Escaping Osiris

O Osiris the king,
who goes forth by night !

by Wim van den Dungen


"I, King Neferkare, am Osiris who goes forth by night."
Pyramid Texts - Late Vth - VIth Dynasty - § 1761d.

"Lord of All Men, at the head of the Two Lands as a whole !
(He) who comes in peace !
Lord of the Blooming of the Heart !"
Hymn to Osiris - stela - XIIth Dynasty - British Museum

"Hail Osiris, son of Nut ! (...)
Whose awe Atum set in the heart
of men, gods, spirits and the dead. (...)
King of gods, great power of heaven,
ruler of the living, king of those beyond !"
Hymn to Osiris - Stela of Sobek-iry - XIIth Dynasty - Louvre


01 Evil or the end of the Golden Age.
02 The suffering of Osiris.
03 Reassemby and reanimation of Osiris.
04 Horus, the avenger of his father.
05 The restoration of Osiris.
06 The ascension of Osiris.
07 Offertory and Canon.
08 Escaping Osiris.
09 Assuming the godform of Osiris.
10 Osirian faith & Christianity compared.







Isis and Horus - Philae
after Zacharias - Desroches - Noblecourt, 1997.


"Commoners hide, (but) the gods fly away."
Pyramid Texts - § 459a.

The first Egyptian Pyramid Texts appear in the Vth Dynasty, in the underground chambers of the tomb of King Unas (ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE), namely in its antechamber, passage way and burial-chamber. Together with the texts found in
the tombs of his successors, Pharaohs Teti, Pepi I, Merenre & Pepi II (ca. 2270 - 2205 BCE) of the VIth Dynasty, they form the first known religious corpus in world literature.

Pharaoh Unas, Wenis or Unis, was the last Pharaoh of the Vth Dynasty. His pyramid at Saqqara is at the South-western corner of Djoser's enclosure. The complex, a model for these subsequent rulers, is almost diagionally opposed to the pyramid of Userkaf (ca. 2487 - 2480 BCE), the founder of his Heliopolitan Dynasty. Pharaoh Unas is the first to include hieroglyphic inscriptions in a royal tomb.

The inscriptions carved and filled with blue pigment, contain, in 234 of the 759 known utterances, the first historical account of the (Heliopolitan) religion of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2670 - 2198 BCE). Technically, this royal corpus consists of a series of "utterances" or "spells", so called because the expression "Dd mdw" ("Dd" = "words" ; "mdw" = "speech"), "to say" or "words to be said", i.e. "to be recited" is, as a rule, at the head of most.

However, these texts include drama, hymns, litanies, glorifications, magical texts, offering rituals, prayers, charms, divine offerings, the ascension of Pharaoh, the arrival of Pharaoh in heaven, Pharaoh settled in heaven, and miscellaneous texts. It refers to the oldest body of theology in the world, and precedes the extant textualization of the Vedas, reckoned at ca. 1900 BCE (most likely the composition was contemporaneous with the Indus civilization, flourishing between ca. 3000 BCE & 1700 BCE).

These utterances are the codification, in Old Egyptian, of a royal canon predated by centuries of oral transmission. Discovered by Maspero in 1881, these Unas texts had been buried and left undisturbed for ca. 4200 years. An untainted primary religious source ! Shortly after they were written down and also much later, the Unas texts as a whole acquired canonical status, and were copied and reproduced (cf. the Middle Kingdom tomb of Senwosret-Ankh, "highpriest of Ptah"). The Unas corpus is also the best preserved body of utterances and contains a complete set of them. It provides the standard approach to the theology of the Old Kingdom, dominated by Atum-Re of Heliopolis.

By the IVth Dynasty (ca. 2600 - 2487 BCE), when king Khephren (ca. 2540 - 2514 BCE) added the title "son of Re" to his royal titulary, Ancient Egyptian culture had reached its pinnacle. Canonical attainments in science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, magic, ritual and sapiental teachings had been established, and we have to wait until the New Kingdom (ca. 1539 - 1075 BCE) to witness new developments (as Atenism and Amonism). However, in all periods, Egypt would return to the canon begun by king Djoser (ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE) and his "Leonardo da Vinci", the vizier, scribe, doctor and architect Imhotep, "the one that comes in peace". In architecture (cf. Giza pyramids), religion (cf. the Pyramid Texts) and wisdom-teaching, to name but a few areas of interest, these rules became sanctosanct.

In the theology of Heliopolis (the "On" of the Bible and today the Coptic suburb of Cairo), Pharaoh Unas ascends to the realm of Atum, the unique supreme deity (cf. Hornung, 1986), materializing as the star of our Solar system, Re in his Solar disk (Aten). There, in the Sun's domain, the First Time, the king is ensured of an ongoing increase in spirituality (an efficiency due to the transformation of his Ba into an Akh, a spirit of light) and a union with the only true source of life and youth, projected near the Northern Circumpolar Stars ; he arrives there as an awesome god (cf. Cannibal Hymn). He sails on Re's Bark of Millions of Years, ascends with a ladder or flies as a bird, sacred smoke or a grasshopper.

The lightland of Re, fountain of rejuvenation and endless power, is a continuing cycle of renewal (in neheh-time), a perpetuum mobile at the core of (stellar) light. Here, the powerful Sa-energy of the universal Heka-field can be harvested. The latter is due to the autogenic activity of the sole creator god Atum.

  • "Nun" : the unmanifested sameness of everything is not light ;

  • "Atum" : unmanifested light diffused in Nun ;

  • "Atum-Kheprer" : the unmanifested, first occurrence of eternally recurrent light ;

  • "Re" : the manifest presence of Atum as light on the primordial "hill".

Grosso modo, this Heliopolitan ideology of the divine king was Solar, stellar & national, complementing the contextual, regional and variable Lunar spirituality of the common Egyptians.

For good reasons, Kemp (1989) and Lesko (1999) doubt whether, in the Predynastic and the historical periods, Heliopolitanism was shared by the vast majority of unlettered Egyptians. The opposite seems to be true.

"Kemp has suggested that Egyptian religion, as we know it from the formal, state-approved written texts, is an intellectually manipulated construction of the historic period, most likely of the middle or late Old Kingdom (...) to promote the divinity of the king of Egypt."
Lesko, 1999, p.31.

The concept of Horus (the Elder) as the male ruler of the sky, symbolical of the divine king himself, is rather speculative (top-down) than natural (bottom-up). Indeed, this idea is the ideological counterpart of the political unification of Upper (Southern) and Lower (Northern) Egypt. Hassan (1992) points to the assimilation by the male king of the power of the great (cow) goddesses at the beginning of the Pharaonic Period, in particular in the Early Dynastic (Wilkinson, 2001). Lesko (1999) conjectures that up until approximately 3000 BCE, the sky was considered female (cf. Nut). The great goddess never vanished, but was assimilated by state doctrine. Indeed, during the long Pharaonic Period, the great mother continued to play a crucial role (cf. the suckling scenes, the ritual role of milk, the continuity of the succession and the accommodation of dynasty-shifts). Of this, the cults of Neith, Hathor, Isis and Mut as well as political realities amply testify.

Can it be argued that, because, in order to operate properly, every state needs to stay in touch with its people, the Heliopolitans introduced or assimilated (at the beginning of the Vth Dynasty, ca. 2487 BCE ?) a human generation of deities, namely Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys, entangled in a family drama ? They were the great-grand children of Atum-Re, and represent the human side of the "Golden Age" of Egypt, the epoch when the gods reigned on Earth, a time when the eternal equilibrium of the First Time had not yet been broken by Seth. This was the time of Osiris, the Lunar deity of vegetation, reigning over the whole of Egypt, making her living, healthy and prosperous. By doing so, the theologians of Atum-Re (Horakhety) assimilated the popular Lunar cult of Osiris, and made it part of the royal ritual, especially in terms of the physical regeneration & resurrection of the king (during and after life), whereas the latter's ascension remained Solar and spiritualizing, as the architecture of the tombs of Unas and his successors testify (cf. the Northern shaft directed to the "Imperishable" circumpolar stars).

In this last family of gods and goddesses, the god Seth played the bad boon. He envied his brother and being the strongest of the gods, murdered him to claim the throne of Egypt. From this moment on, creation was divided and chaos starts to leaks in, ending the Golden Age. What follows is the age of mankind, in "nominal" time, when the battle between Horus and Seth rages, pushing the choice between, on the one hand, a peaceful throne or, on the other hand, the dominion of conscious evil. Locking horns with his wicked, powerful and perverted uncle, Horus, the avenger of his father, is finally vindicated by Re, who, at first, had decided in favour of Seth. At the end of the day, Horus is enthroned as the justified king of Egypt. He then descends into the Duat, the netherworld, and brings his Left Eye of Wellness to Osiris, who, fully restored by it, is able to rise to his heaven in the Duat. There, he is enthroned as the king of the dead, establishing a jurisdiction of his own, separate from all other deities.

And what about the commoners ? As the king looked at his father, the royals and those part of the administration of the state looked at the king. But, they and the majority of the illiterate folk (clinging to the Lunar faith ?), had no other way than "to hide". As nobody except the divine king had a "Ba" (the dynamical principle enabling spiritualization), everybody was dependent on his ascension, efficiency and goodwill (in heaven). To be buried near the king was a privilege and even after the Osirification of the royal hereafter, as given in the Unas texts, only Pharaoh was "Osiris the king". Just as in the Old Kingdom, Egyptian civilization happened in and around the capital Memphis, in the Pyramid Texts, all spirtualization circumambulated the divine king.

By the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE), this bleek prospect got turned over. As recent history had made clear the more futile aspects of a strict royal theocracy to the people (cf. the collapse of the state during the First Intermediate Period, ca. 2198 - 1938 BCE), the provincials had lost faith in the effectiveness of the king's exclusive spiritual emancipation and ability to assure a "good Nile" (a prosperous annual flooding). A "demotization" of the hereafter occurred, allowing every Egyptian, able to make the proper preparations, to be "an Osiris NN" after death ("NN" stands for "nomen natus", the name of the deceased). In this way, the "Beautiful West" was in principle made accessible to all, and even the commoners could hope to live forever in the kingdom of Osiris, the ruler of the Duat, the netherworld of the dead. If justified by the tribunal of Osiris, they could now directly intervene for their families.

In many ways, this seems an advance. If before, the commoner was totally dependent on the spiritual evolution of the divine king (without him no salvation), and so usually spiritually lost, now he or she could make (even simple) preparations for themselves way beyond the power of being near to the king. Indeed, their individual conscience ("heart" or "Ib") played a pivotal role, deciding whether their "Ba" would enter the kingdom of the good king or be eaten by the monstrous hybrid Ammit, "the Eater", swallowing the "Ba" if one's heart was found to be "too heavy" ... The price to pay for this spiritual liberation was the possibility of damnation. The damned were punished, brutally tortured and devoured in the "secret slaughter house".

Of course, without the sacred mechanism of mummification and enterment (allowing the "Ka" to be fed and so the "Ba" to be gratified and dynamic), no transformation was possible. If a deceased would try to enter the netherworld without any credentials, he or she would be enslaved by the hell hounds of Osiris lurking at the borders of the kingdom of the dead, and be submitted to continuous humiliation (walking on the head, eating excrement) and torture (repetitive infliction of pain and mutilation by thousands of knives). All human or divine miscreants capable of harming the resurrection of Osiris, had to be kept at a distance, and especially the followers of Seth, who never gave up trying to make incursions, or other malevolent intruders were kept at bay.

In the eyes of the justified, Osiris was a good king ... According to the standards of common Egyptians, who believed that without a righteous king, both the earthly kingdom and the sky were lost, he truly was good, righteous and true. Creation as a bubble of order surrounded by infinite chaos would not be submerged in the original, limitless ocean. His murder ended his earthly rule, but made him the sole and exclusive king of the middle region, the Duat between Earth (Geb) and sky (Nut), the parents of the human generation of deities.

Because they had lost trust in the ineffable power of the divine Horus-king, keeping the fabric of creation operational (effective), the perfect ruler was introjected, ruling the dark and silent beyond, the Western kingdom of the dead, mirroring the land of the Pharaohs. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, the theology of Osiris was refined and brought into closer harmony with Heliopolitan thought and the emerging cult of Amun-Re (mirroring that of Atum-Re).

The concept of the Duat is interesting. This dark place of silence is part of creation but unseen, underneath the surface of the Earth. Most basic processes of life take place in it, in particular Re's regeneration (during the 6th Hour of the Amduat), but also the rebirth of every deceased, Pharaoh included.

Did the commoners (and even the gods) spoke so well of Osiris because they truly loved him or out of fear of his judgment and hellish powers ?

"Liberation for the ba meant escaping the uncertainties of the kingdom of the dead, which was in the final analysis only an extension of the world of the living, with all its frightening features, obligations and vexations. Hence the prayer of supplication Osiris' subjects offered up in an attempt to protect themselves against everything that might restrict the movement of their ba-souls." -
Meeks & Favard-Meeks, 1996, p.148.

For many reasons, Osirian faith was appealing to the masses. Firstly, these deities acted out the standard human drama, portrayed as a family tragedy : the good king of Egypt was murdered and primarily reassembled and raised from the dead by his sister and wife Isis, engendering Horus, who, raised in danger by his mother, avenges his murder and restores his father to full power in the netherworld by means of his (Lunar) eye of wellness. The sequence explained the becoming of "human time" (instead of the "eternal repetition" of the cycles of the deities in the "zep tepi", the First Time, "in the beginning"). In between these broad rubrics, many secundary themes were worked out and ritualized as long mystery plays, whereas important "stations" were enacted in processional rituals for the divine king and his higher priesthood (cf. the Osireon) and pilgrimages organized (for example to Abydos, burial-place of the head of Orisis).

