(Sometimes Heru, or in compounds Hor-, Har-, Her-) Among the most ubiquitous of Egyptian Gods, Horus embodies kingship, victory, righteousness, and civilization. Horus is depicted either as a hawk-headed man or as a hawk, probably a peregrine falcon, except when he is depicted as a child (Harpocrates) in which case he is depicted anthropomorphically. From the earliest period, the king of Egypt was identified to some degree with Horus, and each pharaoh bore a ‘Horus name’ to which was later added a ‘Golden Horus name’. The Eye of Horus, known as the ‘Sound Eye’ or wedjat, from the word w-dj- (cf. Wadjet), meaning healthy, flourishing, or prosperous, or, as a verb, to proceed or attain, ranks as one of the most important and recognizable symbols in Egyptian religion. The typical consort of Horus is the Goddess Hathor, whose name means ‘House of Horus’. (In magical contexts, however, Tabithet and/or similar Goddesses may be his consort.)

The two primary aspects of Horus from which the rest can be derived—not as an historical matter, but for conceptual purposes—are Haroeris and Harsiese. The former is the Hellenized phonetic rendering of the name Hor-Wer, ‘Horus the Elder’ or ‘Horus the Great’, the latter the phonetic rendering of Hor-sa-Ise, ‘Horus son of Isis‘. Haroeris is conceived as the sky, with the sun and the moon as his right and left eyes respectively, but we may regard forms of Horus which strongly emphasize his solar aspect (often expressed by fusion with Re, on which see below) as pertaining generally to this side of his character. This aspect of Horus is relatively autonomous in relation to the Osirian mythos and may represent the form of Horus worshiped in the earliest period before he was fully incorporated into the Osirian narrative, if indeed there ever was such a time. The purpose of drawing such a distinction is not to make this claim, but simply to facilitate the analysis of the many aspects in which Horus is manifest. Harsiese, by contrast, is the son of Isis and Osiris, who, with his mother’s help, vindicates his father (hence he is called Harendotes, from the Egyptian Hor-nedj-atef[-f], ‘Horus-savior-of-[his]-father’) and is awarded the cosmic sovereignty after a lengthy conflict with his uncle Seth. This conflict, in which Horus receives constant assistance from Isis, is fought on many levels—magical, juridical, cosmic, medical—and is, aside from the conflict between Re and Apophis, the principal symbol of conflict as such in Egyptian religious thought. When Egypt’s pharaoh strives against enemies foreign or domestic, it is as Horus against Seth; when a person suffers from an illness or from the poison of a snake or scorpion, the spells which are applied identify the sufferer with Horus and the forces against which s/he strives with Seth. Animal products offered up to the Gods, because of the violence involved in their production, are linked to the recovery of the Eye of Horus stolen by Seth in the form of a wild animal (paradigmatically an oryx). When Horus and Seth fight, Horus receives an injury to his eye, Seth to his testicles (see, e.g., BD spell 99, “O Ferryman, bring me this which was brought to Horus for his eye, which was brought to Seth for his testicles.”)

The Eye of Horus or wedjat is one of the most multivalent symbols in Egyptian thought—even being used to represent Egypt itself—but its many functions have at their center the notion of the wedjat as representing the beneficial power contained within offerings to the Gods of every kind. Whatever is the substance offered, once it has been made a divine offering it becomes the Eye of Horus. The wedjat is also a symbol for any helpful substance or object, and is a general term for any amulet, itself of course a very common amulet, expressing the double nature of Horus both as healer and as one who has been healed, for the ‘Eye of Horus’ refers virtually always to the eye which was wounded and healed, not to the other one (see, e.g., PT utterance 301, “Behold, the King brings to you [Horus] your great left Eye in a healed condition; accept it from the King intact…”; but see Harsomptus, below). Thoth is frequently credited with accomplishing this regeneration, which forms the basis of a ritual bond between these Gods. Often the Eye of Horus is identified with the moon, its waning expressing the damage done to Horus by Seth, its regeneration expressed in the moon’s waxing cycle. Egyptians also denoted the most common fractions of the grain measure by using the several portions of the stylized wedjat, the form of which seems to incorporate aspects of the eyes of a human, a hawk, and a leopard or cheetah.

