Isis, Osiris and Horus

Isis in the form of Kite hovering over the body of Osiris

According to the Helipolitan tradition, Osiris was granted the throne of Egypt rather than his elder brother Set. Set was none to pleased about this, but became enraged when Osiris left Egypt to travel the world and left Isis in charge of the Kingdom instead of him. Set decided to get rid of his brother and take the throne for himself. Although the myth of the origins of Anubis is a later development it was also cited as one of the reasons why Set was jealous of his brother Osiris and conspired to kill him. Set tricked Osiris into climbing into a wooden chest cut to fit him and then sealed the box and threw it into the Nile. Isis searched everywhere for her husband's body and found it lodged in a tamarisk bush which had grown into a huge tree on contact with the body of the god. She broke open the chest and carried his body back to Egypt.

She placed the body in the temple and transformed herself into a kite (a small bird) and flew over the body singing a song of mourning. She then used her prodigious magical talent to conceive Heru-sa-aset (Horus, son of Isis), whose destiny was to avenge his father and defeat Set. Isis then implored Thoth for his help in resurrecting Osiris. The two deities composed the "Ritual of Life", the spell which granted eternal life after death. However, Set discovered their plans and stole Osiris' body. He split it into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. Still Isis refused to be beaten. She enlisted the support of her sister Nephthys to find the pieces and the help of Anubis to prepared the body (in the first mummification). When the "opening of the mouth" ceremony was performed, Osiris's spirit returned to his body.

Isis mourns Osiris copyright Gerard Ducher

However, no spirit which has passed to the land of the dead may live in the land of the living, and so Ra decreed that Osiris should become the King of the underworld, and Anubis agreed to give up his position as the lord of the netherworld out of respect for Osiris.

Isis and Horus hiding in the marshes under the protection of Thoth and Amen-Ra

Meanwhile Isis hid with her infant son in the marshes of the delta, protecting him until the day when he could face Set and recover his father's kingdom.

When Horus came of age he battled with his uncle. Isis used her magic to assist Horus in battle, but when the opportunity presented itself she could not kill Set, who was after all her elder brother. This enraged Horus, who promptly lopped off her head! Isis was apparently unperturbed by this turn of events, and caused a cow's head to grow on her shoulders. Fortunately for Horus, Isis forgave his unreasonably aggressive reaction and continued to support him.


copyright J Hill 2010
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