Egyptian mythology or Egyptian religion is the succession of tentative beliefs held by the people of Egypt for over three thousand years, prior to major exposure to Christianity and Islam.
Early beliefs can be split into 5 distinct localized groups
- The Ennead of Heliopolis, whose chief god was Atum
The Ennead (a word derived from Greek, meaning the nine) is a grouping of nine deities, most often used in the context of Egyptian mythology. As three of threes, the number was considered of great carnal power, and the groupings of nine Gods were considered very important.
There were multiple Enneads in Ancient Egypt. Pyramid Texts mention the Great Ennead, the Lesser Ennead, the Dual Ennead, plural Enneads, and even the Seven Enneads. Some Pharaohs created Enneads that incorporated themselves; most notably, Seti I in his temple at Redesiyah worshipped the Ennead that combined six important deities with three deified forms of himself.
Interestingly, the Egyptian term pesedjet, usually translated as Ennead, does not nessecarily mean a group of nine. There are some pesedjets that had a varying number of Gods throughout Egyptian history, and may have contained as few as seven, and as many as ten Gods.
The most important of the Egyptian Enneads was the so-called Great Ennead, also called the Heliopolis Ennead. The group consisted of Atum, the first god, his children Shu, Tefnut, and their children Geb, Nuit, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. The origins of this grouping are uncertain. The thinking up until mid-20th century was that it was created by Heliopolis priests in order to place their local sun-god Ra above all other deities such as Osiris; however many modern Egyptologists now doubt the theory. It is however almost a certainy that the Ennead first appeared during the decline of Ra's cult during the 6th dynasty, and due to it the cult soon saw a great resurgence.
Creation Myth -- From the primeval waters represented by Nun, a mound appeared. Upon the mound sat Atum who had begotten himself. Bored and alone, he masturbated (some think the myth actually states he committed autofellatio) producing air (Shu), and moisture (Tefnut). Shu and Tefnut in turn gave birth to the earth (Geb) and the sky (Nuit), who initially were engaged in eternal copulation. Shu separated them, lifting Nuit into her place in the sky. The children of Nuit and Geb were Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nepthys.
- The Ogdoad of Hermopolis, where the chief god was Ra
In Egyptian mythology, the Ogdoad are the eight deities worshipped in Hermopolis. They were arranged in four male-female pairs, with the males associated with frogs, and the females with snakes: Nu/Naunet, Amun/Amaunet, Kuk/Kauket, Huh/Hauhet. Apart from their gender, there was little to distinguish the male god in a pair from the female goddess; indeed, the names of the females are merely the female forms of the male name. Essentially, each pair represents the male and female aspect of one of four concepts, namely water (Nu/Naunet), air (Amun/Amunet), darkness (Kuk/Kauket), and eternity (Huh/Hauhet).
Creation Myth Together the four concepts represent the primal fundamental state of the beginning, they are what always was. In the myth, however, their interaction ultimately proved to be unbalanced, resulting in the arising of a new entity. When the entity opened, it revealed Ra, the fiery sun, inside. After a long interval of rest, Ra, together with the other gods, created all other things.There are two main variations on the nature of the entity containing Ra.
Egg variant -- The original version of the myth has the entity arising from the waters after the interaction as a mound of dirt, the Milky Way, which was deified as Hathor. In the myth an egg was laid upon this mound by a celestial bird. The egg contained Ra. In the original version of this variant, the egg is laid by a cosmic goose (it is not explained where the goose originates). However, after the rise of the cult of Thoth, the egg was said to have been a gift from Thoth, and laid by an Ibis, the bird with which he was associated.
Lotus variant -- Later, when Atum had become assimilated into Ra as Atum-Ra, the belief that Atum emerged from a (blue) lotus bud, in the Ennead cosmogeny, was adopted and attached to Ra. The lotus was said to have arisen from the waters after the explosive interaction as a bud, which floated on the surface, and slowly opened its petals to reveal the beetle, Khepri, inside. Khepri, an aspect of Ra representing the rising sun, immediately turns into a weeping boy - Nefertum (young Atum), whose tears form the creatures of the earth. In later Egyptian history, as the god Khepri became totally absorbed into Ra, the lotus was said to have revealed Ra, the boy, straight away, rather than Ra being Khepri temporarily. Sometimes the boy is identified as Horus, although this is due to the merging of the myths of Horus and Ra into the one god Ra-Herakty, later in Egyptian history.
- the Chnum-Satet-Anuket triad of Elephantine, where the chief god was Chnum --
In Egyptian mythology, Chnum (also spelled Khnum, Knum, or Khnemu) was one of the earliest Egyptian gods, originally the god of the source of the Nile River. Since the annual flooding of the Nile brought with it silt and clay, and its water brought life to its surrounds, he was thought to be the creator of human children, which he made at a potter's wheel, from clay, and places them in their mothers' uteruses. Indeed, before the cult of Ra gained prominence, he was said by those who worshipped him to have moulded the other Gods, and he had the titles Divine Potter and Lord of created things from himself.
In certain locations, such as Elephantine, since Chnum was thought of as a god pouring out the Nile, he was regarded as the husband of Satis (who did much the same), and the father of Anuket, who represented the Nile itself. In other locations, such as Antinoe, as the moulder and creator of the human body, he was sometimes regarded as the consort of Heget, since it was her responsibility for breathing life into his creations. Alternatively, in places such as Esna, due to his aspect as creator of the body, they viewed him as the father of Heka, who activated the Ka, and consequently as the husband of Menhit.
Originally one of the most important gods, when other areas arose to greater prominence, it was the secondary function, as potter, that became his whole realm of authority, and instead, the Nile was considered the god Hapi, who was the Nile god in the more powerful areas. Khnum's name derives from this secondary association, it means builder. However, Chnum's earlier position as 'moulder' of the other gods, leads to him being identified as Ra, or more particularly as the Ba of Ra. Since Ba is also the word for a Ram, he became thought of as having a Ram's head.
In art, he was usually depicted as a Ram-headed man at a potter's wheel, with recently created children standing on the wheel, although he also appeared in his earlier guise as a water-god, holding a jar from which flowed a stream of water. However, he occasionally appeared in a compound image, depicting the elements, in which he, representing water, was shown as one of four heads of a man, with the others being Geb representing earth, Shu representing the air, and Osiris representing death. Some think this is a depiction which may have had an influence on Ezekiel and Revelations, as Chnum had a Ram's head, Shu sometimes appeared with a Lion's head, Osiris was a man, and Geb had a goose on his head.
The worship of Chnum centred on two principal riverside sites, Elephantine Island and Esna, which were regarded as sacred sites. At Elephantine, he was worshipped alongside Anuket and Satis as the guardian of the sources of the River Nile. His significance led to early theophoric names of him, for children, such as Chnum-khufu Chnum is Protector, the full name of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid. Due to his importance, as an aspect of the life-giving Nile, and also the creator, Chnum was still worshipped in some semi-Christian sects in the 2nd or 3rd Centuries.
- the Amun-Mut-Chons triad of Thebes, where the chief god was Amun
In Egyptian mythology, Chons (alternately Khensu, Khons, Khonsu or Khonshu) is an ancient lunar deity, from before formal structure was given to a pantheon. His name reflects the fact that the Moon (referred to as Iah in Egyptian) travels across the night sky, for it means The Wanderer, and also had the titles Embracer, Pathfinder, and Defender, as he was thought to watch over night travelers. As the god of light in the night, Chons was invoked to protect against wild animals, increase male virility, and to aid with healing. It was said that when Chons caused the crescent moon to shine, women conceived, cattle became fertile, and all nostrils and every throat were filled with fresh air.
