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Isis

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Hathor and the Osiris Myth

Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated, later, with Isis and, earlier, with Sekhmet but eventually was considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or simply in cow form. In her form as Hesat she is shown as a pure white cow carrying a tray of food on her head as her udders flow with milk. She is closely associated with the primeval divine cow Mehet-Weret, a sky goddess whose name means “Great Flood” and who was thought to bring the inundation of the Nile River which fertilized the land.

After Set murdered Osiris and then hacked him into pieces, he scattered the body parts all across the land and flung some into the Nile. Isis gathered all the parts of her husband back together with the help of her sister Nephthys and brought Osiris back to life but he was incomplete because a fish had eaten his penis and it could not be restored. Isis then transformed herself into a kite (a falcon) and flew around Osiris’ body, drawing his seed into her and becoming pregnant with Horus. Osiris then descended into the underworld to become Lord of the Dead while Isis was left alone to raise her son and Set usurped Osiris’ place as king of the land.

Isis hid Horus from Set until the boy was grown; at which point Horus challenged Set for rule of the land. This struggle is sometimes represented as a battle but, in the story known as The Contendings of Horus and Set, it is a trial overseen by the Ennead, a tribunal of nine powerful gods, who are to decide who is rightful king. Chief among these gods is Hathor’s father Ra who, at one point becomes so upset with the proceedings, he refuses to participate. Geraldine Pinch relates the rest of the story:

Ra becomes angry when he is insulted by the baboon god Babi and lies down on his back. This implies that the creator sun god was sinking back into the inert state that would mean the end of the world. Hathor, Lady of the Southern Sycamore, visits her father and shows him her genitals. He immediately laughs, gets up, and goes back to administering justice. Hathor has aroused the sun god and driven away his evil mood (138).

Although clearly a sexual gesture, the abstract interpretation is of the importance of balance between the feminine and the masculine principles in maintaining order and harmony. Hathor reveals herself to her father in an unexpected gesture which lightens his mood and puts things in perspective. The balance between the duality of feminine and the masculine, between light and dark, fertility and aridity is emphasized throughout Egyptian culture in the gods and the myths relating to them.



The Temple of Hathor at Dendera, Egypt, a famous center of her cult.

Another Myth… Hathor and the Eye of RA

This balance is seen in the concept of the Eye of Ra, the female counterpart to the male aspect of creation embodied in Ra. The Eye of Ra, like the Distant Goddess, was associated with a number of female deities but, again, often Hathor. Geraldine Pinch notes that “the ancient Egyptian word for eye (irt) sounded like a word for “doing” or “acting”. This may be why the eyes of a deity are associated with divine power at its most interventional. Since the word irt was feminine in gender, divine eyes were personified as goddesses” (128). The Distant Goddess story is actually an Eye of Ra story in that the feminine aspect of the divine goes forth, acts upon its environment, and returns to bring transformation.

This same pattern is seen in the creation tale featuring Atum (Ra) and the ben-ben when he sends his children out with his eye to create the world. Hathor was often referred to as “The Eye of Ra” or “The Eye of Atum” and her sun disk is often represented as an eye from which the sun is born. In the story of the sun god’s voyage through the night sky and the underworld, Hathor stands in the prow keeping watch for any sign of danger from Apophis. Throughout Egyptian history she was known as the daughter of Nut and Ra, Wife of Ra, mother of gods, and great Mother Goddess (perhaps related to the even older goddess Neith) so it is no surprise that popular stories such as the Distant Goddess or concepts like the Eye of Ra would tend to feature her.

Horembheb facing the goddess of Hathor from Horembheb’s tomb, Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt, ca. 1300 BCE.

Some ancient stories depict her as the mother of Horus the Elder and others as the wife of Horus of Edfu, resulting in the birth of Horus the Younger who was later regarded as the son of Osiris and Isis. Hathor’s early identification as the mother of Horus, the god most closely associated with the ruler of Egypt, attests clearly to her importance prior to the rise in popularity of the Myth of Osiris when Isis became Horus’ mother. Hathor was worshipped in every region of Egypt before the ascent of Isis and her cult was popular with both the poor working class of Egypt and the ruling elite.

Source and Images: wikipedia, ancient.eu.

