Horus (Sometimes Heru, or in compounds Hor-, Har-, Her-) Among the most ubiquitous of Egyptian Gods, Horus embodies kingship, victory, righteousness, and civilization. Horus is depicted either as a hawk-headed man or as a hawk, probably a peregrine falcon, except when he is depicted as a child (Harpocrates) in which case he is depicted anthropomorphically. From the earliest period, the king of Egypt was identified to some degree with Horus, and each pharaoh bore a ‘Horus name’ to which was later added a ‘Golden Horus name’. The Eye of Horus, known as the ‘Sound Eye’ or wedjat, from the word w-dj- (cf. Wadjet), meaning healthy, flourishing, or prosperous, or, as a verb, to proceed or attain, ranks as one of the most important and recognizable symbols in Egyptian religion. The typical consort of Horus is the Goddess Hathor, whose name means ‘House of Horus’. (In magical contexts, however, Tabithet and/or similar Goddesses may be his consort.)
The two primary aspects of Horus from which the rest can be derived—not as an historical matter, but for conceptual purposes—are Haroeris and Harsiese. The former is the Hellenized phonetic rendering of the name Hor-Wer, ‘Horus the Elder’ or ‘Horus the Great’, the latter the phonetic rendering of Hor-sa-Ise, ‘Horus son of Isis‘. Haroeris is conceived as the sky, with the sun and the moon as his right and left eyes respectively, but we may regard forms of Horus which strongly emphasize his solar aspect (often expressed by fusion with Re, on which see below) as pertaining generally to this side of his character. This aspect of Horus is relatively autonomous in relation to the Osirian mythos and may represent the form of Horus worshiped in the earliest period before he was fully incorporated into the Osirian narrative, if indeed there ever was such a time. The purpose of drawing such a distinction is not to make this claim, but simply to facilitate the analysis of the many aspects in which Horus is manifest. Harsiese, by contrast, is the son of Isis and Osiris, who, with his mother’s help, vindicates his father (hence he is called Harendotes, from the Egyptian Hor-nedj-atef[-f], ‘Horus-savior-of-[his]-father’) and is awarded the cosmic sovereignty after a lengthy conflict with his uncle Seth. This conflict, in which Horus receives constant assistance from Isis, is fought on many levels—magical, juridical, cosmic, medical—and is, aside from the conflict between Re and Apophis, the principal symbol of conflict as such in Egyptian religious thought. When Egypt’s pharaoh strives against enemies foreign or domestic, it is as Horus against Seth; when a person suffers from an illness or from the poison of a snake or scorpion, the spells which are applied identify the sufferer with Horus and the forces against which s/he strives with Seth. Animal products offered up to the Gods, because of the violence involved in their production, are linked to the recovery of the Eye of Horus stolen by Seth in the form of a wild animal (paradigmatically an oryx). When Horus and Seth fight, Horus receives an injury to his eye, Seth to his testicles (see, e.g., BD spell 99, “O Ferryman, bring me this which was brought to Horus for his eye, which was brought to Seth for his testicles.”)
The Eye of Horus or wedjat is one of the most multivalent symbols in Egyptian thought—even being used to represent Egypt itself—but its many functions have at their center the notion of the wedjat as representing the beneficial power contained within offerings to the Gods of every kind. Whatever is the substance offered, once it has been made a divine offering it becomes the Eye of Horus. The wedjat is also a symbol for any helpful substance or object, and is a general term for any amulet, itself of course a very common amulet, expressing the double nature of Horus both as healer and as one who has been healed, for the ‘Eye of Horus’ refers virtually always to the eye which was wounded and healed, not to the other one (see, e.g., PT utterance 301, “Behold, the King brings to you [Horus] your great left Eye in a healed condition; accept it from the King intact…”; but see Harsomptus, below). Thoth is frequently credited with accomplishing this regeneration, which forms the basis of a ritual bond between these Gods. Often the Eye of Horus is identified with the moon, its waning expressing the damage done to Horus by Seth, its regeneration expressed in the moon’s waxing cycle. Egyptians also denoted the most common fractions of the grain measure by using the several portions of the stylized wedjat, the form of which seems to incorporate aspects of the eyes of a human, a hawk, and a leopard or cheetah.
