Horus, the falcon, is an important god in Egyptian mythology and since the British museum has a lovely limestone sculpture of him, I thought I would do a post. Horus the Elder was one of the oldest gods of Ancient Egypt. He was a sky god, whose face was visualized as the face of the sun. Since Horus was said to be the sky, it was natural that he was considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was one of his eyes and the moon the other, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it. Thus he became known as Harmerty – Horus of two eyes. It seems that in very early times the followers of the god Seth (patron of lower Egypt) may have been conquered by the followers of the god Horus (patron of upper Egypt) who went on to unite upper and lower Egypt. Thus the golden Horus, representing the sun and gold, is one of the titles of later all later pharaohs uniting upper and lower Egypt. In the Old kingdom the Egyptian pharaoh was taken to be the living Horus and the dead king (his father or predecessor) as Osiris.
Horus was the son of Osirus, the God of air and earth, Isis was his mother, and he is always pitted against the god Set or Seth. Plutarch recounts one version of the myth surrounding the Horus cult in which Set (Seth) fooled Osiris into getting into a box, which he then shut, had sealed with lead, and threw into the Nile (sarcophagi were based on the box in this myth). After he killed Osiris he cut his body up into 14 pieces and spread the pieces throughout Egypt. Isis (Osiris’ wife) found out that her husband was killed and she searched Egypt looking for his body parts. She found all but one (his penis) and using her magic she put his body together and buried him, during the process of putting him back together she became impregnated with her son Horus. She gave birth to Horus who became the god of the sky. The gods were so impressed by the love of Isis that Osiris was made god of the underworld.
There was a dynamic relationship between Seth and Horus, something like yin and yang in Chinese culture. Seth was the embodiment of disorder or chaos, and was predominantly seen as a rival of Horus who was seen as a symbol of peace and unity. Seth is the god of the desert, having lost his testicles to Horus, thus the desert is barren. Horus is the god of daylight, his power was at its greatest at midday but the battle with Seth occured every night, which was darker because Horus lost one eye to Seth. Despite the daily battle, Seth was also portrayed in a balanced, complementary role to Horus, so that the pair represented a bipolar, balanced embodiment of kingship. Therefore, on the side of the throne, Horus and Seth, symmetrical and equal, tie the papyrus and lotus around the sema-sign. The vertical sema sign represents the airpipe (trachea) and a pair of lungs (really, I am not making this up), as a hieroglyph this symbol represents the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Also the lotus represents upper Egypt and papyrus lower Egypt.
No discussion of Horus would be complete without a discussion of the magical eye of Horus. In Egyptian myth the eye was not the passive organ of sight but more an agent of action, protection or wrath. His right eye was associated with the sun Ra. The eye symbol represents the marking around the eye of the falcon, including the “teardrop” marking sometimes found below the eye. The eye is represented as a figure with 6 parts. These 6 parts correspond to the six senses – Touch, Taste, Hearing, Thought, Sight, Smell. The mirror image, or left eye, sometimes represented the moon and the god Djehuti (Thoth). In the later history of ancient Egypt, Thoth became heavily associated with the arbitration of godly disputes, the arts of magic, the system of writing, the development of science, and the judgment of the dead. In one myth, when Set and Horus were fighting for the throne after Osiris’s death, Set gouged out Horus’ left eye. The majority of the eye was restored by either Hathor or Thoth with the last portion (1/64) being supplied magically. The Egyptians actually had a quite sophisticated system of mathematics, including trigonometry, geometry and algebra. In the Egyptian measurement system, the Eye of Horus represented a fractional quantification system to measure parts of a whole. The entire eye measured 1 heqat and each of the parts of the eye measured fractions of the heqat.
That magical bit makes the Eye of Horus symbol into a magical symbol to ward off evil and as a healing symbol. The udjat or wedjat refers to the Egyptian name for the Eye of Horus. The Eye often is worn by the goddess Wadjet, The Green One. Wadjet is depicted as a woman with a snake’s head, and also represents good health. She is often seen coiled upon the head of the God Ra. It is associated with healing, the word “hygeia” inscribed in the Pythagorian pentacle is actually derived from the wedjuat. The fine example seen above comes from King Tutankhamen’s tomb, Nekhbet and Wadjet are guarding the Eye Of Horus. Nekhbet is wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, and Wadjet is wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. Together, they were known as the nebti, or “two ladies”.
