Sun King mythology IV: Isis, Osiris, Set, and Horus

I believe that the Game is partly intended as a reenactment of the story of the Ancient Egyptian Sun god, Horus. The story of Horus’ parents, Isis and Osiris, is a love and resurrection story, and the story of Horus and his uncle, Set, is a war and reunification story.
Horus the elder wearing crown of unified Egypt

Set, Osiris, Isis, Horus

Osiris
Osiris
Set is said to have usurped, murdered, and mutilated his brother, Osiris. Osiris’ wife and sister, Isis, then gathers and reassembles Osiris’ corpse in order to conceive Horus. Later, Horus battles Set for the throne of Egypt in a struggle that lasts 80 years before ending with the victory of Horus and the unification of Egypt.

Set
Set
Horus’ father Osiris is usually depicted with green skin, wearing a white crown with an ostrich feather on each side. He holds a crook and flail, and his legs are bound like a mummy.

Osiris’ brother, Set, is god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners. The “animal” with which Set is most often associated is called a sha. The sha is a mythological dog-like creature which resembles a greyhound or jackal.

Sha (animal)

Osiris’ son, Horus, is often pictured as a falcon, or as a man with the head of a falcon. His red and white crown symbolizes the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt.

map showing upper and lower EgyptHorus as falcon with Sun disc and shen rings

Horus the Younger

Images of Horus as a child often show him at Isis’ breast, similar to later depictions of Mary and Jesus. Bill Maher’s film Religulous makes the argument that the story of Christ is based on the story of Horus, citing the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Isis and Madonna

A Golden Phallus

I have seen at least one version of the Osiris vs. Set story which states that when Isis was reassembling Osiris’ body, she could not recover his penis which had been thrown into the Nile, so she constructed a “phallus out of gold.” It seems like another possible connection to the golden spike at Ogden, Utah.

Set vs Osiris myth as a part of a resurrection continuum

OsirisThe myth of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Horus was told and retold, the earliest written versions found in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2,300 B.C.). It was re-enacted as an annual play by worshippers who “according to Julius Firmicus Maternus of the 4th century… ‘beat their breasts and gashed their shoulders…. When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined…they turn from mourning to rejoicing.’ (De Errore Profanorum).” (Wikipedia: Osiris)

The old re-enactments of the Osiris myth could be the basis for Christian resurrection dramas (Easter Plays and Passion Plays). The Christian resurrection myth is similar to the myth of Isis versus Osiris in that key ideas in both myths include concepts of sacrifice and resurrection. The idea of being torn apart and re-assembled relates to construction and engineering as well as human relationships and human history.

Osiris trapped in a box

Plutarch’s Moralia version of the Set vs Osiris myth (c. 75 A.D.) has Osiris in a box, floated down river out to sea, washed to shore, embedded in a tree, and carved into a palace pillar before being released by Isis. This myth shares some similarities with the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale.

Isis must remove the chest from within the tree in order to retrieve her husband’s body. Having taken the chest, she leaves the tree in Byblos, where it becomes an object of worship for the locals.

Plutarch also states that Set steals and dismembers the corpse only after Isis has retrieved it. (Wikipedia; Osiris myth)

In summary: Set usurps Osiris who -> is locked in a box -> thrown in Nile -> floats out to sea -> washes onto land -> is embedded into trunk of growing tree -> carved into a pillar -> set free from the pillar -> dismembered by Set -> reassembled by Isis -> fathers Horus -> who, after 80 years of struggle, usurps Set and unifies Egypt.

Osiris and the Djed Pillar

The ancient Egyptians divided the sky into two parts in very early times, with the Eastern end resting on the ‘Mountain of Sunrise’ and the Western end on the ‘Mountain of Sunset’. Later a division into four parts was made and the four corners of heaven were protected by four gods.
– Wallis Budge, Gods of the Egyptians, vol. 1, p. 156-158.

DjedOsiris is associated with pillars in general, and specifically, the sacred-tree-like djed – a hiereoglypic or ceremonial pillar representing stability and the afterlife. The Djed is said to be Osiris’ spine.

Djed always seem to have four ridges at the top or near the center; some depictions look like four columns nested or in a line. This site (Pyramid of Man) explores symbolism in the djed and makes a pretty convincing argument that the four ridges represent the four columns which hold the heavens and that they are directly related to the four sons of Horus and the transition to the afterlife.

Four Sons of Horus
Four Sons of Horus

Set vs Horus

Horus
Horus
The conflict between Set and Horus over the throne of Egypt lasts 80 years and involves various contests and battles including one Set steals one (or both) of Horus’ eyes, which Horus eventually recovers. When the Horus is finally declared victorious, Set continues to rule the deserts.

A few things which are notable about this epic dispute: 1. each contest is judged by a panel of deities. It looks like – despite modern rules of law and habeas corpus – the Game mimics this in some way. 2. In one of the contests Horus is said to lose his left eye to Set. By keeping “The Sun in the dark,” the Game mimics this as well. 3. The final decisive contests seem important: the semen contest, and the boat contest.

The final contests

According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Set is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and then having intercourse with him. However, Horus places his hand between his thighs and catches Set’s semen, then subsequently throws it in the river, so that he may not be said to have been inseminated by Set. Horus then deliberately spreads his own semen on some lettuce, which was Set’s favorite food. After Set had eaten the lettuce, they went to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The gods first listened to Set’s claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answered from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the gods listened to Horus’ claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answered from inside Set… (Wikipedia: Conflict between Horus and Set)

On one hand, I am intrigued by the idea that you can “call semen forth” and have it respond, even when swallowed. On the other hand, this is a disturbingly rapey “contest” which has been woven into the Game in various seedy ways.

However, Set still refused to relent, and the other gods were getting tired from over eighty years of fighting and challenges. Horus and Set challenged each other to a boat race, where they each raced in a boat made of stone. Horus and Set agreed, and the race started. But Horus had an edge: his boat was made of wood painted to resemble stone, rather than true stone. Set’s boat, being made of heavy stone, sank, but Horus’s did not. Horus then won the race, and Set stepped down and officially gave Horus the throne of Egypt. But after the New Kingdom, Set still was considered Lord of the desert and its oases. (Ibid)

The end of the wars between the Sun god Horus and his uncle Set seems to represent peace and unity between Upper and Lower Egypt.

Eye of Horus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *