Horus, the sun-god

Horus is identified in the form of a falcon whose eyes were the sun (right) and the moon (left).  He is the son of Hathor, who is often depicted with cow horns and a sun disk above her head.  Osiris is the mortal incarnation of Horus.  This identity connection between Osiris and Horus was widely recognized in Egypt.  The Pyramid Texts were translated into ritual dramas with pharaoh playing the part of Horus in life and Osiris in death.  

In ancient Egypt, religious ritual moved toward a more explicitly theatrical enactment.  The caricature depictions of animal-headed gods, were likely used to both symbolize personality and characteristics while preventing confusion between the different roles.  This rich material for ceremonies and ritual in which priests were thought to have impersonated the deities by wearing stylized masks and reciting hymns and prayers while they told the stories of the soul’s journey after death into the other world.

The most important of these theatrical enactments involved Osiris.  He was the subject of what was known as the Adydos passion play, a yearly ritual performed during the period of the Old Kingdom and until about 400 AD.  The Abydos passion play depicts the slaying of Osiris and his followers by Set.  Unfortunately, later practices engaged in an enactment of this which resulted in many real deaths.  The figure of Osiris, symbolically represented in the play, is torn to pieces by Set after which his remains are gathered by his wife Isis who subsequently restores him to life. The play thus follows the pattern of birth, death, and resurrection, and it also echoes the cycle of the seasons.   

Horus and Set were perpetual antagonists.   In a fight with Set, Horus’ left eye (i.e. the moon) was damaged which is the mythical explanation for the phases of the moon.  The eye was healed by Thoth.  The figure of the restored eye (the wedjat eye) became a powerful amulet.  

“It is necessary to distinguish Horus, the sun-god, from Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris.  Originally these two deities, both named Horus appear to have nothing in common, but in later times, an attempt was made to blend them into one. ” Frazer, The Worship of Nature p. 566-567

 

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