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Temple of Hathor

The all overshadowing building in the Dendera Temple Complex is the main temple, namely Hathor temple (historically called the Temple of Tentyra). The temple has been modified on the same site starting as far back as the Middle Kingdom, and continuing right up until the time of the Roman emperor Trajan.[1] The existing structure was built no later than the late Ptolemaic period. The temple, dedicated to Hathor, is one of the best preserved temples in all Egypt. Subsequent additions were added in Roman times.

Temple of Hathor

Layout elements of the temple:

  • Large Hypostyle Hall
  • Small Hypostyle Hall
  • Laboratory
  • Storage magazine
  • Offering entry
  • Treasury
  • Exit to well
  • Access to stairwell
  • Offering hall
  • Hall of the Ennead
  • Great Seat and main sanctuary
  • Shrine of the Nome of Dendera
  • Shrine of Isis
  • Shrine of Sokar
  • Shrine of Harsomtus
  • Shrine of Hathor’s Sistrum
  • Shrine of gods of Lower Egypt
  • Shrine of Hathor
  • Shrine of the throne of Rê
  • Shrine of Rê
  • Shrine of Menat collar
  • Shrine of Ihy
  • The Pure Place
  • Court of the First Feast
  • Passage
  • Staircase to roof

Depictions of Cleopatra VI which appear on temple walls are good examples of Ptolemaic Egyptian art.[2] On the rear of the temple exterior is a carving of Cleopatra VII Philopator (the popularly well known Cleopatra) and her son, Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar (Caesarion), fathered by Julius Caesar.

Goddess Hathor, Goddess of Love

Hathor was a major goddess in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood, and her cult center was at Dendera, one of the best-preserved temple complexes in all of Egypt. The Temple of Hathor is the largest and most impressive buildings in this religious complex, and is visually stunning with its grand entrance, detailed carvings, hieroglyphs, and decorated ceilings.

Magnificently decorated ceiling inside the Temple of Hathor

Dendera

The city of Dendera is located on the west bank of the Nile, about 60 km ( miles) to the north of Luxor, in the 6th Nome of Upper Egypt. The Dendera Temple Complex is situated around 2.5 km ( miles) to the southeast of this city.

Dendera is said to mark an old holy place, even by the standards of the ancient Egyptians. It has been pointed out that there is evidence for religious structures built at the site during the reign of the Old Kingdom Pharaoh Pepi I (towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC). There are also remnants of a temple that was built during the New Kingdom, specifically the 18th Dynasty. The current complex, including the Temple of Hathor, however, dates to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, with (at least) one building dating to the Late Period. This is the mammisi (birth house) of Nectanebo II, the last native ruler of ancient Egypt who ruled during the 4th century BC.

The Best Preserved Temple in all of Egypt

The Dendera Temple Complex covers an area of 40,000 square meters ( sq. ft.), and is surrounded by a large mudbrick wall. Within this enclosure are various structures, including the Temple of the Birth of Isis, a Roman mammisi (attributed either to the reign of Trajan or Nero), a sanatorium, and a sacred lake. It was made famous by a carving that many believe depicts an electrical lightbulb. Nevertheless, the most impressive part of the temple complex is undoubtedly the Temple of Hathor.

The famous Dendera lightbulb

The Temple of Hathor was largely constructed during the Late Ptolemaic period, specifically during the reign of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra VII. Later additions were made during the Roman period. Although built by a dynasty of rulers who were not native Egyptians themselves, the design of this temple has been found to be in accordance to that of other classical Egyptian temples, with the exception of the front of the hypostyle hall, which, according to an inscription above the entrance, was constructed by the Emperor Tiberius.

Part of the magnificently decorated ceiling inside the Temple of Hathor

Piety to the Gods

Like the native Egyptian pharaohs before them, the Ptolemaic and Roman rulers of Egypt also used the temple complex as a means of propaganda, and to showcase their piety towards the gods of Egypt. Thus, for instance in the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Hathor, there is a depiction of the Roman Emperor Nero offering a model of the mammisi to the goddess. This image has been cited as evidence that Nero was involved in the construction of the Roman birth house. On the other hand, the dedication inscriptions and decorations in the birth house itself make reference to Trajan, thus suggesting that it was this emperor who was responsible for its construction.

