Osiris was an ancient Egyptian god who was one of the most worshiped deities in Egyptian culture. His cult grew as the dynastic age progressed till he became one of the most important deities in ancient Egypt. Osiris is the titular character of the Osiris Myth, the most important as well as famous story in ancient Egyptian mythology. The myth tells the story of how Osiris is murdered by his brother Set, who then takes control of the world of the living. Osiris is resurrected by his wife Isis but has to descend to the underworld as his body is not whole. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, ultimately defeats Set to become King of Egypt and restore order. Due to the Osiris Myth, Osiris was venerated in ancient Egypt as the king of the underworld; and god of the afterlife, life, death and regeneration. Moreover, he was the god of fertility. Though he was worshiped throughout Egypt, the epicenter of his cult was the city of Abydos. Know more about the ancient Egyptian god Osiris through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 OSIRIS IS THE SON OF GEB AND NUT
Osiris was one of the most venerated deities in ancient Egypt. The name “Osiris” comes from the ancient Egyptian word Asir or Wsir, which essentially refers to someone who is extremely powerful and presides on a throne. In Egyptian mythology, the principal ennead (group of nine) was the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. This comprised of nine principal ancient Egyptian deities; headed by the sun god and creator Re or Re-Atum; followed by Shu and Tefnut, deities of air and moisture; Geb and Nut, who represented earth and sky; and the children of Geb and Nut: Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Osiris is considered the eldest son of Geb and Nut; the brother-husband of Isis; and father of another prominent Egyptian deity, Horus. The first evidence of the worship of Osiris was found in the middle of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt (25th century BC). However, it is likely that he was worshiped earlier. Osiris grew in importance as the dynastic age progressed, till in first millennium BCE, he became one of the most widely worshiped deities in ancient Egypt.
#2 HE IS THE TITULAR CHARACTER OF THE INFLUENTIAL OSIRIS MYTH
The origin of Osiris can be traced back to the Osiris Myth of the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 BCE – 2181 BCE) of Ancient Egypt. The Osiris myth is the most important as well as famous story in ancient Egyptian mythology. At the beginning of the myth, Osiris, and his sister-wife, Isis, were the rulers of the world shortly after its creation. When they began ruling the world, they realized that the general public of Egypt was uncivilized; and required direction and guidance. To help the people of Egypt, Osiris and Isis began educating them on religion, agriculture and law. This helped the people of Egypt live better lives. Under the rule of Osiris, Egypt became a paradise where laws were followed strictly, agriculture prospered, food was plentiful and there was equality for everyone.
#3 HE WAS KILLED AND OVERTHROWN BY HIS BROTHER SET
According to the Osiris Myth, his younger brother, Set, became jealous of the power Osiris yielded. He thus devised a plan to have Osiris killed and take over his throne. He crafted a beautiful coffin, which was made according to the size of Osiris, and announced that whoever could fit in the coffin perfectly would be gifted the coffin. He tricked Osiris into laying down into the coffin to check the size. Set then closed the lid, locked it and threw it in the River Nile. The coffin carrying the body of Osiris went down the river and traveled to the sea. It then got stuck in a tamarisk tree and was stuck for such a long time, that the tree grew around the coffin and trapped the body of Osiris. As the tree was near Byblos, it was found by Malcander, the King of Byblos; and his wife Astarte. They greatly admired the tree due to its beautiful structure and pleasant fragrance. Consequently, Malcander ordered the tree to be cut down to be taken to his palace and be made into an ornamental pillar for his court. Osiris remained trapped within the pillar and died while he was in the court of Byblos.
#4 HE WAS RESURRECTED BY HIS WIFE ISIS
Isis, the wife of Osiris, searched for her husband’s body to bring him back to life. In Byblos, she met Astarte and stayed in the palace disguised as an old woman. When her true form as a goddess was revealed to Malcander and Astarte, they pleaded for her mercy and offered her anything she wanted. Isis took the tree in which her husband was stuck. She then cut the tree and took the body of Osiris back to Egypt. To hide and protect Osiris from Set, Isis hid in the swamps of the Nile deltas. One day, when Isis went to gather herbs from nearby areas, she left her sister, Nephthys, to protect Osiris’s body. Meanwhile, Set got to know about his brother’s return and wanted to ensure that there was no way he could be resurrected. To ensure this, he went to the Deltas, fooled Nephthys and took Osiris’s body. He then cut the body of Osiris in pieces and threw them all over the land and in the river Nile. When Isis returned, she was horrified to know what had happened. She then collected all the pieces of her husband’s body but was unable to find the penis as it had been thrown in the Nile and then eaten by a fish. Nonetheless Isis was able to revive her husband by placing his body together.
