Myth, Ritual, and Religion/Volume 2/Chapter 15
THE MYTHOLOGY OF EGYPT.
Antiquity of Egypt—Guesses at origin of the people—Chronological view of the religion—Permanence and changes—Local and syncretic worship—Elements of pure belief and of totemism—Authorities for facts—Monuments and Greek reports—Contending theories of modern authors—Study of the gods, their beasts, their alliances, and mutations—Evidence of ritual—A study of the Osiris myth and of the development of Osiris—Savage and theological elements in the myth—Moral aspect of the religion—Conclusion.
Even to the ancients Egypt was antiquity, and the Greeks sought in the dateless mysteries of the Egyptian religion for the fountain of all that was most mysterious in their own. Curiosity about the obscure beginnings of human creeds and the first knowledge of the gods was naturally aroused by that spectacle of the Pantheon of Egypt. Her highest gods were abstractions, swathed, like the Involuti of the Etrurians, in veils of mystic doctrine; yet in the most secret recess of her temples the pious beheld "a crocodile, a cat, or a serpent, a beast rolling on a purple couch." In Egypt, the earlier ages and the later times beheld a land dominated by the thought of death, whose shadow falls on the monarch on his crowning day, whose whisper bids him send to far-off shores for the granite and the alabaster of the tomb. As life was ruled by the idea of death; so was fact conquered by dream, and all realities hastened to lose themselves in symbols; all gods rushed to merge their identity in the sun, as moths fly towards the flame of a candle. This spectacle of a race obedient to the dead and bowing down before the beasts, this procession of gods that were their own fathers and members together in Ra, wakened the interest of the Greeks, who were even more excited by the mystery of extreme age that hid the beginnings of Egypt. Full of their own memories and legends of tribal movements, of migrations, of invasions, the Greeks acknowledged themselves children of yesterday in face of a secular empire with an origin so remote that it was scarcely guessed at in the conjectures of fable. Egypt presented to them, as to us, the spectacle of antique civilisation without a known beginning. The spade of to-day reveals no more than the traditions of two thousand years ago. The most ancient relics of the earliest dynasty are the massive works of an organised society and an accomplished art. There is an unbridged interval between the builders of the mysterious temple hard by the Sphinx and their predecessors the chippers of palæolithic flint axes in the river drift. We know not whence the Egyptians came; we only trifle with hypotheses when we conjecture that her people are of an Asiatic or an African stock; we know not whether her gods arose in the fertile swamps by Nile-side, or whether they were borne in arks, like the Jehovah of Israel and the Huitzilopochtli of Mexico, from more ancient seats by the piety of their worshippers. Yet as one great river of mysterious source flows throughout all Egypt, so through the brakes and jungles of her religion flows one great myth from a distant fountain-head, the myth of Osiris.
The questions which we have to ask in dealing with the mythology of Egypt come under two heads:—First, What was the nature of Egyptian religion and myth? Secondly, How did that complex mass of beliefs and practices come into existence?
The question, What was the religion of Egypt? is far from simple. In a complete treatise on the topic, it would be necessary to ask in reply, At what period, in what place, and among what classes of society did the religion exist which you wish to investigate? The ancient Egyptian religion had a lifetime so long that it almost requires to be meted by the vague measures of geological time. It is historically known to us, by the earliest monuments, about the date at which Archbishop Usher fixed the Creation. Even then, be it noticed, the religion of Egypt was old and full-grown; there are no historical traces of its beginnings. Like the material civilisation, it had been fashioned by the unrecorded Sheshoa Hor, "the servants of Horus," patriarchs dwelling with the blessed. In the four or five thousand years of its later existence, Egyptian religion endured various modifications. It was a conservative people, and schooled by the wisdom of the sepulchre. But invaders, Semitic, Ethiopian, and Greek, brought in some of their own ideas. Priestly colleges developed novel dogmas, and insensibly altered ritual. The thought of hundreds of generations of men brooded, not fruitlessly, over the problems of the divine nature. Finally, it is likely that in Egypt, as elsewhere, the superstitions of the least educated and most backward classes, and of subject peoples on a lower level of civilisation, would again and again break up, and win their way to the surface of religion. Thus a complete study of Egyptian faiths would be chronological,—would note the setting and rising of the stars of elder and later deities.
The method of a systematic history of Egyptian religion would not be regulated by chronology alone. Topographical and social conditions would also claim attention. The favoured god or gods of one nome (administratiye district), or of one town, or of one sacred metropolis, were not the gods of another metropolis, or town, or nome, though some deities were common to the whole country. The fundamental character might be much the same in each case, but the titles, and aspects, and ritual, and accounts of the divine genealogy varied in each locality. Once more, the "syncretic" tendency kept fusing into one divine name and form, or into a family triad of gods (mother, father, and son), the deities of different districts, which, beneath their local peculiarities, theologians could recognise as practically the same.
While political events and local circumstances were thus modifying Egyptian religion, it must never be forgotten that the different classes of society were probably by no means at one in their opinions. The monuments show us what the kings believed, or at least what the kings practised, record the prayers they uttered and the sacrifices they offered. The tombs and the papyri which contain the Book of the Dead and other kindred works reveal the nature of belief in a future life, with the changes which it underwent at different times. But the people, the vast majority, unlettered and silent, cannot tell us what they believed, or what were their favourite forms of adoration. We are left to the evidence of amulets, of books of magic, of popular tales, surviving on a papyrus here and there, and to the late testimony of Greek writers—Herodotus, Diodorus, the author of the treatise De Osiride et Iside, and others. While the clergy of the twentieth dynasty were hymning the perfections of Ammon Ra—"so high that man may not attain unto him, dweller in the hidden place, him whose image no man has beheld"—the peasant may have been worshipping, like a modern Zulu, the serpents in his hovel, or may have been adoring the local sacred cat of his village, or flinging stones at the local sacred crocodile of his neighbours. To the enlightened in the later empire God was self-proceeding, self-made, manifest in the deities that were members together in him of godhead. But the peasant, if he thinks of the gods at all, thinks of them walking the earth, like our Lord and the saints in the Norse nursery tales, to amuse themselves with the adventures of men. The peasant spoke of the Seven Hathors, that come like fairy godmothers to the cradle of each infant, and foretell his lot in life.
It is impossible, of course, to write here a complete history of Egyptian religion, as far as it is to be extracted from the books and essays of learned moderns; but it has probably been made clear that when we speak of the religion and mythology of Egypt, we speak of a very large and complicated subject. Plainly this is a topic which the lay student will find full of pitfalls, and on which even scholars may well arrive at contradictory opinions. To put the matter briefly, where one school finds in the gods and the holy menagerie of Egyptian creeds the corruption of a pure primitive monotheism, its opponents see a crowd of survivals from savagery combined with clearer religious ideas, which are the long result of civilised and educated thought.
After this preamble let us endeavour to form a general working idea of what Egyptian religion was as a whole. What kind of religion did the Israelites see during the sojourn in Egypt, or what presented itself to the eyes of Herodotus? Unluckily we have no such eye-witnesses of the earlier Egyptian as Bernal Diaz was of the Aztec temples. The Bible says little that is definite about the theological "wisdom of the Egyptians." When confronted with the sacred beasts, Herodotus might have used with double truth the Greek saw, "A great ox has trod upon my tongue." The bull Hapi (Apis) constrained his speech to cautious stammering, if not to silence. But what Herodotus hinted at or left unsaid is gathered from the evidence of tombs and temple walls and illuminated papyri.
