• Kara Newcastle

Myth Monday: Isis and Osiris, A Love Story (Egyptian Myth)

Myth Monday: Isis and Osiris, A Love Story (Egyptian Myth)

Louvre Museum [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Isis and Osiris

In the world of mythology, there are few stories that celebrate a love as deep and passionate as that of the Egyptian goddess of magic Isis (NOT to be confused with those thugs in the Middle East) and her husband Osiris, the god of the dead.

After Ra, the supreme god and god of the sun stepped down as the first pharaoh of Egypt, his grandson Osiris inherited the throne, and he and his sister-wife Isis began to teach the primitive Egyptians about the arts, medicine, music and law, civilizing them. Osiris frequently ventured out into Southern Egypt to visit the villages and cities, leaving Isis to guard his throne.

Unbeknownst to either Isis or Osiris, their middle brother Set, the god of evil and mischief, was insanely jealous of Osiris, as his big brother seemed to beat him out at every turn; not only did Set want the throne, he had also wanted to marry Isis, but she chose Osiris over him, leaving him to settle for his youngest sister Nephthys.

By n·e·r·g·a·l (book scan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nephthys desperately wanted a child but Set had no interest in her (he was impotent as well, which only made him angrier), so she disguised herself as Isis, hoping to entice him. Set immediately recognized her and spurned her, storming away, and leaving her weeping beside the Nile. Osiris soon came by and, thinking that it was actually Isis who was crying, rushed to comfort her. They made love and Nephthys became pregnant with Osiris’s son, the jackal-headed god of mummification Anubis.

Anubis attending to the mummy of Sennedjem

Nephthys was terrified of Set finding out about her infidelity and left Anubis abandoned by the river, where Isis, having learned about Osiris mistakenly sleeping with Nephthys, found the baby and adopted him as her own son. Set eventually learned of the deception and swore vengeance against Osiris.

By Andrew Bayuk (Internet (Seite: "Mrs. Goldman's 611 Class")) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Osiris

One day when Osiris wasn’t looking, Set snuck up behind him and took measurements of his shadow, then used those measurements to construct a beautifully adorned casket. He then threw a banquet and invited the gods—including Osiris—to attend. At the end of the feast, Set presented the casket, saying that he had had it made for himself, but as it turned out, he didn’t fit in it. He offered it to his guests, saying that whoever fit in the casket could have it. Osiris was the last to try it, and when he exclaimed in delight that he fit, Set and his seventy-two evil attendants slammed the lid down, nailed it shut, sealed it with lead and threw it into the Nile river, which was in the midst of its annual flooding. The rushing water carried the sealed box to Byblos, where it tossed the casket onto the shores, which was then absorbed into the trunk of a tree.

Isis learned of the assassination and though she was devastated by the loss of her greatest love, she was determined to bring him home. With the help of Nephthys, Isis traveled all over the world, eventually meeting a group of children who told her they had seen a beautiful casket floating down the Nile. A second group of children told her they saw the casket floating towards Byblos, and Isis was so grateful that she blessed all children with the ability to speak words of wisdom.

Isis in mourning

Disguising herself as an old woman, Isis stakes a spot on the shore near the palace, waiting for the queen of Byblos’s maids to arrive to do their washing. She befriends the girls and teaches them how to decorate their hair, and the girls are so pleased with how they look they rush off to tell Queen Astarte. The queen ordered them to bring this old lady back to her quarters, and the moment Queen Astarte sees the disguised Isis, she knows that she is in the presence of an extraordinary being, though she isn’t sure who. She hires Isis to serve as the nurse to her infant son the prince Diktys, who was very sickly.

Isis agrees to become the prince’s nurse, and the boy recovered with seemingly supernatural speed. Curious at what the mysterious nurse was doing to heal the boy, Queen Astarte secretly hid in Isis’s room one night to watch. To her horror, she saw the old woman stoke up the flames in her fire pit and gently lay Diktys among the burning brands. Astarte screamed and rushed out of the shadows, grabbing up her son as quickly as she could. Disappointed at the woman’s reaction, Isis revealed her true self, scolding the queen, saying that she had nearly completed the ritual to turn the boy into a god. Astarte apologized profusely and asked if there was anything she could do to repay Isis for healing the prince. Isis asked for the pillar that held Osiris’s body, and the queen gladly gave it to her. Isis removed the casket from the pillar, placed it on a boat, and sailed home for Egypt.

Too in love with Osiris to allow him to continue on to the afterlife, Isis summoned her adopted son Anubis and the god of wisdom Thoth to aide her in resurrecting her brother-husband. As Anubis and Thoth prepared the body, Isis turned herself into a kite (a type of falcon) and hovered over Osiris’s face, using her wings to fan life back into the corpse. Her magic worked, and Osiris inhaled, opening his eyes and coming back to life.

By Wael Mostafa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Winged Isis

The pair were overjoyed at seeing one another again, and together they went into hiding, spending much of their waking hours making love. Tragically, Set learned of his brother’s return and began obsessively tracking the couple. One night he discovered them asleep in each other’s arms and, overcome with rage, Set threw himself at the pair, hacking at Osiris with his sword. In terror, Isis fled, and Osiris tried to fight back, but Set killed him again, chopping up his body and throwing the pieces into the Nile.

A grieving Isis hid herself away, and nine months later gave birth to Osiris’s son Horus, the falcon-headed god of the sun. With Horus in her arms, Isis journeyed the length of the Nile river, collecting all of the severed body parts she could find (the only piece that she could not find was Osiris’s phallus—some say that it was eaten by a wicked fish, others say that Isis turned herself into a fish and swallowed it to protect it, which is why the ancient Egyptians would not eat fish), bringing them back to Anubis. Anubis assembled the body and bound it together with strips of cloth, turning Osiris into the world’s first mummy.

There was no returning for Osiris this time, and he traveled on to the Field of Reeds, the Egyptian afterlife, and became the king of the dead, thus ensuring that the souls of those who died would live on with him. Isis secretly raised Horus in a papyrus thicket, teaching him to become a warrior and avenge his father, and after many years and many wars Horus succeeded in defeating Set, becoming the rightful pharaoh of Egypt. And while Isis and Osiris can not be together, they see each other frequently, as Isis guides the dead to the land of her beloved husband.

By rudr.rice.edu [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Holy Family: Osiris, Horus and Isis

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