The Isis - Osiris - Horus Myth

"Universal Roots Myths" - Mario Rodriguez Cobos - Silo

The genealogy of the gods begins with Atum who is the father-mother of the gods. He begat Shu (the wind) and Tefnut (moisture) and from these, Nut (the sky) and Geb (the earth) were born. These brothers united and begat Osiris, Seth, Neftis and Isis. This is the divine Ennead from which everything derives.

Death and Resurrection of Osiris.

The parents of Osiris saw that he was strong and kind, and so they entrusted him with the governing the fertile territories and careing for the life of plants, animals and human beings. To his brother, Seth, they gave the wide desert and foreign lands. Everything wild and strong, the herds and wild beasts, were under his care. Osiris and Isis together were resplendent lovers. But the fog of envy disturbed Seth, and having devised a plot to kill his brother with the help of seventy-two members of his retinue he invited everyone to a feast. That night, Osiris and the conspirators arrived. Seth displayed a magnificent sarcophagus and promised it to the one whom it fit best. And so the guests went in and out of it, until it was Osiris' turn. As soon as he entered it they lowered the lid and nailedit shut. They had trapped, Osiris and now they took him to the Nile and threw him in its waters intending that he would sink to its depths. But the sarcophagus floated and drifted away from Egypt until reaching the sea. A long time then passed until, one day, the coffin reached Phoenicia3and the waves deposited it at the foot of a tree. The tree grew to a gigantic height, enveloping the sarcophagus in its trunk. The king of this place, admiring the incredible specimen, called for it to be felled and the great trunk brought to his palace where it might serve as a central column. Meanwhile, Isis had a revelation of what had happened and went to Phoenicia. There, she entered the service of the Queen so she might be near the body of her husband. But the Queen, understood that, in reality her servant was Isis, and so the Queen gave her the trunk to do with as she pleased. Isis, splitting apart the wood covering, pulled the coffin out and returned to Egypt bearing her load. By this time, however, Seth was aware of what had happened and, fearing that Isis would revive her husband, he stole the body. Quickly Seth bent himself to cutting the body into fourteen parts and scattered them throughout the land but hearing what had occured Isis undertook a pilgrimage to recover the pieces of the cadaver.

After the death of Osiris, darkness reigned for a long time. No one was taking care of the animals, plants, or the human beings. Strife and death replaced harmony forever.

When Isis had recovered the different parts of the body, she bound them together tightly with bandages, and began her incantations.4She then built an enormous furnace, a sacred pyramid5, and placed the mummy in its depths. Drawing the mummy close, she breathed into it. She blew into it like a potter does to increase the heat of the fire of life…

He awoke, knew the mortal dream, and wanted to keep his green face of the plant world.6He wanted to keep the white crown and his plumage to remember clearly which lands of the Nile were his.7He also took the whip and crook to separate and reconcile, as shepherds do with their curved staff.8Standing erect, Osiris saw death around him, and so he left his double, his Ka,9entrusting the care of his body to it so that no one would desecrate his body again. He took the cross of life, the Ankh10of the resurrection, and with it in his Ba11he went to save and protect all those who, alone and terrified, enter Amenti.12For them he went to live in the west, awaiting the helpless exiles from the kingdom of life. Thanks to his sacrifice, nature arises again every time and human beings, created by the divine potter,13are more than just animated clay. Since then, the god is invoked in many ways. Since then, the last breath is a song of hope.

"Good Osiris!" Send Thoth14so that he may guide us to the sacred sycamore15, to the tree of life, to the door of the Lady of the West16; let him lead us away from the fourteen mansions surrounded by stupor and anguish, where the perverse suffer terrible punishment. Send Thoth, the wise ibis, the infallible scribe of human deeds, recorded in the papyrus of indelible memory. Good Osiris! In you the victorious awaits his resurrection, after the judgement in which his actions are weighed by Anubis, the just jackal.17Good Osiris! Let our Ba board the celestial ship, separated from the Ka, and let the Ka remain as custodian of the amulets18in our tomb. And then we shall sail towards the regions of splendor of the new day."

Horus, the divine avenger.19

After Isis helped resurrect Osiris, she gave birth to their son. Taking the newborn she hid him in the reedbeds of the Nile to protect him for the fury of Seth, Min20and assailants from the desert. He was the radiant child in the lotus flower, who with his eyes in every corner of the earth, was revered as a falcon. As Horus Haredontes, he would be the avenger of his father, when the time came. He is Horus, god of all the lands, son of love and of resurrection.

The child grew and his mother prepared him to reclaim the territory that Seth had usurped, venturing to the land of the Nile when he only had a right to the deserts and foreign lands. When Osiris made his journey to the west, to the lands of Amenti over which he now reigned he had left Isis with the mandate to regain all of the Nile for his son. And so the litigants met before the assembly of the Ennead. Horus said: "A despicable fratricide, relying on blind force unconsecrated by the gods, usurped the rights bequeathed to me by my father …" But his speech was cut short by Seth’s irate cries scorning the request as that of a child incapable of exercising such demands. And so, drawing their weapons, they fought in single combat, one against the other, they overturned mountains, and frightened the waters from their riverbeds. The dispute lasted eighty long years until Seth tore out Horus' eyes, and Horus pulverized* Seth’s vital organs. The great fury only ended when they both fell to the ground in a faint. Thoth then healed their wounds and reestablished the fragile peace that the neglected world demanded.

