HORUS (Hor, Heru, Her)
Symbols: hawk/falcon, bull, Double Crown, Winged Disk, Udjat, Sphinx, weapons, iron, blacksmiths Cult Center: Edfu, Buto and Heliopolis
Myths: Isis and Osiris
The falcon-headed god, the kings of Egypt associated themselves with Horus. Horus was among the most important gods of Egypt, particularly because the Pharaoh was supposed to be his earthly embodiment. Kings would eventually take the name of Horus as one of their own. At the same time, the Pharaohs were the followers of Re and so Horus became associated with the sun as well. To the people this solar deity became identified as the son of Osiris. Attempts to resolve the conflicts between these different gods in different parts of Egypt resulted in at least fifteen distinct forms of Horus. They can be divided fairly easily into two groups, solar and Osirian, based on the parentage of the particular form of Horus. If he is said to be the son of Isis, he is Osirian; otherwise he is a solar deity. The solar Horus was called the son of Atum, or Re, or Geb and Nut variously.
As Harsiesis, he is “Horus, the son of Isis”. Horus was conceived magically by Isis following the murder of his father, Osiris. Horus was raised by his mother on the floating island of Chemmis near Buto. He was in constant danger from his evil uncle Seth but his mother protected him and he survived.
As a child, Horus was known as Harpokrates, “the infant Horus”, and was portrayed as a baby being suckled by Isis. He was said to be stunted from the waist down. This may be because his father was dead when he was concieved or perhaps because he was born prematurely. Harpokrates is pictured as a seated child sucking his thumb and having his hair fashioned in a sidelock that symbolized his youth. On his head he wore the royal crown and uraeus. In later times he was affiliated with the newborn sun.
As Harmakhis, “Horus in the Horizon”, he personified the rising sun and was associated with Khepera as a symbol of resurrection or eternal life.
Haroeris, “Horus the Elder”, was one of the earliest forms of Horus and the patron deity of Upper (southern) Egypt. He was said to be the son, or sometimes the husband of Hathor. He was also the brother of Osiris and Seth. He became the conquerer of Seth (the patron of Lower Egypt) c. 3000 BCE when Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt and formed the united kingdom of Egypt. He was depicted as a falcon-headed man, sometimes wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Horus (the elder) had numerous wives and children, and his ‘four sons’ were grouped together and generally said to be born of Isis. The four were known as: Duamutef, Imsety, Hapi and Qebehsenuef. They were born from a lotus flower and were solar gods associated with the creation. They were retrieved from the waters of Nun by Sobek on the orders of Re. It was believed that Anubis gave them the funerary duties of mummification, the Opening of the Mouth, the burial of Osiris and all men. Horus later made them protectors of the four cardinal points. In the Hall of Ma’at they sat on a lotus flower in front of Osiris. Most commonly, however, they were remembered as the protectors of the internal organs of the deceased. Each son protected an organ, and each son was protected by a goddess.
Horus Behdety was a form of Horus the Elder that was worshipped originally in the western Delta at Behdet. As the son and heir of Re, Behdety was a form of Horus that was assimilated into the Heliopolitan system of beliefs yet not completely identified with Re. Behdety was a defender of Re during his earthly kingship against Seth. He was usually portrayed as a winged sun-disk or as a falcon hovering over the Pharaoh during battles. When shown as a falcon-headed man wearing the double crown he carries a falcon-headed staff, the weapon he used to defeat Seth.
ANUBIS (Yinepu, Anpu)
Symbols: jackel, ox-hide hanging from a pole, embalming equipment, flail,
Cult Center: Heliopolis
Links: Temple of Anubis
The jackal-god of mummification, he assisted in the rites by which a dead man was admitted to the underworld. Anubis was worshipped as the inventor of embalming and who embalmed the dead Osiris and thereby helping to preserve him that he might live again.
Anubis is portrayed as a man with the head of a jackel holding the divine sceptre carried by kings and gods; as simply a jackel or as a dog accompanying Isis. His symbol was a black and white ox-hide splattered with blood and hanging from a pole. It’s meaning is unknown.