One point is certain. Whatever else the religion of Egypt may at any time have been, it struck every foreign observer as polytheism. Moreover, it was a polytheism like another. The Greeks had no difficulty, for example, in recognising amongst these beast-headed monsters gods analogous to their own. This is demonstrated by the fact that to almost every deity of Egypt they readily and unanimously assigned a Greek divine name. Seizing on a certain aspect of Osiris and of his mystery-play, they made him Dionysus; Hor became Apollo; Ptah, Hephæstus; Ammon Ra, Zeus; Thoth, Hermes, and so on with the rest. The Egyptian deities were recognised as divine beings, with certain (generally ill-defined) departments of Nature and of human activity under their care. Some of them, like Seb (earth) and Nut (heaven), were esteemed elemental forces or phenomena, and were identified with the same personal phenomena or forces, Uranus and Gæa, in the Greek system, where heaven and earth were also parents of many of the gods.
Thus it is indisputably clear that Egyptian religion had a polytheistic aspect, or rather, as Maspero says, was "a well-marked polytheism;" that in this regard it coincided with other polytheisms, and that this element must be explained in the Egyptian, as it is explained in the Greek or the Aztec, or the Peruvian or the Maori religion. Now an explanation has already been offered in the mythologies previously examined. Some gods have been recognised, like Rangi and Papa, the Maori heaven and earth (Nut and Seb), as representatives of the old personal earth and heaven, which commend themselves to the savage fancy. Other gods are the informing and indwelling spirits of other phenomena, of winds or sea or woods. Others, again, whatever their origin, preside over death, over the dead, over the vital functions, such as love, or over the arts of life, such as agriculture; and these last gods of departments of human activity were probably in the beginning culture-heroes, real, or more likely ideal, the first teachers of men. In polytheisms of long standing all these attributes and functions have been combined and reallotted, and the result we see in that confusion which is of the very essence of myth. Each god has many birth-places, one has many sepulchres, all have conflicting genealogies.
If these ideas about other polytheisms be correct, then it is probable that they explain to a great extent the first principles of the polytheism of Egypt. They explain at least the factors in Egyptian religion, which the Greeks recognised as analogous with their own, and which are found among polytheists of every degree of culture, from New Zealand to Hellas.
Leaving on one side, then, for the moment, the vast system of ancestor-worship and of rites undertaken for the benefit of the dead, and leaving aside the divinity of the king, polytheism was the most remarkable feature of Egyptian religion. The foreign traveller in the time of the pyramid-builders, as in the time of Ramses II., or of the Ptolemies, or of the Roman domination, would have found a crowd of gods in receipt of honour and of sacrifice. He would have learned that one god was most adored in one locality, another in another, that Ammon Ra was predominant in Thebes; Ra, the sun-god, in Heliopolis; Osiris in Abydos, and so forth. He would also have observed that certain animals were sacred to certain gods, and that in places where each beast was revered, his species was not eaten, though it might blamelessly be cooked and devoured in the neighbouring nome or district, where another animal was dominant. Everywhere, in all nomes and towns, the adoration of Osiris, chiefly as the god and redeemer of the dead, was practised.
While these are the general characteristics of Egyptian religion, there were inevitably many modifications in the course of five thousand years. If one might imagine a traveller endowed, like the Wandering Jew, with endless life, and visiting Egypt every thousand, or every five hundred years, we can fancy some of the changes in religion which he would observe. On the whole, from the first dynasty and the earliest monuments to the time when Hor came to wear a dress like that of a Roman centurion, the traveller would find the chief figures of the Pantheon recognisably the same. But there would be novelties in the manner of worshipping and of naming or representing them. "In the oldest tombs, where the oldest writings are found, there are not many gods mentioned—there are Osiris, Horus, Thot, Seb, Nut, Hathor, Anubis, Apheru, and a couple more." Here was a stock of gods who remained in credit till "the dog Anubis" fled from the Star of Bethlehem. Most of these deities bore birth-marks of the sky and of the tomb. If Osiris was "the sun-god of Abydos," he was also the murdered and mutilated culture-hero. If Hor or Horus was the sun at his height, he too had suffered despiteful usage from his enemies. Seb and Nut (named on the coffin of Mycerinus of the fourth dynasty in the British Museum) were our old friends the personal heaven and earth. Anubis, the jackal, was "the lord of the grave," and dead kings are worshipped no less than gods who were thought to have been dead kings. While certain gods, who retained permanent power, appear in the oldest monuments, sacred animals are also present from the first. The gods, in fact, of the earliest monuments were beasts. Here is one of the points in which a great alteration developed itself in the midst of Egyptian religion. Till the twelfth dynasty, when a god is mentioned (and in those very ancient remains gods are not mentioned often), "he is represented by his animal, or with the name spelled out in hieroglyphs, often beside the bird or beast." "The jackal stands for Anup (Anubis), the frog for Hekt, the baboon for Tahuti (Thoth). It is not till after Semitic influence had begun to work in the country that any figures of gods are found." By "figures of gods" are meant the later man-shaped or semi-man-shaped images, the hawk-headed, jackal-headed, and similar representations with which we are familiar in the museums. The change begins with the twelfth dynasty, but becomes most marked under the eighteenth. "During the ancient empire," says M. Maspero, "I only find monuments at four points—at Memphis, at Abydos, in some parts of Middle Egypt, at Sinai, and in the valley of Hammamat. The divine names appear but occasionally, in certain unvaried formulæ. Under the eleventh and twelfth dynasties Lower Egypt comes on the scene. The formulæ are more explicit, but the religious monuments rare. From the eighteenth dynasty onwards, we have representations of all the deities, accompanied by legends more or less developed, and we begin to discover books of ritual, hymns, amulets, and other objects. There are also sacred texts in the Pyramids.
Other changes, less important than that which turned the beast-god into a divine man or woman, often beast-headed, are traced in the very earliest ages. The ritual of the holy bulls (Hapi, Apis) makes its official appearance under the fourth king of the first, and the first king of the second dynasties. Mr. Le Page Renouf, admitting this, thinks the great development of bull-worship later. In the third dynasty the name of Ra, sun, comes to be added to the royal names of kings, as Nebkara, Noferkara, and so forth. Osiris becomes more important than the jackal-god as the guardian of the dead. Sokar, another god of death, shows a tendency to merge himself in Osiris. With the successes of the eighteenth dynasty in Thebes, the process of syncretism, by which various god-names and god-natures are mingled, so as to unite the creeds of different nomes and provinces, and blend all in the worship of the Theban Ammon Ra, is most notable. Now arise schools of theology; pantheism and an approach to monotheism in the Theban god become probable results of religious speculations and imperial success. These tendencies are baffled by the break-up of the Theban supremacy, but the monotheistic idea remains in the esoteric dogmas of priesthoods, and survives into Neo-Platonism. Special changes are introduced,—now, as in the case of worship of the solar disk by a heretic king; earlier, as in the prevalence of Set-worship, perhaps by Semitic invaders.
It is impossible here to do more than indicate the kind of modification which Egyptian religion underwent. Throughout it remained constant in certain features, namely, the local character of its gods, their usefulness to the dead (their Chthonian aspect), their tendency to be merged into the sun, Ra, the great type and symbol and source of life, and, finally, their inability to shake off" the fur and feathers of the beasts, the earliest form of their own development. Thus life, death, sky, sun, bird, beast, and man are all blended in the religious conceptions of Egypt. Here follow two hymns to Osiris, hymns of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties, which illustrate the confusion of lofty and almost savage ideas, the coexistence of notions from every stage of thought, that make the puzzle of Egyptian mythology.
"Hail to thee, Osiris, eldest son of Seb, greatest of the six deities born of Nut, chief favourite of thy father, Ra, the father of fathers; king of time, master of eternity; one in his manifestations, terrible. When he left the womb of his mother he united all the crowns, he fixed the uræus (emblem of sovereignty) on his head. God of many shapes, god of the unknown name, thou who hast many names in many provinces; if Ra rises in the heavens, it is by the will of Osiris; if he sets, it is at the sight of his glory."
In another hymn Osiris is thus addressed: "King of eternity, great god, risen from the waters that were in the beginning, strong hawk, king of gods, master of souls, king of terrors, lord of crowns, thou that art great in Hnes, that dost appear at Mendes in the likeness of a ram, monarch of the circle of gods, king of Amenti (Hades), revered of gods and men. Who so knoweth humility and reckoneth deeds of righteousness, thereby knows he Osiris."
