the Wedjat Eye

by Wim van den Dungen

To understand the restorative symbolism of the Wedjat Eye, the myth of Osiris is indispensable. Unfortunately, when all references are compared, no canonical Osirian legend can be found. Early texts are full of allusions to lost myths. What we have on record is a number of motifs which conform to a mythological pattern. Although it is likely the fertility myths of the Dynastic Osirian cycle do contain Predynastic components, we have no elaborated, written myths about his existence until the Pyramid Texts. In the last millennium, the popularity of Osiris grew. In the Late Period, under the Ptolemies, he became Serapis, the "Lord of the Universe" in all its aspects.

the fourth generation of gods : Osiris & Isis

Osiris, the beneficent king of Egypt who had been killed by his evil brother Seth, was never represented in movement, but only as a mummy and the "Ka of Life" of the Earth and its vegetation (with black or green face). With the fourth generation of gods, the harmonious development of precreation was disturbed. Indeed, with Seth, the rule stating each pair of gods only engendered one other pair was broken :

First generation : Atum creating himself (He - She) ;
Second generation : Atum's first act of creation : Shu (male) - Tefnut (female) ;
Third generation : Geb (male) - Nut (female) ;
Fourth generation : Osiris (male) - Isis (female) | Seth (male) - Nephthys (female).

With Seth's birthday, the regular, dyadic flow of enneadic expansion is disturbed. Seth's presence caused disorder in the "zep tepy". Before there was no man to say his name, Seth was putting at risk the divine fabric of creation, the Ennead :

THE HELIOPOLITAN ENNEAD
0.
Nun

the primordial waters are undifferentiated & extended everywhere - although called "father of the gods", nothing happens in this vast zero, no myths develop

1.
Atum

the act of self-creation happens in the primordial waters and is the crucial event which initiates the "zep tepy" - the aloneness of godhead endures before creation

2.
Shu

by raising his arms (active thought), Shu created space & air - differentiation, light & life were made possible - the mediation between unity & multiplicity had begun

3.
Tefnut

the world created by Shu's intelligence and command needs a good order, just and true to its principles - a natural and moral organization are indispensable

4.
Geb

the essential event associated with Geb (Earth) and Nut (sky) is their separation by Shu and his wind spirits, for originally, both had been one - the sarcophagus of the dead king represented the Earth and its lid the sky - in the body of Nut the "millions" of stars came into being, as well as the abode of Re and the spirits

5.
Nut
6.
Osiris

the reign of Osiris on Earth is ideal, implying peace, unity and fertility (good Nile floods) - Osiris is the prototype of the good shepherd loved by his people

7.
Isis

Isis is the perfect spouse and queen - her loyalty has no limits as (through magic) she gives birth to Horus despite her murdered husband - then Isis becomes the perfect mother, raising up Horus in secret

8.
Seth

Murder, sexual perversion, disease, storms, fiery heat, violence, turbulence, chaos, disorder etc. belong to the trickster of Osiris, who, although mastered, is not cast out, nor negated, but made useful to Horus' new order

9. Nephthys

Lady of the Mansion, she occurs alongside Isis as a protector of the king, and weeps violently for her dead brother Osiris, who's mummy wrappings are her work

The Ennead (or company of nine deities) is rooted in physical reality (the Two Lands) by Horus, the king of Egypt. He is the "tenth" factor, closing the sequence of the natural numbers (after "10", all numbers are but repetitions of the first 9 numbers). Pharaoh is "1" and "0", for his principle (Atum = 1) was born in the waters (= 0).