Chons can also be understood to mean king's placenta, and consequently in early times, he was considered to slay the king's (i.e. the pharaoh's) enemies, and extract their innards for the king's use, metaphorically creating something resembling a placenta for the king. This bloodthirsty aspect leads him to be referred to, in such as the Pyramid texts, as the (one who) lives on hearts. He also became associated with more literal placentas, becoming seen as a deification of the royal placenta, and so a god involved with childbirth.
During the Middle Kingdom, since the pool at the temple of Mut was in the shape of a crescent moon, Chons gradually replaced the war-god Menthu, as her son in Theban thought. The father who had adopted Chons was thought to be Amun, who had already been changed into a more significant god by the rise of Thebes, and had had his wife changed to Mut. As these two were both considered extremely benign deities, Menthu gradually lost his more aggressive aspects.
In art, Chons was depicted as a child with the head of a hawk, wearing the crescent of the new moon subtending the disc of the full moon. His head was shaven except for the side-lock worn by Egyptian children, signifying his role as Chons the Child. Occasionally Chons was depicted as a young man holding the flail of the pharaoh, wearing a menat necklace. He was sometimes pictured on the back of a goose, ram, or two crocodiles. Chons' sacred animal was the baboon, considered a lunar animal by the ancient Egyptians.
Khonshu has appeared as a character in modern literature. Most notably as the patron deity of the Marvel Comics superhero Moon Knight.
- the Ptah-Sekhmet-Nefertem Triad of Memphis, unusual in that the gods were unconnected before the triad was formalised, where the chief god was Ptah
In Egyptian mythology, Nefertem (also Nefertum, Nefer-Tem, Nefer-Temu) was originally just the young Atum (his name means beautiful Atum, i.e. youthful Atum), at the creation of the world, who had arisen from the primal waters, in the Ennead cosmogeny. Since Atum was a solar deity, Nefertum represented sunrise, and since Atum had arisen from the primal waters in a lotus bud, Nefertum was associated with the (blue) lotus. Later, as time wore on, Atum became assimilated into Ra (as Atum-Ra), and so it came to be that people regarded Nefertum as a separate deity. Some of the titles of Nefertem were He Who is Beautiful and Water Lily of the Sun, and a version of the Book of the Dead says Rise like Nefertem from the lotus, to the nostrils of Ra, and come forth upon the horizon each day.
As the power of Memphis grew, their chief god, Ptah, was said to be the original creator, and thus of all the other gods, including any lesser creators, who create the remaining gods having first being created by Ptah. Consequently, the creator aspect of Atum-Ra, namely Nefertum, came to be merely the son of Ptah, rather than the creator proper. As son of Ptah, it was said that either Sekhmet, or Bast (whichever was considered wife of Ptah), was his mother. As a god now only associated with the lotus rather than creation, he became a god of perfume and luck.
In art, Nefertum is usually depicted as a beautiful young man having lotus flowers around his head, although, as the son of Bast, he also sometimes has the head of a lion or is a lion or cat reclining. Nefertem was associated both with the scent of the lotus flower and its narcotic effect, which in ancient Egypt was used for medical anesthetics. The ancient Egyptians often carried small statuettes of him as good-luck charms.
Throughout the vast and complex history of Egypt, the dominant beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians merged and mutated as leaders of different groups gained power. This process continued even after the end of the Egyptian civilisation as we know it today. As an example, during the New Kingdom Ra and Amun became Amun-Ra. This "merging" into a single god is typically referred to as syncretism. Syncretism should be distinguished from mere groupings, also referred to as "families" such as Amun, Mut and Khonsu, where no "merging" takes place. Over time, deities took part in multiple syncretic relationships, for instance, the combination of Ra and Horus into Ra-Herakty. However, even when taking part in such a syncretic relationship, the original deities did not become completely "absorbed" into the combined deity, although the individuality of the one was often greatly weakened. Also, these syncretic relationships sometimes invloved more than just two deities, for instance, Ptah, Seker and Osiris, becoming Ptah-Seker-Osiris. The goddesses followed a similar pattern. Also important to keep in mind is that sometimes the attributes of one deity got closely associated with another, without any "formal" syncretism taking place. For instance, the loose association of Hathor with Isis.
An interesting aspect of Ancient Egyptian religion is that deities sometimes played different conflicting roles. As an example, the lioness Sekhmet being sent out by Ra to devour the humans for having rebelled against him, but later on becoming a fierce protectress of the kingdom, life in general and the sick. Even more complex is the roles of Set. By looking at the mythology of Set from a modern perspective it is very easy to cast Set in the role of arch villain and source of evil, especially if one only looks at the mythology surrounding Set's relationship with Osiris. This is however wrong as Set was earlier playing the role of destroyer of Apep, in the service of Ra on his barge, and thus serving to uphold Ma'at (Truth, Justice and Harmony).
Given the diverse tapestry of religeous history in Ancient Egypt, it comes as no surprise that many different forms of theism evolved. Although mainly henotheistic in nature, at some point even monotheism, as introduced by Akhenaten thrived. What is important to realise is that it is very dangerous to try and cast the religion of the Ancient Egyptians in any particular theistic form. Even more dangerous to claim is that, towards the end of the Egyptian civilisation, a drive toward monotheism was taking place. The evidence of the time (Greaco-Roman period) seems counter to this belief: although syncretism was still taking place (sometimes and more frequently between Egyptian and non-Egyptian deities), many deities were still revered and served. As an example the following which Thoth enjoyed during these later periods. This is quite evident when one simply looks at the vast number of mummified Ibis birds offered to him. Also, the belief in Egyptian deities were spreading to countries other than Egypt. For instance the Roman belief in, and following of.
The Egyptians believed that in the beginning, the universe was filled with the dark waters of chaos. The first god, Re-Atum, appeared from the water as the land of Egypt appears every year out of the flood waters of the Nile.Re-Atum spat and out of the spittle came out the gods Shu(air) and Tefnut(moisture). The world was created when Shu & Tefnut gave birth to 2 children: Nut (sky) and Geb (the Earth).
Humans were created when Shu & Tefnut went wandering in the dark wastes and got lost. Re-Atum sent his eye to find them. On reuniting, his tears of joy turned into people. Osiris was the son of Re-Atum and king of Egypt. His brother Seth represented evil in the universe. He murdered Osiris and himself became the king. After killing Osiris Seth tore his body into pieces, but Isis rescued most of the pieces for burial beneath the temple. Seth made himself king but was challenged by Osiris's son-Horus. Seth lost and was sent to the desert. He became the God of terrible storms. Osiris was mummified by Anubis and became God of the dead. Horus became the King and from him descended the pharaohs.
Egypt had a highly developed view of the afterlife with elaborate rituals for preparing the body and soul for a peaceful life after death. Beliefs about the soul and afterlife focused heavily on preservation of the body, or ba (The soul was known as the ka). This meant that embalming and mummification were practiced, in order to preserve the individual's identity in the afterlife.
Originally the dead were buried in reed caskets in the searing hot sand, which caused the remains to dry quickly, preventing decomposition, and were subsequently buried. Later, they started constructing wooden tombs, and the extensive process of mummification and associated burial rituals and rules began. Embalming was developed by the Egyptians around the 4th Dynasty. All soft tissues were removed, and the cavities washed and packed with natron, then the exterior body was buried in natron as well. Since it was a stoneable offence to harm the body of the Pharaoh, even after death, the person who made the cut in the abdomen with a rock knife was ceremonially chased away and had rocks thrown at him.
