The pharaoh was seen as the earthly embodiment of the divine Horus. The ancient Egyptians used the symbol of Horus to make legitimate their right to rule – authority from the gods. His hawk/falcon emblem can be seen on pre-dynastic pieces such as the Narmer palette. But he is more commonly seen in his anthropomorphic form as a human body with a falcon head.
Myth states that Horus is the son of Geb and Nut and brother to Seth who was given the land of Upper Egypt to rule. Lower Egypt was given to Horus:
Geb spoke to Seth: Go to the place where thou wert born (Upper Egypt)
Geb spoke to Horus: Go to the place in which thy father was drowned (Lower Egypt)
The myth is continued in the conflict or “contendings” between Horus and Seth for the rule of the united land of Egypt.
But the iconography of Horus can be confusing. There are many characters involved with him and there is often confusion as to which Horus is being referred to.
He is the royal god of Egypt. The “Horus” name, the power of divinity inherent in the king is the oldest – in use since the First Dynasty. The king’s name is also written “Horus this-and that” as an affirmation from the gods. In other words, the king’s actions are approved by the gods.
“Horus, Mighty Bull, beloved of Maat, Favourite of the Two Goddesses, shining in the Serpent Diadem, Golden Horus, goodly in years, making hearts live, King of Upper and Lower Egypt. O-Kheper-Re, son of Re. Thuthmosis, living forever, eternally, his coronation as Lord of the Two Lands. He has seated himself upon the throne of Geb, wearing the radiance of the Double Crown, the staff of his majesty; he hath taken his inheritance and has assumed the seat of Horus” (ARE ii 69, 70, 73).
Horus is also “Horus the Child” with the sidelock of youth and with his finger in his mouth which is thought to mean “speechless/silence”. Conceived posthumously, this is the Horus who was born to Isis and Osiris and brought up in secret by Isis in the north east Delta. Horus, premature and weak in his lower limbs was hidden in the papyrus marshes by his mother to keep him safe in order to fulfil his destiny as the divine ruler of Egypt. The iconography of Horus the Child is of a vulnerable child sitting on his mother’s lap sucking his fingers. This image was adopted by the Roman Empire and then carried into Christianity with the emblem of Mother and Child.
“Horus the Elder” (Heru-Ur) was the patron deity of Lower Egypt. As the child matures into adulthood, Horus the Elder avenges the death of his father Osiris at the hands of Seth, with the help of Isis, the mother of Horus. At the defeat of Seth, Horus inherits the divine kingship of the united Egypt from his father Osiris who has become the “divine king of the dead” in the Otherworld.
Thus, Horus becomes the “living” king and protector of the royal throne.
- But, Horus was also the son of the son God Re, the “son of Re” and this naming procedure was vitally important to the Egyptians. By naming “that which is named” comes into existence. Thus, every king by using this title embodies, not only the divinity of his father, Re, but also the power of the sun; and in Egypt that power was vast.
- Horus is also “Kerakhty” – the Horizon of the Sun.
- He is the god of war – the “winged disc” at Edfu
- He is the brother of Seth. Myth describes the battle between hours and Seth in which Horus “conquers” Upper Egypt (that is Seth) and the unification of Egypt is thus created. Seth was then banished to the western desert.
- Horus is also portrayed as the guardian of the “entrance” to the Underworld – Horus of the Sphinx.
One symbol of Horus which was of great importance to the ancients was the “Wadjet eye”. Myth tells us that as part of the Horus/Seth “contendings” Seth gouged out the eyes of Horus. Hathor found Horus weeping in the desert, terribly injured by the loss of his eyes. She caught a female gazelle and milked her. She said to Horus, ‘Open your eyes so that I may put this milk into their sockets.’ After she had done so Horus’ eyes were restored to him and from them on they were called his Wadjet – or healed eyes. (Watterston B, Gods of Ancient Egypt pp 86)
Horus is a prime example of the interweaving of the ancient Egyptian gods. The people did not discard their gods but absorbed them. Rather than “confusion” the ancient Egyptians looked to the “fusion” of their gods.