Isis and Osiris

   The goddess Nut gave birth to two sets of twins.  The oldest were Osiris and Nut, and the second were Nephthys and her consort Set.  Osiris is the lord and generator of the culture of the society.  The goddess Isis, his sister/bride, has on her head a throne.  She symbolizes the throne on which the pharaoh sits, so the throne of Egypt is the Goddess, and the incarnate god  sits on it as her agent.  This continuity of the Goddess is very strong in Egypt.  G93


… Isis got the pillar with her husband in it and put it on a barge heading home.  She then uncovered the sarcophagus and lay on her husband and conceived from Osiris her son Horus.  This is a very important moment in the whole mythology – Horus, the son of Osiris, is begotten of Osiris while he is dead.  Isis is terribly afraid of Set, who has taken the throne, so she stays in the delta and gives birth to Horus there in great pain.  G 95

   Isis landed in the papyrus swamp and gave birth to Horus in sorrow and pain.  The sun god Amon-Re and the moon god Thoth, guide of the dead, were her only support in the birth pains.  Isis is one of the principal models for the Madonna in the Christian tradition; this is the motif of the mother giving birth to the child without the father present, and this standard motif comes right down in later folklore and epics.  G 95


Osiris one night slept with Nephthys thinking she was Isis.  This is an inattention to detail that never ends well in stories of this kind, and the result was that the brother Set, Nephthys’s husband, decided to take revenge.  Set planned his revenge by having a beautiful, rich sarcophagus made exactly to Osiris’s measure.  On one evening at a fine party Set comes in with this sarcophagus and says, “Anyone whom this perfectly fits can have it.” 

   Well, all tried it, like Cinderella’s glass slipper, and when Osiris lay in the coffin, seventy-two accomplices came in, clamped the lid down on the coffin, bound it up, and threw it into the Nile.  So that’s the end of Osiris.  G93

   Nephthys had also brought forth from her union with Osiris a son, with the head of a jackal, whose name was Anubis. 

   One day Set was out hunting a boar – our chthonic friend the boar with the down-turned tusks who represents death and resurrection.  Set followed the boar into the papyrus swamp and found Isis with Horus and the body of Osiris.  He tore Osiris into fifteen pieces and flung him all over the place. 

   So Isis had to go on a hunt for him again.  This time, fortunately, she was joined by Nephthys and little Anubis, the jackal-headed boy, who sniffed around after pieces of Osiris.  Of the fifteen pieces they recovered fourteen – the fifteenth piece, which happened to be his genital organs, had been swallowed by a fish.  And so the dead Osiris becomes associated with the fertilization of the Egyptian soil that occurs every year with the rise and flooding of the Nile.  When his body has been reassembled by Isis, Anubis took the role of the Egyptian priest and embalmed the body. 

   This was a rite of resurrection and restoration of life.  When the priests of Egypt embalmed bodies they assumed the mask of Anubis and reenacted the whole myth.  In the scrolls and rituals, the person who had died was called Osiris N (“Osiris Jones,” if you will), and the goal of the ritual was that Osiris Jones should go to the prime Osiris and recognize the divine power as identical to himself. 

The Eye of Horus

   Now, Horus gave battle to Set to avenge his father, and in that battle lost an eye.  That eye is called the Eye of Horus and is regarded as the sacrifice that resurrected Osiris and gave him immortal life, and so Osiris became the judge of the dead.  The dead pharaoh was identified with Osiris in the underworld whereas the living pharaoh was identified with Horus.