A form of Horus which may be regarded as belonging to the side of Harsiese is Harpocrates, the Greek phonetic rendering of the name Hor-pa-khered, ‘Horus as a child’. Harpocrates is depicted as a naked boy with a long braided lock of hair draped over one ear, suckling at the breast of his mother Isis or seated on a lotus blossom representing the emergence of the cosmos from the primeval waters, with his finger in his mouth implying, not silence, as was sometimes thought by foreigners, but probably having only just been weaned from the breast. Harpocrates often wears crowns typical of the monarch and holds symbols of sovereignty such as the crook and flail. Harpocrates features prominently on magical stelae called cippi. These plaques show Harpocrates, often surmounted by a head of the God Bes, grasping snakes, scorpions, and other dangerous wild animals in his hands and standing atop crocodiles, and signify the God’s dominance over these symbols of mortal danger (spell no. 123 in Borghouts serves to empower such a stela). Such stelae were erected in public places such as the forecourts of temples and appear to have been used typically by pouring water over them which was collected at the bottom and drunk. The infant Horus, hidden by Isis in the papyrus thickets of the Delta for fear of his uncle Seth, is the object of diverse attacks on his life, and hence spells used to ward off or to treat snakebites or scorpion stings, as well as diverse illnesses, or to secure one against other sorts of hazard, are frequently linked to this episode in the myth, often by taking the form of an appeal to Isis on behalf of Horus, with whom the patient is identified (e.g. spells no. 90-94, 96 in Borghouts). The identification between the individual and Horus in these spells can be seen as paralleling, in some respects, the identification between Horus and the pharaoh.
Harpocrates is not the only form of Horus as a child, however; as Harsomtus (Harsomptus), ‘Horus the uniter’ or Panebtawy (‘Lord of the Two Lands’), he is the child of Haroeris and Hathor. Harsomtus embodies the cosmogonic aspect of Horus, and is frequently depicted either as a mummiform hawk on a pedestal, or as a serpent rising from the primordial lotus blossom, in this serpent form being also known as Sata (Sato), ‘son of the earth’. Harsomtus is associated with the right eye, i.e., the sun, and hence with its cycles of night and day, latency and activation, introversion and creation (on Harsomtus in general see El-Kordy 1982).
The effectiveness of Horus in spells does not come only from identification with him. Horus is a potent magical operator in his own right; in spell 96 in Borghouts, a “conjuration of a scorpion,” Horus is urged to “sit down, Horus, and recite for yourself! Your own words are useful for you,” and another spell (103) praises at length the power of “the words of Horus”: they ward off death, extend life, heal disease, alter one’s destiny, protect from attack and soothe emotional turmoil. In spell 139, the magical operator claims to have “slept in the embrace of Horus during the night” and to have “heard all he said.” Horus, who grasps a viper one cubit long in one hand and treads on another snake of twelve cubits, says that he was taught to speak when Osiris was still alive—that is, before he was even conceived. After this, the operator affirms that “it is Horus who has taught me to speak!” Accordingly Horus himself is sometimes called ‘the physician’ (e.g. spell 99).
Luke “Skywalker” (a reference to the sun ‘walking through the sky’)
An important form of Horus which may be regarded as belonging to the side of Haroeris is Horakhty (Harakhty), i.e. Hor-akheti, ‘Horus of the horizons’, often fused with Re to produce the combined form Re-Horakhty. The name, in its reference to the eastern and western horizons, expresses the sun’s successful journey both by day, through the world of the living, and by night, through the netherworld. Horakhty is not to be confused with Harmachis, from Hor-m-akhet, ‘Horus in the horizon’, i.e. the western horizon alone. The Great Sphinx at Giza is an image of Harmachis. This form of Horus was also frequently fused with Re to form the compound deity Re-Harmachis. These forms, common iconographically, have little myth associated with them. Another form of Horus which belongs to the Haroeris side of his character, but which has more of a role in myth, is Horus Behdety, Horus of Behdet (or Behudet), the city more commonly known as Edfu. Horus Behdety is depicted as a winged solar disk, a familiar symbol on many Egyptian temples and which was, after the Persian occupation of Egypt, incorporated into the iconography of Persian religion as well. This winged disk—which was sometimes identified with the Morning and Evening Star (Fairman pp. 35-36 [12,4—12, 6])—represents the assistance Horus offers to Re in combating his enemies during the Egyptian seasons of akhet and the first half of peret, roughly from our late summer to the winter solstice (Fairman pp. 32 [9, 8], 33 [10, 2], 34 [10, 14]). Horus Behdety is analogous, in this respect, to Goddesses known as the ‘Eye of Re’ (e.g., Sekhmet, Tefnut) who similarly assist Re in his time of need. A long text inscribed on the walls of the great temple of Horus at Edfu, illustrated with numerous reliefs, recounts the battles waged by Horus Behdety against the enemies of Re, who take the forms of crocodiles and hippopotami. Horus Behdety is assisted by numerous followers, called mesenu, or ‘harpooners’, armed with iron spears and chains. When Seth makes common cause with the enemies of Re, Horus Behdety and Horus son of Isis join forces, the text thus emphasizing at once their distinctness as well as their parallelism. This text, in addition to its seasonal significance, includes formulae for the king to identify himself with Horus Behdety “on the day on which trouble and strife occur,” the king reciting four times, “I am the God’s avenger who came forth from Behdet, and Horus of Behdet is my name,” (Fairman 36 [12, 8 - 12, 11]). The conflict of Horus-son-of-Isis with Seth was the subject of a lengthy narrative cycle with many episodes, the most significant surviving treatment being from the Chester Beatty papyrus (trans. in Lichtheim vol. 2, 214-223). In this text Re (notwithstanding that he is almost always referred to in the text as ‘Re-Horakhty’) does not initially side with Horus in his claim to the throne, due to the assistance Seth provides him in his battle with Apophis. The text portrays the conflict between Horus and Seth as turning upon the question of whether the source of sovereignty should be legitimacy or force, the Gods deciding in favor of the former when they award the sovereignty to Horus.
