Horus: Birth Story, Family, Eye of Horus, Powers, & Symbols
In the Egyptian pantheon, the god Horus was a very formidable and important deity. It was believed that his realm of control was the sky and the sun. As a result, Horus was commonly referred to as “The One Far Above”. The Greeks, on the other hand, called him Heru or Har – which means “the Distant One”.
In some cases, Horus was also venerated as the god of war, hunting, and kingship. Largely considered as the chief protector of the land of Egypt, he was depicted by ancient Egyptians as a stoic man with the head of a hawk (or sometimes a lion). He became known in some spheres as the hawk god of Egypt.
It’s been known that ancient Egyptian pharaohs typically identified themselves with the god of the sky. Thus, the pharaohs were adored and even worshiped because their subjects believed that they were the manifestations of Horus in human form.
The birth of Horus
Depending on the era and place, the birth story of Horus takes different forms. All in all, there are three main forms of Horus in Egyptian mythology: Horus the Older; Horus the Child; and Horus the Younger. For example, Horus the Older (also known as “Har wer”, the god of the kingdom) was largely seen as the last born of deities Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). What this means is that he was the brother of Isis, Osiris, Set (Seth), and Nephthys. However, in the birth story of Horus the Younger, the goddess Isis was his mother.
Death of Horus’ father (The Osiris Myth)
In terms of the myths, Horus the Younger is the most popular of the three. His story largely comes from the Osiris Myth. According to the myth, Horus’ parents – Osiris and Isis- were supreme rulers of a very orderly and harmonious land of Egypt. Osiris was responsible for inculcating ideals of harmony, order (Ma’at) and truth into the human population. As king, Osiris was wise, helping the people of Egypt to prosper and live happily together.
However, this paradise condition in the land of Egypt was interrupted by the Osiris’ brother, Seth, the god of chaos and the desert regions. Seth had grown very envious of his Osiris’ reign. Filled with hate and angst, Seth proceeded to unleash chaos in the kingdom of Egypt.
Seth was also angry because his wife, Nephthys, had had an affair with Osiris. Seth then killed his brother and thereafter cut the body into several pieces. He scattered those pieces across the earth.
With Osiris out of the picture, Seth took over the throne of Egypt. His rule was not as pleasant as Osiris’ rule; the land and the people were often blighted by famine and civil chaos as the people of Egypt longed for the return of Osiris.
With the help of the jackal-headed god Anubis, Osiris’ wife Isis was able to find Osiris’ dismembered body parts and put him together. Subsequently, she used her magical powers to bring Osiris from the dead. However, Osiris did not come back to the land of the living; instead, he was reborn in the afterlife. Osiris then became the god of the underworld (i.e. the afterlife). Prior to Osiris departing to the underworld, he and Isis went on to have a child named Horus.
Owing to the absence of his penis, Osiris could not get Isis pregnant through the conventional means. It is believed that Isis transformed herself into a kite-like object and flew past Osiris’ body in order to absorb Osiris’ seamen.
Horus and Isis go into hiding
When word of Isis pregnancy with Horus reached Seth, the usurper king was filled with absolute disgust and anger. He knew that should Horus survive he would come to claim his birth right, which was the throne of Egypt. Seth dispatched his thugs and evil spirits to hunt down the pregnant Isis.
In the meantime, Isis went into hiding. The goddess all alone had to endure the pain of child birth in the vicinity of a swampy area, most likely the Nile Delta. Once Horus was born, Isis did everything in her power to keep the baby Horus safe and away from the evil eyes of Seth. Periodically, the mother and baby had to move from one place to another in order to evade Seth’s henchmen.
A few of the gods and goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon took pity on the nursing mother and sent her a number of protective amulets and spirits. For example, the goddess Selket (Serket) gifted the baby Horus seven scorpions to protect and guard him at all times. Horus also received training in several disciplines from the likes of Anubis, Neith, and Thoth (the god of knowledge and wisdom). Many gods and goddesses came to the aid of Horus because they backed him to one day face off with Seth and reclaim the throne of Egypt.
Horus would grow into a fine young god, skilled in a host of battle and fighting techniques. He also benefited a lot from the wise teachings of the god Thoth. Gradually, the young god started venturing out of hiding. He became the atypical hero for people that were plagued by Seth’s henchmen and evil agents. Towing the path of honor and truth, he vowed to take the fight to Seth and bring an end to his uncle’s tyrannical reign.
Horus and Seth battle for the throne of Egypt
Much of what we know about the numerous battles between Horus and his uncle Set comes from Osiris Myth and “The Contendings of Horus and Seth”. In the latter book, it is stated that Seth and Horus appear before a panel of judges made up of nine Egyptian gods and goddesses (the Ennead), including the likes of the sun god Ra, Tefnut, Shu and Osiris.
Horus makes a very sound case against the usurper king, Seth resulting in majority of the judges on the panel ruling in favor of Horus. However, Ra (Amun-Ra) – supreme creator god – sort of uses his veto on the panel and states that Horus is too young and untested to be crowned king of Egypt. Ra votes in favor of Seth.