Secondly, these deities were easier to approach, for their mythological form resonated with the universal archetypes (genetic constituents) processing the spiritual evolution of humanity : mother, father & child. Introjected, these ideal standards were beyond the reach of calamity and eternalized the hope of a good afterlife in terms of Osiris's perfect kingdom of the dead.

Thirdly, Osiris was the hope of everyman. His resurrection from the dead proved beyond doubt that there was life after death just as there was a new flood every year, a new heliacal rising of Soped, Sirius (the Greek Sothis), the brightest stationary star of Isis at the heel of the constellation Orion, symbolic of Osiris and bringer of the New Year and the new grain ...

In the Old Kingdom, only the divine king was certain to survive physical death. He rose to the sky and sat together with his father Re in the latter's golden bark, merging with Re as a god. Nobody except the "great house" had a spiritual principle of motility (a "Ba" or soul) effectuating the transformation from soul to spirit ("Akh"). By means of the Eastern horizon ("akhet"), his "Ba" reached the upper sky alone and its gods trembled when they see him coming, for he enters as "power of powers" and "image of images" (cf. Cannibal Hymn).

"May Osiris not come with this his evil coming. Do not open your arms to him."
Pyramid Texts - § 1267.

For the kings, the coming of Osiris is not always appreciated. The kings were warned against him. Their ultimate spiritual goal aimed beyond the darkness of the land of Osiris, in the lightfields of Re, filled with eternal light and glory, devoid of any form of trial, justification or obligation (Atenism shows many aspects of this exclusivity of the lightland).

In the Middle Kingdom (cf. the Coffin Texts), the dead were :

" (...) poor lost creatures making their way through hostile parts, unable to count on anything but their own knowledge or the help of protectors solicitous of their success." -
Meeks & Favard-Meeks, 1996, p.145.

Hence, at best, commoners could cherish the hope to be resurrected as was Osiris. The latter had procured for himself a separate legislation or "office", namely that of king of the beautiful West. In a strict sense, this is not the "land of the dead", but a possible place of glory for the dead. Those souls who cannot enter, eventually, by lack of sustenance, slowly perish. Osiris' realm is the kingdom of the justified deceased : a holy family saved from chaos by a good king. In his dark kingdom, his noble servants would live out the best of their lives on Earth for all of eternity, and its heaven was filled with the best of the best, resembling the excellence of life on Earth.

Yet, Osiris was a king and monarchs need to be served. Freedom was still dependent on status and power, and was not a given, for knowledge of the Duat was indispensable. Serving Osiris was deemed the highest spiritual state attainable for all justified humans, the "Osiris NN". Although the rich and powerful could afford the magical mechanics to feed the "Ka" gratifying the "Ba" (igniting the process of spiritualization), they were not sure to enter the Solar Bark of Millions of Years. Indeed, even for them, ultimate spiritualization was futile and a noble role in the holy family of Osiris was the second-best solution. Even the dead king had to pass through the Duat, but, unlike everybody else, could always escape Osiris or completely identify with him (in ecstatic, this-life rituals and trance-like activities - cf. the Sed Festival, the Osireon, the Dramatic Ramesside Papyrus - Naydler, 2005).

Although by the New Kingdom, the dead declared to be gods presenting themselves before Osiris, the power ("sekhem") of their divinity was always smaller than the dominion of Osiris, whom even the gods (and even Re) feared. He had procured for himself a kingdom in the hidden place and could never leave it. Likewise, the deities of the Duat and the blessed dead were bound to its darkness. If, in the Middle Kingdom, funerary theology had been trying to learn about the Duat or hidden chamber, by the New Kingdom they knew. But only literate people could rest assured never to mishandle the Osirian mechanics and cause their souls to be annihilated or perpetually chained. Indeed, this very operational knowledge, "proven a million times" was restricted to the very few. It was highly esoteric and "initiate" material.

This leaves us with the complementarity of a two-tiered heaven :

  1. VIA THE MOON : the (lower) sky of Osiris : the ultimate state of human blessedness is to live the life of an "Osiris NN", with a court, humbling servants and a kingdom situated in the vast darkness of the Duat (like creation is a bubble of moisty air suspended in chaos). Even the smallest offer made with a sincere heart during earthly life might be enough to be helped by Isis or Osiris, and so the commoners made sure the holy family would notice them. This economy is inclusive of everyman, but conditional, except for Pharaoh - the Eye of Horus ;

  2. ENDING IN THE SUN : the (upper) sky of Re : the sky of Osiris and the sky of Re are proximate, and after the highest spirituality of servitude has been fulfilled, the "Ba" of the deceased is transformed, in the horizon, into an "Akh" of Re, sailing, among the other pure beings of light, on the Bark of Re, illuminating the beings of day and night, including the deities and the justified blessed dead of Osiris (who otherwise sleep). The sacred knowledge regarding this spiritual evolution was for the very few and, when first written down (cf. the Pyramid Texts and the Amduat), portrayed in the tomb of kings only. This economy is exclusive of everyman, reserved to the deities (as the king and his high priests) and unconditional - the Eye of Re.

Everywhere people could pray to Osiris, for indeed Seth, in his rampage, had scattered parts of Osiris' dismembered body all over Egypt : his left leg in the first Upper Egyptian nome, his right in the sixth, his jaw in the third, his ear in the tenth Lower Egyptian nome, his head in Abydos (and Memphis !), his backbone in Busiris, etc. Such omnipresence may explain his popularity, but also signal his particular, unique function in the Egyptian pantheon, to wit : the sacred body of nobility within creation (or "sah"), the divine matter of the dark, eclipsed Sun at night (cf. the New Kingdom Amduat).

In Spell 142 of the New Kingdom Book of the Dead, Osiris is given 6 times 26 "names of the god Osiris in every place wherein he chooses to be". These are enumerated in a great litany, showing the extent of his popularity, for he was deemed omnipresent. Osiris was not only a "netjer" or "god", but had also been a "nesu" or an earthly "king", albeit in the "Golden Age", when the gods ruled, and their self-possessed power ("sekhem") was omnipotent and devoid of evil and chaos ("isefet" and "Nun"). This was before the time of humanity, initiated by the murder of this god.

For the common Egyptian, Osiris was a good king, a just ruler who generated life, prosperity and health for all those in his retinue, in this life and in the next. Of course, they had to be his servants and dedicate their eternal existence to him and him alone (except for the brief moments the Bark of Re passed during the night).

"(...) Osiris-in-his-every-place.
Osiris-in-all-his-stations. (...)"

Book of the Dead, papyrus of Nu, CXLII, VI.13-23.

The legend of Osiris is told in various ways, but we possess no complete tale. The Egyptians themselves only alluded to the assassination and probably conceived the sequence of events as a form of sacred history. Most narratives go back to De Iside et Osiride of Mestrius Plutarch (ca. 45 - 120 CE), an initiate of the mysteries of Apollo. He stressed the connection between the myth of Osiris and the inundation of the Nile and its fertility (cf. agriculture), a reading confirmed by Egyptology, connecting Osiris with popular Predynastic (Lunar) vegetations rituals (the "Bull" as consort of the great cow goddess of the Moon ?). The "Golden Age" or "age of the gods" could therefore reflect some of the events of the period of the formation of the two kingdom (the Late Predynastic Period, ca. 3600 - 3300 BCE, or the Gerzean culture of Naqada II and the Terminal Predynastic Period, ca. 3300 - 3000 BCE). In these last 600 years of prehistory, the role of the male chief, important from the start of agriculture in Lunar-based, nomadic and semi-nomadic societies, increased, and the "good king" became an emblem of power and unity.

Besides its merits, the text of Plutarch is a Hellenistic composition, adding elements which cannot be corroborated by the record, although, given the age of the record, absence of evidence is never evidence of absence. In many ways, his version remains the most "romantic" rendering of the tale, opening vista's to syncretism and analogy :

"Osiris is none other than Pluto ..."
Plutarch : Peri Isidos kai Osiridos - first century CE

The original cult-centre of Osiris is unknown, although the Eastern Delta (the 9th nome) has been proposed. In the Early Dynastic Period, Osiris is not attested by name. The paring of Horus and Seth, essential in the later Osiris myth, is given from the middle of the First Dynasty (ca. 2900 BCE), i.e. antedating the written name of Osiris (in the Vth Dynasty Pyramid Texts) by six centuries or more, suggestive of a broad unwritten oral tradition.
In the IVth and Vth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom, Osiris assimilated indigenous gods of several places. In Djedu, known as "per-usir" (Abusir or Busiris, "The House of Osiris") in the Delta, Osiris replaced Andjety, probably a local king represented as an old man holding a crook and a flail, and wearing a double-plumed crown. In Djedet, near Djedu, the soul of Osiris was thought to dwell in the sacred ram, worshipped as "Ram-Lord-of-Djedet", the Greek "Mendes" (according to Pindar, the Ram had intercourse with women). It was a powerful symbol of strength and virility. The Egyptian word for "ram" was "ba", but "Ba" also meant "soul". In Abedju (Abydos) in Upper Egypt, Osiris superseded Khentiamentiu. This god of the Abydos necropolis, the "Foremost of the Westeners" (who ousted Wepwawet, or "The-Opener-of-the-Ways") is mentioned on seals of Pharaohs Den and Qaa of the First Dynasty (ca. 3000 - 2800 BCE). Associated with Sokar in Memphis, Osiris and funerary concerns merged. Osiris is depicted in human form, and his earliest appearance yet found, shows the head and part of the upper torso, topped by his hieroglyphic name (IVth Dynasty block from the reign of Pharaoh Izezi, ca. 2411 - 2378 BCE). His iconography portrays him wrapped in mummy bandages, with the apparel of Andjety (crown, crook, flail) and a curved beard (reminiscent of that of a ram or a goat ?).

In the Pyramid Texts, the "magister" of countless generations of ante-rational theological reflection, Osirian theology is already well developed and integrated in the royal cult. The good god has become part of the Heliopolitan "Ennead" or company of deities, suggestive of a period of gestation and formation, at least bringing us back to the Terminal Predynastic Period (3300 - 3000 BCE), when the process of unification is on its way. This would make the historical appearance of Osiris more or less coincide with the emergence of writing and the formation of the Pharaonic State of Egypt.

Heliopolitan ideology had been developed in two steps :

  • the king incarnates Horus the Elder : the sky-god incarnates on Earth and each king is a physical manifestation of the same Horus again, etc. The sky-god assimilates the powers of the Predynastic "great sorceress" (like the sky cow Nut or Neith) ;

  • the king is the son of the creator : Re, the creator, impregnates, as high priest of Re, a woman giving birth to a divine prince corronated as the "son of Re", the sole mediator between sky and Earth in this life and the only effective power in the hereafter. As a spirit of light, he navigates on the Bark of Re for "million of years".

"Horus the Elder" ("Heru Ur") of the Early Dynastic Period is not yet "Horus", son of Osiris, and thus easily blended with Re, who too strides the skies. The king, a follower of Horus, is an incarnation of Horus the Elder, but not yet the "son of Re". In the IVth Dynasty (ca. 2600 - 2487 BCE), the relation between Horus the sky-god, Re and his son the king became canonical for Egyptian kingship (cf. Pharaoh Khufu's titulary, the god Herakhety, "Horus of the Two Horizons"). The Vth and VIth Dynasties (ca. 2487 - 2198 BCE) evidence the introduction of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris into the royal funerary theology, betraying the growing importance of Osiris. Besides being the "son of Re" in this life, the divine "Lord of the Two Lands" and the "living Horus", was also "Osiris the king" in the afterlife. As in Old Kingdom theology, only the king had a "soul", and so nobody except the king could be transformed into Osiris. The immortal strength and virility of the ram/soul was still a royal privilege.

"Yet Osiris is more than just a fertility god ; his presence in cult, myth and legend is unique. He is king of the dead, but his kingship maintains a vital link to the kingship of the living pharaoh. That link is evident on the numberless Egyptian monuments and can be seen in almost any museum where Egyptian objects are to be found. It is the raison d'être for the most common performative utterance in Egyptian funerary religion, the offertory." - Hare, 1999, p.16.

In the Pyramid Texts, largely written in a pre-rational mode of cognition, there are unresolved tensions between the salvic paths offered by Osiris and Re, as well as between certain themes crucial to both myths. Worse, in a few isolated spells, we read how Osiris is to be kept out of the tomb (cf. supra) ! Those who wish to enter the domain of Re, are prone to escape from the kingdom of Osiris and they offer supplications to encounter no resistance when trying to rise and reach the sky of Re.

In these utterances (spells, hymns, prayers etc.), the "old" traces of the dark, subterranean, "enterred" Lunar (nightly) Osiris (predating the Dynastic Period) confront the light of the Solar "royal" Re and in the ritual, a functional integration occurs. Other issues, such as the obvious importance of Seth in the royal ascent (holding, together with Horus, the "ladder of the sky") hand in hand with him murdering Osiris, are left untouched. The mechanical addition of "Osiris" to the texts betrays a rewriting of the "old" Heliopolitan corpus, originally largely dedicated to Re (Breasted, 1972). In the Pyramid Texts, the process of Osirification had already reached the stage of maturity and automatism.

In written form, the oldest form of the name "Osiris" appears for the first time in the pyramid of Unas, with growing prominence during the next millennium and more. The hieroglyphs used are a seat (Q1) or "ws" and an eye (D4) or "ir", making "wsir", "Usir" or "Osiris". Osiris, the one with an "eye" (a verb meaning "to make", "to do") on the "throne" of Egypt, or "he who makes the throne" (cf. Budge, 1973, referring to Erman), was the embodiment of the "soul" or "Ba" of the nation, both in its parts as in general, both in this life as in the next. His early integration in the royal canon focused on Atum-Re, is a clear mark of his popularity, even in the Late Old Kingdom, and points to the supportive (accommodating) role of the popular, Lunar faith in the new royal ideology. Indeed, as king of the dead, Osiris guaranteed the reign of his son Horus, the first name of every earthly monarch. Although royal theology was masculine and Solar, the presence of Lunar, darker and feminine qualities was not rejected, but (at first) poorly integrated in the overarching Heliopolitan theology.

