Chapter 10 of the series Myths and Dragons
Part 1 – Horus: A New Hope, A Wise Past
Part 2 – Jacob – Never Surrender, Never Learn
Part 3 – A Change Worth Dying For, A Culture Always Challenged
If we are to take stories as maps of behavior then we need to identify with the characters. Horus, Jacob and Jesus provide three unique maps about the relationships between a father, a mother and a son. They also demonstrate three steps in the mythological consciousness that frames our cultural heritage. We can read these three stories and examine what they say about how the individual relates to the social order that surrounds them and to the unknown world outside that protective social order.
The posts are made up of three parts: an introduction, a story, and one explanation (or midrash).
Questions for readers: Can you identify with the hero’s situation?
Is this story a good map for how we should behave?
I believe many of us are more Horusian than we admit. The story of Horus is a part of the Egyptian creation myth, and how the culture of Egypt was established. Below is my version of the story. (You can find other versions on the net, like here, or here.)
Osiris was the oldest child of the sky and the earth. He married his sister Isis and ruled over gods and humanity. He taught his subjects how to make bread and how to live by laws. Everyone held him in the highest respect except his brother Set. Few cared for Set at all, and his loneliness and jealousy turned him into a terrible monster. Filled with rage, Set killed Osiris and cut up his body. He spread the pieces far and wide and then claimed himself king over everything.
Isis wept over the loss of her husband, and decided she would gather up the pieces of Osiris so that he could live long enough to father a child. With the help of her sister, Isis found all the parts of Osiris’ body except for his eyes and his phallus. Isis made a new phallus for him from what was his favorite weapon, a spear. She then breathed over the body and Osiris was resurrected. Isis soon became pregnant and Osiris, whole once again, was able to descend into the underworld. There, his honor and nobility grew until he became king and ruler.
Isis named her child Horus for he had the eyes of a hawk. Horus was bright-eyed and curious about everything in the world. Isis told him about his father, and about Set. Horus decided that he must contact his father. Now that Osiris ruled the underworld, he wasn’t able to send all of his wisdom to Horus. But Osiris taught his son and tested him, and with each lesson he grew more proud of his son. He taught Horus how to make a long spear and told him to keep it handy should Set ever attack him. When Horus was old enough, he challenged Set before the court of the gods. “I am the rightful king,” he declared. There was a great argument that settled nothing, and so Set schemed to challenge Horus to a series of contests.
Set cheated at first and thought himself clever, until Isis caught him. She set a trap, but let him go when Set begged for his life. When Horus found out, he became angry at both Set and his mother. Isis scolded him though, and reminded him that he can trust his mother even if he cannot understand everything she did. The gods decided there would be one last contest and Set decided to make this one very difficult. They would race boats made of heavy stone.
Horus, now realizing the nature of these contests, conspired with his mother and made his boat of a light wood she found for him. They covered it with limestone plaster concealing its construction. Set, in his haste, used the cap of a mountain, but it sunk to the bottom of the river. The other gods laughed at him. Set grew so angry he turned into a monster again. He dove into the water and hid on the mountain cap until Horus came by in his boat. Set jumped out of the water at Horus and tore an eye out of the face of the bright-eyed prince. Horus swallowed the pain and plunged his long spear into the water, pinning Set to the mountain cap. Set writhed in anger but as long as Horus held the spear, Set could not get free.
The gods were then amazed, and saw Horus would be the just ruler of the world. Set had come to the throne by murder, but Horus had only trapped the evil Set in the water with the spear.
Horus gained much power and skill as king, but knew his work was not done. He dove into the water, and searched for his eye. When he found it he went straight to the underworld to find Osiris. Horus then offered his father the eye so he might see again. Horus and Osiris ruled as father and son until Osiris had to return to the underworld. Horus ruled all his life but Set did manage to get free of the spear and out of the water. Horus and Set still have their contests and try to direct all of us in each their own way.
In this story, the tyranny of the rage-filled monster of Set compelled Isis to have a child to renew the hope of restoring the old kingdom. A son sought out the wisdom of his father, learned how to beat a tyrant at the tyrant’s own game, and became a wise and gracious ruler like his father. After a long preparation, he came before the gods and faced his challenger openly and honestly. Unfortunately, he never does triumph over the tyrant completely, but he is strong enough, wise enough and well armed enough to protect the world regardless of what the future may bring.
The Father’s kingdom cannot be fully restored. It is a thing of the past. But by mining the past and using the gifts it has to offer, a new leader can flourish, prepared for any trouble that may lie ahead. As well, a kingdom ruled by jealousy, rage and emotional outburst is not a healthy society. Horus learns even from his enemy. Set shows that rage can obtain power. He also shows his destructive power against nature with the mountain and the water. But most importantly, he demonstrates he is not a good king, just as we should not be ruled by such behavior or emotion.
The Mother’s resources and talents are beneficial, and even crucial, in restoring order. However, in this story, Isis makes her own decisions in reassembling Osiris, letting Set go once he’s caught, and helping Horus with his boat. The natural world, in its complexity, does not always commit to one side of a conflict or one course of action. It can create, it can trap, it can provide, and it can be a great teacher, but it will not be ruled over. Horus accepts this, and also imitates this by trapping his enemy, Set, but ultimately not destroying him.
What do you think?
Can you identify with the hero’s situation?
Is this story a good map for how we should behave?