Osiris, Lord of the Underworld – Mythology of Ancient Egypt

Osiris’s main function was to rule the underworld, but he also acted as a god of fertility and agriculture. One of the most enduring deities, he was worshipped throughout Egypt as patron of the dead, lord of the necropolis and the guarantor of rebirth.


Osiris was of prime importance in Egyptian mythology. As a god of fertility, he was seen as the life force behind all things. Yet, at the same time, he was lord of the underworld, and this combination of aspects led him to be identified with resurrection. The connection was spelled out in the most resonant of all Egyptian myths. This told of a time when Osiris ruled the world beneficently with his sister-wife Isis as his consort.

This happy state of affairs roused the jealousy of the monarchs’ brother Seth. According to the best-known version of the story, he constructed a wooden box, in effect the first sarcophagus, to Osiris’s exact measurements, and then at a feast challenged the guests to see who fitted it most closely. When Osiris took his turn to step inside, Seth slammed the lid shut, fastened it with lead, and threw the coffin into the River Nile.

Horrified by her husband’s murder, Isis devoted herself to the task of finding his body. When she finally succeeded in tracking it down, Seth intervened again, this time dismembering the body and scattering the parts across Egypt. Isis once again set out on the trail. She eventually traced 13 of the 14 separate parts, all but the penis, which had been swallowed by a fish, so Isis had to fashion one from gold. Then she reassembled his scattered limbs in the form of the first mummy and used magical incantations so that his spirit could inhabit his body once again. The couple were reunited long enough for Isis to conceive the infant Horus, then Osiris had to return once more to his underworld domain to take up his duties as merciful judge of the Dead.

Osiris’s main cult Center was Abydos in Upper Egypt, where his head was thought to be interred. Some priests went so far as to claim that the tomb of the First Dynasty monarch DJer who ruled ca 2900 BCE was in fact Osiris’s burial place. But the god was also described as,”he who dwells in Heliopolis”, which was the cult center of Re, thereby linking him with the sun god.