Apart from these, there are also scenes in the temple complex portraying the Ptolemaic rulers. For example, carved onto the external face of one of the temple walls is a huge relief of Cleopatra VII and her son by Julius Caesar and co-ruler, Ptolemy XV (better known as Caesarion). The two Ptolemaic rulers are shown dressed in Egyptian garb, and offering sacrifices.

Relief of Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII and Caesarion, Dendera Temple

Hathor was also regarded as a goddess of healing, and this is evident in the presence of a sanatorium in the temple complex. Here, pilgrims would come to be cured by the goddess. Sacred water (which was made holy by having it poured onto statues inscribed with sacred texts) was used for bathing, unguents were dispensed by the priests of Hathor, and sleeping quarters were provided for those hoping that the goddess would appear in their dreams, and so aid them.

Sources: Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), Ancient Origins (ancient-origins.net). Images sources: pinterest, paulsmit.smugmug,google-images.

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Dendera Temple complex

Dendera Temple complex (Ancient Egyptian: Iunet or Tantere; the 19th-century English spelling in most sources, including Belzoni, was Tentyra) is located about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) south-east of Dendera, Egypt. It is one of the best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt. The area was used as the sixth Nome of Upper Egypt, south of Abydos.

Layout and Description

The whole complex covers some 40,000 square meters and is surrounded by a hefty mud brick enclosed wall. Dendera was a site for chapels or shrines from the beginning of history of ancient Egypt. It seems that pharaoh Pepi I (ca. 2250 BC) built on this site and evidence exists of a temple in the eighteenth dynasty (ca 1500 BC). However, the earliest extant building in the compound today is the Mammisi raised by Nectanebo II – last of the native pharaohs (360–343 BC). The features in the complex include:

  • Hathor temple (the main temple)
  • Temple of the birth of Isis
  • Sacred Lake
  • Sanatorium
  • Mammisi of Nectanebo II
  • Christian Basilica
  • Roman Mammisi
  • a Bark shine
  • Gateways of Domitian and Trajan
  • the Roman Kiosk

The Temple Complex

Visitors to Luxor, who have the time, should try and visit the famous Temple of Hathor at Dendera. In a taxi, the trip takes about 1hour from Luxor. The buses, which are always accompanied by a Police convoy, that leaves at 0800 daily . The entrance fee is LE 35.

The Temple is located about 4KM from the River Nile, on its west bank, roughly opposite the city of Qena, the capital of the province and governorate of Qena (population – 2,000,000), which is inhabited by both Coptic and Muslims. This town is very famous for the manufacture of water pots, called “gula” jars in Arabic.

The Muslim Sheik, Abdel Raheeem El-Kenawi, who spent all of his life in this town and died in 1170 A.D, founded the modern city. The birthday of this saint is celebrated every year, and a great number of pilgrims come from all over Egypt for the festivities. The name of the city goes back to the time of the Pharaohs , and was taken from the ancient Egyptian word Qeny, which means, “to bend”; the River Nile has a huge (and famous) bend here.

The Temple of Hathor was built in the 1st century B.C and it is one of the best-preserved Temples in the whole of Egypt! Ptolemy VIII and Queen Cleopatra II built it, and then later, Roman Emperors continued to decorate it and honour the Goddess Hathor; the Goddess of maternity, love and music. The Greeks identified the Goddess Hathor as Aphrodite.

Temple of Hathor

The first gateway, built by Roman Emperor Domitian in 80 A.D, leads to the great hall of the Temple, which is decorated with Hathoric columns (columns with the face of Hathor on them) and is in a very good condition. The upper, front edge of the cornice is decorated with the winged sun disc, while stone screens between the columns and the scene, which represent the Roman Emperor Tiberius and other Roman rulers who present votive offerings to the Goddess of the Temple, enclose the front portion. Hathor is chiefly represented with the horns of the sacred cow protruding from her head, supporting the solar disc of the sun, and in her hands she is holding an “Ankh”, the symbol of life, and a sceptre. Sometimes she is also represented with the head of a cow.