Here the noblest moral sentiments are blended with Oriental salutations in the worship of a god who, for the moment, is recognised as lord of lords, but who is also a ram at Mendes. This apparent confusion of ideas, and this assertion of supremacy for a god who, in the next hymn, is subjected to another god, mark civilised polytheism; but the confusion was increased by the extreme age of the Egyptian faith, and by the doubt that prevailed as to the meaning of tradition. "The seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Dead," which seems to contain a statement of the system of the universe as understood at Heliopolis under the first dynasties, "is known to us by several examples of the eleventh and twelfth dynasties. Each of the verses had already heen interpreted in three or four different ways; so different, that, according to one school, the creator, Râ-Shou, was the solar fire; according to another school, not the fire, but the waters!" The Book of the Dead, in fact, is no book, but collections of pamphlets, so to speak, of very different dates. "Plan or unity cannot be expected," and glosses only some four thousand years old have become imbedded in really ancient texts. Fifteen centuries later the number of interpretations had considerably increased.
Where the Egyptians themselves were in helpless doubt, it would be vain to offer complete explanations of their opinions and practices in detail; but it is possible, perhaps, to account for certain large elements of their beliefs, and even to untie some of the knots of the Osirian myth.
The strangest feature in the rites of Egypt was animal-worship, which appeared in various phases. There was the local adoration of a beast, or bird, or fish, to which the neighbours of other districts were indifferent or hostile. There was the presence of the animal in the most sacred penetralia of the temple; and there was the god, conceived of, on the whole, as anthropomorphic, but often represented in art, after the twelfth dynasty, as a man or woman with the head of a bird or beast.
These points in Egyptian religion have been the great puzzle both of antiquity and of modern mythology. The common priestly explanations varied. Sometimes it was said that the gods had concealed themselves in the guise of beasts during the revolutionary wars of Set against Horus. Often, again, animal-worship was interpreted as symbolical; it was not the beast, but the qualities which he personified that were adored. Thus Anubis, really a jackal, is a dog, in the explanations of this author, and is said to be worshipped for his fidelity, or because he can see in the night, or because he is the image of time. "As he brought forth all things out of himself, and contains all things within himself, he gets the title of dog." Once more, and by a nearer approach to what is probably the truth, the beast-gods were said to be survivals of the badges (representing animals) of various tribal companies in the forces of Osiris. Such were the ideas current in Græco-Roman speculation, nor perhaps is there any earlier evidence as to the character of native interpretation of animal-worship. The opinion has also been broached that beast-worship in Egypt is a refraction from the use of hieroglyphs. If the picture of a beast was one of the signs in the writing of a god's name, adoration might be transferred to the beast from the god. It is by no means improbable that this process had its share in producing the results. Some of the explanations of animal-worship which were popular of old are still in some favour. Mr. Le Page Renouf appears to hold that there was something respectably mythical in the worship of the inhabitants of zoological and botanical gardens, something holy apparent at least to the devout. He quotes the opinion attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, that the beasts were symbols of deity, not deities, and this was the view of "a grave opponent." Mr. Le Page Renouf also mentions Porphyry's theory, that "under the semblance of animals the Egyptians worship the universal power which the gods have revealed in the various forms of living nature." It is evident, of course, that all of these theories may have been held by the learned in Egypt, especially after the Christian era, in the times of Apollonius and Porphyry; but that throws little light on the motives and beliefs of the pyramid-builders many thousands of years before, or of the contemporary peasants with their worship of cats and alligators. In short, the systems of symbolism were probably made after the facts, to account for practices whose origin was obscure. Yet another hypothesis is offered by Mr. Le Page Renouf, and in the case of Set and the hippopotamus is shared by M. Maspero. Tiele also remarks that some beasts were promoted to godhead comparatively late, because their names resembled names of gods. The gods, in certain cases, received their animal characteristics by virtue of certain unconscious puns or mistakes in the double senses of words. Seb is the earth. Seb is also the Egyptian name for a certain species of goose, and, in accordance with the homonymous tendency of the mythological period of all nations, the god and the bird were identified. Seb was called "the Great Cackler. Again, the god Thoth was usually represented with the head of an ibis. A mummied ibis "in the human form is made to represent the god Thoth." This connection between Thoth and the ibis Mr. Le Page Renouf explains at some length as the result of an etymological confusion. Thus metaphorical language reacted upon thought, and, as in other religions, obtained the mastery.
While these are the views of a distinguished modern Egyptologist, another Egyptologist, not less distinguished, is of an entirely opposite opinion as to the question on the whole. "It is possible, nay, certain," writes M. Maspero, "that during the second Theban empire the learned priests may have thought it well to attribute a symbolical sense to certain bestial deities. But whatever they may have worshipped in Thoth-Ibis, it was a bird, and not a hieroglyph, that the first worshippers of the ibis adored." M. Meyer is of the same opinion, and so are Professor Tiele and M. Perrot.
While the learned have advanced at various periods these conflicting theories of the origin of Egyptian animal-worship, a novel view was introduced by Mr. M'Lennan. In his essays on Plant and Animal Worship, he regarded Egyptian animal-worship as only a consecrated and elaborate survival of totemism. Mr. Le Page Renouf has ridiculed the "school-boy authorities on which Mr. M'Lennan relied." Nevertheless, Mr. M'Lennan's views are akin to those to which M. Maspero and MM. Perrot and Chipiez are attached, and they have also the support of Professor Sayce.
"These animal forms, in which a later myth saw the shapes assumed by the affrighted gods during the great war between Horus and Typhon, take us back to a remote prehistoric age, when the religious creed of Egypt was still totemism. They are survivals from a long-forgotten past, and prove that Egyptian civilisation was of slow and independent growth, the latest stage only of which is revealed to us by the monuments. Apis of Memphis, Mnevis of Heliopolis, and Pachis of Hermonthis are all links that bind together the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Egypt of the stone age. They were the sacred animals of the clans which first settled in these localities, and their identification with the deities of the ofiicial religion must have been a slow process, never fully carried out, in fact, in the minds of the lower classes."
Thus it appears that, after all, even on philological showing, the religions and myths of a civilised people may be illustrated by the religions and myths of savages. It is in the study of savage totemism that we too seek a partial explanation of the singular Egyptian practices that puzzled the Greeks and Romans, and the Egyptians themselves. To some extent the Egyptian religious acts were purely totemistic in the strict sense.
Some examples of the local practices and rites which justify this opinion may be offered. It has been shown that the totem of each totem-kindred among the lower races is sacred, and that there is a strict rule against eating, or even making other uses of, the sacred animal or plant. At the same time, one totem-kindred has no scruple about slaying or eating the totem of any other kindred. Now similar rules prevailed in Egypt, and it is not easy for the school which regards the holy beasts as emblems, or as the results of misunderstood language, to explain why an emblem was adored in one village and persecuted and eaten in the next. But if these usages be survivals of totemism, the practice at once ceases to be isolated, and becomes part of a familiar, if somewhat obscure, body of customs found all over the world. "The same animal which was revered and forbidden to be slaughtered for the altar or the table in one part of the country was sacrificed and eaten in another." Herodotus bears testimony to this habit in an important passage. He remarks that the people of the Theban nome whose god, Ammon Ra, or Khnum, was ram-headed, abstain from sheep and sacrifice goats; but the people of Mendes, whose god was goat-headed, abstain from goats, sacrifice sheep, and hold all goats in reverence.
