Osiris the Wise King--Introduction of Agriculture --Isis the Strong Queen--Conspiracy of Set--The Tragic Feast--Osiris is slain--The Quest of Isis----Set the Oppressor--"The Opener of the Ways"--Birth of Horus--Thoth the Healer--Tree encloses Osiris's Body--Isis as a Foster-mother--Her Swallow Guise--Flames of Immortality--Osiris brought back to Egypt --Torn in Pieces by Set, the Boar Hunter--Isis recovers Fragments--Ghost of Murdered King--Horus as Hamlet--Succession of Uncle and Son--Agricultural Rites--The Inundation--Lamentations at Sowing Time and Harvest --Osiris and Isis as Corn Spirits--Hapi, the Nile Deity--Isis as a Male.
WHEN Osiris was born, a voice from out of the heavens proclaimed: "Now
hath come the lord of all things." The wise man Pamyles
had knowledge of the tidings in a holy place at
When Ra grew old and ascended unto heaven, Osiris sat in his throne and
ruled over the
Osiris ushered in a new age. He made good and binding laws, he uttered just
decrees, and he judged with wisdom between men. He caused peace to prevail at
length over all the
woman of exceeding great wisdom. Perceiving the
need of mankind, she gathered the ears of barley and wheat which she found
growing wild, and these she gave unto the king. Then Osiris taught men to break
up the land which had been under flood) to sow the seed, and, in due season, to
reap the harvest. He instructed them also how to grind corn and knead flour and
meal so that they might have food in plenty. By the wise ruler was the vine
trained upon poles, and he cultivated fruit trees and caused the fruit to be
gathered. A father was he unto his people, and he taught them to worship the
gods, to erect temples, and to live holy lives. The hand of man was no longer
lifted against his brother. There was prosperity in the
When the king perceived the excellent works which he had accomplished in
Isis reigned over the
LUNAR, SOLAR AND EARTH GODS
OSIRIS, ISIS AND HORUS
When Osiris returned from his mission, there was great rejoicing in the land. A royal feast was held, and set came to make merry, and with him were his fellow conspirators. He brought a shapely and decorated chest, which he had caused to be made according to the measurements of the king's body. All men praised it at the feast, admiring its beauty, and many desired greatly to possess it. When hearts were made glad with beer-drinking, Set proclaimed that he would gift the chest unto him whose body fitted its proportions with exactness. There was no suspicion of evil design among the faithful subjects of Osiris. The guests spoke lightly, uttering jests one against another, and all were eager to make trial as Set had desired. So it happened that one after another entered the chest on that fateful night, until it seemed that no man could be found to win it for himself. Then Osiris came forward. He lay down within the chest, and he filled it in every part. But dearly was his triumph won in that dark hour which was his hour of doom. Ere he could raise his body, the evil followers of Set sprang suddenly forward and shut down the lid, which they nailed fast and soldered with lead. So the richly decorated chest became the coffin of the good king Osiris, from whom departed the breath of life.
The feast was broken up in. confusion. Merrymaking ended in sorrow, and
blood flowed after that instead of beer. Set commanded his followers to carry
away the chest and dispose of it secretly. As he bade them, so did they do. They hastened through the night and flung it into the
When the grievous tidings were borne unto
Nor would she rest nor stay until she found what she sought. She questioned
each one she encountered, and one after another they answered her without
knowledge. Long she made search in vain, but at length she was told by shoreland children that they had beheld the chest floating
down the Nile and entering the sea by the Delta mouth which takes its name from
the city of
Meanwhile Set, the usurper, ascended the throne of Osiris and reigned over
The heart of
It was his desire to put Horus to death, lest he should become his enemy and
the claimant of the throne of Osiris. But wise Thoth came out of heaven and
gave warning unto
The coffin of Osiris was driven by the waves to
alien land marvelled greatly at the wonderful tree, because that it had such rapid growth, and he gave command that it should be cut down. As he desired, so it was done. Then was the trunk erected in his house as a sacred pillar, but to no man was given knowledge of the secret which it contained.
A revelation came unto Isis, and she set out towards
unto the queen who she was. Then she asked the king
that the sacred pillar be given unto her. The boon was granted, and she cut
deep into the trunk and took forth the chest which was concealed therein. Embracing
it tenderly, she uttered cries of lamentation that were so bitter and keen that
the royal babe died with terror. Then she consecrated the sacred pillar, which
she wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh, and it was afterwards placed in a
temple which the king caused to be erected to Isis, and for long centuries it
was worshipped by the people of
The coffin of Osiris was borne to the ship in which the queen goddess had
When Isis reached the
and they were scattered along the river banks. 1 A fish (Oxyrhynchus) swallowed the phallus.
The heart of
Set continued to rule over
One night there appeared to Horus in a. dream a vision of his father
Osiris. 2 The ghost urged him to overthrow Set) by
whom he had been so treacherously put to death, and
Horus vowed to drive his wicked uncle and all his followers out of the
great cry of grief when he was forced to take flight. He rested at Zaru, and there was the last battle fought. It was waged for many days, and Horus lost an eye. But Set was still more grievously wounded, 1 and he was at length driven with his army out of the kingdom.