The interior walls of the great hall have remarkable scenes that mainly depict sacrifices being made to the Goddess of the Temple. The amazing ceiling, with its astronomical representations, is very interesting! The ceiling is divided into 7 divisions, and the best remaining 3 are:

The first division on the eastern side, which depicts the Goddess Nut, the Goddess of the sky, who is bending herself towards the earth, with the sun disc shining on the Temple and the mask of Hathor.

Secondly, and next to the first, is a representation of the sun boat and star Goddess.

The sun boat and the Star Goddess

The third one is the western ceiling, which shows a perfect representation of the zodiac signs, which is one of the reasons that the Temple is so famous (the original zodiac relief is now in the Louvre museum in Paris, France). The 12 figures of the ram, the bull, the heavenly twins, the crab, the lion, the virgin, the scales, the scorpion, the archer, the goat, the watering pots and fishes with glittering tails. On the inner walls of the screen, the hawk headed God Horus, and the Ibis headed God Thoth, are pouring drops of holy water over the King. This scene is called the baptism scene, symbolising life and happiness.

The second hall has 6 columns adorned with rich capitals and granite pedestals. On both sides of this hall are small rooms that were used as storerooms, used to store the wine jars that came from the Island of Crete, and the fertile Fayoum and Kharga oases.

Next is the central chapel, which has two altars; one for the sacred boat, and the other for the sacrifices offered to the Goddess Hathor. The beautifully sculptured relief’s on the walls of the shrines represent Ptolemy VIII and other rules, whose names were left blank in the oval cartouches, dancing with offerings to the sacred boat of Hathor and her husband Horus. The representatives of the King, the high Priests and noblemen, used to gather in the great hall in preparation for the daily rituals. The ceilings are covered in stars, and black soot from the fires of the later inhabitants of the Temple.The rooms around the sanctuary were used for scientific purposes, the storing of the sacred boat, the sacred wreath, the golden image of the Goddess Hathor and musical instruments

There is a small corridor on the right, which leads to a small room that contains the crypt, highly recommended should you visit here.

The staircases, which lead to the roof of the Temple, are decorated with some beautiful symbols representing the 12 months of the year. On the eastern corner, of the roof, is the chapel of the God Osiris. The scenes on its walls represent Osiris rising from the dead and becoming the God of the underworld. It is from this chapel that the best representation of the zodiac was taken.

The most preserved, magnificent zodiac relief

The southern exterior wall relief show Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarian, son of JuliusCaesar, making offerings to Hathor and allthe other deities of Dendera. On the same wall, near the cornice, are some stone lion heads, serving as water spouts. Adjoining the Temple building to the west is the sacred lake, which was used for the priests’ ablutions. Next to the lake is a small shaft, discovered in 1917, which contained valuable treasures of Cleopatra’s era, which are now displayed in the Egyptian Museum.

Around the Temple are the remains of the mud brick wall, which surrounded the whole Temple, as well as the ruins of Coptic houses and churches, including a large number of Coptic crosses, which were chiseled into the stones. To the north lies the Mamisi, the birth house of Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, which was erected by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 90 A.D. This little Temple is surrounded by a row of columns, with different capitals embellished with relief images of the God Bes, the chief God of childhood who drove evil spirits away from the babies. Bes is a hideous dwarf, with a big stomach and long whiskers.

Sources: Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), ask-aladdin (www.ask-aladdin.com).

 

 

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The Myth & Mysteries of Osiris

After the creation of the world, the first five gods were born of the union of Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) and these were Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and Horus. Osiris, as the first born, assumed rule as Lord of the Earth, with Isis as his queen and consort. He found the people of Egypt uncivilized and lawless and so gave them laws, culture, religious instruction, and agriculture. Egypt became a paradise under Osiris’ rule where everyone was equal and there was abundant food as the crops were always plentiful. Set was jealous of his brother’s success and grew resentful. Their relationship deteriorated further after Nephthys, Set’s wife, disguised herself as Isis and seduced Osiris, becoming pregnant with the god Anubis. Set had a beautiful coffin made to Osiris’ exact height and then threw a grand party where he presented this box and told the guests that whichever of them fit in it most perfectly could have it as a gift. When Osiris lay down in the coffin, Set slammed the lid on, fastened it shut, and threw it into the Nile, where it was carried away down river.