Let us summarize the essential myths of the Osiris cycle :

  1. the kingdom of plenty and peace : Pharaoh Osiris ruled over a mythical, perfect kingdom = the fourth generation of gods ;

  2. disruption of this harmony : Osiris was murdered by Seth and his demons, who tore his body into pieces = "Osiris slain" ;

  3. period of mourning and confusion : Isis & Nephthys seek & find the body, mummify it, protect it (night-watches) and mourn = "Isis mourning" ;

  4. Isis conceives a son by Osiris : Isis partly revived Osiris thanks to Thoth. She hid her son Horus in the swamps of the Delta and brought him up in secret (a whole cycle of myths gather around Isis in the Delta) ;

  5. Osiris is the "Ka at rest" ("kA Htp") : Osiris sojourns in the Netherworld in a state of unconsciousness and powerlessness ("great sleep"). His Ka-powers are depleted, although the pieces of his body have been brought together in a ritualistic way (cf. mummification and the release of the "Sah" - "zaH"), unlocking the portal of the Netherworld and allowing the soul ("bA") and the spirit ("Ax") a material substrate. Without Horus, the outlook for Osiris is hopeless ;

  6. Horus avenging his father and loosing his left eye : to resuscitate his father, Horus had to vanquish his father's enemies. He fought Seth in a long and bitter battle.

  7. Horus vindicated before the great council of gods :  the deities grew tired of the disturbances caused by this ongoing battle in the universe. Thoth persuaded the two fellows to submit their quarrel to the divine arbitration of Neith - the final verdict is in favour of Horus ;

  8. restoration of the Eye and Horus crowned king : only Pharaoh Horus wields the might of the Restored Wedjat Eye (assimilating the great goddess) ;

  9. Horus resuscitates Osiris : Horus goes to the Netherworld and restores the life force of his father (the Wedjat Eye plays the role of Ka-offering) ;

  10. Osiris risen in the Netherworld : awakened by the Eye of Horus, Osiris' soul is set in motion and he becomes the spirit of life, growth, fertility, resurrection & rebirth needed by his son Horus to establish unity & peace in the Two Lands. Seth has been made sub serve this new order. The unregulated forces are mastered and made to help in sustaining the revived Osiris (Seth is his bark) = "Osiris Risen".

Only in two forms is Osiris presented to the observer and the reader : either as what he became after his assassination (namely, a mummy) or as the manifestation of the life-force or vitality of creation (the "green" of life). Only in the texts of the IXth & Xth Dynasties is Osiris allowed to speak for himself.

Osiris & the Wedjat Eye

The Osiris drama unfolded in mythical (enneadic) times, but on a personalized level (as a family conflict unfolding in a mythical "perfect" kingdom) it refers to the fourth generation of gods. While the Atum-cycle refers to cosmogonical and royal themes (the Eye of Re), Osirian beliefs are anthropological (the emotional, funerary family drama) and vitalistic (the yearly revival of nature). Moreover, they are common beliefs (the Wedjat Eye of Horus was a very popular amulet). 

Osiris was the victim, the helpless one, but also the dead land to be revived. He suffered, like the little man, with all mortality, had been murdered and sojourned unhappily in the Netherworld. His unfortunate death had been followed by a deadly afterlife. He called out to be revitalized by his son, Pharaoh Horus so as to resurrect as a soul and become the spirit of life itself. In this way, he would be the ultimate power of revival and fertility, the eternal cycle of birth (in this world : the fertility of the land) and rebirth (in the Netherworld : no "second death" but spiritualization).

His son Horus was his heir and avenger. As avenger, he had to confront Seth and subdue him. Then, as "beloved son" he could take care of the "Ka" of Osiris (who was depleted). Revitalized, Osiris achieved beatification and became the spirit of life. As heir, Pharaoh Horus would rule. He had Seth beneath his sandals, serving the new order.

