Sunday, May 30, 2010

In the Beginning - Part Five

Part five of five

The Final Act

In part four of this stylised version of one of the creation myths of ancient Egypt, we were introduced to the five children of the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb. Their names were Osiris, Seth, Haroeris, Isis and Nephthys. While Haroeris returned to The Complete One, Osiris became the first King of Egypt. When it was time for him to stand aside for his brother Seth, their father Geb decided that Osiris should remain on the throne. While Seth brooded on the injustice of the decision in Nubia, Ptah, god of the word invented the concept of an ‘heir’. He instructed Osiris and his sister Isis to marry and to produce an heir to the throne. The word ‘heir’, carrying with it the possible establishment of a dynasty that excluded Seth, was heard in the desert far to the south, in the place Seth had made his home. This is the final part of the series on the creation myth of ancient Egypt taken from the book “Pharaoh Ay Remembers” by Anthony Holmes.

Seth heard the word “heir” in the vast reaches of the desert of Nubia. He was determined not to permit this travesty of justice to take place. He was determined to take his place on the throne. He waited until the time for the celebration of the wedding of Osiris and Isis was announced. Seth set a messenger to the palace from where Osiris ruled at Men-nefer. The message read,

“Your brother Seth, Son of Geb and Nut and Prince of Nubia (Sudan), greets his brother Osiris and his sister Isis, the King and Queen of Upper and Lower Kemet (the southern part and the delta region of Egypt). I congratulate you on your accession to the dual thrones of your country. At the time of the announcement of your extended rule I had succumbed to the dark side of my humour and, not being worthy company in your celebration, I withdrew myself to a remote place. A full cycle of time has now past and I have emerged from the gloom into the new light of your reign. I wish to participate in the happiness of your forthcoming marriage and, together with our sister Nephthys, I wish to attend the marriage ceremony so that we, the four Earthly children of Geb and Nut, may stand together in your time of joy. My messenger awaits your response.”

Osiris and Isis were pleased to receive this conciliatory message from their estranged brother. Their response to Seth, although couched in the formal terms of their office, was warm and welcoming.

Seth arrived in Men-nefer several days before the wedding. He presented himself to his brother and sister and the reunion was seen to be friendly. All seemed to be peaceable and correct.

At a family gathering of the four siblings, Seth came up with the apparently spontaneous suggestion that Osiris should attend a dinner in his honour, given by Seth and his friends, as a final celebration of his status as an unmarried male.

‘Enjoy the last night of your freedom from marital ties.’ was the humorous invitation extended by Seth. And so it was that Osiris attended the fateful meal that was to change the future of Kemet (Egypt).

The meal was held in the large tent that Seth had erected outside the walls of the palace. Seth had been invited to stay in the palace but he had declined, saying that he had come to appreciate the nomadic lifestyle and was more comfortable in the large tent. In addition to Osiris and Seth there were forty-two men present at the banquet. The cushions were set out in two parallel lines with Seth and Osiris seated at the head of each line. A large wooden chest, bound with bronze strapping was placed between the lines.

The meal proceeded with much joviality. The servants from the palace were finally dismissed and the group settled down to a session of stories of their exploits, some possibly true but mostly pure exaggerations of minor events. Finally, his curiosity exceeded his caution and Osiris asked about the wooden chest.

Seth laughed and said it was merely something that travelled with them but it was not of any interest to the King of Kemet. Osiris persisted, his interest aroused.

‘It is a means of making wealth.’ Seth finally admitted. ‘Anyone we meet on our travels may, on payment of a single gold piece, try to fit himself inside the chest. The inside of the chest is not empty. It is fitted with various wooden blocks, carved in strange shapes. The individual has to fit himself precisely between the blocks so that the lid can be closed. If this can be achieved, the successful man wins the chest filled to the brim with gold pieces. It represents a huge fortune.’

Seth looked at his brother and laughed,

‘So far we have not had to pay anyone, although thousands have tried their luck. Of course the challenge is of no interest to you, for you have more wealth than ten thousand chests of gold.’

But Osiris had consumed sufficient beer to be foolish.

‘Show me how it works.’ he demanded.