They stood before the gods and sought a verdict. Ra, who was always helped by Seth in his struggle against the deadly Apophis,21tipped the balance against Horus, but Isis bravely defended her son. In the end the gods restored the child's rights, but Ra stormed out of the assembly, murmuring angrily. And thus the gods were divided in number and power, and there was no end in sight for the dispute. Then Isis, using her wiles caused Seth to give a speech in which he ended up undermining his own claim to the throne, and because of that error Seth was removed from the lands to which he had laid claim. Ra however, then demanded a new trial where all these issues could finally be decided.

Each one now transformed into a mighty hippopotamous and began to fight anew. From the water's edge, Isis loosed a harpoon that by mistake hit Horus, who throwing himself upon his mother, tore off her head.22As a replacement, the gods gave Isis the head of a cow and, entering the fray again, her harpoon finally hit Seth. Roaring, he left the waters. So a new trial was devised, one that would keep the other gods out of the conflict. They would both have to sail ships made of rock. Seth carved his from a rock and sank, while Horus simply displayed his. Everyone agreed that it conformed to the specifications since he had ingeneously made his out of wood covered in stuco. Horus sailed and claimed victory, but Seth, transforming once again into a hippopotamus, sank him. And then, alone on the beach, Horus was overcome by his righteous anger. He struck Seth with his mace and bound him hand and foot. Like this, he dragged him to the tribunal and the waiting gods. And it was only when faced with the threat of Seth being executed before the entire assembly that Ra agreed that Horus was right. Delighted, the gods crowned the child-falcon supreme lord. As Horus stepped on the neck of the vanquished, Seth, promising solemn obedience, proclaimed the battle ended and left for his desert kingdom, there to live forever among foreigners. Thoth wisely organized the new responsabilities and Horus helped Ra to destroy the treacherous serpent Apophis who until then had menaced Ra’s radiant ship. With the blood of that ancient beast the skies are sometimes coloured red, and sailing in his celestial ship, Ra draws away from the eases the surge of waves that move towards the west.



3 One legend specifically mentions Byblos. Phoenicia was a region of Asia Minor on the west coast of Syria that, reached from Lebanon to the Mediterranean, and as far south as Mount Carmel. Its main cities were: Byblos, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre and Acca. During the period of Roman domination, the territory of Celesyria or Phoenicia of Lebanon was added, designating the old nation as Maritime Phoenicia. We have used "Phoenicia" in the story, to highlight the very root of the "Phoenix", the fabled bird that died in fire and was reborn from its ashes. In any case, we do not ignore the fact that "Phoenicia" comes from the Greek 'Phoenikia', that is, "country of palm trees" and that the inhabitants of that place called themselves "Canaanites" and not "Phoenicians".

4 Allusion to the preparation of the mummy, according to what is related by Herodotus (Histories, Book II, LXXXVI and following).

5 Some have sought to derive the word "pyramid" from the greek term meaning "wheat cake", arguing that the Egyptians and Greeks prepared certain pastries in that shape. It has been maintained that perhaps these derived in turn from others that were used in ceremonial theophagic practices. However there are others who hold that they were merely artfully adorned foodstuffs. Pyramid, from the Greek pyramis, has the same root as pira, pyra, and as fire, pyr. "Pira" has been used as the "*pyre " upon which the bodies of the dead or the ritual sacrice was burned. We do not have the exact word in the ancient Egyptian language that refers to the pyramid in a geometric sense. In any case, the Greek name of that body and the initial mathematical studies about it, could well have derived from Egyptian teaching as Plato maintains in the Timaeus where he deals with the earliest scientific knowledge of his people, and considers it to be of Egyptian origin. These considerations have allowed us to make a play of words in which the pyramid in question is in the end identified with the potters kiln. For his part, Herodotus (ibid. II, C and C1) tells a story regarding the motive for construction of the pyramids that brings connects it to the theme of Osiris. Given a reasonable degree of licensce we feel that the composition of the paragraph we are commenting on is acceptable, especially keeping in mind the antiquity of the myth proper to primitive ceramic culture (in which the rebirth of man is due to the potter-god),. As for the Mesopotamian pyramids (ziggurats), they take us to consider the idea that these constructions were not only temples and astronomical observatories but also "sacred mountains" in which Marduk was buried and from where he later resurrected. As for the step and covered or semi-covered pyramids of Mexico and Central America (e.g. Xochicalco, Chichen Itza, Cholula, Teotihuacan), we have no data that would lead us to state that they functioned as sepulchers or filled any function beyond being cultic constructions and serving as astronomical observatories. As for their historical development, the pyramids of Egypt evolve from the mastabas that by the Third Dynasty were already linked to the cult of the Sun in Heliopolis.

