Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 185

ISIS: A woman crowned with the sun-disc surmounted by a throne, and sometimes enclosed between horns. Adored at Abydos. Her soul resided in Sothis on the Dog-star.

NUT: A woman so bent that her hands touched the earth. She represents the vault of heaven, and is the mother of the gods.

HATHOR: Cow-headed, and crowned with the disc and plumes. Deity of Amenti, or the Egyptian Hades. Worshipped at Denderah.

PASHT: Pasht and Bast appear to be two forms of the same goddess.
As Bast she is represented as a woman, lion-headed, with the disc
and uroeus; as Pasht she is cat-headed, and holds a sistrum.
Adored at Bubastis. Observe the syllable BAST.

The highest visible deity of the Egyptians was Amun Ra, or Amen Ra, the concealed sun; the word Ra signifying the sun. This name appears in the Greek and Latin writers as Zeus Ammon and Jupiter Ammon. When Amun manifests himself by his word, will or spirit, he is known as Nu, Num, Noub, Nef, Neph, or Kneph, and this word Kneph through the form Cnuphis is, perhaps, the Anubis of the Greek and Latin authors. That word has not been found earlier than the time of Augustus. Anubis was then worshipped as the guardian god, and represented with a dog's head.

The soul of Osiris was supposed to exist in some way in the sacred bull Apis, of which Serapis or Sarapis is probably another name. "Apis," says Herodotus, "is a young bull, whose hair is black, on his forehead a white triangle, — on his back an eagle, with a beetle under his tongue and with the hair of his tail double." Ovid says he is of various colors. Plutarch says he has a crescent on his right side. These superstitions varied from age to age. Apis was worshipped in Memphis.

It must be observed, in general, that the names in the Latin classics belong to a much later period of the Egyptian religion than the names found on most of the monuments. It will be found, that, as in the change from Nu to Anubis, it is difficult to trace the progress of a name from one to the other. In the cases where an ox, a ram, or a dog is worshipped with, or as a symbol of, a god, we probably have the survival of a very early local idolatry.

Horus or Harpocrates, named above, was the son of Osiris. He is sometimes represented, seated on a Lotus-flower, with his finger on his lips, as the god of silence.

In one of Moore's Irish Melodies is an allusion to Harpocrates: -

  "Thyself shall, under some rosy bower,
  Sit mute, with thy finger on thy lip:
  Like him, the boy, who born among
  The flowers that on the Nile-stream blush,
  Sits over thus, his only song
  To Earth and Heaven, "Hush, all, hush!"


Osiris and Isis were at one time induced to descend to the earth to bestow gifts and blessings on its inhabitants. Isis showed them first the use of wheat and barley, and Osiris made the instruments of agriculture and taught men the use of them, as well as how to harness the ox to the plough. He then gave men laws, the institution of marriage, a civil organization, and taught them how to worship the gods. After he had thus made the valley of the Nile a happy country, he assembled a host with which he went to bestow his blessings upon the rest of the world. He conquered the nations everywhere, but not with weapons, only with music and eloquence. His brother Typhon (Typhon is supposed to be the Seth of the monuments) saw this, and filled with envy and malice sought, during his absence, to usurp his throne. But Isis, who held the reins of government, frustrated his plans. Still more embittered, he now resolved to kill his brother. This he did in the following manner: Having organized a conspiracy of seventy-two members, he went with them to the feast which was celebrated in honor of the king's return. He then caused a box or chest to be brought in, which had been made to fit exactly the size of Osiris, and declared that he would give that chest of precious wood to whosoever could get into it. The rest tried in vain, but no sooner was Osiris in it than Typhon and his companions closed the lid and flung the chest into the Nile. When Isis heard of the cruel murder she wept and mourned, and then with her hair shorn, clothed in black and beating her breast, she sought diligently for the body of her husband. In this search she was assisted by Anubis, the son of Osiris and Nephthys. They sought in vain for some time; for when the chest, carried by the waves to the shores of Byblos, had become entangled in the reeds that grew at the edge of the water, the divine power that dwelt in the body of Osiris imparted such strength to the shrub that it grew into a mighty tree, enclosing in its trunk the coffin of the god. This tree, with its sacred deposit, was shortly afterward felled, and erected as a column in the palace of the king of Phoenicia. But at length, by the aid of Anubis and the sacred birds, Isis ascertained these facts, and then went to the royal city. There she offered herself at the palace as a servant, and being admitted, threw off her disguise and appeared as the goddess, surrounded with thunder and lightning. Striking the column with her wand, she caused it to split open and give up the sacred coffin. This she seized and returned with it, and concealed it in the depth of a forest, but Typhon discovered it, and cutting the body into fourteen pieces, scattered them hither and thither. After a tedious search, Isis found thirteen pieces, the fishes of the Nile having eaten the other. This she replaced by an imitation of sycamore wood, and buried the body at Philoe, which became ever after the great burying place of the nation, and the spot to which pilgrimages were made from all parts of the country. A temple of surpassing magnificence was also erected there in honor of the god, and at every place where one of his limbs had been found, minor temples and tombs were built to commemorate the event. Osiris became after that the tutelar deity of the Egyptians. His soul was supposed always to inhabit the body of the bull Apis, and at his death to transfer itself to his successor.