The Mysteries of Osiris

The Mysteries of Osiris was the most
important religious event of the year in ancient Egypt. It was celebrated in
all major cities, including Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, where
even the Greeks who lived in those cities took part.

It
reenacted the murder and revival of Osiris, Egyptian god of the
underworld. Osiris was one of the most important and popular gods in ancient
Egypt. All pharaohs were believed to descend from him, as living incarnations
of Osiris’ son, Horus. Osiris presided over the tribunal of the underworld,
offering the promise of life after death for the deceased who were ‘justified’
in the eyes of the gods. He was also associated with fertility and the annual
regeneration of nature.

Osiris, his sister-wife Isis, and
their son Horus formed a sacred family, worshipped across Egypt and
beyond. They became increasingly popular during the first millennium BC.
Annually, in every temple-city in Egypt, the
god was celebrated in this most important religious festival.

The Mysteries of Osiris took place between
the 12th and 30th of the month of Khoiak (mid-October to
mid-November), when the Nile retreated, depositing fertile soil ready to be
sown. Every year, two figures of Osiris were
prepared by priests in the secrecy of the temple. One was made of soil and
barley grains, and the other was made of expensive ingredients including ground
semi-precious stones. These sacred figures
were carried in procession to their final resting place at the end of the
ritual celebrations.

For
a long time, the Mysteries were known only from depictions in temples and
ancient texts. However, recent astonishing underwater finds allow us to see
ritual equipment and offerings associated with the Mysteries for the first
time.

Discovered behind the shrine of Amun-Gereb
in his temple at Thonis-Heracleion, this vat was used during the Mysteries of
Osiris. On the first day of the Mysteries, the mummy-shaped figure of Osiris –
made with a gold mould of two halves using soil, barley grains and water from
the Nile – was deposited in a garden tank where it was carefully watered for
eight days in a row, until it germinated.

This image shows a
priest watering the germinating Osiris figure, in a depiction from the Temple
of Philae. 

Find out more about the
Mysteries of Osiris in the BP exhibition Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds
(until 27 Nov 2016).

Experience the
Festival of Osiris in our free late event on Friday 28 October. Enjoy themed
food and drink, workshops and performances!

A statuette of Osiris and a model of a
processional barge for the god, shown in
their place of excavation at Thonis-Heracleion. Photo: Christoph Gerigk. ©
Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

Standing statue of Osiris. Medinet Habu
(modern Luxor), 664–610 BC. On loan from Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Photo:
Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

Pink granite garden vat. Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 4th–2nd century BC. Maritime Museum of Alexandria. Photo: Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

Reproduced from George Bénédicte’s Temple
de Philae
, 1893.

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