Free Essay On The Significance Of The Ancient Egyptian God Osiris
The Significance of the Ancient Egyptian God Osiris
The Ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris is one of the most elaborate stories in mythology, coming into being around the 24th century BCE in the Lower Delta region (Griffths and Bleeker, 1974). Osiris was a one of the first kings of Egypt, ruling with his wife Isis. Some historians believe he was the actual fourth king of Egypt. Like many of the royalty of that time, Isis was also Osiris’ sister. He was murdered by his brother, Set, who wanted both his throne and his wife. Set cuts Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and throws them into the river. Isis finds all but one piece and reassembles them, resurrecting Osiris. The fourteenth piece, his penis, was eaten by a fish, but Isis uses magic to create another one so she can conceive his son Horus. Horus eventually defeats Set and claims the throne, restoring Egypt and completing the resurrection of his father. The deity Thoth breathes life back into the reconstructed Osiris; this gives him the ability to speak “with power”. He is the one who gives Osiris eternal life. He and Horus “stand Osiris up”, which means due to the actions between them, Osiris was resurrected.
Osiris is granted many different roles as a primary god of Egypt and depicted in multiple styles (Universe of Symbolism, 2015). He is the Chief Judge of the dead. He is also the god of vegetation, the earth, and water. He is a god of “kingly demeanor”. His skin was sometimes blue to represent the ocean or water. Osiris could change his form to resemble any creature, including humans. He did this because, as the judge of the dead, he needed to be able to understand the nature of those requesting eternal life.
The period of time when the myth of Osiris rose to prominence accompanied a regional historical struggle in the country. Loprieno (1996) states that scholars have not reached any conclusions about specific events leading to its creation. Osiris was originally only a minor god of Egypt, but he began to gain popularity. The priests of Heliopolis and Hermopolis determined he would eclipse the worship of their own gods and brought him into their temples.
Significance of the Osiris Myth
No other myth has more influence than the one surrounding the God Osiris (Grifftths and Griffiths, 1980). In literature, “The Two Brothers” by the Grimm Brothers has its roots in brothers in conflict. As Osiris reportedly had his male member devoured by a fish, one brother has the same circumstance and was also resurrected. “The Tale of Truth and Falsehood” (Reshafim.org.il, 2015) brings the setting of the conflict between Horus and Set as truth and lies rather than as deities.
Horus becomes a central figure in Egyptian mythology when he wins the battle with his uncle, Set. This portion of the myth symbolizes the conflict between disorder and order (O’Connor, 2009). It also brings the concept of death and afterlife into the story, since Osiris became the Lord of the Underworld. The four characters of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Horus contained the many elements of Egyptian worship. Set was the god of the desert and symbolized unrighteousness, chaos, storms, and darkness. He murdered his brother Osiris, who was the god of fertility and grain. This conflict symbolized the battle between the floods of the Nile River, which allowed fertilization, with the infertile desert. Again, Osiris was also the god of water. Isis was the star to Osiris’ sun. The death and resurrection of Osiris related to his symbolism as the death of the land and rebirth with the water flooding from the Nile. Also, the sun “dies” each evening and is “re-born” the next morning.
When Isis recovers the pieces of her husband, she bandages them back together, and Osiris becomes the first mummy. Even in primitive times, Egyptians believed the body had to be preserved in order to survive death. Until the sixth dynasty, only the pharaohs were preserved as mummies. At that time, the aristocracy was allowed to perform the rituals and by the fall of the dynasty around 250 B.C., commoners were mummified. Since these less-important people had no access to the inner chambers of the temples, the rise of Osiris allowed them the hope of life after death. All the ingredients used in the process of mummification were said to have grown from the tears the gods shed for the loss of Osiris; the ingredients included oils and resins. Eventually, Osiris took over the roles of the god Ra.
Ancient Egyptians of all ranks held the example of Osiris as truth of their own possible resurrections (Loprieno, 1996). The worship of the god and replication of the funeral rites were based on the myth. From this early belief and the association of Osiris with judgment of the dead, the assertion grew that only the good would be resurrected. If a deceased soul was found to be righteous by Horus and his father Osiris, death would be reversed. By this act, Osiris became able to raise the dead, a feat later attributed to Jesus of the Christian faith.
Egyptian religion was transformed by the growth of the Osiris. Originally, the religion of the country was primarily concerned with warding off evil from various gods. The Osiris myth gave Egyptians a morality to their lives that allowed them entrance into the afterlife. Even commoners were granted this blessing, contributing to the popularity of the religion. The Code of Justice is similar to the concept of “karma” in east Indian religions (Universe of Symbolism, 2015). By the 32nd Dynasty, the cult of the sun-god was no longer found.
The myth of Osiris is reflected in various stories and religions that continue to the present day. He was cut into pieces by his brother Set, as many people today feel their lives have become fragmented. After his resurrection, Osiris was more powerful with his knowledge of the afterlife. Current religions promote an understanding of the difficulty of living in hectic days and a promise of peace after death. Osiris was the Chief Judge, the Lord of the Eternal Sea, the granter of eternal life. Most people need that type of guardian as much today as they did in Ancient Egypt.
Griffiths, J. and Bleeker, C. (1974). Hathor and Thoth. Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian
Religion. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 60, p.282.
Griffiths, J. and Griffiths, J. (1980). The origins of Osiris and his cult. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Loprieno, A. (1996). Ancient Egyptian literature. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
O'Connor, D. (2009). Abydos. London: Thames & Hudson.
Reshafim.org.il, (2015). Truth and Falsehood. [online] Available at:
http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/truth_and_falsehood.htm [Accessed 10 Feb.
Universe of Symbolism, (2015). God Osiris Powers - Symbols and Mythology. [online]
Available at: http://www.universeofsymbolism.com/god-osiris.html [Accessed 10 Feb.
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