died and until the emergence of the sun temples. Granting it’s chambers for worship is one possible value Khufu’s pyramid had to the priesthood of Annu. Another is as a temple for initiation rites - spiritual “rebirth”. It would be perfect for that purpose with the way the chambers and corridors are arranged.
In 1930, Danish writer Johannes Hohlenberg provided a description of how a possible initiation could take place in the King’s chamber. The one going through the initiation, the myst, had to “die” in the stone sarcophagus, maybe aided by drugs. In an exalted state he would experience the gods addressing him. Afterwards he would wake up with the recollection of having transcended the threshold of death and having returned to life.
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Such a scenario explains the presence of the stone sarcophagus and a small hidden tunnel at the top of the Grand Gallery which may have been a place for a priest to crawl inside play the role of a heavenly voice addressing the temporarily “dead” person in the sarcophagus.
Initiation rites like this have taken place in numerous cultures, though the details almost always have been kept a secret. The Roman writer Apuleius revealed a little about initiation in the Isis cult: ”...I came to the boundaries of death...I returned having traversed all the elements (my accentuation); at midnight I saw the sun shining with brilliant light; I approached the gods below and the gods above face to face and worshipped them in their actual presence. ”
The Grand Gallery - Fire on Earth
The sun god Ra-Atum is the fire element . Every day he sails across the sky from east to west, high above our reach. Using the rays of sunlight he brings his gift through the layer of air down to us, heats up the ground, brings light and the power of life to plants and people and all that is living.
This is what the Grand Gallery is built to display. On a drawing you can easily imagine the rays of light. Even the cross-section resembles a flame. The steps narrowing upwards suggest a niche, however, it doesn’t look like we are able to interpret it in the same was as in Tefnut’s chamber. There are not five, but eight “boxes” upon each other.
The Gallery viewed from east. V. Maragioglio & C. Rinaldi, L’Architettura delle piramidi menfite, parte IV.’ (Author provided)
There are notches running on each side all the way through the Gallery which were probably made for a wooden ceiling. With it, the cross section is split in two: an upper part with five “boxes”, and a lower with three. Now that makes sense! This feature demonstrates the difference between the gods’ universe and mankind’s. Our existence is bound to three elements: earth, water, and air, but the gods live in all five.
This is why the corridors from north to south only lead to the earthbound element chambers. The Gallery displays the difference between the sun god’s chamber higher in the pyramid, not accessible through the known corridors, and the power of the fire element which we are lent, gracefully being handed down through air to water and earth. The Gallery symbolizes the fire element as we experience it in our lower world.
Left: Cross section of the Gallery. I.E.S. Edwards, ‘The pyramids of Egypt.’ Right: The missing layer. (Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
There are two different kinds of holes by the side ramps. Some are cavities into the side walls. Most of them are filled again with more coarse cut stones, but some aren’t. These holes in the side walls would most likely be intended for wooden beams crossing the gallery, preventing blocking stones from sliding into the first narrow part of the ascending passage. The holes cut downwards into the ramps must have had the purpose of holding vertical beams to support the wooden ceiling.
The ramps in the Gallery with holes for supporting beams. From J. & M. Edgar ‘The Great Pyramid Passages and Chambers.’ (Author provided)
The Gallery’s passage was blocked at both ends: one as a heavy movable slide, blocking access alternately to the Gallery or to Tefnut’s chamber and the other at the Ante chamber, blocking the entrance to Shu’s chamber. They were clearly designed to be used repeatedly.
Following Petrie’s observation and letting every second supporting beam stand perpendicular to the slanting ramp, the beams meet to form a strong triangular construction at the height of the false ceiling. (Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
Taking Apuleius’ remarks: “...having traversed all the elements...” as a guideline we can assume that if people were initiated in the pyramid, they would have to visit the different chambers. Logically they would begin in the lowest chamber, at the “homage of the earth”, as phrased in Pepi II’s pyramid. From there the initiate must move upwards. Presuming the initiate found his way to the ascending corridor he would soon stand at the entrance to the Grand Gallery. At this point we find sure indications of a device clearly intended for repeated use.