After coming out of the natron, the bodies were coated inside and out with resin to preserve them, then wrapped with linen bandages, embedded with religious amulets and tailsmans. In the case of royalty, this was usually then placed inside a series of nested coffins the outermost of which was a stone sarcophagus. The intestines, lungs, liver and the stomach were preserved separately and stored in canopic jars protected by the Four sons of Horus. Other creatures were also mummified, sometimes thought to be pets of Egyptian families, but more frequently or more likely they were the representations of the Gods. The ibis, crocodile, cats, nile perch and baboon can be found in perfect mummified forms.
The Book of the Dead were a series of almost two hundred sectional texts, songs and pictures written on papyrus, individually customised for the deceased, which were buried along with the dead in order to ease their passage into the underworld. In some tombs, the Book of the Dead has also been found painted on the walls. One of the best examples of the Book of the Dead is The Papyrus of Ani, created around 1240 BC, which, in addition to the texts themselves, also contains many pictures of Ani and his wife on their journey through the land of the dead.
In later belief, the soul of the deceased is led into a hall of judgement in Duat, by Anubis, god of mummification, and the deceased's heart, which was the record of the morality of the owner, is weighed against a single feather representing Ma'at's (the concept of truth, and order). If the outcome is favourable, the deceased is taken to Osiris, god of the afterlife, in Aaru, but the demon Ammit (Eater of Hearts) part crocodile, part lion, and part hippopotamus - destroys those hearts whom the verdict is against, leaving the owner to remain in Duat.
A short interval of monotheism (Atenism) occurred under the reign of Akhenaten, focused on the Egyptian sun deity Aten. Akhenaten outlawed the worship of any other god and built a new capital (Amarna) with temples for Aten. The religious change survived only until the death of Akhenaten, and the old religion was quickly restored during the reign of Tutankhamun, most likely Akhenaten's son by a minor wife. Interestingly, Tutankhamun and several other post-restoration pharaohs were excluded from future king lists, as well as the heretics Akhenaten and Smenkhare.
While most historians regard this period as monotheistic, some researchers do not regard Atenism as such. They state that people did not worship Aten, but worshipped the royal family as a pantheon of gods who received their divine power from the Aten. That point of view is largely dismissed by the historical community. Some researches go as far as to suggest that Akhenaten or some of his viziers were the Biblical Moses; the scientific community dismisses these claims as wishful thinking, since none of the theories are based on proper research, and the well-documented worship of Aten has nothing in common with the religion of Moses.
After the fall of the Amarna dynasty, the original Egyptian pantheon survived more or less as the dominant faith, until the establishment of Coptic Christianity and later Islam, even though the Egyptians continued to have relations with the other monotheistic cultures (e.g. Hebrews). Egyptian mythology put up surprisingly little resistance to the spread of Christianity, sometimes explained by claiming that Jesus was originally a syncretism based predominantly on Horus, with Isis and her worship becoming Mary and veneration (see Jesus myth).
The ancient Egyptians had many mythological tales, usually link to their Gods and Goddesses.
Ramesses II had over a hundred sons but his favorite was Prince Khaemwese, whom he made High Priest of Ptah at Memphis.
Khaemwese was famous for his learning and for his interest in ancient times.
A thousand years after his death the Egyptians were still telling stories which portrayed him as the wisest of magicians.
One such story relates how Prince Setna Khaemwese discovered where the Book of Thoth was hidden.
'The Book of Thoth' contained the most powerful of magic spells, and also the most dangerous, but that did not deter the royal magician.
One day, when the court was at Memphis, Setna went to his father and asked his permission to open one of the royal tombs in the City of the Dead.
The whole court was shocked at such a request, but Setna explained that the famous Book of Thoth was hidden in the tomb of Prince Neferkaptah.
Pharaoh tried hard to make his son give up such a rash idea, but when he saw that the prince was determined, he let him have his way.
Ramesses knew that the dead could protect themselves and that Setna would have to learn to respect them.
The prince asked Anhurerau, the bravest of his younger brothers, to go with him and they took a gang of workmen into the City of the Dead.
When they reached the ancient tomb of Neferkaptah, the workmen shovelled away the sand that had blown against its entrance. Gradually a wooden door was revealed.
Setna broke the seals on the door and ordered the workmen to hack through the wood. Reluctantly, they obeyed. The rotten wood crumbled after a few blows and the tomb stood open.
Setna and Anhurerau waited ten, tense minutes to let fresh air seep through the tomb, and then a torch was lit for them.
None of the workmen would enter the black doorway, so the two brothers went in alone, Anhurerau holding up the torch and Setna a pace ahead of him.
They walked cautiously down a narrow passageway and through a shadowy hall carved with scenes of Prince Neferkaptah's funeral.
Beyond, was a maze of small rooms and twisting passages. As they went deeper into the tomb, the heat and the stale air were suffocating. The light of Anhurerau's torch hardly seemed to penetrate the intense darkness and all around them there were rustlings and scratchings. 'It's only bats.'
Setna had meant to reassure his brother, but his whisper echoed through the tomb and above them dozens of bats erupted into flight.
As Anhurerau ducked, the whirr of their wings put out his torch and the darkness pounced.
They would have to go back-if he could remember the way. It would be no use shouting for help; none of the workmen would enter the tomb.
Suddenly Anhurerau gripped his brother¹s arm: 'Look!' Ahead of them was a faint glow.
As the brothers moved towards it, the light grew brighter.
Setna and Anhurerau crept round a corner in the passageway and found themselves staring into the burial chamber itself.
The room was crammed with rich furnishings; ebony thrones and vases of alabaster, stools draped with leopard skins and ivory caskets.
On a golden couch lay the mummy of Neferkaptah, wrapped in scented linen, his face covered by a glittering mask. Beside the couch sat a beautiful woman, pale as a white lotus, with a little boy huddled at her feet.
Light streamed from the scroll of papyrus that lay on a table in front of them, and Setna knew that he was looking at the Book of Thoth.
Anhurerau stood trembling in. the doorway, but Setna stepped boldly into the burial chamber and saluted the lady.
The hand she raised to greet him was almost transparent, but her voice was low and sweet. 'Setna Khaemwese, why do you disturb the rest of the dead?'
'If you give me the Book of Thoth,' said Setna, trying not to sound as frightened as he felt, 'I will leave you in peace.' The lovely ka shook her head. 'Setna, if you steal the Book of Thoth, it will bring you nothing but disaster.
I see from your face that you do not believe me. I will tell you our story, and then you will understand the danger.'
'My name is Ahwere. I was the only daughter of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt,' said the ka proudly. She looked down at the silent figure on the couch.
'I loved my brother Neferkaptah more than anything in the world and he loved me. I begged our father the king to let us marry and he agreed. A splendid feast was held to mark our marriage and we lived together very happily. It was not long before a son was born to us and we called him Mrib.'
Ahwere reached down to touch the little boy who lay at her feet, and he smiled up at her as if just waking from a dream.
'My husband was like you, Setna. He loved to wander in the City of the Dead to study the tombs or to visit temple libraries and try to read the ancient scrolls.
He was a skilled magician, but he was always seeking more powerful spells. One day my husband attended a festival in the temple of Ptah.
