THEOSOPHY, Vol. 15, No. 10, August, 1927
(Pages 447-455; Size: 29K)
(Number 19 of a 59-part series)
OSIRIS, ISIS, HORUS, AND SET"Salutations to thee, O Osiris, thou the greatest of the six gods issued from the Goddess Noo; thou the great favorite of thy father Ra; Father of Fathers; King of Duration; Master in the Eternity; multiform God, whose name is unknown and who hast many names in towns and provinces."OSIRIS Un-nefer, "the Good Being," in a Hymn from the Papyrus of Ani is "eldest son of Nut, (primordial matter and infinite space) engendered by Seb (celestial fire) ... lord of the lofty white crown; as prince of gods and of men he hath received the crook and the whip and the dignity of his divine fathers." His "body is of bright and shining metal," his "head is of azure blue, and the brilliance of the turquoise encircleth him." As Ahura-Mazda is one with, or the synthesis of the Amshaspends, so Osiris, the collective unit, when differentiated and personified becomes Osiris, Isis, and Horus -- the upper triad -- and their reflection, Anubis, Nephtys (sister of Isis and mother of Anubis by Osiris) and Set -- the latter when alone standing for the lower quaternary. These two triads together with the body make up the seven principles of man. All these gods and goddesses were worshipped independently of Osiris, but when the Osirian cult became dominant were fused into his nature.(1) So, also, Osiris-Ptah (Light) represented his spiritual aspect; Osiris-Horus, the intellectual, manasic aspect; Osiris-Lunus, the psychic; Osiris-Typhon (Set), the physical, therefore passional, turbulent aspect. In these four phases he symbolized the dual Ego, the divine and human, the cosmico-spiritual and the terrestrial. Although his name is the "Ineffable," his forty-two attributes bore each one of his names, which added to his seven dual aspects complete the forty-nine "fires." Thus the god is blended in man and the man is deified into a god.
Osiris was born at Mount Sinai, the Nyssi of the Old Testament, (Exodus XVII, 15) the birthplace of nearly all the solar gods of antiquity, although Osiris actually lived in human form some 75,000 years ago. One of the Great Teachers, civilizers and benefactors of humanity, in the course of his mission he encountered evil, was murdered by his brother Set at the age of twenty-eight, and buried at Abydos. According to Bonwick (Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought) he did not remain in the grave, but at the end of three, or forty,(2) days rose again and ascended to Heaven and thenceforth became the judge of the dead and the hope of a future life for the Egyptians. All of which proves that the story of Christ was found ready in most of its details thousands of years before the Christian era, and the Christian fathers had no greater task than to apply it to a new personage. This detracts no whit from Christ; it only goes to show that the biographies of all these Divine Instructors are practically identical because all are similar in nature and mission, and in a mystical sense their legendary life-record is true.
The name Osiris (Asar in Egyptian) is connected with fire, as is Asari in Babylonia; Aesar in old Etruscan means a god, derived possibly from the Asura of the Vedas, a modified form of which is Is'war or Iswara of the Bhagavad-Gita. In his universal aspect of destroying fire necessary to regeneration, Osiris is the "Lord of Terror," and in Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead he is "the devourer of all slaughtered things," just as Krishna in the eleventh Gita is "Time matured, come hither for the destruction of these creatures."
Among the many titles ascribed to Osiris, one frequently used is "the god of the staircase." In Chapter XXII of the Ritual the deceased prays that he may "have a portion with him who is on the top of the staircase," and there are any number of illustrations of a stairway of seven steps. What can this be but "the stairway of the seven worlds, the stairs of which each step becomes denser and darker. It is of this seven-times-seven scale thou art the faithful climber and mirror, O little man! Thou art this, but thou knowest it not." But great beings like Osiris know it, because by their own efforts they have become Perfected Men, at the top of this septenary stairway of evolution, which they descend and ascend knowingly, without ever losing their consciousness of Self. Whether in a body or out of it, they preserve an unbroken memory of all the states (or stairs) through which they pass. This uninterrupted memory is the realization of immortality. Although we are immortal we do not realize it, our memory being broken every night during sleep and also at death. So we find in many chapters of the Book of the Dead the deceased implores that he may retain his memory; that he may not forget the names of the guardians of the doors as his disembodied soul passes from one Aat (or state) to another; and, as a prerequisite -- to which the utmost importance was attached, that his mouth may be opened and that he may regain his speech (Chapter XXIII); for speech is "manasic," indicative of and associated only with self-consciousness.