Although Egyptian texts usually make little effort to distinguish Haroeris from Harsiese, the Coffin Texts do feature, among the genre of spells for transforming into, or invoking, particular deities, separate spells for “Becoming the Elder Horus” (CT spell 280) and for “Becoming Horus” (i.e., the son of Isis) (CT spell 326). In the latter, the operator states that “There is tumult in the sky, and we see something new, say the primeval Gods,” referring to the advent of Horus. Having assumed the solar power as “Lord of the sunlight,” Harsiese/the operator states “I have taken possession of the sky, I have divided the firmament, I will show the paths of Khepri [the God of formation or change], and the dwellers in the netherworld will follow me.” The ideas of a new element entering into the cosmic order, of the transfer of sovereignty, and of conflict at once generated and resolved, point to Horus son of Isis. An alternative version of CT spell 326 elaborates: “N. [the operator, identified with Horus] has made the Enneads,”—the other Gods, organized into an indefinite number of pantheons each ideally of nine members—”to vomit,”—i.e., to yield up something additional of their substance to the cosmos—”N. has subdued the elder Gods, N. has come that he may stop the tumult … N. seats himself.” By contrast, CT spell 280, cast in the second, rather than the first person, addresses the deceased as “the elder Horus who took sail at nightfall … he who mourns in the mansion of Osiris … your eye is Re,” for he has assumed the solar potency, “… your head is Iunmutef,” ‘pillar-of-his-mother’, for he has redeemed the faith of Isis in him, “you have judged between the rivals, namely the two who would destroy the sky,” that is, Harsiese and Seth (this ordinarily being the role of Thoth). Note the echo, in this statement, of the other spell’s reference to “tumult in the sky” caused by the advent of Harsiese. The spell ends, “You have given judgment in this sky for Re, light and dark are at your will … you are the Elder Horus, one who has become the Elder Horus,” in which the perfected nature of the judgment and of the transformation, and the successful exercise of both light and dark, allude to a distinction between the younger and the elder Horus somewhere between one of person and one of phase or aspect.
Horus is the culmination of any process in which he takes part, and hence is not usually connected in a strong way with offspring; Ihy, for instance, is more the son of Hathor than of Horus, and is himself often identified with Harsomtus. Another exception which to some degree proves the rule are the four Gods known as the ‘sons of Horus‘, who, although sometimes regarded as children of Haroeris and Isis, are also treated as semi-autonomous potencies of Horus himself, or as independent powers appropriated, so to speak, by Horus son of Isis in the settlement of claims between he and Seth.
Other Names: Heru, Hor, Harendotes/Har-nedj-itef (Horus the Avenger), Har-Pa-Neb-Taui (Horus Lord of the Two Lands)
Patron of: the living Pharaoh, rulers, law, war, young men, light, the sun, many others depending on the particular variant.
Appearance: His most common form is that of falcon-headed man, but he is also shown as a falcon, a lion with the head of a falcon, or a sphinx. He is also shown as a falcon resting on the neck of the pharaoh, spreading his wings to either side of the pharaoh’s head and whispering guidance in his ear.
Description: It is nearly impossible to distinguish a “true” Horus from all his many forms. In fact, Horus is mostly a general term for a great number of falcon gods, some of which were worshipped all over Egypt, others simply had local cults. Yet in all of his forms he is regarded as the prince of the gods and the specific patron of the living ruler.
The worship of Horus was brought from the outside by neighboring tribes who invaded and then settled into Egypt. He was their god of war, but was quickly absorbed into the state religion, first as a son of Ra, then changing to become the son of Osiris. He was the protector and guide to the pharaoh and later pharaohs were believed to be his avatar on earth. Horus was also the patron of young men and the ideal of the dutiful son who grows up to become a just man.
The most popular story of Horus is the one in which he grows to manhood to avenge the death of his father Osiris by battling against his cruel uncle Set. In many writings, he is said to continue to battle Set daily to ensure the safety of the world.
Worship: Worshipped widely throughout all of Egypt, even his variant forms were widespread.
God of the dawn and of the morning sun, he is also worshipped as a keeper of secret wisdom. Harmakhet’s form is that of a sphinx or a sphinx with the head of a ram, often depicted as a companion to Khephri. It is thought that the Great Sphinx, staring at the eastern horizon, represents him.