As he walked behind a procession, he read the spells written on the shrines of the gods. Suddenly Neferkaptah heard someone laughing at him. In the shadow of a column stood an old priest, amusement doubling the wrinkles on his face.'
'Why are you laughing at me?' my husband demanded indignantly.
I laugh at you reading such paltry spells,' answered the priest, 'when I could tell you where to find a magic book written by Thoth himself.
There are two spells in it. If you read the first spell aloud, you will enchant the sky above and the sky below and the earth itself from the mountains to the seas.
You will be able to understand every beast and bird and summon the fishes of the deep, just like a god.
If you read the second spell, even if you are in the Land of the Dead, you will take your own form again and see the sun shine and the moon rise and the gods themselves.'
'Then my husband flattered the priest. ŒOh great one, may you live for ever! Name one wish that I can grant you, but tell me how to find the Book of Thoth.'
The old man's eyes glittered with greed. 'Give me a hundred silver pieces to pay for my funeral, and when the time comes, two priests to serve my ka.'
Neferkaptah sent for the silver and when the old priest had counted it he whispered to my husband, 'The Book of Thoth is hidden in an iron box at the bottom of the river, near Coptos.
Inside the iron box is a box of bronze and inside the box of bronze is a box of sycamore. Inside the sycamore box is a box of ebony and inside that, a box of ivory.
In the ivory box is a box of silver and in the silver box, a box of gold and in that box, the Book of Thoth, and there are snakes and scorpions guarding all the boxes.'
'Then Neferkaptah was dizzy with excitement. He rushed back to the palace to tell me everything that had happened and said, 'I will sail to Coptos at once and bring back the Book of Thoth!' Then I was afraid and I cursed that old priest.
'May the gods smite him for telling you such a secret. I know that Coptos will bring us nothing but sorrow.' I begged Neferkaptah not to sail south, but he could think of nothing but the Book of Thoth and he would not listen.'
Ahwere sighed. 'The king gave us a splendid ship. Neferkaptah sailed south and Mrib and I went with him.
When we reached Coptos the priests of the temple of Isis and their wives hurried out to meet us and we spent four days feasting with them.
On the fifth day my husband sent for pure wax and modelled a boat with all its crew. Then he crouched over it, muttering spells and breathed life into the crew.
He launched the wax boat on the river and loaded the royal ship with sand.
Then my husband went on board and I sat down on the river bank, determined not to move until he came back.'
'Neferkaptah called out to the crew of the wax boat: 'Row oarsmen, row to the place where the Book of Thoth is hidden!'
The wax men took up their oars and they rowed for three days and three nights and the royal ship followed.
On the fourth morning, the wax boat stopped and my husband knew that they must have reached the right place. He threw out the sand on either side of the ship so that the waters divided and there was a strip of dry land in the middle of the river.
Neferkaptah went down between the banks of sand, reciting spells, for the iron box crawled with snakes and scorpions.
'The snakes hissed and the scorpions raised their deadly tails but my husband's spells were strong and the snakes froze as they tried to spit poison and the scorpions could not reach him with their stings. Yet around the iron box itself was coiled a serpent too vast for any spell to bind.
My husband was not afraid; he stunned it with a blow from his bronze axe and chopped it in half. To his horror the two halves joined up again and within seconds the great serpent was coiling round him.
'Neferkaptah flinched from its poisonous breath.
The coils tightened as the serpent tried to crush him, but he just had time to draw his dagger and hack through the glittering scales. Again my husband cut the serpent in two, but as he staggered backwards the coils rejoined.
Neferkaptah snatched up his axe and wearily attacked for the third time. He slashed through its coils and for a moment the serpent lay motionless.
Then to my husband's despair the severed coils began to wriggle towards each other. With sudden inspiration, Neferkaptah picked up a handful of sand and threw it between the two halves.
The snake struggled to join itself together again but now there was something between the halves the magic wouldn¹t work. With a frantic hissing the creature quivered and died.
'Neferkaptah kicked the body aside and wrenched open the iron box. Inside was a box of bronze, just as the old priest had said.
Impatiently my husband tore open the boxes of bronze and sycamore, ebony, ivory and silver and came to a slender golden box. He lifted the lid and there lay a gleaming scroll-the Book of Thoth.'
Awhere paused. Her pale fingers touched the papyrus on the table in front of her but her eyes lingered on the mask that hid her husband's face.
'Neferkaptah unrolled the Book of Thoth and dared to read the first spell. He enchanted the sky above and the sky below and the whole earth from the mountains to the seas.
He understood the speech of every living thing, even the fishes of the deep and the beasts of the desert hills.
That was not enough for my husband and he read the second spell. By its terrible power he saw the Sun and the Moon and the stars in their true form and the glory of the gods themselves.
Then Neferkaptah returned to his ship. He spoke a spell to the river and the waters flooded back over the scattered boxes, but the Book of Thoth was safe in my husband¹s hand.
He ordered the crew of the wax boat to row back to Coptos and they rowed without pausing for three days and three nights.'
'Now all this time I had been sitting on the river bank below the temple of Isis. I wouldn't eat or drink until I knew what had happened to my husband and by the seventh morning I looked fit for the embalmers.
'But at last the royal ship sailed into view and Neferkaptah sprang ashore. When we¹d embraced each other, I asked to see the Book of Thoth and he put it in my hand. I read the first spell and the second and shared my husband¹s power.
'Then Neferkaptah sent for fresh papyrus and he copied down the words of the Book of Thoth.
He soaked the new scroll in beer and then crumbled it into a bowl and dissolved it in water.
He swallowed the water and with it drank the power of the two spells. We made thank offerings in the temple of Isis and sailed north again with Mrib our son.
'My husband was delighted with his success but the Wise One knew what Neferkaptah had done and he was very angry. Thoth hurried to Ra the King of the Gods and demanded justice:
'Neferkaptah the son of King Mernebptah has discovered the hiding place of my magic book.
He has killed the guardian and opened the seven boxes and read the forbidden spells! Such crimes cannot go unpunished.'
Then Ra gave judgement in favour of Thoth and decreed that we should never come safely home to Memphis.
The three of us were sitting on deck beneath a gilded awning. We did not know that from that moment we were doomed.'
Ahwere's dark eyes filled with tears and Mrib covered his ears, as if he could not bear to listen to the next part of the story.
'Our little boy slipped away from the couch where I sat with Neferkaptah. As Mrib leaned over the ship's rail to gaze at the Nile, the curse of Ra struck him and he tumbled into the water.
I screamed at the splash and all the sailors shouted. My husband ran out from under the awning and said the second spell of the Book of Thoth.
Mrib rose up from the Nile, threw back his sodden hair and spoke. He told us of the anger of Thoth and that Ra had cursed us.
No spell could save Mrib, he was already drowned. His lips closed and our son fell dead at my feet.
We returned to Coptos and lived through seventy desolate days while Mrib¹s body was prepared by the embalmers and a princely tomb was made ready.
After the burial we sailed north to tell our father the king the tragic news of Mrib's death. Neferkaptah watched over me anxiously but I paced the deck, grieving for my son.
When we reached the place where Mrib had drowned, the curse of Ra struck me and I fell into the river.
The waters closed over my head and I drowned before my husband could reach me. Neferkaptah spoke the second spell and raised up my body.
I told him of the anger of Thoth and the curse of Ra, but my ka had already passed into the West. My husband took me back to Coptos and I was buried in Mrib¹s tomb.