The real meaning of immortality, including life before birth as well as life after death, seems to have been as much misunderstood by many of the Egyptians as by Christians today, whose heritage of ideas, true and false, comes in unbroken continuity from that far past. Judging from the Book of the Dead, resurrection was insured by the recitation of magical formulae, or conferred upon the dead by Osiris. As Christians believe their resurrection possible because Christ rose from the dead and appeared in one of his finer "sheaths" on Easter morn, so the Egyptians thought that the body of Osiris had been dismembered(3) and afterwards reconstructed into a living being, therefore their members would also be reunited into a living whole. In Chapter XLIII the deceased says: "I am Fire, the son of Fire, to whom was given his head after it had been cut off. The head of Osiris was not taken away from him, let not the head of Osiris Ani (the deceased) be taken away from him. I have knit myself together,... I have renewed my youth; I am Osiris, the lord of eternity." In the Papyrus of Hu-nefer, Osiris is thus addressed by Thot: "Homage to thee, O Governor of Amentet, who dost make men and women to be born again."
Budge thinks the offerings placed in the tomb indicate that pre-dynastic man thought he would live again in the identical body he had upon earth, an opinion apparently contradicted in a statement immediately following: "In later times although the funeral offerings were made as before, the belief in a material resurrection was given up by the educated Egyptians and in texts, both of the earliest and the latest periods,... it is distinctly stated that the material part of man rests in earth, whilst the immortal part has its abode in heaven." Now the belief was common that the Ka, or double, for which food and drink were placed in the tomb, was liable to annoy the living. The offerings and the many personal effects, such as were found in great and exquisite variety in the tomb of Tutankhamen and other notables, permeated with their owners' magnetism, would have a tendency to attract and hold the Ka. So might they not prevent it from being evoked or attracted elsewhere? -- a danger against which the wise Egyptians would wish to take the utmost precaution. Mummification was practised in order to keep all the atoms of the body intact, so that they might again be used -- not the same body, but the same aggregation of lives.
Abydos was the object of pilgrimage for thousands of years. From all parts of Egypt kings and princes were brought to this sacred spot that their remains might rest near those of their beloved lord. Here was the celebrated Osireion with its inclined passage leading to some underground chamber where were enacted "the Mysteries of Osiris," by which it was said that the beholders were so affected that death lost its sting and the grave its terror. Here was preserved the relic of Osiris, "the living One," carried in all the great religious processions, and here was performed one of the earliest Miracle Plays, which presented in dramatic form the story of the life and death and resurrection of this "Golden One of Millions of Years."
Isis is the Virgin-Mother, sister and wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. She is "the woman clothed with the sun" of the land of Chem. In the litany apostrophizing her, she is the "Immaculate Lady," "Queen of Heaven," "Illustrious Isis, most powerful, merciful and just," titles transferred entire or with slight change to the Virgin-Mary. (See Isis Unveiled, II, 209, for comparison of litanies). And not only was the adoration of Isis restored under a new name, but even her image standing on the crescent moon was adopted by the Christians, while her well-known effigy with Horus in arms has descended to our time in the many pictures of the Madonna and child. The "Black Virgins," so highly reverenced in certain French cathedrals were found, upon critical examination, to be basalt figures of Isis! But behind the symbolism of Isis were sublime spiritual and cosmical truths never conveyed to her worshippers by the mother of Christ.
