Mysteries of Isis and Osiris

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Legend of the Conception and Birth of Horus (Paris Stela)

Translated by Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge (1857-1934)


Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge was born in Bodmin, Cornwall on 27 July 1857.  Budge was an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who, for many years, was the keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities for the British Museum. A prolific writer, he published numerous works on the ancient Near East. He died in London on 23 November 1934.

Budge attended Cambridge University from 1878-1883 and studied Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic and Assyrian. In 1883, Budge joined the staff of the British Museum in the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities. He was initially appointed to the Assyrian section but soon transferred to the Egyptian section, where he began to study the ancient Egyptian language. Budge became Assistant Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities in 1891, and then was appointed Keeper in 1894, a position which he held until 1924, specializing in Egyptology.

During his years in the British Museum, Budge established ties with local antiquities dealers in Egypt and Iraq so that the Museum would be able to obtain antiquities from them without the uncertainty and cost of excavating. Budge undertook many missions to Egypt and Iraq and obtained enormous collections of cuneiform tablets, Syriac, Coptic and Greek manuscripts, as well as significant collections of hieroglyphic papyri. His most famous acquisitions were the beautiful Papyrus of Ani (Book of the Dead), a copy of Aristotle's lost Constitution of Athens, and the Tell al-Amarna tablets. His prolific acquisitions gave the British Museum the best collection of Ancient Near East tablets and Papyri in the world.

Budge was a prolific author, and he is especially remembered today for his works on Egyptian religion and his hieroglyphic primers. Budge's works were widely read by the educated public and among those seeking comparative ethnological data, including Sir James George Frazer, who incorporated some of Budge's ideas on Osiris into his monumental work entitled The Golden Bough.  Budge's works on Egyptian religion have remained consistently in print since they entered the public domain.

Budge was knighted in 1920 for his distinguished contributions to Egyptology and the British Museum. He retired from the British Museum in 1924, and lived on until 1934, continuing to publish many additional books.

The following myth is taken from ancient Egyptian Texts that were translated by Budge and published in his book entitled: Legends of the Gods (London, 1912).


Legend of the Conception and Birth of Horus (Paris Stela)

The text which contains this legend is found cut in hieroglyphics upon a stele which is now preserved in Paris.  Attention was first called to
it by Chabas, who in 1857 gave a translation of it in the Revue Archeologique, p. 65 ff., and pointed out the importance of its contents with his characteristic ability.  The hieroglyphic text was first published by Ledrain in his work on the monuments of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and I gave a transcript of the text, with transliteration and translation, in 1895.

The greater part of the text consists of a hymn to Osiris, which was probably composed under the XVIIIth Dynasty, when an extraordinary development of the cult of that god took place, and when he was placed by Egyptian theologians at the head of all the gods.  Though unseen in the temples, his presence filled all Egypt, and his body formed the very substance of the country.  He was the God of all gods and the Governor of the Two Companies of the gods, he formed the soul and body of Ra, he was the beneficent Spirit of all spirits, he was himself the celestial food on which the Doubles in the Other World lived. He was the greatest of the gods in On(Heliopolis), Memphis, Herakleopolis, Hermopolis, Abydos, and the region of the First Cataract, and so.  He embodied in his own person the might of Ra-Tem, Apis and Ptah, the Horus-gods, Thoth and Khnemu, and his rule over Busiris and Abydos continued to be supreme, as it had been for many, many hundreds of years.  He was the source of the Nile, the north wind sprang from him, his seats were the stars of heaven which never set, and the imperishable stars were his ministers.  All heaven was his dominion, and the doors of the sky opened before him of their own accord when he appeared.  He inherited the earth from his father Keb, and the sovereignty of heaven from his mother Nut.  In his person he united endless time in the past and endless time in the future.  Like Ra he had fought Seba, or Set, the monster of evil, and had defeated him, and his victory assured to him lasting authority over the gods and the dead.  He exercised his creative power in making land and water, trees and herbs, cattle and other four-footed beasts, birds of all kinds, and
fish and creeping things; even the waste spaces of the desert owed allegiance to him as the creator.  And he rolled out the sky, and set
the light above the darkness.

