By Hanaa Wahba & Hoda Nassef
Isis and Osiris are two of the five children of the famous gods Gab and Nut. The parents' history is as incredible as that of their children. Geb, the god of the earth, was married to Nut, the goddess of daytime sky. However, Nut was first married to the mighty god Ra, who was feared all over the land. Then she did the unheard of: she fell in love with Geb! When Ra found out about this affair, he was outrageously but rightly furious and in his wild rage decreed that Nut should not have children on any of the 360 days of the year. Nut realized that Ra's curse was too powerful to be altered, so she appealed to her friend Thoth for help. Thoth was sly. He cunningly engaged the moon goddess, Silene, in a wager. At the time, Silene (the moon) rivaled the light of Ra (the sun). Thoth won the bet, consequently winning one seventh of Silene's light. As the story goes, that is why the moon wanes every month. Thoth took this light and added five days to the calendar, making a year 365 days. On those five days, Nut hurriedly gave birth to five children: Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys.
Osiris, the eldest of the five, became a mighty king. Unlike other tyrants, he educated his people, taught them agriculture and animal husbandry. He organized their lives, gave them a set of laws to follow and taught them how to worship the gods. Egypt flourished under his leadership, and his subjects adored him for his kindness and gentleness. His fame spread far and wide. Osiris decided to extend his mission to other neighbouring nations who lacked the civilization the Egyptians enjoyed. He left his wife Isis in charge and she proved worthy of this trust. Isis' authority was unquestionable and no power could shake the position of Osiris during her reign. She ruled Egypt exactly like her husband did. She was a devoted queen and goddess, much loved and greatly respected. But Osiris had an enemy, his bitter and jealous brother Seth, who began scheming against him during his absence.
Seth aligned himself with Aso, the queen of Ethiopia, and 72 other conspirators. Little could be done during Osiris' absence, so they impatiently waited for his return. During that time, Seth slyly acquired the measurements of Osiris and had a wonderfully decorated box built to fit those measurements. When the box was completed, Seth gave a banquet in which he invited Osiris and his 72 malignant allies. After the feast was over, Seth promised to give that wonderful box to whoever fit into it. One by one, the guests tried, hoping to earn that precious gift. Finally, it was the turn of Osiris who unsuspectingly went inside to the relief of his enemies. They mercilessly slammed the lid and nailed it, thus sealing his fate. Never was Osiris seen in the land of the living again.
The dreadful news reached Isis. Her heart was broken over the loss, and more because she believed that the dead do not rest until they get a proper burial, so she searched long for the body of her darling husband whose death fell upon her like a terrible blow. No one had seen the box and no one seemed to be able to help. However, luckily during her search, one day she asked some innocent children playing on the banks of the river. They told her that Seth threw the chest into the Nile. Isis consulted all the magicians, wizards and fortunetellers in the kingdom. Finally, she was told that the chest floated out of into the sea and landed in Byblos lodging in a tamarisk bush. This bush miraculously sprang into a magnificent tree in which the box was concealed within its colossal trunk. The king of Byblos was enthralled by the beauty of that trunk and had it made into a great pillar to support the roof of his palace.
Isis, grief stricken and bewildered, disguised herself and went to the land of Byblos in search for the chest. In Byblos, Isis talked to no one but the queen maidens. She braided their hair and sprayed such sweet smelling fragrance on them that the queen of Byblos later asked them where they got that exquisite perfume. When they told the queen all about the wonderful stranger they had encountered near the fountain, she ordered that they search for her and bring her forth. Thus, she received Isis, whose identity was still hidden, very graciously. The queen of Byblos then charged Isis to nurse one of her children. Every night, Isis would light a fire and throw the child into it, then she would turn into a swallow and chirp mournfully for her husband. Word of these strange happenings reached the queen, who decided to go see for herself. That same night, when Isis put the child into the fire, the queen cried out in agony and terror and scrambled to save the child. Isis then revealed her identity to the incredulous queen, and said that she was using her magical powers to turn that child into an immortal god. She proceeded to explain why she made that journey and expressed her desire to have the pillar where she believed her husband was encased. The queen granted her wish.
The pillar was lowered and the case disclosed. Isis carried the case back and mourned with Nephthys, her sister, for the once adored yet outrageously murdered brother and husband. They opened the case and saw the body. At night, the two sisters would use their magic and turn into kites, circling the corpse and mourning in a melancholy strain. However, soon Isis' sense of responsibility towards her beloved son Horus woke her up from her despondency, so she hid the box and returned home.
That very night, Seth stumbled over the chest that Isis had hidden. He opened the box, found the corpse and dismembered it. His hellish rage gave vent to all his hatred and jealousy. He cut the body of Osiris into fourteen parts and scattered the parts all over the land. Isis' grief was renewed. She set off again in search of the parts of her husband's body. This time her task was harder and far more disheartening. She sailed in a boat made of papyrus and conducted her search. It was a horrendous task, but whenever she came across one of his parts, she would bury it and built a tomb. That is why Osiris has so many tombs scattered all over the desert.
In the meantime, Horus grew up to manhood. Osiris, the god of the underworld, visited Horus in the land of the living, and convinced him to avenge the mistakes done against him. Horus and Seth engaged in a mortal combat but the battle is everlasting and very elusive. Sometimes partial victory turns to one side, and sometimes to the other. Morale: The forces of good and the forces of evil It is still going on. When Horus achieves total victory, Osiris will return to the land of the living, but until then, he will reign in the underworld and judge the souls of the dead.
If you are as intrigued and fascinated as I am by Egyptian mythology, then join me in the next issue for more fascinating tales!