Osiris story

Osiris story from reliable sources

V. Krishnakumar

One of the most prominent gods of Egypt is Osiris [1]. He is of primary importance; one among the three major gods, other two being Horus and Re [5]. We begin our discussion with the story of Osiris and related gods namely Nut, Isis, Horus, Thoth and Seth. The story of Osiris and his related gods resemble several of Indian stories having similarity with it, thus suggesting a possible link between Egyptian civilization and ancient India.

We have extracted the story of Osiris from Golden Bough [1]. The story in [1] is corroborated by the hieroglyphics of the pyramids of Sakkara. The additional points from sources other than [1] that contribute to the story without loss of continuity are also interposed between the points from [1] and appropriately referenced. Thus, in the following list those from [1] do not have any reference number, while points from other sources have reference numbers next to them.

Osiris is the son of a relation between the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. Nut, being the wife of sun god Re, was cursed by him not to deliver the children born out of her relation with Geb. However god Thoth, another of her lovers, helped her to deliver children overcoming the curse of Re. Thus Nut delivered three sons: Osiris, elder Horus and Seth; and two daughters: Isis and Nephthys. When Osiris was born a divine voice announced the advent of the lord of the world.

  1. Osiris married Isis, and Seth Nephthys.
  2. Osiris as king of earth reclaimed Egyptians from savagery, gave them laws, and taught them to worship gods. Before him Egyptians were cannibals.
  3. Isis discovered wheat and barley growing in the wild; Osiris introduced their cultivation, he also introduced the technique of making wine and beer. With intent to spread his discovery, he travelled all over the world spreading civilization and agriculture, after entrusting his kingdom to Isis, see also [3].
  4. According to [4] “He travelled to several places in India including the remotest inhabited coasts, built many cities, one of which is called Nysa, he took care to have statues of himself in every place, …”.
  5. He returned to Egypt after this expedition with huge wealth that he got as gratitude for his service and he was worshipped as the greatest god in Egypt.
  6. However he was associated with agriculture [5] and also worshipped as corn god much later [1]. The Greeks associated Osiris with their god Dionysus [5].
  7. However his brother Seth along with his seventy-two associates plotted against him. Seth tricked Osiris into an elaborately carved coffin and threw him into the Nile.
  8. When Isis heard this she sheared off a lock of her hair, put on mourning attire and wandered disconsolately up and down seeking his body.

10. Being advised by Thoth, she took refuge in the papyrus swamps of the delta. Once Isis sought shelter in a woman’s house in the swamp but was refused. One of Isis’ scorpion companions bit the woman’s son who was later revived by Isis.

11. Isis gave birth to younger Horus during her stay in the swamp. Buto the goddess of North protected Horus from his wicked uncle Seth. Once, when Horus was bitten by a scorpion, Thoth revived him.

12. The coffin of Osiris was trapped in a tamarisk tree in the river; the tree was later made into a pillar in the house of the king of Byblus.

13. Isis came to know of this, and reached Byblus in a humble disguise, spoke to the women of the palace kindly; she braided their hair and pleased them with the wonderful perfume emanating from her divine body. Queen being impressed by what she heard from her maids, made her the nurse of her child.

14. At night Isis began to burn all that was mortal of that royal child whom she was supposed to nurse. Further in the form of a swallow she fluttered around the wooden pillar that contained the body of Osiris. Queen spied on her and somehow prevented her son from being burnt. Isis then revealed herself, begged for the pillar, and got back Osiris body.

15. She took out the coffin of Osiris, carried it in a boat along with the queen’s son called Maneros. On her way she opened the coffin, expressed her love for Osiris and killed Maneros. As another version goes, he accidentally fell himself into water and got drowned.

16. Seth while hunting a boar on a full moon night noticed the coffin left by Isis who had gone to see Horus. Seth took out the body of Osiris from the coffin and dismantled it into fourteen pieces and scattered them abroad so that Isis could not recover them.

17. Isis searched for the pieces and found only thirteen of them. She buried them as follows: she molded complete human images out of wax and spices around each of his body parts. She called priests privately, telling each one that she had entrusted the duty of Osiris’s burial to him alone in his own land and to honor Osiris as god. She gave them one third of the land to be used for service and worship of the god. There is also a belief that she buried an image of him in every city to prevent Seth from finding out the real ones.

