Osiris

Osiris was the Egyptian god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation.

Symbols: Crook and flail, atef crown, ostrich feathers, mummy gauze, fish
Cult Centre: Abydos, Busiris
Parents: Geb and Nut
Siblings: Isis, Set, Nephthys
Consort: Isis
Children: Horus and Anubis

Fresco of Osiris from the Tomb of Nefertari.

He was normally depicted as a green-skinned deity with a pharaoh’s beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive atef crown and holding a symbolic crook and flail. Osiris was the judge of the dead and the Underworld agency that granted all life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. 

The Osiris Myth

Set wanted the throne of Egypt, which belonged to his brother, Osiris. Osiris was murdered by Set so that he could gain his throne. The method of this murder differs depending on the source of the story. Most Egyptian copies just say that Set drowned Osiris. The Greco-Roman copies are much more elaborate. They begin with Set building a sarcophagus that fitted Osiris exactly.

Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right. Louvre.

Then Set tricked his brother into getting inside the sarcophagus. He then sealed the coffin and threw it into the Nile. Isis recovered Osiris’ body but Set stopped her before she could restore her husband to life. Set then cut up Osiris’ body and spread the pieces throughout Egypt. Isis and her sister Nephthys recovered all the pieces of Osiris’ body but one, which a fish ate. Isis managed to bring Osiris back for one night during which she conceived Horus the Younger. She hid Horus from Set while he was growing into adulthood. Set tried to kill Horus while he was a boy but the attempts failed.

When Horus grew up, he fought Set to avenge his father. The conflict lasted for decades. Finally, Set turned into a hippopotamus and tried to destroy Horus’ boat. Horus speared Set but the other gods stopped him from destroying his uncle. This was how Horus avenged Osiris’ murder and gained the throne of Egypt.

Isis, in the form of a bird, copulates with the deceased Osiris. At either side are Horus, although he is as yet unborn, and Isis in human form. Temple of Seti I, Abydos.

Judgement

At death a person faced judgment by a tribunal of forty-two divine judges. If they led a life in conformance with the precepts of the goddess Ma’at, who represented truth and right living, the person was welcomed into the kingdom of Osiris. If found guilty, the person was thrown to the soul-eating demon Ammit and did not share in eternal life. The person who is taken by the devourer is subject first to terrifying punishment and then annihilated.

Judgement scene from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer. British Museum.

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