O Osiris the king,
who goes forth by night !
by Wim van den Dungen
01 Evil or the end of the Golden Age.
Osiris is heir to the throne of Geb, and so the king of the Two Lands.
“Geb’s heir (in) the kingship of the Two Lands. Seeing his worth, he gave (it) to him. To lead the lands to good fortune. He placed this land into his hand. Its water, its wind, its plants, all its cattle, all that flies, all that alights, its reptiles and its desert game. (All that) were given to the son of Nut, and the Two Lands are rejoicing !” – Great Hymn to Osiris, New Kingdom, stela C286 – Louvre.
Two wooden barks were found near the Great Pyramid of king Khufu. They were used by the deceased king in the netherworld. Ferried over to the eastern horizon, he would arrive in the First Time of the gods. Indeed, in the lightland of the horizon, the transformation (“kheper”) from soul (Ba) to spirit (Akh) took place. After being transformed in the horizon, Pharaoh arrived in heaven as a god.
“The Nurse Canal is opened.
The Winding Waterway is flooded.
The Fields of Reeds are filled with water.
Thereon I, king Teti, am ferried over to yonder eastern sky,
to the place where the gods fashioned me,
wherein I was born, new and young.”
Pyramid Texts, §§ 343 – 344.
The Golden Age refers to a period untainted by evil (“isefet”). The First Time, as the onset for time, is wholly luminous and has a dynamical symmetry (whereas Nun is an inert symmetry). The internal pressures of the Ennead, caused by the presence of Seth, the symmetry-break, resulted in the emanation of Horus (the Elder) and Re. Both sky-gods initiated the Golden Age, the rule of the gods, interpreted in Osirian faith as the kingdom of Osiris on Earth. The mere presence of Seth in the Ennead was not sufficient to end the Golden Age (in precreation), but makes the Ennead dynamical. Seth represents an opposing kingdom. If the rule of Osiris can be linked with the life of the fertile lands bordering the Nile, then Seth is the barren desert encompassing this narrow but long stretch of vegetation. Both Horus and Seth assisted the king when ascending. He was the unity of both, and embodied Egypt (Horus ruled Lower Egypt and Seth Upper Egypt).
When Seth murdered Osiris, the Golden Age on Earth ended. No longer would Egypt be ruled by the gods, but by their offspring. The relationship is however not incarnational (Re would not incarnate in Horus the king), but genetico-magical. In Osirian faith, the conception of Horus is magical, but involves Isis & Osiris (cf. infra). In Heliopolitanism, Re overshadowed his high priest to impregnate the mother of the future king, the “son of Re”. The world is always on the brink of disaster, for although Seth (after Horus was vindicated) was condemned to carry Osiris and assist Re (in the 7th Hour of the Amduat), he nevertheless continued to be a dangerous god, associated with natural and moral evil. To know where he is and what he is doing is better than to send him in the desert and turn one’s back to him. As the “netjer” of all dark desires and disruptive emotional states, his presence teaches one to hold desires in check and by doing so understand their overall evolutionary process. Always willing to cause havoc, Seth remains the friend of evildoers.
02 The suffering of Osiris.
“You (Ladder of the god) have come seeking your brother Osiris, for his brother Seth has thrown him down on his side in yonder side of (the desert of) Gehesty.” – Pyramid Texts, § 972.
“Isis cries out to You (king Merenre), Nephthys calls to You. The Great Mooring-post removes (any) impediment for You as (for) Osiris in his suffering.” – Pyramid Texts, § 872.
“Wepwawet opens a way for me, Shu lifts me up, the Souls of On set up a stairway for me in order to reach the above, and Nut puts her hand on me just as she did for Osiris on the day when he died.” – Pyramid Texts, § 1090.
“To say : The djed-pillar of the Day-bark is released for its Lord, the djed-pillar of the Day-bark is released for its protector. Isis comes and Nephthys comes, one of them from the West and one of them from the East, one of them as screeching falcon, one of them as a kite. They have found Osiris, his brother Seth having laid him low in Nedit ; when Osiris said : ‘Get away from me !’, when his name became Sokar. They prevent You from rotting in accordance with this your name of Anubis. They prevent your putrefaction from dripping to the ground in accordance with this your name of ‘Jackal of Upper Egypt’. They prevent the smell of your corpse from becoming foul in accordance with this your name of Horus of Haty. They prevent Horus of the East from putrefying. They prevent Horus Lord of Patricians from putrefying. They prevent Horus of the Duat from putrefying. They prevent Horus Lord of the Two Lands from putrefying, and Seth will never be free from carrying You, O Osiris.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 1255 – 1258.
The Egyptians avoided to address the murder of Osiris directly. In the same way, they often refused to call Set by his name, and instead called him: the malevolent, the evil one, the adversary, the enemy, the rebel … In the same way as they, to neutralize them, occasionally modified, suppressed or replaced (by anodyne substitutes) hieroglyphs deemed dangerous in sensitive areas of the tomb (like the sarcophagus chamber), the Egyptian scribes avoided to invoke the most terrible of events (the end of the Golden Age) as well as the name of the culpit. The rules of sympathetic magic taught them so. Nevertheless, the suffering of Osiris was terrible. To be tricked, drowned, found and then cut into scattered pieces, makes the point of Set’s terrible powers of seduction and cruelty.
