The name ‘Horit’ is simply the feminine form of the name ‘Horus’, but in certain contexts, it designates a deity irreducible to a mere abstract complement. The term is occasionally attested as an epithet of other deities, in particular Hathor, as well as of certain queens, particularly in the Ptolemaic era (Meeks, Mythes et Légendes du Delta, pp. 49-50). A hieratic papyrus, however, known as the Delta Mythological Manual, makes reference to a unique mythic cycle pertaining to Horit, and the deity featured in this cycle must be strictly distinguished from casual occurrences of the ‘female Horus’ title. This Horit is the daughter of Osiris and mother, by him, of five sons, whom the text (Meeks, Mythes et Légendes, §24) names as (1) Humehen; (2) the “Son of the Two Lords”, analogous to Thoth; (3) Horus of Medenu (Philadelpheia in the Fayum); (4) Horus of the Upper Royal Child Nome (Im-Khent or “Prince of the South”, the 18th nome or province of Lower Egypt); and (5), somewhat paradoxically, Horus-son-of-Isis.
Of Humehen (Quack (Orientalia 77, 2008, p. 109) suggests the possibility of reading ‘Hauron‘ instead of ‘Humehen’ here), the first child conceived by Osiris upon Horit, the text tells us little except that Horit was a virgin (“her first time”, §24 [X, 2]), that she “lamented” the event, and that Humehen was ‘born’ in unusual fashion. The text is unclear, but Horit either deliberately aborts or spontaneously miscarries [X, 3] and the text states, cryptically, that this was “as it came about previously for Tefnut”, which Von Lieven 2015 sees as a reference to Tefnut’s rape by her son Geb. Whatever issues from Horit immediately departs for the “Western Wadj-Wer” (Lake Mareotis or the Mediterranean Sea).
Horit gives birth to her second child by Osiris in the Upper Royal Child nome. This child is abducted by a lioness, who eats him. Horit searches for him throughout this district, finding his remains at Bubastis, being protected by a serpent called ‘Great-of-Strength’ (this name being given to the leader of the demon collective often attached to Bast and known as the “Seven Arrows” (Rondot, BIFAO 89, p. 270 n. 45)). Thoth and Nephthys catch and flay the lioness, wrapping the remains of the child in her skin, which the text identifies at once with a womb and with a sacred chest associated with Bubastis, whence he is reborn as Horus-Hekenu, referred to elsewhere in this text as “the Divine Body of Horus” (§23 [IX, 8]).
Horit couples with Osiris again and gives birth to Horus of Medenu (Harmotes or Harmotnis; note that Horus of Medenu is said in an inscription from Edfu (Edfou IV, 192, 4) to be the son of Bitjet, i.e. Tabithet). Osiris succumbs to the attack upon him by Seth and Horit hides with Harmotes in the marshes, raising him to become the avenger of his father. Harmotes succeeds in capturing and binding Seth, but Harmotes’ mother frees Seth. Harmotes then decapitates her, after which the text states that Dedwen “made Horus fly off into the sky and inflicted the same thing [decapitation] upon him.”
With regard to the fourth and fifth offspring of Horit the text is somewhat confusing. On the one hand, Horus-Hekenu has already been identified as the child of Horit born in the Upper Royal Child nome. On the other hand, the text recounting the story of Horit’s children interpolates into the account of Harmotnis an account of the posthumous conception by Isis of Horus at Mendes (§24, XI, 1-3). Since this Horus is explicitly identified in the text not as the son of Horit, but of Isis, this Horus ought to be the fifth son of Horit, identified in the prologue as the son of Isis in a different respect.
The remaining son of Horit is according to the text (§25) the product of an assault by Seth upon Horit in the Lower Royal Child nome, that is, Im-Pehu, the 19th nome of Lower Egypt. This child is identified earlier as the “Son of the Two Lords” because he is Thoth as the child of Horus and Seth, who are the typical referents of the phrase “the Two Lords”. The text identifies this child as none other than “Thoth who emerges from the forehead” (XI, 4). This refers to the episode, best known from the Conflict of Horus and Seth (11-13), in which Seth attempts to implicate Horus in a passive homosexual encounter, but ends up ingesting the semen himself and giving birth from his forehead either to the lunar disk Thoth bears on his head, or apparently in some versions to Thoth himself. Thoth is thus on such an account the son of Horus and Seth, Seth’s seed having passed into Horus’ hand (in the version from the Conflict text) before being ingested by Seth himself. (Note that Horus’ hand plays a similar role in this respect to that of Atum, personified as Iusâas.) The text concerning Horit states that she “became pregnant from his [Seth’s] seed which has also become for him ‘Thoth who emerges from the forehead’,” (Meeks, Mythes et Légendes, §25 [XI, 4]). In this version, however, Horit gives birth prematurely (“without having completed her time” [XI, 4]), “ejecting her egg” (same terminology as above [X, 3], which Jørgensen 2015 argues refers to Horit’s first menstruation) into the water, where it is found by the black ibis, the variety of Thoth’s sacred bird associated with the dark moon. This child, the text states, has the form of a fetal monkey, a reference presumably to Thoth’s baboon form, but possibly also to certain perceived characteristics of a human fetus, the text stating that “he [Horit’s child] has not been born like the other Gods.” Jørgensen 2015 sees the wnšb object, frequently offered to Goddesses in the Distant/Returning Goddess cycle, as a virtual rebus of this myth, with baboon (sometimes mummified), uterus symbol, and receptacle, also suggesting that similar terminology is used in a Demotic ostracon (ODém.DelM 4-1) for the premature or otherwise irregular birth of Seth himself.