#5 HE WAS WORSHIPED AS THE LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD
After reviving Osiris from the dead, Isis realized that without a penis, she and Osiris would not be able to have a child. She thus transformed herself into a kite; flew in circles around Osiris; and drew his seed into her body. She thus became pregnant with his son, Horus, whom she later gave birth to, in the deltas of the Nile river. However, Osiris, due to the lack of one of his body parts, was now incomplete and unfit to rule as the Lord of the Living. Therefore, Osiris then proceeded to go to the afterlife and become the Lord of the Underworld and Afterlife and the Judge of Death. Thus in ancient Egypt, Osiris was venerated as the king of the underworld; and god of the afterlife, life, death and regeneration. Even today, Osiris is worshiped by some people as the god of death as it is believed that doing so will bring salvation even after death. The Osiris Myth ends with Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, defeating Set in a dual and taking his rightful position as the King of the Living.
#6 EGYPTIAN PHARAOHS WERE SEEN AS A MANIFESTATION OF OSIRIS IN DEATH
The people of ancient Egypt regarded Osiris as the first king of Egypt. It was he, who was believed to have established the cultural values all later kings were sworn to uphold. When Set murdered Osiris, Egypt was said to have plunged into chaos and order was only restored with the victory of Horus over Set. The Egyptian pharaohs were seen as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death. After they died, the pharaohs were mummified to resemble Osiris. This was done to remind them of the God as well as to keep away dark spirits by fooling them into thinking that the mummified pharaohs were Osiris themselves. Moreover, the walls of the tombs of pharaohs were decorated with symbols and images to remind the soul of the deceased what to do next once they arrived in the afterlife.
#7 OSIRIS WAS ALSO THE GOD OF FERTILITY
In ancient Egypt, Osiris was also worshiped as the God of Fertility due to his association with agricultural fertility. It was believed that when the world began, Osiris, along with his wife Isis, taught the people the art of agriculture. Along with this, the rebirth and the resurrection of Osiris also provided reasoning to believe that Osiris was the god of fertility. The conception of his son, Horus, was seen as a symbolic act of fertility. Moreover, the river Nile, in which the coffin containing the body of Osiris was thrown and the river wherein the fish swallowed his penis, was considered the river of fertility.
Annual ceremonies were held in various places across ancient Egypt to honor Osiris. These ceremonies were fertility rites which symbolized the resurrection of Osiris. In later periods of ancient Egypt, a central feature of these ceremonies was the “Osiris Garden”, a mold in the shape of Osiris which was filled with soil. The mold was then moistened with the water of the Nile and sown with grain. Later, the grain which germinated was symbolic of Osiris, who had once again renewed his life.
#8 HE IS DEPICTED AS A GREEN SKINNED DEITY CARRYING A CROOK AND A FLAIL
In Egyptian art, Osiris is generally depicted as a pharaoh wearing the trappings of mummification from chest downward. His lower body is mummified due to his association with the mummification process. Moreover, Osiris is commonly shown to have a green skin with green being the color of rebirth; or with a black skin alluding to the fertility of the Nile floodplain. His most developed form shows him wearing the Atef crown, which is similar to the White crown of Upper Egypt, with two ostrich feathers on each side. Osiris is almost always shown with the crook, the hooked staff of a shepherd; and the flail, an agricultural tool used for the process of separating grains from their husks. The crook symbolized the authority of his rule while the flail represented his being the god of fertility.
#9 THE CITY OF ABYDOS WAS THE CENTER OF THE CULT OF OSIRIS
Osiris was one of the most important gods in ancient Egypt. Due to this, there were a large number of people who worshiped Osiris. The city of Abydos was the epicenter of the Cult of Osiris. This was the place where worshipers wanted to be buried after their deaths, to be as close to Osiris as possible. Moreover, a temple dedicated to Osiris flourished at Abydos from an early period in ancient Egyptian history. There was a great procession annually in the city. During the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2050 BCE – 1710 BCE), a series of temples were built to honor Osiris at Abydos. These temples had two layers: the outer one could be visited by all the worshipers of Osiris; while the inner one was only accessible to the priests of the temples. One of the most marvelous structures that exists at Abydos is known as Osireion. Located behind the temple dedicated to Osiris, its main room has a rocky megalithic look and a 128 meters passageway leads up to it. It may have served as a tomb for “Osiris-Seti”, a depiction of Seti as Osiris.
#10 A GRAND FESTIVAL WAS HELD ANNUALLY AT ABYDOS TO HONOR OSIRIS
The Ikhernofret Stela is an important Ancient Egyptian slab which gives a description how the festivals of Osiris were carried out in Abydos over five days. Some elements of these ceremonies were performed at the temple while others involved public participation in a form of theater. During the first day, a mock battle was enacted during which the enemies of Osiris were defeated. During the second day, an image of Osiris was carried from his temple to a tomb the Egyptians believed to be his. During this, the boat in which the body was transported, the “Neshmet” bark, had to be defended against his enemies. During the third day, the death of Osiris was mourned; while during the fourth day, prayers and recitations were made and funeral rites performed. During the last day, Osiris returned to the temple, symbolizing resurrection and his triumph over death.