Rarely found depicted without his mother Isis. He is shown as a nursing infant with the royal sidelock or sometimes even with a crown, thus demonstrating his right to kingship from the moment of his birth. His worship became very popular in the New Kingdom, spreading even into the Greek and Roman civilizations.
This is the form of Horus that is most familiar, the son of Osiris and Isis. He was conceived magically after the death of Osiris, and Isis hid him away on an island to protect him from Set. In this form he is worshipped as an infant and is beseeched to gain his mother’s protection for the worshipper.
Horus Behudety/Horus of Edfu
God of the noontime sun. This particular variant was first worshipped in the western Delta and spread south, a cult center being established at Edfu. He is represented by a winged sun or as a lion with the head of a hawk. Horus Behudety fights constantly against Set and an army of darkness to ensure that the sun rises each day.
Horus the Elder (Haroeris)
An early form of Horus, when his cult was still new in Egypt. A god of light, his left eye was the sun and his right eye the moon. He was the brother of Osiris and Set, and the husband of Hathor.
A combined god of Horus and Ra, he was the god of the sun and took it on its daily path across the sky. He is represented as a falcon or a falcon-headed man wearing the solar disk and the double crown. Sometimes he is pictured wearing the atef crown and the uraeus.
HORUS, the God of Kings
From the very earliest of times, the falcon seems to have been worshipped in Egypt as representative of the greatest cosmic powers. Many falcon gods existed throughout Egypt, though over time, a good number of these assimilated to Horus, the most important of the avian deities. Yet, from all his of many forms, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the “true” Horus. Horus is mostly a general term for a great number of falcon deities.
Horus is one of ancient Egypt’s best known gods, as well as one of its oldest. His name is attested to from at least the beginning of the Dynastic Period, and depictions of falcon deities on earlier artifacts, such as the Narmer Palette, probably represent this same god. The Turin Canon, which provides some of our most important information on Egypt’s early history, specifically describes the Predynastic rulers of Egypt as “Followers of Horus”.
The use of his name was also widespread in personal names throughout Egyptian history, and Hor, as a personal name, survives into our modern era in a number of different forms.
Forms of Horus
Horus is a complicated deity, appearing in many different forms and his mythology is one of the most extensive of all Egyptian deities. Indeed, he has so many different aspects that we must limit our discussion to those that are significant. At the same time, a judicious examination of the various Horuses and the sources relating to them supports the possibility that the roles in question are closely interrelated, and so they may be understood as different aspects of the same divine persona.
The original form of Horus was probably that of a sky god, known as “lord of the sky”. The Egyptian word ” her” (hor, har), from which the god’s name is derived means “the one on high”, or “the distant one”, probably in reference to the soaring flight of the hunting falcon, if not a reference to the solar aspect of the god. Mythologically, the god was imagined as a celestial falcon, whose right eye was the sun and left eye the moon. The speckled feathers of his breast were probably considered to be the stars, while his wings were the sky that created the wind. In this form, Horus was apparently worshipped at some of Egypt’s earliest shrines such as at Nekhen (Heirakonpolis), where he was assimilated with a number of other local falcon gods. In this capacity, Horus was the patron of the Nekhen monarchy that grew into the historical pharaonic state and hence, the first known national god.
A natural outgrowth of his role as “lord of the sky” was his aspect as a sun god. An ivory comb of the 1st Dynasty king Den depicts a falcon in a boat riding on outstretched wings, suggesting the falcon traversing the sky as the sun god. The early Pyramid Texts specifically refer to him in solar terms as “god of the east”, and he appears in at least three forms in this guise.
As Horakhty (Harakhty), or “Horus of the two horizons”, Horus was the god of the rising and setting sun, but more particularly the god of the east and the sunrise. In the Pyramid Texts, the deceased king is said to be reborn in the eastern sky as Horakhty. Eventually, Horakhty became a part of the Heliopolis sun cult and was fused with its solar god as Re-Horakhty. As Behdety, or “he of [the] behdet”, Horus was the hawk-winged sun disk which seems to incorporate the idea of the passage of the sun through the sky. As Hor-em-akhet (Harmachis) or “Horus in the horizon”, Horus was visualized as a sun god in falcon or leonine form.
Horus was also seen and worshipped as the male child of Osiris and Isis (Har-pa-khered, literally “Horus the Child”, from which the Greeks created the name of Harpokrates), though either this god was originally a separate deity with whom the ancient falcon god was fused, or the falcon deity was incorporated into the Osirian family in very different form, because here he is depicted as a divine human infant. Another reference to him as a child of Isis is as Harsiese who, in the Pyramid Texts, performs the vital “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony on the dead king.
Horus was also directly linked with the kingship of Egypt in both his falcon aspect and as son of Isis. Both his sponsorship of the monarchy and, probably, his identification with the king were shown on early decorated monuments from Nekhen.
