Sky God, War & Hunting, Conqueror of Set
Haroeris, Horus Behudety, Ra-Harakhte, Harmakhet, Harsiesis, Harpokrates, Harendotes, & Har-pa-Neb-Taui
Depictions of Horus
Horus was one of the most important gods in the Egyptian pantheon and he was depicted in a number of different ways. This may have been due to being an amalgamation of several different bird gods, worshiped separately or as one god at different points in Egyptian history. In most cases he is strongly identified with falcons, and the more common depictions of him are as either a bird or as a falcon-headed man. The latter is more commonly associated with him today; although, his hieroglyphic representation was as a bird. He is also sometimes seen as an eagle with wide-swept wings on ceremonial necklaces worn by some Pharaohs, or as a child with his mother Isis, or as a Sphinx.
As is typical in Egyptian art, Horus is typically only seen in profile. However, as a god of the sky, his eyes hold special significance. It was said that one of his eyes was the sun, and the other the moon. His sun-eye is often depicted separately as the Eye of Horus, a stylized eye with a distinctive teardrop shape beneath it. This eye also represents “one” in Egyptian mathematics.
Horus and his Relationship to the Pharaoh
During the Old Kingdom period of Egyptian history, Horus was associated with the pharaohs, who were the embodiments of Horus on earth; however, once dead, they were identified with Osiris instead. Each pharaoh during this time was seen as a reincarnation of Horus. Horus was identified as their patron deity and protector and had been seen as such back to Pre-dynastic times. This may have been to give legitimacy to the royal succession. As a popular god in both Northern and Southern Egypt prior to its unification, he may have been used also as a symbol of their unity.
Starting with the Fifth Dynasty, which began in 2494 BCE (Before the Christian Era), Ra came to replace Horus as the patron god and reincarnate of the pharaohs. As Ra is also depicted as a falcon, this was likely due to a merging of the two gods.
Roles of Horus in the Egyptian Pantheon
At different points in Egyptian history, Horus served many different roles in the belief system. He is often seen by Egyptologists as being several different gods, which is why he was used in so many different ways.
Horus was usually associated with the sky prior to the Fifth Dynasty, and said to symbolize both the sun and the moon. In his role as sun-god, he is sometimes represented as a winged disc or with a circular halo behind his head in his humanoid form. According to the myths, the sun was his right eye, and the sun’s motion in the sky was caused by him flying through the heavens. However, this role of sun god was taken over by Ra, beginning with the Fifth Dynasty.
Horus, especially in his earlier forms, was also considered the god of war and hunting. He is usually seen as a falcon-headed man with a large sword in this role. His role as a warrior god is cemented in stories of his battles with Set, and may be a metaphorical representation of early wars between followers of the two gods.
Forms of Horus
Horus is commonly seen as a combination of many early Falcon gods; hence, the explanation of the many different forms of his being. The most common form of him is more formally known as Har-Sa-Iset, literally “Horus, son of Isis.” As part of the Isis and Osiris myths, Horus was conceived magically following the death of Osiris at the hands of Set.
Another popular form of him is as Har-Pa-Khered, “Horus the Younger.” He is generally shown as a child when worshiped in this form, and almost always with his mother Isis pictured alongside. As Horus the Younger, he is pictured with either a sidelock or a crown. Both of these symbols represent royalty and part of his role as protector of the pharaohs. Worship of this form spread into Rome and even into Greece where he was called Harpokrates.
At the other end of his life, he is known as Heru-ur, or Horus the Elder. At this point, he is shown as the husband of Hathor, the cow-goddess of love and wisdom. In this form, his eyes were said to represent the sun and the moon, and is one of the forms commonly associated with his mythic battles with Set to avenge his father’s death.
Horus and Set
It is often believed that in the early days of Egypt, followers of the gods Horus and Set warred amongst themselves, setting up the mythological feud between the gods. In the myths, Set was brother to Isis and Osiris, the parents of Horus. Set was jealous of Osiris and killed them, later embalming the body and turning Osiris into a god of the dead. After Horus grew up, it is said that he and Set warred between each other for eighty years until a council of the gods proclaimed Horus the winner and gave him rule over Egypt. In some versions of this story, during the war Set gouged out Horus’ left eye and Horus castrated Set in revenge.
In later myths, Set is generally seen as an evil god of chaos. He is also associated with the desert, said to be barren due to his castration. He was not always depicted as evil; however, those who believed this myth were most likely inspired through their own bias. Seeing Set’s conversion into an evil god was likely the result of the followers of Horus triumphing and then demonizing Set to discourage further worship.
Temples and Monuments to Horus
There are two main monuments to Horus. The first is the Temple of Horus at Edfu, on the west bank of the Nile. This is one of the best preserved ancient temples and a popular tourist attraction today. It was the second temple to Horus constructed on that site, but little is known about the one that preceded it. The centerpiece of this temple is a massive black granite statue of Horus as a Falcon wearing two crowns to symbolize his rule over both Northern and Southern Egypt.
The other primary monument to Horus is the Great Sphinx at Giza, which was known during the New Kingdom as Hor-em-akhet, or Horus of the Horizon. It was used as a symbol of the divinity of the pharaoh on earth. However, it is not known if the Sphinx was originally intended as a monument to Horus. One popular theory suggests that the temple was originally dedicated to Anubis.
In most versions of the myths, Horus is the son of Isis and Osiris. Isis was a goddess of motherhood, nature, and magic. Osiris, while alive, was a wise ruler and protector, but after being murdered by Set he became a god of the dead.
Set, in turn, was brother to both Isis and Osiris and therefore uncle to Horus. Horus’ grandparents, the parents to Isis and Osiris, were Geb, the God of the Earth, and Nut, a goddess of the sky. Later in life, Horus married Hathor, the goddess of love, but most legends do not give them any children; Hathor is the mother of Sekhmet, but Ra is credited as the father.