"O Osiris, take away all those who hate King Unas and who speak evilly against his name."
Pyramid Texts, § 16.

In the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE), Osiris is finally acknowledged as the netherwordly, nocturnal side of Re. Before, Re had been the sole herald of truth and justice (cf. his daughter Maat). In the Pyramid Texts, the rapid growth of individualized ethics, as well as Osiris's assumption of the role of "judge of the dead" are not yet discernible, although the king is truly Osiris. But, in the rather "provincial" Feudal Age that followed, Osiris would become the god of righteousness par excellence (cf. the weighing of the heart against the feather of Maat). If, in the Old Kingdom, only the divine king had been justified, by the Middle Kingdom, in principle everybody who could pay for the rituals could be transformed into an "Osiris NN". Even a poor wretch could be saved if the "soul" had a "house" (i.e. a tomb or a coffin) and a few spells were known.

The Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts evidence a nightmarish conception of the Duat, a dismal, sinister, dark and dangerous place. These chthonic connotations of the kingdom of Osiris were inflated to give way to the extraordinary power of magic, nullifying the chains of interlocked events. Every justified individual was "saved" through magic. Its powers outwitted the enemies lying await in the afterlife. The deceased was protected against his or her "evils" ("isefet") by the declaration of innocence placed in the "house of the soul". The effectiveness of the "divine words" of magic was absolute and irreversible. But in order to be justified, the deceased was first put on trial : was his conscience too heavy ? If so, the soul was lost and one's existence had been pointless.

"L'individu n'est plus confronté, devant le tribunal divin, à un adversaire, mais à la Maât elle-même. La confrontation revêt de ce fait une signification tout à fait différente, qui se traduit par l'image de la balance et de l'action de la pesée du cœur." - Assmann, 1999, p. 91

In the New Kingdom (ca. 1539 - 1075 BCE), deep speculations about the regeneration of the soul of Re ensue, uniting, in the 6th Hour of the Amduat, with the body of Osiris, thus completing the theology of the dark, eclipsed Sun. In this New Solar Theology (Assmann, 1995), his function involved the "midnight mystery" or "Ars obscura" of the Duat. Osiris helps to regenerate the dynamic power of Re (eternal motility), and so becomes integrated in the cycle of Re : Osiris is the "body" left in the Duat.

Finally, in the Ptolemaic Period (305 - 30 BCE), Osiris was transformed into "Serapis" (a composite deity, for Osiris and the Apis Bull merged). Adding Greek elements, Serapis could be worshipped by native Egyptians and Greek immigrants alike. Under the Romans, the cult of Osiris and Isis flourished in Athens, Rome, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Gaul, Britain, Carthage and the countries of North Africa. Especially Isis became very popular.

Centuries after the end of the official cult of the Egyptian deities, Osiris and Isis still had great cult centres, left untouched by the emerging Christian faith. In 389 CE, the "Serapeum", a stronghold of Pagan henotheism, was destroyed by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I (378 - 395). In 535 BCE, the Isis cult, surviving on the island of Philae, was closed down by Narses, a general of Emperor Justinian (527 - 565 CE). He removed the statues of the gods from their shrines and brought them to Constantinople. The priests were imprisoned. On the island of Meroe, the cult may have survived a little while longer. So the cult of these remarkable "netjeru" had been "officially" in service for ca. 3.500 years (ca. 3000 BCE - 535 CE), and had, in the last nine centuries, accommodated an international call. Were they incorporated in the emergent Christian theology (Osiris and Horus in the figure of Christ and Isis in the "theotokos", the "Mother of God") ? Probably so, but not without changing their nature.

"The secret of the enormous popularity enjoyed by Osiris from the New Kingdom to the end of the Pharaonic period lay in the hope of eternal life that he held out to everyone who had made at least some preparations for death." -
Watterson, 2003, p.69, my italics.

As soon as, throughout the variety of Osirian myths, an "Egyptian prototype" is discerned, a series of "dramatic moments" or a sequence of crucial events emerge. The record suggests a human tale, a recognizable story-line, moving from a state of goodness and plenty, to a state of evil and want, to return to a state of greater goodness and everlasting happiness. These narrative features give the Osirian myth "a stronger sense of uniqueness and linearity, than for instance, the rising and setting of the sun or the stars" (Hare, 1999, p.15). The irreversible episodes of the Osiris myth the assassination, dismemberment, scattering, reassembly, reanimation, resurrection and coronation of Osiris. His murder only takes place once, and the Egyptians were reluctant to address the issue directly. There is no perpetual repetition, but an everlasting "final" state : Osiris, king of the Duat, is for ever and ever the same (even after Atum destroys the world - cf. Egyptian eschatology).

the Lunar Phases and the Mystery of Osiris

Meaning of the Lunar Phases
1th Quater / Isis & Nephthys

darkness at its maximum, initiation of external phase, gathering of impulse

IIth Quater / Horus Avenging

sustained efforts to maximalize cycle, the means to do so manifest

IIIth Quater / Horus & Osiris King

light at its maximum, realization of intent, initiation of internal phase, culmination of impulse

IVth Quater / Set

withdrawal of the light, sustained efforts to eliminate components

Although projected upon the Lunar cycle for commemorative reasons, the legend of Osiris has no "internal" cycle, but represents a linear process defined by a clear beginning and a final end. This process may be repeated, but each time the same linear sequence is run through. This remarkable difference with the Atum-Re cycle and its widely discussed neheh-time (eternal recurrence), coupled with his enduring popularity, mystery and magic, make Osiris an outstanding factor in the Egyptian pantheon, for in a way all deities except Osiris share in the Solar fate of rise and fall. They are part of eternal repetition, whereas Osiris gives everlasting sameness (djedet-time).

In the Heliopolitan Ennead, the dramatis personae of these myths belong to the last generation of gods : Osiris, Isis, Nephthys and Seth. The conditions of order (Air, life -Shu- and Water, truth -Tefnut/Maat-) as well as the generative powers of "sky" (Nut) and "Earth" (Geb) are already in place. The last generations introduces human affairs, albeit in a "divine" format (a "Golden Age" when the gods reigned on a mythical Earth).

The dynamism between these anthropomorph divinities, who act like family members, focalizes on Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, the avenger who triumphs over his evil uncle Seth, the rejuvenator of Osiris, who resurrects his father and becomes the justified king of Egypt, source of unity and peace. Taking into consideration many known sources, the following picture emerges :

  • Osiris is the good king of Egypt : the god-king Osiris lives on Earth and establishes all good things, he brings civilization to Egypt and is loved by all, except Seth and his gang, those who wish to usurp the throne of Egypt by sheer might ;

  • Osiris assassinated, dismembered and scattered : Osiris is tricked & killed by his brother Seth, his body dismembered and scattered all over Egypt ;

  • Osiris reassembled and reanimated by Isis : his wife and sister Isis recollects his body (except his penis) and revivifies it with the help of the gods ;

  • Osiris inseminates Isis who gives birth to Horus : before the slumbering Osiris moves to the netherworld, Isis, the Great Sorceress, is able to take his seed and give birth to Horus ;

  • Osiris avenged by his son : although persecuted and sodomized by Seth, Horus grows up with the help of Isis and prepares to avenge his father by fighting Seth (loosing his left eye but crushing Seth's genitals). He triumphs over his evil uncle, who henceforward is forced to carry Osiris ;

  • Osiris restored by Horus : his Left Eye made well by Thoth, Horus is declared King of Egypt and descends into the Duat to bring the Eye of Wellness to his father, so as to restore him completely (turning him into a supportive god of the just) ;

  • Osiris ascends as "king of the dead" : Osiris reassembled, reanimated and fully restored by Horus, ascends to the sky (of the Duat) and is enthroned as its king for ever and ever. In this capacity, he judges the dead and nobody is able to move further without being judged by him. He is the guarantee, on yonder side of existence, of rejuvenation and an eternal life featuring the best of this life. His is the perfect kingdom of darkness.

Note that Osiris escapes, like the precreational Nun, the cyclic and endless repetitions of Re and the other stars, most of them rising and setting in accordance with the law of eternal recurrence initiated by Atum-Kheprer. Osiris thus relates to Nun, to the primordial waters of precreation, deemed limitless, inert, dark, lifeless and gloomy. Nun preexists creation and is separated from it. The kingdom of Osiris is part of creation, but separated from its Earth and sky. Creation itself, conceived as a living organism (cf. hylezoism), has a body of generation, or "Osiris", and a spirit ("akh") of order ("Maat"), i.e. the eternal recurrence implied by the first time of Atum-Re. Like Nun, separated from creation by inertia, Osiris is separated from the living by death, and rules the world from the underworld.

Three considerations to conclude this brief introduction.

Firstly, to encompass the whole range of Osirian beliefs (namely from the beginning of the Pharaonic Period untill the last strongholds of its cult abroad) is beyond the limitations of this paper. Instead, let us focus on a selection of the evidence available in the Pyramid Texts and by doing so try to isolate the original core of the theology and this by using the oldest historical evidence available (namely between ca. 2348 - 2205 BCE).

Being first, complete as well as canonical, the Unas text testify of the importance of Osiris in the royal cult, focused on Re. Although integrated in the latter's "Ennead" or group of nine manifestations, the cult of Osiris became national in the Middle Kingdom only. But it was already popular enough to be part of the royal canon from the start. So from the XIIth Dynasty (ca. 1938 - 1759 BCE) onwards, the pilgrimage to Abydos, where the head of Osiris was kept (in the Osireon ?), became popular among Egyptians wishing a good place in the afterlife. Discovering the rudiments of Osirian theology, before it became popular and was "harmonized" with Solar faith (Atum-Re & Amun-Re), will allow us to put into evidence the bottom layer of Osirian faith and confirm the dramatic sequence of the latter tale.

Secondly, Osirian faith initiated the offertory and canon as a sacred separation and sublimation. All offerings are assimilated by the offer of Horus, who brings his healed Left Eye to Osiris and so fully restore him. Hence, all offerings are the Eye of Horus (given to Osiris to heal him). When Osiris is fully resurrected, he efficiently acts on behalf of Horus, and allows the divine king and flood-maker to celebrate the yearly return of the life-giving waters, emerging, in the South of Egypt in mid July, out of the netherworldly Nun. All offerings serve rebirth and rejuvenation. By offering Maat, the king serves the rebirth of creation.

Thirdly, the validity of an exclusive funerary interpretation of the Pyramid Texts (or for that matter of the complete corpus of canonical religious texts, such as the Coffin Texts, the Book of Coming out into the Day and the Amduat), taught by Morenz, Piankoff, Mercer, Frankfort, Faulkner, Assmann, Hornung and Allen, has to be addressed : is there a mystical dimension or direct experiential
contact with the divine beyond the first three studied by Egyptology (Assmann, 2002) ? This is not "esoterism" defined as "difficult to access", but as direct spiritual experience. After cross-cultural comparison and participant observation (cf. mysticology) and although highly subjective in each individual case, a general pattern is detectable. Esoterism is then the knowledge and practice of an inner development along spiritual lines, involving a direct contact with the ontological foundation of reality. The universal characteristics of the religious, sacred, numinous, mystical peak-experience have been summarised as follows (cf. Pahnke & Richards, 1972, in Tart, 1975) :

  1. unity : the nominal distinctions between both object & subject dissolve ;

  2. noetic quality : a conscious state, capable of contemplative, intuitive thought ;

  3. space-time-shift : everything happens in the perpetual "now" ;

  4. paradoxality : the experience involves the conjunction of both opposites ;

  5. ineffability : the essence of the experience can not be verbalised ;

  6. temporality : this state is only exceptionally permanent (deification), one moves backwards, to settle at the nominal level without loss of memory.

Besides these, mysticology confirmed the three-tiered nature of the process of spiritual emancipation (cf. the "scala perfectionis") :

  1. purification : proper preparation to the spiritual operation demands physical, psychological, social and moral discipline and is often operationalized as sensoric reduction, typical EEG-frequency patterns and the invocation of archetypal, sacred images and sounds (cf. neurotheology) ;

  2. totalization : the actual, direct experience of the "totaliter aliter", radical otherness ;

  3. actionalization : the fusion with the Divine, eventuating a "return" to the world, brings an outstanding increase in ethical awareness, unconditional compassion and a direct action changing the world for the better.

Compare these stages with those of the cave mysteries of the Upper Palaeolithic :

  1. intro : the tunnel : the process of differentiation from light to darkness ;

  2. sanctum : the "rock cathedral" : the secluded place of the mystery of the hidden light ;

  3. exit : the return : the process of integration from darkness to light.

Concerning Egyptian religion, four dimensions seem appropriate :

  1. the cultic : the local, political residence of the deities, either as belonging to a particular place and/or as state deities, functioning as symbols for the political identity of the collective ;

  2. the cosmic : the emergence, structure & dynamics of the sphere of their action ;

  3. the mythic : the sacred tradition, or "what is said about the gods", their cultural memory as set down in myths, names, genealogies etc.

  4. the mystic : the direct experience of the deities or the objective spiritual realities encountered by the divine king, his priests and the worshippers.