After the proceedings, the panel of judges put Horus and Seth through a series of battles (in some version of the story, the two gods engage in an actual physical race). The judges proclaim that whoever wins the most battles would be crowned ruler of Egypt.
During one test that involved armed combat, Seth was close to overpowering Horus. The younger of the two combatants gets injured. It is even believed that Seth plucked out one of Horus’ eyes.
Horus, in turn, inflicts severe damage on Seth – he had the genitals of Seth cut off. Although the two gods seem evenly matched, Horus always came out tops in every battle. It is believed that he received lots of training and help from his mother, as well as Thoth. The battles between Seth and Horus for the throne of Egypt would last for at least 80 years, according to ancient manuscripts.
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Isis tricks Seth
Even though, Horus won every single battle he had with Seth, the supreme Egyptian god, Ra, continues to cast his vote in favor of Seth. Amid the contending of Horus and Seth, the people of Egypt continue to be in severe distress due to Seth’s tyrannical reign over Egypt.
Isis proceeded to disguise herself as an old looking widow and thereafter approaches the palace of Seth. Isis, still in her disguise, complains about how her husband’s brother had seized all her dead husband’s properties. She goes on to say that her only child and her now live a poor and miserable life. Seth takes pity on the woman and vows to bring justice to this said brother-in-law of the woman.
Upon hearing Set’hs vows, Isis pulls down the disguise that she was wearing. Unable to go back on his words, Seth is left with no other option than to comply with his very vows. After witnessing this, Ra eventually gives into the claims of Horus.
Horus is crowned ruler of land while Seth is banished to spend the rest of eternity in the desert regions beyond Egypt.
The people of Egypt welcome Horus’ coronation with immense joy and jubilation. He chooses his mother, Isis, as his queen consort. Together, Horus and Isis bring about a years of lasting peace and prosperity to the land of Egypt, just like it was during the reign of his father Osiris.
To show their appreciation, the ancient Egyptians bestowed upon Horus several titles, including “Horu-Sema-Tawy”, which translates into “the Unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt”.
Importance of Horus in Ancient Egypt
Horus claiming his birth right, i.e. the throne, meant that he became the first pharaoh of Egypt. And from then onward future pharaohs of ancient Egypt would go on to be revered as the human manifestation of the god Horus himself. This practice started during the era of the First Dynastic pharaohs of Egypt.
Divine pharaohs, like Horus, were worshiped as people who brought order to a world that was once turbulent. They had the power to vanquish over and over again chaos from agents of Seth. Therefore, while the pharaoh was alive, the Egyptians regarded him/her as the reincarnation of Horus, and when the pharaoh died, he/she went on to become Osiris, the Lord of the Underworld.
Ancient Egyptians believed that Horus and the pharaohs were the shield that protected the land of Egypt from evil spirits and foreign invaders.
In simple terms, Horus was seen as a deity that enforced the principles of Ma’at – law and order. This made him and his places of worship very important facets of the Egyptian society.
As a result his association with the Four Sons of Horus (Imsety, Duamutef, Qebehsenuef, and Hapi) – Egyptian gods that protected the organs of a deceased person – Horus also played a vital role in the afterlife. Thus his role was not only confided to the land of the living but also the land of the dead.
Where was Horus worshiped?
His worship centers and temples were one of the most frequented places in ancient Egypt. His temples and cults only had male priests and clergy.
Due to his widespread worship across the land, Horus cult and worship centers varied in terms of practice, rituals and sacrifices.
The most famous Horus worship centers were at Khem, Pe, and Behdet (around the Nile Delta). For example, the town of Pe was a very a special place to the Egyptians in the sense that it was the exact spot Egyptians believed Horus lost his left eye as he fought with Seth.
Other worship sites of Horus were at Edfu, Nekhen, and Kom Ombos.
Depictions and symbols of Horus
Horus is often depicted with a scepter in one hand and an ankh (the symbol of life) in the other. He usually dons the white and red color crown – a symbolism of the fusion of the two lands of Egypt- Upper and Lower Egypt. The white crown is for Upper Egypt while the red is for Lower Egypt.
Some Egyptian sculptures and paintings have shown the god Horus as a hawk or a lion with the head of hawk. In some cases he is painted as a pharaoh, however, instead of a human head, he is given the head of a hawk.
Due to Horus being a national Egyptian god, his depictions and the symbols for him varied across time and place.
As a matter of fact, the god “Horus” was often used as a general term for several number of falcon deities in Egypt.
The Eye of Horus
Known as the “Wedjat”, the origin story of the Eye of Horus can be traced to a Pre-dynastic deity called Wadjet – a solar deity. Wadjet was worshiped as the protector god of the people of ancient Egypt. Hence his symbol – the Wedjat – became associated with protection of not just the people, but the pharaohs as well.
As time went on, the symbol found its way into the temples of Ra and Horus. Thus, at some point in time, the Eye of Horus was also called the “Eye of Ra”.
Basically the symbol represented the protection granted from the gods. This means that the Eye of Horus was also associated with other gods and goddess such as Isis and Hathor.
The Eye of Horus was very much loved by sailors, who put the symbol on their boats/ships in order to ward off evil spirits at sea.
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