From the earliest Dynastic Period, the king’s name was written in the rectangular device known as the serekh, which depicted a falcon perched on a stylized palace facade and which seems to indicate the king as mediator between the heavenly and earthly realms, if not the god manifest within the palace as the king himself. This was the “Horus name” of the king, who took other names in time, including a “Golden Horus” name in which a divine falcon is depicted upon the hieroglyphic sign for gold.
Many other forms of Horus also appear in one way or another. Horus the successor was also referred to as Iunmutef (Pillar of His Mother), which was used as a funerary priestly title. By the New Kingdom, the Great Sphinx of Giza, originally a representation of the 4th Dynasty King Khafre (or possibly Khufu), was interpreted by the Egyptians as an image of Hor-em-akhet (Harmakhis), or “Horus in the Horizon”. In the person of the Sphinx and elsewhere, Horus was also identified in the New Kingdom with the Syrian Canaanite deity, Hauron, which some regard as contributing to the choice of the Arabic name for the Sphinx, “Father of Terror”.
Another of Horus is the Egyptian “Har-nedj-itef, or “Horus the savior of his father” (Greek Harendotes), which refers to the vindication of Horus’ claim to succeed Osiris, rescuing his father’s former earthly domain from the usurper Seth.
The Eye of Horus must also be mentioned. The injury inflicted by Seth on the eye of Horus is alluded to in the Pyramid Texts, where royal saliva is prescribed for its cure. The restored eye of Horus became the symbol for the state of soundness or perfection, known as the Udjat Eye. Used as an amulet, it became the symbol for protection and painted on the sides of rectangular coffins.
Furthermore, Horus was combined, synchronized and closely associated with deities other than the sun god Re, such as Min, Sopdu, Khonsu and Montu.
The textual and mythological material related to Horus are very rich, comprising hymns, mortuary tests, ritual texts, dramatic/theological texts, stories and even the Old Coptic and Greek magical papyri.
Interestingly, the most complete ancient exposition of the Osiris narrative is Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride, in a Latin translation from the original Greek. Other accounts include the Memphite Theology or Shabaka Stone, the Mystery Play of the Succession, Coffin Texts Spell 148, the Great Osiris Hymn in the Louvre, the Late Egyptian Contendings of Horus and Seth, the Metternich Stela and other cippus texts, and the Ptolemaic Myth of Horus at Edfu, also known as the Triumph of Horus.
These texts take the reader, with variations and a number of contrasting perspectives, from the god’s conception and birth, through his childhood hidden in the marshes (as Har-hery-wadj, or “Horus who is upon his papyrus plants”), his protection by Isis, his conflict with Seth and his followers, and his succession as legitimate king.
With the rise of the complete Horus-Osiris-Isis mythological complex, visible in the Pyramid Texts during the late Old Kingdom, the living king was identified as an earthly Horus and the dead king (his father or predecessor) as Osiris. As the son of Isis and Osiris, Horus was also the mythical heir to the kingship of Egypt, and many stories surrounding this struggle to gain and hold the kingship from the usurper Seth detail this aspect of the god’s role. Harwer (Haroeris), or “Horus the Elder” was the mature god represented in these stories who battles Seth for 80 years until the tribunal of gods finally awards him his rightful place on the throne of all Egypt. Finally, as Har-Mau or Harsomptus (Horus the Uniter), Horus fulfills this role of uniting and ruling over Egypt, though he is sometimes identified as the son of Horus the Elder and Hathor in this role, for example, at Edfu and Kom Ombo, and called by the name Panebtawy “Lord of the Two Lands”.
However, there was a vital relationship between Seth and Horus. Seth was the embodiment of disorder, and was predominantly seen as a rival of Horus. However, Seth was also portrayed in a balanced, complementary role to Horus, so that the pair represented a bipolar, balanced embodiment of kingship. Therefore, on the side of the throne, Horus and Seth, symmetrical and equal, tie the papyrus and lotus around the sema-sign.
Since about the turn of the twentieth century, Egyptologists have debated the issue of whether the struggle between Horus and Seth was primarily a historical event, or purely symbolic. This issue is complicated by the geographical polarities of the two gods’ cult centers. While Horus was venerated throughout Egypt, his primary cult centers were in the south, while Seth’s cult centers tended to be in the north, and perhaps particularly in the Delta. According to the Turin Canon, the late predynastic rulers of Egypt were “followers of Horus”. By the time of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, the ruler was Horus. On the palette in the Cairo museum that shows King Narmer, considered a candidate for the first ruler of a unified Egypt, Horus is shown holding a rope that passes through the nose of the defeated northern rival. Hence, some Egyptologists believe that the source of the mythological conflict between Horus and Seth may have been the predynastic struggle to unite Upper and Lower Egypt.