Let us focus on the fourth dimension. In the context of the New Solar Theology in general and Atenism in particular, the question can been posed, rather ironically, whether Egyptian religion had religious subjects other than the dead ? Answered affirmatively, the role of Osirian initiation may be touched upon (cf. the Osireon). Akhenaten's return to the "pure" form of Solar worship allows us to work out the inner dynamics of the this-life mysteries exclusively celebrated by Pharaoh in his royal cult, "mysticism" being defined as the direct experience of the Divine.

"(Akenaten) :
The words of Re are before thee, (---) of my august father, 
who taught me their {essence}, (...) them to me. (...)
It was known in my heart,
opened to my face, I understood (---)

(Ramose) : 
"Thy monuments shall endure like the heavens, for thy duration is like Aton therein. The existence of thy monuments is like the existence of the heavens ; thou art the Only One of {Aton}, in possession of his designs."
Breasted, 2001, §§ 945-946 - tomb of the vizier Ramose - original lost - Akhenaten justifying Atenism to Ramose by referring to his personal & exclusive mystical experience - Beasted notes : "These accompanying inscriptions are directly below the upper row, depicting the decoration, and belong with a lower band connected with the same incident. They are only in ink and very faded ; I believe my copy of them is the first made. They have never been published." (p.389)

Atenism rejects the "hidden" and the "dark", and so cannot exist together with Osiris and Amun. It eliminates the "hidden" side of Re, returns to the exclusive worship of the lightland of the double horizon (cf. Ra-Horakhety), and rejects all possible netherwordly interpretation by eliminating the Duat and bringing the sky on Earth, namely in Akhetaten, Akhenaten's City of the Aten. This is the Solar economy pushed to beyond its limits. Its sole mooring-post being the king.

And the people ? They secretly continued to worship Osiris, even in Akhetaten, and likely elsewhere. Did they remember the failures of kingship (namely at the end of the Old Kingdom) ? Or did they disbelieve Akhenaten ? If so, they still obeyed. Perhaps, in their own hearts, the certainty of a good place in the kingdom of Osiris gave greater comfort than the "new" heaven of Akhetaten ? Indeed, the second-best, Lunar heaven of the commoners had not lost its alluring power, quite on the contrary. The apogee of Osiris was yet to come.

In Osirian faith, the mystic dimension is "demotized". But how could commoners directly experience and "see" the deities ? For Moret (1922), "mystery" implied "voluntary death", a "psychological death" experienced before actual physical death. This "dead posture" preludes spiritual rebirth or "peret-em-heru" : going out into the day ... For Wente (1982), the New Kingdom Amduat and Book of Gates bring "the future into the present", so that rebirth "could have been genuinely experienced in this life now". And this, most likely through initiations (for the priests), festivals, pilgrimage & personal piety. In these latter contexts, Osirian faith allowed non-royals to have direct spiritual access to the Duat, the world of magic and of the dead. The Books of the Netherworld are usually very explicit about this, but Egyptology has yet to take them serious. Of course, only a small elite had the necessary education ...

"He who know these words will approach those who dwell in the Netherworld. It is very very useful for a man upon Earth."
Amduat, concluding text of the Second Hour.

"The mysterious Cavern of the West where the Great God and his crew rest in the Netherworld. This is executed with their names similar to the image which is drawn in the East of the Hidden Chamber of the Netherworld. He who knows their names while being upon Earth will know their seats in the West as a contented one with his seat in the Netherworld. He will stand among the Lord of Provision as one justified by the Council of Re who reckons the differences. It will be useful for him upon Earth ..."
Amduat, introductory text of the Ninth Hour.

How can these texts not point to this-life occult knowledge ? And once we acknowledge the presence of a mystical dimension, we beg the question of how to operate the magic ? Is there a particular series of rituals enabling one to experience the objective spiritual realities behind three thousand years of spirituality today ? Of course, the first thing to do is to lift the funerary restrictions put on the available corpora. Although found in tombs, they move beyond funerary concerns (cf. Wente, 1982), but also show us an initiatic and experiential register, albeit in ante-rational terms.

Distinguish between psi-events (parapsychology), occultism (knowledge of the invisible worlds) and mysticism (direct experience of the Divine). Although in immature instances of meta-nominal experience (i.e. those falling outside empirico-formal consciousness), these phenomena cannot be distinguished, let us avoid adjectives as "shamanic" or "shamanistic" (cf. Naydler, 2005), and prefer "ecstatic", which is more neutral and devoid of the historical connotations implied by historical Shamanism (the art & science of controlled trance). The word "ecstatic" comes from the Greek "ex", "out" + "stasis", "standstill" or "statikè", "art of weighing".

In Ancient Egypt, the variety of ecstatic experiences covers personal piety (offerings, prayers, festivals, mystery plays), magic (psi-events), the occult (initiation, entering and leaving the Duat) and mysticism proper (the spirituality of the king and his high priests, meeting the deity "face to face" or transforming into one). Unfortunately, I must strongly disagree with one of my most rewarding sources of inspiration, Erik Hornung, who wrote about the Egyptians :

"... any sort of ecstasy appears quite alien to their attitudes." - Hornung, 1986.

Recently, Naydler (2005), by suspending the funerary interpretation, made clear that the Pyramid Texts in general and the Unas texts in particular, reveal an experiential dimension, and so also represent this-life initiatic experiences consciously sought by the divine king (cf. Egyptian initiation). These may be classified in two categories : Osirian rejuvenation (cf. the texts of the burial-chamber), already at work in the Sed festival, and Heliopolitan ascension (cf. the texts in the antechamber). In the New Kingdom, Lunar and Solar spiritual economies were refined : the way of Osiris in the Osireon and the Netherworld Books (cf. Amduat), and the way of Re in the New Solar Theology of both Atenism and Amenism. Both the Amduat (cf. the 6th Hour) and the Pyramid Texts testify that the core of the Osirian Ceremony involved rejuvenation (found in the pit of darkness - cf. the Ars Obscura). In the Memphis Theology of Ptah, a synthesis between Re and Osiris was sought and found in the idea of creation by the heart (mind) and tongue (speech) of Ptah, of whom Atum-Re and Osiris are theophanies.

Elsewhere, the reader may find my epistemological survey of mysticism. In the context of this paper, the term "ecstasy" is defined as the class of events pertaining to rapture, the ravishing experience of sublime delight, bliss and joy, accompanied by intense emotion, noetic clarity, creativity and (stages or stations of) trance. One moves outside the "nominal" ego (defined in terms of three spatial, one temporal and one semiotic dimension) and "enters" the realm of the Higher Self, i.e. a sixth-dimesional witnessing focus of consciousness, allowing for the direct perception of objective spiritual realities, hidden from ordinary consciousness as dreamless sleep is hidden from waking (indeed so far hidden, for Socrates to compare the former with physical death).

Remark :

The use of capitals in words as "Absolute", "God" or "Divine", points to a rational context (i.e. how these appear in a theology conducted in the rational mode of thought - cf. cognition, neurophilosophy & theonomy). Hence, when these words are used in the context of Ancient Egyptian ante-rational thought (which, as a cultural form, was mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational), this restriction is lifted. Hence, words such as "god", "the god", "gods", "goddesses", "pantheon" or "divine" are not capitalized.

01  Evil or the end of the Golden Age.

Osiris is heir to the throne of Geb, and so the king of the Two Lands.

"Geb's heir (in) the kingship of the Two Lands. Seeing his worth, he gave (it) to him. To lead the lands to good fortune. He placed this land into his hand. Its water, its wind, its plants, all its cattle, all that flies, all that alights, its reptiles and its desert game. (All that) were given to the son of Nut, and the Two Lands are rejoicing !"
Great Hymn to Osiris, New Kingdom, stela C286 - Louvre.

Two wooden barks were found near the Great Pyramid of king Khufu. They were used by the deceased king in the netherworld. Ferried over to the eastern horizon, he would arrive in the First Time of the gods. Indeed, in the lightland of the horizon, the transformation ("kheper") from soul (Ba) to spirit (Akh) took place. After being transformed in the horizon, Pharaoh arrived in heaven as a god.

"The Nurse Canal is opened.
The Winding Waterway is flooded.
The Fields of Reeds are filled with water.
Thereon I, king Teti, am ferried over to yonder eastern sky,
to the place where the gods fashioned me,
wherein I was born, new and young."

Pyramid Texts, §§ 343 - 344.

The Golden Age refers to a period untained by evil ("isefet"). The First Time, as the onset for time, is wholly luminous and has a dynamical symmetry (whereas Nun is an inert symmetry). The internal pressures of the Ennead, caused by the presence of Seth, the symmetry-break, resulted in the emanation of Horus (the Elder) and Re. Both sky-gods initiated the Golden Age, the rule of the gods, interpreted in Osirian faith as the kingdom of Osiris on Earth. The mere presence of Seth in the Ennead was not sufficient to end the Golden Age (in precreation), but makes the Ennead dynamical. Seth represents an opposing kingdom. If the rule of Osiris can be linked with the life of the fertile lands bordering the Nile, then Seth is the barren desert encompassing this narrow but long stretch of vegetation. Both Horus and Seth assisted the king when ascending. He was the unity of both, and embodied Egypt (Horus ruled Lower Egypt and Seth Upper Egypt).

When Seth murdered Osiris, the Golden Age on Earth ended. No longer would Egypt be ruled by the gods, but by their offspring. The relationship is however not incarnational (Re would not incarnate in Horus the king), but genetico-magical. In Osirian faith, the conception of Horus is magical, but involves Isis & Osiris (cf. infra). In Heliopolitanism, Re overshadowed his highpriest to impregnate the mother of the future king, the "son of Re". The world is always on the brink of desaster, for although Seth (after Horus was vindicated) was condemned to carry Osiris and assist Re (in the 7th Hour of the Amduat), he nevertheless continued to be a dangerous god, associated with natural and moral evil. To know where he is and what he is doing is better than to send him in the desert and turn one's back to him. As the "netjer" of all dark desires and disruptive emotional states, his presence teaches one to hold desires in check and by doing so understand their overall evolutionary process. Always willing to cause havoc, Seth remains the friend of evildoers.

02 The suffering of Osiris.

"You (Ladder of the god) have come seeking your brother Osiris, for his brother Seth has thrown him down on his side in yonder side of (the desert of) Gehesty."
Pyramid Texts, § 972.

"Isis cries out to You (king Merenre), Nephthys calls to You. The Great Mooring-post removes (any) impediment for You as (for) Osiris in his suffering."
Pyramid Texts, § 872.

"Wepwawet opens a way for me, Shu lifts me up, the Souls of On set up a stairway for me in order to reach the above, and Nut puts her hand on me just as she did for Osiris on the day when he died."
Pyramid Texts, § 1090.

"To say : The djed-pillar of the Day-bark is released for its Lord, the djed-pillar of the Day-bark is released for its protector. Isis comes and Nephthys comes, one of them from the West and one of them from the East, one of them as screeching falcon, one of them as a kite. They have found Osiris, his brother Seth having laid him low in Nedit ; when Osiris said : 'Get away from me !', when his name became Sokar. They prevent You from rotting in accordance with this your name of Anubis. They prevent your putrefaction from dripping to the ground in accordance with this your name of 'Jackal of Upper Egypt'. They prevent the smell of your corpse from becoming foul in accordance with this your name of Horus of Haty. They prevent Horus of the East from putrefying. They prevent Horus Lord of Patricians from putrefying. They prevent Horus of the Duat from putrefying. They prevent Horus Lord of the Two Lands from putrefying, and Seth will never be free from carrying You, O Osiris."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 1255 - 1258.

The Egyptians avoided to address the murder of Osiris directly. In the same way, they often refused to call Seth by his name, and instead called him : the malevolent, the evil one, the adversary, the enemy, the rebel ... In the same way as they, to neutralize them, occasionally modified, suppressed or replaced (by anodyne substitutes) hieroglyphs deemed dangerous in sensitive areas of the tomb (like the sarcophagus chamber), the Egyptian scribes avoided to invoke the most terrible of events (the end of the Golden Age) as well as the name of the culpit. The rules of sympathetic magic taught them so. Nevertheless, the suffering of Osiris was terrible. To be tricked, drowned, found and then cut into scattered pieces, makes the point of Seth's terrible powers of seduction and cruelty.

In Plutarch's account, Seth became envious of Osiris and secretly measured his body. He made a beautiful chest to these measurements. Bringing it to the banqueting hall, everbody was pleasured at the sight of it. Seth promised that whoever fitted inside could have it as a gift. Everybody tried, but only Osiris fitted in. When he lay down inside, Seth slammed the lid and sealed it with lead. He cast it into the Nile and it was carried downstream to the great sea. Isis was so forlorn, that her tears caused the Nile to flood (the night when the Nile rose is known as the "Night of the Teardrop"). The coffin had washed ashore on the Phoenician coast at Byblos and taken root in a tamarisk tree, set up as a column in the palace of the king. After many trials, Isis brought the body of Osiris back to Egypt. It is at this point that Seth seized it again and dismembered it into 14 parts. He scattered the severed limbs all over the land and threw his penis into the Nile. In this way, the body of Osiris became one with the soil of Egypt.

03 Reassemby and reanimation of the body of Osiris.

"Isis and Nephthys have seen and found You ..."
Pyramid Texts, § 584.

"(I have seen !) says Isis. 'I have found !', says Nephthys, for they have seen Osiris on his side on the bank [...]. Arise [...] my brother, for I have sought You."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 2144 - 2145.

"Your two sisters Isis and Nephthys come to You (so) that they may make You hale."
Pyramid Texts, § 628.

" (...) there has been done for him what was done for his father Osiris on that day of re-uniting the bones, of making good the soles, and of extending the feet.
Pyramid Texts, § 1368.