This is a collection of wedjets from the British Museum.
Imagery of an all-seeing eye can be traced back to Egyptian mythology and the Eye of Horus. It also appears in Buddhism, where Buddha is also regularly referred to as the “Eye of the World” throughout Buddhist scriptures. In Medieval and Renaissance European iconography, the Eye (often with the addition of an enclosing triangle) was an explicit image of the Christian Trinity and the fact that God saw all. The original great seal of the USA had no reverse side pyramid. In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed the pyramid with the Eye of Providence on the one dollar bill, where it remains to this day. Even though Roosevelt was a Freemason, there is really no connection to Freemason symbology.
The pyramid is an important symbol representing God in many different cultures. Hindu tradition represented it with a simple triangle and Celtic culture had a cone. I personally like the famous painting by William Blake called Urizen “The Creator of the Material World” incorporating both the eye and pyramid.
Horus became very popular during the time of the Roman Empire, in his form as a child, where he was often depicted riding a goose or ram (symbols of Thoth and Banebdjed respectively). Since Horus was sometimes identified as Ra, Isis assimilated the mythos of Neith, Ra’s mother. We saw this sort of peculiar depiction of Horus in typical Roman clothing, apparently to help Rome integrate Egypt into the empire. We now know that the ancient Greeks painted their statues thanks to German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann. Although no longer apparent to the naked eye, the paint shows up in visible-induced luminescence imaging by British Museum scientist, Joanne Dyer. In addition to the strange (to us) combination of Graeco-Roman-Egyptian elements, he would also have been rather garishly painted as seen above. The loss of the paint in ancient statues dug out of the ground inspired an entire generation of sculptors to create untainted marble creations.
There are many interesting parallels between Jesus and Horus, suggested first by Gerald Massey, an English poet (1828-1927). The Egyptian Trinity of Osiris (the father god), Isis (the virginal mother god) and Horus (the son of God) can be compared to the Christain Trinity. Miracles attributed to Jesus (such as being born of a virgin, calming a storm, feeding the multitudes, restoring sight to the blind, casting out demons, raising the dead, dying and returning to life) had been attributed to Horus many centuries before Jesus was born. It’s also interesting that the names Isis and Mary seem to be associated, as ancient Egyptian inscriptions mention Aset-Meri (Isis Beloved). The association of Christmas day with Winter Solstice is self explanatory. I will not belabor the point but there are significant discussions in books (The Christ Conspiracy) and on the web concerning this subject. It is well known that the life of Jesus was not recorded until at least a century after his death, primarily in Greek. If a Greek author wished to embellish the life of Jesus, the Egyptian mythology of Horus and other Egyptian gods might have been an inspiration.
As related by Egyptologist Sir Dr. E.A. Wallis Budge, from its inception, Egyptian Christianity was represented by those who readily equated Jesus with both Osiris and Horus, the latter two symbolizing sun gods or aspects of the sun. Indeed, the Egyptian Christians or Copts repeatedly identified Osiris and Horus with Jesus in both myth and ritual, as the mythical lives of all three characters coalesced in numerous respects.
This has turned out to be another long post, I must admit that I am inspired by the Egyptian collection at the British Museum like so many before me (Keates comes to mind). I plan several additional posts on Egyptian mythology and other pieces at the museum. Like Mesopotania, the river culture of Egypt has left a lasting impression on Western Civilization. Some of you may have noticed a lag in my posts, we are redesigning the Website and Blog, long overdue. New additions will be image galleries and different kinds of posts. There is a rich array of modern art based on Horus and Seth that I plan to include. Thank you in advance for your understanding.
Crystal Links: http://www.crystalinks.com/horus.html
British Museum: http://blog.britishmuseum.org/category/research-2/
Egyptian Symbols: http://www.egyptartsite.com/symlst.html
Smithsonian Magazine: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/true-colors.html?c=y&page=2&device=ipad
The Hypertexts: http://www.thehypertexts.com/William%20Blake.htm
Caduceus Vs. Asclepius: http://sasuweh.com/medical-staff-plaque-limited-edition/caduceus-vs-asclepius/
Jesus vs Horus: http://stupidevilbastard.com/2005/01/ending_the_myth_of_horus/
Jesus as the Sun: http://www.stellarhousepublishing.com/jesussunexcerpt.html#.UJytW5G9KK
21st Century Skeptic: http://21stcenturyskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/05/horus-vs-jesus.html