These local rites, at least in Roman times, caused civil brawls, for the customs of one town naturally seemed blasphemous to neighbours with a different sacred animal. Thus when the people of dog-town were feasting on the fish called oxyrrhyncus, the citizens of the town which revered the oxyrrhyncus began to eat dogs, to which there is no temptation. Hence arose a riot. The most singular detail in Juvenal's famous account of the war between the towns of Ombi and Tentyra does not appear to be a mere invention. They fought "because each place loathes the gods of its neighbours." The turmoil began at a sacred feast, and the victors devoured one of the vanquisiied. Now if the religion were really totemistic, the worshippers would be of the same blood as the animal they worshipped, and in eating an adorer of the crocodile, his enemies would be avenging the eating of their own sacred beast. When that beast was a crocodile, probably nothing but starvation or religious zeal could induce people to taste his unpalatable flesh. Yet "in the city Apollinopolis it is the custom that every one must by all means eat a bit of crocodile; and on one day they catch and kill as many crocodiles as they can, and lay them out in front of the temple." The mythic reason was that Typhon, in his flight from Horus, took the shape of a crocodile. Yet he was adored at various places where it was dangerous to bathe on account of the numbers and audacity of the creatures. Mummies of crocodiles are found in various towns where the animal was revered.
It were tedious to draw up a list of the local sacred beasts of Egypt; but it seems manifest that the explanation of their worship as totems at once colligates it with a familiar set of phenomena. The symbolic explanations, on the other hand, are clearly fanciful, mere jeux d'esprit. For example, the sacred shrew-mouse was locally adored, was carried to Batis on its death, and its mummy buried with care, but the explanation that it "received divine honours because it is blind, and darkness is more ancient than light," by no means accounts for the mainly local respect paid to the little beast.
If this explanation of the local worship of sacred beasts be admitted as plausible, the beast-headed gods, or many of them, may be accounted for in the same way. It is always in a town where a certain animal is locally revered that the human-shaped god wearing the head of the same animal finds the centre and chief holy place of his worship. The cat is great in Bubastis, and there is Bast, and also the cat-headed Sekhet of Memphis. The sheep was great in Thebes, and there was the sacred city of the ram-headed Khnum, or Ammon Ra. If the crocodile was held in supreme regard at Ombos, there, too, was the sacred town of the crocodile-headed god, Sebak.
While Greek writers like Porphyry, and Plutarch, and Jamblichus repeat the various and inconsistent Egyptian allegorical accounts of the origin of those beast-headed gods, the facts of their worship and chosen residence show that the gods are only semi-anthropomorphic refinements on the animals. It has been said that these representations are later in time, and it is probable that they are later in evolution, than the representations of the deities as mere animals. Nor, perhaps, is it impossible to conjecture how the change in art was made. It is a common ritual custom for the sacrificer to cover himself with the skin and head of the animal sacrificed. In Mexico we know that the Aztec priests wore the flayed skins of their human victims. Herodotus mentions that on the one awful day when a sheep was yearly sacrificed in Thebes, the statue of Zeus, as he calls him, was draped in the hide of the beast. In the same way certain Californian tribes which worship the buzzard sacrifice him, "himself to himself," once a year, and use his skin as a covering in the ritual. Lucian gives an instance in his treatise De Deâ Syriâ (55): "When a man means to go on pilgrimage to Hierapolis, he sacrifices a sheep and eats of its flesh. He then kneels down and draws the head over his own head, praying at the same time to the god." Chaldean works of art often represent the priest in the skin of the god, sometimes in that of a fish.
It is a conjecture not unworthy of consideration that the human gods with bestial heads are derived from the aspect of the celebrant clad in the pelt of the beast whom he sacrifices. In Egyptian art the heads of the gods are usually like masks, or flayed skins superimposed on the head of a man. If it be asked why the celebrant thus disguises himself in the sacrifice, it is only possible to reply by guess-work. But the hypothesis may be hazarded that this rite was one of the many ways in which the sacred animal has been propitiated in his death by many peoples. It is a kind of legal fiction to persuade him that, like the bear in the Finnish Kalewala and in the Red Indian and Australian legend, "he does not die." His skin is still capering about on other shoulders.
While Egyptian myth, religion, and ritual is thus connected with the beliefs of the lower races, the animal-worship presents yet another point of contact. Not only were beasts locally adored, but gods were thought of and represented in the shape of various different beasts. How did the evolution work its way? what is the connection between a lofty spiritual conception, as of Ammon Ra, the lord of righteousness, and Osiris, judge of the dead, and bulls, rams, wolves, cranes, hawks, and so forth? Osiris especially had quite a collection of bestial heads, and appeared in divers bestial forms. The bull Hapi "was a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris," in late ritual. We have read a hymn in which he is saluted as a ram. He also "taketh the character of the god Bennu, with the head of a crane," and as Sokar Osiris has the head of a hawk. These phenomena could not but occur, in the long course of time, when political expediency urged the recognition of the identity of various local deities. In the same way "Ammon Ra, like most of the gods, frequently took the character of other deities, as Khem, Ea, and Chnumis, and even the attributes of Osiris." There was a constant come and go of attributes, and gods adopted each other's symbols, as kings and emperors wear the uniform of regiments in each other's service. Moreover, it is probable that the process so amply illustrated in Samoan religion had its course in Egypt, and that different holy animals might be recognised as aspects of the same deity. Finally, the intricate connection of gods and beasts is no singular or isolated phenomenon. From Australia upwards, a god, occasionally conceived of as human and moral in character, is also recognised in a totem, as Pund-jel in the eagle-hawk. Thus the confusion of Egyptian religion is what was inevitable in a land where new and old did not succeed and supersede each other, but coexisted on good terms. Had religion not been thus confused, it would have been a solitary exception among the institutions of the country.
The fact is, that the Egyptian mind, when turned to divine matters, was constantly working on, and working over, the primeval stuff of all mythologies and of all religions. First, there is the belief in a moral guardian and father of men; this is expressed in the sacred hymns. Next, there is the belief in "a strange and powerful race, supposed to have been busy on earth before the making, or the evolution, or the emergence of man;" this is expressed in the mythical legends. The Egyptians
inherited a number of legends of extra-natural heroes, not unlike the savage Qat, Cagn, Yehl, Pund-jel, Ioskeha, and Quahteaht, the Maori Tutenganahau and the South Sea Tangaroa. Some of these were elemental forces, personified in human or bestial guise; some were merely idealised medicine-men. Their "wanderings, rapes, and manslaughters, and mutilations," as Plutarch says, remained permanently in legend. When these beings, in the advance of thought, had obtained divine attributes, and when the conception of abstract divinity had become pure and lofty, the old legends became so many stumbling-blocks to the faithful. They were explained away as allegories (every student having his own allegorical system), or the extra-natural beings were taken (as by Plutarch) to be "demons, not gods."
A brief and summary account of the chief figures in the Egyptian pantheon will make it sufficiently plain that this is a plausible theory of the gods of Egypt, and a probable interpretation of their adventures.
Accepting the classification proposed by M. Maspero, and remembering the limitations under which it holds good, we find that—
1. The gods of death and the dead were Sokari, Isis and Osiris, the young Horus, and Nephthys.
2. The elemental gods were Seb and Nut, of whom Seb is the earth and Nut the heavens. These two, like heaven and earth in almost all mythologies, are represented as the parents of many of the gods. The other elemental deities are but obscurely known.
3. Among solar deities are at once recognised Ra and others, but there was a strong tendency to identify each of the gods with the sun, especially to identify Osiris with the sun in his nightly absence. Each god, again, was apt to be blended with one or more of the sacred animals. "Ra, in his transformations, assumed the form of the lion, cat, and hawk." "The great cat in the alley of persea trees at Heliopolis, which is Ra, crushed the serpent." In different nomes and towns, it either happened that the same gods had different names, or that analogies were recognised between different local gods; in which case the names were often combined, as in Ammon-Ra, Sabek-Ra, Sokar- Osiris, and so forth.
Athwart all these classes and compounds of gods, and athwart the theological attempt at constructing a monotheism out of contradictory materials, came that ancient idea of dualism which exists in the myths of the most backward peoples. As Pund-jel in Australia had his enemy, the crow, as in America Yehl had his Khanukh, as Ioskeha had his Tawiscara, so the gods of Egypt, and specially Osiris, have their Set or Typhon, the spirit who constantly resists and destroys.