"Nephthys has collected all your members for You in this her name of 'Seshat, Lady of Builders'. (She) has made them hale for You, You having been given to your mother Nut in her name of 'Sarcophagus'. She has embraced You in her name of 'Coffin', and You have been brought to her in her name of 'Tomb'."
Pyramid Texts, § 616.

Isis and Nephthys represent the waxing (first and second quater) and waning (third and fourth quater) light of the Moon, associated with Osiris. From the New Moon onwards, the disk of the Moon is crescent. Culminating at Full Moon, it returns to its waning phase. The waxing phase is Isis, the warm-hearted mother, concerned, devoted and inventive. The waning phase is her sister, the "Lady of the House", cold, distant, somewhat detached from the sorrows of this world and quite passive. Married to Seth, legend has it she was in love with Osiris and had Anubis as his son. Cast out by his mother, who feared the violent wrath of her husband Seth, Anubis was taken in by Isis. He became her loyal assistant in all matters, especially regarding the reassembly and mummification of the body of Osiris.

In nearly all iconographic representations of the myth, Isis and Nepthys are mentioned together and appear likewise. This points to the complementarity of both archetypes and to the interlocked nature of these two natural differentials. There is no waxing without waning and vice versa. The task of these wailing sisters is double : on the one hand, they seek and find the 14 parts of the body of Osiris, with the exception of the penis, and on the other hand, they make the body healthy, implying its organic reunification. This by embracing him.

In this stage of the myth, the iconography of the body of Osiris is typical. Always depicted anthropomorph, his body is wrapped in mummy bandages from which his arms emerge to hold the crook and the flail. These are the emblems of kingship of the living Horus, and of Osiris, the king of the dead. The body of Osiris has become a ritual object, moreover, it is a talisman (a consecreated object charged with magical intent). When reanimated by Isis, the body is in a "vegetating" condition and represented lying on a funerary bier. The phallus was carefully bound up to simulate erection (cf. Atum masturbating the world in to existence).

In the classical story recorded by Plutarch, Isis and Nephthys went searching for all the parts of the body of Osiris. Whenever they found one, they performed funerary rituals and erected a tomb. But Isis could not find his male member. Unfortunately, thrown into the Nile, it had been eaten by the Nile Carp (Lepidotus), Phagrus and Oxyrynchus fish ! Hence forward, these fish were considered unclean. So in the place of the penis of Osiris, Isis made a likeness of it and consecrated this magical phallic simulacrum. She breathed life into the re-membered body of Osiris and reanimated it. Isis, hovering over the mummy of Osiris in the form of a kite, a small graceful hawk, begets Horus. At the Winter solstice, along with the early blossom & flowers, the child Horus (Harpocrates) is born. Plutarch adds that the Egyptians celebrated this birth around the Spring equinox (namely around the time when he was crowned king ?).

04 Horus, the avenger of his father.

"Your sister Isis comes to You (Osiris) rejoicing for love of You. You have placed her on your phallus and your seed issues into her, she being ready as Sothis. Horus Soped has come forth from You as Horus who is in Sothis."
Pyramid Texts, § 632.

"Remember, Seth, and put in your heart this word which Geb spoke, this threat which the gods made against You in the Mansion of the Prince in On, because You threw Osiris to the Earth ! When You said, O Seth : 'I have never done this to him !', so that You might have power thereby, having been saved, and that You might prevail over Horus ... When You said, O Seth : 'It was he who attacked me !', when there came into being this his name of 'Earth-attacker' ... When You said, O Seth : 'It was he who kicked me !', when there came into being this his name of Orion, long of leg and lengthy of stride, who presides over Upper Egypt."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 957 - 959.

"O Osiris king Teti, mount up to Horus, betake yourself to him, do not be far from him. Horus has come that he may recognize You. He has smitten Seth for You bound, and You are his Ka (of Seth). Horus has driven him off for You, for he swims bearing You, he lifts up one (Osiris) who is greater than he in You, and his followers have seen You, that your strength is greater than his, so that they cannot thwart You."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 586 - 588.

"Horus has cried out because of his Eye, Seth has cried out because of his testicles, and there leaps up the Eye of Horus, who had fallen on yonder side of the Winding Waterway, so that it may protect itself from Seth. Thoth saw it on yonder side of the Winding Waterway when the Eye of Horus leapt up on yonder side of the Winding Waterway and fell on Thoth's wing on yonder side of the Winding Waterway. O You gods who cross over on the wing of Thoth to yonder side of the Winding Waterway, to the eastern side of the sky, in order to dispute with Seth about this Eye of Horus : I will cross with You upon the wing of Thoth to yonder side of the Winding Waterway, to the eastern side of the sky, and I will dispute with Seth about this Eye of Horus."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 594 - 596.

With Horus, "He upon high", all possible Enneads or companies of deities "existing" in the "zep tepi" or First Time, are completed. Both Heliopolitan, Hermopolitan and Memphite schemes eventually end up with Horus as king of the physical universe. He is the "10th", crowning actuality, the system of "sky", "Earth", "Duat" and "horizon" (what later qabalists would call "Olam ha-Assiah", with its "Malkuth" or "kingdom"). And so, Horus is the living king of Egypt, the "great house" or "Pharaoh" of the Two Lands, both a living Horus and the unique son of Re. As such, he offers Maat to his father, and as Horus he keeps the land pacified. He is the Great Eye that sees it all, the absolute Witness within actual, relative and abyssimal existence (a world constantly at the edge of the yawning space called "chaos").

The Egyptian texts about the conflict between Horus and Seth are dispersed over several different periods and form a mass of disjointed elements. In The Contendings of Horus and Seth, the longest of the New Kingdom stories, the central theme is Horus's superiority over his rival Seth in contending over the throne, usurped by his uncle and previously occupied by his father Osiris.

"(There came to pass) the adjudication of Horus and Seth, mysterious in their forms and mightiest of the princes and magnates who had ever come into being. Now it was a young (god) who was seated in the presence of the Universal Lord, claiming the office of his father Osiris, beautiful in his appearances, the son of Ptah ..."

Historically, the Followers of Horus (Herakleopolis) and the Followers of Seth (Naqada) probably represent two rival Upper Egyptian kingdoms engaged in the battles terminating Predynastic Egypt (cf. the Terminal Predynastic Period, the last three hundred years before the unification dated at ca. 3000 BCE, if not a little earlier). The Followers of Horus finally won, marched North and united the country (under Aha, Menes, Narmer). Memphis, situated at the point where the Nile forks into the Delta, represented the "Balance of the Two Lands" (cf. Memphis Theology), the place of coronation of the divine king, who is a living Horus and the son of Ptah.

"Horus who is in Sothis" clearly refers to the agricultural, Sothic cycle, crucial to the economical survival of Egypt and intimately interlaced with the ideology of divine (read : magical) kingship. Indeed, only the living Horus guarantees, year after year, a "good Nile" (or adequate flooding, i.e. not too much and not enough water), conceived as originating in the cave of Hapy and surging up from the Duat. But, the flood and the inundation, as in effect all waters, were assimilated to Nun.

In the story told by Plutarch, Isis hid her child in the marshes of the Delta. The high reeds of the river god Hapy protected him from Seth. When he grew up, he challenged his murderous uncle to mortal combat. This ceaseless, monumental dual, lasting for eighty years and hinted at in all canonical texts, was never final. Horus lost his left eye and Seth his testicles. At the end of the day, the tribunal of the gods had to decide who had won. They gave one part to Seth and another to Horus, but this did not settle the matter, for Horus claimed the throne of Osiris, who had been king over the whole of Egypt. Eventually they ceded the throne of Egypt entirely to Horus and so was Osiris avenged and Maat restored. However, the "weary" Osiris had yet to be fully restored ...

05 The restoration of Osiris by Horus.

"What You (Osiris king Unas) have eaten is an Eye, and your belly is rounded out with it. Your son Horus has released it for You that You may live by means of it."
Pyramid Texts, § 192.

"Horus has set for You (Osiris) your foe under You that he may lift You up. Do not let go of him ! You shall come to your (former) condition, for the gods have knit together your face for You. Horus has split open your eye for You that You may see with it in its name of 'Opener of Roads'. Your foe is smitten by the children of Horus, they have made bloody his beating, they have punished him, he having been driven off, and his smell is evil ..."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 642 - 643.

"To say : O Osiris king Teti, stand up ! Horus comes and claims You from the gods, for Horus has loved You, he has provided You with his Eye, Horus has attached his Eye to You. Horus has split open your eye for You that You may see with it, the gods have knit up your face for You, for they have loved You. Isis and Nephthys have made You hale, and Horus is not far from You, for You are his Ka. May your face be well-disposed to him ! Hasten ! Receive the word of Horus, with which You will be well pleased. Listen to Horus, for it will not be harmful to You. He has caused the gods to serve You."

Pyramid Texts, §§ 609 - 611.

"To say : O Atum, this one here is your son Osiris whom You have caused to be restored that he may live."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 167.

"Horus has revived You in this your name of Andjeti. Horus has given You his strong Eye. He has given it to You (so) that You may be strong and that every foe of yours may fear You."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 614.

"Horus has caused the gods to mount up to You, he has given them to You (so) that they may make You illumine your face. Horus has set You in front of the gods and has caused You to take possession of every thing that is yours. Horus has attached himself to You and he will never part from You."
Pyramid Texts, § 613.

"To say : The sky reels, the Earth quakes. Horus comes ! Thoth appears ! They raise Osiris from upon his side and make him stand up in front of the Two Enneads."
Pyramid Texts, § 956.

In the texts, we often read how Osiris went away, fell asleep and died. His salvation is described in complementary terms : he came back, he awakened and lives again. When Horus resuscitates his father (as it were empowering the vegetative soul of Osiris with the Eye), the latter recognizes Seth's real nature and does not let him escape. Seth, the inertia of Earth, is put underneath the fertile, black Earth of Osiris, and has to carry the latter.

In the XVIIIth Dynasty, it was custom to make a figure of Osiris as a mummy from a linen bag stuffed with corn. When watered, the corn sprouted through the meshes of the bag ... Osiris was seen to grow. Osiris, the dead king, was mummified and descended into the Duat. There, he is the inert, potential, vegetative power of nature. He is helpless, and embodies inert, dormant, passive potential. By restoring Osiris, Seth is made inert and subservient to his brother, who becomes an effective spirit of life.

After Horus vanquished his enemies and ascended to the throne of Egypt, he visits his father in the Duat (proof of the ecstatic this-life rituals involving the netherworld ? cf. Naydler, 2005). He brings him the good news, namely the re-establishment of Maat, the order of things. To his father, Horus brings the North wind (the prevailing wind in Egypt, which cools and heralds the annual inundation) and his Eye of Wellness. He also opens his mouth. This is done with an adze, representing the Great Bear, a constellation of Seth. Then Osiris becomes one with the soul of the original Osiris. He can send out his Ba and set himself in motion. His vegetative state is overwon, and Osiris becomes fully aware and whole again.

We see how the body of Osiris is subjected to three crucial transformations. In the texts, these registers are often mixed and cross-referenced :

  1. dismemberment, scattering : death & dispersal of the actual body of Osiris ;

  2. reassembly, reanimation : ritual constitution of the mummy of Osiris, the "sah" ;

  3. restoration, spiritualization : restoration & transformation of the Ba of Osiris.

The restoration brought by Horus, allowed the "sah" (the mummy of the body of the original Osiris) to be fully restored to health and ready for its ascension (the transformation of the Ba of Osiris into an Akh, a luminous, effective spirit). This was effectuated through the Eye of Horus, at work on three registers (already in place at the time of the Pyramid Texts) :

  1. sum total of offerings : all possible stuff placed on the table of offerings ;

  2. offer of offerings (offertorium) : the Eye as the standard for all possible offerings ;

  3. offer of communion (canon) : the "embrace" as communion with the Eye.

The power ("sekhem") of the Wedjat Eye, coupled with the magical "Sa" of the Ritual of Opening the Mouth, raised the animated but vegetative, weary Osiris (horizontal) to full waking consciousness (vertical), preparing him for his final journey to heaven, the plane of the Akhu, the Pantheon and the luminous spirits.

The king, in mystical embrace with the Eye, was addressed as "Osiris King NN", and by the Middle Kingdom, everyman could be an "Osiris NN". Communion with the soul of Osiris, abiding in its "sah", comes by receiving the Eye of Horus, by Opening the Mouth and by eating the Eye, as Osiris has. This transformation makes one share in the salvation of Osiris. When justified, the deceased, or the ecstatic, enter the heaven of Osiris. Perpetual torment awaits the unjust ...

06 The ascension of Osiris.

"To say : The sky thunders, the Earth quakes, because of the dread of You, O Osiris, when You ascend."
Pyramid Texts, § 549.

"To say : O You gods of the West, gods of the East, gods of the South, gods of the North ! These four pure reed-floats which You set down for Osiris when he ascended to the sky, so that he might ferry over to the firmament with his son Horus at his fingers, so that he might bring him up and cause him to appear as a great god in the firmament, set them down for me, king Unas !"
Pyramid Texts, §§ 464 - 465.

"Raise yourself, O Osiris, for Seth has raised himself, he has heard the threat of the gods who spoke about the god's father (Osiris, father of Horus). Isis has your arm, O Osiris. Nephthys has your hand, so go between them. The sky is given to You, the Earth is given to You, and the Field of Reeds, the Mounds of Horus, and the Mounds of Seth. The towns are given to You and the nomes assembled for You, says Atum, and he who speaks about it is Geb."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 960 - 961.

"O Heftenet, mother of the gods ! Give me your hand, take my hand and take me to the sky, just as You took Osiris to the sky."
Pyramid Texts, § 1419.

"The doors of the sky are opened.
The doors of the firmament are thrown open for Osiris.
He goes forth at dawn and bathes in the Field of Reeds."