In Plutarch’s account, Set became envious of Osiris and secretly measured his body. He made a beautiful chest to these measurements. Bringing it to the banqueting hall, everybody was pleasured at the sight of it. Set promised that whoever fitted inside could have it as a gift. Everybody tried, but only Osiris fitted in. When he lay down inside, Set slammed the lid and sealed it with lead. He cast it into the Nile and it was carried downstream to the great sea. Isis was so forlorn, that her tears caused the Nile to flood (the night when the Nile rose is known as the “Night of the Teardrop”). The coffin had washed ashore on the Phoenician coast at Byblos and taken root in a tamarisk tree, set up as a column in the palace of the king. After many trials, Isis brought the body of Osiris back to Egypt. It is at this point that Set seized it again and dismembered it into 14 parts. He scattered the severed limbs all over the land and threw his penis into the Nile. In this way, the body of Osiris became one with the soil of Egypt.
03 Reassemby and reanimation of the body of Osiris.
“Isis and Nephthys have seen and found You …” – Pyramid Texts, § 584.
“(I have seen !) says Isis. ‘I have found !’, says Nephthys, for they have seen Osiris on his side on the bank […]. Arise […] my brother, for I have sought You.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 2144 – 2145.
“Your two sisters Isis and Nephthys come to You (so) that they may make You hale.” – Pyramid Texts, § 628.
” (…) there has been done for him what was done for his father Osiris on that day of re-uniting the bones, of making good the soles, and of extending the feet. – Pyramid Texts, § 1368.
“Nephthys has collected all your members for You in this her name of ‘Seshat, Lady of Builders’. (She) has made them hale for You, You having been given to your mother Nut in her name of ‘Sarcophagus’. She has embraced You in her name of ‘Coffin’, and You have been brought to her in her name of ‘Tomb’.” – Pyramid Texts, § 616.
Isis and Nephthys represent the waxing (first and second quater) and waning (third and fourth quater) light of the Moon, associated with Osiris. From the New Moon onwards, the disk of the Moon is crescent. Culminating at Full Moon, it returns to its waning phase. The waxing phase is Isis, the warm-hearted mother, concerned, devoted and inventive. The waning phase is her sister, the “Lady of the House”, cold, distant, somewhat detached from the sorrows of this world and quite passive. Married to Set, legend has it she was in love with Osiris and had Anubis as his son. Cast out by his mother, who feared the violent wrath of her husband Set, Anubis was taken in by Isis. He became her loyal assistant in all matters, especially regarding the reassembly and mummification of the body of Osiris.
In nearly all iconographic representations of the myth, Isis and Nepthys are mentioned together and appear likewise. This points to the complementarity of both archetypes and to the interlocked nature of these two natural differentials. There is no waxing without waning and vice versa. The task of these wailing sisters is double: on the one hand, they seek and find the 14 parts of the body of Osiris, with the exception of the penis, and on the other hand, they make the body healthy, implying its organic reunification. This by embracing him.
In this stage of the myth, the iconography of the body of Osiris is typical. Always depicted anthropomorph, his body is wrapped in mummy bandages from which his arms emerge to hold the crook and the flail. These are the emblems of kingship of the living Horus, and of Osiris, the king of the dead. The body of Osiris has become a ritual object, moreover, it is a talisman (a consecreated object charged with magical intent). When reanimated by Isis, the body is in a “vegetating” condition and represented lying on a funerary bier. The phallus was carefully bound up to simulate erection (cf. Atum masturbating the world in to existence).
In the classical story recorded by Plutarch, Isis and Nephthys went searching for all the parts of the body of Osiris. Whenever they found one, they performed funerary rituals and erected a tomb. But Isis could not find his male member. Unfortunately, thrown into the Nile, it had been eaten by the Nile Carp (Lepidotus), Phagrus and Oxyrynchus fish! Hence forward, these fish were considered unclean. So in the place of the penis of Osiris, Isis made a likeness of it and consecrated this magical phallic simulacrum. She breathed life into the re-membered body of Osiris and reanimated it. Isis, hovering over the mummy of Osiris in the form of a kite, a small graceful hawk, begets Horus. At the Winter solstice, along with the early blossom & flowers, the child Horus (Harpocrates) is born. Plutarch adds that the Egyptians celebrated this birth around the Spring equinox (namely around the time when he was crowned king ?).
04 Horus, the avenger of his father.
“Your sister Isis comes to You (Osiris) rejoicing for love of You. You have placed her on your phallus and your seed issues into her, she being ready as Sothis. Horus Soped has come forth from You as Horus who is in Sothis.” – Pyramid Texts, § 632.
“Remember, Seth, and put in your heart this word which Geb spoke, this threat which the gods made against You in the Mansion of the Prince in On, because You threw Osiris to the Earth ! When You said, O Seth : ‘I have never done this to him !’, so that You might have power thereby, having been saved, and that You might prevail over Horus … When You said, O Seth : ‘It was he who attacked me !’, when there came into being this his name of ‘Earth-attacker’ … When You said, O Seth : ‘It was he who kicked me !’, when there came into being this his name of Orion, long of leg and lengthy of stride, who presides over Upper Egypt.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 957 – 959.
“O Osiris king Teti, mount up to Horus, betake yourself to him, do not be far from him. Horus has come that he may recognize You. He has smitten Seth for You bound, and You are his Ka (of Seth). Horus has driven him off for You, for he swims bearing You, he lifts up one (Osiris) who is greater than he in You, and his followers have seen You, that your strength is greater than his, so that they cannot thwart You.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 586 – 588.