The last paragraph of the text contains an allusion to Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris, and mentions the legend of the birth of Horus,
which even under the XVIIIth Dynasty was very ancient, Isis, we are told, was the constant protectress of her brother, she drove away the fiends that wanted to attack him, and kept them out of his shrine and tomb, and she guarded him from all accidents.  All these things she did by means of spells and incantations, large numbers of which were known to her, and by her power as the "witch-goddess."  Her "mouth was trained to perfection, and she made no mistake in pronouncing her spells, and her tongue was skilled and halted not."  At length came the unlucky day when Set succeeded in killing Osiris during the war which the "good god" was waging against him and his fiends.  Details of the engagement are wanting, but the Pyramid Texts state that the body of Osiris was hurled to the ground by Set at a place called Netat, which seems to have been near Abydos.[FN#26]  The news of the death of Osiris was brought to Isis, and she at once set out to find his body.  All legends agree in saying that she took the form of a bird, and that she flew about unceasingly, going hither and thither, and uttering wailing cries of grief.  At length she found the body, and with a piercing cry she alighted on the ground.  The Pyramid Texts say that Nephthys was with her that "Isis came, Nephthys came, the one on the right side, the other on the left side, one in the form of a Hat bird, the other in the form of a Tchert bird, and they found Osiris thrown on the ground in Netat by his brother Set."  The late form of the legend goes on to say that Isis fanned the body with her feathers, and produced air, and that at length she caused the inert members of Osiris to move, and drew from him his essence, wherefrom she produced her child Horus.

This bare statement of the dogma of the conception of Horus does not represent all that is known about it, and it may well be supplemented by a passage from the Pyramid Texts, which reads:

"Adoration to thee, O Osiris.  Rise thou up on thy left side, place thyself on thy right side.  This water which I give unto thee is the water of youth (or rejuvenation).  Adoration to thee, O Osiris!  Rise thou up on thy left side, place thyself on thy right side.  This bread which I
have made for thee is warmth.  Adoration to thee, O Osiris!  The doors of heaven are opened to thee, the doors of the streams are thrown wide open to thee.  The gods in the city of Pe come [to thee], Osiris, at the sound (or voice) of the supplication of Isis and Nephthys . . . . . Thy elder sister took thy body in her arms, she chafed thy hands, she clasped thee to her breast [when] she found thee [lying] on thy side on the plain of Netat." 

And in another place we read:

"Thy two sisters, Isis and Nephthys, came to thee, Kam-urt, in thy name of Kam-ur, Uatchet-urt, in thy name of Uatch-ur . . . . . . . Isis and Nephthys weave magical protection for thee in the city of Saut, for thee their lord, in thy name of 'Lord of Saut,' for their god, in thy name of 'God.'  They praise thee; go not thou far from them in thy name of 'Tua.'  They present offerings to thee; be not wroth in thy name of 'Tchentru.'  Thy sister Isis cometh to thee rejoicing in her love for thee.  Thou hast union with her, thy seed entereth her.  She conceiveth in the form of the star Septet (Sothis).  Horus-Sept issueth from thee in the form of Horus, dweller in the star Septet.  Thou makest a spirit to be in him in his name 'Spirit dwelling in the god Tchentru.'  He avengeth thee in his name of 'Horus, the son who avenged his father.'  Hail, Osiris, Keb hath brought to thee Horus, he hath avenged thee, he hath brought to thee the hearts of the gods, Horus hath given thee his Eye, thou hast taken possession of the Urert Crown thereby at the head of the gods.  Horus hath presented to thee thy members, he hath collected them completely, there is no disorder in thee.  Thoth hath seized thy enemy and hath slain him and those who were with him." 

The above words are addressed to dead kings in the Pyramid Texts, and what the gods were supposed to do for them was believed by the Egyptians to have been actually done for Osiris.  These extracts are peculiarly valuable, for they prove that the legend of Osiris which was current under the XVIIIth Dynasty was based upon traditions which were universally accepted in Egypt under the Vth and VIth Dynasties.

The hymn concludes with a reference to the accession of Horus, son of Isis, the flesh and bone of Osiris, to the throne of his grandfather
Keb, and to the welcome which he received from the Tchatcha, or Administrators of heaven, and the Company of the Gods, and the Lords of Truth, who assembled in the Great House of Heliopolis to acknowledge his sovereignty.  His succession also received the approval of Neb-er-tcher, who, as we saw from the first legend in this book, was the Creator of the Universe.