Nobody denies that there must have been a ramp or chute here so the blocking stones stored in the Gallery could slide into position later. It must have been a movable one. The construction probably looked something like this: A counterweight, conveniently hidden in the vertical shaft descending from the corner, could lift one end of the ramp, alternately providing access to Tefnut’s chamber when lifted, or access to the Gallery when lowered.
The counterweight in working order, as it may have been constructed. (Niels Bjerre Jørgensen)
Before entering Tefnut’s chamber the myst would step down the 1 cubit high drop into 20 cm (7.9 inches) of water, telling him whose chamber he was entering. The “empty” niche would confirm what the initiate probably already knew: that there were five gods, five elements, and five chambers. This was only the second.
The counterweight stone has fallen down and ended in the grotto. Left: V. Maragioglio & C. Rinaldi, ‘L’Architettura delle piramidi menfite, parte IV.’ Right: J. & M. Edgar ‘The Great Pyramid Passages and Chambers.’ (Author provided)
The Test in the Ante Chamber
The horizontal passage leading to Shu’s chamber from the Gallery was meant to be blocked. The drawings below show how the blockage could be made for repeated use with a function both logical and symbolically suitable, if the pyramid was in use as initiation temple.
On the drawing of both the King’s chamber and the Ante chamber one instantly notices the curved shapes near the ceiling of the Ante chamber, telling us there were three cylinders, just like the one proposed for the slide in the lower end of the Gallery. Also notice that the floor of Shu’s chamber is a little higher than in the corridor. This is another detail which can be a valuable hint instead of sloppy building. It all makes perfectly sense for a test for a myst who wished to enter Shu’s chamber.
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The entrance would have been blocked by a huge stone, which the initiate would have been familiar with from his experience in the Gallery . Conveniently there is enough space for fingers to slide under the block, due to the different levels on the floor, and to lift it.
At the same time a much bigger block lowers ahead, where he now sees that most of the floor is covered with burning charcoal! Here he has to use his knowledge of the elements. He has just lifted the stone, demonstrating a skill of the power over the earth.
The water element must also help him, so he confidently lifts the stone all the way up, revealing that the block in front is actually a vessel containing a little water. Not much, but enough to make his feet wet and cover half of the burning charcoal. With wet feet he can now quickly walk the remaining way - or throw himself above the coals, landing in Shu’s chamber. He passed the test by literally going through fire and water to reach the next stage.
Entering the King’s chamber through the Ante chamber. J & M Edgar ‘The Great Pyramid Passages and Chambers.’ (Author provided)
There are several possible scenarios for how the initiation ceremony continued: one is described above with the myst playing dead in the sarcophagus and then being reborn to meet and speak to the gods in Shu or Ra-Atum’s chamber.
Of course that requires a passage between the two chambers. Provided it is there, it may be found, if the entrance high on the western side is located and Ra-Atum’s chamber is discovered.
I have used my imagination to find a way to incorporate a moveable grill. If the rope for the grill goes around the third roller and is fastened to the tube, it would work. When the tube goes down, the grill is lifted. (Author provided)
Top Image: Sunset at t he Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. Source: Patryk Kosmider /Adobe Stock
Apuleius (c. 120-180): The Golden Ass.
E.A. Wallis Budge: Egyptian magic p. 158-9. Dover Publications, N.Y. 1971. ISBN 0-486-22681-6.
Johannes Hohlenberg: Keopspyramiden og dens hemmelighed. Copenhagen 1930
V. Maragioglio & C. Rinaldi, L’Architettura delle piramidi menfite, parte IV, tavole (1965).
Hubert Paulsen: Den Store Pyramide Cph. 1980
Petrie, W. M. Flinders: The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh . Republished online at The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh Online. Ed. Ronald Birdsall, 2003. Rev. August 27, 2014 http://www.ronaldbirdsall.com/gizeh