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Horus is one of the oldest and most significant of the deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horuses 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 Nekhenmarker in Upper Egypt and who is the first known national god, specifically related to the king who in time became 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 Hathor is 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 and god of war.

Origin of name

Horus is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as and is reconstructed to have been pronounced * , 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 Hōros. The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-Si-Ese literally "Horus, son of Isis".


Sky god

Horus was told by his mother, Isis, to protect the people of Egypt from Set, the god of the desert, storms of chaos.

Since he was god of the sky, Horus became depicted as a falcon, or as a falcon-headed man, leading to Horus' name, (in Egyptian, Heru), which meant The distant one. As falcon he may be shown on the Narmer Palette dating from the time of unification of upper and lower Egypt. Horus was also sometimes known as Nekheny (meaning falcon), although it has been proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at Nekhenmarker (city of the hawk), that became identified as Horus very early on. He was married to Hathor, the goddess of love. In this form, he was sometimes given the title Kemwer, meaning (the) great black (one).

As Horus was the son of Osiris, and god of the sky, he became closely associated with the Pharaoh of Lower Egypt (where Horus was worshipped), and became their patron. The association with the Pharaoh brought with it the idea that he was the son of Isis, in her original form, who was regarded as a deification of the Queen.

Sun god

Horus represented as a falcon
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 Set, 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 ( 'Horus the Great'), but more usually translated as Horus the Elder. In the struggle Set 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 ( 'He who has no eyes'). When the moon became visible again, he was re-titled Khenty-irty ( 'He who has eyes'). While blind, it was considered that Horus was quite dangerous, sometimes attacking his friends after mistaking them for enemies.

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 ( ) meaning 'The Good Horus'.

War god

Horus was also said to be a war god and a hunter's god, since he was associated with the falcon; (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 (also a war god meaning "He who travels") was later identified as Horus.

Saviour god

Shed is a deity whose name means "Illuminated", commonly refered 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".

Erik Hornung argues that whilst early Christianity rejected anything pagan, it was at a superficial level and it remained indebted to Ancient Egypt. It was only in the long term that the official Church was able to prevail over traditional customs.

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 Seth 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 "Saviour" 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.

Conqueror of Set

After Set killed Osiris, Horus had many battles with Set, not only to avenge his father, but to choose the rightful ruler of Egypt. 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 Nineteenth 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 Imarker, 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 (the Egyptians thought that lettuce was phallic). After Set has eaten the lettuce, they go to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The gods first listen to Set's claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answers from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the gods listen to Horus' claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answers 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 (which happens to be south of the Delta region). 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 the Upper Egyptians. Set's regions were then considered to be of the desert.

Wedjat, eye of Horus

The Eye of Horus (Wedjat)[1] (previously Wadjet and the Eye of the Moon; and afterwards as The Eye of Ra)[2] or ("Udjat")[3] 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".[4][5] 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.[6] 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.[7] The Wedjat "was intended to protect the king [here] in the afterlife"[8] 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. [9]

Heru-p-khart (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. He is a form of the rising sun, representing its earliest light.

This is thought to be the original form of Horus. His name meaning 'high' or 'distant' reflects his sky nature.

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. He was seen as a great falcon with outstretched wings whose right eye was the sun and the left one was the moon.


  1. "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, Horus: by Edmund S. Meltzer, p164-168, Berkley, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-x
  2. "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, p106 & p165, Berkley, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-x
  3. Meltzer, Edmund S. (2002). Horus. In D. B. Redford (Ed.), The ancient gods speak: A guide to Egyptian religion (pp. 164). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.
  4. Ancient Egyptian Culture
  5. The Gods of Ancient Egypt - Horus
  6. Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Horus
  7. Egypt: Gods of Ancient Egypt Main Menu
  8. The Contendings of Horus and Seth
  9. "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt", p. 313, Ian Shaw, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0192802933
  10. "The Egyptians: an introduction", Robert Morkot, Routledge, p210, 2005, ISBN 0415271045
  11. "Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt", Geraldine Pinch, p. 195, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0195170245
  12. "Egyptian Religion", David P. Silverman, p. 135, Oxford University Press US, 2003, ISBN 019521952X
  13. "The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", edited Donald B. Redford, p. 120 & 312, Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-X
  14. [Mythology, published by DBP, Chapter: Egypt's divine kingship]
  15. Theology WebSite: The 80 Years of Contention Between Horus and Seth
  16. Fleming, Fergus, and Alan Lothian. The Way to Eternity: Egyptian Myth. Duncan Baird Publishers, 1997. pp. 80–81
  17. [Mythology, published by DBP, Chapter: Egypt's divine kingship]
  18. [Seth, God of Confusion, by TeVelde]
  19. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames and Hudson, page 200.
  20. Heru-ur; Horus the Elder

See also

External links

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