'Neferkaptah boarded the royal ship to sail back to Memphis, but he said to himself, 'I cannot bear to stay in Coptos, close to the tomb of my wife and son but how can I go back to Memphis and tell the king 'I took your daughter and your only grandchild to Coptos but I cannot bring them back.
I am alive, but they are dead'. 'My husband knew that he could not bear to live a day longer.
He took a strip of linen and bound the Book of Thoth to his body.
Then he leaped over the ship's rail and into the Nile.
The sailors cried out in horror, but they could not even find my husband's body.
'When the ship reached Memphis, the sailors sent a messenger with the terrible news that both the king¹s children were dead.
The court went into mourning and the king himself came down to the harbour with all the people of Memphis and the priests of Ptah.
He saw Neferkaptah's body tangled in the rudders of the royal ship.
The body was taken out of the water and all the people wept. The king said, 'Let that accursed book be buried with my son.'
The body of Neferkaptah was taken to the embalmers and after seventy days it was laid to rest in this very tomb.
Now I have told you how misery came to us because of the book you want me to give you. T
he Book of Thoth cost us our lives, it can never be yours.'
Setna was shaken by Ahwere¹s story but the light of the Book of Thoth dazzled him and he could not bear to give it up.
'Let me have the book,' he repeated, 'or I'll take it by force!' Then the mummy of Prince Neferkaptah slowly sat up and a voice came from behind the mask:
'Setna Khaemwese, if you will not listen to Ahwere's warning, are you a great enough magician to take the Book of Thoth from me? Or will you play four games of draughts? If you win, you shall have the Book of Thoth as your prize.
At the chilling sound of Neferkaptah's voice, Anhurerau shrank back. What would happen if Setna lost the games ?
He whispered to his brother to run but Setna stepped closer to the Book of Thoth. 'I am ready,' he said.
Close to the couch was a draughts board with squares of ebony and ivory, set with pieces of gold and silver.
They began the first game, and the pieces moved without being touched. Setna was a skilful player but the dead prince was a better one. Neferkaptah won the first game and murmured a spell. Setna sank into the ground up to his ankles.
Anhurerau tried to pull his brother out, but he was stuck fast. There was nothing that Setna could do but play the second game; he lost that too.
Neferkaptah murmured another spell and Setna sank into the ground up to his hips. Setan relaized that he had staked his life against the Book of Thoth and the third game began.
There was silence in the burial chamber as the pieces moved across the squares.
Setna played cunningly but the dead prince seemed to read his mind and slowly the game was lost. Neferkaptah spoke a third spell and Setna sank into the ground up to his chin. He could move nothing but his eyes and his lips.
Setna whispered desperately to Anhurerau: 'Get out of the tomb! Run to Pharaoh and fetch my magic books and the Amulets of Ptah.'
As the fourth and final game began, Anhurerau fled back along the passage.
As the light from the burial chamber faded, he felt his way along the walls, praying to Ptah that he would not get lost in the darkness. It seemed a horribly long time before he saw daylight again.
Anhurerau burst out of the tomb, terrifying the nervous workmen, and ran to the place where Pharaoh was.
When he had gasped out his story Ramesses said, 'Hurry my son, take Setna these books of magic and these amulets of power!'
Anhurerau hurried back with magic scrolls under his arm, a torch in one hand and the Amulets of Ptah in the other.
In the burial chamber the silver pieces were already outnumbered by the gold; Setna was losing for the fourth time.
It would be his last game; already he could imagine the earth closing over his lips, his nose, his eyes. . . Setna was not playing to win any more, only to delay the dreadful moment.
Finally it came. Neferkaptah made the winning move and the words of the fourth spell came from the glittering mask.
Setna was opening his mouth to beg for mercy when he heard the sound of running feet.
Anhurerau rushed into the burial chamber, knelt by his brother and placed the Amulets of Ptah on his head. Instantly the power of Ptah freed Setna from the dead prince's spell.
He shot out of the ground, swayed for a moment and then grabbed the Book of Thoth. Setna and his brother fled from the burial chamber.
There was no need for Anhurerau's torch, light walked in front of them, and darkness behind them.
In the gloomy burial chamber Ahwere wept and Mrib clung to her.
'Hail King of Darkness,' she whispered. 'Farewell King of Light! The power that kept us together is gone, and I shall be banished to my lonely tomb.'
But Neferkaptah had drunk the words of the Book of Thoth and he was far from helpless.
'Do not be unhappy,' he said. 'I will make Setna return the book himself, with a forked stick in his hand and a dish of incense on his head.'
When the two princes emerged from the tomb, they ordered the workmen to brick up the entrance and pile sand against it.
Then Setna hurried before Pharaoh and told him everything that had happened. Ramesses looked grave.
'If you are wise my son, you will return the Book of Thoth at once or Neferkaptah will humiliate you and make you take it back, carrying the stick of a suppliant, with incense burning to protect you.'
Setna was not listening; he could not wait to unroll the gleaming papyrus. For several days he studied the scroll, learning to read the ancient script. One morning Setna paced the courtyard of the temple of Ptah, pondering the words of the first spell.
Suddenly he saw a woman walking towards the inner temple with a great crowd of maids and pages. From her dainty sandalled feet to her shining braids of blue-black hair, she was the loveliest creature that Setna had ever seen.
For a moment their eyes met and he hardly knew where he was. Then the woman hid her face behind an ostrich feather fan and walked on.
Setna called to one of his slaves, 'Did you see that woman? Find out who she is!'
He waited impatiently in the shadow of the temple gateway until the boy returned.
'My Lord, her maids tell me that she is the Lady Tabube, the daughter of the Prophet of Bastet of Ankhtawy, and she has come here to pray to Ptah.
'Go back and speak to one of her maids, saying that Setna Khaemwese sends you.
Ask her to tell her mistress that she shall have ten gold pieces, or a law case settled in her favour, if she will come and spend some time with me.'
The slave was very surprised at his master's words but he hastened to obey.
Tabube was in the next courtyard making offerings of wine and flowers before the statue of Ptah.
The slave edged up to one of her maids and whispered his master's offer.
The maid was most indignant at such an insult to her mistress and railed at the poor slave.
Tabube soon asked what the matter was and, with great embarrassment, the boy repeated the message.
Tabube did not seem angry.
'Tell Setna Khaemwese,' she said, 'that I am a priestess and a lady of rank.
If he wants to meet me, he must visit my house in Bubastis and I will entertain him there.'
The boy hurried back to tell his master and Setna was delighted.
He forgot all about his wife and family, he even forgot about the Book of Thoth.
He could think of nothing but Tabube and the very next day he sailed north to Bubastis.
He soon found the house of the Prophet of Bastet of Ankhtawy and was asked to wait in the walled garden.
Setna walked through a grove of fig trees and sat in a vine arbour, thinking about Tabube.
Suddenly, he looked up and she was there. Tabube wore a clinging dress of transparent linen.
Her eyelids were green with malachite, her lashes dark with kohl and her hair scented by lotus flowers.
She beckoned to Setna and took him inside the house to an upper chamber.
The floor was of polished lapis and the walls were inlaid with turquoise.
Ebony couches were draped with soft linen and a table was spread with dishes of pomegranates and vessels of wine. The air was thick with incense.
Tabube drew Setna down beside her.
She offered him fruit but he was too excited to eat. Tabube poured out the strong red wine and they drank together.