“Horus has cried out because of his Eye, Seth has cried out because of his testicles, and there leaps up the Eye of Horus, who had fallen on yonder side of the Winding Waterway, so that it may protect itself from Seth. Thoth saw it on yonder side of the Winding Waterway when the Eye of Horus leapt up on yonder side of the Winding Waterway and fell on Thoth’s wing on yonder side of the Winding Waterway. O You gods who cross over on the wing of Thoth to yonder side of the Winding Waterway, to the eastern side of the sky, in order to dispute with Seth about this Eye of Horus : I will cross with You upon the wing of Thoth to yonder side of the Winding Waterway, to the eastern side of the sky, and I will dispute with Seth about this Eye of Horus.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 594 – 596.
With Horus, “He upon high”, all possible Enneads or companies of deities “existing” in the “zep tepi” or First Time, are completed. Both Heliopolitan, Hermopolitan and Memphite schemes eventually end up with Horus as king of the physical universe. He is the “10th”, crowning actuality, the system of “sky”, “Earth”, “Duat” and “horizon” (what later qabalists would call “Olam ha-Assiah”, with its “Malkuth” or “kingdom”). And so, Horus is the living king of Egypt, the “great house” or “Pharaoh” of the Two Lands, both a living Horus and the unique son of Re. As such, he offers Maat to his father, and as Horus he keeps the land pacified. He is the Great Eye that sees it all, the absolute Witness within actual, relative and abyssimal existence (a world constantly at the edge of the yawning space called “chaos”).
The Egyptian texts about the conflict between Horus and Set are dispersed over several different periods and form a mass of disjointed elements. In The Contendings of Horus and Set, the longest of the New Kingdom stories, the central theme is Horus’s superiority over his rival Set in contending over the throne, usurped by his uncle and previously occupied by his father Osiris.
“(There came to pass) the adjudication of Horus and Seth, mysterious in their forms and mightiest of the princes and magnates who had ever come into being. Now it was a young (god) who was seated in the presence of the Universal Lord, claiming the office of his father Osiris, beautiful in his appearances, the son of Ptah …”
Historically, the Followers of Horus (Herakleopolis) and the Followers of Set (Naqada) probably represent two rival Upper Egyptian kingdoms engaged in the battles terminating Predynastic Egypt (cf. the Terminal Predynastic Period, the last three hundred years before the unification dated at ca. 3000 BCE, if not a little earlier). The Followers of Horus finally won, marched North and united the country (under Aha, Menes, Narmer). Memphis, situated at the point where the Nile forks into the Delta, represented the “Balance of the Two Lands” (cf. Memphis Theology), the place of coronation of the divine king, who is a living Horus and the son of Ptah.
“Horus who is in Sothis” clearly refers to the agricultural, Sothic cycle, crucial to the economical survival of Egypt and intimately interlaced with the ideology of divine (read: magical) kingship. Indeed, only the living Horus guarantees, year after year, a “good Nile” (or adequate flooding, i.e. not too much and not enough water), conceived as originating in the cave of Hapy and surging up from the Duat. But, the flood and the inundation, as in effect all waters, were assimilated to Nun.
In the story told by Plutarch, Isis hid her child in the marshes of the Delta. The high reeds of the river god Hapy protected him from Seth. When he grew up, he challenged his murderous uncle to mortal combat. This ceaseless, monumental dual, lasting for eighty years and hinted at in all canonical texts, was never final. Horus lost his left eye and Set his testicles. At the end of the day, the tribunal of the gods had to decide who had won. They gave one part to Seth and another to Horus, but this did not settle the matter, for Horus claimed the throne of Osiris, who had been king over the whole of Egypt. Eventually they ceded the throne of Egypt entirely to Horus and so was Osiris avenged and Maat restored. However, the “weary” Osiris had yet to be fully restored …
05 The restoration of Osiris by Horus.
“What You (Osiris king Unas) have eaten is an Eye, and your belly is rounded out with it. Your son Horus has released it for You that You may live by means of it.” – Pyramid Texts, § 192.
“Horus has set for You (Osiris) your foe under You that he may lift You up. Do not let go of him ! You shall come to your (former) condition, for the gods have knit together your face for You. Horus has split open your eye for You that You may see with it in its name of ‘Opener of Roads’. Your foe is smitten by the children of Horus, they have made bloody his beating, they have punished him, he having been driven off, and his smell is evil …” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 642 – 643.
“To say : O Osiris king Teti, stand up ! Horus comes and claims You from the gods, for Horus has loved You, he has provided You with his Eye, Horus has attached his Eye to You. Horus has split open your eye for You that You may see with it, the gods have knit up your face for You, for they have loved You. Isis and Nephthys have made You hale, and Horus is not far from You, for You are his Ka. May your face be well-disposed to him ! Hasten ! Receive the word of Horus, with which You will be well pleased. Listen to Horus, for it will not be harmful to You. He has caused the gods to serve You.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 609 – 611.
“To say : O Atum, this one here is your son Osiris whom You have caused to be restored that he may live.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 167.
“Horus has revived You in this your name of Andjeti. Horus has given You his strong Eye. He has given it to You (so) that You may be strong and that every foe of yours may fear You.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 614.
“Horus has caused the gods to mount up to You, he has given them to You (so) that they may make You illumine your face. Horus has set You in front of the gods and has caused You to take possession of every thing that is yours. Horus has attached himself to You and he will never part from You.” – Pyramid Texts, § 613.
“To say : The sky reels, the Earth quakes. Horus comes ! Thoth appears ! They raise Osiris from upon his side and make him stand up in front of the Two Enneads.” – Pyramid Texts, § 956.
