At the Delta town of Busiris there was an annual festival in which Osiris God’ dismembered body was reconstituted. Here, apparently, the pillar came to stand for his backbone (which could also explain its shape), and in this festival it was erected as part of the ritual. Coffins in the New Kingdom had the pillar painted on the bottom as a suggestion that the corpse became Osiris God when his backbone became one with the painted one.
A wall painting at the Temple of Seti I at Abydos shows a series of scenes in which the king assisted Isis Goddess in raising the pillar and thereby resurrecting Osiris God . The obvious phallic symbolism of the totem also suggested the sexual resurrection of Osiris God, commemorated elsewhere at this temple. In other drawings of the pillar here and there throughout Egypt it is shown with arms holding the crook and flail in the same attitude often used for Osiris God ; vignettes in the Book of the Dead, as well as drawings elsewhere, showed the pillar with eyes staring out between the cross-members, just as if Osiris God were looking out from inside.
|Ramses II Presenting Offerings to Osiris and Isis, Temple of Seti I|
Older scholars, such as E. A. Wallis Budge and James Frazer, were chiefly interested in the myth as a statement about death and resurrection. Budge, of course, wrote a massive study of Osiris God and did not limit himself to any one aspect of the myth, but the motif of resurrection lies at the heart of all his research.
Frazer compared Osiris God to the Greek god Adonis and Near Eastern god Attis in one of the most important volumes of The Golden Bough, and he concluded: “In the resurrection of Osiris God the Egyptians saw the pledge of a life everlasting for themselves beyond the grave They believed that every man would live eternally in the other world if only his surviving friends did for his body what the gods had done for the body of Osiris God . Hence the ceremonies observed by the Egyptians over the human dead were an exact copy of those which Anubis, Horus, and the rest had performed over the dead god.”
Rudolf Anthes believes that the myth was a statement of the way ritual serves to satisfy religious needs, because the rituals associated with the resurrection of Osiris God became an important part of Egyptian culture. Anthes notes the ludicrous elements in the story, especially in the Horus-Seth conflict (to be told in the next chapter), but he believes that the common people worshipped the gods and enjoyed the story-telling aspect of the tales at the same time. There was great dignity in the rituals associated with Osiris God and Isis Goddess , and some of the hymns and charms that have survived are literary works of considerable beauty.
The myth of Osiris God is intimately connected with the Egyptian view of death, according to Siegfried Morenz: “Egyptian religion, in so far as it was related to death, preserved ancient ways of ensuring everlasting life and kept on discovering new ones.” Egyptian religion maintained the beliefs that life would be prolonged in the tomb and those deceased individuals and possessions in their tombs could be rejuvenated through certain rituals. The best way for a dead king to transcend death was “to become Osiris God ” through the clearly prescribed ritual that would unite the king with the god, thereby raising him above the possibility of being judged like other mortals. The myth of Osiris God , then, provided a ritualistic method for overcoming death.
The best way to approach this myth, as R. T. Rundle Clark has written, is to seek its symbolic value. Out of the story emerges a human-god who is the essential victim. Yet he is avenged and his passion has an end at last, when justice and order are reestablished on earth. The other gods are transcendent, distinct from their worshippers. Osiris God , however, is immanent. He is the sufferer with all mortality, but at the same time he is all the power of revival and fertility in the world. He is the power of growth in plants and of reproduction in animals and human beings. He is both dead and the source of all living. Hence, to become Osiris God is to become one with the cosmic cycles of death and rebirth.
The myth, then, is finally seen in archetypal terms.
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