Setna longed to kiss her, but Tabube said, 'I am a priestess, a lady of rank. You ought to marry me and draw up a proper contract.'
Setna was too infatuated to think twice about it. 'Send for a scribe,' he said.
Almost at once a scribe appeared with a contract drawn up which made over all of Setna's wealth to his new wife.
He signed it quickly and as soon as the scribe was gone, Setna tried to kiss Tabube again; but she drew back.
'That contract won't be valid unless your children agree to give up their rights.
They are downstairs now, have them sent up so that they can sign our marriage contract.'
Setna was too intoxicated by the strong wine and Tabube's beauty to think this odd.
His little daughters were brought up and meekly signed the contract that robbed them of their inheritance.
When they had gone, Setna drank another goblet of wine and put his arms around Tabube's waist.
She slipped out of his embrace and a tear shone on her rouged cheek.
'If you really love me,' she said, 'you will have your children killed. I am sure they will contest our marriage and make us unhappy.'
When Setna looked into Tabube's eyes, he could deny her nothing. He gave an order for his daughters to be killed and their bodies were thrown from the window into a courtyard.
Setna could hear dogs and cats tearing at their bodies as he sat drinking with the beautiful Tabube.
Then she put her white arms around his neck and leaned forward to kiss him.
Suddenly Tabube's lips opened in a scream and Setna found himself crouching in the middle of a public road, embracing the dust. Tabube and her house had vanished. His head cleared and Setna realized the terrible thing that he had done. He moaned and grovelled in the dust.
Passing travellers stared at him, wondering if he was drunk or mad.
Poor Setna did not notice the approach of four Nubians carrying an ebony chair.
In the chair sat a man, dressed in splendid robes and wearing royal jewels. He seemed amused by Setna's plight.
'What is Prince Setna Khaemwese doing here in such a state?
Neferkaptah has done this to me,' said Setna bitterly. 'He has had his revenge and my children, my lovely daughters'.
The royal stranger smiled. 'Go back to Memphis. You will find your daughters safe and sound at Pharaoh's court.'
Setna could hardly believe his ears. Had it all been an illusion?
The royal stranger nodded to one of his slaves, who tossed Setna a cloak to cover his filthy clothes. 'Go back to Memphis. Your children are safe,' he repeated.
There was something familiar about the stranger's voice but before Setna could thank him, the chair and the Nubians and the stranger himself had vanished. Setna rushed back to Memphis and his wife and daughters were surprised to be hugged so ardently and asked a dozen times if they were safe and well.
That same day, Setna had an uncomfortable audience with Pharaoh.
When he had related the whole story, Ramesses said, 'Setna, I tried to warn you but you would not listen.
Now will you take back the Book of Thoth before anything worse happens?'
Later that day, workmen reopened the tomb of Neferkaptah.
A shamefaced Setna walked through the doorway with a dish of incense balanced on his head, a forked stick in one hand and the Book of Thoth in the other.
As he entered the burial chamber, Ahwere whispered, 'Ah Setna, you would never have escaped with your life without the blessing of Ptah!'
But her husband laughed.
'So, my prophecy has come true.' Setna bowed humbly to the dead prince and replaced the Book of Thoth.
It lit the tomb like the rising sun.
'Is there anything else I must do?' asked Setna warily.
Neferkaptah looked at the pale figures of his wife and son.
'By the strength of my magic' he said, 'Keep the kas of my family close to me, but the task wearies me.
Bring me their bodies from Coptos; then we shall be truly united.'
Setna left the tomb and told Pharaoh about the dead prince's request.
Ramesses ordered a ship to be fitted out for the journey south.
When Setna reached Coptos he was greeted by the priests of the temple of Isis and he offered oxen, geese and wine to the goddess and to Horus her son.
Next day he went with the High Priest of Isis to the City of the Dead to search for the tomb of Mrib and Ahwere.
He spent three days wandering among the tombs, turning over the ancient stones and reading the inscriptions, but none of them belonged to the family of Neferkaptah.
From distant Memphis the dead prince watched the search and when he saw that Setna could not find the tomb he turned himself into a very ancient priest and hobbled across the hillside.
Setna greeted him courteously.
'You seem the most ancient man I've met in Coptos.
Can you remember anything about the resting place of the Princess Ahwere and her son?'
The old man pretended to think for a while and then said, 'The grandfather of the grandfather of my father once said that the grandfather of his father had told him that the tomb of Ahwere lay there, under the southern corner of the house of the High Priest.'
Setna looked doubtful. 'How do I know that you're teling the truth? P> Perhaps you have a grudge against the High Priest and would like to see his house pulled down?'
'Keep me a prisoner while you pull the house down,' answered the old man with a toothless grin.
'And if you don't find the tomb, put me to death.'
Then Setna ordered his men to tear down the High Priest's house and under the southern corner they found an ancient tomb.
At the bottom of a deep shaft were the coffins of Ahwere and Mrib. Setna had them reverently carried on board his ship.
He ordered his men to start rebuilding the High Priest's house but when he went to reward the old man, he found the guards in confusion; their prisoner had vanished.
Setna understood then who the old man must have been.
Setna sailed north and when they reached Memphis and all his court came to the harbour to honour the royal dead.
The coffins of Ahwere and Mrib were carried into the burial chamber of Neferkaptah and the family were reunited.
Setna himself saw the entrance bricked up.
The tomb of the dead prince was never entered again and no-one else has read the Book of Thoth.
In the days before Ra had left the earth, before he had begun to grow old, his great wisdom told him that if the goddess Nut bore children, one of them would end his reign among men.
So Ra laid a curse upon Nut - that she should not be able to bear any child upon any day in the year.
Full of sorrow, Nut went for help to Thoth, the thrice-great god of wisdom and magic and learning, Ra's son, who loved her. Thoth knew that the curse of Ra, once spoken, could never be recalled, but in his wisdom he found a way of escape.
He went to Khensu, the Moon-god, and challenged him to a contest at draughts. Game after game they played and always Thoth won.
The stakes grew higher and higher, but Khensu wagered the most, for it was some of his own light that he risked and lost.
At last Khensu would play no more. Then Thoth the thrice-great in wisdom gathered up the light which he had won and made it into five extra days which for ever after were set between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.
The year was of three hundred and sixty days before this, but the five days which were added, which were not days of any year, were ever afterwards held as days of festival in old Egypt.
But, since his match with Thoth, Khensu the moon has not had enough light to shine throughout the month, but dwindles into darkness and then grows to his full glory again; for he had lost the light needed to make five whole days.
On the first of these days Osiris, the eldest son of Nut, was born, and the second day was set aside to be the birthday of Horus (the son of Isis and Osiris).
On the third day the second son of Nut was born, dark Set, the lord of evil.
On the fourth her daughter Isis first saw the light, and her second daughter Nephthys on the fifth.
In this way the curse of Ra was both fulfilled and defeated: for the days on which the children of Nut were born belonged to no year.
When Osiris was born many signs and wonders were seen and heard throughout the world. Most notable was the voice which came from the holiest shrine in the temple at Thebes on the Nile, which today is called Karnak, speaking to a man called Pamyles bidding him proclaim to all men that Osiris, the good and mighty king, was born to bring joy to all the earth.
Pamyles did as he was bidden, and he also attended on the Divine Child and brought him up as a man among men.
When Osiris was grown up he married his sister Isis, a custom which the Pharaohs of Egypt followed ever after. And Set married Nephthys: for he too being a god could marry only a goddess.
