Thursday, February 18, 2010

Osiris : The Egyptian Underworld God


Osiris played an important role in the death and afterlife of ancient Egypt thought. He was considered as the god of the underworld. He appeared in a green-skinned man dressed in the raiment of a pharaoh. He is often depicted wearing the atef crown with a pair of ram horns at its base. According to Pinch (2002), Osiris was the eldest son of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. He married his sister, Isis and ruled Egypt together. Other than that, he was the great-grandson of Ra. He had another brother called Seth and another sister called Nephthys. He inherited the throne to rule Egypt from his father because he was the eldest child in the family. Hence, he ruled Egypt together with his wife, Isis. He was considered as the great ruler or god during his reign of Egypt. E.A. Wallis Budge claimed that “Osiris, being now become king of Egypt, applied himself towards civilizing his countrymen, by turning them from their former indigent and barbarous course of life; he moreover taught them how to cultivate and improve the fruits of the earth; he gave them a body of law to regulate their conduct by, and instructed them in that reverence and worship which they were to pay to the gods”. (Budge 1979: 44-45)

The gods Osiris, Anubis and Horus from a tomb painting

However, Osiris was killed by his own brother, Seth because of his jealousy towards Osiris that he had inherited the throne from their father. Osiris was either struck down and trampled by Seth or drowned in the Nile. The annual flooding of the Nile River is still thought to be representative of this event. After that, Isis managed to find his husband’s body but Seth who was very powerful succeeded to steal the body. He cut the body of Osiris and hid the pieces throughout the Egyptian desert. Isis did not give up easily as she spent a number of years to search the mutilated body parts of her husband. In the end, she succeeded to find all the pieces and used her magical power with The Ritual of Life to restore her husband’s body. The spells and rituals cast by Isis, plus many others given to the people by the gods over the centuries, were collected into The Book of Going Forth by Day which also known as The Book of the Dead. Thus, Osiris descended to the underworld to become the God of the Underworld. Besides that, Isis became pregnant and carried Osiris’s son. There are a lot of stories regarding how Isis became pregnant. Geraldine (2002, p.179) claimed that “Osiris seemed to be strong enough to survive his death, so he is able to make Isis pregnant. Their son was called Horus who later avenged the death of his father to Seth.”

The family of Osiris. Osiris on a lapis lazuli pillar in the middle, flanked by Horus on the left and Isis on the right (22nd dynasty, Louvre, Paris)

Osiris sat on the great throne in the underworld where he was praised by the souls of the just. His main duty was to judge the souls of the dead. He even was known as the merciful judge of the dead in the afterlife. All those who pass the tests of the underworld become worthy to enter The Blessed Land, that part of the underworld that is like the land of the living, but without sorrow or pain. Furthermore, some records stated that Osiris took over several important roles and duties as the Egyptian god of the underworld from Anubis, who was believed to be his son with Nephthys when he descended into the underworld. Others claimed that he rightfully obtained the important role as Egyptian god of the underworld because he was the first god to have died. The centre and home of the worship of Osiris in Egypt under the early dynasties was Abydos, where the head of the god was said to be buried. It spread to all Egypt in the course of time and several large cities claimed to possess one or other of the limbs of his body. The worship of Osiris had become almost universal as early as the 12th dynasty, c. 2500 B. C. A thousand years later Osiris had become a sort of national god as he was not only regarded as the god and judge of the dead but also as the creator of the world and of all things in it. A lot of hymns to Osiris can be found in The Book of the Dead. Budge (2007) has quoted several hymns to Osiris in his book. One of the hymns was:

“Glory be to thee, O Osiris, Un-nefer, the great god within Abtu (Abydos), king of eternity, lord of everlastingness, who passest through millions of years in thy existence. The eldest son of the womb of Nut, engendered by Seb the Ancestor (of the gods), lord of the crowns of the South and of the North, lord of the lofty white crown; as prince of gods and men he hath received the crook and the whip, and the dignity of his divine fathers. Let thy heart, which dwelleth in the mountain of Ament, be content, for thy son Horus is stablished upon thy throne. Thou art crowned lord of Tattu (Busiris) and ruler in Abydos.”

Osiris was widely worshiped as Lord of the Dead until the suppression of the Egyptian religion during the Christian era. However, Osiris remained as one of the most popular of all the ancient Egyptian gods. Today, he still one of the most well known Egyptian gods.


Budge, E. A. W. (1987). Egyptian religion: Egyptian ideas of the future life. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

Pinch, G. (2002). Handbook of Egyptian mythology. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

p/s: I felt miserable every day ! Gosh I cannot stand with the waiting anymore . . Why bad luck always follows me ? Huhu.

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HaaA Ngomel JAngan TAk NgomeL !


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