A form of Horus which may be regarded as belonging to the side of Harsiese is Harpocrates, the Greek phonetic rendering of the name Hor-pa-khered, ‘Horus as a child’. Harpocrates is depicted as a naked boy with a long braided lock of hair draped over one ear, suckling at the breast of his mother Isis or seated on a lotus blossom representing the emergence of the cosmos from the primeval waters, with his finger in his mouth implying, not silence, as was sometimes thought by foreigners, but probably having only just been weaned from the breast. Harpocrates often wears crowns typical of the monarch and holds symbols of sovereignty such as the crook and flail. Harpocrates features prominently on magical stelae called cippi. These plaques show Harpocrates, often surmounted by a head of the God Bes, grasping snakes, scorpions, and other dangerous wild animals in his hands and standing atop crocodiles, and signify the God’s dominance over these symbols of mortal danger (spell no. 123 in Borghouts serves to empower such a stela). Such stelae were erected in public places such as the forecourts of temples and appear to have been used typically by pouring water over them which was collected at the bottom and drunk. The infant Horus, hidden by Isis in the papyrus thickets of the Delta for fear of his uncle Seth, is the object of diverse attacks on his life, and hence spells used to ward off or to treat snakebites or scorpion stings, as well as diverse illnesses, or to secure one against other sorts of hazard, are frequently linked to this episode in the myth, often by taking the form of an appeal to Isis on behalf of Horus, with whom the patient is identified (e.g. spells no. 90-94, 96 in Borghouts). The identification between the individual and Horus in these spells can be seen as paralleling, in some respects, the identification between Horus and the pharaoh.

Harpocrates is not the only form of Horus as a child, however; as Harsomtus (Harsomptus), ‘Horus the uniter’ or Panebtawy (‘Lord of the Two Lands’), he is the child of Haroeris and Hathor. Harsomtus embodies the cosmogonic aspect of Horus, and is frequently depicted either as a mummiform hawk on a pedestal, or as a serpent rising from the primordial lotus blossom, in this serpent form being also known as Sata (Sato), ‘son of the earth’. Harsomtus is associated with the right eye, i.e., the sun, and hence with its cycles of night and day, latency and activation, introversion and creation (on Harsomtus in general see El-Kordy 1982).

The effectiveness of Horus in spells does not come only from identification with him. Horus is a potent magical operator in his own right; in spell 96 in Borghouts, a “conjuration of a scorpion,” Horus is urged to “sit down, Horus, and recite for yourself! Your own words are useful for you,” and another spell (103) praises at length the power of “the words of Horus”: they ward off death, extend life, heal disease, alter one’s destiny, protect from attack and soothe emotional turmoil. In spell 139, the magical operator claims to have “slept in the embrace of Horus during the night” and to have “heard all he said.” Horus, who grasps a viper one cubit long in one hand and treads on another snake of twelve cubits, says that he was taught to speak when Osiris was still alive—that is, before he was even conceived. After this, the operator affirms that “it is Horus who has taught me to speak!” Accordingly Horus himself is sometimes called ‘the physician’ (e.g. spell 99).

An important form of Horus which may be regarded as belonging to the side of Haroeris is Horakhty (Harakhty), i.e. Hor-akheti, ‘Horus of the horizons’, often fused with Re to produce the combined form Re-Horakhty. The name, in its reference to the eastern and western horizons, expresses the sun’s successful journey both by day, through the world of the living, and by night, through the netherworld. Horakhty is not to be confused with Harmachis, from Hor-m-akhet, ‘Horus in the horizon’, i.e. the western horizon alone. The Great Sphinx at Giza is an image of Harmachis. This form of Horus was also frequently fused with Re to form the compound deity Re-Harmachis. These forms, common iconographically, have little myth associated with them. Another form of Horus which belongs to the Haroeris side of his character, but which has more of a role in myth, is Horus Behdety, Horus of Behdet (or Behudet), the city more commonly known as Edfu. Horus Behdety is depicted as a winged solar disk, a familiar symbol on many Egyptian temples and which was, after the Persian occupation of Egypt, incorporated into the iconography of Persian religion as well. This winged disk—which was sometimes identified with the Morning and Evening Star (Fairman pp. 35-36 [12,4—12, 6])—represents the assistance Horus offers to Re in combating his enemies during the Egyptian seasons of akhet and the first half of peret, roughly from our late summer to the winter solstice (Fairman pp. 32 [9, 8], 33 [10, 2], 34 [10, 14]). Horus Behdety is analogous, in this respect, to Goddesses known as the ‘Eye of Re’ (e.g., Sekhmet, Tefnut) who similarly assist Re in his time of need. A long text inscribed on the walls of the great temple of Horus at Edfu, illustrated with numerous reliefs, recounts the battles waged by Horus Behdety against the enemies of Re, who take the forms of crocodiles and hippopotami. Horus Behdety is assisted by numerous followers, called mesenu, or ‘harpooners’, armed with iron spears and chains. When Seth makes common cause with the enemies of Re, Horus Behdety and Horus son of Isis join forces, the text thus emphasizing at once their distinctness as well as their parallelism. This text, in addition to its seasonal significance, includes formulae for the king to identify himself with Horus Behdety “on the day on which trouble and strife occur,” the king reciting four times, “I am the God’s avenger who came forth from Behdet, and Horus of Behdet is my name,” (Fairman 36 [12, 8 – 12, 11]). The conflict of Horus-son-of-Isis with Seth was the subject of a lengthy narrative cycle with many episodes, the most significant surviving treatment being from the Chester Beatty papyrus (trans. in Lichtheim vol. 2, 214-223). In this text Re (notwithstanding that he is almost always referred to in the text as ‘Re-Horakhty’) does not initially side with Horus in his claim to the throne, due to the assistance Seth provides him in his battle with Apophis. The text portrays the conflict between Horus and Seth as turning upon the question of whether the source of sovereignty should be legitimacy or force, the Gods deciding in favor of the former when they award the sovereignty to Horus.

