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Osiris, Bringer of Civilization


Bringer of Civilization

Osiris, or more properly Ousir, was once worshipped throughout Egypt as the god of the dead and as a nature deity, and many references to his life and deeds are to be found in Egyptian hieroglyphic texts. A cult of Osiris spread widely and in the Roman empire became established in many provinces as a religious sect. His fate as a physical being is enough to make any fellow wince.

From the nothing that was before creation, Atum, the ‘all-formed’, made himself into a human shape. It was moulded of the essence of everything that would be male and female, divine and human. In a great cosmic act of masturbation, he shot forth the seed that became Shu and Tefnut, ancestors of the gods. To them were born Geb and Nut, god of earth and goddess of the sky, parents of Osiris, Isis and Seth. As Ra, Atum also became the sun-god.

At the birth of Osiris

a voice echoed out across infinity, but the gladness engendered by this auspicious birth was leavened by sadness at the future the new-born god faced. Ra himself rejoiced, however, and recognized Osiris as his great-grandson and heir to his throne.

Growing up to be handsome, taller than most men and dark of features, Oisiris became king of Egypt when his father Geb retired and returned to the heavens. He married his sister Isis. Seth married their other sister Nephthys, but she wanted a child by Osiris and remained barren until she lay with him after making him drunk one night. Anibis was born of this union, but this act was not what made Seth hate his elder brother. The evil Seth was jealous only of his brother’s power.

The chief order of business for the new king was to abolish cannibalism and then to instruct his semi-wild subjects in the skills of agriculture and how to make tools related to this foreign enterprise. From Osiris they learned to grow grain and grapes, and how to produce bread, wine and beer.

Worship of the gods did not exist as such until he introduced the practice, along with the rules for religious observance. He created two types of flute and composed the songs to accompany religious ceremonies, as well as sculpting the first divine images and having the first temples built. Osiris also constructed towns and instituted just laws. The fourth divine Pharaoh, he became known as the ‘Good One’ among his people, so great were the benefits of his reign.

Nor did Osiris’ zeal to civilize stop with Egypt. He travelled the world spreading knowledge and culture, conquering lands with charm, intelligence and the earnest desire to teach and assist humanity. Accompanied by his grand vizier, Thoth, and his aides Anibis and Upuaut, Osiris did not need to use violence to get his way. His gentleness and music disarmed people wherever he went.

Returning to Egypt after bringing civilization to the whole world, Osiris found his country in good order, having been ably ruled by his excellent wife, Isis. However, all along Seth had been plotting against him and now, the jealous younger brother was more than everdetermined to take over. Gathering support among men as ruthless and ambitious as himself, Seth was soon ready to carry out his act of betrayal.

Many celebrations greeted the return of Osiris to Egypt and it was under the guise of such a festival that Seth made his move. Seth was in appearance unpleasant to the Egyptian eye, with his pale skin and red hair. A violent individual and always regarded as dangerous, he is said to have torn himself from his mother’s womb. His plan was subtle, though, and in some points almost resembled a practical joke.

Surrounding himself with 72 accomplices for safety’s sake, Sethinvited Osiris to a lavish dinner party. During the merry-making after the food was eaten and taken away, a beautifully made, very ornate and valuable coffer was brought before the guests. It would be a present, Seth declared, to anyone who could fit perfectly inside it.

Now between the contrivance of his cohorts and having had Osiris measured in his sleep, the coffer did not seem to fit anyone else. It did indeed fit Osiris perfectly though, as in the spirit of the fun he lay down inside it. Suddenly all the conspirators darted forward and shut the lid of the coffer, hammers and nails appeared from their cloaks and the lid was nailed down in an instant by many willing hands. Together, swiftly without pause for second thoughts, they carried the coffer to the banks of the Nile and threw it in.

Osiris died and his body

Still encased in the coffer, was carried out to sea and drifted far until it reached Byblos in Phoenicia. It came to rest at the base of a small tree which thereafter grew with strange rapidity, completely surrounding the coffer. The tall, thick, very solid tree eventually found its way into the palace of King Malcandre as a central pillar.

Meanwhile, heartbroken at the loss of her husband, Isis had been searching the world for his body and it had taken all her powers to locate it. Word of the magnificent scent given off by the tamarisk tree at the court of King Malcandre eventually reached her, and, understanding its significance, she set off at once, in disguise. Too much openness about her whereabouts and purpose would have alerted Seth to her mission, and this she wanted to avoid at all costs.

Isis found work at the court looking after Queen Astrate’s newborn son. She grew very attached to the child and decided to confer immortality on him. She was in the process of doing this, bathing the infant in purificatory flames, when its mother, Astrate, walked in and, understandably, given the strange scene, screamed the house down, unfortunately preventing the completion of the rite. Isis was forced to reveal her true identity and tell of her suspicions about the tamarisk tree.

Awed, honoured and embarrassed by their divine nanny, the king and queen of Byblos happily gave her the tamarisk tree and, sure enough, she found the coffer containing her husband’s body embedded within its truck. This she secretly took back to Egypt and hid in the swamp of Buto.

By chance, while hunting by moonlight, Seth discovered the body and recognized it as his brother’s. Enraged and intending to make certain it did not turn up again, he hacked it into fourteen pieces which he scattered far and wide. At last, the usurper felt secure on the throne.

All the gods were in an uproar over Seth’s actions, however, even going to the extreme of turning themselves into different sorts of animals to escape the tyranny of his rule. Nephthys was so outraged that she had left him, feeling the same as everyone else, who had taken the side of Osiris.

Isis had not given up hope of somehow saving her husband, however, and searched out and found every part of Osiris with the sad exception of his phallus. This, apparently, had been eaten by a river crab or a crocodile. Isis was determined to reassemble her husband and, using sorcery, bring him back to life.

With the help of her sister, Seth’s estranged wife Nephthys, her nephew Anubis as well as Thoth, Osiris’ grand vizier, she went to work. Her potent charms and magical spells constituted, for the first time in history, the rites of embalmment. With all this, the women taking turns weeping over him, Osiris was restored to life. He was even, despite his missing member, miraculously able to give Isis a child.

After Horus was born, Isis took him to be brought up in the swamps, safe from Seth until he was old enough to avenge his father. Beset by accidents and misfortunes as a child, bitten by savage beasts, stung by scorpions, and suffering pains in his abdomen, Horus only survived to manhood with the magical help of his mother.

Osiris, meanwhile, might have remained among the living, regained his throne and ruled Egypt once again, but he preferred not to. Instead he became god of the underworld, that realm where the Sun goes at night, far to the west, the place of the dead, where he judged men’s souls by the weight of their sins. Only the good were accepted, the wicked went to hell. Nevertheless, he found time to appear to his son, Horus, to instruct him in the use of arms and help him to grow into a strong and courageous warrior.

In time, Horus was ready and, leading those who held the memory of Osiris dear, he went to war against his uncle Seth and his followers. Long and savage was the combat, Horus fighting skilfully with his favoured weapon, the lance. His men cut up Seth’s body in battle and then it was their turn to take refuge in the bodies of wild animals such as crocodiles, antelopes and hippopotami.

At last a council of the gods was convened to bring the war to an end. Seth maintained that Horus was not the true son of Osiris but a bastard. However, with the help of his mother’s fame for sorcery and proofs the other gods readily accepted, Horus was recognized as legitimate, as was his cause. He was at last fully restored to his inheritance and ruled Upper and Lower Egypt thereafter.

Good had triumphed over evil, light over darkness and Horus became the most honoured ancestor of the future Pharaohs. With his father and mother, he was worshipped throughout the land of Egypt for all its long existence as a great empire.

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