The Gods of Egypt Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein 4 - The Myth of Osiris and Isis (Click on pictures to see larger images.) One of the greatest cults of Egypt was formed around the god Osiris, whose worship is considered a prototype of the dying and rising “vegetation” gods that appeared in many cultures throughout the ancient world.  In other words, his death and resurrection were celebrated annually as part of the recognition of the changing of the seasons.  In the spring floods, the Nile would bring water to the plains and vegetation for food would be luxuriant; at the end of the growing season, the people annually mourned the death of the god. As mentioned above, Osiris had two sisters, Isis and Nephthys, and a brother Set. Osiris was proclaimed the lord of creation and was made king during the golden age; he married his sister Isis. He brought civilization to Egypt and taught the people many things, including husbandry, law, and religion. When Egypt was at peace and prospering, Osiris went on a journey to take his teachings to other nations. He left his sister-wife Isis to rule while he was gone. Set was jealous of his brother, and he plotted with the Queen of Ethiopia and others to destroy Osiris. They designed a coffin to his measurements, and during a banquet they tricked him into lying down in it. Then Set ran up and closed the lid, and he and the other conspirators carried the coffin to the Nile and launched it. When Isis heard what had happened, she cut off a lock of her hair in mourning and immediately went in search of Osiris. During her travels she learned that while he was alive, Osiris had slept with their sister Nephthys, and the result of the union was the birth of the jackal-headed god Anubis. So Isis called upon Anubis and asked him to come with her to be her bodyguard. Anubis later came to be a guide to the underworld and an assistant in the judgment of the dead soul. Next, Isis heard that the coffin had reached the coast of Byblos, and that it had lodged in the branches of a small tree, which had grown up around it and finally had entirely enclosed it in its bark. The king of Byblos had been attracted to the tree and had it cut down and turned into a pillar for his palace. Isis went to the palace and became nursemaid to one of the king’s sons. Whenever she had a chance she would turn herself into a swallow and fly around the pillar. Isis loved the child she was nursing, and she decided to give the child immortality, so each night she built a fire and placed the child in it to burn away his mortal parts. Then one night the queen came into the room and saw her child in the fire and cried out. Isis then had to reveal herself to the royal couple, who ordered that the pillar containing Osiris be cut open and the coffin removed.  Isis set sail for Egypt with the coffin.  When she reached her home shores, one story says she lay with Osiris (even though he was dead) and conceived a child—in what was literally a virgin birth—and that Horus was the result. (Other stories say that Horus was a brother of Isis and Osiris.) She then hid the coffin.  Shortly thereafter, Set stumbled on the box and realized what it contained, so he promptly tore Osiris into 14 pieces and scattered them to the four corners of the world. Isis had to set out once more to recover her husband’s body. Each time she found a piece, she erected a temple to Osiris. According to the story, she found all the pieces except the penis, which had been eaten by a fish. So she constructed a replacement phallus to take the place of the missing member, and each year a festival was held to celebrate its regenerative powers. Isis suckling Horus In art, Osiris is often shown as a mummy, wearing a ceremonial beard and the white mitre of lower Egypt. The phallic pillar is sometimes shown in art with two serpents twined about it or coming out its top, and it is sometimes referred to as the “backbone of Osiris.” (See section on serpents and rods of power.) Later the spirit of Osiris came to Horus and asked him to avenge his murder. Horus engaged Set in a battle that lasted for three days. When he finally won, Isis took pity on Set and let him go free; Horus became so enraged he cut off his mother’s head, but Thoth replaced it with the head of a cow, so Isis is sometimes shown with a cow’s head, or with the horns of a cow on her headdress. Horus fought Set twice more and finally proved victorious. He became pharaoh, and all successive pharaohs shared in his divinity. Osiris as a mummy Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily