THE TALE OF OSIRIS AND ISIS Tapestry
OSIRIS AND ISIS
The Tale of Osiris and Isis is incredibly old. The earliest surviving mention being found in the Pyramid Texts, inscribed on the walls of royal pyramids during the 24th Century BCE. The myth was retold throughout Egyptian history, with elements recurring in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts and in New Kingdom Books of the Dead..
From King of the Living to Lord of the Dead
Osiris was the first Pharaoh. He united all of Egypt. He was a direct descendant of the creator god, Atun. Osiris ruled Egypt alongside his goddess wife Isis. The rule of Osiris and Isis ensured that ma’at (balance and justice) was maintained. However, their brother Set – a god of isfet (chaos) – conspired against Osiris. Set murdered him, dismembered his body, and scattered the pieces up and down the Nile.
While Set sat upon the throne of Egypt, Isis traveled across the land. With her sister, Nephthys they found the pieces of her deceased husband. They traveled to each and every region of Egypt. They found all the pieces of Osiris to make the dead Pharaoh whole again. Together with the Ibis-headed god Thoth and the Jackal-headed god of Funeral rites Anubis, Isis and Nephthys reassembled the body of Osiris and used their magic to bring him back to life.
With Osiris restored to the realm of the living, Isis was able to conceive a child with him. This child would become the true king of Egypt. However, Osiris was unable to remain in the land of the living, and after conceiving their child he went into the duat – the Egyptian underworld – to spend eternity as lord of the dead. This isn’t the end of the story, however; Isis and Osiris’ child, Horus, would grow up to challenge Set and take his place as the rightful pharaoh of Egypt.
The Importance of the Osiris Myth
The Osiris and Isis myth illustrates a number of important tenets in Egyptian mythology and religion. Osiris symbolizes the Egyptian expectations of the afterlife – that even after death, life continued in the world below. Osiris was a victim of betrayal and fratricide, but through the proper application of funerary ritual, he was restored and became one of the ma’atkheru (justified dead). This shows the core Egyptian religious belief that proper preparations before burial were essential to ensure that the deceased would live on in an idealized afterlife.
The myth relates a key to an ancient Egyptian belief – the eternal battle between the forces of balance and righteousness and the forces of chaos. Osiris and Horus represent ma’at, the ‘correct way’, and thus they are the true kings of Egypt. Set, however, is an agent of isfet. He is seen as a usurper who has no right to take the throne. The world is in constant conflict between ma’at and isfet is a critical component of the ancient Egyptians worldview.