God of the Underworld, Crop Fertility, Renewal, & Resurrection.
Osiris, Asar, Asari, Aser, Ausar, Ausir, Wesir, Usir, Usire or Ausare
Osiris is often depicted holding the crook and flail. He is one of Egypt’s oldest gods and is known for his reign over the dead, resurrection, and fertility. In many depictions found within tombs and monuments, Osiris is almost always seen outlined in black and can be identified through his green skin. Like many great kings, Osiris wears a white crown, known as an Atef crown, with two ostrich feathers fastened to the sides of it. His crown became the symbol of Upper Egypt.
According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was born the first child of Nut and Geb. His other siblings were Set, Nephthys, and Isis. Later, Osiris married his sister Isis and together through their union, they produced Horus. Osiris’ siblings play a major part in the popular mythological story whereby he is murdered and then resurrected, thus becoming the god of resurrection, renewal, and the god of the dead.
God of Pertility and Renewal
Osiris was the god of fertility but also many Egyptians looked to him for agricultural matters. It is believed his green skin came to symbolize the fertile soil filled with nutrients that were needed to grow crops. These nutrients were brought about through the annual flooding of the Nile and it was through Osiris that this yearly event occurred. To the Ancient Egyptians, the cycle of flooding, planting, and harvesting were all brought about through Osiris’s life-giving forces.
According to Egyptian folklore, it was Osiris who civilized all Egyptians and taught them the art of agriculture. Although not proven, the myths claimed, that before Osiris’ teachings the early Egyptians partook in cannibalism. It was through the kindness of Osiris and his wisdom that things changed as he showed them how to be civilized. It is said that Osiris brought new principles to the Egyptians such as rebirth of culture and life.
The life-giving forces of Osiris were important to the Ancient Egyptians, so much so, that the process was often shown through corn-mummies brought to funerals. These simulated mummies were not actual mummies but bricks made of mud with the shape of Osiris embedded into them. These hollow bricks acted as pots and were filled with moistened soil and seeds left to germinate; thereby, showcasing the life-giving forces of Osiris. The more advanced corn mummies were wrapped in linen and many had realistic wax figures of Osiris inside.
God of the Dead
Osiris’ association with fertility and helping to civilize Egypt is not the only thing attributed to him. His main iconic stance in Ancient Egypt was his reign over the dead. How he got this position remains a mystery; however, many Egyptologists conclude this position was appointed to him due to Osiris being one of the first gods to die by his brother Set and then later resurrected by his wife Isis.
Probably one of the most popular representations of Osiris today comes from The Book of the Dead. There, he sits upon a throne and judges the dead before their entrance into the Afterworld. A scale is placed before the deceased person’s soul and it is weighed against the feather of Ma’at. If the heart is heavy with sin, it outweighs the feather of Ma’at then is thrown to the demon Goddess Ammit where it would then be destroyed. This resulted in a nonexistent fate to the dead person. If the outcome was in the favor of the deceased, the dead would be allowed to reside with Osiris in the Underworld.
The Cult of Osiris and Abydos
Like many of the Ancient Egyptian gods, Osiris did have a cult that was centered on him. This cult was a major religious movement during the Middle Kingdom and was greatly promoted by Senusret III. The cult was such a movement that many Egyptians purposely sought a pilgrimage to Abydos where a temple was dedicated solely to him. There, many of the Egyptians who participated in this cult enjoyed the festivities such as rituals, celebrations, and ceremonies. A yearly major festival was held to reenact the mysteries of Osiris. This reenactment consisted of Osiris’ life and the journey to Abydos. After the first reenactment, another reenactment then followed glorifying the burial and resurrection at the tomb of Djer.
It was not uncommon for cult followers to bury their loved ones or make arrangements to be buried at the site. If being buried in Abydos was not possible, family members would commemorate their loved one’s mummy on site then bury the body in a new location. This was practiced under the notion that because Osiris made the trip to Abydos, so should his followers.
Though many of the festivities to honor Osiris were held at his temple in Abydos, the site was also used to honor other gods as well. The temple of Abydos was first constructed by Sety I and later finished by Rameses II.
The Osirian cult flourished due to the fact that ordinary people could participate in funerary rights that were once reserved for the royal families. This alone attracted many followers and private individuals that were able to construct stelae tablets (tombstones with inscriptions that marked the tomb boundaries) proclaiming their rights to Osiris. This allowed them to also receive blessings that were once considered only for pharaohs. This was not the only reason for its growth, many Egyptians saw the religion as attractive because it focused on their core values of life and justified their meaning. It also incorporated the fertility of the Nile and proclaimed rebirth for all individuals who participated in the cult.