Osiris’ body traveled out to sea and eventually his coffin became lodged in a great tamarisk tree growing near Byblos in Phoenicia. The tree grew quickly around the coffin until it completely contained it. The king of Byblos, Malcander, came to the shore with his wife Astarte and admired the tree and the sweet scent which seemed to emanate from it. He ordered the tree cut down and brought to his palace as an ornamental pillar for the court, and there Osiris remained, trapped inside the coffin within the pillar, until he died.

Isis had meanwhile left Egypt in search of her husband and eventually came to Byblos, disguised as an older woman, where she sat down by the shore and cried for her missing husband. She was invited to the palace by the royal handmaidens who had come to the shore to bathe and there ingratiated herself to the king and queen so she was asked to be nursemaid for their young sons. Isis tried to make the younger boy immortal by bathing him in fire and, when Queen Astarte discovered this, she was horrified. Isis then revealed herself as the goddess and the king and queen promised her anything she wanted if she would only spare them. She requested only the pillar – which they swiftly granted to her.

Osiris as the kind and just ruler, murdered by his resentful brother, who comes back to life is the most popular and enduring image of the god.

After leaving the court, Isis cut Osiris from the tree and carried his body back to Egypt where she hid him from Set in the swampy region of the Nile Delta. She left him to go gather herbs to make a potion to return him to life, leaving her sister Nephthys to guard the body. While she was gone, Set learned of his brother’s return and went out to find his body. He managed to get Nephthys to tell him where it was, and when he found it, he hacked it into pieces and scattered it across the land and into the Nile. When Isis returned, she was horrified but quickly composed herself and went to work finding the pieces of her murdered husband. With Nephthys’ help, she recovered all of the body parts except the penis, which had been thrown into the Nile and eaten by the oxyrhyncus fish, which is why this fish was forbidden food in ancient Egypt.

Isis was able to revive Osiris and, once he was alive, she assumed the form of a kite and flew around him, drew the seed from his body into her own, and became pregnant with a son, Horus. Even though Osiris now lived, he was incomplete and could no longer rule the land of the living. He withdrew into the afterlife where he became Lord and Judge of the Dead. Isis, fearing what Set might do to her son, hid Horus among the swamps of Egypt until he was grown. At that point, Horus emerged as a mighty warrior and battled Set for control of the world. In some versions of the story, Set is killed but, in most, he is defeated and driven from the land. The chaos Set had unleashed on the world was conquered by Horus, who restored order, and then ruled with his mother.

Source: Ancient History (www.ancient.eu)

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Osiris

Osiris is the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld and Judge of the Dead, brother-husband to Isis, and one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt. The name `Osiris’ is the Latinized form of the Egyptian Usir which is interpreted as ‘powerful’ or ‘mighty’. He is the first-born of the gods Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) shortly after the creation of the world, was murdered by his younger brother Set, and brought back to life by his sister-wife Isis. This myth, and the gods involved became central to Egyptian culture and religious life. Osiris was originally a fertility god, possibly from Syria (though this claim is contested) who became so popular he absorbed the function of earlier gods such as Andjeti and Khentiamenti, two gods of fertility and agriculture worshipped at Abydos. He is associated with the djed symbol and is often depicted with black or green skin symbolizing the fertile mud of the Nile and regeneration. He is also frequently shown as a mummy or in a partially mummified form in his role as Judge of the Dead.

Images of Osiris as a living god depict him as a handsome man in royal dress wearing the crown of Upper Egypt as a plumed headdress known as the atef and carrying the crook and flail, symbols of kingship. He is associated with the mythical Bennu bird ( an inspiration for the Greek Phoenix) who rises to life from the ashes. Osiris was known by many names but chiefly as Wennefer, “The Beautiful One” and, in his role as Judge of the Dead, Khentiamenti, “The Foremost of the Westerners”. The west was associated with death and ‘westerners’ became synonymous with those who had passed on to the afterlife.

He was also known as The Lord of Love, King of the Living, and Eternal Lord. After Isis, Osiris was the most popular and enduring of all the Egyptian gods. His worship spanned thousands of years from shortly before the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BCE) to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before the coming of Rome. It is also possible that Osiris was worshipped in some form in the Predynastic Period of Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and probably that he originated at that time.