With these premises we approach the great Osirian myth.
The Osirian Myth.
The great Egyptian myth, the myth of Osiris, turns on the antagonism of Osiris and Set, and the persistence of the blood-feud between Set and the kindred of Osiris. To narrate, and as far as possible elucidate, this myth is the chief task of the student of Egyptian mythology.
Though the Osiris myth, according to Mr. Le Page Renouf, is "as old as Egyptian civilisation," and though M. Maspero finds the Osiris myth in all its details under the first dynasties, our accounts of it are by no means so early. They are mainly allusive, without any connected narrative. Fortunately the narrative, as related by the priests of his own time, is given by the author of De Iside ct Osiride, and is confirmed both by the Egyptian texts and by the mysterious hints of the pious Herodotus. Here we follow the myth as reported in the Greek tract, and illustrated by the monuments.
The reader must, for the moment, clear his mind of all the many theories of the meaning of the myth, and must forget the lofty, divine, and mystical functions attributed by Egyptian theologians and Egyptian sacred usage to Osiris. He must read the story simply as a story, and he will be struck with its amazing resemblances to the legends about their culture-heroes which are current among the lowest races of America and Africa.
Seb and Nut—earth and heaven—were husband and wife. In the De Iside version, the sun cursed Nut that she should have no child in month or year; but, thanks to the cleverness of a new divine co-respondent, five days were added to the calendar. This is clearly a later edition to the fable. On the first of those days Osiris was born, then Typhon or Set, "neither in due time, nor in the right place, but breaking through with a blow, he leaped out from his mother's side." Isis and Nephthys were later-born sisters.
The Greek version of the myth next describes the conduct of Osiris as a "culture-hero." He instituted laws, taught agriculture, instructed the Egyptians in the ritual of worship, and won them from "their destitute and bestial mode of living." After civilising Egypt, he travelled over the world, like the Greek Dionysus, whom he so closely resembles in some portions of his legend that Herodotus supposed the Dionysiac myth to have been imported from Egypt. In the absence of Osiris, his evil brother, Typhon, kept quiet. But, on the hero's return, Typhon laid an ambush against him, like Ægisthus against Agamemnon. He had a decorated coffer (mummy-case?) made of the exact length of Osiris, and offered this as a present to any one whom
it would fit. At a banquet all the guests tried it; but when Osiris lay down in it, the lid was closed and fastened with nails and melted lead. The coffer, Osiris and all, was then thrown into the Nile. Isis, arrayed in mourning robes like the wandering Demeter, sought Osiris everywhere lamenting, and found the chest at last in an erica tree that entirely covered it. After an adventure like that of Demeter with Triptolemus, Isis obtained the chest. During her absence Typhon lighted on it as he was hunting by moonlight; he tore the corpse of Osiris into fourteen pieces, and scattered them abroad. Isis sought for the mangled remnants, and, whenever she found one, buried it, each tomb being thenceforth recognised as "a grave of Osiris." It is a plausible suggestion that, if graves of Osiris were once as common in Egypt as cairns of Heitsi Eibib are in Namaqualand to-day, the existence of many tombs of one being might be explained as tombs of his scattered members, and the myth of the dismembering may have no other foundation. On the other hand, it must be noticed that a swine was sacrificed to Osiris at the full moon, and it was in the form of a black swine that Typhon assailed Horus, the son of Osiris, whose myth is a doublure or replica, in some respects, of the Osirian myth itself. We may conjecture, then, that the fourteen portions into which the body of Osiris was rent may stand for the fourteen days of the waning moon. It is well known that the phases of the moon and lunar eclipses are almost invariably accounted for in savage science by the attacks of a beast—dog, pig, dragon, or what not—on the heavenly body. Either of these hypotheses (the Egyptians adopted the latter) is consistent with the character of early myth, but both are merely tentative suggestions. The phallus of Osiris was not recovered, and the totemistic habit which made the people of three different districts abstain from three different fish—lepidotus, phagrus, and oxyrrhyncus—was accounted for by the legend that these fish had devoured the missing portion of the hero's body.
So far the power of evil, the black swine Typhon, had been triumphant. But the blood-feud was handed on to Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. To spur Horus on to battle, Osiris returned from the dead, like Hamlet's father. But, as is usual with the ghosts of savage myth, Osiris returned, not in human, but in bestial form, as a wolf. Horus was victorious in the war which followed, and handed Typhon over bound in chains to Isis. Unluckily Isis let him go free, whereon Horus pushed off her crown and placed a bull's skull on her head.
There the Greek narrator ends, but he expressly declines to tell the more blasphemous parts of the story, such as "the dismemberment of Horus and the beheading of Isis." Why these myths should be considered "more blasphemous" than the rest does not appear.
It will probably be admitted that nothing in this sacred story would seem out of place if we found it in the legends of Pund-jel, or Cagn, or Yehl, among Australians, Bushmen, or Utes, whose own "culture-hero," like the ghost of Osiris, was a wolf. The dismembering of Osiris in particular resembles the dismembering of many other heroes in American myth; for example, of Chokanipok, out of whom were made vines and flint-stones. Objects in the mineral and vegetable world were explained in Egypt as transformed parts or humours of Osiris, Typhon, and other heroes.
Once more, though the Egyptian gods are buried here and are immortal in heaven, they have also, like the heroes of Eskimo and Australians and Indians of the Amazon, been transformed into stars, and the priests could tell which star was Osiris, which was Isis, and which was Typhon. Such are the wild inconsistencies which Egyptian religion shares with the fables of the lowest races. In view of these facts it is difficult to agree with Brugsch that "from the root and trunk of a pure conception of deity spring the boughs and twigs of a tree of myth, whose leaves spread into a rank impenetrable luxuriance." Stories like the Osiris myth—stories found all over the whole world—spring from no pure religious source, but embody the delusions and fantastic dreams of the lowest and least developed human fancy and human speculation.
The references to the myth in papyri and on the monuments, though obscure and fragmentary, confirm the narrative of the De Iside. The coffer in which Osiris foolishly ventured himself seems to be alluded to in the Harris magical papyrus. "Get made for me a shrine of eight cubits. Then it was told to thee, O man of seven cubits, How canst thou enter it? And it had been made for thee, and thou hast reposed in it." Here, too, Isis magically stops the mouths of the Nile, perhaps to prevent the coffer from floating out to sea. More to the point is one of the original "Osirian hymns" mentioned by Plutarch. The hymn is on a stele, and is attributed by M. Chabas, the translator, to the seventeenth dynasty. Osiris is addressed as the joy and glory of his parents, Seb and Nut, who overcomes his enemy. His sister, Isis, accords to him due funeral rites after his death and routs his foes. Without ceasing, without resting, she sought his dead body, and wailing did she wander round the world, nor stopped till she found him. Light flashed from her feathers. Horus, her son, is king of the world.
Such is a précis of the mythical part of the hymn. The rest regards Osiris in his religious capacity as a sovereign of nature, and as the guide and protector of the dead. The hymn corroborates, as far as it goes, the narrative of the Greek two thousand years later. Similar confirmation is given by "The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys," a papyrus found within a statue of Osiris in Thebes. The sisters wail for the dead hero, and implore him to "come to his own abode." The theory of the birth of Horus here is that he was formed out of the scattered members of Osiris, an hypothesis, of course, inconsistent with the other myths (especially with the myth that he dived for the members of Osiris in the shape of a crocodile), and, therefore, all the more mythical. The "Book of Respirations," finally, contains the magical songs by which Isis was feigned to have restored breath and life to Osiris. In the representations of the vengeance and triumph of Horus on the temple walls of Edfou in the Ptolemaic period, Horus, accompanied by Isis, not only chains up and pierces the red hippopotamus (or pig in some designs), who is Set, but, exercising reprisals, cuts him into pieces, as Set cut Osiris. Isis instructs Osiris as to the portion which properly falls to each of nine gods. Isis reserves his head and "saddle;" Osiris gets the thigh; the bones are given to the cats. As each god had his local habitation in a given town, there is doubtless reference to local myths. At Edfou also the animal of Set is sacrificed symbolically in his image made of paste, a common practice in ancient Mexico. Many of these myths, as M. Naville remarks, are doubtless ætiological: the priests, as in the Brahmanas, told them to account for peculiar parts of the ritual, and to explain strange local names. Thus the names of many places are explained by myths setting forth that they commemorate some event in the campaign of Horus against Set. In precisely the same way the local superstitions, originally totemic, about various animals, were explained by myths attaching these animals to the legends of the gods.