6 According to what is observed, for example, in the Papyrus of Ani (Brit. Mus. N. 10,470, sheets 3 and 4).

7 The high white crown of the Upper Nile and the flat red crown of the Lower Nile represented both the origins of the Pharaoh and his power over those regions. At times both crowns were combined to form the double crown. In the times of the New Empire the blue crown of war began to be used. Often the ureaeus, the sacred cobra, or instead, ostrich feathers combined with the high crown, each of these representing power over both lands;. In the case of Osiris, the crown assumes a priestly character, as in a tiara. The same thing occurs with the papal headdress (but in which can be observed the three-tiered crown). In this case, the pontifical tiara can be seen to derive from the mitre of the bishops, but its style is somewhat more Egyptian.

8 The whip and the crook or staff frequently appear crossed over the chest of the Pharaohs. In the representations of Osiris, they serve a priestly function, like the crooked staff of the Christian bishops.

9 Ka was not the spirit but rather the vehicle that visited the mummified corpse. It had some physical properties and, as it appears in the various epochs of the Books of the Dead, was represented as a "double". When the Ka of the Pharaoh was represented it was usually by two identical painted or sculpted figures holding hands.

10 The equal-armed cross was the Chaldeo-Babylonian symbol of Anu. The Ankh cross or crux ansata was a Tau with a circle and a handle, a symbol of triumph over death and the attribute of Sekhet. This cross was later adopted by the Coptic Christians.

11 Ba was the spirit not subject to material vicissitudes. It was normally represented as a bird with a human face.

12 Amenti was hell, the kingdom of the dead.

13 Khnum, often represented with a human body and ram's head, was the main divinity of the Elephantine triad of Upper Egypt. This divinity made the bodies of humans from clay, forming on his potters wheel. In its spinning this wheel acts like the wheel of fortune, determining the destiny of each person from the moment of their birth. Beltz, citing E. Naville, The temple of Deir el Bahri, II, tables 47-52, has Khnum speaking these words when he creates an important queen: "I wish to give you the body of a goddess; perfect like all the gods. You will receive from me not only happiness and health but the crown of both countries. You are at the summit of all living beings; you who are queen of Upper and Lower Egypt." W. Beltz. Los Mitos Egipcios, Losada, pp. 97 and 98. Buenos Aires, 1986.

14 Thoth, god of Hermopolis and creator of culture also had the role of the one who guides souls to Amenti. He was usually represented as having a human body and the head of an ibis. He was also the one who had the role of guiding the souls on their way to Amenti. His equivalence with the Greek Hermes gave rise to the figure of Hermes-Thoth. Later, towards the third century A.D., the neoplatonists and other gnostic sects produced the Hermetic Corpus (Pymander, The Key, Asclepios, The Emerald Tablet, etc.) that they attributed to the legendary Hermes Trismegistus (the "thrice-great ") the creator of science, the arts and law.

15 The sycamore was a type of fig tree that had an extremely durable wood that was used to make sarcophagi. An allusion is also made here to the Djed tree that represented the resurrection of Osiris since from new shoots spring from its dead trunk.

16 "Lady of the West", the name that the goddess mother Hathor would take in funerary invocations. She lived in the western region of Libya were the kingdom of the dead was.

17 Anubis, with the body of a man and the head of a jackal, was the accuser in the judgment of the dead. At times he was known as the "Embalmer" or "The Guardian of the Tombs". Anubis was said to have helped in the embalming of Osiris. He also appeared as "The one who is on his mountain", that is, in charge of the funerary pyramid.

18 The amulets (ushabtis or "those who answer") were clay figurines that were placed in the tombs to accompany the dead to the land of Amenti, where they would acquire human size and characteristics, carrying out the most onerous labor on behalf o f the deceased.

19 Horus, with his parents Osiris and Isis, formed part of the trinity of Abydos. Considered in his aspect as the rising sun he was represented with the head of a falcon and a solar disc on his forehead.

20 A local god of Coptos, Panapolis and of certain desert regions. Represented with an erect phallus like Priapus, he was a divinity of regeneration in the court of Seth. Called "Bull of his mother", he was both the son and husband of a divinity that presided over the East. At some point there may have been some inter-mixture between Seth and Min since some legends present Seth as a black bull assassinating Osiris. On the other hand, the very ancient Min might in fact be closely related to the the legendary Minos of Crete, also represented as a bull.

21 Apophis was a monstruous serpent that lay in wait for the ship of the Sun. Over time, he became identified with Seth in his demonic aspect. In the Book of the Dead, invocations are made to assure that this serpent does not take the ship carrying the deceased.

22 The loss of a god's head does not indicate death but rather a replacement of attributes. Many divinities can easily be identified thanks to the fact that the head they bear is the totem of their people or of the place they came from.