The Worship of Osiris – The Osirian Mysteries
The worship of Osiris spanned thousands of years and took many forms. He went from being a local god to one whose myths reached Greco-Roman world and beyond. He merged with other deities and his myths evolved over time.
But now I want to delve into what we call the Osirian or Osiris Mysteries, which was part of the worship of Osiris.
As with any mystery religion, there is a part of it that is secretive and reserved only for initiates, and initiates of course were those who underwent initiation rites, which were also kept secret.
But in the worship of Osiris and the ceremonial performances of the Osiris Mysteries, the processions, which at first were the secret rites performed inside the temples, would come out from the temples and become open to the public’s attendance.
The Osiris Mysteries focused on the myth of the god’s death and resurrection, as well as the wanderings of Isis and her lamentations along with their other sister Nephthys.
So let’s take a look at what we know about both the hidden rituals as well as the public processions.
The Secret Rites of the Osiris Mysteries
In “The Histories” by Herodotus, there is an account of the Osiris initiation ceremonies that took place on a Lake in the ancient Egyptian town of Sais.
Sais, or Zau in ancient Egyptian, was on the Western Nile Delta, on the Canopic branch of the Nile. Its patron goddess was Neith. It was the capital city of the fifth nome of Lower Egypt. To understand more about the geography of ancient Egypt, click here.
Herodotus says that Sais is where the God Osiris was buried after being murdered by his brother Set, and so this is where the initiates would enact the god’s sufferings.
The initiate would pass through a reenactment of the sufferings and death of Osiris, and then his eventual resurrection.
Inside the temple at Abydos, his cult center, we also have the priests acting out the scenario by playing different gods. They would focus on the resurrection of Osiris and his subsequent kingship of the underworld and the afterlife, where he became the ruler of the dead instead of remaining just a murdered god… A happy ending after all.
During the festivals we have priestesses reenacting the Songs and Laments of Isis and Nephthys, which were also part of the Osiris Mysteries.
The Passion Plays of the Worship of Osiris
As the procession of priests and priestesses would leave the temple and go through the streets of the village, the general public would attend the performance and take part by shouting, singing their praises and invocations, and acting as well.
In fact, at one point Abydos became such an important center of worship that people from all over the country would try to take a pilgrimage to attend the processions, also called The Passion Plays of Osiris.
The Ikhernofret Stela gives us an account of how the processions would unfold:
Day 1: The Procession of Wepwawet
Wepwawet, The Opener of Ways, is the god who walks at the front of religious processions. A mock battle ensues where some people would take the role of Set and his followers, and they would be defeated by the followers of Osiris. Wepwawet may have represented the god Horus as the avenger of his father.
Day 2: The Great Procession
A statue of the dead Osiris is laid on the Neshmet-Barque and is taken from the temple, through the cemeteries, to his tomb the Osireion.
Then the Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys are performed by priestesses – they would wander around looking for the god’s dead body. Once found, the priestesses would then lament in private, only in the presences of the lector priest and the setem-priest.
At night, the enactment is that enemies of Osiris are killed by his tomb, ending with the trial of Set before the gods.
Day 3: The Haker Festival – the Night of the Battle
An enactment of the battle between Horus and Set takes place on this night, as well as more mourning over the dead Osiris.
A secret sacrificial rite within the temple may have also taken place where a snake and a donkey that represent the evil gods Apep and Set are destroyed. It’s not for certain whether real animals or just statues of them were used.
Day 4: The Procession to the Temple
Now Osiris is reborn at dawn and crowned with the crown of Maat. His statue on the barque now makes its way back to his temple. The statue is purified and erected back in his place. The public would cheer and celebrate, and make offerings to the god.
People would also erect stela afterwards around the temple as a way of making sure they are able to attend these ceremonies even after they have died.
This is how important the worship of Osiris was to the Ancient Egyptians.
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