After Isis by her craft had learned the Secret Name of Ra, Osiris became sole ruler of Egypt and reigned on earth as Ra had done.
He found the people both savage and brutish, fighting among themselves and killing and eating one another.
But Isis discovered the grain of both wheat and barley, which grew wild over the land with the other plants and was still unknown to man; and Osiris taught them how to plant the seeds when the Nile had risen in the yearly inundation and sunk again leaving fresh fertile mud over the fields; how to tend and water the crops; how to cut the corn when it was ripe, and how to thresh the grain on the threshing floors, dry it and grind it to flour and make it into bread.
He showed them also how to plant vines and make the grapes into wine; and they knew already how to brew beer out of the barley.
When the people of Egypt had learned to make bread and cut only the flesh of such animals as he taught them were suitable, Osiris, went on to teach them laws, and how to live peacefully and happily together, delighting themselves with music and poetry.
As soon as Egypt was filled with peace and plenty, Osiris set out over the world to bring his blessings upon other nations. While he was away he left Isis to rule over the land, which she did both wisely and well.
But Set the Evil One, their brother, envied Osiris and hated Isis.
The more the people loved and praised Osiris, the more Set hated him; and the more good he did and the happier mankind became, the stronger grew Set's desire to kill his brother and rule in his place. Isis, however, was so full of wisdom and so watchful that Set made no attempt to seize the throne while she was watching over the land of Egypt.
And when Osiris returned from his travels Set was among the first to welcome him back and kneel in reverence before "the good god Pharaoh Osiris".
Yet he had made his plans, aided by seventy-two of his wicked friends and Aso the evil queen of Ethiopia. Secretly Set obtained the exact measurements of the body of Osiris, and caused beautiful chest to be made that would fit only him.
It was fashioned of the rarest and most costly woods: cedar brought from Lebanon, and ebony from Punt at the south end of the Red Sea for no wood grows in Egypt except the soft and useless palm.
Then Set gave a great feast in honour of Osiris; but the other guests were the two-and-seventy conspirators.
It was the greatest feast that had yet been seen in Egypt, and the foods were choicer, the wines stronger and the dancing girls more beautiful than ever before.
When the heart of Osiris had been made glad with feasting and song the chest was brought in, and all were amazed at its beauty.
Osiris marvelled at the rare cedar inlaid with ebony and ivory, with less rare gold and silver, and painted inside with figures of gods and birds and animals, and he desired it greatly.
"I will give this chest to whosoever fits it most exactly!" cried Set. And at once the conspirators began in turn to see if they could win it.
But one was too tall and another too short; one was too fat and another too thin - and all tried in vain.
"Let me see if I will fit into this marvellous piece of work," said Osiris, and he laid himself down in the chest while all gathered round breathlessly.
"I fit exactly, and the chest is mine!" cried Osiris.
"It is yours indeed, and shall be so forever!" hissed Set as he banged down the lid.
Then in desperate haste he and the conspirators nailed it shut and sealed every crack with molten lead, so that Osiris the man died in the chest and his spirit went west across the Nile into Duat the Place of Testing; but, beyond it to Amenti, where those live for ever who have lived well on earth and passed the judgments of Duat, he could not pass as yet.
Set and his companions took the chest which held the body of Osiris and cast it into the Nile; and Hapi the Nile-god carried it out into the Great Green Sea where it was tossed for many days until it came to the shore of Phoenicia near the city of Bybios.
Here the waves cast it into a tamarisk tree that grew on the shore; and the tree shot out branches and grew leaves and flowers to make a fit resting place for the body of the good god Osiris and very soon that tree became famous throughout the land.
Presently King Malcander heard of it, and he and his wife, Queen Astarte, came to the seashore to gaze at the tree.
By now the branches had grown together and hidden the chest which held the body of Osiris in the trunk itself.
King Malcander gave orders that the tree should be cut down and fashioned into a great pillar for his palace.
This was done, and all wondered at its beauty and fragrance: but none knew that it held the body of a god.
Meanwhile in Egypt Isis was in great fear. She had always known that Set was filled with evil and jealousy, but kindly Osiris would not believe in his brother's wickedness.
But Isis knew as soon as her husband was dead, though no one told her, and fled into the marshes of the delta carrying the baby Horus with her.
She found shelter on a little island where the goddess Buto lived, and entrusted the divine child to her.
And as a further safeguard against Set, Isis loosed the island from its foundations, and let it float so that no one could tell where to find it.
Then she went to seek for the body of Osiris.
For, until he was buried with all the needful rites and charms, even his spirit could go no farther to the west than Duat, the Testing-Place; and it could not come to Amenti.
Back and forth over the land of Egypt wandered Isis, but never a trace could she find of the chest in which lay the body of Osiris.
She asked all whom she met, but no one had seen it - and in this matter her magic powers could not help her.
At last she questioned the children who were playing by the riverside, and at once they told her that just such a chest as she described had floated past them on the swift stream and out into the Great Green Sea.
Then Isis wandered on the shore, and again and again it was the children who had seen the chest floating by and told her which way it had gone.
And because of this, Isis blessed the children and decreed that ever afterwards children should speak words of wisdom and sometimes tell of things to come.
At length Isis came to Byblos and sat down by the seashore.
Presently the maidens who attended on Queen Astarte came down to bathe at that place;
and when they returned out of the water Isis taught them how to plait their hair - which had never been done before.
When they went up to the palace a strange and wonderful perfume seemed to cling to them; and Queen Astarte marvelled at it, and at their plaited hair, and asked them how it came to be so.
The maidens told her of the wonderful woman who sat by the seashore, and Queen Astarte sent for Isis, and asked her to serve in the palace and tend her children, the little Prince Maneros and the baby Dictys, who was ailing sorely.
For she did not know that the strange woman who was wandering alone at Byblos was the greatest of all the goddesses of Egypt.
Isis agreed to this, and very soon the baby Dictys was strong and well though she did no more than give him her finger to suck.
But presently she became fond of the child, and thought to make him immortal, which she did by burning away his mortal parts while she flew round and round him in the form of a swallow.
Astarte, however, had been watching her secretly; and when she saw that her baby seemed to be on fire she rushed into the room with a loud cry, and so broke the magic.
Then Isis took on her own form, and Astarte crouched down in terror when she saw the shining goddess and learned who she was.
Malcander and Astarte offered her gifts of all the richest treasures in Byblos, but Isis asked only for the great tamarisk pillar which held up the roof, and for what it contained. When it was given to her, she caused it to open and took out the chest of Set.
But the pillar she gave back to Malcander and Astarte; and it remained the most sacred object in Byblos, since it had once held the body of a god.
When the chest which had become the coffin of Osiris was given to her, Isis flung herself down on it with so terrible a cry of sorrow that little Dictys died at the very sound. But Isis at length caused the chest to be placed on a ship which King Malcander provided for her, and set out for Egypt.
With her went Maneros, the young prince of Byblos: but he did not remain with her for long, since his curiosity proved his undoing. For as soon as the ship had left the land Isis retired to where the chest of Set lay, and opened the lid.
Maneros crept up behind her and peeped over her shoulder: but Isis knew he was there and, turning, gave him one glance of anger - and he fell backwards over the side of the ship into the sea.
Next morning, as the ship was passing the Phaedrus River, its strong current threatened to carry them out of sight of land. But Isis grew angry and placed a curse on the river, so that its stream dried up from that day.