In the texts, we often read how Osiris went away, fell asleep and died. His salvation is described in complementary terms : he came back, he awakened and lives again. When Horus resuscitates his father (as it were empowering the vegetative soul of Osiris with the Eye), the latter recognizes Seth’s real nature and does not let him escape. Set, the inertia of Earth, is put underneath the fertile, black Earth of Osiris, and has to carry the latter.
In the XVIIIth Dynasty, it was custom to make a figure of Osiris as a mummy from a linen bag stuffed with corn. When watered, the corn sprouted through the meshes of the bag … Osiris was seen to grow. Osiris, the dead king, was mummified and descended into the Duat. There, he is the inert, potential, vegetative power of nature. He is helpless, and embodies inert, dormant, passive potential. By restoring Osiris, Set is made inert and subservient to his brother, who becomes an effective spirit of life.
After Horus vanquished his enemies and ascended to the throne of Egypt, he visits his father in the Duat (proof of the ecstatic this-life rituals involving the netherworld ? cf. Naydler, 2005). He brings him the good news, namely the re-establishment of Maat, the order of things. To his father, Horus brings the North wind (the prevailing wind in Egypt, which cools and heralds the annual inundation) and his Eye of Wellness. He also opens his mouth. This is done with an adze, representing the Great Bear, a constellation of Set. Then Osiris becomes one with the soul of the original Osiris. He can send out his Ba and set himself in motion. His vegetative state is overwon, and Osiris becomes fully aware and whole again.
We see how the body of Osiris is subjected to three crucial transformations. In the texts, these registers are often mixed and cross-referenced :
dismemberment, scattering : death & dispersal of the actual body of Osiris ;
reassembly, reanimation : ritual constitution of the mummy of Osiris, the “sah” ;
restoration, spiritualization : restoration & transformation of the Ba of Osiris.
The restoration brought by Horus, allowed the “sah” (the mummy of the body of the original Osiris) to be fully restored to health and ready for its ascension (the transformation of the Ba of Osiris into an Akh, a luminous, effective spirit). This was effectuated through the Eye of Horus, at work on three registers (already in place at the time of the Pyramid Texts) :
sum total of offerings : all possible stuff placed on the table of offerings ;
offer of offerings (offertorium) : the Eye as the standard for all possible offerings ;
offer of communion (canon) : the “embrace” as communion with the Eye.
The power (“sekhem”) of the Wedjat Eye, coupled with the magical “Sa” of the Ritual of Opening the Mouth, raised the animated but vegetative, weary Osiris (horizontal) to full waking consciousness (vertical), preparing him for his final journey to heaven, the plane of the Akhu, the Pantheon and the luminous spirits.
The king, in mystical embrace with the Eye, was addressed as “Osiris King NN”, and by the Middle Kingdom, everyman could be an “Osiris NN”. Communion with the soul of Osiris, abiding in its “sah”, comes by receiving the Eye of Horus, by Opening the Mouth and by eating the Eye, as Osiris has. This transformation makes one share in the salvation of Osiris. When justified, the deceased, or the ecstatic, enter the heaven of Osiris. Perpetual torment awaits the unjust …
06 The ascension of Osiris.
“To say : The sky thunders, the Earth quakes, because of the dread of You, O Osiris, when You ascend.” – Pyramid Texts, § 549.
“To say : O You gods of the West, gods of the East, gods of the South, gods of the North ! These four pure reed-floats which You set down for Osiris when he ascended to the sky, so that he might ferry over to the firmament with his son Horus at his fingers, so that he might bring him up and cause him to appear as a great god in the firmament, set them down for me, king Unas !” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 464 – 465.
“Raise yourself, O Osiris, for Seth has raised himself, he has heard the threat of the gods who spoke about the god’s father (Osiris, father of Horus). Isis has your arm, O Osiris. Nephthys has your hand, so go between them. The sky is given to You, the Earth is given to You, and the Field of Reeds, the Mounds of Horus, and the Mounds of Seth. The towns are given to You and the nomes assembled for You, says Atum, and he who speaks about it is Geb.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 960 – 961.
“O Heftenet, mother of the gods ! Give me your hand, take my hand and take me to the sky, just as You took Osiris to the sky.” – yramid Texts, § 1419.
“The doors of the sky are opened.
The doors of the firmament are thrown open for Osiris.
He goes forth at dawn and bathes in the Field of Reeds.”
Pyramid Texts, § 984.
“Behold, he has come as Orion, behold, Osiris has come as Orion …” – Pyramid Texts, § 819.
“O Osiris king Teti, You are a mighty god, and there is no god like You.” – Pyramid Texts, § 619.
As an Akh, the luminous spirit of life and rebirth itself, Osiris the king rules over the Duat and represents a special dispensation within the order of nature ordained by the gods. Once seated on his throne, he is able to send his souls to his living son Horus, the king of the Two Lands. This will, year after year, trigger a “good Nile” and hence material plenty for Egypt. This fills the granaries of the temples and stimulates the divine king to erect monumental testimonies of the presence of the gods on Earth. A cycle of plenty has come true and the Two Lands are at peace and prosperous.
07 Offertory & Canon.
The magic at work in the Lunar, horizontal cult of Osiris is sympathetic and communal. The former involves a three-tiered dynamics of offering, starting with an endless variety of superb goods to be offered, and culminating in the Eye of Horus as the standard of the act of offering (the first two registers mentioned above, of which the second is the offertory). The latter, the canon, is a rejuvenating communion (a mystical embrace) with the Eye by consumption, for it represents the power of healing and wholeness (the third register).
all possible offerings: first register : offered by the living Horus, the gods only consume the “kas” of the various stuff placed on the table of offerings ;
offer of offerings (offertorium) : second register : the Eye of Horus represents all possible offerings (the “ka” of the act of offering) ;
offer of communion (canon) : third register : the consumption of the Eye of Horus restores Osires and enables him to send out his Ba.