Isis-Osiris is the equivalent of Kwan-Shai-Yin and Kwan-Yin in China. Coming later than Thot-Hermes, the companion and instructor of this pair was Hermes II, an incarnation of the celestial Hermes. In connection with her beneficent mission, Isis taught the women to spin the most wonderful linen, the priests devoted to her service being called the Linigera on account of the exquisite linen robes they wore. Isis was the great healer, hence the name Isis was given to a universal panacea. Her power to make men immortal is told in several legends, none with more tender charm than an episode connected with her search for Osiris, which has come down to us from Plutarch. Having traced the body of her lord to a tamarisk pillar built into the presence hall of King Malkander, she gained audience with his Queen, Athenais, and was engaged by the latter to nurse her sickly child Diktys. Isis agreed to restore him on condition that her ministrations be not observed. The child soon waxing strong and beautiful aroused the curiosity of Queen Athenais, who secreted herself in the chamber where nightly some mysterious work went on. From her hiding place she saw Isis build a great fire and place the child therein as in a cradle, changing herself thereupon into a twittering swallow. Horrified at the proceedings, Queen Athenais sprang forward and snatched her son from the flames, only to be confronted by the majestic but angry goddess, who upbraided her for her folly and told her that in the space of only a few days more her son would have been completely purified and immortal, but now he must live and die like other men. It was through the word and touch of Isis that Osiris, whose fourteen members (his seven dual aspects) having been found and put together, became once more a living being. So, in the Book of the Dead she is called the Lady of Life.
Horus was the last in the line of divine sovereigns in Egypt. A tablet describes him as the "substance of his father," of whom he is an incarnation and identical with him. There is an elder Horus (Haroeris) to be distinguished from the son of Isis, although in the legends they appear to be inextricably fused.(4) In one aspect, the elder Horus is the Idea of the world in the demiurgic mind; the younger is the same Idea going forth from the Logos, clothed with matter and assuming actual existence. The elder was from remotest times fused with Ra at Heliopolis, and worshipped as Ra-Haremkhuti (Horus of the two mountains), or the rising and the setting sun. In a beautiful illustration of sunrise from the Papyrus of Hu-nefer, Horus-Ra as a golden sparrow-hawk, wearing a disk encircled by a serpent, is adored by seven apes. Astronomically Horus the younger is the winter-sun, and at the time of the winter-solstice (our Christmas) his image in the form of a new-born babe was brought out of the sanctuary and adored by the worshipping crowd. Several references are made in the Book of the Dead to "the followers of Horus" -- Aryans who settled in Egypt when it had hardly risen from the waters. Yet they possessed the hieroglyphic form of writing peculiar to the Egyptians, founded the principal cities of Egypt and built some of the most important sanctuaries. They were said to be smiths (mesnitiu) armed with weapons of iron, and the mesnit or "Forge" was the name given to the passage opening into the shrine of the temple at Edfu, where Horus was worshipped under the form of the winged solar disk. An inscription on the temple wall, which Prof. Sayce thinks a late invention of the priests, declares that in the 363rd year of Ra-Harmachis on earth, he fled from the rebels who had risen against him in Nubia and found refuge in Edfu. Thereafter, his followers smote the enemies of their leader from the southern to the northern boundary of Egypt.
While Osiris subdued the world by gentleness and persuasion, by song and flute (which he invented) his son Horus from first to last was a warrior. Born to be the avenger of his father, he is said to have assumed the shape of a human-headed lion to gain advantage over Set. In this form he is the Sphinx -- Har-em-chu -- which is verily his image. He is also represented standing on a boat of serpentine form, with spear in hand, killing the serpent. His constant warfare with Set covers many facts, cosmical, spiritual and historical. In one aspect it is the struggle with the lower, personal nature and symbolizes the trials of adeptship; the fact that his triumphs are but temporary shows that his adeptship has to be regained in each new birth. The magnet was called the "bone of Horus" and iron, "the bone of Typhon," the latter being the rough Titanic power which opposes its force to the divine magnetic spirit trying to harmonize everything in nature. The dual nature of Horus is referred to in Chapter XVII of the Book of the Dead in these words: "It is Horus when he riseth up with a double head, whereof one beareth right and truth and the other wickedness" (Set). In Chapter CLXXVII he is "the blue-eyed" and "the red-eyed Horus," -- Set was always depicted red. In Chapter XXIX B, Horus is the Universal Ego; the deceased says: "My heart is with me, and it shall never come to pass that it shall be carried away.... I am Horus, the dweller in hearts, who is within the dweller in the body." In Chapter LXXVIII, The Chapter of Making the Transformation into the Divine Hawk, the deceased says: "And behold, when as yet Isis had not given birth to Horus, I had germinated, and had flourished, and I had become aged. (pre-existence) ... And I had risen up like the divine hawk, and Horus made for me a spiritual body (sahu) containing his own soul.... I, even I, am Horus, who dwelleth in the divine Khu (luminous form). I have gained power over his crown, I have gained power over his radiance, and I have travelled over the remote, illimitable parts of heaven... Horus is both the divine food and the sacrifice.... The gods labor for him, and they toil for him for millions of years." In later times the Pharaohs, by way of asserting (rightfully or otherwise) their divine nature, assumed the title "The Golden Horus," for according to Chapter LXXXIII of the Book of the Dead, Horus was one of those Illuminated Beings "who emitted light from his divine body," and "who never lie down in death."