She came safely to Egypt after this, and hid the chest in the marshes of the delta while she hastened to the floating island where Buto was guarding Horus.
But it chanced that Set came hunting wild boars with his dogs, hunting by night after his custom, since he loved the darkness in which evil things abound.
By the light of the moon he saw the chest of cedar wood inlaid with ebony and ivory, with gold and silver, and recognized it.
At the sight hatred and anger came upon him in a red cloud, and he raged like a panther of the south.
He tore open the chest, took the body of Osiris, and rent it into fourteen pieces which, by his divine strength, he scattered up and down the whole length of the Nile so that the crocodiles might eat them.
"It is not possible to destroy the body of a god!" cried Set. "Yet I have done it - for I have destroyed Osiris!"
His laughter echoed through the land, and all who heard it trembled and hid.
Now Isis had to begin her search once more. This time she had helpers, for Nephthys left her wicked husband Set and came to join her sister.
And Anubis, the son of Set and Nephthys, taking the form of a jackal, assisted in the search. When Isis travelled over the land she was accompanied and guarded by seven scorpions.
But when she searched on the Nile and among the many streams of the delta she made her way in a boat made of papyrus: and the crocodiles, in their reverence for the goddess, touched neither the rent pieces of Osiris nor Isis herself.
Indeed ever afterwards anyone who sailed the Nile in a boat made of papyrus was safe from them, for they thought that it was Isis still questing after the pieces of her husband's body.
Slowly, piece by piece, Isis recovered the fragments of Osiris. And wherever she did so, she formed by magic the likeness of his whole body and caused the priests to build a shrine and perform his funeral rites.
And so there were thirteen places in Egypt which claimed to be the burial place of Osiris. In this way also she made it harder for Set to meddle further with the body of the dead god.
One piece only she did not recover, for it had been eaten by certain impious fishes; and their kind were accursed ever afterwards, and no Egyptian would touch or eat them. Isis, however, did not bury any of the pieces in the places where the tombs and shrines of Osiris stood.
She gathered the pieces together, rejoined them by magic, and by magic made a likeness of the missing member so that Osiris was complete.
Then she caused the body to be embalmed and hidden away in a place of which she alone knew.
And after this the spirit of Osiris passed into Amenti to rule over the dead until the last great battle, when Horus should slay Set and Osiris would return to earth once more.
But as Horus grew in this world the spirit of Osiris visited him often and taught him all that a great warrior should know - one who was to fight against Set both in the body and in the spirit.
One day Osiris said to the boy: "Tell me, what is the noblest thing that a man can do?"
And Horus answered: "To avenge his father and mother for the evil done to them."
This pleased Osiris, and he asked further: "And what animal is most useful for the avenger to take with him as he goes out to battle?"
"A horse," answered Horus promptly.
"Surely a lion would be better still?" suggested Osiris.
"A lion would indeed be the best for a man who needed help," replied Horus; "but a horse is best for pursuing a flying foe and cutting him off from escape."
When he heard this Osiris knew that the time had come for Horus to declare war on Set, and bade him gather together a great army and sail up the Nile to attack him in the deserts of the south.
Horus gathered his forces and prepared to begin the war.
And Ra himself, the shining father of the gods, came to his aid in his own divine boat that sails across the heavens and through the dangers of the underworld.
Before they set sail Ra drew Horus aside so as to gaze into his blue eyes: for whoever looks into them, of gods or men, sees the future reflected there.
But Set was watching; and he took upon himself the form of a black pig - black as the thunder-cloud, fierce to look at, with tusks to strike terror into the bravest heart.
Meanwhile Ra said to Horus: "Let me gaze into your eyes, and see what is to come of this war." He gazed into the eyes of Horus and their colour was that of the Great Green Sea when the summer sky turns it to deepest blue.
While he gazed the black pig passed by and distracted his attention, so that he exclaimed: "Look at that! Never have I seen so huge and fierce a pig."
And Horus looked; and he did not know that it was Set, but thought it was a wild boar out of the thickets of the north, and he was not ready with a charm or a word of power to guard himself against the enemy.
Then Set aimed a blow of fire at the eyes of Horus; and Horus shouted with the pain and was in a great rage. He knew now that it was Set; but Set had gone on the instant and could not be trapped.
Ra caused Horus to be taken into a dark room, and it was not long before his eyes could see again as clearly as before. When he was recovered Ra had returned to the sky; but Horus was filled with joy that he could see, once more, and as he set out up the Nile at the head of his army, the country on either side shared his joy and blossomed into spring.
There were many battles in that war, but the last and greatest was at Edfu, where the great temple of Horus stands to this day in memory of it.
The forces of Set and Horus drew near to one another among the islands and the rapids of the First Cataract of the Nile. Set, in the form of a red hippopotamus of gigantic size, sprang up on the island of Elephantine and uttered a great curse against Horus and against Isis:
"Let there come a terrible raging tempest and a mighty flood against my enemies!" he cried, and his voice was like the thunder rolling across the heavens from the south to the north.
At once the storm broke over the boats of Horus and his army; the wind roared and the water was heaped into great waves. But Horus held on his way, his own boat gleaming through the darkness, its prow shining like a ray of the sun.
Opposite Edfu, Set turned and stood at bay, straddling the whole stream of the Nile, so huge a red hippopotamus was he. But Horus took upon himself the shape of a handsome young man, twelve feet in height.
His hand held a harpoon thirty feet long with a blade six feet wide at its point of greatest width.
Set opened his mighty jaws to destroy Horus and his followers when the storm should wreck their boats. But Horus cast his harpoon, and it struck deep into the head of the red hippopotamus, deep into his brain.
And that one blow slew Set the great wicked one, the enemy of Osiris and the gods - and the red hippopotamus sank dead beside the Nile at Edfu. The storm passed away, the flood sank and the sky was clear and blue once more.
Then the people of Edfu came out to welcome Horus the avenger and lead him in triumph to the shrine over which the great temple now stands.
And they sang the song of praise which the priests chanted ever afterwards when the yearly festival of Horus was held at Edfu:
"Rejoice, you who dwell in Edfu! Horus the great god, the lord of the sky, has slain the enemy of his father! Eat the flesh of the vanquished, drink the blood of the red hippopotamus, burn his bones with fire!
Let him be cut in pieces, and the scraps be given to the cats, and the offal to the reptiles!
"Glory to Horus of the mighty blow, the brave one, the slayer, the wielder of the Harpoon, the only son of Osiris, Horus of Edfu, Horus the avenger!" But when Horus passed from earth and reigned no more as the Pharaoh of Egypt, he appeared before the assembly of the gods, and Set came also in the spirit, and contended in words for the rule of the world.
But not even Thoth the wise could give judgment. And so it comes about that Horus and Set still contend for the souls of men and for the rule of the world.
There were no more battles on the Nile or in the land of Egypt; and Osiris rested quietly in his grave, which (since Set could no longer disturb it) Isis admitted was on the island of Philae, the most sacred place of all, in the Nile a few miles upstream from Elephantine.
But the Egyptians believed that the Last Battle was still to come - and that Horus would defeat Set in this also. And when Set was destroyed forever, Osiris would rise from the dead and return to earth, bringing with him all those who had been his own faithful followers.
And for this reason the Egyptians embalmed dead and set the bodies away beneath towering pyramids of stone and deep in the tomb chambers of western Thebes, so that the blessed souls returning from Amenti should find them ready to enter again, and in them to live for ever on earth under the good god Osiris, Isis his queen and their son Horus.