The first step in the magic of offering, is the presentation and consecration of physical stuff (first register). These are then set apart from all other things (cf. “sacrum“). Both physically (they are placed on a table of offerings), as temporally (they “exist” in the “First Time”), the offerings are a reality on their own, a piece of reality wholly and freely consecrated and returned to the deity. The act of daily offerings is double. On the hand, the best produce of Egypt is offered & set apart, on the other hand, ritual words & actions empower these goods. This ritual intends only to offer the double of these foodstuffs to the deities, for the latter only consume their vitality or “ka”. After having enjoyed this, the food can be eaten by the priests and distributed among the people, called the “reversion of offerings”.
Sublimation, typologization, subtilization or semiotic transference of offerings (the second register), are at work in both spiritual economies. In the Solar economy, which is an eternalisation of the recurrent cycle of all photonic things, the divine king offers Maat to Re, and “Maat” becomes “all good things”. Osirian faith is a linear approach of the cycle of life of every living thing. In his Lunar role, the living Horus, entering the Duat, offers his father his Eye of Wellness, the archetype of “healing”. Henceforward, the latter will give his son a “good Nile”. So Maat and the Eye of Horus, at times equated, replacing all possible offerings, represent the synthesis of offerings. They operate on two different levels of reality, encompassing the Two Lands. Maat returns all to Re, the day, whereas the Wedjat is a gift to Osiris, the night. Both the Eye of Horus and Maat are, like Pharaoh, the “image of images”, and the “power of powers” (cf. Cannibal Hymn). No longer dependent on the physical quantity of the offerings (the individual “kas” of the foodstuffs), Osiris receives the synthesis of all possible vital energy, visualized as the Eye of his son, destroyed (as he was) by Set, but restored (as he was) by Thoth (who assisted Isis). The Eye of Horus is therefore the “ka” of all possible offerings, the offertory of Egyptian religion.
Indeed, to the excellent quantity of the first register, a qualitative connotation or sublimation is added : each and every act of offering is conceived as the likeness of Horus giving his Eye to Osiris (or of Pharaoh offering Maat to Re). The variety of excellent physical offerings are so many manifestations of the same filial principle : as Horus, a son vindicates and restores his father, i.e. the effect returns to the cause to perpetuate the generative cycle, for a spiritual father will effectively co-effect the success of his son …
The canon, or third register, explains the final task of the Eye. Osiris, becoming one with the Eye of Horus, eats the body of Horus as well as its vital Ka-power, namely the Eye as “offer of offerings” (cf. the second register). Each time the king assumes the role of Osiris, he embraces the Eye, the body and Ka of Horus, and has his soul restored and ready to be spiritualized. This level is related to the soul, the “Ba”. Because Osiris consumes the Eye, he is able to set himself in motion, i.e. his spiritual principle of motility and transformation (or soul) is activated. This last effect of the Eye allows Osiris to transform his Ba into an Akh, and rise as a luminous spirit. As an Akh, Osiris is able to send his Ba and cause a “good Nile”.
Besides being projected upon the Lunar cycle, this process also refers to the Sothic year. The Egyptian calendar had 12 months and 365 days, divided in 3 seasons of 4 months of 30 days plus five epagomenal days associated with Nut and the birth of her children (Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis & Nephthys). The first month was called “Akhet” or “inundation”. It is the season when the Nile was in flood (mid July to mid November). “Proyet” or “springing forth” was the time in which land emerged to be planted (mid November to mid March), and during “Shomu” (“deficiency”) the land dried up and harvest was necessary (mid March to mid July). Full flood capacity was reached by August (in the South) and by September (in the North). In the Solar calendar, the New Year and the month of “Akhet”, inundation, began on the 19th of July.
For a period of 70 days before the Summer solstice of July, the stars of Orion (“Sah”, “The Buried One” or Osiris) had been invisible and now reemerged in the Lunar night sky. In funerary theology, this would be the time taken to transform the corpse into a mummy (or “sah”), a magical talisman or interphase between the world of the living and the realm of the dead. Only after this period, could the Ritual of Opening the Mouth be performed.
The first sighting, before its disappearance in the glare of a brightening dawn, of the star Sirius, the nose of the Great Dog, the brightest fixed star of the night sky close to the constellation of Orion (Osiris), was the single most important event in the Egyptian calendar. This heliacal rising of the “Dog Star” or Sopdet (Isis) on the horizon, about the time of the Summer solstice, was awaited by all. It heralded the steady rise of the Nile. For nature synchronized this appearance with the Summer solstice and the inundation, and so offered a nexus for ante-rational projections & identifications. The Nile began to rise on “The Night of the Teardrop”, commemorating the event of Isis discovering Osiris’s death. Her sorrow precipitated the rise of the Nile. During this period of surging waters, Isis and Nephthys seek the dead body of Osiris, afloat in them. They find it and bring it ashore.
“Osiris was drowned in his water. Isis and Nephthys looked out, beheld him, and attended to him. (…) They heeded in time and brought him to land.” – Memphis Theology, lines 62-63.
Two weeks after the floods reached their full height in the Delta, the waters would begin to subside. The Autumn solstice of September marks the lengthening of night and the gradual retreat of Orion in the sky. The rule of the powers of darkness (Set) was incipient. Synchronous with the abating Nile, returning to its bed by November, the first crops could be planted to be harvested by March, when the river dropped to its lowest.