In fact, during the 2nd Dynasty, there seems to have once again been a Horus and Seth conflict, which was eventually resolved under King Khasekhemwy. While the nature of this conflict is not clear, it is reflected in the use of a Seth-name instead of the usual Horus-name by King Peribsen (Seth-Peribsen). There are indications of warfare during this period, culminating perhaps by Khasekhemwy, who combined Horus and Seth above the serekh containing his name.
The most common genealogy of Horus is as the son of Osiris and Isis, as the tenth member of the family tree of the Heliopolitan Ennead. However, one must remember that this god’s worship spanned some three thousand years, during which time he was venerated throughout Egypt, as well as outside of Egypt. Therefore, the full picture of his genealogy is more complex. Hathor, herself sometimes identified with Isis, also appears as the mother of Horus.
Haroeris, or Horus the Elder, can appear in the Heliopolitan family tree as the brother of Osiris and the son of Geb and Nut. Osiris can also be equated with Haroeris, who in that scenario is the murdered victim of Seth. At Edfu, Horus appears as the consort of Hathor and the father of another form of himself, Harsomtus, or “Horus Uniter of the Two Lands”. Horus and Seth are sometimes described as nephew and uncle, but at other times as brothers.
At Nag’el Madamud, just north of Luxor, a temple was built in honor of the god Montu, his consort Raettawy, and their son Harpokrates, the child deity more often associated with Isis.
The roles, local cult foundations and titles or epithets of Horus are sometimes correlated with distinct or preferred forms in iconography.
The form of Horus that we are perhaps most familiar with is as a full falcon, probably the lanner (Falco biarmicus) or peregrine (Falco peregrinus). This is the original avian form of Horus, typically shown in two dimensions as a profile except for the tail feathers which were turned towards the viewer according to the canons of Egyptian composite perspective. Early examples sometimes show the falcon leaning forward in a later position but the upright stance became standard in later times. Sometimes the falcon is shown in direct association with the Seth animal or one of his symbols, particularly in the Late period, as in the nome sign of the 16th Upper Egyptian nome where the falcon is depicted with its talons sunk into the back of an Oryx. Though Seth may have typically taken the form of a canine, the Oryx was an ancient symbol of that god.
As the hawk-winged Behdety, Horus became one of the most widespread images in Egyptian art, an image perhaps foreshadowed in the time of Den, and which became virtually ubiquitous as a motif used in the decoration of temple walls and stelae throughout Egypt. In this guise, he had the epithets “Great God, Lord of heaven, Dappled of Plumage”.
As Horakhty, he may appear as a falcon or sometimes even as a falcon-headed crocodile. Most often, Re-Horakhty has a sun disk on his head.
In the fully anthropomorphic form Horus appears as an adult god or more usually as a child, wearing the sidelock of youth, who is the son of Isis. Horus as a boy also appears dominating crocodiles, serpents and other noxious animals on cippi. Sometimes on cippi, the head of the child was often surmounted by a Bes-head, or perhaps a Bes mask.
Yet, it is in the combined zoo-anthropomorphic form of a falcon-headed man that the god most frequently appears, often wearing the Double Crown signifying his kingship over all Egypt.
In various forms, Horus often wore the Double Crown, as befitting his status as king of Egypt, the Atef, the triple atef and a disk with two plumes was also used.
One of the most famous kingship imagery related to Horus is found in the statue of Khafre, seated with the Horus falcon at the back of his head with the wings of the bird protectively wrapped around the king’s neck.
Frequently, we can identify a specific, strong cult center for an ancient Egyptian god, but because Horus was worshipped in many forms, and because he assimilated many other gods, it is difficult to summarize the sites associated with his worship. Clearly, he was associated with the area of Nekhen in southern Egypt (Greek Hierakonpolis or “City of the Hawk”) from very early times. he was probably the falcon deity worshipped there since pre-dynastic times.
However, Horus was worshipped along with other deities at countless Egyptian temples and the important sites of his worship are known from one end of Egypt to the other, dating to the earliest of times to the latest periods of pre-Christian Egypt. In fact, he continued to be venerated in some Old Coptic (Christian), ritual-power or magical texts. In northern Egypt, the Horus god was particularly venerated in the Delta at the ancient site of Khem (Greek Letopolis, modern Ausim) since at least the beginning of the Old Kingdom. There, he was known as Horus Khenty-irty, or Khenty-khem, “Foremost One of Khem”. Chapter 112 of the Book of the Dead tells how the Delta city of Pe (historical Buto) was given to Horus as compensation for his eye which was injured by Seth, which explains why this was such an important cult center for the god. Behdet alsobecame a center of Horus worship in the Delta.