The Wedjat Eye-cycle represents the process whereby Horus is injured by Seth (the empty eye), fights the foe, is healed (the Eye of Thoth), crowned (by the deities) & empowered by this "green" Eye of Wellness, which he gives to Osiris. Her great magic is able to resuscitate the dead god who is dying his "second death" in the realm of the dead. For Osiris is sleeping his "great sleep" in the "desert place" in which he came. By descending into the Netherworld and giving his Wedjat Eye to Osiris, Horus revives his father, i.e. pulled him out of this state of "second death". Reborn as a soul in the realm of the dead, Osiris is now able to move and transform himself into the spirit of eternal rejuvenation. The rescue of Osiris by Horus the Redeemer, is the rising of the flood waters and the advent of the New Year.

the patrilineal principle

Osiris is not reborn in this world, as in other fertility cults, where the resurrected god returns to Earth (cf. Tammuz brought back to life & Earth by Ishtar). Osiris stays in the Netherworld, to become the king and the judge of the dead. Pharaoh Horus fulfils the destiny of this world. Osiris resurrects in a special spiritual "soul-body", released after "the opening of the mouth" by Horus. Without Horus, the perfect son, Osiris would have continued to die (being a god, total annihilation could not happen). Without Osiris, no Pharaoh could guarantee the fertility of his land. This model was the mythical background of Pharaonism : the living Pharaoh was Horus, the son and heir of Osiris, the dead king, his father, resurrected as a soul and spirit of eternal life.

This deceased father (returning to Re in the sky) was the source (the link) of the son's Ka-power. Being a spirit, he was free to move around and dwell wherever he liked, but especially around the mummy in the tomb. The father needed a successor, for he wanted all offerings be made to his Ka, for this gratified his soul. The sapiental instructions also underline this : the father is pleased to receive a son who listens well and becomes better than himself. This patrilineal principle was kept in place for three millennia. It is fundamental to understand the Egyptian mentality.

The Wedjat Eye represented injury, healing and triumph through filial spirituality. Horus was the perfect son who had heard and had listened (cf. Ptahhotep). With his story, the Osirian drama repeated itself : "Osiris slain" is as "Horus injured", "Isis mourning" returns as "Horus healed" (each time thanks to Thoth), whereas "Osiris risen" and "Horus crowned Pharaoh" are also similar themes. And indeed, Horus did better than his father. Osiris lost his earthly life for good, was saved from a "second death" to be crowned king in the Netherworld. As Pharaoh, Horus was the sole living god on Earth, the only god who's spirit was not in the sky, but amongst mortal beings "hiding" before his most beautiful face.

But there is more. While on Earth, Osiris had not realized the evil intentions of his brother. When Horus was crowned, he had the power of the Wedjat Eye and so could resuscitate his father in the Netherworld. This gave Osiris the power of comprehending Seth's real nature, mastering him and making good use of his chaotic powers (he became the bark of Osiris). Horus gave Osiris the Wedjat Eye and "opened his mouth" with an adze ("seb-ur") representing the Great Bear, a constellation of Seth. 

"Horus had laid hold of Seth and has set him under You in your behalf so that he may lift You up and quake beneath You as the Earth quakes, You being holier than he in your name of 'Sacred Land'. Horus has caused You to examine him {Seth} in his inmost parts, lest he escape from You ; he has caused You to lay hold of him with your hand, lest he get away from You."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 356, §§ 581-582.

Because of Horus' descent into the Netherworld as a crowned Pharaoh, Osiris could "send out his soul" (or "bA") and "set himself in motion". The herald of the annual Nile inundation was the heliacal rising of the Dog-star Sothis or Sirius, associated with Isis, brightly appearing on the eastern horizon in the dawn sky of July. But the motion of the waters in the vegetation itself, called for the spirit of life, i.e. the return of Osiris to the sky. This was associated with the rising of Orion or Osiris in the southern sky, the beginning of a new season of growth & fertility. Both events underlined the advent of the New Year.

Because of the care of his son (who vanquished the enemies of his father), the latter could become one with the soul of the original Osiris, and be "an Osiris" in the Netherworld. The living did not worship their ancestors, but hoped that some of their Ka-power could be transmitted for their own needs. By resuscitating Osiris in the Netherworld, Horus had guaranteed the fertility & growth in the re-established order on Earth for ever and ever.

Core dynamics of the Osirian cycle.