Pyramid Texts, § 984.

"Behold, he has come as Orion, behold, Osiris has come as Orion ..."
Pyramid Texts, § 819.

"O Osiris king Teti, You are a mighty god, and there is no god like You."
Pyramid Texts, § 619.

As an Akh, the luminous spirit of life and rebirth itself, Osiris the king rules over the Duat and represents a special dispensation within the order of nature ordained by the gods. Once seated on his throne, he is able to send his souls to his living son Horus, the king of the Two Lands. This will, year after year, trigger a "good Nile" and hence material plenty for Egypt. This fills the granaries of the temples and stimulates the divine king to erect monumental testimonies of the presence of the gods on Earth. A cycle of plenty has come true and the Two Lands are at peace and prosperous.

07 Offertory & Canon.

The magic at work in the Lunar, horizontal cult of Osiris is sympathetic and communal. The former involves a three-tiered dynamics of offering, starting with an endless variety of superb goods to be offered, and culminating in the Eye of Horus as the standard of the act of offering (the first two registers mentioned above, of which the second is the offertory). The latter, the canon, is a rejuvenating communion (a mystical embrace) with the Eye by consumption, for it represents the power of healing and wholeness (the third register).

  1. all possible offerings : first register : offered by the living Horus, the gods only consume the "kas" of the various stuff placed on the table of offerings ;

  2. offer of offerings (offertorium) : second register : the Eye of Horus represents all possible offerings (the "ka" of the act of offering) ;

  3. offer of communion (canon) : third register : the consumption of the Eye of Horus restores Osires and enables him to send out his Ba.

The first step in the magic of offering, is the presentation and consecration of physical stuff (first register). These are then set apart from all other things (cf. "sacrum"). Both physically (they are placed on a table of offerings), as temporally (they "exist" in the "First Time"), the offerings are a reality on their own, a piece of reality wholly and freely consecrated and returned to the deity. The act of daily offerings is double. On the hand, the best produce of Egypt is offered & set apart, on the other hand, ritual words & actions empower these goods. This ritual intends only to offer the double of these foodstuffs to the deities, for the latter only consume their vitality or "ka". After having enjoyed this, the food can be eaten by the priests and distributed among the people, called the "reversion of offerings".

Sublimation, typologization, subtilization or semiotic transference of offerings (the second register), are at work in both spiritual economies. In the Solar economy, which is an eternalisation of the recurrent cycle of all photonic things, the divine king offers Maat to Re, and "Maat" becomes "all good things". Osirian faith is a linear approach of the cycle of life of every living thing. In his Lunar role, the living Horus, entering the Duat, offers his father his Eye of Wellness, the archetype of "healing". Henceforward, the latter will give his son a "good Nile". So Maat and the Eye of Horus, at times equated, replacing all possible offerings, represent the synthesis of offerings. They operate on two different levels of reality, encompassing the Two Lands. Maat returns all to Re, the day, whereas the Wedjat is a gift to Osiris, the night. Both the Eye of Horus and Maat are, like Pharaoh, the "image of images", and the "power of powers" (cf. Cannibal Hymn). No longer dependent on the physical quantity of the offerings (the individual "kas" of the foodstuffs), Osiris receives the synthesis of all possible vital energy, visualized as the Eye of his son, destroyed (as he was) by Seth, but restored (as he was) by Thoth (who assisted Isis). The Eye of Horus is therefore the "ka" of all possible offerings, the offertory of Egyptian religion.

Indeed, to the excellent quantity of the first register, a qualitative connotation or sublimation is added : each and every act of offering is conceived as the likeness of Horus giving his Eye to Osiris (or of Pharaoh offering Maat to Re). The variety of excellent physical offerings are so many manifestations of the same filial principle : as Horus, a son vindicates and restores his father, i.e. the effect returns to the cause to perpetuate the generative cycle, for a spiritual father will effectively co-effect the success of his son ...

The canon, or third register, explains the final task of the Eye. Osiris, becoming one with the Eye of Horus, eats the body of Horus as well as its vital Ka-power, namely the Eye as "offer of offerings" (cf. the second register). Each time the king assumes the role of Osiris, he embraces the Eye, the body and Ka of Horus, and has his soul restored and ready to be spiritualized. This level is related to the soul, the "Ba". Because Osiris consumes the Eye, he is able to set himself in motion, i.e. his spiritual principle of motility and transformation (or soul) is activated. This last effect of the Eye allows Osiris to transform his Ba into an Akh, and rise as a luminous spirit. As an Akh, Osiris is able to send his Ba and cause a "good Nile".

Besides being projected upon the Lunar cycle, this process also refers to the Sothic year. The Egyptian calendar had 12 months and 365 days, divided in 3 seasons of 4 months of 30 days plus five epagomenal days associated with Nut and the birth of her children (Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis & Nephthys). The first month was called "Akhet" or "inundation". It is the season when the Nile was in flood (mid July to mid November). "Proyet" or "springing forth" was the time in which land emerged to be planted (mid November to mid March), and during "Shomu" ("deficiency") the land dried up and harvest was necessary (mid March to mid July). Full flood capacity was reached by August (in the South) and by September (in the North).  In the Solar calendar, the New Year and the month of "Akhet", inundation, began on the 19th of July.

For a period of 70 days before the Summer solstice of July, the stars of Orion ("Sah", "The Buried One" or Osiris) had been invisible and now reemerged in the Lunar night sky. In funerary theology, this would be the time taken to transform the corpse into a mummy (or "sah"), a magical talisman or interphase between the world of the living and the realm of the dead. Only after this period, could the Ritual of Opening the Mouth be performed.

The first sighting, before its disappearance in the glare of a brightening dawn, of the star Sirius, the nose of the Great Dog, the brightest fixed star of the night sky close to the constellation of Orion (Osiris), was the single most important event in the Egyptian calendar. This heliacal rising of the "Dog Star" or Sopdet (Isis) on the horizon, about the time of the Summer solstice, was awaited by all. It heralded the steady rise of the Nile. For nature synchronized this appearance with the Summer solstice and the inundation, and so offered a nexus for ante-rational projections & identifications. The Nile began to rise on "The Night of the Teardrop", commemorating the event of Isis discovering Osiris's death. Her sorrow precipitated the rise of the Nile. During this period of surging waters, Isis and Nephthys seek the dead body of Osiris, afloat in them. They find it and bring it ashore.

"Osiris was drowned in his water. Isis and Nephthys looked out, beheld him, and attended to him. (...) They heeded in time and brought him to land."
Memphis Theology, lines 62-63.

Two weeks after the floods reached their full height in the Delta, the waters would begin to subside. The Autumn solstice of September marks the lengthening of night and the gradual retreat of Orion in the sky. The rule of the powers of darkness (Seth) was incipient. Synchronous with the abating Nile, returning to its bed by November, the first crops could be planted to be harvested by March, when the river dropped to its lowest.

On the 25th of November, the festival of the Weeping of Isis and Nephthys was held. Both sisters weep because Osiris died, but also because his body, once found, is again taken from them by Seth and this time cut into 14 pieces (cf. the waning quaters of the Lunar cycle). In the month that followed, these pieces are retrieved and the mummy made and animated. At the end of these rituals, Osiris, as a mummy, an empowered "double" of the actual body, exists in a vegetative, quasi dormant state. Nevertheless, before leaving for the Duat, Osiris, with his magical penis made by his wife, inseminates Isis ...

According to Plutarch, Isis "
at the Winter solstice gave birth to Harpocrates, imperfect and prematurely born, amid plants that burgeoned and sprouted before their season"(De Iside et Osiride, 65). He also adds : "For this reason they bring to him as an offering the first-fruits of growing lentils, and the days of his birth they celebrate after the spring equinox. When the people hear these things, they are satisfied with them and believe them, deducing the plausible explanation directly from what is obvious and familiar."

The following sequence is suggested :

  • Summer Solstice : the Egyptian New Year : Isis & Nephthys beweep the death of Osiris, seek his body all over the land of Egypt and Isis finds it in Byblos ;

  • Autumn Equinox : after Seth dismembers the body of Osiris, found by Isis, the latter reassembles and reanimates the mummy of Osiris ;

  • Winter Solstice : Isis "embraces" the mummy of Osiris and gives birth to Horus ;

  • Spring Equinox : the vindication and coronation of Horus is celebrated and the latter brings his Eye of Osiris, who ascends to the heaven of the Duat, bringing the flood.

For Assmann (1992), Egyptian cult was based on a tripartite distinction, namely between action, iconic representation and recitation. In the daily ritual, this corresponded to three levels of symbolization : (a) the priest officiating before a statue (action), (b) the king officiating before a god (representation), and (c) a god conversing with a god (language). Regarding the latter, it should be remarked that as sacred communication cannot take place between a god and a human being, the god's role is played by the king, who in turn is represented by the priest.

Only in the very short Amarna period (ca. 1353 - 1336 BCE), this three-tiered symbolization was abandoned, as well as all references to the Duat. Osiris, together with Amun, were ousted. Amarna spirituality represents the "purest" historical form of Heliopolitanism, one close to monotheism. In the Old Kingdom, Re had always been part of a constellation of deities. In the vision of Akhenaten, this context was eliminated. The king himself officiates, not to a statue, but to the "living Aten". On the level of language, this rejection of intermediary symbolism goes hand in hand with the rejection of the magical power of language.

But by the time of Seti I (ca. 1290 - 1279 BCE) and Ramesses II (ca. 1279 - 1213 BCE), a renewed trinity was developed : Amun of Thebes, the hidden, Re of Heliopolis, the light, and Ptah of Memphis, the body. Osiris, the night Sun, was understood as the nocturnal complement of Re, offering rejuvenation to the latter by communion with "the image of Osiris", the mysterious tail-in-mouth serpent. To regenerate, i.e. return to the First Time (cf. Amduat), the corpse of Re abides in the coils of the Oroboros, the "image of Osiris".

08 Escaping Osiris.

"... he will never give me to Osiris, for I have not died the death, I possess a spirit in the horizon ..."
Pyramid Texts - § 350.

"Re-Atum will not give You to Osiris, and he shall not claim your heart, nor have power over your heart. (...) Re-Atum will not give You to Horus, and he shall not claim your heart nor have power over your heart. O Osiris, You shall never have power over him, nor shall your son have power over him ..."
Pyramid Texts - §§ 146 - 146.

"Osiris Wenennefer", he who exists in goodness & beauty and "Osiris Onnophris", he who is in everlastingly good condition, are suggestive of the intrinsic goodness of Osiris. Is this a comprehensive interpretation, or more like a pious wish ? Clearly, once the devotee of the Solar faith associated the realm of the dead with Orisis, he did not wished to be delivered up to the latter. Already in the Old Kingdom, we read the apprehension that Osiris might enter the pyramid with evil intent.

"May Osiris not come with this his evil coming ; do not open your arms to him ..."
Pyramid Texts - § 1267.

Indeed, besides the heaven of Osiris, his realm also contained the "secret slaughter chamber" in which the wicked were destined to be punished and devoured. Besides imprisonment and enchainment, humiliation, torture and mutilation were inflicted with great cruelty. At times, Osiris would let all the genies in his service torture one of the deceased. These had terrible names : "those who eat their father", "those who eat their mothers", "torturer", "murderer", "miscreant", "aggressor" etc. They were engaged in breaking bones, living on blood and swallowing entrails (cf. the cannibalism Osiris stopped on Earth). The damned walked on their heads and had to eat excrement and drink urine. Some were forced to torture others. The love of sadism avant la lettre displayed in the hell of Osiris is confusing. Even after successfully undergoing the many trials of the Duat, the dead continued to protect themselves with spells making sure they would never be sacrificed by the guardians of Osiris, "those who make massacres". Why ? Because Osiris, even under normal circumstances, could display, not unlike Pluto, great cruelty. Moreover, his guardians were also jailers. Is the Duat a prison ?

"... Osiris's bodyguards, who protected the god against Seth and his rebel band and were invested with all sorts of powers, were also charged with guarding the ba-souls of all the dead, male or female. They accordingly strove to prevent them from flying off. Liberation for the ba meant escaping the uncertainties of the kingdom of the dead ..." - Meeks & Favard-Meeks, 1997, p.148.

In the Amduat, the dormant souls of the deceased and the inhabitants of the kingdom of Osiris eagerly awaited the daily passage of the Barque of the Sun. For a brief moment, they awoke and saw the light. They existed in the idle hope of spending eternity in Re's company, the ultimate realization, but cannot fly off ! Boarding the Solar bark and ascending to the sky, was escaping the dangers and abuses of the Osirian kingdom. But to do so, incredible obstacles had to be faced and by-passed. In this, magic played a crucial role. The pataphysics of magic ruled the universe, including the kingdom of Osiris. The latter had been given a judicial dispensation, but not a variant ontology. Without powerful Lunar magic, all was lost. Hence, many books of the underworld add that the knowledge they contain, proven a million times, is beneficial to the dead and the living alike.

Asymmetry between the two spiritual economies is at hand. The system is a hierarchy, with the Duat as the intermediate step leading up to the sky of Re. The Lunar system provides to be an interphase connecting sky and Earth. The Western horizon gives access to the Duat, and the latter leads to the Eastern horizon, the place of transformation. Here, the soul is transformed into a spirit (from Ba to Akh), rising to the sky as a luminous spirit in the company of Re in the sky.