Explanations of the Osiris myth, thus handed down to us, were common among the ancient students of religion. Many of them are reported in the familiar tract De Iside et Osiride. They are all the interpretations of civilised men, whose method is to ask themselves, "Now, if I had told such a tale as this, or invented such a mystery-play of divine misadventures, what meaning could I have intended to convey in what is apparently blasphemous nonsense?" There were moral, solar, lunar, cosmical, tellurian, and other methods of accounting for a myth which, in its origin, appears to be one of the world-wide early legends of the strife between a fabulous good being and his brother, a fabulous evil being. Most probably some incidents from a moon-myth have also crept into, or from the first made part of, the tale of Osiris. The enmity of Typhon to the eyes of Horus, which he extinguishes, and which are restored, has much the air of an early mythical attempt to explain the phenomena of eclipses, or even of sunset. We can plainly see how local and tribal superstitions, according to which this or that beast, fish, or tree was held sacred, came to be tagged to the general body of the myth. This or that fish was not to be eaten; this or that tree was holy; and men who had lost the true explanation of these superstitions explained them by saying that the fish had tasted, or the tree had sheltered, the mutilated Osiris.
This view of the myth, while it does not pretend to account for every detail, refers it to a large class of similar narratives, to the barbarous dualistic legends about the original good and bad extra-natural beings, which are still found current among contemporary savages. These tales are the natural expression of the savage fancy, and we presume that the myth survived in Egypt, just as the use of flint-headed arrows and flint knives survived during millenniums in which bronze and iron were perfectly familiar. The cause assigned is adequate, and the process of survival is verified.
Whether this be the correct theory of the fundamental facts of the myth or not, it is certain that the myth received vast practical and religious developments. Osiris did not remain the mere culture-hero of whom we have read the story, wounded in the house of his friends, dismembered, restored, and buried, reappearing as a wolf or bull, or translated to a star. His worship pervaded the whole of Egypt, and his name grew into a kind of hieroglyph for all that is divine.
"The Osirian type, in its long evolution, ended in being the symbol of the whole deified universe—underworld and world of earth, the waters above and the waters below. It is Osiris that floods Egypt in the Nile, and that clothes her with the growing grain. His are the sacred eyes, the sun that is born daily and meets a daily death, the moon that every month is young and waxes old. Osiris is the soul that animates these, the soul that vivifies all things, and all things are but his body. He is, like Ra of the royal tombs, the earth and the sun, the creator and the created."
Such is the splendid sacred vestment which Egyptian theology wove for the mangled and massacred hero of the myth. All forces, all powers, were finally recognised in him; he was sun and moon, and the maker of all things; he was the truth and the life; in him all men were justified.
On the origin of the myth philology throws no light. M. Lefébure recognises in the name Osiris the meaning of "the infernal abode," or "the nocturnal residence of the sacred eye," for, in the duel of Set and Horus, he sees a mythical account of the daily setting of the sun. "Osiris himself, the sun at his setting, became a centre round which the other incidents of the war of the gods gradually crystallised." Osiris is also the earth. It would be difficult either to prove or disprove this contention, and the usual divergency of opinion as to the meaning and etymology of the word "Osiris" has always prevailed. The Greek identifies Osiris with Hades. "Both," says M. Lefébure, "originally meant the dwellings—and came to mean the god—of the dead." In the same spirit Anubis, the jackal (a beast still dreaded as a ghost by the Egyptians) is explained as "the circle of the horizon," or "the portals of the land of darkness," the gate kept, as Homer would say, by Hades, the mighty warden. Whether it is more natural that men should represent the circle of the horizon or the twilight at sunset as a jackal, or that a jackal-totem should survive as a god, mythologists will decide for themselves. The jackal, by a myth that cannot be called pious, was said to have eaten his father, Osiris.
The conclusions to be drawn from so slight a treatment of so vast a subject are, that in Egypt, as elsewhere, a mythical and a religious, a rational and an irrational stream of thought flowed together, and even to some extent mingled their waters. The rational tendency, declared in prayers and hymns, amplifies the early human belief in a protecting and friendly power making for righteousness. The irrational tendency, declared in myth and ritual, retains and elaborates the early human confusions of thought between man and beast and god, things animate and inanimate. On the one hand, we have almost a recognition of supreme divinity; on the other, savage rites and beliefs, shared by Australians and Bushmen. It is not safe or scientific to call one of those tendencies earlier than the other; perhaps we know no race so backward that it is not influenced by forms of both. Nor is it safe or scientific to look on ruder practices as corruptions of the purer beliefs. Perhaps it may never be possible to trace both streams to the same fountain-head; probably they well up from separate springs in the nature of man. We do but recognise and contrast them; the sources of both are lost in the distance, where history can find no record of actual experience. Egyptian religion and myth are thus no isolated things; they are but the common stuff of human thought, decorated or distorted under a hundred influences in the course of unknown centuries of years.
- Clem. Alex., Pædagog., iii. 2 (93).
- As to the origin of the Egyptians, the prevalent belief among the ancients was that they had descended the Nile from the interior of Africa. Cf. Diodorus Siculus, iii. 8. Modern theorists occasionally lean in this direction. Dümichen, Geschichte des Alten Ægyptiens, i. 118. Again, an attempt has been made to represent them as successful members of a race whereof the Bushmen of South Africa are the social failures. M. Maspero conceives, once more, that the Egyptians were "proto-Semitic," ethnologically related to the people of Eastern Asia, and the grammar of their language has Semitic affinities. But the connection, if it ever existed, is acknowledged to be extremely remote. Maspero, Hist. de l'Orient, 4th edit., p. 17. De Rougé writes, "Tout nous ramène vers la parenté primitive de Mitsraim (Egyptians) et de Canaan" (Recherches sur les Monuments, p. 11).
- Professor Lieblein, maintaining this view, opposes the statement of Mr. Le Page Renouf, who writes: "The earliest monuments which have been discovered present to us the very same fully developed civilisation and the same religion as the later monuments" (Hib. Lectures, 1880, p. 81). But it is superfluous to attack a position which Mr. Le Page Renouf does not appear really to hold. He admits the existence of development and evolution in Egyptian religious thought. "I believe, therefore, that, after closely approaching the point at which polytheism might have turned into monotheism, the religious thought of Egypt turned aside into a wrong track" (op. cit., p. 235).
- Compare Maspero, Hist, de l'Orient., 4th edit., pp. 279–288, for the priestly hymns and the worship of beasts. "The lofty thoughts remained the property of a small number of priests and instructed people; they did not penetrate the mass of the population. Far from that, the worship of animals, goose, swallow, cat, serpent, had many more followers than Ammon Ra could count." See also Tiele, Manuel de l'Hist. des Rel., Paris, 1880, pp. 46–47. For the folklore of wandering gods see Maspero, Contes Egyptiens, Paris, 1882, p. 17.