Although Egyptian texts usually make little effort to distinguish Haroeris from Harsiese, the Coffin Texts do feature, among the genre of spells for transforming into, or invoking, particular deities, separate spells for “Becoming the Elder Horus” (CT spell 280) and for “Becoming Horus” (i.e., the son of Isis) (CT spell 326). In the latter, the operator states that “There is tumult in the sky, and we see something new, say the primeval Gods,” referring to the advent of Horus. Having assumed the solar power as “Lord of the sunlight,” Harsiese/the operator states “I have taken possession of the sky, I have divided the firmament, I will show the paths of Khepri [the God of formation or change], and the dwellers in the netherworld will follow me.” The ideas of a new element entering into the cosmic order, of the transfer of sovereignty, and of conflict at once generated and resolved, point to Horus son of Isis. An alternative version of CT spell 326 elaborates: “N. [the operator, identified with Horus] has made the Enneads,”—the other Gods, organized into an indefinite number of pantheons each ideally of nine members—”to vomit,”—i.e., to yield up something additional of their substance to the cosmos—”N. has subdued the elder Gods, N. has come that he may stop the tumult … N. seats himself.” By contrast, CT spell 280, cast in the second, rather than the first person, addresses the deceased as “the elder Horus who took sail at nightfall … he who mourns in the mansion of Osiris … your eye is Re,” for he has assumed the solar potency, “… your head is Iunmutef,” ‘pillar-of-his-mother’, for he has redeemed the faith of Isis in him, “you have judged between the rivals, namely the two who would destroy the sky,” that is, Harsiese and Seth (this ordinarily being the role of Thoth). Note the echo, in this statement, of the other spell’s reference to “tumult in the sky” caused by the advent of Harsiese. The spell ends, “You have given judgment in this sky for Re, light and dark are at your will … you are the Elder Horus, one who has become the Elder Horus,” in which the perfected nature of the judgment and of the transformation, and the successful exercise of both light and dark, allude to a distinction between the younger and the elder Horus somewhere between one of person and one of phase or aspect.

Horus is the culmination of any process in which he takes part, and hence is not usually connected in a strong way with offspring; Ihy, for instance, is more the son of Hathor than of Horus, and is himself often identified with Harsomtus. Another exception which to some degree proves the rule are the four Gods known as the ‘sons of Horus‘, who, although sometimes regarded as children of Haroeris and Isis, are also treated as semi-autonomous potencies of Horus himself, or as independent powers appropriated, so to speak, by Horus son of Isis in the settlement of claims between he and Seth.

Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Borghouts, J. F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Fairman, H. W. 1935. “The Myth of Horus at Edfu – I.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21.
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Gardiner, Alan. 1957. Egyptian Grammar. 3d ed. Oxford: Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum.
el-Kordy, Zeinab. 1982. “Deux Études sur Harsomtous.” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 82: 171-186.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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3 Responses to “Horus”

  1. […] Egypt (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002). [Google Books preview] Edward P. Butler, “Horus,” https://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/horus/. R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Stilwell, Kansas: Digireads, 2007). [Google […]

  2. […] is my main devotional shrine, kept for Aset, Sobek, and Heru-sa-Aset, though there are icons here for other deities as well. I am a Kemetic pagan who experiences Aset […]

  3. […] when Osiris is gone. He’s been taken from us, he’s in the river, Aset is searching, Heru and Set are battling it out- it’s a time of chaos and loss. This is the field after the seeds […]

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