On the 25th of November, the festival of the Weeping of Isis and Nephthys was held. Both sisters weep because Osiris died, but also because his body, once found, is again taken from them by Set and this time cut into 14 pieces (cf. the waning quaters of the Lunar cycle). In the month that followed, these pieces are retrieved and the mummy made and animated. At the end of these rituals, Osiris, as a mummy, an empowered “double” of the actual body, exists in a vegetative, quasi dormant state. Nevertheless, before leaving for the Duat, Osiris, with his magical penis made by his wife, inseminates Isis …
According to Plutarch, Isis “at the Winter solstice gave birth to Harpocrates, imperfect and prematurely born, amid plants that burgeoned and sprouted before their season” (De Iside et Osiride, 65). He also adds : “For this reason they bring to him as an offering the first-fruits of growing lentils, and the days of his birth they celebrate after the spring equinox. When the people hear these things, they are satisfied with them and believe them, deducing the plausible explanation directly from what is obvious and familiar.”
The following sequence is suggested :
Summer Solstice : the Egyptian New Year : Isis & Nephthys beweep the death of Osiris, seek his body all over the land of Egypt and Isis finds it in Byblos ;
Autumn Equinox : after Seth dismembers the body of Osiris, found by Isis, the latter reassembles and reanimates the mummy of Osiris ;
Winter Solstice : Isis “embraces” the mummy of Osiris and gives birth to Horus ;
Spring Equinox: the vindication and coronation of Horus is celebrated and the latter brings his Eye of Osiris, who ascends to the heaven of the Duat, bringing the flood.
For Assmann (1992), Egyptian cult was based on a tripartite distinction, namely between action, iconic representation and recitation. In the daily ritual, this corresponded to three levels of symbolization : (a) the priest officiating before a statue (action), (b) the king officiating before a god (representation), and (c) a god conversing with a god (language). Regarding the latter, it should be remarked that as sacred communication cannot take place between a god and a human being, the god’s role is played by the king, who in turn is represented by the priest.
Only in the very short Amarna period (ca. 1353 – 1336 BCE), this three-tiered symbolization was abandoned, as well as all references to the Duat. Osiris, together with Amun, were ousted. Amarna spirituality represents the “purest” historical form of Heliopolitanism, one close to monotheism. In the Old Kingdom, Re had always been part of a constellation of deities. In the vision of Akhenaten, this context was eliminated. The king himself officiates, not to a statue, but to the “living Aten”. On the level of language, this rejection of intermediary symbolism goes hand in hand with the rejection of the magical power of language.
But by the time of Seti I (ca. 1290 – 1279 BCE) and Ramesses II (ca. 1279 – 1213 BCE), a renewed trinity was developed : Amun of Thebes, the hidden, Re of Heliopolis, the light, and Ptah of Memphis, the body. Osiris, the night Sun, was understood as the nocturnal complement of Re, offering rejuvenation to the latter by communion with “the image of Osiris”, the mysterious tail-in-mouth serpent. To regenerate, i.e. return to the First Time (cf. Amduat), the corpse of Re abides in the coils of the Oroboros, the “image of Osiris”.
08 Escaping Osiris.
“… he will never give me to Osiris, for I have not died the death, I possess a spirit in the horizon …” – Pyramid Texts – § 350.
“Re-Atum will not give You to Osiris, and he shall not claim your heart, nor have power over your heart. (…) Re-Atum will not give You to Horus, and he shall not claim your heart nor have power over your heart. O Osiris, You shall never have power over him, nor shall your son have power over him …” – Pyramid Texts – §§ 146 – 146.
“Osiris Wenennefer”, he who exists in goodness & beauty and “Osiris Onnophris”, he who is in everlastingly good condition, are suggestive of the intrinsic goodness of Osiris. Is this a comprehensive interpretation, or more like a pious wish ? Clearly, once the devotee of the Solar faith associated the realm of the dead with Orisis, he did not wished to be delivered up to the latter. Already in the Old Kingdom, we read the apprehension that Osiris might enter the pyramid with evil intent.
“May Osiris not come with this his evil coming ; do not open your arms to him …”
Pyramid Texts – § 1267.
Indeed, besides the heaven of Osiris, his realm also contained the “secret slaughter chamber” in which the wicked were destined to be punished and devoured. Besides imprisonment and enchainment, humiliation, torture and mutilation were inflicted with great cruelty. At times, Osiris would let all the genies in his service torture one of the deceased. These had terrible names: “those who eat their father”, “those who eat their mothers”, “torturer”, “murderer”, “miscreant”, “aggressor” etc. They were engaged in breaking bones, living on blood and swallowing entrails (cf. the cannibalism Osiris stopped on Earth).
The damned walked on their heads and had to eat excrement and drink urine. Some were forced to torture others. The love of sadism avant la lettre displayed in the hell of Osiris is confusing. Even after successfully undergoing the many trials of the Duat, the dead continued to protect themselves with spells making sure they would never be sacrificed by the guardians of Osiris, “those who make massacres”. Why ? Because Osiris, even under normal circumstances, could display, not unlike Pluto, great cruelty. Moreover, his guardians were also jailers. Is the Duat a prison ?
“… Osiris’s bodyguards, who protected the god against Seth and his rebel band and were invested with all sorts of powers, were also charged with guarding the ba-souls of all the dead, male or female. They accordingly strove to prevent them from flying off. Liberation for the ba meant escaping the uncertainties of the kingdom of the dead …” – Meeks & Favard-Meeks, 1997, p.148.