Set, as we have just seen, is an integral part of both Osiris and Horus, just as Ahriman is an inseparable part of Ahura-Mazda. Typhon is a later name for Set, but still very ancient, his turbulent nature finding expression in the word "typhoon." In Chapter XXXIX, Apep, the serpent of evil is slain by Set's serpent; therefore Set could not have been originally evil. In Chapter XLII, Typhon is described as "Set, formerly Thot," who was also Seth -- a puzzle indeed to the Orientalist, but in which we may recognize a Serpent of Wisdom. Cosmologically, all these serpents conquered by their slayers stand for the turbulent, confused principles in chaos, brought to order by the Sun-gods, or creative forces in their evolutionary processes. Elsewhere these principles are called "the sons of Rebellion." "In that night, the oppressor, the murderer of Osiris, otherwise called the deceiving Serpent... calls the Sons of Rebellion in Air, and when they arrive to the East of Heaven, then there is War in Heaven and in the entire World."
Set was once a great god universally adored throughout Egypt. Manetho, an Egyptian priest, says that he treacherously murdered Osiris and allied himself with the Shemites (the Israelites). This may possibly have originated the fable told by Plutarch that after the fight between Typhon and Horus, Typhon overcome with fright at the mischief he had caused, "fled seven days on an ass, and escaping begat the boys Jerusalem and Judaea." He is evidently connected with the Hyksos, the ancestors of the Jews according to Josephus, and both Typhon and the Jews were "an abomination" to the Egyptians.
The goat was sacred to Typhon, and it was over the goat that the Egyptians confessed their sins, after which the animal was turned into the desert. This was ages before the time of Moses, and the origin of the Jewish scape-goat. Turning to Leviticus XVI, 21, we read; "And Aaron shall ... lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel... and shall send him away.... into the wilderness." It is also easy to trace the evolution of Sat (Set)-an to the Egyptian devil.
Although the seven principles of man are symbolized under the various aspects of Osiris, the Egyptians had special names for the sheaths of the soul. While the Egyptologists differ as to their classification, as to spelling of names and in many other details, we quote from Budge's Book of the Dead. His list does not exactly agree with the theosophical division of principles, nevertheless it practically covers them, as we shall see, and proves conclusively that the Egyptians were familiar with our seven "souls" in spite of the fact that the translations do not fully bring out the distinctions.
Khat, the physical body. Ka, the double, which could become a vampire (Kama-rupa). Ba, the heart-soul, connected with the Ka, and depicted as a human-headed hawk; it could die a second time (Animal soul or Kama-Manas). Khaibit, the shadow, the hieroglyph of which was an umbrella. Budge regards it as a kind of third soul (Astral body). Khu, meaning "luminous," the spiritual soul which under no circumstances could die; it dwelt in the Sahu (Higher Manas). Sahu, the spiritual body, which formed the habitation of the soul (Atma-Buddhi individualized). It was supposed to spring from the body on account of the prayers that were said, but this could have been merely popular belief, for the author describes it as a "body which had attained to a degree of knowledge and power and glory whereby it becomes henceforth lasting and incorruptible." Sa was the mysterious fluid of the gods, and Hu was one of the celestial foods. In the Judgment Scene Hu and Sa, as gods, head the deities who preside over the weighing of the heart. Sekhem, or power, Budge says is the incorporeal personification of the vital force of a man, which dwelt in heaven with the Khus. Se-Khem is the residence or loka of the god Khem, the devachan of Atma-Buddhi, hence we might think of Sekhem as the devachanic body. To this list our author adds Ren, the name, to preserve which the Egyptians took the most extraordinary care, for the belief was widespread that unless the name of a man was preserved he ceased to exist; and Ab, the heart, an organ rather than a principle, although Budge says it was considered the center of the spiritual and thinking life, in short, the conscience. In Chapter XXVI the deceased says: "I understand with my heart." In Chapter CLXIX two hearts are mentioned, "thy heart (ab), thy mother, and thy heart (hat) that is in thy body."
