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Osiris (Greek language, also Usiris; the Egyptian language name is variously spelled Asar, Aser, Ausar, or Ausare) is the Egyptian god of death and the underworld. The origin of Osiris' name is a mystery, which forms an obstacle to knowing the pronunciation of its hieroglyphic form. The majority of current thinking is that the Egyptian name is pronounced aser where the a is the letter ayin (i.e. a short 'a' pronounced from the back of the throat as if swallowing).     

Father of Babi
Osiris is first mentioned in the 5th Dynasty. Osiris was originally the god of the underworld and the dead in the Ennead version of Egyptian mythology, in which he was one of the four children of the earth (Geb) and the sky (Nuit), and was the husband of Isis (Aset), who represented life. As god of the dead, Babi, the god who devoured unworthy souls, was described as his first-born son.

In art, since he was representative of death, Osiris was usually depicted as a mummified man, with a beard, and, as ruler of the underworld, was also given the symbols of kingship - the crown, flail, and crozier. Usually, he also was depicted as having green skin, a reference to rotting flesh, and thus to death.

The main visible source of decomposition, of rotting flesh, is its consumption by insects, beetles, and other small animals. Since these animals are the prey of centipedes, centipedes became seen by the Egyptians as protecting the dead, and consequently, in Heliopolis, became thought of as an aspect of Osiris, the lord of the dead. In this form, he was known as Sepa (also spelt Sep), meaning centipede, being depicted either as a normal centipede or as a mummified figure with two horns, reflecting both Osiris' role as lord of the dead, and the prominent horn-like Antennae exhibited by centipedes. Since centipedes are venemous, Sepa was seen as having authority over snake bites and scorpion stings, and so was invoked for protection against these things.

The presence of earthworms improves the fertility of soil, and such simple observations were known in ancient times, although it was often associated with other creatures usually present in healthy soil as well. Since centipedes prey on such animals, they would usually be found in the same locations, and thus also became associated with soil fertility. Because centipedes usually roam around soil, Sepa was also associated with the Earth, and his actions seen to improve its fertility. In consequence, Sepa was sometimes depicted with the head of a donkey, a major symbol of soil fertility due to the beneficial effects, to soil, of manure from donkeys in particular (horse manure would be more notable, but horses were not present in Egypt).

Father of Anubis
Later, when the Ennead and Ogdoad cosmogenies became merged, with the identification of Ra as Atum (Atum-Ra), gradually Anubis (Anupu), the god of the underworld in the Ogdoad system, was replaced by Osiris, whose cult had become more significant. In order to explain this, Anubis was said to have given way to Osiris out of respect, and, as an underworld deity, was subsequently identified as being Osiris' son. Abydos, which had been a strong centre of the cult of Anubis, became a centre of the cult of Osiris.

However, as Isis, Osiris' wife, represented life, in the Ennead, it was considered somewhat inappropriate for her to be the mother of a god associated with death, and so instead, it was usually said that Nephthys (Nebet Het), the other of the two female children of Geb and Nuit, was his mother. To explain the apparent infidelity of Osiris, it was said that a sexually frustrated Nephthys had disguised herself as Isis to get more attention from her husband, Set, who was in fact homosexual, but did not succeed, although Osiris then mistook her for Isis, and they had sex, resulting in Anubis' birth.

     Father of Horus
Later, when Hathor's identity (from the Ogdoad) was assimilated into that of Isis, Horus (Hor), who had been Isis' husband (in the Ogdoad), became considered her son, and thus, since Osiris was Isis' husband (in the Ennead), Osiris also became considered Horus' father. Attempts to explain how Osiris, a god of death, could give rise to someone so definitely alive as Horus, lead to the development of the Legend of Osiris and Isis, which became the greatest myth in Egyptian mythology.

The myth described Osiris as having been killed by Set, who had by now become considered evil, and subsequently having been resurrected, leading to him copulating with Isis, resulting in the birth of Horus, but returning to the land of the dead, shortly after when the magic wore off (so that it could be explained how he was still lord of the dead). As such, since Horus was only present after Osiris, his father, was dead, and Osiris was only alive before Horus was born, Horus became thought of as the resurrected version of Osiris, i.e. Osiris re-incarnated. This combination, Osiris-Horus, was therefore a life-death-rebirth deity, and thus associated with the new harvest each year.

Ptah-Seker (who resulted from the identification of Ptah as Seker), who was god of re-incarnation, thus gradually became identified with Osiris, the two becoming Ptah-Seker-Osiris (rarely known as Ptah-Seker-Atum, although this was just the name, and involved Osiris rather than Atum). As the sun was thought to spend the night in the underworld, and subsequently be re-incarnated, as both king of the underworld, and god of reincarnation, Ptah-Seker-Osiris was identified as the sun during the night.

Ram God
Since Osiris was considered dead, as lord of the dead, Osiris' soul, or rather his Ba, was occasionally worshipped in its own right, almost as if it were a distinct god, especially so in the Delta city of Mendes. This aspect of Osiris was referred to as Banebdjed (also spelt Banebded or Banebdjedet, which is technically feminine) which literally means The ba of the lord of the djed, which roughly means The soul of the lord of the pillar of stability. The djed, a type of pillar, was usually understood as the backbone of Osiris, since the Egyptians had associated death, and the dead, as symbolic of stability. As Banebdjed, Osiris was given epithets such as Lord of the Sky and Life of the (sun god) Ra, since Ra, when he had become identified with Atum, was considered Osiris' ancestor, from whom his regal authority was inherited.

Ba does not, however, quite mean soul in the western sense, and also has a lot to do with power, reputation, force of character, especially in the case of a god. Since the ba was associated with power, and also happened to be a word for ram in Egyptian, Banebdjed was depicted as a ram, or as Ram-headed. A living, sacred ram, was even kept at Mendes and worshipped as the incarnation of the god, and upon death, the rams were mummified and buried in a ram-specific necropolis.

In Mendes, they had considered Hatmehit, a local fish-goddess, as the most important god/goddess, and so when the cult of Osiris became more significant, Banebdjed was identified in Mendes as deriving his authority from being married to Hatmehit. Later, when Horus became identified as the child of Osiris (in this form Horus is known as Harpocrates in greek and Har-pa-khered in Egyptian), Banebdjed was consequently said to be Horus' father, as Banebdjed is an aspect of Osiris.

In contemporary occult fiction, Banebdjed is often called the goat of Mendes, and identifed with Baphomet; the fact that Banebdjed was a ram (sheep), not a goat, is apparently overlooked.

Mystery religion
By the hellenic era, greek awareness of Osiris had grown, and attempts had been made to merge greek philosophy, such as Platonism, and the cult of Osiris (especially the myth of his resurrection), resulting in a mystery religion. Gradually, this became more popular, and was exported to other parts of the greek sphere of influence. However, these mystery religions valued the change in wisdom, personality, and knowledge of fundamental truth, rather than the exact details of the acknowledged myths on which their teachings were superimposed. Thus in each region that it was exported to, the myth was changed to be about a similar local god, resulting in a series of gods, who had originally been quite distinct, but who were now syncretisms with Osiris. These gods became known as Osiris-Dionysus.

Eventually, in Egypt, the hellenic pharaohs decided to produce a deity that would be acceptable to both the local Egyptian population, and the influx of hellenic visitors, to bring the two groups together, rather than allow a source of rebellion to grow. Thus Osiris was identified explicitely with Apis, really an aspect of Ptah, who had already been identified as Osiris by this point, and a syncretism of the two was created, known as Serapis, and depicted as a standard greek god.     

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