|Osiris (Greek language, also Usiris;
the Egyptian language name is variously
spelled Asar, Aser, Ausar, or Ausare)
is the Egyptian god of death and the
underworld. The origin of Osiris'
name is a mystery, which forms an
obstacle to knowing the pronunciation
of its hieroglyphic form. The majority
of current thinking is that the Egyptian
name is pronounced aser where the
a is the letter ayin (i.e. a short
'a' pronounced from the back of the
throat as if swallowing).
Father of Babi
Osiris is first mentioned in the 5th Dynasty. Osiris was originally
the god of the underworld and the dead in the Ennead
version of Egyptian mythology,
in which he was one of the four children of the earth (Geb)
and the sky (Nuit), and was the husband
of Isis (Aset), who represented life.
As god of the dead, Babi, the god who
devoured unworthy souls, was described as his first-born son.
In art, since he was representative of death, Osiris was
usually depicted as a mummified man, with a beard, and, as
ruler of the underworld, was also given the symbols of kingship
- the crown, flail, and crozier. Usually, he also was depicted
as having green skin, a reference to rotting flesh, and thus
The main visible source of decomposition, of rotting flesh,
is its consumption by insects, beetles, and other small animals.
Since these animals are the prey of centipedes, centipedes
became seen by the Egyptians as protecting the dead, and consequently,
in Heliopolis, became thought of as an aspect of Osiris, the
lord of the dead. In this form, he was known as Sepa (also
spelt Sep), meaning centipede, being depicted either as a
normal centipede or as a mummified figure with two horns,
reflecting both Osiris' role as lord of the dead, and the
prominent horn-like Antennae exhibited by centipedes. Since
centipedes are venemous, Sepa was seen as having authority
over snake bites and scorpion stings, and so was invoked for
protection against these things.
The presence of earthworms improves the fertility of soil,
and such simple observations were known in ancient times,
although it was often associated with other creatures usually
present in healthy soil as well. Since centipedes prey on
such animals, they would usually be found in the same locations,
and thus also became associated with soil fertility. Because
centipedes usually roam around soil, Sepa was also associated
with the Earth, and his actions seen to improve its fertility.
In consequence, Sepa was sometimes depicted with the head
of a donkey, a major symbol of soil fertility due to the beneficial
effects, to soil, of manure from donkeys in particular (horse
manure would be more notable, but horses were not present
Father of Anubis
Later, when the Ennead and Ogdoad cosmogenies became merged,
with the identification of Ra as Atum (Atum-Ra), gradually
Anubis (Anupu), the god of the underworld in the Ogdoad system,
was replaced by Osiris, whose cult had become more significant.
In order to explain this, Anubis was said to have given way
to Osiris out of respect, and, as an underworld deity, was
subsequently identified as being Osiris' son. Abydos, which
had been a strong centre of the cult of Anubis, became a centre
of the cult of Osiris.
However, as Isis, Osiris' wife, represented
life, in the Ennead,
it was considered somewhat inappropriate
for her to be the mother of a god associated
with death, and so instead, it was usually
said that Nephthys
(Nebet Het), the other of the two female
children of Geb
and Nuit, was his
mother. To explain the apparent infidelity
of Osiris, it was said that a sexually
had disguised herself as Isis
to get more attention from her husband,
Set, who was in
fact homosexual, but did not succeed,
although Osiris then mistook her for Isis,
and they had sex, resulting in Anubis'
||Father of Horus
Later, when Hathor's
identity (from the Ogdoad)
was assimilated into that of Isis,
who had been Isis'
husband (in the Ogdoad),
became considered her son, and thus,
since Osiris was Isis'
husband (in the Ennead),
Osiris also became considered Horus'
father. Attempts to explain how Osiris,
a god of death, could give rise to
someone so definitely alive as Horus,
lead to the development of the Legend
of Osiris and Isis,
which became the greatest myth in
The myth described Osiris as having been killed by Set, who
had by now become considered evil, and subsequently having
been resurrected, leading to him copulating with Isis, resulting
in the birth of Horus, but returning to the land of the dead,
shortly after when the magic wore off (so that it could be
explained how he was still lord of the dead). As such, since
Horus was only present after Osiris, his father, was dead,
and Osiris was only alive before Horus was born, Horus became
thought of as the resurrected version of Osiris, i.e. Osiris
re-incarnated. This combination, Osiris-Horus, was therefore
a life-death-rebirth deity, and thus associated with the new
harvest each year.