- The English leader of the former school, the believer in a primitive purity, corrupted and degraded but not extinguished, is Mr. Le Page Renouf (Hibbert Lectures, London, 1879). It is not always very easy to make out what side Mr. Le Page Renouf does take. For example, in his Hibbert Lectures, p. 89, he speaks somewhat sympathetically of the "very many eminent scholars who, with full knowledge of all that can be said to the contrary, maintain that the Egyptian religion is essentially monotheistic." He himself says that "a power without a name or any mythological characteristic is constantly referred to in the singular number, and can only be regarded as the object of that sensus numinis, or immediate perception of the Infinite," which is "the result of an intuition as irresistible as the impressions of our senses." If this be not primitive instinctive monotheism, what is it? Yet Mr. Le Page Renouf says that Egyptian polytheism, after closely approaching the point where it might have become monotheism, went off on a wrong track; so the Egyptians after all were polytheists, not monotheists (op. cit., p. 235). Of similar views are the late illustrious Vicomte de Rougé, M. Mariette, M. Pierret, and Brugsch Pasha (Rel. und Myth. der Alten Egypter, vol. i., Leipzig, 1884. Unluckily the work is unfinished, and does not contain its notes.) On the other side, on the whole regarding Egyptian creeds as a complex mass of early uncivilised and popular ideas, with a later priestly religion tending towards pantheism and monotheism, are M. Maspero, Professor Tiele, Professor Lieblein (English readers may consult his pamphlet, Egyptian Religion, Leipzig, 1884), M. Edward Meyer (Geschichte des Alterthums, Stuttgart, 1884), Herr Pietschmann (Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, Berlin, 1878, art. "Fetisch Dienst"), and Professor Tiele (Manuel de l'Histoire des Religions, Paris, 1880, and History of the Egyptian Religion, English translation, 1882). In this essay, in accordance with its general principles, the views of M. Maspero are on the whole preferred to what appear to be those of Mr. Le Page Renouf.
- Æschylus, Agamemnon, 37, βοῦς ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ μέγας βέβηκεν.
- Maspero, Musée de Boulaq, p. 150; Le Page Renouf, Hib Lect., pp. 85–86.
- "It is certainly erroneous to consider Egyptian religion as a polytheistic corruption of a prehistoric monotheism. It is more correct to say that, while polytheistic in principle, the religion developed in two absolutely opposite directions. On one side, the constant introduction of new gods, local or foreign; on the other, a groping after a monotheism never absolutely reached. The learned explained the crowd of gods as so many incarnations of the one hidden uncreated deity."—Tiele, Manuel de l'Histoire des Religions, p. 46.
- On the different religions of different nomes, and especially the animal worship, see Pietschmann, Der Ægyptische Fetischdienst und Götterglaube, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1878. p. 163.
- Lieblein, Egyptian Religion, p. 7.
- Flinders Petrie, Arts of Ancient Egypt, p. 8.
- Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, i. 124.
- Brugsch, History of Egypt, English transl., i. 59–60.
- Hib. Lect., pp. 237–238.
- Op cit., p. 56.
- For Khunaten, and his heresy of the disk in Thebes, see Brugsch, op. cit., i. 442. It had little or no effect on myth. Tiele says (Hist. Egypt. Rel., p, 49), "From the most remote antiquity Set is one of the Osirian circle, and is thus a genuine Egyptian deity."
- From Abydos, nineteenth dynasty. Maspero, Musée de Boulaq, pp. 49, 50.
- Twentieth dynasty. Op. cit., p. 48.
- "This phase of religious thought," says Mr. Page Renouf, speaking of what he calls monotheism, "is chiefly presented to us in a large number of hymns, beginning with the earliest days of the eighteenth dynasty. It is certainly much more ancient, but . . . none of the hymns of that time have come down to us." See a very remarkable pantheistic hymn to Osiris, "lord of holy transformations," in a passage cited, Hib. Lect., p. 218, and the hymns to Ammon Ra, "closely approaching the language of monotheism," pp. 225–226. Excellent examples of pantheistic litanies of Ra are translated from originals of the nineteenth dynasty, in Records of the Past, viii. 105–128. The royal Osiris is identified with Ra. Here, too, it is told how Ra smote Apap, the serpent of evil, the Egyptian Ahi.
- Cf. Tiele, Hist. Egypt. Rel., pp, 26–29, and notes.
- Maspero, Musée de Boulaq, p. 149.
- As to the animals which were sacred and might not be eaten in various nomes, an account will be found in Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, ii. 467. The English reader will find many beast-headed gods in the illustrations to vol. iii. The edition referred to is Birch's, London, 1878. A more scientific authority is Lanzoni, Dizion. Mit.
- De Is. et Os., lxxii.
- Op. cit., xi.
- Op. cit., xliv.
- See Appendix, "The Hare-God in Egypt." Pietschmann, op. cit., p. 163, contends that the animal-worship is older than these Egyptian modes of writing the divine names, say of Ammon Ra or Hathor. Moreover the signs were used in writing the names because the gods were conceived of in these animal shapes.
- Hibbert Lectures, pp. 6–7.
- De Abst., iv. c. 9.
- Theolog. Tidjsch., 12th year, p. 261.
- For a statement of the theory of "homonymous tendency," see Selected Essays, Max Müller, i. 299, 245. For a criticism of the system, see Mythology in Encyclop. Brit., or in La Mythologie, A. Lang, Paris, 1886.
- Hibbert Lectures, 1880, p. 111.
- Wilkinson, iii. 325.
- Op. cit., pp. 116–117, 237.
- Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, vol. i.
- Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, p. 72; Tiele, Manuel, p. 45; Perrot and Chipiez, Egyptian Art, English transl., i. 54. Hist. Egypt. Rel., pp. 97, 103. Tiele finds the origin of this animal-worship in "animism," and supposes that the original colonists or conquerors from Asia found it prevalent in and adopted it from an African population. Professor Tiele does not appear, when he wrote this chapter, to have observed the world-wide diffusion of animal-worship in totemism, for he says, "Nowhere else does the worship of animals prevail so extensively as among African peoples."
- Hibbert Lectures, pp. 6, 30.
- Herodotos, p. 344.
- Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, ii. 467.
- Herodotus, ii. 42–46. The goat-headed Mendesian god Pan, as Herodotus calls him, is recognised by Dr. Birch as the goat-headed Ba-en-tattu. Wilkinson, ii. 512, note 2.
- De Is. et Os., 71–72.
- Wilkinson, iii. 329. Compare Ælian, x. 24, on the enmity between worshippers of crocodiles and hawks (and Strabo, xvii. 558). The hawk-worshippers averred that the hawk was a symbol of fire; the crocodile people said that their beast was an emblem of water; but why one city should be so attached to water-worship and its neighbour to fire-worship does not appear.
- A good deal of information will be found in Wilkinson's third volume, but must be accepted with caution.
- Wilkinson, iii. 33; Plutarch, Sympos., iv. quæst. 5; Herodot., ii. 67.
- Wilkinson, iii. 286. But the cat, though Bubastis was her centre and metropolis, was sacred all over the land. Nor was puss only in this proud position. Some animals were universally worshipped.
- The inconsistencies of statement about this ram-headed deity in Wilkinson are most confusing. Ammon is an adjective = "hidden," and is connected with the ram-headed Khnum, and with the hawk-headed Ra, the sun.
- [Robinson, Life in California, pp. 241, 303;] Herodotus, ii. 42.
- Menant, Recherches, ii. 49. See a collection of cases in our Cupid and Psyche, pp. lviii., lix.
- The idea is Professor Robertson Smith's.
- For examples of propitiation of slain animals by this and other arts, see Prim. Cult., i. 467, 469. When the Koriaks slay a bear or wolf, they dress one of their people in his skin, and dance round him, chanting excuses. We must not forget, while offering this hypothesis of the origin of beast-headed gods, that representations of this kind in art may only be a fanciful kind of shorthand. Every one knows the beasts which, in Christian art, accompany the four Evangelists. These do not, of course, signify that St. John was of the eagle totem kin, and St. Mark of the stock of the lion. They are the beasts of Ezekiel and the Apocalypse, regarded as types of the four Gospel writers. Moreover, in mediæval art, the Evangelists are occasionally represented with the heads of their beasts— John with an eagle's head, Mark with a lion's, Luke with that of an ox. See Bulletin, Com. Hist. Archeol., iv. 1852. For this note I am indebted to M. H. Gaidoz.