Although he is usually seen as a just, generous, and giving god of life and abundance there are also depictions of him as “a terrifying figure who dispatches demon-messengers to drag the living into the gloomy realm of the dead” (Pinch, 178) though these are the minority. Osiris as the kind and just ruler, murdered by his resentful brother, who comes back to life is the most popular and enduring image of the god.

Small statue of Osiris

Worship of Osiris

The myth embodied some of the most important values of Egyptian culture: harmony, order, eternal life, and gratitude. Set’s resentment of Osiris, even before the affair with Nepthys, grew from a lack of gratitude and an envy for someone else’s good fortune. In Egypt, ingratitude was a kind of “gateway sin” which opened the individual up to all others. The story dramatically illustrated how even a god could fall prey to ingratitude and the consequences which could follow. Just as importantly, the myth told the story of the victory of order over chaos and the establishment of harmony in the land; a central value of Egyptian culture and religion.

A sandstone relief stele depicting in the top panel Minhotep and his son Nakhtmin making offerings to Hathor, Anubis, and Osiris. The middle panel shows Minhotep and his wife Nefertari. The bottom panel shows Nakhtmin and his wife Sekhmet. New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, c. 1300 BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

Osiris’ rebirth was associated with the Nile River, which was considered a symbol of his life-giving power. Osiris’ festivals were held to celebrate the beauty of the god and his transcendent power but also his death and rebirth. The festival of the Fall of the Nile commemorated his death while the Djed Pillar Festival celebrated Osiris’ resurrection.

The city of Abydos was his cult center and the necropolis there became the most sought-after burial ground as people wanted to be buried as close to the god as they could get. Those who lived too far away or did not have the resources for such a burial had a stele erected there with their name on it. Osiris was most widely worshipped as Judge of the Dead but the ‘dead’ continued to exist in another realm and death was not the end of one’s existence. The festivals, therefore, celebrated life – both on earth and afterwards – and part of these celebrations was the planting of an Osiris Garden which was a garden bed molded in the shape of the god and fertilized by the mud and water of the Nile. The grains which would later grow symbolized Osiris rising from the dead and also the promise of eternal life for the one who tended the garden. Osiris Gardens were placed in tombs where they are known as an Osiris’ Bed.

Priests of Osiris tended the temple and statue of the god at Abydos, Busiris, and Heliopolis and, as was customary with Egyptian worship, the priests alone were allowed into the inner sanctum. The people of Egypt were invited to visit the temple complex to make offerings and ask for prayers, seek medical advice and counsel, receive aid from the priests by way of material goods or financial gifts, and leave sacrifices to the god in asking for a favor or by way of thanking the god for a request granted.

Osiris, the King, & the People

Osiris was considered the first king of Egypt who established the cultural values all later kings were sworn to uphold. When Set murdered the king, the country plunged into chaos and order was only restored with the victory of Horus over Set. The kings of Egypt identified with Horus during life (they each had a personal name and a ‘Horus Name’ they took at the beginning of their reign) and with Osiris in death. As Isis was the mother of Horus, she was considered the mother of every king, the king was her son, and Osiris was both their father and their higher aspect and hope of salvation after death.

A 2nd century CE Roman marble statue of the Egyptian god Osiris. (Palazzo Altemps, Rome)

It is for this reason that Osiris is so often depicted as a mummified pharaoh; because pharaohs were mummified to resemble Osiris. The image of the great mummified god preceded the practice of preparing the royal body to look like Osiris. All the Egyptian symbols and images which made up the Pyramid Texts on the walls of tombs were meant to remind the soul of the deceased what to do next once they arrived in the afterlife. Their appearance as Osiris himself would not only remind them of the god but also would drive away dark spirits by fooling them into thinking one was the great god himself. The king’s appearance as modeled after Osiris’ extended throughout his reign; the famous flail and shepherd’s staff, synonymous with Egyptian pharaohs, were first Osiris’ symbols as the flail represented the fertility of his land while the crook symbolized the authority of his rule.

Harmony and order had been established by the son of Osiris, Horus, and the king was Horus’ living representative who provided for the needs of the people. Osiris was credited with establishing both the kingship and the natural order and law of life and so, through one’s participation in one’s community and observance of rituals, one was following Osiris’ guidelines. The people, as well as royalty, expected the protection of Osiris in life and his impartial judgment after death. Osiris was the all-merciful, the forgiving, and the just judge of the dead who oversaw one’s life on earth and in the afterlife.