We encountered four fundamental spiritual stations :

  1. station of housing the double (Ka) : keeping in mind this life and the next (cf. the sapiental tradition), the fundamental task of the living is to make preparations for death - the tomb is the house of the Ka, the vital imprint of the deceased in terms of his or her energy and its form ;

  2. station of keeping the heart (Ib) pure : the living are priests and have to perform daily offerings - this is a personal responsibility relative to physical vitality (Ka) & social class. Mind, conscience & will may advance a person far beyond the latter ;

  3. station of the soul (Ba) : Lunar, reflective magic (Ars Obscura) : the Duat and the kingdom of Osiris - inner psychology, imagination, the unconscious, the dreamworld ;

  4. stage of the spirit (Akh) : Solar mysticism and creative magic : the sky and the realm of Re, reached after the transformation of the Ba in the Eastern horizon.

The archetype evoked by the myth of Osiris is bi-polar : on the one hand, Osiris is the good king of the dead, who, regenerated by the Eye of Horus, assures his son king Horus a "good Nile", and on the other hand, he is the stern ruler of the kingdom of the dead and its secret slaughter houses and pits of fire. If the weighing of the heart is suggestive of his justice, his whimsical cruelty is the irrational, "dark" side of the Moon. Osiris is the kingdom of the common dead, not of Pharaoh and his favorites. These elect only transit the Duat and are transformed in the Eastern horizon to merge with Re. As Osiris always stays in the unconscious world of shadows and regenerative archetypes, he is a formidable power, nobody, except Pharaoh, escapes.

09 Assuming the godform of Osiris.

"O king Unas, You have not departed dead, You have departed alive (to) sit upon the throne of Osiris, your Aba-scepter in your hand, (so) that You may give orders to the living, your Lotus scepter in your hand, (so) that You may give orders to those whose seats are hidden."
Pyramid Texts - § 134.

In a nonfunerary interpretation (cf. Naydler, 2005), these texts (although found in a tomb) explain how the ecstatic, living Horus departs to the Duat. On Earth, he sits upon the throne of Osiris (as the vindicated ruler), and grasps two sacred sceptres in either hand. With the sceptre of authority and consecration ("abA", later also "sxm", "sekhem"), Horus, lord of the Two Lands, rules the living, and with the Lotus-staff, he rules the dead (the Lotus being a symbol of rebirth). He departs alive.

"It would seem that the destination of the king is the realm of the dead, but he is journeying into it alive." - Naydler, 2005, p.202.

In Egyptian religion, assuming a god or goddess form involved a transformation ("Xpr"). By transforming the speaker into a special creature (like the Benu bird, or a kite), a god or a goddess, magical spells offer a by-pass. In this higher state, the magician undergoes the semantic field and the typical process of the archetype at hand, and benefits from this momentary resonance with "pure" power. Certain types of energies are harvested, other avoided. The Amduat is suggestive of a complete spatiotemporal evocation of the unconscious patterns of regeneration (the Ars Obscura), already at work in the tomb of Unas and in its Pyramid Texts. Solutions, insights & illuminations result from this purging of the personal mind (heart and double) by the Ba travelling into the Duat and, via the Eastern horizon, fugally joining the Akh plane of the deities, to return as a young, vigorous, living Horus.

In utterance 219, the identification is more dramatic and, interestingly, the living Osiris is introduced :

"O Atum, this one here is your son Osiris whom You have caused to be restored that he may live. He lives ! This king lives ! He is not dead, this king is not dead ! He is not destroyed, this king is not destroyed ! He has not been judged, this king has not been judged ! He judges, this king judges !"
Pyramid Texts - § 167.

This affirmation is made twelve times to major deities such as Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Isis, Seth, Nephthys, Thoth, Horus, the Great Ennead & the Lesser Ennead and repeated twelve more times to twelve manifestations of Osiris. In his role of Osiris, king Unas escapes the fate of being judged, for he is not yet dead, but only in a dead posture. In this form of Osiris, the king is himself the judge. But the semiotic is double, for even dead, the son of Re cannot be judged.

In his ritual role of Osiris, the king receives the Eye of Horus and is rejuvenated. He is able to awake, turn around and move as himself again. He eats and returns to himself.

"Awake, king Unas ! Turn yourself about, king Unas ! So shout 'I' ! O king Unas, stand up and sit down to a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, roast meat of your rib-joints from the slaughter-house, and bread from the Wide Hall. The god is provided with a god's offering, king Unas is provided with this bread of his. Come to your Ba, O Osiris, O Ba among the Akhu, mighty in your places, whom the Ennead protect in the Mansion of the Prince. O king Unas, raise yourself up to me, betake yourself to me, do not be far from me, for the tomb is your barrier against me. I give You the Eye of Horus, I have allotted it to You ; may it be pleasant to You. O king Unas, arise, receive this your bread from my hand. O king Unas, I will be a helper to You."
Pyramid Texts - §§ 214 - 217.

Although only fragmentary, and certainly not clear-cut, we do observe the three fundamental stages of ecstasy, also found in Upper Palaeolithic cave mysteries :

  1. departure from the plane of Geb : in trance, the living Horus-king enters the Duat ;

  2. identification with Osiris in the Duat & resurrection : in the Duat, the ecstatic king embraces the ritual "sah" (mummy), the second transformation of the "body" of Osiris, and undergoes the stages of the Osirian drama (culminating in his consumption of the Eye of Horus and his resurrection) ;

  3. empowered return to the plane of Geb : the king "awakes" out of his trance with more magical power ("Sa") at his command.

"To say : O Atum-Re, this king Unas comes to You, an Imperishable Spirit, lord of dispensation in the place of the four papyrus columns. Your son comes to You, this King Unas comes to You. May (both of) You traverse the sky, being united in the darkness. May (both of) You rise in the horizon, in the place where it is well with You."
Pyramid Texts - § 152.

The living Horus, assuming the godform of Osiris, travels with Atum-Re "united in darkness" to reemerge on the Eastern horizon. The living king is an Akh, a god by birth. Hence, his claim is just and, if all magical pathways are clear, his ascension to the sky of Re guaranteed. In the 6th Hour of the Duat, the Ba of Re unites with the "image of Osiris", to find regeneration and renewed momentum. Here, we read how the king travels with Re in the Duat, and participates in the latter's rejuvenation.

Levels of Reality
of Pythagoras
in  Qabalah
heaven of Re
lightland of the Akhu
the realm of the Akh
1 Atziluth : 1 - 2 - 3
Fire - Yod
the horizon
lightland of the transformation of the Ba
2 - 3 Briah : 4 - 5 - 6
Water - He
heaven of Osiris
kingdom of Osiris
Duat - realm of the Ba
4 - 5 - 6 Yetzirah : 7 - 8 - 9
Air - Vau
Geb, the Earth
4 Sons of Horus
realm of Ib & Ka
7 - 8 - 9 - 10 Assiah : 10
Earth - He

The assumption of the godform of Osiris serves several goals :

  • replenishing kingly powers : because the flow of time depletes the energy of life (the Golden Age of plenty, or "zep tepi", being past), the living Horus regularly reassures the protection of the gods over himself and Egypt. All the forces are invoked to keep the sacred order of Maat. Three main moments are : (a) succession (death and funeral of the predecessor and the enthroning of the new Horus), (b) annual confirmation (through symbolic death and rebirth) and (c) periodical rejuvenation (after 30 years or rule or at the age of 30 a Sed festival was held). Each time, the "sah" of Osiris played an essential role, representing the magical condition of the body prior to its rejuvenation (thanks to the Eye of Horus). It was the most appropriate godform for the king to reenact, for Osiris had been a living king, had died, had been mummified, reanimated and resurrected ;

  • preparation for physical death : after its destruction and dismemberment (first transformation), the transformation of the scattered body of Osiris into a mummy occurs. This change is crucial to build an interphase between this world and the Duat. The "sah" is the actual body, albeit in a new symbolic (imaginal) unity. The actual, biological unity was explicitly destroyed by Seth's scattering. The mummy, "sah" or magical body of Osiris is reanimated by Isis, activated by the Ritual of Opening the Mouth and restored by the Eye of Horus. This third transformation spiritualizes the "sah" and enthrones Osiris as the universal spirit of life. To assume the death-posture is a way to prepare oneself for what is the inevitable conclusion of physical life : the death of the body (of the actual Osiris, cf. first transformation). It is a way to already acquaint oneself with the extraordinary magical world of Osiris (in his second and third transformations) ;

  • enhancement of magical power : as sublunar magic is Lunar, the realm of Osiris is a necessary step on the way to master the secrets of creation. Marshaling the reflection of the Sun, the Moon represents the imaginal, invisible & silent ; the unconscious realm complementing the conscious brilliance of the Sun and its spiritual economy (Re). The mind (Thoth) is also Lunar, for in tune with the tides and dependent of the rhythms of the Earth. The Solar magician is a protector of the just order of things. His supreme ritual is the Offering of Maat to Re, the natural orders of things to their ultimate, creative source. His role is deterministic and monarchic. The Lunar magician, like a healer, is a restorer of Maat. Demons are part of creation and the divine order. They are called "a yawning space" (chaos) because their functioning is inimical to life and its photonic patterns. The Lunar role brings in uncertainty and individual free will. Imagination constitutes the realm of freedom and opportunity, complementing the unchanging, recurrent cycle of the Sun and its eternalizations. Both are the two sides of the same magic ;

  • Lunar illumination : to gain total freedom in the dream world, is nothing less than a complete understanding of the conditions (variables, constants, parameters) pertaining to the ego. During his coronation, Osiris comes to himself as himself. After three transformations of his physical body, this process is total and spiritual. The realm of Osiris has to be crossed before, in lightland (in the horizon), the human soul is transformed into a divine spirit.

10 Osirian faith and Christianity briefly compared.

"The living are not at the mercy of the dead ; the shades are without force and without consciousness. There are no ghostly terrors, no imaginings of decomposition, and no clatterings of dead bones ; but equally there is no comfort and no hope. The dead Archilles brushes aside Odysseus' words of praise, saying : 'Do not try to make light of death to me ; I would  sooner be bound to the soil in the hire of another man, a man without lot and without much to live on, than ruler over all the perished dead.' In the dreary monotony everything becomes a matter of indifference." - Burkert, 1985, p.197, my italics.

Elsewhere, the crucial difference between Egyptian and Greek initiation and religion came to the fore.

In the Greek mysteries, the afterlife was depicted as a realm of shadows and any hope of individual survival was deemed ephemeral. Nobody escaped destiny, except the deities and the lucky few elected. The latter "escaped" from the world and its sordid entropic fate, misery and possible "eschaton" : a world-fire invoked by these wrathful deities themselves, unforgiving of man's tragi-comical sins, but able to recreate the world in a whim ! Escape from this fated comedy was offered through the mysteries. They would erase the cause of the heaviness of the soul and its attachment to Earth, and, for Pythagoras and his school, end the cycle of metempsychosis, the successive return of the soul in other physical bodies.

Egyptian initiations, unlike the Greek, were not meant to release the applicant from the solid chains of the world and its destiny, quite on the contrary. The Egyptians maintained a series of rituals aimed at "a constantly renewed regeneration" (Hornung, 2001, p.14). At best, the Greeks (like the Egyptians) induced the point of death in order to glimpse into its darkness, to "see the goddess" and renew (cf. the death posture). But they had no "science of the Hades" as in the Amduat. The active continuity between life and death found in Egypt, contradicts the closed and separated interpretation of the Greeks, fostering "escapism" (the "body" as a "prison" out of which one needs to escape). In Egypt, no "new" life was necessary. Death could bring "more" life. For both life and the afterlife depended on identical conditions : offerings ; either directly to the deities through Pharaoh or indirectly to the Ka of the deceased. If dualism fits the Greeks, triadism is Egyptian.

If Greco-Roman culture introduced a negative view on Earthly existence, one calling for a movement away from physical life, fostering a disincarnate return to the world of ideas (as in Platonism), introducing a major cleavage between, on the one hand, the ante-rationality of the cultures of Antiquity and, on the other hand, rational Greek thought, then Judeo-Christian beliefs added to this a fundamental reversal of the spiritual economy dominating Antiquity. Grosso modo, Antiquity proposed a naturalistic exchange between the sphere of humanity and that of the deities. In Egypt, sacrifice was intended to feed (through ascension) the Kas of the gods, which gratified their Bas. In return, precisely by way of souls & doubles, these Akhu would send blessings down to the physical plane. The gods never incarnate and no human being could become divine without loosing the "soul" of humanity (to be transformed into a spirit). In-between, the innocent victim is sacrificed by way of offerings. Through this, the deities are appeased and the circular sacrificial movement is kept in place. Although the mechanism may differ, but all religions of Antiquity (the Greco-Roman included) operated along these lines : the summum bonum was sacrificed to satisfy the deities and so modify the ill fate they had in stall for the worshippers.

"'Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him,' he said. 'Now I know that You honour and obey God, because You have not kept back your only son from Him."
Genesis, 22:12.

The naturalistic exchange implied by sacrifice was overturned by Judaism. God was no longer "in need" for the son of Abraham. The only thing that mattered was the latter's total surrender to the will of God. The moment God knew Abraham would have killed Isaac, He stopped the sacrifice. The innocent victim is no longer a currency flowing between God and humanity. The convenant initiated a sacred history, defined by man's obedience. Punishment comes when one returns to the old ways, as the story of the Golden Calf makes clear. In Judaism, the core of the relationship between man and God is legalistic, no longer naturalistic. Christianity will exhalt this new way, but in a dramatical fashion, for no longer is the relationship mediated by a legal system, but by a morality founded on a personal, direct contact with God Incarnate !

At the moment when God Himself, as Christ, has become the innocent victim, the need for a bloody sacrifice is finally over and the book of Antiquity and natural religion is closed. Indeed, if God is allowed to become fully human, the ontological divide between both has been crossed.

"I have said, You are gods ; and all of you are children of the Most High."
Psalms, 82:6.

When discussing the impact of Egyptian religion on (Alexandrian) Christianity, in particular Christology & Trinitarism, an issue part of the larger context of Egyptian influences on Hellenism, two positions are avoided.