18. The genital member of Osiris was eaten by fishes and that was the fourteenth and missing piece.  So Isis made an image of it instead and this image is used by Egyptians in their festivals.

19. From the inscription of the temple of Dendera and other texts his heart was at Athribis, backbone at Busiris, neck at Letopolis and his head at Memphis and Abydos and Biga, Edfu, Herakleopolis and Sebennytos which all claimed one or more of his legs [5]. Abydos claimed to possess the head of Osiris and was very sacred to Egyptians. People desired their bodies to be buried in the precincts of Osiris’s remains and some, who could not afford it, would at least make their mortal remains to be tarried there for a while and then be conveyed by river to their tombs in their native lands. Others had cenotaphs built or memorial tablets erected in its vicinity.

20. As another version goes, Isis and Nephthys lamented over Osiris’s death. Looking at this Re sent the jackal headed god Anubis, who put together the broken body, covered it in linen bandages and performed the rites. Nebertcher is the name of Osiris when his scattered limbs were brought together and built up again into a body by Isis and Nephthys [6].

21. Isis fanned the cold clay with her wings and Osiris being revived, became the king of the dead in the netherworld. He bore the titles Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity and Ruler of the dead. Osiris was ‘true of speech’, a great attribute apt to the lord of underworld.

22. Aquert is the place of Osiris which is the abode of the dead [6]. Land of Osiris is the West, which is also called ‘realm of light’, where, after death, souls work in the field eternally. It is due to this that some people made dolls called Ushabti, whose spirits would do the work for them instead [4].

23. In the netherworld the heart of the deceased is weighed for assessing the goodness of the person. Beside it is an ‘Eater of the dead’ who has the head of a crocodile, the trunk of a lion and the hinder parts of a hippopotamus. Some believe that the hearts of those which were wanting on weighing would be devoured by this monster. This animal is sometimes viewed as a guardian of the entrance to the fields of the blessed and was sometimes viewed as Seth.

24. Egyptians believed that everyone would live eternally in the other world if his surviving friends performed rituals similar to those done by Horus, Isis, Anubis and others to Osiris’ body. Hence they viewed every dead body as Osiris, the professional female mourners as Isis and Nephthys; and other performers as Anubis, Horus and the other gods.

25. It is not clear as to when Isis conceived Horus. As one version goes she conceived him while she fluttered in the form of a hawk over the corpse of Osiris at Byblus. Horus was born in the swamp before this in another version. Yet another version says she conceived Horus with the help of Thoth after Osiris body parts were put together.

26. When Horus became a man, the ghost of his murdered father urged him to avenge Seth, and then a serious war ensued which lasted for many days.

27. In the war between Horus and Seth, Re the sun god arrived in his own divine boat and assisted Horus [10]

28. Re, before the war looked into the eyes of Horus; the belief was that one can see future in the eye of Horus. However, Re was distracted by a huge black pig that passed by, and he exclaimed that he had never seen such a huge pig before. The pig was Seth himself but even Horus could not recognize him [10].

29. Seth injured the left eye of Horus, but his vision was restored by Thoth spitting on it [1]. According to another version, Seth rips off eyes of Horus and buries them on the side of a mountain where they grow into lotuses. Hathor, the foster mother of Horus restores the eyes of Horus, p.82 in [28].

30. Seth grew into a gigantic red hippopotamus from the island of elephantine. Horus transformed into a young handsome man, 12 feet tall, holding a 30 feet long harpoon. He killed Seth in one blow by piercing it into his brain [10]. Horus ruled the entire kingdom.  In another version, Seth was seriously mutilated. Thoth parted the combatants and healed their wounds and divided the kingdom between Horus and Seth.

31. There are other versions of stories of contention between Seth and Horus. Some important ones are as follows:

  1. Seth accused the dead Osiris of high crimes and misconduct. Thoth ultimately pleaded the cause of Osiris in the supreme court of the gods and decided that ‘the word of Osiris was true’. Horus succeeded the throne. According to another version the battle was not that decisive and both ruled parts of Egypt.
  2. According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Seth is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus. However, the legend goes that Horus caught Seth’s semen, subsequently discarded it in the river. According to one of the versions Isis cut off Horus hand stained by Seth’s semen and throws into the river and makes him a new hand. Horus then deliberately spread his own semen on some lettuce. Set ate that lettuce as lettuce was his favorite food. The Egyptian belief was that one who has consumed semen of the other is inferior. Both Horus and Seth went to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. Since Seth had consumed the semen of Horus, he became inferior and Horus won the case.

