Since Horus was their father, so Isis, Horus's original wife in the early mythological phase, was usually seen as their mother, though in the details of the funerary ritual each son, and therefore each canopic jar, was protected by a particular goddess. Just as the sons of Horus protected the contents of a canopic jar, the king's organs, so they in turn were protected. As they were male in accordance with the principles of male/female duality their protectors were female.
• Imsety in human form, protected the liver and was protected by his aunt Isis.
• Hapi in baboon form, protected the lungs and was protected by his other aunt Nephthys.• Duamutef in jackal form, protected the stomach and was protected by Neith.
• Qebehsenuef in hawk form, protected the large intestines and was protected by his mother Serket.
The classic depiction of the four sons of Horus on Middle Kingdom coffins show Imsety and Duamutef on the eastern side of the coffin and Hapi and Qebehsenuef on the western side. The eastern side is decorated with a pair of eyes and the mummy was turned on its side to face the east and the rising sun; therefore, this side is sometimes referred to as the front. The sons of Horus also became associated with the cardinal compass points, so that Hapi was the north, Imsety the south, Duamutef the east and Qebehsenuef the west. Their brother was Ihy, son of Hathor. Until the end of the 18th Dynasty the canopic jars had the head of the king, but later they were shown with animal heads. Inscriptions on coffins and sarcophagi from earliest times showed them usually in animal form.
- Main article: Hapi
Hapi (xapi) the baboon headed son of Horus protected the lungs of the deceased and was in turn protected by the goddess Nephthys. The spelling of his name includes a hieroglyph, which is thought to be connected with steering a boat, although its exact nature is not known. For this reason he was sometimes connected with navigation, although early references call him the great runner: "You are the great runner; come, that you may join up my father N and not be far in this your name of Hapi, for you are the greatest of my children – so says Horus"In Spell 151 of the Book of the Dead Hapi is given the following words to say: "I have come to be your protection. I have bound your head and your limbs for you. I have smitten your enemies beneath you for you, and given you your head, eternally." Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead directly associates all four of Horus's sons, described as the four pillars of Shu and one of the four rudders of heaven, with the four cardinal points of the compass. Hapi was associated with the north.
- Main article: Imsety
Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead directly associates all four of Horus's sons to the four cardinal points. Imsety was associated with the south.
- Main article: Duamutef
The text does not make it clear who might assail Osiris, although there are two major candidates. The obvious one is Set, the murderer of Osiris. Somehow the son who worships his mother Isis is able to assist in overcoming Set. The other possibility is Apophis, the serpent demon who prevents the Sun's passage and thus the resurrection of Osiris. Either way, Duamutef through his worship of Isis has the power to protect the deceased from harm.
Duamutef was also considered one of the four pillars of Shu, a rudder of heaven, and was associated with the east.
- Main article: Qebehsenuef
After Set murdered Osiris he cut the body into pieces and scattered them around the Delta. This was anathema to the Egyptians and the service that Qebehsenuef gives to the dead is to reassemble their parts so they can be properly preserved. In Spell 151 of the Book of the Dead he is given the following words to say: "I am your son, Osiris, I have come to be your protection. I have united your bones for you, I have assembled your limbs for you. have brought you your heart, and placed it for you at its place in your body." Qebehsenuef was the god associated with the west.
Baboon, Jackal, Falcon and HumanThe reasons for attributing these four animals to the sons of Horus is not known, although we may point to other associations which these animals have in Egyptian mythology. The baboon is associated with the moon and Thoth, the god of wisdom and knowledge, and also the baboons which chatter when the sun rises raising their hands as if in worship.The jackal (or possibly dog) is linked to Anubis and the act of embalming and also Wepwawet the "opener of the ways" who seeks out the paths of the dead. The hawk is associated with Horus himself and also Seker the mummified necropolis god. Imseti, the human, may be linked to Osiris himself or Onuris the hunter.
The Egyptians themselves linked them with the ancient kings of Lower and Upper Egypt, the Souls of Pe and Nekhen. In Spells 112 and 113 of the Book of the Dead which have their origins in the earlier Coffin Texts Spells 157 and 158, it is described how Horus has his eye injured, and because of this is given the sons of Horus: As for Imsety, Hapi, Duamutef, Qebehsenuef, their father is Horus, their mother Isis. And Horus said to Ra, place two brothers in Pe, two brothers in Nekhen from this my troupe, and to be with me assigned for eternity. The land may flourish, the turmoil be quenched. It happened for Horus who is upon his papyrus-column. I know the powers of Pe; it is Horus, it is Imsety, it is Hapi.The injury of Horus's eye is part of the myth cycle known as the Contending of Horus and Set recounting how they fought over the crown of Egypt.
In a unique illustration in the tomb of Ay the sons of Horus are shown wearing the red and white crowns as the Souls of Pe and Nekhen, the souls of the royal ancestors. The attributes of the sons of Horus are not limited to their role as the protectors of canopic jars. they appear as the four rudders of heaven in Spell 148 of the Book of the Dead, as four of the seven celestial spirits summoned by Anubis in Spell 17 of the Book of the Dead and through this are linked to the circumpolar stars of the Great Bear (or Plough): "The tribunal around Osiris is Imset, Hapi, Duamutef, Qebehsenuf, these are at the back of the Plough constellation of the northern sky."