In Chapter XCII, souls and spirits and shadows are mentioned together. The deceased says: "... let a way be opened for my soul and for my shade, and let them see the Great God in the shrine on the day of the judgment of souls, and let them recite the utterances of Osiris.... to those who guard the members of Osiris, and who keep ward over the Spirits, and who hold captive the shadows of the dead who would work evil against me. May a way for my double (Ka) ... be prepared by those who keep ward over the members of Osiris, and who hold captive the shades of the dead." In Chapter LXXXIX the deceased addresses "the gods who make souls to enter into their sahu" and at the close of the chapter it begs that it may "look upon its material body, may it rest upon its spiritual body (sahu); and may it neither perish nor suffer corruption for ever."
The soul of every defunct, from the Hierophant down to the sacred bull Apis, became an Osiris after death -- was Osirified; Ani, for instance, became Osiris Ani. In Chapter CXIX the deceased says: "I am the spiritual body of the God;" and not only this, but all his members were identified with Osiris or some other of the gods. In Chapter XLII, entitled The Deification of Members, the disembodied soul says: "My hair is the hair of Nu. My face is the face of the Disk. My eyes are the eyes of Hathor... My neck is the neck of the divine goddess Isis.... My forearms are the forearms of Neith. My feet are the feet of Ptah.... There is no member of my body which is not the member of some god." What is this but the teaching that man is verily the microcosm of the macrocosm? And the chapter continues: "I am Ra... I am Horus and traverse millions of years. In very truth, my forms are inverted. I am Un-nefer from one season unto another, and what I have is within me.... I am he whose being has been moulded in his eye and I shall not die again." The real Osirification is the final assimilation with the One Life -- the Egyptian Day of Come-Unto-Us (or Me) which refers to the long pralaya after the Mahamanvantara. "The 'Monad' ... has to perform its septenary gyration throughout the Cycle of Being and forms, from the highest to the lowest; and then from man to God." (S.D., I, 135). Those who cross the "iron-bound world" "will rest in the bosom of Parabrahm or the "Unknown Darkness," which shall then become for all of them Light -- during the whole period of Mahapralaya, namely, 311,040,000,000,000 years. (S.D., I, 134).
"Hail, O Egg! Hail, O Egg! I am Horus, he who liveth
for millions of years, whose flame shineth upon
you and bringeth your hearts to me."
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE "BEING OF TATHAGATA"(5)
Question--What in Theosophy is regarded as having been the original cause of the "obscuration of the effulgence of the mysterious Being of Tathagata?"
Answer--The Being of Tathagata is the Being of Buddha. It is a mystical statement made by orientals of the doctrine that the Divine Man, the Higher-Self of the Universe, has been obscured by its "descent into matter." For they hold that all Buddhas throughout eternity are the same, and that the Highest nature of Man is the same as the Buddha. Hence this sentence is only a statement that the original effulgence or glory radiated by the Highest Self becomes temporarily obscured by dwelling in matter during evolution; but that effulgence will be restored and shine again at the end of the seventh Round because then matter will have been altered and refined by the indwelling effulgent Buddha. But such quotations as that in the question should never be given without the context in which they occur.--W.Q.J.
(Part 20 of a 59-part series)
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FIVE (5) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) Prof. Sayce in The Religion of the Ancient Egyptians reminds us that "The religion of the Egyptians which is best known to us was highly composite, the product of different races and different streams of culture and thought; and the task of uniting them all into a homogeneous whole was never fully completed. To the last, Egyptian religion remained a combination of ill-assorted survivals rather than a system, a confederation of separate cults rather than a definite theology": (i.e., exoterically). The name of Osiris was very rare before the 6th Dynasty, says Mariette Bey.
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(2) The festival of Osiris lasted forty days, the number of days of Jesus' temptation.
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(3) There was a time when some of the inhabitants of Egypt dismembered the body previous to burial, for mummification was not always practised, nor was it ever universal in that country as is commonly supposed.
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(4) "The celestial Horuses one by one were identified with Horus, the son of Isis, and their attributes were given to him, as his in the same way became theirs." (Maspero).
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(5) The Theosophical Forum, April, 1893.
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