A further episode related of Horit concerns her imprisonment, likely by Geb, at Sebennytos (capital of the 12th nome of Lower Egypt). Meeks regards this episode as pertaining to Horit-as-Tefnut, in reference to the myth concerning her rape by Geb. Elsewhere, however, the present text has stated that “the beloved of Ptah who is in Memphis is Horit the great one of Osiris. This is Sekhmet of Sebennytos whom one calls the daughter of Re. Her son suffered after he acted against his father,” (§31 [XII, 11-XIII, 1]). The ‘father’ mentioned here is doubtless not Ptah, and so the text must refer, strictly speaking, not to Sekhmet but to Horit. If it is Horit as Tefnut, then we may say, with Meeks, that it is a question of Tefnut’s son Geb suffering for a wrong committed against Shu. On the other hand, if the ‘son’ is one of the sons of Horit, then the ‘father’ is Osiris, and elsewhere the same text recounts that Horus, in using a net to trap certain bꜣw, that is, ‘souls’, that have appeared in the form of birds in a sandy place near Letopolis, accidentally catches the ba of his father Osiris as well and injures him (§19). In any case, the text states that Horit was imprisoned in Sebennytos and that “her son Onuris drove away the abomination of his father, what Seth had done to his mother,” (§32 [XIII, 4-5], following Jørgensen 2014, p. 75). The introduction of Onuris as her son fails to resolve the ambiguity, inasmuch as Onuris is often identified on the one hand with Shu, which brings him into proximity with Tefnut, but not as her son; and on the other hand with Haroeris and thus with a form of Horus potentially identifiable as one of the troubled sons of Horit, who furthermore has already been recounted to suffer an attack from Seth. (The substitution of Seth for Geb in texts dealing with Geb’s violation of his mother is not uncommon.)
The text goes on to speak of a ritual celebration at Behbeit of the liberation from captivity of this Goddess, who has “come of age while she was imprisoned”: “They say, ‘May she be free!’ when she is liberated … The women strip and splash themselves with fresh water, making purification, purifying this Goddess, chasing away all evil,” (§33 [XIII, 7-9]). A ‘coming of age’ seems appropriate as an end to the series of mythic tribulations this text has attributed to Horit’s symbolic adolescence.
Horit, and other Goddesses identified with her, is also associated with the menkhet (mꜥnḫt), a necklace counterpoise sometimes shown as a weight surmounted by a falcon head. Horit is sometimes identified with the menkhet, or it is said to be her protection (Jørgensen 2014, p. 105-7).
Though not identifying her as Horit, a spell in the Pyramid Texts (utterances 482 & 670) refers to either Osiris or Horus having an “eldest daughter in Ḳdm” (an unknown locality): “He [Horus] smites him who smote you [Osiris], he binds him who bound you, he sets him under your [var. ‘his’] eldest [or ‘great’] daughter who is in Ḳdm.” (Alternately, it has been suggested that the unknown deity is an originally feminine form of Imsety.)
A text from Edfu, though its reference is orthographically ambiguous between Horit and bikt, ‘the female hawk’, an epithet of Hathor, nevertheless seems to evoke the Horit cycle from the Delta Manual and a connection between this cycle and that of the Distant/Returning Goddess when it speaks of the red Ahemu-resin that “came into being from the vagina of Horit/bikt after the sufferings of her heart in traversing Punt” (Edfou II, 206, 11-12; discussed in Jørgensen 2015, p. 141).
Abdalla 1991 notes the existence of depictions of a female Horus in terracotta from the Graeco-Roman period that could be images of Horit.
Abdalla, Aly. 1991. A Graeco-Roman Group Statue of Unusual Character from Dendera. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 77: 189-193.
Jørgensen, J. K. B. 2014. Egyptian Mythological Manuals: Mythological structures and interpretative techniques in the Tebtunis Mythological manual, the manual of the Delta and related texts. Københavns Universitet, Det Humanistiske Fakultet.
——. 2015. Myths, Menarche and the Return of the Goddess. Pp. 133-164 in R. Nyord & K. Ryholt, eds. Lotus and Laurel: Studies on Egyptian Language and Religion in Honour of Paul John Frandsen. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum.
Meeks, Dimitri. 2006. Mythes et Légendes du Delta: d’après le papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.84. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
Von Lieven, A. 2015. Antisocial Gods? On the Transgression of Norms in Ancient Egyptian Mythology. Pp. 181-207 in Lotus and Laurel, op. cit.