In the Amduat, the dormant souls of the deceased and the inhabitants of the kingdom of Osiris eagerly awaited the daily passage of the Barque of the Sun. For a brief moment, they awoke and saw the light. They existed in the idle hope of spending eternity in Re’s company, the ultimate realization, but cannot fly off ! Boarding the Solar bark and ascending to the sky, was escaping the dangers and abuses of the Osirian kingdom. But to do so, incredible obstacles had to be faced and by-passed. In this, magic played a crucial role. The pataphysics of magic ruled the universe, including the kingdom of Osiris. The latter had been given a judicial dispensation, but not a variant ontology. Without powerful Lunar magic, all was lost. Hence, many books of the underworld add that the knowledge they contain, proven a million times, is beneficial to the dead and the living alike.
Asymmetry between the two spiritual economies is at hand. The system is a hierarchy, with the Duat as the intermediate step leading up to the sky of Re. The Lunar system provides to be an interphase connecting sky and Earth. The Western horizon gives access to the Duat, and the latter leads to the Eastern horizon, the place of transformation. Here, the soul is transformed into a spirit (from Ba to Akh), rising to the sky as a luminous spirit in the company of Re in the sky.
We encountered four fundamental spiritual stations :
station of housing the double (Ka): keeping in mind this life and the next (cf. the sapiental tradition), the fundamental task of the living is to make preparations for death – the tomb is the house of the Ka, the vital imprint of the deceased in terms of his or her energy and its form ;
station of keeping the heart (Ib) pure : the living are priests and have to perform daily offerings – this is a personal responsibility relative to physical vitality (Ka) & social class. Mind, conscience & will may advance a person far beyond the latter ;
station of the soul (Ba) : Lunar, reflective magic (Ars Obscura) : the Duat and the kingdom of Osiris – inner psychology, imagination, the unconscious, the dreamworld ;
stage of the spirit (Akh) : Solar mysticism and creative magic : the sky and the realm of Re, reached after the transformation of the Ba in the Eastern horizon.
The archetype evoked by the myth of Osiris is bi-polar : on the one hand, Osiris is the good king of the dead, who, regenerated by the Eye of Horus, assures his son king Horus a “good Nile”, and on the other hand, he is the stern ruler of the kingdom of the dead and its secret slaughter houses and pits of fire. If the weighing of the heart is suggestive of his justice, his whimsical cruelty is the irrational, “dark” side of the Moon. Osiris is the kingdom of the common dead, not of Pharaoh and his favorites. These elect only transit the Duat and are transformed in the Eastern horizon to merge with Re. As Osiris always stays in the unconscious world of shadows and regenerative archetypes, he is a formidable power, nobody, except Pharaoh, escapes.
09 Assuming the godform of Osiris.
“O king Unas, You have not departed dead, You have departed alive (to) sit upon the throne of Osiris, your Aba-scepter in your hand, (so) that You may give orders to the living, your Lotus scepter in your hand, (so) that You may give orders to those whose seats are hidden.” – Pyramid Texts – § 134.
In a nonfunerary interpretation (cf. Naydler, 2005), these texts (although found in a tomb) explain how the ecstatic, living Horus departs to the Duat. On Earth, he sits upon the throne of Osiris (as the vindicated ruler), and grasps two sacred sceptres in either hand. With the sceptre of authority and consecration (“abA”, later also “sxm”, “sekhem”), Horus, lord of the Two Lands, rules the living, and with the Lotus-staff, he rules the dead (the Lotus being a symbol of rebirth). He departs alive.
“It would seem that the destination of the king is the realm of the dead, but he is journeying into it alive.” – Naydler, 2005, p.202.
In Egyptian religion, assuming a god or goddess form involved a transformation (“Xpr”). By transforming the speaker into a special creature (like the Benu bird, or a kite), a god or a goddess, magical spells offer a by-pass. In this higher state, the magician undergoes the semantic field and the typical process of the archetype at hand, and benefits from this momentary resonance with “pure” power. Certain types of energies are harvested, other avoided. The Amduat is suggestive of a complete spatiotemporal evocation of the unconscious patterns of regeneration (the Ars Obscura), already at work in the tomb of Unas and in its Pyramid Texts. Solutions, insights & illuminations result from this purging of the personal mind (heart and double) by the Ba travelling into the Duat and, via the Eastern horizon, fugally joining the Akh plane of the deities, to return as a young, vigorous, living Horus.
In utterance 219, the identification is more dramatic and, interestingly, the living Osiris is introduced :
“O Atum, this one here is your son Osiris whom You have caused to be restored that he may live. He lives ! This king lives ! He is not dead, this king is not dead ! He is not destroyed, this king is not destroyed ! He has not been judged, this king has not been judged ! He judges, this king judges !” – Pyramid Texts – § 167.
This affirmation is made twelve times to major deities such as Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Isis, Set, Nephthys, Thoth, Horus, the Great Ennead & the Lesser Ennead and repeated twelve more times to twelve manifestations of Osiris. In his role of Osiris, king Unas escapes the fate of being judged, for he is not yet dead, but only in a dead posture. In this form of Osiris, the king is himself the judge. But the semiotic is double, for even dead, the son of Re cannot be judged.
In his ritual role of Osiris, the king receives the Eye of Horus and is rejuvenated. He is able to awake, turn around and move as himself again. He eats and returns to himself.