In the south, Horus enjoyed the attention, together with his consort Hathor, and their son Harsomptus, in the important Ptolemaic temples at Edfu and also at Kom Ombo. At Edfu, the god’s many ceremonies included the annual Coronation of the Sacred Falcon at the beginning of the 5th month of the Egyptian year in which an actual falcon was selected to represent the god as king of all Egypt, thus uniting the ancient falcon god with his form as Horus son of Osiris and with the king.
Even outside of ancient Egypt proper, south in Nubia, we find temples dedicated to various forms of Horus at Quban (Horus of Baki), Buhen and Aniba (Horus of Miam), as well as the inclusion of the god in many other monuments such as Abu Simbel and elsewhere.
As the object of popular veneration throughout Egypt, Horus was often represented by amulets depicting him either in the form of a falcon or as a falcon-headed man, in both cases often wearing the Double Crown of Egypt. His widespread worship is also seen in the many healing plaques, or cippi, which aimed to utilize his power. The cippi of Horus were a common manifestation of the importance of Horus in healing rituals and popular ritual practice.
The Survival of Horus
It should be mentioned that some Egyptologists see, in the iconography of Christian art, a precursor in Horus. For example, Isis and the baby Horus are sometimes seen as the model for Mary and the infant Jesus, while Horus dominating the beats may have a counterpart in Christ Pantokrator doing the same. Horus spearing a serpent may survive in the iconography of Saint George defeating the dragon.
Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists. These various forms may possibly be different perceptions of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are emphasised, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality. The earliest recorded form is Horus the Falcon who was the patron deity of Nekhen in Upper Egypt and who is the first known national god, specifically related to the king who in time came to be regarded as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death. The most commonly encountered family relationship describes Horus as the son of Isis and Osiris but in another tradition Hathoris regarded as his mother and sometimes as his wife. Horus served many functions in the Egyptian pantheon, most notably being the God of the Sky, God of War and God of Protection.
Horus is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as ḥr.w and is reconstructed to have been pronounced *Ḥāru, meaning “Falcon”. As a description it has also typically been thought of as having the meaning “the distant one” or “one who is above, over”. By Coptic times, the name became Hōr. It was adopted into Greek as Ὡρος Hōros. The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-Si-Ese literally “Horus, son of Isis”.
Horus was also sometimes known as Nekheny, meaning “falcon”. Some have proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at Nekhen (city of the hawk), but then Horus was identified with him early on. As falcon, Horus may be shown on the Narmer Palette dating from the time of unification of upper and lower Egypt.
Horus and the Pharaoh
Pyramid texts ca. the 25th Century BC describe the nature of the Pharaoh in different characters as both Horus and Osiris. The Pharaoh as Horus in life became the Pharaoh as Osiris in death, where he was united with the rest of the gods. New incarnations of Horus succeeded the deceased pharaoh on earth in the form of new pharaohs.
The lineage of Horus, the eventual product of unions between the children of Atum, may have been a means to explain and justify Pharaonic power; The gods produced by Atum were all representative of cosmic and terrestrial forces in Egyptian life; by identifying Horus as the offspring of these forces, then identifying him with Atum himself, and finally identifying the Pharaoh with Horus, the Pharaoh theologically had dominion over all the world.
The notion of Horus as the Pharaoh seems to have been superseded by the concept of the Pharaoh as the son of Ra during the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.
Horus was born to the goddess Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris, except his penis which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish, and used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and fashion a gold phallus to conceive her son. In another version of the story, Isis was impregnated by divine fire. Once Isis knew she was pregnant with Horus, she fled to the Nile Delta marshlands to hide from her brother Set who jealously killed Osiris and who she knew would want to kill their son. There Isis bore a divine son, Horus.
Mythological Roles (Sky God)
Since Horus was said to be the sky, he was considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was his right eye and the moon his left, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it. Thus he became known as Harmerty – Horus of two eyes. Later, the reason that the moon was not as bright as the sun was explained by a tale, known as the contestings of Horus and Seth, originating as a metaphor for the conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower Egypt in about 3000 BC. In this tale, it was said that Set, the patron of Upper Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Lower Egypt, had battled for Egypt brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the gods sided with Horus (see below).
As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as Harsiesis, Heru-ur or Har-Wer (ḥr.w wr ‘Horus the Great’), but more usually translated as Horus the Elder. In the struggle Seth had lost a testicle, explaining why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus’ left eye had also been gouged out, which explained why the moon, which it represented, was so weak compared to the sun.
It was also said that during a new-moon, Horus had become blinded and was titled Mekhenty-er-irty (mḫnty r ỉr.ty ‘He who has no eyes’). When the moon became visible again, he was re-titled Khenty-irty (ḫnty r ỉr.ty ‘He who has eyes’).
Horus was occasionally shown in art as a naked boy with a finger in his mouth sitting on a lotus with his mother. In the form of a youth, Horus was referred to as Neferhor. This is also spelled Nefer Hor, Nephoros or Nopheros (nfr ḥr.w) meaning ‘The Good Horus’.
