Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was
worshipped from at least the late Predynastic
period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded
in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists.
These various forms may possibly be different perceptions of the same
multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are
emphasised, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another,
consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality.
The earliest recorded form is Horus the Falcon who was the
patron deity of Nekhen
Egypt and who is the first known national god, specifically related to the
king who in time became to be regarded as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death. The
most commonly encountered family relationship describes Horus as the son of Isis and Osiris but in
another tradition Hathor
is regarded as his mother and sometimes as his wife.
Horus served many functions in the Egyptian pantheon, most notably being the
god of the Sky, god of War and god of Protection.
Horus is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as ḥr.w and is reconstructed to have been
meaning "Falcon". As a description it has also typically been thought
of as having the meaning "the distant one" or "one who is above,
over". By Coptic
times, the name became Hōr. It was adopted into Greek
The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-Si-Ese
literally "Horus, son of Isis".
Horus was also sometimes known as Nekheny, meaning "falcon".
Some have proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at
Nekhen (city of
the hawk), but then Horus was identified with him early on. As falcon, Horus
may be shown on the Narmer Palette dating from the time of unification
of upper and lower Egypt.
Since Horus was said to be the sky, he was considered to also
contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was his right eye and the
moon his left, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across
it. Thus he became known as Harmerty - Horus of two eyes. Later,
the reason that the moon was not as bright as the sun was explained by a tale,
known as the contestings of Horus and Seth, originating as a metaphor
for the conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower Egypt
in about 3000 BC. In this tale, it was said that Set,
the patron of Upper Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Lower Egypt, had battled
brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the gods sided with
Horus (see below).
As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as Harsiesis,
Heru-ur or Har-Wer (ḥr.w wr 'Horus the Great'), but more usually translated
as Horus the Elder. In the struggle Seth had lost a testicle, explaining
why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus' left eye had also
been gouged out, which explained why the moon, which it represented, was so
weak compared to the sun.
It was also said that during a new-moon, Horus had become blinded
and was titled Mekhenty-er-irty (mḫnty r ỉr.ty 'He
who has no eyes'). When the moon became visible again, he was re-titled Khenty-irty
(ḫnty r ỉr.ty
'He who has eyes').
Horus was occasionally shown in art as a naked boy with a finger in
his mouth sitting on a lotus with his mother. In the form of a youth, Horus
was referred to as Neferhor. This is also spelled Nefer Hor, Nephoros
or Nopheros (nfr ḥr.w) meaning 'The Good Horus'.
Wedjat, eye of Horus
The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of
protection and royal power from deities, in this case from Horus or Ra. The symbol is seen on
images of Horus' mother, Isis, and on other deities associated with her.
In the Egyptian language, the word for this symbol was
"Wedjat". It was the
eye of one of the earliest of Egyptian deities, Wadjet, who later
became associated with Bast, Mut, and Hathor as well. Wedjat was a solar deity and this symbol began
as her eye, an all seeing eye. In early artwork, Hathor is also depicted with
this eye. Funerary
amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus. The Wedjat or Eye of
Horus is "the central element" of seven "gold, faience, carnelian and
lazuli" bracelets found on the mummy of Shoshenq II.
The Wedjat "was intended to protect the king [here] in the afterlife"
and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently
paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel