In Ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris was the god of the beyond whose death and resurrection brought a guarantee of an afterlife to mortals. He was a kindly Pharaoh, teaching agriculture, music, arts, and religion to his people. Jealous of his successful reign, his brother Seth killed him with the help of many accomplices and took control of Egypt. However, Seth's reign was foreshortened by Isis's great love for her husband and brother Osiris, whom she brought back from the dead. A skillful magician, she gave Osiris breath by flapping her wings above him while she transformed into a bird. Osiris and Isis then conceived Horus, their beloved son. Seth, seething in anger, killed Osiris once again, this time by cutting his body to pieces and throwing them into the Nile River. Isis, with the help of Anubis, the god with the jackal head, reconstituted Osiris's body with bandages and embalming rites, thus creating the first mummy. During this act, the god Thoth recited an incantation. Finally, Horus avenged his father Osiris in a bloody duel with Seth in which Horus lost his eye, which was then given as a food offering to Osiris.

Each of the ceremonies which were followed after Osiris' death, became the actual rituals that the Egyptians performed to ensure access to the eternal life after death. Egyptians performed mummification of the body to preserve it eternally, recited incantations to facilitate access to the hereafter and provide gifts to help them on their voyage. The deceased's soul proceeds to Hell and must appear before Osiris's Court, which weighs the soul's good and bad actions; the heart must be light as a feather to obtain salvation. Otherwise, the consequence is torment and destruction.

In pictorial representations, Osiris is portrayed wearing the white clothes used in mummification; he typically holds the king's scepter and the judge's whip, symbols of supreme authority.

See also: Cannibalism ; Gods and Goddesses of Life and Death ; Jesus ; Sacrifice


Coulter, Charles R., and Patricia Turner. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2000.

Griffiths, John Gwyn. The Origins of Osiris and his Cult. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1980.

Mercatante, Anthony S. Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend. New York: Facts on File, 1988.


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