Depiction of Osiris from Nefertari's Tomb
|Role||God of Afterlife and Rebirth|
|Family||Nut and Geb (Parents), Set, Nephthys, Isis (Siblings), Horus (Son)|
|Enemies||Set and Nephthys|
|Symbols||Crook and Flail|
| Osiris |
Osiris (Greek language, also Usiris; the Egyptian language name is variously transliterated Asar, Aser, Ausar, Wesir, or Ausare) is the Egyptian god of life, death, and fertility. At the height of the ancient Nile civilization, Osiris was regarded as the primary deity of a henotheism. Osiris was not only the merciful judge of the dead in the afterlife, but also the underworld agency that granted all life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. Beginning at about 2000 B.C. all men, not just dead pharaohs, were believed to be associated with Osiris at death. Osiris is normally depicted with a blue or even sometimes a green complexion. Further studies show there was other Ancient Egyptians that had a similar appearance.
The origin of Osiris's name is a mystery, which forms an obstacle to knowing the pronunciation of its hieroglyphic form. The majority of current thinking is that the Egyptian name is pronounced aser where the a is the letter ayin (i.e. a short 'a' pronounced from the back of the throat as if swallowing).
Origin of name
The name was first recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs only as ws-ir or os-ir because the Egyptian writing system omitted vowels. It is reconstructed to have been pronounced Us-iri (oos-ee-ree) meaning 'Throne of the Eye' and survives into the Coptic language as Ousire.
Father of Anubis
Earlier, when the Ennead and Ogdoad cosmogenies became merged, with the identification of Ra as Atum (Atum-Ra), gradually Anubis, the god of the underworld in the Ogdoad system, was replaced by Osiris, whose cult had become more significant. In order to explain this, Anubis was said to have given way to Osiris out of respect, and, as an underworld deity, was subsequently identified as being Osiris' son. Abydos, which had been a strong centre of the cult of Anubis, became a centre of the cult of Osiris.
However, as Isis, Osiris' wife, represented life, in the Ennead, it was considered somewhat inappropriate for her to be the mother of a god associated with death, and so instead, it was usually said that Nephthys, the other of the two female children of Geb and Nut, was his mother. To explain the apparent infidelity of Osiris, it was said that a sexually frustrated Nephthys had disguised herself as Isis to get more attention from her husband, Set, but did not succeed, although Osiris then mistook her for Isis, and they procreated, resulting in Anubis' birth.
Father of Horus
Later, when Hathor's identity (from the Ogdoad) was assimilated into that of Isis, Osiris, who had been Isis' husband (in the Ogdoad), became considered her son, and thus, since Osiris was Isis' husband (in the Ennead), Osiris also became considered Horus ' father. Attempts to explain how Osiris, a god of the dead, could give rise to someone so definitely alive as Horus, lead to the development of the Legend of Osiris and Isis, which became the greatest myth in Egyptian mythology.
The myth described Osiris as having been killed by his brother Seth who wanted Osiris' throne. Osiris was subsequently resurrected by Anubis. Osiris and Isis gave birth to Horus. As such, since Horus was born after Osiris' resurrection, Horus became thought of as representing new beginnings. This combination, Osiris-Horus, was therefore a life-death-rebirth deity, and thus associated with the new harvest each year.
Ptah-Seker (who resulted from the identification of Ptah as Sokar), who was god of re-incarnation, thus gradually became identified with Osiris, the two becoming Ptah-Seker-Osiris (rarely known as Ptah-Seker-Atum, although this was just the name, and involved Osiris rather than Atum). As the sun was thought to spend the night in the underworld, and subsequently be re-incarnated, as both king of the underworld, and god of reincarnation, Ptah-Seker-Osiris was identified as the sun during the night.
| Banebdjed (b3-nb-ḏd) |
Since Osiris was considered dead, as God of the Dead, Osiris' soul, or rather his Ba, was occasionally worshipped in its own right, almost as if it were a distinct god, especially so in the Delta city of Mendes. This aspect of Osiris was referred to as Banebdjed (also spelt Banebded or Banebdjedet, which is technically feminine) which literally means The ba of the lord of the djed, which roughly means The soul of the lord of the pillar of stability. The djed, a type of pillar, was usually understood as the backbone of Osiris, since the Egyptians had associated death, and the dead, as symbolic of stability. As Banebdjed, Osiris was given epithets such as Lord of the Sky and Life of the (sun god) Ra, since Ra, when he had become identified with Atum, was considered Osiris' ancestor, from whom his regal authority was inherited.