- Cf. Wilkinson, iii. 86–87.
- De Is. et Os., 29.
- Wilkinson, iii. 82.
- Op. cit., iii. 9.
- The peculiarity of Egypt, in religion and myth as in every other institution, is the retention of the very rudest and most barbarous things side by side with the last refinements of civilisation (Tiele, Manuel, p. 44). The existence of this conservatism (by which we profess to explain the Egyptian myths and worship) is illustrated, in another field, by the arts of everyday life, and by the testimony of the sepulchres of Thebes. M. Passalacqua, in some excavations at Quoarnah (Gurna), struck on the common cemetery of the ancient city of Thebes. Here he found "the mummy of a hunter, with a wooden bow and twelve arrows, the shaft made of reed, the points of hardened wood tipped with edged flints. Hard by lay jewels belonging to the mummy of a young woman, pins with ornamental heads, necklaces of gold and lapis-lazuli, gold earrings, scarabs of gold, bracelets of gold," and so forth (Chabas, Etudes sur l'Antiquité Historique, p. 390). The refined art of the gold-worker was contemporary, and this at a late period, with the use of flint-headed arrows, the weapons commonly found all over the world in places where the metals had never penetrated. Again, a razor-shaped knife of flint has been unearthed; it is inscribed in hieroglyphics with the words, "The great Sam, son of Ptah, chief of artists." The "Sams" were members of the priestly class, who fulfilled certain mystic duties at funerals. It is reported by Herodotus that the embalmers opened the bodies of the dead with a knife of stone; and the discovery of such a knife, though it had not belonged to an embalmer, proves that in Egypt the stone age did not disappear, but coexisted throughout with the arts of metal-working. It is alleged that flint chisels and stone hammers were used by the workers of the mines in Sinai, even under Dynasties XII., XIX. The soil of Egypt, when excavated, constantly shows that the Egpytians, who in the remote age of the pyramid-builders were already acquainted with bronze, and even with iron, did not therefore relinquish the use of flint knives and arrow-heads when such implements became cheaper than tools of metal, or when they were associated with religion. Precisely in the same way did the Egyptians, who, in the remotest known times, had imposing religious ideas, decline to relinquish the totems and beast-gods and absurd or blasphemous myths which (like flint axes and arrow-heads) are everywhere characteristic of savages.
- Their special relation to the souls of the departed is matter for a separate discussion.
- "The gods of the dead and the elemental gods were almost all identified with the sun, for the purpose of blending them in a theistic unity" (Maspero, Rev. de l'Hist. des Rel., i. 126).
- Birch, in Wilkinson, iii. 59.
- Le Page Renouf, op. cit., p. 114.
- Herodotus, ii. 144.
- The principal native documents are the Magical Harris Papyrus, of the nineteenth or twentieth dynasty, translated by M. Chabas (Records of the Past, x. 137); the papyrus of Nebseni (eighteenth dynasty), translated by M. Naville, and in Records of Past, x. 159; the hymn to Osiris, on a stele (eighteenth dynasty), translated by M. Chabas (Rev. Archéol., 1857; Records of Past, iv. 99); "The Book of Respirations," mythically said to have been made by Isis to restore Osiris,—a "Book of the Breath of Life" (the papyrus is probably of the time of the Ptolemies—Records of Past, iv. 119); "The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys," translated by M. de Horrack (Records of Past, ii. 117). There is also "The Book of the Dead:" the version of M. Pierret (Paris, 1882) is convenient in shape (also Birch, in Bunsen, vol. v.) M. de Naville's new edition is elaborate and costly, and without a translation. Sarcophagi and royal tombs (Champollion) also contain many representations of the incidents in the myth. "The myth of Osiris in its details, the laying out of his body by his wife Isis and his sister Nephthys, the reconstruction of his limbs, his mythical chest, and other incidents connected with his myth are represented in detail in the temple of Philæ" (Birch, ap. Wilkinson, iii. 84). The reverent awe of Herodotus prevents him from describing the mystery-play on the sufferings of Osiris, which he says was acted at Sais, ii. 171, and ii. 61, 67, 86. Probably the clearest and most consecutive modern account of the Osiris myth is given by M. Lefébure, in Les Yeux d'Horus et Osiris. M. Lefébure's translations are followed in the text; he is not, however, responsible for our treatment of the myth. The Ptolemaic version of the temple of Edfou is published by M. Naville, Mythe d'Horus (Geneva, 1870).
- De Iside et Osiride, xii. It is a most curious coincidence that the same story is told of Indra in the Rig-Veda, iv. 18, 1. "This is the old and well-known path by which all the gods were born: thou mayest not, by other means, bring thy mother unto death." Indra replies, "I will not go out thence, that is a dangerous way; right through the side will I burst." Compare (Leland, Algonquin Legends, p. 15) the birth of the Algonquin Typhon, the evil Malsumis, the wolf. "Glooskap said, 'I will be born as others are.'" But the evil Malsumis thought himself too great to be brought forth in such a manner, and declared that he would burst through his mother's side. Mr. Leland's note, containing a Buddhist and an Armenian parallel, but referring neither to Indra nor Typhon, shows the bona fides of the Algonquin report. The Bodhisattva was born through his mother's right side (Kern., Der Buddhismus, 30). The Irish version is that our Lord was born through the crown of the head of the Virgin, like Athene. Saltair na Rann, 7529, 7530. See also Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 490. For the Irish and Buddhist legends (there is an Anglo-Saxon parallel) I am indebted to Mr. Whitley Stokes. Probably the feeling that a supernatural child should have no natural birth, and not the borrowing of ideas, accounts for those strange similarities of myth.
- "Osiris is Dionysus in the tongue of Hellas" (Herodotus, ii. 144, ii. 48). "Most of the details of the mystery of Osiris, as practised by the Egyptians, resemble the Dionysus mysteries of Greece. . . . Methinks that Melampus, Amythaon's son, was well seen in this knowledge, for it was Melampus that brought among the Greeks the name and rites and phallic procession of Dionysus." (Compare De Is. et Os., xxxv.) The coincidences are probably not to be explained by borrowing; many of them are found in America.
- In the Edfou monuments Set is slain and dismembered in the shape of a red hippopotamus (Naville, Mythe d'Horus, p. 7).
- The fragments of Osiris were sixteen, according to the texts of Denderah, one for each nome.
- De Is. et Os., xxxv.
- Compare Lefébure, Les Yeux d'Horus, pp. 47–48.
- Wicked squires in Shropshire (Miss Burne, Shropshire Folk-Lore) "come" as bulls. Osiris, in the Meudes nome, "came" as a ram (Mariette, Denderah, iv. 75).
- De Is. et Os., xx.
- Magical Text, nineteenth dynasty, translated by Dr. Birch; Records of Past, vi. 115; Lefébure, Osiris, pp. 100, 113, 124, 205; Livre des Morts, chap. xvii.; Records of Past, x. 84.
- Custom and Myth, "Star Myths;" De Rougé, Nouv. Not., p. 197; Lefébure, Osiris, p. 213.
- Religion und Mythologie, p. 99.
- Records of Past, x. 154.
- De Is. et Os., 211.
- Rev. Archéol., May 1857.
- The Greek version says that Isis took the form of a swallow.
- Marietta, Denderah, iv. 77, 88, 89.
- Records of Past, iv. 121.
- Herodotus, ii. 47; De Is. et Os., 90. See also Porphyry's Life of Pythagoras, who sacrificed a bull made of paste. Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 436.
- Livre des Morts, pp. 112–113.
- Lefébure, Osiris, p. 248.
- Osiris, p. 129. So Lieblein, op. cit., p. 7.
- See the guesses of etymologists (Osiris, pp. 132, 133). Horus has even been connected with the Greek Hera, as the atmosphere!
- De Is. et Os., 75.
- Le Page Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 112–114, 237.