Horus

Among the deities of Ancient Egypt, Horus was one of the most celebrated and significant. He was the God of the Sky, War, Hunting, and Kingship, and veneration of him dates back more than 5,000 years, though his role and traits evolved over time. In early beliefs, he was the brother of Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys, but later became the son of Osiris and Isis. Horus was generally depicted as a falcon, or a man with a falcon’s head, carrying a sceptre and wearing a pschent (double-crown) to symbolise his rule over all Egypt. His left eye was said to be the Moon, while the right was the Sun, traversing the sky when he – as a falcon – flew across it. The Eye of Horus later became an emblem of protection and royal power. The pharaohs themselves were considered to be Horus’ embodiment on Earth, thus explaining to the common folk how their sovereigns could trace their lineage back to the gods, and new incarnations appeared each time a pharaoh died.

Though several versions of the myths exist, the most common tales associated with Horus are those of his divine conception, and his rivalry with Set. After Set murdered Osiris to seize rule over Egypt, Isis used powerful magic to resurrect him long enough to receive his seed. Horus was born and grew to hate the God of the Desert, seeking not to avenge his father’s death, but to reclaim his throne as rightful heir. Their 80-year conflict is as varied as it is bizarre, but finally came to an end with Horus triumphant, and with their reconciliation came order to Egypt.

Isis

In the religions of Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, Isis was worshiped as a goddess who represented motherhood and marriage among many other things – particularly magic – and was prayed to by the lowest in society as well as the upper echelons. “Isis” is actually the Greek variant of her name, for the original Egyptian pronunciation would have been closer to “Iset” or “Aset”, which means “Throne”. Her role in the Egyptian pantheon flourished over time, evolving from protector and guide to deceased pharaohs all the way up to being considered their mother and support. By the 16th century BC, Isis was a very important goddess, and several myths involved her magical actions. The most famous of these include how she resurrected Osiris (her husband and brother), the difficulties she and Horus (her son) faced while fleeing Set (Osiris’ murderer), and her gaining power over Ra (the sun god) by learning his secret name. In some pagan sects, Isis continues to be revered today.

Osiris

The “Osiris Myth” is one of the earliest and most famous of Ancient Egypt, originating from the Abydos region approximately 4,500 years ago. It details his murder by his jealous brother, Set, who coveted the role of pharaoh for himself, and tricked Osiris into a sarcophagus. After hunting for Osiris’ dismembered body for several years, his sister-wife, Isis, subsequently resurrected him, but he only lived long enough for her to conceive a child. Osiris was among the culture’s most widely-venerated deities, believed to be one of the first pharaohs, and credited with introducing civilisation to Egypt. He was the “Lord of the Dead”, a kind and merciful judge who granted the righteous deceased access to the eternal paradise of Aaru. It was also his responsibility to manage the flow of life so that seasonal harvests continue their cycle. This is reflected in the green colour of Osiris’ skin: it is symbolic of rebirth.

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Thoth

One of the most important deities (Neteru) in Ancient Egyptian mythology, Thoth held several important roles. As well as being responsible for overseeing the workings of the universe, he came to be known as the god of time, law, equilibrium, philosophy, writing, mathematics, magic and science among others.  He is generally depicted as a man with the head of an ibis (a long-beaked bird) or baboon, two animals sacred to his worshippers. However, the Egyptians did not believe the Neteru actually had animal heads, it was more symbolic of their attributes; for example, an ibis characterised the changing seasons (and thus time), while the baboon was associated with balance (ie equilibrium). Thoth was considered to have imagined himself into existence, and used his power to design, record and calculate the continuation of all things. Without him, the Egyptians thought, not even the other gods would exist.

One of Thoth’s primary functions was to mediate disputes between other deities. These clashes often represented good versus evil (or chaos versus order), and his task was to ensure neither side ever emerged victorious. In the three epic battles of Egyptian mythology (Ra vs Apep, and the two Horus vs Set tales), Thoth was involved as arbitrator, going as far as healing one party to maintain balance. It was he who taught Isis the magic that would resurrect her husband (Osiris) long enough for her to conceive a son (Horus) to challenge the evil king (Set). Additionally, he and his wife Ma’at, goddess of judgement and order, together assisted in the weighing of the heart, where one’s soul would learn if it could continue on to the utopian afterlife (Aaru), or be consumed by the monstrous Ammut. Powerful as he was, Thoth was known to the other gods as a counsellor and scribe of their deeds, and it was often said that he himself wrote the sacred texts the Ancient Egyptians lived by.