Ba does not, however, quite mean soul in the western sense, and also has a lot to do with power, reputation, force of character, especially in the case of a god. Since the ba was associated with power, and also happened to be a word for ram in Egyptian, Banebdjed was depicted as a ram, or as Ram-headed. A living, sacred ram, was even kept at Mendes and worshipped as the incarnation of the god, and upon death, the rams were mummified and buried in a ram-specific necropolis.
In Mendes, they had considered Hatmehit, a local fish-goddess, as the most important god/goddess, and so when the cult of Osiris became more significant, Banebdjed was identified in Mendes as deriving his authority from being married to Hatmehit. Later, when Horus became identified as the child of Osiris (in this form Horus is known as Harpocrates in greek and Har-pa-khered in Egyptian), Banebdjed was consequently said to be Horus' father, as Banebdjed is an aspect of Osiris.
In occult writings, Banebdjed is often called the goat of Mendes, and identified with Baphomet; the fact that Banebdjed was a ram (sheep), not a goat, is apparently overlooked.
The Cult of Osiris
The cult of Osiris had a particularly strong interest towards the concept of immortality. According to the myth surrounding the cult, Set (Osiris's evil brother) fooled Osiris into getting into a coffin, which he then shut, had sealed with lead and threw into the Nile. Osiris's wife, Isis, searched for his remains until she finally found him embedded in a tree trunk, which was holding up the roof of a palace. She managed to remove the coffin and open it, but Osiris was alreddy dead. She used a spell she had learned from her father and brought him back to life so he could impregnate her. After they finished, he died again, so she hid his body in the desert. Months later, she gave birth to Horus. While she was off raising him, Set had been out hunting one night and he came across the body of Osiris. Enraged, he tore the body into 14 pieces and again threw them into the Nile. Isis gathered up all the parts of the body and bandaged them together for a proper burial. The Gods were impressed by the devotion of Isis and thus restored Osiris to life in the form of a different kind of existence as the god of the underworld. Because of his death and resurrection, Osiris is associated with the flooding and retreating of the Nile and thus with the crops along the Nile valley.
The passion and resurrection
Plutarch and others have noted that the sacrifices to Osiris were “gloomy, solemn, and mournful…” (Isis and Osiris, 69) and that the great mystery festival, celebrated in two phases, began at Abydos on the 17th of Athyr (Nov. 13th) commemorating the death of the god, which is also the same day that grain was planted in the ground. “The death of the grain and the death of the god were one and the same: the cereal was identified with the god who came from heaven; he was the bread by which man lives. The resurrection of the god symbolized the rebirth of the grain.” (Larson 17) The first phase of the festival was a public drama depicting the murder and dismemberment of Osiris, the search for his body by Isis, his triumphal return as the resurrected god, and the battle in which Horus defeated Set. This was all presented by skilled actors as a literary history, and was the main method of recruiting cult membership. According to Julius Firmicus Maternus of the fourth century, this play was re-enacted each year by worshippers who “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).
The Passion of Osiris was re-enacted at all of his temples during his annual festivals. On a stele at Abydos erected in the 12th Dynasty by I-Kher-Nefert, a priest of Osiris during the reign of Usertsen III (Pharaoh Sesostris, about 1875 BC) we find the principle scenes of the mystery-drama depicted (I-Kher-Nefert played Horus). In the first scene, Osiris is slain, no one knowing what happened to his body, and the onlookers weep and mourn, rend their hair and beat their breasts. Isis and Nepthys then recover the remnants and return to the temple. In the second scene, Thoth, Horus and Isis revive Osiris in the sanctuary, not witnessed by the populace. Then Osiris emerges, to much rejoicing. Horus then places Osiris in a solar boat, christened the Nefarté, to proceed directly to the eternal regions, known as the “coming forth by day” mentioned so often in the Book of the Dead. The climax of the play is the great battle between Horus and Set, described in detail by Herodotus (History II, 63).
Wheat and clay rituals
Differing from the public portion above, an esoteric phase consisted of ceremonials performed inside the temples by priests witnessed only by initiates. Plutarch mentions that two days after the beginning of the festival “the priests bring forth sacred chest containing a small golden coffer, into which they pour some potable water…and a great shout arises from the company for joy that Osiris is found (or resurrected). Then they knead some fertile soil with the water…and fashion therefrom a crescent-shaped figure, which they cloth and adorn, this indicating that they regard these gods as the substance of Earth and Water.” (Isis and Osiris, 39). Yet even he was obscure, for he also wrote, “I pass over the cutting of the wood” opting to not describe it since he considered it most sacred (Ibid. 21).
