The Egyptian God Horus

Pectoral jewelry from the tomb of Tutankhamen, showing the god Horus as a falcon.
Print Collector/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Horus, an Egyptian god of the sky, of war, and protection, is one of the best-known and possibly most important deities of the Egyptian pantheon. His image appears in ancient Egyptian artwork, tomb paintings, and the Book of the Dead. Keep in mind that Horus, as one of the most complex and oldest Egyptian deities, took many different forms throughout history. Like many Egyptian gods, he underwent numerous transformations as the Egyptian culture evolved, and so there is no way for us to cover each aspect of Horus in all of his different forms throughout time.

Origins & History

Horus is believed to have originated in Upper Egypt around 3100 b.c.e., and was associated with the pharaohs and kings. Eventually, the dynasties of the pharaohs claimed to be direct descendants of Horus himself, creating the connection of royalty to the divine. Although in early incarnations he is assigned the role of sibling to Isis and Osiris, Horus later is described by some cults as the son of Isis following the death of Osiris.

There are a number of websites that have dedicated a lot of time to evaluating the parallels between Horus and Jesus. While there are certainly similarities, there is also quite a bit of information out there that is based on false assumptions, fallacies, and non-scholarly evidence. Jon Sorenson, who writes a blog for “Catholic Apologetics,” has a really good breakdown that explains why the comparison of Jesus to Horus is inaccurate. Sorenson knows the bible, but he also understands scholarship and academics.

Appearance

Horus is typically depicted with the head of a falcon. In some portrayals, he appears as a naked infant, sitting (sometimes with his mother) on a lotus petal, representative of his birth to Isis. There are images that show the infant Horus asserting his control over dangerous animals like crocodiles and serpents, as well.

Interestingly, although Horus is almost always associated with the falcon, there are some statues from the Ptolemaic period that show him as having the head of a lion.

Mythology

In Egyptian myth and legend, Horus is one of the most important deities of the pantheon. Following the death of Osiris, at the hands of the god Set, Isis conceived a son, Horus. With a bit of help from some other goddesses, including Hathor, Isis raised Horus until he was old enough to challenge Set. Horus and Set went before the sun god, Ra, and pleaded their cases as to who was to be made king. Ra found in favor of Horus, thanks in no small part to Set’s history of treachery, and declared Horus to be the king. As a sky god, the eyes of Horus were steeped in magic and power. His right eye is associated with the moon, and his left with the sun. The Eye of Horus appears frequently in Egyptian artwork.

Some Egyptologists see the battle between Set and Horus as representative of the struggles between Upper and Lower Egypt. Horus was more popular in the south and Set in the north. Horus’ defeat of Set may symbolize the unification of the two halves of Egypt.

In addition to his associations with the sky, Horus was seen as a deity of war and the hunt. As a protector of the royal families who claimed divine ancestry, he is associated with battles by kings to maintain the monarchy.

The Coffin Texts describe Horus in his own words: “No other god could do what I have done. I have brought the ways of eternity to the twilight of the morning. I am unique in my flight. My wrath will be turned against the enemy of my father Osiris and I will put him beneath my feet in my name of 'Red Cloak'."

Worship & Celebration

Cults honoring Horus popped up in numerous places in ancient Egypt, although he seems to have enjoyed more popularity in the southern parts of the region than the north. He was the patron deity of the city of Nekhen, in southern Egypt, which was known as the City of the Hawk. Horus also dominated Ptolemaic temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu, along with Hathor, his consort.

A festival was held at Edfu each year, called the Coronation of the Sacred Falcon, in which an actual falcon was crowned to represent Horus on the throne. Author Ragnhild Bjerre Finnestad says in the book Temples of Ancient Egypt, “A falconine statue of Horus and statues of the mythical ancestor kings were carried in procession from the temple… there the falcon to be crowned was chosen. The Sacred Falcon represented both Horus, divine ruler of all Egypt, and the reigning pharaoh, fusing the two ritually and linking the festival with the religious ideology of the state. The festival is one of many indications that the ancient ideal of integration of kingship into temple cultus was still important under the Ptolemies and the Romans.”

Honoring Horus Today

Today some Pagans, particularly those who follow a Kemetic or Egyptian Reconstructionist belief system, still honor Horus as part of their practice. Egyptian deities are fairly complex and don’t fall into neat little labels and boxes, but if you’d like to begin working with them, here are a few simple ways you can honor Horus.

  • Consider Horus’ association with the falcon and the hawk. Both are birds of prey, so offerings of fresh red meat can be appropriate, as can offerings of weaponry or iron, in tribute to Horus’ role as a god of warfare.
  • Paint or draw an Eye of Horus, the wedjat, for divine protection.
  • Many Egyptian deities appreciate the gift of bread. Some tomb artwork depicts the offering of very large triangular cakes to Horus. These were called shat-cakes, and represent the divine power of the pharaohs associated with the gods.
  • If you’re about to engage in conflict, call upon Horus for assistance – but make sure you give an appropriate offering to show your gratitude.