Osiris is one of the most revered gods in the history of Ancient Egypt. He is the god of agriculture, fertility, the dead, life, resurrection and vegetation. Usually, the imagery used for the god has him look like a green-skinned deity with a king’s beard. Osiris’s legs are partially mummy-wrapped, and he wears a distinctive Atef crown. Additionally, the god also holds a symbolic crook and flail. Osiris was one of the first gods associated with the mummy wraps.
Osiris is a significant figure in ancient Egyptian religion, known for being associated with the mummy wrap and his resurrection after his brother Set killed him. His wife, Isis, found all the pieces of his body and wrapped them up, enabling him to return to life. Osiris was widely worshipped until the decline of ancient Egyptian religion during the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
Osiris was considered the eldest son of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut, as well as being brother and husband of Isis and brother of Set, Nephthys, and Horus the Elder, with Horus the Younger being considered his posthumously begotten son. Through syncretism with Iah, he was also a god of the Moon.
Osiris was the judge and lord of the dead and the god of the underworld, the “Lord of Silence” and Khenti-Amentiu, meaning “Foremost of the Westerners”. In the Old Kingdom, the pharaoh was considered a son of the sun god Ra, who ascended to join Ra in the sky after his death. However, after his cult spread, the kings of Egypt were associated with Osiris. As Osiris rose from the dead, they would unite with him and inherit eternal life through imitative magic.
Through the hope of new life after death, Osiris began to be associated with the cycles in nature, in particular, the sprouting of vegetation and the annual flooding of the Nile River, as well as the heliacal rising of Orion and Sirius at the start of the new year. He became the sovereign that granted all life, “He Who is Permanently Benign and Youthful”.
Worship of Osiris
The first evidence of the worship of Osiris is from the middle of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt, although it is likely that he was worshipped much earlier. Most information available on the Osiris myth is derived from allusions in the Pyramid Texts at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, later New Kingdom source documents such as the Shabaka Stone and “The Contendings of Horus and Seth”, and much later, in the narratives of Greek authors including Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus.
Some Egyptologists believe the Osiris mythos may have originated in a former living ruler – possibly a shepherd who lived in Predynastic times in the Nile Delta. His beneficial rule led to him being revered as a god. The accoutrements of the shepherd, the crook and the flail – once symbol of the Delta god Andjety, with whom Osiris was associated – support this theory.
Osiris is often portrayed wearing the Atef crown, which resembles the White crown of Upper Egypt, but with the addition of two ostrich feathers on each side. He is also depicted carrying the crook and flail. The crook symbolises Osiris as a shepherd god, while the meaning of the flail is less clear, with some interpretations suggesting a shepherd’s whip or fly-whisk. In contrast, others associate it with the god Andjety of the ninth nome of Lower Egypt.
In many depictions, Osiris is shown as a pharaoh with green skin (symbolising rebirth) or black skin (representing the fertility of the Nile floodplain) and wearing mummification trappings from the chest downward.
The Pyramid Texts offer insight into ancient beliefs regarding the afterlife, which involved a perpetual journey with the sun deity through the celestial expanse. Within these funerary texts, a phrase appears at the start of the Fourth Dynasty: “A gift bestowed by the king and Anubis.” However, by the close of the Fifth Dynasty, this expression had changed to “A gift bestowed by the king and Osiris,” a formula present in all tombs of the era.
Father of Horus
In ancient Egyptian belief, the Osiris myth is a central tale that describes the conception of the god Horus, whose mythological father is Osiris. According to the story, Osiris was killed by his brother Set, who coveted his throne. After discovering her husband’s body, Osiris’ wife Isis hid it in the reeds, where it was found and dismembered by Set. However, Isis retrieved and pieced together the fragmented remains of Osiris, using magic to revive him briefly. During this time, she became pregnant by Osiris and later gave birth to Horus. As Horus was born after Osiris’ resurrection, he was seen as a symbol of new beginnings and the conqueror of Set.
Over time, Ptah-Seker (the result of identifying the creator god Ptah with Seker) became linked with Osiris, forming the deity Ptah-Seker-Osiris. This god was viewed as the ruler of the underworld, the god of life, death, and rebirth, as the sun was believed to spend the night in the underworld before being reborn each morning. Osiris also took on the aspect and form of Seker-Osiris.
Osiris’ ba, or soul, was occasionally worshipped separately from him, particularly in the city of Mendes in the Delta region. This aspect of Osiris was known as Banebdjedet, meaning “the ba of the lord of the djed” or “the soul of the lord of the pillar of continuity.” The djed was seen as Osiris’ backbone, representing stability and continuity. At the same time, the Nile, which provided water for crops, and Osiris, which was strongly associated with vegetation regeneration, symbolized life and continuity. As Banebdjed, Osiris was given several titles, including Lord of the Sky and Life of the sun god Ra.
Ba was not equivalent to the Western concept of the soul but was instead associated with power and reputation, particularly about the gods. Because of this association, and ba was also a word for a ram, Banebdjed was often depicted as a ram or having a ram’s head. In Mendes, a sacred ram was kept and worshipped as the embodiment of the god, and upon its death, the ram was mummified and buried in a necropolis.
