Egyptian Mythology

The Myth of Isis, Osiris, and Horus

What was the war between Horus and Seth?

The divine child Horus was born to Isis in the fertile Egyptian Delta. As are so many representatives of the mythological archetype of the divine child—Jesus and Zoroaster are examples—he is threatened by the forces of chaos, represented here by Seth. When Isis was forced away, the child was hidden in the Delta marshes, where he was fed by a wet nurse, the great cow goddess Hathor. Poisoned by a snake sent by Seth, Horus is healed by gods sent by Atum-Ra. As a child, Horus fights off many agents of Seth—evil reptiles and other animals—sent to destroy him. The goal of what is, in effect, a heroic quest, is always to avenge his father’s murder and to take the throne of Egypt away from Seth.

A central part of the story of the Seth-Horus conflict is unusual sexuality. Horus complains to his mother that Seth admires him sexually. Isis advises her son to give in to Seth, but in the process to steal some of his magical power. Horus agrees, and in the course of sex he catches the evil king’s semen in his hand. When Horus brings the semen to his mother, she cuts off her son’s polluted hand, throws it into the Nile, and makes him a new hand. Then she arouses Horus with her own hand and brings him to orgasm, again acting out the original creative role of the Hand Goddess in creation. Isis captures Horus’s semen and spreads it on the plants in Seth’s garden. When Seth eats the plants, he becomes pregnant and gives birth to a sun disk that Thoth gives to Horus as a sign that he is the true “son” of the sun god creator Atum-Ra.

In what becomes physical combat between Seth and Horus, Seth tears out the boy’s eyes, but Horus castrates Seth. The struggle becomes so violent that the gods intervene with a divine tribunal. In most versions of the story, Seth is awarded Upper Egypt—the desert land—and Horus becomes lord of Lower Egypt. Eventually, however, Horus is acclaimed king of all of Egypt.

The Seth-Horus struggle, then, reflects the actual pattern of division followed by unity between Upper and Lower Egypt over the centuries.

In fact, humanity in Egypt was so prone to struggle and antagonism that the high god resorted at least once to universal punishment that culminated in a flood of sorts.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Mythology Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App