In the Osirian temple at Denderah, an inscription (translated by Budge, Chapter XV, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection) describes in detail the making of wheat paste models of each dismembered piece of Osiris to be sent out to the town where each piece was discovered by Isis. At the temple of Mendes, figures of Osiris are made from wheat and paste placed in a trough on the day of the murder, then water added for several days, when finally the mixture was kneaded into a mold of Osiris and taken to the temple and buried (the sacred grain for these cakes only grown in the temple fields). Molds are made from wood of a red tree in the forms of the sixteen dismembered parts of Osiris, cakes of divine bread made from each mold, placed in a silver chest and set near the head of the god, the inward parts of Osiris as described in the Book of the Dead (XVII). On the first day of the Festival of Ploughing, where the goddess Isis appears in her shrine where she is stripped naked, Paste made from the grain is placed in her bed and moistened with water, representing the fecund earth. All of these sacred rituals were climaxed by the eating of sacramental god, the eucharist by which the celebrants were transformed, in their persuasion, into replicas of their god-man (Larson 20).
The Osirian Sacrament
Although there were ethical and ceremonial considerations none of these could compare to the power of the divine eucharist, since it was literally believed to be the body (bread) and blood (ale) of the god. Since the ancient Nilotics believed that humans were whatever they eat, this sacrament was, by extension, able to make them celestial and immortal. The doctrine of the eucharist ultimately has its roots in prehistoric cannibalism, whose practitioners understood that virtues and powers of the eaten can be thus absorbed by the eater. This phenomenon has been described throughout the world.
One of the oldest of the Pyramid Texts is the Unas from the 6th Dynasty (circa 2500 BC). It shows that the original ideology of Egypt commingled with Osirian concepts. Although ultimately given a high place in heaven by order of Osiris, Unas is at first an enemy of the gods and his ancestors, who he hunts, lassoes, kills, cooks, and eats so that their powers may become his own. This was written at a time when the eating of parents and gods was a laudable ceremony, and this emphasizes how hard it must have been to stamp out the older order of cannibalism. “He eats men, he feeds on the gods…he cooks them in his fiery cauldrons. He eats their words of power, he swallows their spirits…. He eats the wisdom of every god, his period of life is eternity…. Their soul is in his body, their spirits are within him.” A parallel passage is found in the Pyramid Text of Pepi II, who is said to have “seizeth those who are a follower of Set…he breaketh their heads, he cutteth off their haunches, he teareth out their intestines, he diggeth out their hearts, he drinketh copiously of their blood!” (line 531, ff). Although crude, this was a core concept, the conviction that one could receive immortality by eating the flesh and blood of a god who had died became a dominating obsession in the ancient world. Although the cult of Osiris forbade cannibalism, it did not outlaw dismemberment and eating of enemies, and practiced the ritual rending and eating of the sacred bull, symbolizing Osiris.
Although this sacramental concept only originated once in history, it spread throughout the Mediterranean area and became the dynamic force in every mystery cult. It was only by this sacerdotal means that the corruptible deceased could be clothed in incorruption and this idea appears again and again in infinite variety. The scribe Nebseni implores: “And there in the celestial mansions of heaven which my divine father Tem hath established, let my hands lay hold upon the wheat and the barley which shall be given unto me therein in abundant measure” (Ibid. LXXII). Nu corroborates that this is the eucharist by saying: “I am established, and the divine Sekhet-hetep is before me, I have eaten therein, I have become a spirit therein, I have abundance therein.” (Ibid. LXXVII) Again Nu states: “I am the divine soul of Ra…which is god…I am the divine food which is not corrupted” (Ibid. LXXXV). The ancientness of the concept is again reaffirmed in the Pyramid Text of Teta (2600 BC) where the Osiris Teta “receivest thy bread which decayeth not, and thy beer which perisheth not” In the Text of Pepi I we read: “All the gods give thee their flesh and their blood…. Thou shalt not die.” In the Text of Pepi II the aspirant prays for “thy bread of eternity, and thy beer of everlastingness” (Line 390).
By the Hellenic era, Greek awareness of Osiris had grown, and attempts had been made to merge Greek philosophy, such as Platonism, and the cult of Osiris (especially the myth of his resurrection), resulting in a new mystery religion. Gradually, this became more popular, and was exported to other parts of the Greek sphere of influence. However, these mystery religions valued the change in wisdom, personality, and knowledge of fundamental truth, rather than the exact details of the acknowledged myths on which their teachings were superimposed. Thus in each region that it was exported to, the myth was changed to be about a similar local god, resulting in a series of gods, who had originally been quite distinct, but who were now syncretisms with Osiris. These gods became known as Osiris-Dionysus.