One of Seth’s friends opened the chest. It held a complicated compendium of blocks of all shapes and sizes. Seth called to one of his friends.

‘Climb inside the chest and show the King how this device works.’

Osiris watched as the young man climbed into the box, arranging his limbs in what appeared to be the most excruciating formation as he tried to fill every small space available. Finally he signified he was ready but as the lid was gently lowered it was apparent that there was no possibility of closing it. A knee here and an elbow there made it clear that this was not a good fit. The lid of the chest was raised again and the young man climbed out amid much laughter, stretching his cramped muscles and shaking his numb limbs.

‘I wish to try.’ exclaimed Osiris.

‘I would not advise it’’ said the young man who had recently demonstrated the problems involved.

‘I would not do it for gold,’ said Osiris, ‘but merely for the sport.’

The more Seth and his company tried to dissuade Osiris the more stubbornly he insisted on trying. Eventually they acceded to his demand and opened the lid of the chest once more.

Osiris was a supple man. He climbed into the chest and organised his body to suit the profiles of the wooden blocks. He appeared to melt into the shape as if it had been specifically made for his body. He said he was ready. The lid was lowered. It closed all the way. Seth leapt forward and slid a rod through the bronze hasp, locking the lid.

Seth immediately struck camp and the band of followers split up and travelled in different directions, each one heading for a different Nome (Province) while Seth rode back southwards towards Upper Kemet (The upper reaches of the Nile River).

Osiris did not last very long in the airtight chest. When Seth considered sufficient time had elapsed he opened the chest and beheld the dead body of his brother. But Seth was the son of a god and he well knew the divine ability of the gods to raise the dead and return life to them. What he then proceeded to perform compounded the evil of this most horrible act of fratricide.

Seth cut Osiris’s body into several pieces, some say fourteen. He instructed his followers and they scattered the pieces all over the Land.

That should have been the end of Osiris, but it was not. His sister Isis who was also his prospective wife, with the help of her sister Nephthys searched the entire land and managed to gather together the pieces of her dead brother. The pieces were bound together with linen strips in the way embalmers have done ever since. Then, transforming herself into a fluttering kite by the use of powerful magic she invigorated Osiris for one final act in this life. In her bird form she hovered over Osiris and mated with him. Osiris then returned to the state of death and entered the afterlife. He became the Lord of the Dead and rule over the Underworld to which all dead persons travel. As a result of his final mortal act Isis conceived and produced a son she called Horus.

In the meantime Seth had not been idle. He called on his father Geb to fulfil the decision originally made by ‘The Complete One’, and raise him to the throne. Geb now had no choice but to proclaim Seth monarch of Upper and Lower Kemet. He reigned for years and was recognised by the populace as a stern but fair king.

Naturally, when Horus reached maturity he wanted to avenge his father’s death. In terms of the laws governing the succession to the throne, any person with a legitimate claim to the throne was permitted to challenge the incumbent to battle to determine the rightful claim to sovereignty. Horus issued a challenge to his uncle Seth. An inconclusive battle resulted in which each was seriously injured. Horus lost an eye and Seth’s testicles were so crushed that they had to be removed to save his life. Finally the god of the Earth Geb decided that the land should be divided and that Horus would rule Lower Kemet from the first branch of the Delta northwards to the Sea, while Seth would rule Upper Kemet from the Delta southwards to the first cataract.

Although it seemed to be an ideal solution, Ma’at intervened. She claimed that Seth had forfeited his chance to rule any part of Kemet because the murder of Osiris weighed heavily against him on the Balance of Justice. ‘The Complete One’ agreed with Ma’at. He instructed Ptah to say the words and Horus was given full authority over both of the Two Lands.

Seth was banished by ‘The Complete One’ to the land below the horizon to the south. Seth became the first King of Nubia, where he ruled with wisdom and justice for many years. Finally, after serving his time of banishment, he departed from this life to join the other gods, from which time he was revered as the main god of Nubia.

Horus ruled the lands of Upper and Lower Kemet with strength and wisdom. His wise leadership was established as the example for all subsequent Kings to follow. Each King who ascended the throne of the Land of Kemet thereafter was referred to as the “Living Horus”


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