Banebdjed was considered to be Horus’ father since he was an aspect of Osiris, and some scholars have suggested that Osiris may have originated as a god of herding groups in the upper Nile, given that his traditional symbols (the crook and flail) were associated with shepherds.
Osiris was the eldest son of the Earth god Geb. Nut, the sky goddess, was his mother. Myths also claim that Horus is the son of Osiris. The god was also the husband and brother of the goddess Isis. However, during the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC), the ancient Egyptians considered that the pharaoh was the son of the sun god Ra. After his death, Osiris ascended to join Ra in the sky.
However, with the spread of this ancient god cult, beliefs were changed. Osiris became associated with the epithet Khenti-Amentiu, which means “Foremost of the Westerners.” Moreover, in the combination of Lah’s thoughts, the lunar deity Osiris is also the god of the Moon.
Osiris is the brother of the evil Set. He is also the brother of Isis, Nephthys and Horus the Elder. Historians discovered the first evidence of the worship of the Osiris in the middle of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.
Names of Osiris
The god Osiris was the judge of the dead and the underworld. Moreover, the agency judge ruled all life and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. Ancient Egyptians also named Osiris “He Who is Permanently Benign and Youthful” and the “Lord of Silence.” Moreover, the tales say that the kings of Egypt associated themselves with Osiris in death. Thus, they could inherit eternal life through a process of imitative magic.
Osiris granted the hope of a new life after death. Therefore, it led to the god’s association with the cycles seen in nature, like vegetation and the annual flooding of the Nile River. The pharaoh also links with the heliacal rising of Orion and Sirius at the start of the new year.
Osiris was such a benevolent ruler that people revered him as a god. Moreover, some Egyptologists believe Osiris was a living ruler in the Nile Delta’s Predynastic times (5500-3100 BC). The crook and flail symbol is associated with the god.
The famous Tale of Isis and Osiris
The mythological tale of Isis and Osiris is an enduring Egyptian mythology classic. It embraces several themes that reappear in countless stories. These tales have led Egyptologists to believe that Isis and Osiris were ancient rulers. They brought civilisation to the people of the Nile Valley. Moreover, they gave them the law, art and culture.
The Osiris Myth
Once the world came into creation, the first five gods were born through the union of Geb and Nut. These were Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and Horus. Osiris, being the eldest, took over as the ruler of the Earth. Isis became his queen and consort. Osiris was a benevolent ruler who gave Egypt laws, culture, religion and agriculture. Tales remember Egypt as a paradise under the rule of Osiris.
Murder of Osiris
As the reverence for Osiris grew, his brother Set became jealous and resentful of his brother’s success. Set, the evil one, hated Osiris and Isis. The more the people loved Osiris, the more Set brewed plans to overthrow Osiris. Later, with seventy-two of his wicked friends, Set hatched a plan to destroy the pharaoh.
He obtained the measurements of Osiri’s body and crafted a beautiful chest to his exact shape. The wardrobe consisted of the most beautiful cedar and ebony. Later, Set threw a grand party in honour of Osiris. The party had the most extravagant food and wine. Set brought this beautiful chest inset with gold and silver carvings during this party. He proclaimed that he would give the chest to whoever fit in the box perfectly.
Osiris didn’t know about Set‘s evil plans and decided to try to fit in the box. He laid himself inside the chest as everyone watched. The box suited Osiris perfectly, to his delight, and he shouted that the trunk was his. Set hissed that the chest would belong to him forever as he banged down the lid. Set sealed the coffin shut in haste and threw the casket into the Nile River.
They carried the chest into the great sea that led it to the shore of Byblos. Here, the waves cast the coffin into a tamarisk tree. The tree gave out a divinity that made it famous across the land of Byblos. The king of Byblos didn’t know that the tree contained the spirit of Osiris. Hence, King Malcander ordered cutting the tree and used it to fashion a pillar for his palace.
Restoration of Osiris
Subsequently, back in Skondia, the evil act of Set shocked Isis. She set out to find the body of Osiris. After many trials and tribulations, she finally came across the Kingdom of Byblos. Here, she discovered the tamarisk pillar that held the body of Osiris. Later, Isis successfully transported her dead husband’s body to Skondia. Fearing Set, she hid the casket in the marshes of the delta.
However, Set discovered the chest and cut Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces. He scattered the pieces into the river. Later, Isis travelled over the land and rediscovered the fragments of Osiris. She found thirteen pieces and built a shrine for each of them. She only failed to find one piece that a fish had swallowed. Subsequently, Isis rejoined the pieces by magic and created Osiris again. After that, the spirit of Osiris passed into Amenti to rule over the dead.
The Osiris myth showcases Egyptian culture’s essential values: harmony, order, eternal life and gratitude. The story shows how even a god, Set, can fall prey to ingratitude. The myth also tells the story of the subsequent victory of order over chaos. It is a central value in Egyptian culture and religion. The Fall of the Nile and Djed Pillar festivals celebrate Osiris’ death and resurrection.