8 December: Horus

Isis is suckling the infant Horus.
Isis is suckling the infant Horus.

Name: Horus (the Elder)

Tagline: The king of the Egyptian gods after his father, Osiris, was killed and dismembered by uncle Set.

Claim to Fame: Fought Set for the throne for more than eighty years, but won after, among other things, ejaculating on cabbage, and painting a wooden boat to look like stone.

Egyptian gods are weird. There, I said it. Compared with the relatively

Ra-Horakhty - that is, Horus channeling the sun god, Ra. Jeff Dahl, CC 4.0 BY SA.
Ra-Horakhty – that is, Horus channeling the sun god, Ra. Jeff Dahl, CC 4.0 BY SA.

straightforward Greek or Norse gods, the gods of Egypt are exceedingly complicated to understand. Part of this is due to the many different versions of the Egyptian theology, created across the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, and across just around 3000 years. At various times the god, Horus, was regarded as the son of Ra, as the brother of Isis, Osiris, and Set, and as the son of Isis and Osiris.

Another part of it is down to the intricate metaphysical properties of Egyptian gods. One god could take on the properties of another god, forming a whole separate entity. For instance, Horus, the hawk god of kingship and the sky, could take on the aspect of the sun god, Ra, and turn into Ra-Horakty, the god of the rising and setting sun, and of the East, representing the journey of the sun.

Having said all that, the story of Horus has some interesting elements to it. Horus was generally perceived as the son of Osiris and Isis. Osiris’ brother, Set, had killed Osiris, dismembered him and scattered the parts across the world. Isis hunted down the parts to resurrect her husband, and found all save one: the penis. So she created one out of gold, called Osiris back to life, then made love to him and conceived a son: Horus.

Horus then went up against his uncle, Set, in a battle for the crown. They fought for many, many years, as detailed in the story. At one point, Set tried to seduce Horus, then tried mating with him. But Horus shielded himself with his hand, catching Set’s semen before it entered him. Then he scattered the seed in the river.

Later, he spread his own semen on some lettuce, Set’s favourite food, and made Set eat all the lettuce. Then they went in front of the other gods, who would judge who had defeated the other. First, Set told them the story of how he had conquered Horus, and to prove it, he called upon his seed. But the seed answered from the river, proving Set wrong. Then Horus told the gods of his conquest of Set, and called out to his seed as proof. The seed called out from inside Set, convincing the gods that Horus had indeed conquered Set.

But Set was not defeated so easily. And so the two decided that they would conduct a race in boats made of rock. But Horus tricked Set by racing in a boat made of wood, painted to look like stone. Set’s boat sank, leaving Horus to win easily. Finally, Set relented, leaving the crown to Horus.

Horus was not left unmarked, however. He had lost one of his testicles, leaving the desert (which is Set’s domain) barren. As sky god, the sun and the moon were within him. But he had lost one eye, and had received a replacement from the moon god, Khonsu. That is why the Moon is less bright than the sun.

How would I use him: The Egyptian mythology is ripe with symbolism and representation. Horus, for instance, represents the dominant Lower Egypt, while Set represents Upper Egypt, the two components of the kingdom. In this way, the demographic conflict of Egypt is represented in its myths. And when somebody notices that the moon is less bright than the sun – why that is obviously because Horus lost his eye!

This is good inspiration for someone wanting to create their own fictional cosmology: start somewhere, and then ask and answer questions from within the mythology.

The Contentions Between Horus and Set, as the whole story is called, is also a good story to look at for an epic conflict between two powerful people.

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