Egypt: The Journey of Isis

This story is part of the Ancient Egypt unit. Story source: Egyptian Myth and Legend by Donald Mackenzie (1907).




The Journey of Isis

Then Isis gave birth unto her son Horus, but Set came to know where the mother and babe were concealed, and he made them prisoners in the house.

It was his desire to put Horus to death, lest he should become his enemy and the claimant of the throne of Osiris. But wise Thoth came out of heaven and gave warning unto Isis, and she fled with her child into the night. She took refuge in Buto, where she gave Horus into the keeping of Uazit, the virgin goddess of the city, who was a serpent so that he might have protection against the jealous wrath of Set, his wicked uncle, while she went forth to search for the body of Osiris.

But one day, when she came to gaze upon the child, she found him lying dead. A scorpion had bitten him, nor was it in her power to restore him to life again. In her bitter grief she called upon the great god Ra. Her voice ascended to high heaven, and the sun boat was stayed in its course. Then wise Thoth came down to give aid. He worked a mighty spell; he spoke magical words over the child Horus, who was immediately restored to life again.  It was the will of the gods that he should grow into strong manhood and then smite his father's slayer.

The coffin of Osiris was driven by the waves to Byblos, in Syria, and it was cast upon the shore. A sacred tree sprang up and grew round it, and the body of the dead ruler was enclosed in its great trunk. The king of that alien land marvelled greatly at the wonderful tree because that it had such rapid growth, and he gave command that it should be cut down. As he desired, so it was done. Then was the trunk erected in his house as a sacred pillar, but to no man was given knowledge of the secret which it contained.

A revelation came unto Isis, and she set out towards Byblos in a ship. When she reached the Syrian coast she went ashore clad in common raiment, and she sat beside a well, weeping bitterly. Women came to draw water, and they spoke to her with pity, but Isis answered not nor ceased to grieve until the handmaidens of the queen drew nigh. Unto them she gave kindly greetings. When they had spoken gently unto her she braided their hair, and into each lock she breathed sweet and alluring perfume. So it chanced that when the maidens returned unto the king's house the queen smelt the perfume and commanded that the strange woman should be brought before her. Then it was that Isis found favour in the eyes of the queen, who chose her to be the foster-mother of the royal babe.

But Isis refused to suckle the child, and to silence his cries for milk, she put her finger into his mouth. When night came she caused fire to burn away his flesh, and she took the form of a swallow and flew, uttering broken cries of sorrow, round about the sacred pillar which contained the body of Osiris. It chanced that the queen came nigh and beheld her babe in the flames. She immediately plucked him forth, but although she rescued his body, she caused him to be denied immortality.

Isis again assumed her wonted form, and she confessed unto the queen who she was. Then she asked the king that the sacred pillar be given unto her. The boon was granted, and she cut deep into the trunk and took forth the chest which was concealed therein.

Embracing it tenderly, she uttered cries of lamentation that were so bitter and keen that the royal babe died with terror. Then she consecrated the sacred pillar, which she wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh, and it was afterwards placed in a temple which the king caused to be erected to Isis, and for long centuries it was worshipped by the people of Byblos.

The coffin of Osiris was borne to the ship in which the queen goddess had sailed unto Syria. Then she went aboard and took with her Maneros, the king's first-born, and put forth to sea. The ship sped on, and the land faded from sight. Isis yearned to behold once again the face of her dead husband, and she opened the chest and kissed passionately his cold lips, while tears streamed from her eyes. Maneros, son of the King of Byblos, came stealthily behind her, wondering what secret the chest contained. Isis looked round with anger, her bright eyes blinded him, and he fell back dead into the sea.

When Isis reached the land of Egypt she concealed the body of the dead king in a secret place and hastened towards the city of Buto to embrace her son Horus, but short-lived was her triumph. It chanced that Set came hunting the boar at full moon in the Delta jungle, and he found the chest which Isis had taken back from Syria. He caused it to be opened, and the body of Osiris was taken forth and rent into fourteen pieces, which he cast into the Nile so that the crocodiles might devour them. But these reptiles had fear of Isis and touched them not, and they were scattered along the river banks. A fish (Oxyrhynchus) swallowed the phallus.

The heart of Isis was filled with grief when she came to know what Set had done. She had made for herself a papyrus boat and sailed up and down the Delta waters, searching for the fragments of her husband's body, and at length she recovered them all, save the part which had been swallowed by the fish. She buried the fragments where they were found, and for each she made a tomb. In after days temples were erected over the tombs, and in these Osiris was worshipped by the people for long centuries.


(1000 words)









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