Osiris, The Egyptian God of Death

May 28, 2023 (Last updated on: July 19, 2023)
The Eqyptian god of death Osiris

Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god, remains one of the most intriguing figures in Egyptian mythology. This ancient god has fascinated historians, archaeologists, and enthusiasts for centuries.

The story of Osiris— the dead and resurrected king — reflects the Egyptian religion’s complex aspects, which are significantly tied to life, death, and the afterlife.

Osiris, a central figure in Egyptian mythology, held several roles, including the god of the underworld and the god of the dead. The ancient Egyptians believed that Osiris’ influence stretched from the fertile soil of the Nile River to the realm of the dead. This divine kingship made Osiris one of the most important gods in Egyptian mythology.

The Origin of Osiris in Ancient Egypt

Osiris dates back to the Old Kingdom period in ancient Egypt, specifically around the 5th dynasty, which flourished between 2494 to 2345 BC. Originating as a local god in Upper Egypt, he was primarily associated with the city of Abydos. His cult quickly gained popularity, and he grew into a figure revered across the entire kingdom.

The cultural and religious evolution influenced his transformation from a local deity to a prominent god during the Old Kingdom period. The Egyptian hieroglyphs featuring Osiris from this era provide significant insight into this journey. Inscriptions, tomb paintings, and temple decorations present Osiris as a divine king and a supreme judge in the afterlife, reflecting his complex nature and various roles.

In iconography, Osiris often appeared as a mummified king, embodying the core principles of the Egyptian concept of the afterlife. His green skin, arms crossed over the chest, and shepherd’s staff became his defining attributes. He wore the atef crown, a combination of the white crown of Upper Egypt and two ostrich feathers, a clear symbol of divine kingship and unity.

His green skin is of particular interest. It symbolized fertility and resurrection, signifying the rebirth of agricultural land alongside the Nile River. This association was further emphasized through the sprouting grain symbolized in Osiris festivals, symbolically reenacting his resurrection. These celebrations were an integral part of the ancient Egyptian religious calendar, underlining the enduring legacy of Osiris, the god of death, resurrection, and life.

Mythical scene featuring Osiris' resurrection, with his sister-wife Isis and his son Horus aiding in the resurrection ritual

The Iconography of Osiris in Ancient Egyptian Art

Ancient Egyptians depicted Osiris in many forms in their art. His iconic image in British Museum collections showcases Osiris with an atef crown, ostrich feathers, and holding the crook and flail — emblems of divine authority. The depiction reflects Osiris’ role as a resurrected king, a theme mirrored in various Egyptian art forms.

Osiris played a crucial role in the ancient Egyptians’ concept of the afterlife. As the god of the underworld, he was responsible for granting the deceased kings, and eventually all deceased, the chance to inherit eternal life. This belief greatly influenced Egyptian funeral rites and beliefs about life after death.

Myths and Legends Surrounding Osiris

As the Greek author Plutarch documented, the Osiris myth tells a compelling story of treachery, love, and resurrection. According to the legend, Osiris’ evil brother Set murdered him, only for his wife Isis to piece her husband’s body together and give birth to a new king, their son Horus. The dead king’s son avenging Osiris, forms a critical narrative in Egyptian mythology.

Osiris also served as the divine judge in the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians believed that the deceased’s heart would be weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth after death. Osiris and other underworld deities would oversee this process, deciding whether the deceased would move on to a blissful afterlife or be devoured by the monstrous Ammit.

Rituals and Ceremonies Associated with Osiris

Several rituals in ancient Egypt centered around the worship of Osiris. During Osiris festivals, rituals were conducted, symbolically reenacting his resurrection. The sprouting grain in an “Osiris Garden” was a crucial part of these celebrations, symbolizing new life. These festivals allowed the ancient Egyptians to engage directly with the divine, expressing their hopes for life, renewal, and justice.

Mural from an Ancient Egyptian tomb showing the deity Osiris with green skin, symbolic of regeneration and rebirth, welcoming the deceased to the afterlife

Osiris and the Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs

The concept of divine kingship was essential to ancient Egyptian society. The Pharaohs were seen not just as earthly leaders but also as divine beings. Osiris, as a resurrected king, became closely associated with the idea of the Pharaohs as earthly and heavenly rulers. The living king was seen as the embodiment of Horus, while the deceased king was associated with Osiris, the god of the dead.

Osiris’ Family: The Key Players in Egyptian Mythology

The family of Osiris comprised key figures in Egyptian mythology. His wife Isis, known for her magic, brought Osiris back to life, and their son Horus successfully fought Set, avenging Osiris. This triad, along with Osiris’ brother Set and sister Nephthys, played pivotal roles in the ancient Egyptians’ religious narratives and practices.

Osiris and the Ancient Egyptian Calendar

In ancient Egypt, Osiris had a solid connection to the agricultural calendar. The cycle of his death and resurrection was associated with the annual Nile flood, which brought fertile soil to the land, a phenomenon critical to the survival of ancient Egyptians. Therefore, Osiris ruled the afterlife and was instrumental in the cycle of life and death on Earth.