Anubis had three important functions. He supervised the embalmment of bodies. He received the mummy into the tomb and performed the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and then conducted the soul in the Field of Celestial Offerings. Most importantly though, Anubis monitored the Scales of Truth to protect the dead from deception and eternal death.
Early in Egyptian history, Anubis was a god of the dead. This role was usurped by Osiris as he rose in popularity.
The god of embalming is probably associated with the jackel due to the habits of jackels to lurk about tombs and graves. One of the reasons the early Egyptians sought to make their tombs more elaborate was to keep the bodies safe from the jackels lingering about the graves. It is only natural therefore that a god of mummification would be connected with them. By worshipping Anubis, the Egyptians hoped to invoke him to protect their deceased from jackels, and later, the natural decay that unprotected bodies endure.
Anubis was the son of Nephthys: and his father was Osiris. One myth says that Nephthys got Osiris drunk and the resultant seduction brought forth Anubis. Yet another says she disguised herself as Isis and seduced Osiris and subsequently gave birth to Anubis.
OSIRIS (Asar, Wesir, Ausar, Unnefer)
Symbols: crook and flail, djed, White and Atef Crowns, bull, mummified form, throne, Bennu (phoenix)
Cult Center: Abydos, Busiris and Heliopolis
Myths: “Isis and Osiris”
A god of the earth and vegetation, Osiris symbolized in his death the yearly drought and in his miraculous rebirth the periodic flooding of the Nile and the growth of grain. He was a god-king who was believed to have given Egypt civilization.
Osiris was the first child of Nut and Geb, and therefore the brother of Seth, Nephthys, and Isis. He was married to his sister, Isis. He was also the father of Horus and Anubis. These traditions state that Nephthys (mother of Anubis) assumed the form of Isis, seduced him (perhaps with wine) and she became pregnant with Anubis.
The oldest religious texts refer to Osiris as the great god of the dead, and throughout these texts it is assumed that the reader will understand that he once possessed human form and lived on earth. As the first son of Geb, the original king of Egypt, Osiris inherited the throne when Geb abdicated. At this time the Egyptians were barbarous cannibals and uncivilized. Osiris saw this and was greatly disturbed. Therefore, he went out among the people and taught them what to eat, the art of agriculture, how to worship the gods, and gave them laws. Thoth helped him in many ways by inventing the arts and sciences and giving names to things. Osiris was Egypt’s greatest king who ruled through kindness and persuasion. Having civilized Egypt, Osiris traveled to other lands, leaving Isis as his regent, to teach other peoples what he taught the Egyptians.
During Osiris’ absence, Isis was troubled with Seth’s plotting to acquire both her and the throne of Egypt. Shortly after Osiris’ return to Egypt, in the twenty-eighth year of his reign, on the seventeenth day of the month of Hathor (late September or November), Seth and 72 conspirators murdered him. They then threw the coffin in which he was murdered into the Nile, with his divine body still inside.
Isis, with the help of her sister Nephthys, and Anubis and Thoth, magically located Osiris’ body. Upon learning the his brother’s body was found, Seth went to it and tore it into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. Isis once again found every part of his body, save his phallus (it had been eaten by the now-cursed Nile fish). She magically re-assembled Osiris and resurrected him long enough to be impregnated by him so that she could give birth to the new king Horus.
Seth of course was not willing to surrender the throne of Egypt to the youthful Horus and thus a tribunal of gods met to decide who was the rightful king. The trial lasted eighty years. Eventually through Isis’ cunning she won the throne for her son.
Osiris meanwhile had become the king of the Afterlife. He was believed to be
willing to admit all people to the Duat, the gentle, fertile land in which
the righteous dead lived, that had lived a good and correct life upon earth,
and had been buried with appropriate ceremonies under the protection of
certain amulets, and with the proper recital of certain “divine words” and
words of power. His realm was said to lie beneath Nun, in the northern
heavens or in the west.