On the one hand, literalism, the one-to-one identification of themes is no longer tenable. Paul and the writers of the gospels did not study Ancient Egyptian to invent Christianity. In a period when Judaism was strongly influenced by Hellenism, Christianity started as a conservative Jewish sect keeping circumcision sacred. And although Philo of Alexandria likely influenced Paul, and we are told by Matthew (2:14) that the infant Jesus escaped to Egypt (for "out of Egypt have I called my son" - 2:15), an immediate influence is possible but not likely (How long did Jesus stay in Egypt ?).

Instead, linguistics, semiotics and symbolism enable us to identify standard literary themes through time, like the extraordinary birth of a hero or a god, his return from the dead, the consumption of transformed stuff, the sending of the helping hand etc. They also aim to identify objective cycles and their synchronous timing and semiotic parallels (cf. synchronous projections on the Lunar and Stellar cycles). The stronger these themes resonate, the more likely that the oldest strand contains the original frequency.

On the other hand, skepticism (disguised as Hellenocentrism), negating the possibility itself of a powerful mediating and general impact of Egyptian culture, in particular its religion and wisdom, on all cultures touching the Mediterranean, in particular the Greek, is refuted by the evidence discussed elsewhere.

"It is crucial to the 'difference' of Christianity, that is, to its unique consideration of the relationship between the human and the divine, that the figure of Christ partake of both the human and the divine, and that he therefore suffer death upon the cross, and it is no less crucial that the Christian believer gain access to the divine through the 'incorporation' of the body and blood of Christ." - Hare, 1999, p.225.

For Paul, Christian faith and the resurrection of Christ form an indivisible unity. In later fundamental theology, this event becomes the pillar of orthodoxy. Paul's message ...

"It is about His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ : as to his humanity, he was born a descendant of David ; as to His Divine Holiness, He was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death."
Romans, 1:3-4.

"Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles."
1 Corinthians, 1:22-23.

For a host of fundamental Christian theologians (limited by scripture), the resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of Christianity. During Roman Mass, Christ's death, resurrection and second coming are confirmed just after the transsubstantiation of the offerings (the third register). However, the newness of this faith lay not in the fact a man, a god or God dies and returns from the dead. Not even in the story Christ did so in a special, renewed, spiritual body (1 Corinthians, 15:44). Nor in the Presence of the Divine in the bloodless sacrifice of the flesh and blood of Christ. Although, in Catholicism, the Host and the Cup are the only loci of Divine Presence, and intimately connected with the Passion & the Resurrection of Christ, semiotically, this sacramental thanksgiving ows its newness primarily because of the Incarnation. A point which cannot be stressed enough, given the predominance of the narrative, temporal interpretation (linking the Eucharist with the Last Supper and the Jewish Pesach).

In Antiquity, before rationality was common, as the myth of Osiris amply demonstrates, resurrection and magical bodies were part of the religious (astral) paradigm. To conquer death was not the monopoly of Jesus Christ, and countless mythical & legendary heroes & magicians pre-dating Christ left us their wonderful stories. The new window introduced by Christianity is the idea that God Himself Incarnates in this world as Jesus Christ. In Egypt, the supreme god (Atum-Re) and his retinue never manifest on Earth as such, and certainly not as a human being ! With the exception of Pharaoh, the Akhu never leave the sky of Re and communicate top-down by way of their souls & doubles. Gods communicate with gods. Humans hide or acquire godhood.

With this extraordinary notion of the Incarnation of God in a human being, Christianity introduced a new vertical dimension and co-relative dispensation. Humanity as such was raised to Divinity in Christ. In this perspective, the salvic, sacramental Presence of Jesus Christ, is clearly less important than the historical fact of the Coming of God as a human being, as the Q-people and the Didache testify. For with the birth of Christ, so the Gospel of Thomas tells us, the Kingdom of God arrived.

The Incarnation is nothing less than God becoming human flesh & blood in Jesus Christ. God becoming human and also remaining God. Pharaoh, also a godman, was more "god" than man. His Akh was divine, for he was the son of Re. His human appearance was a "form", an "image". Jesus Christ is Divine and fully human, two natures and two wills ! This supernatural Christology is the major weak spot of the whole Christian edifice, and cause of endless, ongoing disputes. The "humanity" of Christ is difficult to define, for it is "without sin" and so undefiled (Adamic). Does this humanity-before-the-Fall not lead to monophysitism ? In other words : how can "sin" be removed from the concept of "humanity" without idealizing humanity ?

If the Incarnation is the Divine becoming human flesh & blood, then the Resurrection is human flesh and blood becoming Divine. As the latter is impossible without the former, Christianity is rooted in the Incarnation. So if Jesus Christ did not Incarnate in this world as God, i.e. God never became fully human, then Christianity lacks novelty.

Indeed, comparing Christian Christology and Trinitarism with some of the semiotic clusters characterizing Osirian faith, brings common themes to the fore. As Early Christianity was strongly influenced by monotheist Jewish aniconicity and Greek Hellenism, any direct comparison with the ante-rational, pictoral henotheism of Egypt is futile and will not be attempted. Moreover, Jesus Christ is put forward as a single Divine Person, while Osiris, Horus and Isis are three deities.

Note these pertinent resonances :

  • Osiris is the good king of Egypt, Christ is the anointed king of Israel ;

  • Osiris and Christ are murdered by usurpers ;

  • Osiris and Christ are resurrected ;

  • Osiris is resurrected in the Duat, Christ on Earth ;

  • Osiris is resurrected by Horus, his son, Christ by His Father ;

  • Osiris ascends in a resurrected body, Christ ascends in a body of glory ;

  • Osiris gives salvation to everybody, Christ is the Savior of Humanity ;

  • the death of Osiris regenerates, the death of Christ redeems ;

  • the body of Osiris is lost and then mummified, the body of Christ buried and gone ;

  • Horus is born of the magic of Isis & Christ is born of the Holy Virgin ;

  • Christ and Horus are both born at the Winter Solstice ;

  • Christ resurrects around the time that Horus is vindicated ;

  • Horus is the divine son of the god Osiris, Christ is the unique son of God ;

  • the resurrected Christ sends His Spirit, the resurrected Osiris a "good Nile" ;

  • Isis is the mourning mother as Mary is the Mater Dolorosa ;

  • Isis protects her child against Seth, Mary flees to Egypt ;

  • Isis (a goddess) brings Horus to adulthood as Mary (a Jewish girl) raises Jesus ;

  • Horus fights Seth as Jesus rebukes Satan ;

  • Osiris eats the Eye of Horus, Christ consecrates bread and wine at the Last Supper ;

  • Osiris is the lord of wine & corn, bread & wine become the flesh & blood of Christ ;

  • etc.

At the end of the Apostolic Age (ca. 110 CE), the quest for a coherent orthodox core for Christianity was already afoot. Clement I enthroned Roman orthodoxy and had, as early as ca. 90 - 99, defined "apostolic succession" and the primacy of Rome ! When counter movements emerged (cf. Gnosticism, Marcionism & Montanism), the centrist orthodox core invented heresy. A lasting Imperial Christianity would be the outcome (cf. Constantine the Great and the Council of Nicæ of 325). The ideological schism with the Eastern Churches became irreversible (cf. monophysite Christology & the Filioque of Trinitarism). In the East, the Father is the core, while the Spirit proceeds only from Him. In the West, the Son is focal, and the Spirit is the dynamical Love between Father and Son. This difference had and has tremendous consequences, splitting Christianity and invoking Protestantism, added to the mess. Already at an early stage of canonization, Christian unity was lost.

Between Ancient Egypt and Semitic Judeo-Christian culture (a synthesis of Jewish, Hellenistic and Christian components), major incompatibilities prevail :

  • Kemet is iconical, Judeo-Christian thought is aniconical ;

  • in Egyptian thought God is One and Many, in Semitic thought God is singular ;

  • Pharaoh was a god in the body of a man, Christ has two natures : human and Divine ;

  • in Greek thought evil is deficient & absent, while Seth is a deity ;

  • human nature is to be transformed, while Jesus Christ, is both human and God ;

  • gods only communicate with gods, while God Incarnated as a human being ;

  • etc.

"Horus has completely filled You with his Eye in this its name of 'God's Offer'."
Pyramid Texts, §§ 614.

Taking these and other incompatibles into consideration, ponder for a moment on the Christian ritual par excellence : thanksgiving ("berakot"), part of the Christian Eucharist. The core of this interesting ritual is called the "Canon", which starts with a preface leading up to the consecration, the actual changing of wine & bread into the blood and body of Christ, invoking the Resurrected Christ. The study of the Christian Eucharist is a subject on its own (its earliest catechism is found in the Didache). The register of the actual Presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in flesh & blood, was added to what originally was a thanksgiving reply of the Jews to God for having freed them from Pharaoh and his yoke. Thanksgiving is an acknowledgement of liberation from slavery. This prayer became the "preface" of the Christian Canon (cf. the "Vere dignum"), for the Christians gave thanks to God for having given them His Son and the spiritual liberation of humanity.

"I speak to You as sensible people ; judge for yourselves what I say : The cup we use in the Lord's Supper and for which we give thanks to God : when we drink if it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break : when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf."
1 Corinthians, 10:14-17.

The importance of thanksgiving has been dealt with elsewhere. The Jewish prayer of thanksgiving forms a continuous reply to the original Divine speech, using the words of that original speech, and thus re-enacts the experience initiating the covenant between YHVH (Adonai) and humanity. Of this practice, many Egyptian parallels exist (cf. the return to the First Time, the importance of divine speech, etc.).

Saying grace before a meal was not unknown in Egyptian religion (nor was Pharaoh's baptism). In Egypt, Pharaoh (as Shu, life) offered on a divine altar, for the table of offerings was Atum himself ! In Egyptian thought, a stronger bond between sacrifice and the original beginning of time (or "zep tepi") cannot be conceived.

The Egyptian equivalent of saying grace is found in the second register on the inner face of the northern section of the girdle-wall of the temple of Horus at Edfu. The table of offerings is identifed with the creator Atum, and Pharaoh with his eldest son Shu, created by spitting saliva. The altar is thereby associated with the First Time. Atum-Re produces food and material plenty. The king offers them back on the altar (so that their kas may be fed), and ultimately consumes them (known as the reversion of offerings or communion). His thanksgiving is content worshipfulness.

"O Table-god (Atum), You have spat forth Shu from your mouth (...) O Table-god, may he (the king as Shu) give to You all that he will have dedicated, since he has become a god who is an emanation, alert, worshipful and powerful. (...) May he dedicate to You every good thing which You will give him, since he has become Heka. May he dedicate to You every good thing, food-offerings in abundance. May he set them before You and may You be content with them, may your Ka be content with them (...)

Be satisfied and worshipful, O Living Falcon, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of the Nobles, Lord of the common folk, Lord of the Seat of Re, Lord of gods, through the offerings which this son of yours brings to You, this Worshipfulness of yours, this Ka of yours, this Heka of yours, this Ptah of yours, this Shu of yours, this Thoth of yours, this abundance of yours upon Earth. May You be content and worshipful with them. May your Ka be content with them, and Your heart be content with them for ever."
Grace before a Meal - Temple of Edfu (girdle-wall).

Is there a semiotic resemblance between the second part of the Canon (in particular the consecration and the communion) and the third register of the Eye of Horus ? The issue is left open.

  1. sum total of all offerings : bread, wine, water, light & incense : the endless variety of Egyptian offerings is reduced to five ;

  2. offer of offerings (offertorium) : bread (Paten) and wine + water (Cup) : Paten & Cup hold the offer of offerings : the human body of Christ ;

  3. offer of communion (canon) : thanksgiving, consecration and communion : the spiritual body of Christ.

"To say : O Osiris king Neferkare, Horus has filled You with his complete Eye."
Pyramid Texts, §21c.

"O Osiris king Wenis, take the Eye of Horus and absorb it into your mouth. - the morning meal."
Pyramid Texts - § 60.

Christian consecration is said to contain the exact words of Jesus Christ during the Last Supper. In the East, the sacramental gifts are transubstantiated by the Holy Spirit, and not by these words of Christ. But in both cases, the ritual is supposed to invoke the Presence of God the Son de opere operato. Life-restoring communion with the flesh & blood of Christ offers a direct contact with this Presence of God. The Canon is Incarnational. During the consecration of the Host, the priest says : "This is my body". The priest is acting in the Person of Christ, "in Persona Christi".

In Egypt, the ecstasy of the living Horus enables the king and every magician to enter the Duat, see Osiris and become Osiris the king (cf. Naydler, 2005). This "seeing" is observing the mummy of Osiris (the second transformation of Osiris). It itself, this is already a symbolical form (a "sah"), but in a vegetative, inactive state. Because of the Eye of Horus, given to him by his son, Osiris is raised (third transformation) and represents the spirit (effective power) of vegetation, growth, fertility and life.

Assuming the king of the dead, Pharaoh receives the Eye of Horus and is regenerated by it. When Horus brings his Eye of Wellness to his father, he gives his own healed body, vindicated double (Ka) and royal soul (Ba). Then an embrace follows (the Eye is eaten) and Osiris is rejuvenated. This allows him to transform his soul into a divine spirit and ascend to his own, netherworldly sky. From there he sends a "good Nile" to the divine king and makes his magic work.

When Osiris the king, ritually assuming the role of Osiris, is restored by the Eye, he rules the Duat and returns to Earth (waking consciousness) as an empowered living Horus. Then he truly is the lord of the Two Lands : Horus for the living (East) and Osiris for the dead (West), Horus of the North and Seth of the South.

initiated : 22 XI 2005 - last update : 11 V 2009 - version n°1

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2005 - 2017.