Eventually, in Egypt, the Hellenic pharaohs decided to produce a deity that would be acceptable to both the local Egyptian population, and the influx of Hellenic visitors, to bring the two groups together, rather than allow a source of rebellion to grow. Thus Osiris was identified explicitly with Apis, really an aspect of Ptah, who had already been identified as Osiris by this point, and a syncretism of the two was created, known as Serapis, and depicted as a standard Greek god.
Osiris-worship continued up until the 6th century AD on the island of Philae in Upper Nile. The Theodosian decree (in about 380 AD) to destroy all pagan temples and force worshippers to accept Christianity was ignored there. However, Justinian dispatched a General Narses to Philae, who destroyed the Osirian temples and sanctuaries, threw the priests into prison, and carted the sacred images off to Constantinople. However, by that time, the soteriology of Osiris had assumed various forms which had long spread far and wide in the ancient world. NOT TRUE
Osiris in popular culture
- Albert Pike (the grand commander of Freemasonry) worshipped Osiris and he proudly made that known in his book, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
- In Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, the priests in the Temple of Wisdom worship Osiris and Isis. The chief priest, Sarastro, sings an aria beginning "O Isis und Osiris". 
- Osiris is a deity used more than once in the hit television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the show, Osiris is described as the "keeper of the gate, master of all fate" and is used in resurrection rituals. He is also unique as he is seen in one episode, communicating with Willow Rosenberg as she tries to resurrect her dead lover, Tara Maclay; although names of deities are often given in spells on the show, most of the time the deity is not seen.
- Saint Dragon - The God of Osiris is one of the Three Divine Beasts, or God Cards, from the manga Yu-Gi-Oh! and its animated adaptation, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters.
- In the show Futurama the three main characters Fry, Leela and Bender visit an Egypt-themed planet named Osiris IV.
- In the Animatrix, the Osiris is the name of the ship that is sacrificed to make sure Zion Zion gets the information that the machines are coming.
- Osiris Shoes is a manufacturer of Skate shoes.
- Osiris Host Integrity Monitoring software moniters the integrity of computer systems, usually for malicious tampering.
- In the television series Stargate SG-1, Osiris and other gods are represented as Goa'uld pretending to be gods, whereas in Egyptian culture, most of them were told to be good and beneficial, in some way, to life. Osiris is unique among the villains in that he has a male personality, but a female host body.
- In Joss Whedon's Firefly (TV series), Osiris is the name of the Core planet River and Simon Tam are originally from.
- In the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig's song "Origin of Love" mentions Osiris.
- In The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, the legend of Osiris being cut up by his brother, Set, is discussed. As the one part of Osiris unable to be found by Isis was his genitals and because he is the god of the underworld, Lestat believes him to be a vampire god, as vampires are unable to copulate.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade, Osiris was a powerful vampire, either an antedeluvian or methuselah who fought against the Antedeluvian Set. He was the founder of the vampire bloodline known as the Serpents of the Light.
- The Wu-Tang Clan's (now deceased) member, Ol' Dirty Bastard, went by the alias, Osirus. Fans would know this as he would sometimes shout on a song, "I'm the Osirus of this shit!!"
- Osiris was the name of a now defunct rock/alternative band formed in 1994 in Wheelersburg, Ohio.
- Osiris is the name of a large Order battleship in Microsoft's Freelancer videogame.
- On Adult Swim's The Venture Bros., an episode (Escape to the House of Mummies Part II) mostly takes place in Egypt centering around an evil cult wanting the Hand of Osiris.
- Appears as a boss monster in the MMORPG Ragnarok Online where Osiris attacks adventurers. He can be found within the highest level of the Pyramid map and resurrects an hour after being destroyed.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Pyramids of Mars" the Osirans were a long lived and extremely powerful race of beings possessed of enormous psionic might and great technical sophistication. One of their number, Sutekh, ravaged planets across the galaxy until the rest of them ran him to ground and imprisoned him on Earth. Their presence here is implied to be the source of Egyption worship.
- Osiris is also the name of a stem-cell therapy research organization.
- In Tad Williams's Otherland series, the villain Felix Jongleur frequently takes the form of Osiris inside his virtual reality simulation of ancient Egypt.
- In a 1984 song called Powerslave by Iron Maiden a mention of Osiris is made.
- In the game Age of Mythology Osiris is a selectable god by the Egyptians.
- The boss at the end of an Egyptian themed dungeon in world of warcraft is named Osirian and has the features of a hawk.
Martin A. Larson, The Story of Christian Origins (1977