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Osiris: ruler of the dead

According to myth, Osiris was the husband and brother of Isis and king of Egypt. When Osiris’ brother, Seth, murdered him for the kingship of Egypt, he dismembered his brother’s body and scattered the pieces over the length of Egypt. Isis mourned her husband and continuously searched for his scattered body parts. When she had gathered them all together, through her divine magic she made Osiris whole again and became pregnant by him with their son Horus. After his death, Osiris became ruler of the Underworld and judge of the dead, while his son Horus took over the kingship of Egypt as Osiris’ rightful heir.

Scholars suggest that in the earliest periods of ancient Egyptian history Osiris was a fertility god who came to have associations with death due to his connection with the earth. As the cult of Osiris grew in popularity, it spread throughout Egypt and the god took on many aspects of other deities.

Osiris is usually represented as a mummiform human with green (symbolizing the fertility of vegetation) or black (symbolizing the creative potential of the dark Nile soil) skin. He was shown in limited poses, typically sitting or standing, always with both legs together and his hands emerging from his mummy wrappings holding the scepter and flail. These implements are representative of ancient Egyptian kingship, and identify Osiris’ close association with the kinship of Egypt and his role as ruler of the dead. His status is also indicated by the White Crown, or in some cases, the Atef Crown on his head.

Without question Osiris was one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt, his cult lasting for over 2,000 years. Not only was his cult popular throughout Egypt, but in Greco-Roman times it extended well beyond Egypt.