" ... and they say to Osiris :
'You went away, You have returned.
You woke, You fell asleep.
You are enduring in life.
Arise ! Behold this ! Arise ! 
Hear this, what your son has done for You !
What Horus has done for You !'"

Pyramid Texts, utterance 482, §§ 1006 - 1007.

A. The Passion of Osiris

OSIRIS SLAIN :
The power of life is disrupted. The beginning of crisis ;

ISIS MOURNING : 
The constituents of life are scattered. This is a period of great danger, in which the inner causes of turbulence are to be confronted and assimilated. Hence, a new concept of life may emerge (Horus), although the old order is like an immobile dead (cf. Osiris' sojourn in the Netherworld) ;

OSIRIS DYING :
The earthly Passion of Osiris ends with his mummification and return to the Netherworld, the "Beautiful West", the place of the dead, situated underground but also in the primordial waters. But his Passion continues. In the Netherworld Osiris has no "bread and beer", but satisfaction and quiet. Nevertheless, he wanders helplessly herein (like Shu and Tefnut before the Single Eye brought them back ?). This is his "second dead", a "great sleep" in the realm of the dead.  The "call" of Osiris : "Come down to me !" is the great turning-point in this drama.

B. The coming of the Redeemer

ISIS MOTHER :

First enslaved by Seth, Isis escaped thanks to Thoth and fled to the marshes of the Delta. She hid Horus from Seth, so that he could grow up and eventually re-establish the good order of things. In the Delta, Seth could not appear in his true form. As a snake or scorpion, he tried to harm Horus the child (the Greek "Harpocrates"). In this phase, the love and anxiety of Isis are mingled with the situation of the lonely and unprotected child.

THE EYE TORN OUT :
When the new concept has matured, it has to fight the causes which destroyed its "father", i.e. counter the repetition of the crisis. A direct confrontation with these causes is unavoidable. But in the fight, the left eye of Horus was injured. The battle seemed endless because both parties were very strong. Only honest arbitration may help. But who of the deities can solve the eighty-year dispute ? The verdict of Neith, the oldest of the gods ? The new principle (Horus) is of today, the old (Osiris) is of yesterday. Seth is made to serve (either Osiris or Re). 

WEDJAT & CORONATION

The Eye was found, restored and made well (Wedjat) by Thoth. She empowered Horus at his coronation and helped him to re-established the original kingdom of peace & plenty. Being king implied that Pharaoh Horus had to guarantee that the Nile flood was balanced and on time. This could only happen thanks to the spirit of life (Osiris). But this was slain and wandering in the Netherworld ;

C. The Redemption of the Soul of Life

OSIRIS RISEN :

The Crowned Horus plunged into darkness to vitalize Osiris with his Eye and "open his mouth". The subsequent resurrection of Osiris as a soul heading to the sky (as the spirit of life) was thanks to the restorative power of the Wedjat Eye, which broke all Sethean restraints, inertia & slumber. This made Osiris finally understand Seth and become the ultimate judge in the Hall of Maat. Osiris resurrection and ascension to the sky represented the spiritualization of his soul of life and the ultimate guarantee the Ka-power of life would intercede for Pharaoh Horus. Thanks to Horus, Osiris became the reviving powers of the New Year. Thanks to Osiris, the reign of Pharaoh Horus was peaceful.

the Wedjat Eye in healing magic

The Wedjat Eye is a magical healing eye. Its restoration by Thoth, Lord of Wisdom & Healing, makes this clear. As with all Egyptian magic, it was used whenever the balanced order of nature has been disrupted (disease) or in need to be defended against an assailing foe (immunity-response). In particular, the Eye of Horus had revitalizing abilities, and was offered to the deities (as it was to Osiris). Despite the different mythological connotations, the Egyptians used both eyes in various iconographical compositions, stressing their complementarity's (as Sun & Moon) :


the Eye of Ra offered to Thoth by his Ape
who stands on the Eye of Horus

initiated : 1 XII 2003 - last update : 27 XI 2010

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2003 - 2014.