It is as the King of the Afterlife that Osiris gained his supreme
popularity. He was originally a minor god of Middle Egypt, especially in
comparison to the gods of Heliopolis and Hermopolis, etc. Noting his
increasing popularity, and sensing that Osiris would one day eclipse the
adoration of their own gods, the priests of these cities adopted him into
their own cosmogonies.
The elements of his story was seen as symbolic of real events that happened
in Egypt. With his original association to agriculture, his death and
resurrection were seen as symbolic of the annual death and re-growth of the
crops and the yearly flooding of the Nile. The sun too with its daily
re-birth and death was associated with Osiris. His rivalry with his brother
Seth, the god of storms and the desert, was symbolic of the eternal war
between the fertile lands of the Nile Valley and the barren desert lands
just beyond. The pharaoh of Egypt was called Horus, while his deceased
father was the new Osiris.
Several festivals during the year were held in Egypt, in celebration of
Osiris. One, held in November, celebrated his beauty. Another, called the
“Fall of the Nile” was a time of mourning. As the Nile receded, the
Egyptians went to the shore to give gifts and show their grief over his
death. When the Nile began to flood again, another festival honoring Osiris
was held whereby small shrines were cast into the river and the priests
poured sweet water in the Nile, declaring that the god was found again.
The name “Osiris” is the Greek corruption of the Egyptian name “Asar” (or
Usar) . There are several possibilities as to what this name means, “the
Strength of the Eye”, is one. Another is “He Sees the Throne”. The oldest
and simplist form of the name is the hieroglyph of the throne over an eye
(there are at least 158 versions of the name). At one point the first
syllable of the name was pronounced “Aus” or “Us” and may have gained the
meaning of the word usr, “strength, might, power”. At this time the
Egyptians supposed the name to mean something like the “strength of the Eye”
(i.e., the strength of the Sun-god Ra.
Another possibility raised by an ancient hymn’s author is that the name “Unnefer” (another name by which Osiris was known) comes from the roots un (“to open, to appear, to make manifest”) and neferu, (“good things”). The author then wrote these lines in his hymn to the god, “Thy beauty maketh itself manifest in thy person to rouse the gods to life in thy name Unnefer”. In any case, even to the ancients, the origin of Osiris’ Egyptian name is a mystery.
Osiris was usually portrayed as a bearded, mummified human with green skin and wearing the atef crown. His hands emerge from the mummy wrappings and hold the flail and crook.
THOTH (Djehuty, Tahuti, Tehuti)
Symbols: ibis, baboon, writing palette and reed pens
Cult Center: Hermopolis
The god of wisdom and learning. He was said to be self-created in the beginning along with his consort, the goddess Ma’at (truth). The two produced eight children, the most important being Amon. Alternately depicted as an ibis-headed human, an ibis, or a baboon (or dog-headed ape), perhaps because the grave facial expressions of these creatures suggested thoughtfulness. He carries a pen and scrolls with which he records all things.
Thoth was believed to have filled many roles in the world of the gods. It was believed that he invented writing and was the vizier and official scribe of the afterworld, and that the Book of the Dead was written by him. He and Ma’at were believed to stand on either side of Re in his boat as he (as the Sun) traveled across the sky. It was thought that they also may have directed the course that the boat took. It was widely believed that Thoth invented the magical and hermetic arts, and thus the Tarot deck is frequently referred to as the “Book of Thoth” He was associated with the moon; as the sun vanished, Thoth tried to dispel the darkness with his light.
Thoth is shown attending all major scenes involving the gods, but most especially at the judgement of the deceased. It is here that he (shown as a dog-headed ape) sits on the top of the balance that weighs the heart of the deceased to determine if it is as light as ma’at. The concept of ma’at is one of truth, justice, and “that which is straight”. It may even be related to “cosmic order”. The baboon Thoth informs the ibis-headed Thoth when the balance is at equilibrium. The ibis-headed Thoth then makes his report to the other gods who then pass judgement on the deceased.