It is told that the god Thoth descended out of heaven and healed the wounds
of Horus and Set. Then the slayer of Osiris appeared before the divine council
and claimed the throne. But the gods gave judgment that Horus was the rightful
king, and he established his power in the
Another version of the legend relates that when the fragments of the body of
Osiris were recovered from the
Gods, and men before the face of the gods, are
weeping for thee at the same time when they behold me!
Lo! I invoke thee with wailing that reacheth high as heaven--
Yet thou hearest not my voice. Lo! I, thy sister, I love thee more than all the earth
And thou lovest not another as thou dost thy sister!
Subdue every sorrow which is in the hearts of us
thy sisters . . .
Live before us, desiring to behold thee. 2
The lamentations of the goddesses were heard by Ra, and he sent down from
heaven the god Anubis, who, with the assistance of Thoth and Horus, united the
severed portions of the body of Osiris, which they wrapped in linen bandages. Thus had origin the mummy form of the god. Then the winged
the body, and the air from her wings entered the nostrils of Osiris so that he was imbued with life once again. He afterwards became the Judge and King of the Dead.
Egyptian burial rites were based upon this legend. At the ceremony enacted
in the tomb chapel two female relatives of the deceased took the parts of Isis
and Nepthys, and recited magical formulæ
so that the dead might be imbued with vitality and enabled to pass to the
Judgment Hall and
Osiris and Isis, the traditional king and queen of ancient Egyptian tribes, were identified with the deities who symbolized the forces of Nature, and were accordingly associated with agricultural rites.
The fertility of the narrow strip of country in the
unusual increase of the river, overflowed the fields and pastures, they were seen hurrying to the spot, on foot or in boats, to rescue the animals and to remove them to the high grounds above the reach of the inundation. . . . And though some suppose the inundation does not now attain the same height as of old, those who have lived in the country have frequently seen the villages of the Delta standing, as Herodotus describes them, like islands in the Ægean Sea, with the same scenes of rescuing the cattle from the water." According to Pliny, "a proper inundation is of 16 cubits . . . in 12 cubits the country suffers from famine, and feels a deficiency even in 13; 14 causes joy, 15 scarcity, 16 delight; the greatest rise of the river to this period was of 18 cubits".
When the river rose very high in the days of the Pharaohs, "the lives and property of the inhabitants", says Wilkinson, "were endangered"; in some villages the houses collapsed. Hence the legend that Ra sought to destroy his enemies among mankind.
The inundation is at its height by the end of September, and continues
stationary for about a month. Not until the end of September does the river
resume normal proportions. November is the month for sowing; the harvest is
reaped in Upper Egypt by March and in
It was believed by the ancient agriculturists that the tears of
or "the Night of the Drop", because
"it is believed that a miraculous drop then falls into the
When the ancient Egyptians had ploughed their fields they held a great festival at which the moon god, who, in his animal form, symbolized the generative principle, was invoked and worshipped. Then the sowing took place, amidst lamentations and mourning for the death of Osiris. The divine being was buried in the earth; the seeds were the fragments of his body. Reference is made to this old custom in Psalm cxxvi: "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him".
When harvest operations began, the Egyptians mourned because they were
slaying the corn spirit. Diodorus Siculus
tells that when the first handful of grain was cut, the Egyptian reapers beat
their breasts and lamented, calling upon
Both Osiris and Isis were originally identified with the spirits of the corn. The former represented the earth god and the latter the earth goddess. But after the union of the tribes which worshipped the human incarnations of ancient deities, the rival conceptions were
fused. As a result we find that the inundation is
symbolized now as the male principle and now as the female principle; the
The Scottish Osiris
THERE were three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and plough'd
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.
But the cheerful spring came kindly on,
And show'rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris'd them all.
The sultry suns of summer came,
And he grew thick and strong,
His head weel arm'd wi' pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.
The sober autumn enter'd
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show'd he began to fail.
His colour sicken'd more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.
They've ta'en a weapon
long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then ty'd him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell'd him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn'd him o'er and o'er.
They filèd up a darksome
With water to the brim,
They heavèd in John Barleycorn-
There let him sink or swim.
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear'd,
They tossed him to and fro.
They wasted, o'er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But the miller us'd him worst of all,
For he crush'd him between two stones.
And they hae ta'en his very heart's blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.
'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy;
'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,
Tho' the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne'er fail in old
16:1 After the period of Ethiopian supremacy (Twenty-fifth Dynasty) Set was identified with the Ethiopians.
19:1 Another version of the myth places the birth of Horus after the body of Osiris was found.
19:2 She took the form of a shrew mouse to escape Set when he searched for Horus.
19:3 Thoth in his lunar character as divine physician.
20:1 We have
here a suggestion of belief in cremation, which was practised
by the cave-dwellers of southern
21:1 The Osiris boar. See Chapter V.
crocodile worshippers held that their sacred reptile recovered the body of
22:2 This is the earliest known form of the Hamlet myth.
23:1 He was mutilated by Horus as he himself had mutilated Osiris.
23:2 The Burden of Isis, translated by J. T. Dennis (Wisdom of the East Series).
24:1 The Ancient Egyptians, Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson.
27:1 The Burden of Isis, Dennis, p. 49.