The Mysteries of Osiris

Osiris’ identification with eternal life, with life from death, gave rise to his mystery cult which would travel beyond the boundaries of Egypt as the Cult of Isis. Although no one knows what rituals were involved in the mystery cult of Isis, they may have developed from Osiris’ earlier mysteries celebrated at Abydos beginning in the Twelfth Dynasty (1991-1802 BCE). These were very popular festivals which drew people from all over Egypt to participate in the ritual. Bunson notes that “the mysteries recounted the life, death, mummification, resurrection, and ascension of Osiris” (198). Dramas were staged with the major roles given to prominent members of the community and the local priests who enacted the story of the Osiris myth.

The story known as The Contention Between Horus and Set was then acted out in mock battles between The Followers of Horus and The Followers of Set where it seems anyone could participate. Once the battle had been won by the followers of Horus, the people celebrated the restoration of order and the golden statue of Osiris was brought forth from the inner sanctum of the temple and carried among the people who lavished gifts upon the image. The statue was carried through the city in a circuit and finally placed in an outdoor shrine where he could be admired by his people and also participate fully in the festivities. The emergence of the god from the darkness of his temple to participate in the joys of the living symbolized Osiris’ return to life from death.

Although this festival was primarily held at Abydos, it was also celebrated at other cult centers dedicated to Osiris throughout Egypt such as Bubastis (which was another very important cult center), Busiris, Memphis, and Thebes. Osiris, of course, was the central figure of these celebrations but, in time, the focus shifted to his wife, Isis, who had actually saved him from death and returned him to life. Osiris was intimately tied to the Nile River and the Nile River Valley of Egypt but Isis eventually became detached from any given locality and was considered the Queen of Heaven and the creator of the universe. All other Egyptian gods were finally seen as aspects of the mighty Isis and in this form, her cult traveled to Greece, to Phoenicia, to Rome and throughout the Roman Empire.

The Cult of Isis was so popular in the Roman world that it outlasted every other pagan belief system once Christianity took hold of the popular imagination. The most profound aspects of Christianity, in fact, can be traced back to the worship of Osiris and the Cult of Isis which grew from his story. In ancient Egypt, as in the modern day, people needed to believe that there was a purpose to their lives, that death was not the end, and that some kind of supernatural being cared for them and would protect them. The worship of the great god Osiris provided for that need just as people’s religious beliefs do today.

Source: Ancient History (www.ancient.eu), feature image: wikipedia.

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Temple of Seti I

The temple that the Greeks called the Memnonium in Abydos, actually dedicated to Seti I, Osiris and Isis along with Ptah, Ptah-Sokar, Nefertem, Re-Horakhty, Amun, and Horus, is one of the major archaeological sites in that region. It was begun by Seti I and finished by his son, the great Ramesses II. In fact, this structure built of fine white limestone is actually one of the most impressive religious structures in Egypt.

The present facade of the Temple was once the backdrop to the second of the two courtyards, the first of which, along with its entrance pylon, have long since fallen into ruin.

The temple, in the shape of an L, once had a landing quay, a ramp, a front terrace, two pylons, though the outer one is mostly lost, with two courts and pillared porticoes, followed by two hypostyle halls and seven chapels, with additional chambers to the south making up the short leg of the L. Storage chambers fill the area from the southern wing to the front of the temple. The main body of the temple was symmetrical back to the seven chapels. While the L shaped floor plan of this temple is unusual, analysis seems to show that the southern wing was no afterthought, but the result of a well thought out alternative to the usual axial temple plan.