“Awake, king Unas ! Turn yourself about, king Unas ! So shout ‘I’ ! O king Unas, stand up and sit down to a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, roast meat of your rib-joints from the slaughter-house, and bread from the Wide Hall. The god is provided with a god’s offering, king Unas is provided with this bread of his. Come to your Ba, O Osiris, O Ba among the Akhu, mighty in your places, whom the Ennead protect in the Mansion of the Prince. O king Unas, raise yourself up to me, betake yourself to me, do not be far from me, for the tomb is your barrier against me. I give You the Eye of Horus, I have allotted it to You ; may it be pleasant to You. O king Unas, arise, receive this your bread from my hand. O king Unas, I will be a helper to You.” – Pyramid Texts – §§ 214 – 217.
Although only fragmentary, and certainly not clear-cut, we do observe the three fundamental stages of ecstasy, also found in Upper Palaeolithic cave mysteries :
departure from the plane of Geb : in trance, the living Horus-king enters the Duat ;
identification with Osiris in the Duat & resurrection : in the Duat, the ecstatic king embraces the ritual “sah” (mummy), the second transformation of the “body” of Osiris, and undergoes the stages of the Osirian drama (culminating in his consumption of the Eye of Horus and his resurrection) ;
empowered return to the plane of Geb : the king “awakes” out of his trance with more magical power (“Sa”) at his command.
“To say : O Atum-Re, this king Unas comes to You, an Imperishable Spirit, lord of dispensation in the place of the four papyrus columns. Your son comes to You, this King Unas comes to You. May (both of) You traverse the sky, being united in the darkness. May (both of) You rise in the horizon, in the place where it is well with You.”
Pyramid Texts – § 152.
The living Horus, assuming the godform of Osiris, travels with Atum-Re “united in darkness” to reemerge on the Eastern horizon. The living king is an Akh, a god by birth. Hence, his claim is just and, if all magical pathways are clear, his ascension to the sky of Re guaranteed. In the 6th Hour of the Duat, the Ba of Re unites with the “image of Osiris”, to find regeneration and renewed momentum. Here, we read how the king travels with Re in the Duat, and participates in the latter’s rejuvenation.
Levels of Reality
|heaven of Re
lightland of the Akhu
the realm of the Akh
|1||Atziluth : 1 – 2 – 3
Fire – Yod
lightland of the transformation of the Ba
|2 – 3||Briah : 4 – 5 – 6
Water – He
|heaven of Osiris
kingdom of Osiris
Duat – realm of the Ba
|4 – 5 – 6||Yetzirah : 7 – 8 – 9
Air – Vau
|Geb, the Earth
4 Sons of Horus
realm of Ib & Ka
|7 – 8 – 9 – 10||Assiah : 10
Earth – He
The assumption of the godform of Osiris serves several goals :
replenishing kingly powers : because the flow of time depletes the energy of life (the Golden Age of plenty, or “zep tepi”, being past), the living Horus regularly reassures the protection of the gods over himself and Egypt. All the forces are invoked to keep the sacred order of Maat. Three main moments are : (a) succession (death and funeral of the predecessor and the enthroning of the new Horus), (b) annual confirmation (through symbolic death and rebirth) and (c) periodical rejuvenation (after 30 years or rule or at the age of 30 a Sed festival was held). Each time, the “sah” of Osiris played an essential role, representing the magical condition of the body prior to its rejuvenation (thanks to the Eye of Horus). It was the most appropriate godform for the king to reenact, for Osiris had been a living king, had died, had been mummified, reanimated and resurrected ;
preparation for physical death : after its destruction and dismemberment (first transformation), the transformation of the scattered body of Osiris into a mummy occurs. This change is crucial to build an interphase between this world and the Duat. The “sah” is the actual body, albeit in a new symbolic (imaginal) unity. The actual, biological unity was explicitly destroyed by Set’s scattering. The mummy, “sah” or magical body of Osiris is reanimated by Isis, activated by the Ritual of Opening the Mouth and restored by the Eye of Horus. This third transformation spiritualizes the “sah” and enthrones Osiris as the universal spirit of life. To assume the death-posture is a way to prepare oneself for what is the inevitable conclusion of physical life : the death of the body (of the actual Osiris, cf. first transformation). It is a way to already acquaint oneself with the extraordinary magical world of Osiris (in his second and third transformations) ;
enhancement of magical power : as sublunar magic is Lunar, the realm of Osiris is a necessary step on the way to master the secrets of creation. Marshaling the reflection of the Sun, the Moon represents the imaginal, invisible & silent ; the unconscious realm complementing the conscious brilliance of the Sun and its spiritual economy (Re). The mind (Thoth) is also Lunar, for in tune with the tides and dependent of the rhythms of the Earth. The Solar magician is a protector of the just order of things. His supreme ritual is the Offering of Maat to Re, the natural orders of things to their ultimate, creative source. His role is deterministic and monarchic. The Lunar magician, like a healer, is a restorer of Maat. Demons are part of creation and the divine order. They are called “a yawning space” (chaos) because their functioning is inimical to life and its photonic patterns. The Lunar role brings in uncertainty and individual free will. Imagination constitutes the realm of freedom and opportunity, complementing the unchanging, recurrent cycle of the Sun and its eternalizations. Both are the two sides of the same magic ;
Lunar illumination : to gain total freedom in the dream world, is nothing less than a complete understanding of the conditions (variables, constants, parameters) pertaining to the ego. During his coronation, Osiris comes to himself as himself. After three transformations of his physical body, this process is total and spiritual. The realm of Osiris has to be crossed before, in lightland (in the horizon), the human soul is transformed into a divine spirit.