32. The story has an additional complication of Isis helping Seth, Horus punishing her for this and Seth retaliating for the same. Following are some versions:

  1. Horus kills his mother Isis because she took back the harpoon directed against Seth out of sympathy and love [87].
  2. Horus angered by his mother for helping Seth, cuts off her head. Thoth heals Isis by giving her a cow’s head to replace the lost head, p.82 in [28]. Seth as a retaliation punishes Horus for mutilating his mother Isis, p.82 in [28].

33. Thoth existed even before Osiris was born; recall that he helped Nut in delivering Osiris and other of her children. According to another myth, Thoth was born out of Seth’s forehead; he was the product of Seth-Horus relation [18-20].

 Some more facts of Osiris from other sources, which are relevant for our comparison, are presented below:

34. Osiris is president of mountain of Aukert [6].

35. Osiris has come forth from the water [6].

36. He is associated with inundation of Nile because of its resultant alluvium and fertility [5].

37. In the Egyptian Book of the dead Osiris is alluded to as ‘The son of Ra, drawing himself from Nu, nursing himself, increasing his limbs…’ [6]

38. Osiris is alluded to as “you who rise bright with light,” in the Book of the dead [6].

39. Osiris is brother of Ra. He rises like dawn, he is eternal [6].

40. His name comes from Egyptian ‘Usir’ [5].

41. There is also a darker aspect of Osiris in which the kings are saved by Re from Osiris [5].

42. The ba or soul of Osiris was thought to reside in the sacred ram Ba-neb–dzedet, which was worshipped in the Delta town of Mendes. The apis bull of Memphis (Delta town), that is normally associated with Ptah, was seen as a manifestation of Osiris [5].

43. Osiris was also mythically connected with the moon, which was a relatively minor association. He may be represented as the lunar disc especially in depictions where he is shown with Anubis [5].

44. Osiris is represented as a human mummy whose is depicted white with mummy wrappings; his skin color is black probably due to his chthonic association and also representing the dark Nile alluvium; or his skin is green representing vegetation and fertility [5].

45. Osiris is sometimes depicted as a partially personified pillar with human arms called as the Dzed pillar [5].

46. Osiris is viewed as the constellation Orion [5].

47. Osiris is lord of crowns of North and South and the lofty white crown [5].

48. In the Egyptian book of the dead Osiris is in some places referred to as “Osiris in his mighty and terrible form”[6].

49. Osiris is sometimes fused with Re to form Osiris-Re and Re-Osiris. Osiris is depicted as a mummified body with the head of a falcon, Ram or beetle representing Re, which is identified both as ‘Re resting in Osiris’ and ‘Osiris resting in Re’ [5].


[1] J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, A study in Magic and Religion, 3rd Edition, Macmillan and Co. London, 1914

[3] The Historical Library of Diodorus the Sicilian: In Fifteen Books … Volume 1

[4] Muata Ashby, The African origins of Civilization, Religion, Yoga Mysticism, and Ethics Philosophy, 2nd Edition, ISBN 1-884564-50-X, 2005

[5] Richard H Wilkinson, The Complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London, 2003

[6] E.A.Wallis Budge, Egyptian book of the dead, Dover publication, New York, 1895

[10] http://www.egyptianmyths.net/info.htm

[18] http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/horit/

[19] Conflict of Horus and Seth, a one act play

[20] Meeks, Dimitri. 2006. Mythes et Légendes du Delta: d’après le papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.84. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale

[28] Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and

[87] http://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/

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3 Responses to Osiris story

  1. Narasimha says:

    This looks interesting

  2. phillip says:

    Osiris and Bharata have similar timeline intervention in the history of Ancient Egypt – Sanskrit word Gupta.

    Among Similarities

    1. Osiris is associated with the Bull; Bharata is also associated with a Bull.
    2. Osiris came from India into Egypt. King Bharata began is reforming of mankind beginning with the African People.
    3. Osiris appointed Tehuti has his prime minister; King Bharata appointed Bhrigu has his prime minister.
    4. Osiris was a Pharaoh King; King Bharata name appears in the Kings List of the descendant from Puru, the list also appears in Egypt. Pharaoh is a corruption of the word Prabhu. The Prabhu of Gupta is mention in the Mahabharata and connects with Egypt.

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