The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and royal power from deities, in this case from Horus or Ra. The symbol is seen on images of Horus’ mother, Isis, and on other deities associated with her.
In the Egyptian language, the word for this symbol was “Wedjat”. It was the eye of one of the earliest of Egyptian deities, Wadjet, who later became associated with Bast, Mut, and Hathor as well. Wedjat was a solar deity and this symbol began as her eye, an all seeing eye. In early artwork, Hathor is also depicted with this eye. Funerary amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus. The Wedjat or Eye of Horus is “the central element” of seven “gold, faience, carnelian and lapis lazuli” bracelets found on the mummy of Shoshenq II. The Wedjat “was intended to protect the king [here] in the afterlife” and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel.
God of War and Hunting
Horus was also said to be a god of war and hunting. The Horus falcon is shown upon a standard on the predynastic Hunters Palette in the “lion hunt”). Thus he became a symbol of majesty and power as well as the model of the pharaohs. The Pharaohs were said to be Horus in human form. Furthermore Nemty, another war god, was later identified as Horus.
Conqueror of Set
Horus was told by his mother, Isis, to protect the people of Egypt from Set, the god of the desert, who had killed his father Osiris.
Horus had many battles with Set, not only to avenge his father, but to choose the rightful ruler of Egypt. In these battles, Horus came to be associated with Lower Egypt (where Horus was worshipped), and became its patron.
One scene stated how Horus was on the verge of killing Set; but his mother (and Set’s sister), Isis, stopped him. Isis injured Horus, but eventually healed him.
By the 19th dynasty, the enmity between Set and Horus, in which Horus had ripped off one of Set’s testicles, was represented as a separate tale. According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Set is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and then having intercourse with him. However, Horus places his hand between his thighs and catches Set’s semen, then subsequently throws it in the river, so that he may not be said to have been inseminated by Set. Horus then deliberately spreads his own semen on some lettuce, which was Set’s favorite food. After Set had eaten the lettuce, they went to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The gods first listened to Set’s claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answered from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the gods listened to Horus’ claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answered from inside Set.
But still Set refused to relent, and the other gods were getting tired from over eighty years of fighting and challenges. Horus and Set challenged each other to a boat race, where they each raced in a boat made of stone. Horus and Set agreed, and the race started. But Horus had an edge: his boat was made of wood painted to resemble stone, rather than true stone. Set’s boat, being made of heavy stone, sank, but Horus’s did not. Horus then won the race, and Set stepped down and officially gave Horus the throne of Egypt. But after the New Kingdom, Set still was considered Lord of the desert and its oases.
This myth, along with others, could be seen as an explanation of how the two kingdoms of Egypt (Upper and Lower) came to be united. Horus was seen as the God of Lower Egypt, and Set as the God of Upper Egypt. In this myth, the respective Upper and Lower deities have a fight, through which Horus is the victor. However, some of Horus (representing Lower Egypt) enters into Set (Upper Egypt) thus explaining why Lower Egypt is dominant over Upper Egypt. Set’s regions were then considered to be of the desert.
Shed is a deity, commonly referred to as “savior” and is first recorded during the Amarna Period. Representing the concept of salvation he is identified with Horus and in particular “Horus the Child”.
Shed can be depicted as a young prince overcoming snakes, lions and crocodiles. David P. Silverman notes that late period representations of the young Horus slaying Set in the form of a crocodile are considered to have been the inspiration for the icons depicting St. George and the dragon.
The rise of “Savior” names in personal piety during the Amarna period has been interpreted as the popular response of ordinary people to the attempts by Akhenaten to proscribe the ancient religion of Egypt. Shed has also been viewed as a form of the ancient Semitic god Reshef.
Heru-pa-khared (Horus the Younger)
Horus the Younger, Harpocrates to the Ptolemaic Greeks, is represented in the form of a youth wearing a lock of hair (a sign of youth) on the right of his head. In addition, he usually wears the united crowns of Egypt, the crown of upper Egypt and the crown of lower Egypt. He is a form of the rising sun, representing its earliest light.
Heru-ur (Horus the Elder)
In this form he represented the god of light and the husband of Hathor. He was one of the oldest gods of ancient Egypt. He became the patron of Nekhen (Heirakonpolis) and the first national god (God of the Kingdom). Later, he also became the patron of the pharaohs, and was called the son of truth. – signifying his role as an important upholder of Maat. He was seen as a great falcon with outstretched wings whose right eye was the sun and the left one was the moon. In this form, he was sometimes given the title Kemwer, meaning (the) great black (one).
The Greek form of Heru-ur (or Har wer) is Haroeris. Other variants include Hor Merti ‘Horus of the two eyes’ and Horkhenti Irti.
Hollywood Depictions of HORUS
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First Published: Dec 10, 2011 - Last Updated: Dec 15, 2012