Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays, Horus!

This post is not meant to be comprehensive or scholarly; it's merely my musing on the topic after being bombarded with more than a few seasonal messages. 

There is a room located on the second floor of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. The only entrance is through the roof of the temple. It contains bas-reliefs that illustrate the resurrection of Osiris. On my first visit to Egypt, I went to Dendera. As the guide told the story, some tourists were puzzled by the similarity of the Osirian myth to Christian beliefs, because this myth preceded their own by several millennium. Their conclusion was, and I quote, "God was very clever to plant this story to prepare the way for Jesus." That's faith for you. (More about faith at the end.)

Around this time of year, the internet is filled with competing articles about

No doubt about it, the Christmas story and many of its traditions have some bonafide pagan bones, but there's also some specious research behind some of the claims. Never more so than when it comes to the Egyptian god, Horus, son of the aforementioned Osiris. Click here and here for a couple of the most egregious examples. The one that particularly irritates me is when someone claims and then rejects the story that Horus is a resurrected god. I always want to say, "HELLO, that was his father."

No doubt the confusing nature of Egyptian mythology contributes to the silliness. Yet, when you go to the core myth, clearly, the god who is often called the Bringer of Light bears some resemblance to Christ. (So do many other ancient gods, but that's someone else's blog to explain.)

Horus protecting the king
So, who was this Horus god? And why does he get mixed up in Christmas?

He was the son of Isis and Osiris, often portrayed as a hawk. He was not, as some claim, the KING of  Gods or the God of the SUN; he was the GOD of Kings. Horus is credited with establishing the order of kingship and with protection of the king.

Egyptian kings were called the Living Horus, had a Horus name, and claimed Horus's mother Isis as their mother. Instead of calling their heir the Prince of Wales, the heir was Horus in the Nest.

Horus is perhaps best known for fighting his Uncle Set to reclaim his father's throne and to avenge his father who was murdered by said uncle. Set is sometimes erroneously compared to Satan. Horus is also known for his somewhat erratic devotion to mother Isis, whose head he once cut off. She is often erroneously compared to Mary. Let's be clear about it: Isis, who had sex with her brother Osiris while they were both still in the womb, was no virgin by any stretch of the imagination.

So what makes Horus similar to Christ?

Similar iconography. No doubt Isis with the Horus Child bears an amazing likeness to Mary with the Christ Child.

Isis with Horus/Mary with Jesus

"Unique" conception. On one hand, Christians have a god impregnating a virgin via a winged creature (the annunciation). On the other hand, Ancient Egyptians have a goddess impregnating herself by becoming a winged creature to resurrect her dead husband, also a god, just long enough for the deed to take place.
Conception was interesting in the ancient world

A god for a father. Horus's father is Osiris, who judges the dead and decides whether
they can go to paradise. Christ's father is Jehovah, who also judges the dead and decides whether they can go to paradise.

My dad's a god!

Similar birth date. At some point, Christians settled on December 25 as the birthday of Christ. Plutarch tells us that Harpocrates (Horus the Child) is born on the winter solstice, December 21:
It is said that Isis, when she was aware of her being pregnant, put on a protective amulet on the sixth day of Phaophi, and at the winter solstice gave birth to Harpocrates, imperfect and prematurely born, amid plants that burgeoned and sprouted before their season . . . and they are said to celebrate the days of her confinement after the spring equinox. (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 65B-c)
A host of angels and or gods attended the birth of both and marveled at the newborn.

Horus and Jesus are born and worshipped
This is no place to have a baby. Plutarch says Isis loosened the island of Chemmis from its foundation and set it afloat to protect Horus from Set while she gave birth in the reeds. We all know the manager story.

Enemies in high places at an early age. Isis hides Horus from his murderous uncle Set, the King, who fears Horus will steal his crown. Mary hides Jesus from Herod, who has similar concerns. Is it just coincidence Mary goes to Egypt to hide?

Superseding the one that came before/ascension. John the Baptist predicts the coming of one who will be greater than he; later Jesus ascends to heaven. In the Coffin Texts,  the god Atum saluted Horus while discussing other matters with their fellow gods, such as Horus's seat on Ra's solar boat. While they were talking, Horus flew up on his own, higher than even the "old" gods who inhabited the constellations and became Lord of the Horizon.

That girl! Horus married the goddess Hathor, or maybe she married his Uncle Horus. It's all a bit confusing. At any rate, Hathor, the goddess of love, music and inebriation (or, as we now say, sex, drugs, and rock ' n' roll) anointed Horus with milk from the Sycamore tree to restore his sight when Set ripped out his eye. This is the same goddess who flashed Ra and shook her breasts to cheer him up. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, used nard, an expensive perfume, to anoint Jesus' feet and dried his feet with her hair to restore his spirits when he was down. Cue up Everything's alright from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Hathor and Horus/Jesus and Mary Magdalene

Battle at the end of the world. In the  Egyptian story, Horus battles his uncle Set for 80 years and is finally victorious in reclaiming the crown of Egypt. However, there is also a belief that their final battle has yet to occur, and that they will fight again to determine the ultimate fate of the universe. Will Ma'at (justice, balance, order ) or Isfet (chaos) prevail?

Horus' victory over Seth/Jesus' victory over Satan

According to Christians, Jesus will return to earth and defeat the Antichrist (the "beast"), the False Prophet and Satan the Devil in the Battle of Armageddon. Then Satan will be put into the "bottomless pit" or abyss for 1,000 years, known as the Millennium. After being released, Satan his followers will encamp surrounding the "holy ones" and Jerusalem. Fire will come down from God, out of heaven and devour Gog and Magog. Book of Revelation, people!

In conclusion. So yeah, there are a few similarities.

But at the end of the day, belief -- whether it's in Horus, Jesus, Allah, Festivus, nature, a variety of gods, a wind-up universe, or in nothing at all  --  comes down to faith, the confidence in something that cannot be proven.

With that thought in mind, I wish you the joy of both your faith and the season. I hope it is not marred by dwelling on the differences that make us sublimely human or by a choice of words in a greeting that intends to convey joy and love.

Many thanks to my good friend, Clara Robertson, for Santa Horus.