Depictions of Osiris in Ancient Egyptian Literature

Osiris was a central figure in various ancient Egyptian texts. These include Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom and the Coffin Texts, and the Book of the Dead from the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, respectively. These texts provided mortals with spells and rituals to ensure a safe journey into the afterlife, reinforcing Osiris’ role as the god of death and resurrection.

The Cult of Osiris: An Ancient Egyptian Religious Practice

The cult of Osiris had a profound influence on ancient Egyptian religion. Certain cult forms included nocturnal rites and the great mystery festival, where rituals symbolizing Osiris’ resurrection were enacted. Worship of Osiris promised eternal life to more than just the deceased kings, extending this hope to all individuals, a radical concept for its time.

Osiris’ influence reached beyond ancient Egypt. The Hellenistic god Serapis was a syncretic deity who combined aspects of Osiris and the sacred Apis bull (Osiris-Apis) of Egyptian religion with traits of Greek gods. This fusion, popular among Greek settlers in Egypt, demonstrated the broad reach of Osiris’ mythology and religious significance.

Contemporary References to Osiris

Osiris’ influence extends to the present day. His story has been depicted in films, books, and video games. These modern interpretations often emphasize his role as the god of the underworld and as a figure of death and resurrection, echoing the enduring fascination with ancient Egyptian mythology.

Archaeological Evidence of Osiris Worship

Archaeological evidence of Osiri’s worship is found throughout Egypt, from temples and tombs adorned with his image to statues and amulets. An excellent example is the Osireion, a temple dedicated to Osiris at Abydos, believed to be the god’s burial place. This site was a pilgrimage destination for ancient Egyptians wishing to pay their respects to Osiris.

Artistic depiction of Osiris sitting on a grand throne, with the symbolic atef crown on his head, flanked by twin serpents

Osiris: A Symbol of Resurrection and Renewal

Osiris embodies resurrection and renewal. His story reflects the cycle of life and death, of chaos and order, fundamental to the ancient Egyptian worldview. As a god dying and reborn, Osiris symbolizes the hope of rebirth and the promise of eternal life, making him one of the most significant deities in ancient Egyptian religion.

The Osiris Myth: Its Significance in Understanding Ancient Egyptians

The myth of Osiris offers valuable insights into the beliefs and values of ancient Egyptians. This story gives us a deeper understanding of their views on life, death, the afterlife, and divine justice. The narrative of a son avenging his father’s death and the concept of resurrection reflect the cultural, religious, and ethical codes of the time.


Osiris, the Egyptian god, was a cornerstone in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion. His narrative weaves through the fabric of their cultural identity, shaping their concepts of life, death, and the hereafter. His tale of treachery, resurrection, and justice echoes through time, influencing modern perceptions of ancient Egyptians. Whether it’s in the green of fertile fields or the promise of eternal life, the legacy of Osiris still thrives. As we delve into the rich tapestry of Egyptian mythology, we are continually drawn back to Osiris, a god who symbolizes the ancient Egyptians’ enduring desire for renewal, justice, and eternity.

Frequently Asked Questions About Osiris

What are three facts about Osiris?

  1. Osiris was the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld and the dead. The ancient Egyptians believed in his power to grant the deceased eternal life in the afterlife.
  2. Osiris was usually depicted as a green-skinned mummified king. He often held the crook and flail — symbols of divine authority — and wore the Atef crown.
  3. The mythology of Osiris includes a narrative of betrayal, death, and resurrection. He was murdered by his brother Set but was later brought back to life by his wife, Isis, symbolizing the cycle of life and death and the potential for renewal.

What are Osiris’ 3 important powers?

  1. Authority over the Underworld: Osiris ruled over the afterlife, judging the souls of the deceased.
  2. Symbol of Resurrection and Renewal: Osiris was associated with the cycles of nature, specifically the growth of crops and the annual flooding of the Nile.
  3. Bestower of Eternal Life: Osiris was believed to grant the deceased eternal life, allowing them to exist in the afterlife.

Is Osiris good or bad?

Osiris is traditionally seen as a benevolent god in ancient Egyptian mythology. He was the god of resurrection, renewal, and regeneration. Moreover, he was a just judge in the afterlife, symbolizing fairness and balance.

Who is Osiris Egyptian god in the Bible?

As an Egyptian deity, Osiris is not directly referenced in the Bible. The Bible, however, does mention ancient Egypt and its Pharaohs. Egypt’s cultural and historical context provided a backdrop for many biblical narratives, but individual Egyptian gods, including Osiris, are not named or discussed.

Who is the god of death in Egypt?

In ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris was recognized as the god of death. He ruled the underworld and judged the souls of the deceased.

Is Osiris or Anubis the god of death?

In ancient Egyptian mythology, both Osiris and Anubis played significant roles in the afterlife. Osiris was the god of death and the underworld, while Anubis was the god of mummification and the guide of souls to the afterlife. They worked together in the process of judging souls in the afterlife.

What does the god Osiris symbolize?

Osiris symbolizes death, resurrection, and renewal. His myth aligns with the cycles of nature, including the flooding of the Nile and the growth of crops. As an underworld ruler, he is also a symbol of divine judgment and eternal life.

Is Osiris a god or a demon?

In ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris is a god of death, the afterlife, and resurrection. He is not depicted as a demon in traditional Egyptian religious texts or iconography.