WHAT IS OSIRIS THE GOD OF?
Would you like to know what Osiris represents in ancient Egypt and what he is the god of?
Passionate about the myths and stories of ancient Egypt, our team has prepared an article for you on the god of death in the Egyptian pantheon.
Osiris, husband of Isis, was originally the pharaoh of all of ancient Egypt. Unjustly killed by his brother, Set, Osiris could no longer rule the kingdom of the living. He will then become the god of death alongside his son Anubis.
In this article, you will discover:
- The reasons for the murder of Osiris
- The unfolding of the myth of Osiris
- The roles of Osiris after his death according to Egyptian mythology
You will soon know everything about one of the most famous gods of ancient Egypt.
To understand who Osiris is, let's start this article with the myth of which he is the main actor: the myth of Osiris!
1) The myth of Osiris
There are several variants of the Osirian myth, but generally the story begins with the ascent to the Egyptian throne of Osiris. Osiris was then the first of the pharaohs. He was much appreciated by his subjects, just and kind to all, and his reign brought a peace and prosperity that Egypt had never known.
However, Set did not appreciate Osiris' success and allegedly conspired to kill his brother.
Indeed, Set could not bear the fact that his wife, Nephthys, had impersonated Isis and seduced Osiris (the god Anubis being the fruit of this union). According to some versions, Set also planned this assassination because he secretly coveted Isis.
It is interesting to note that Nephthys would have been barren before she became pregnant with Osiris. This part of the myth was later associated with the flowers of the Egyptian deserts that did not bloom for years, until a great flood (Osiris) helped the barren land (Nephthys) become fertile, bringing them life (Anubis).
Set quickly put in place a plan for revenge. Set had a chest of gemstones built that exactly replicated the morphology of Osiris. He then invited his brother to a banquet and proposed at the end of the meal to offer this sarcophagus to anyone who could enter it.
All the guests then tried it, but since it was designed only for Osiris, they all failed to fit into the richly decorated chest.
Finally, when it was Osiris' turn to enter the chest, Set nailed its lid shut, then sealed it firmly with molten lead and rushed it into the Nile to drown his brother.
The evil Set traps Osiris in a chest that becomes the first sarcophagus in history.
The chest (which some say inspired the idea of Egyptian sarcophagi) was then taken out to sea before becoming stuck in the roots of a small tree growing on the seafront near Byblos in Phoenicia.
The divine presence of the body of Osiris accelerated the tree's growth. So much so that after only a few months the tree had become immense and had crushed the trunk with its roots and absorbed Osiris into its trunk.
Later, impressed by the size of this majestic tree, the local king had it transformed into a column for his palace (although he did not know of the existence of Anubis' body inside).
2) The myth of the resurrection of Osiris
Isis, who had gone in search of her beloved, finally arrived disguised as an old woman in this famous palace where she felt his presence.
Revealing her divine nature and saving one of the king's very sick sons, the king allowed her to ask him for any of his possessions. She obviously chose the column and thus found the remains of Osiris.
The goddess returned to Egypt and worked to reconstitute her husband's physical body. Then Isis sprouted wings and combined a few magic words and the flapping of her wings to revive Osiris temporarily. She then conceived a child with him before he died a second time.
This child was Horus (who thus pulls his hawk's head from the wings his mother used to bring Osiris back to life). She then hid her husband's body and went to raise her son in a swamp on the far side of Egypt where Set would not find them.
But one day, Set met the body of Osiris while he was hunting a herd of antelopes. To prevent his brother from getting the burial he deserved, Set was furious and cut Osiris' body into several pieces. The number of pieces differed according to the texts: fourteen (half a lunar month), sixteen (the ideal height of sea level in cubits), or forty-two (the number of provinces in ancient Egypt). Set then scattered parts of the body of Osiris throughout the Nile Valley.
Isis found out what had been done and gathered as many of the body parts as she could. The only part she could not find was his penis, which had been eaten by an oxyrhyncus fish (which made it traditionally a forbidden food in ancient Egypt). With the help of Nephthys and Anubis, Isis patched up Osiris' body as best she could and prepared him for a dignified burial.
Together they created the first mummy and Anubis became the first embalmer. Ra, the Sun god then resurrected Osiris, but being incomplete, he could no longer rule the land of the living. So he became the judge and ruler of the Underworld.
Horus will eventually avenge his father by defeating Set and becoming the new king of Egypt. But this is another story.
Osiris following an incomplete embalming can no longer reign over the kingdom of the living. So he became the first of the Egyptian mummies of the ancient world and the judge and ruler of the Underworld.
3) The attributes of Osiris
According to the legends of Egyptian civilization, Osiris judged the dead alongside Anubis and ruled relentlessly over the underworld of ancient Egypt. Brother-husband of the goddess Isis, he is one of the most important gods in the Egyptian Pantheon. The name "Osiris" is the ancient Roman translation of the Egyptian name for the god "Usir," originally meaning "powerful" or "almighty.
Osiris was born shortly after the creation of the universe, the first son of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. After becoming pharaoh of Egypt at the side of his sister-wife Isis, he was quickly assassinated by his brother Set and then brought back to life by the magic of his sister-wife Isis. This myth and the deities involved in it would later become central to Egyptian mythology.
Osiris was originally only the god of fertility, possibly from Syria (although this claim is disputed). Osiris quickly became so popular that he absorbed the functions of the ancient gods Andjeti, god of life, and Khentiamentid, god of agriculture. He is often represented by the symbol of the "djed pillar" (symbol of the stability of all things).
On this papyrus Osiris is depicted with his Atef headdress decorated on either side with feathers of the legendary Egyptian bird Bennu. As the first of the pharaohs, he also holds a scepter and a scourge: his pharaonic attributes that will be carried by the greatest pharaohs to succeed him at the head of Egypt: Rameses II, Akhenaten, Cheops, Tutankhamun, Hatshepsut, and many others!
Osiris is often depicted with a green skin representing its regenerative power or black, symbolizing the mud that is conducive to the agriculture of the Nile. He is also frequently depicted partially or completely mummified, his working garb as judge of the dead.
His sculptures and portraits depict him as a strong and handsome man in a royal silk tunic.
He is recognizable by his royal scepter and scourge and by his Upper Egyptian pschent (Egyptian crown) in the form of a feathered headdress called Atef. This headdress is associated with the legendary Egyptian bird Bennu, which has the power to rise from its own ashes (which inspired the myth of the Greek phoenix).
Osiris was known by many names, including Wennefer, "The Hanging One" and Khentiamenti, "The First of Westerners" referring to his role as judge of the dead (the West being associated with death, "Westerners" thus representing those who had passed into the Afterlife). He was also known as the "Lord of love", the "king of the living" and the "Eternal Lord".
Immediately after Isis, Osiris was the most popular Egyptian god and the one who was worshipped for the longest period of time. His worship spanned thousands of years, from shortly before the beginning of the ancient Egyptian empire (c. 2700-2613 BC) to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BC), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before the coming of Rome.
It is also likely that Osiris was revered in some form during the Predynastic period of Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BC) and that he originated from this period.
On the columns of the Nefertiti necropolis in Luxor, one can see two Egyptian representations of djed pillars and their colors that have survived three millennia for our eyes to enjoy.