The Cult of Osiris: Life After Death

Just the mention of the Egyptian civilization and the legacy it left behind on the pages of history, conjures up an image of the ostentatious lifestyles of kings, the enigmatic pyramids and the eternal mummies. One of the most famous cults of ancient Egypt is the cult of Osiris, which had faith in the myth of Osiris and Isis. Osiris was considered as the god of dead and was worshiped as the controller of the Nile floods, sunrise and sunset. He was at the epicenter of life, death and rebirth, and was also known for his powers to control the underworld.

As the religious orientation of the great Egyptian civilization was never directed towards a single god, it followed a number of deities and cults for stability of the universe, and a better life after death. People used to worship the earth, sun, moon, sky and the Nile river, in order to live a peaceful life. They considered Ra as the supreme god but with the increase in the cult of Osiris, he was gradually replaced by Osiris for his ability to control the life after death. As time passed, Osiris took more of the functions performed by Ra and became associated with agriculture while playing a prominent role as the symbol for resurrection. He was the god of afterlife, the regeneration of non-human life on earth. According to the Egyptian history, he is depicted as a green or black complexioned pharaoh in the form of a mummy. The green color is a symbol of rebirth, whereas the black color refers to the fertility of the Nile floodplain.

The Egyptians believed firmly in life after death and according to them, there were three forms in which spirits existed. These forms were akh, ba, and ka. Akh was immortal, unchanging and the form that dead existed in. It was this form that traveled to the underworld after the death of a human being. Ba was the form released at death and was also known as the soul, whereas ka was the form considered to be both spiritual and physical.

The Myth of Osiris and Isis

The story of Osiris is a description of the cycle of nature and its fertility. According to the myth, Osiris was the son of Geb and Nut and was born in Thebes. With the retirement of his father, he succeeded the throne and pronounced his wife Isis as the queen. He laid down fair laws on his people and was considered to be a noble man. Osiris left Isis to rule Egypt and went out to spread his rule around the world. On his return, his brother Set, who was jealous of him, began plotting his murder in order to take over the throne. Set invited everyone including Osiris to a banquet and offered a magnificent coffin as a gift for whoever it fitted best. As the coffin was specially built for Osiris’s body, when he got in it, Set shut the lid and threw the coffin in the Nile river.

After Osiris was declared dead by his people, Set replaced him as the king, and in the mean time, grieving Isis went out to search of Osiris’ body. She found it in Byblos and brought it back to Egypt. However, Set discovered the body which was safely placed in marshes by Isis, tore it into pieces, and threw them again into the river Nile. Painstakingly, Isis collected the body-parts again and bandaged them together to form the first ancient Egyptian mummy. This mummy then transformed to an akh, and traveled to the underworld to become king and judge of the dead. Horus, who was the son of Isis and Osiris, led to the development of the myth by taking revenge of his father’s death and spreading the cult of Osiris.

The cult of Osiris began to fade out after the conquest of Christianity over the entire region of Egypt . By the 4th century, the pagan temples were closed due to which many pious books in the then-known world, were burned to the ground by monks. The cult of Osiris was one of the last bastions of paganism and left behind its legacy as a lasting mark on the Egyptian civilization.