Ptah-Seker (who resulted from the identification of Ptah
as Seker), who was god of re-incarnation, thus gradually became
identified with Osiris, the two becoming Ptah-Seker-Osiris
(rarely known as Ptah-Seker-Atum, although this was just the
name, and involved Osiris rather than Atum). As the sun was
thought to spend the night in the underworld, and subsequently
be re-incarnated, as both king of the underworld, and god
of reincarnation, Ptah-Seker-Osiris was identified as the
sun during the night.
Since Osiris was considered dead, as lord of the dead, Osiris'
soul, or rather his Ba, was occasionally worshipped in its
own right, almost as if it were a distinct god, especially
so in the Delta city of Mendes. This aspect of Osiris was
referred to as Banebdjed (also spelt Banebded or Banebdjedet,
which is technically feminine) which literally means The ba
of the lord of the djed, which roughly means The soul of the
lord of the pillar of stability. The djed, a type of pillar,
was usually understood as the backbone of Osiris, since the
Egyptians had associated death, and the dead, as symbolic
of stability. As Banebdjed, Osiris was given epithets such
as Lord of the Sky and Life of the (sun god) Ra, since Ra,
when he had become identified with Atum, was considered Osiris'
ancestor, from whom his regal authority was inherited.
Ba does not, however, quite mean soul in the western sense,
and also has a lot to do with power, reputation, force of
character, especially in the case of a god. Since the ba was
associated with power, and also happened to be a word for
ram in Egyptian, Banebdjed was depicted as a ram, or as Ram-headed.
A living, sacred ram, was even kept at Mendes and worshipped
as the incarnation of the god, and upon death, the rams were
mummified and buried in a ram-specific necropolis.
In Mendes, they had considered Hatmehit, a local fish-goddess,
as the most important god/goddess, and so when the cult of
Osiris became more significant, Banebdjed was identified in
Mendes as deriving his authority from being married to Hatmehit.
Later, when Horus became identified as the child of Osiris
(in this form Horus is known as Harpocrates in greek and Har-pa-khered
in Egyptian), Banebdjed was consequently said to be Horus'
father, as Banebdjed is an aspect of Osiris.
In contemporary occult fiction, Banebdjed is often called
the goat of Mendes, and identifed with Baphomet; the fact
that Banebdjed was a ram (sheep), not a goat, is apparently
By the hellenic era, greek awareness of Osiris had grown,
and attempts had been made to merge greek philosophy, such
as Platonism, and the cult of Osiris (especially the myth
of his resurrection), resulting in a mystery religion. Gradually,
this became more popular, and was exported to other parts
of the greek sphere of influence. However, these mystery religions
valued the change in wisdom, personality, and knowledge of
fundamental truth, rather than the exact details of the acknowledged
myths on which their teachings were superimposed. Thus in
each region that it was exported to, the myth was changed
to be about a similar local god, resulting in a series of
gods, who had originally been quite distinct, but who were
now syncretisms with Osiris. These gods became known as Osiris-Dionysus.
|Eventually, in Egypt, the hellenic
pharaohs decided to produce a deity
that would be acceptable to both the
local Egyptian population, and the
influx of hellenic visitors, to bring
the two groups together, rather than
allow a source of rebellion to grow.
Thus Osiris was identified explicitely
really an aspect of Ptah,
who had already been identified as
Osiris by this point, and a syncretism
of the two was created, known as Serapis,
and depicted as a standard greek god.
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