Ground Plan of the Main Seti I Temple (L Shaped)

One approaches the temple through its outer courts, now ruined but with the huge tanks for the absolution of the temple’s priest still visible. This was the first temple we know of in Egypt that incorporated these structures. Along the way there are also row upon row of mud brick storage annexes grouped around a stone entrance hall.The access to the temple proper is up a long flight of 42 shallow stairs

The outer pylons and courts, as well as the first hypostyle hall which is relatively shallow and has two rows of twelve columns with lotus bud capitals, were hastily completed and decorated by Ramesses II. In fact, an image of him worshipping his father, along with Osiris and Isis is incorporated into the initial decorations. Most of the decorations completed by Ramesses II are inferior to those done during his father’s reign, but some are interesting and noteworthy, including the depiction of him as a young boy roping a bull with his father (elsewhere in the temple). Here, we also find a number of military scenes (second courtyard). Within the first hypostyle hall, it is interesting that Ramesses II placed decorations over those of his father. Within the portico that leads to the hypostyle halls, there was once seven doors that gave way to seven processional paths through the towering clustered columns to seven chapels at the rear of the temple.

Even though Seti’s place in history was overshadowed by his son, Ramesses II , arguably one of the greatest pharaohs in Egyptian history. Yet, Seti was an important character in his own right, as he was one of the pharaohs who had to bring order back to Egypt and re-establish Egyptian sovereignty over its eastern neighbours (Syria and the Levant) following the social disruption caused of Akhenaten’s religious reforms . Seti was also responsible for commissioning the construction of a grand temple in Abydos.

rving of Seti I in the Temple of Seti, Abydos (Image: Wikipedia)

Abydos has a special place in the sacred landscape of ancient Egypt, as it was believed to be the place where Osiris was buried. Thus, Abydos was an important cult centre for Osiris. A number of temples dedicated to Osiris, all of which were located in one area, were built prior to the reign of Seti. The Temple of Seti, however, was built on new ground to the south of the said temples.

Seti’s temple was built mainly of limestone, though parts of it were built in sandstone. Although work began under Seti, the temple was only completed during the reign of his son, Ramesses II. This is visible in some of the temple’s reliefs depicting Ramesses slaying Asiatics and worshipping Osiris. Like the temples of his predecessors, Seti’s temple was dedicated to Osiris, and consisted of a pylon, two open courts, two hypostyle halls, seven shrines, each to an important Egyptian deity (Horus, Isis, Osiris, Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah) and one to Seti himself, a chapel dedicated to the different forms of the god Osiris, and several chambers to the south. In addition to the main temple, there was also an Osireion at the back of it. Various additions to the temple were made by later pharaohs, including those from the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

The Temple of Seti played an important role in his family’s claim as a legitimate royal household. Prior to the ascension to the throne by Seti’s father, Ramesses I, Seti’s ancestors were merely warriors, generals at most. Without royal blood in his veins, Seti had to consolidate his position, and one of the ways to do so was to build temples. As Akhenaten’s religious reforms did away will the old gods, Seti’s dedication of his temple to Osiris and other important Egyptian deities symbolised a return to the traditional way of life, thus allowing himself to be seen as a restorer of order.

Seti I offering a menat up to a deity and receiving the djed and ankh in return. (Credit: Kyera Giannini / flickr)

In addition to the worship of Egypt’s traditional gods, Seti’s temple had another feature that made his rule legitimate. This was the Abydos King List, which was found carved on a wall of the temple. The Abydos King List contains the names of 76 kings of ancient Egypt, predecessors whom Seti acknowledged to be legitimate pharaohs. On the other hand, earlier rulers who were considered illegitimate, such as Hatshepsut and Akhenaten were conveniently omitted from the List. The Abydos King List was arranged in three rows, each containing 38 cartouches. Whilst the first two rows consisted of the names of his predecessors, the third row is just a repetition of Seti’s throne name and praenomen.

Apart from being an important legitimising tool for Seti’s dynasty, the Abydos King List was also an incredibly important document for our understanding of the kings of ancient Egypt, especially those from the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period. Although the List provides the order of the Old Kingdom rulers, it is far more valuable for the fact that it is the only known source for the names of many of the kings from the first two dynasties of the First Intermediate Period (Dynasties 7 and 8).

The Temple of Seti at Abydos was a strategic building project on the part of Seti I in order to bolster his family’s claim to the Egyptian throne. This desire for legitimacy has also indirectly benefitted us today, as Seti left behind a list of kings that helped patched some holes in the history of Egyptian kingship, as well as a spectacular monument that continues to be visited by thousands of people every year.

Sources: Tour Egypt (touregypt.net), Ancient Origins. (ancient-origins.net).