Horus, one of the most iconic deities in ancient Egyptian mythology, is renowned primarily for his role as the sky god and for his enduring conflict with Seth over the throne of Egypt. However, his influence also extends to the realm of the underworld (i.e. the Duat), intertwining with themes of kingship, resurrection, and cosmic balance.
READ MORE: Battle Between Horus and Seth for the Throne of Egypt
While Horus’s most renowned tales revolve around his battles with Seth, his connection to the underworld and the concepts of life, death, and rebirth make him an integral figure in ancient Egyptian cosmology and the afterlife. Image: Statue of Horus in the Temple of Edfu
Horus’s story begins with his parents, Osiris and Isis. Osiris, the original ruler of Egypt, was treacherously murdered and dismembered by his brother Seth. Isis, through her magic, briefly resurrected Osiris, during which she conceived Horus. Thus, Horus was born posthumously and grew up with a purpose: to avenge his father’s death and reclaim the throne from Seth.
Image: Egyptian goddess Isis, in the form of a bird, copulates with her deceased husband Osiris. At either side are Horus, although he is as yet unborn, and Isis in human form.
Role in the Osirian Myth and Connection to the Underworld
The struggles between Horus and Seth form the crux of many Egyptian myths. These battles symbolize the eternal conflict between order (Ma’at) and chaos. Horus, representing order and legitimate kingship, eventually triumphs over Seth’s chaos.
As Horus avenges his father, Osiris transitions from being a god of earth to a god of the underworld. In this capacity, Osiris becomes the ruler of the afterlife, judging the souls of the dead. Horus, by avenging his father and upholding Ma’at, not only reclaims the throne of Egypt but also ensures the cyclical renewal of life and the order of both the living and the dead.
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A painting from the tom of Pashedu, 13th century BC, showing a personified Eye of Horus offers incense to the enthroned god Osiris in the Underworld.
Significance in the Afterlife
Horus’s eye, known as the “Eye of Horus” or “Wadjet,” holds special significance. In myths, Seth damages Horus’s eye during their conflict, but it’s later healed. This healed eye, or “udjat,” becomes a powerful amulet symbolizing protection, health, and rejuvenation. The Eye of Horus was often used in funerary practices to ensure the safety and well-being of the deceased in the afterlife.
The Eye of Horus was seen by the ancient Egyptians as a symbol for protection and kingship. Image: Ancient Egyptian symbols – Figurine of Thoth, in the form of a baboon, holding the Eye of Horus, seventh to fourth century BC
Moreover, in certain funerary texts and depictions, Horus is seen introducing the deceased to Osiris in the underworld, reaffirming the bond between kingship and the afterlife. As a divine protector, Horus plays a role in guiding the souls of the pharaohs, ensuring their divine ascension and continuation of rule in the next life.
Depictions of Horus in ancient Egyptian mythology (Left to right): Horus represented as a crowned falcon; Har-em-akhet, a form of Horus in which he had the body of a lion; and Hor-imy-shenut, a form of Horus in which he had the body of a crocodile
Horus’s significance transcends his battles with Seth. As the embodiment of kingship, order, and the continuation of life, his role in the cosmic balance of the universe is profound. The pharaohs of Egypt identified themselves with Horus in life and Osiris in death, indicating the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth, with Horus bridging the realms of the living and the dead.
Image: Egyptian god Horus spears his uncle Set, who appears in the form of a hippopotamus, as Isis looks on
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Quick Facts about Horus God in Egyptian Mythology