After reading Plutarch and Diodorus we get a bit of a second hand story about the Egyptian trinity because Plutarch and Diodorus are Greek historians. I wanna focus on Osiris for a bit here and his identification with Sirius and Orion. According to Architecture of the Afterlife: Understanding Egypt’s pyramid tombs by Ann Macy Roth, pyramid hieroglyphs equate the afterlife with eternally traveling the stars with the sun god. The hieroglyphs, at the beginning of the 4th dynasty, said: "An offering the king gives and Anubis". By the end of the 5th dynasty the formula in all tombs becomes "An offering the king gives and Osiris". So here we derive an aspect of Osiris as god of the afterlife or god of the underworld and death.
As I mentioned in the entry "In-ies and Out-ies", during the Old Kingdom the religious system of creation ascribed to at the time was the Ogdoad; which was made up of four sets of male/female gods that together were Ra. As time passed and the culture of Egypt changed different gods that were associated with the Ogdoad were merged with newer gods who were seen to have similar aspects. According to wikipedia:
"Later, when Hathor's identity (from the Ogdoad) was assimilated into that of Isis, Horus, who had been Isis' husband (in the Ogdoad), became considered her son. Since Osiris was Isis' husband (in the Ennead), Osiris also became considered Horus' father. Attempts to explain how Osiris, a god of the dead, could give rise to Horus, who was thought to be living, led to the development of the The myth of Osiris and Isis, which became a central myth in Egyptian mythology."
This interpretation from wiki may not be spot on but I think what is important here is the concept of the interchangeability in the roles and relationships that these gods had with each other and also the fact that these gods merged with and divided from one another. So here we see that Isis was Horus' mother and wife, in a manner of speaking, at the same time. In order to fully understand this strange concept of interchangeability and how the Egyptians viewed their gods and the world around them lets review the story behind Osiris, Isis, and Horus.
Plutarch says that,"they regard the Nile as the effusion of Osiris, so they hold and believe the earth to be the body of Isis, not all of it, but so much of it as the Nile covers, fertilizing it and uniting with it. From this union they make Horus to be born. The all-conserving and fostering Hora, that is the seasonable tempering of the surrounding air, is Horus, who they say was brought up by Leto in the marshes round about Buto; for the watery and saturated land best nurtures those exhalations which quench and abate aridity and dryness."
This is an important concept here, after reading this passage we can infer that the Egyptians deified nature. Looking at one particular aspect of Osiris as the Nile river and other aspects of nature that associate with the Nile that also may have been deified one can understand this interchangeability. Sometimes the Nile associates with the land immediately around it (Isis) and sometimes the Nile associates with other parts of nature (insert random god here) thus we have interchangeability. So Osiris, Isis, and Horus were looked at as aspects of nature but also as gods. This reminds me of this idea that Aristotle had about spiritual forms or spiritual archetypes. So what is an archetype?
ar⋅che⋅type /ˈɑrkɪˌtaɪp/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [ahr-ki-tahyp]
|1.||the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.|
|2.||(in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.|
So, interchangeability also happens from the aspect that these gods are like spiritual archetypes or forms that are taking on a physical manifestation through the filter of human mythology. That sentence hurt my head! So back to the trinity. Where exactly did Horus come from?
The story of Horus goes something like this: Osiris' brother Set (Typhon to the Greeks) tricks him into getting into a box. Once in the box Set tosses the box and Osiris into the Nile and waves goodbye! Isis finds out and starts a search for Osiris. In the meantime Osiris floats down (?) the river to the shore of Byblos and ends up encased inside a Cedar Tree which gets used by the local royalty as a pillar in their palace. Isis figures out where Osiris is and talks the local queen into letting her get Osiris out of the pillar and takes his body back to Egypt and buries it.
Set hears about Osiris' new resting place and goes out to dig him up. Set finds Osiris' body and cuts it into 14 pieces and scatters them all over the place (Something very similar happened to Tammuz). Isis freaks out again and eventually finds 13 out of the 14 pieces. The only part she couldn't find was his obelisk...errr phallus so at this point she makes one to replace the lost one. Once she had put Osiris back together again she sings him a song and comes back to life (Humpty Dumpty?). Osiris stays alive just long enough to knock up Isis (don't ask me how that worked!) before he dies again. And nine months later, presumably, we have baby Horus and Osiris is now the god of the dead/underworld. To the left we see a depiction of Isis with baby Horus...look familiar?
Check this book for some references on this story:
"Ancient Egypt", page 137 in chapter 10 by Dr. Robert K. Ritner. Oxford University Press, 1997.
When we combine this crazy romantic comedy that involves dismemberment with the perception that Osiris was the Nile, Isis the surrounding land, and Horus as the temperament of the region we see the parallels. As time goes by and this trinity grows in popularity so too do the aspects of each god and their associations with objects and things.
Fast forward a few years and Horus is all grown up and Set (Osiris' bro) is still a big problem in Egypt. So Osiris comes to visit Horus and trains him to fight Set. So they have a big fight and Horus wins. There are a few things about this battle that are worth noting. One, apparently Set pulls out Horus' eye and eats it but then gives it back. Set also says that Horus is a bastard...a literal bastard..like illegitimate child.
So if these folks are gods where are they now? According to Plutarch, "in regard not only to these gods, but in regard to the other gods, save only those whose existence had no beginning and shall have no end, the priests say that their bodies, after they have done with their labours, have been placed in the keeping of the priests and are cherished there, but that their souls shine as the stars in the firmament, and the soul of Isis is called by the Greeks the Dog-star, but by the Egyptians Sothis, and the soul of Horus is called Orion, and the soul of Typhon the Bear."
Hey look at that, we are back where we started with Sirius and Orion! More to come...