After Osiris is tricked and killed by Seth he is dismembered, and it is up to his wife Isis to recover all the pieces and bring him back to life. There is something that always caught my attention about the way she does this, since there is a piece she can't recover (Osiris' penis).

One piece only she did not recover, for it had been eaten by certain impious fishes; and their kind were accursed ever afterwards, and no Egyptian would touch or eat them. [...] She gathered the pieces together, rejoined them by magic, and by magic made a likeness of the missing member so that Osiris was complete.

I have always wondered at the significance of having a missing piece, and that this piece is the one used to conceive. I have read several slightly different versions of this myth in which she is able to reconstruct it with magic or able to have a posthumous union with her husband and conceive in spite of the missing piece.

Could somebody clarify what is the importance of not being able to recover all the pieces of Osiris and the significance of the missing piece being Osiris' manhood?

  • A certain penile fascination, perhaps? – frеdsbend May 2 '15 at 3:44
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    @fredsbend, or the opposite, if we consider that that the myth explains the resurrection of a castrated god, or a god that after resurrected, will not have such an important piece. It could have been the fingers or toes, the eyes, nose or some organ, but what was left missing is what essentially defines a man. Must be an important reading there! – Kreann May 2 '15 at 3:51
  • Osiris, before Seth murdered and dismembered him, had walked and reigned on Earth among the living. After his resurrection he lives and reigns only in the land of the dead. Could this imperfect resurrection be due to being physically incomplete? – Timothy Feb 4 at 20:48
  • Could it be that the story symbolizes once more the supreme power of the Goddess - to even have the power to give a man his masculinity back and his capacity to procreate? Osiris becomes the king of the Underworld, guardian of the dead but before through her magic the Goddess created a child who will defy the dark force. She is rising in greater power by becoming the Mother of Horus, reconcile grief within her heart of the loss of her twin soul. It depicts the evolution of the feminine archetype from the Maiden ( complete with a man) to the Mother (complete with the child). – Isa Mar 6 at 14:26

Maybe you should give a link to the version of the myth you are stating , as it is not in the wikipedia article linked below. The only mention about penises is in

Plutarch also states that Set steals and dismembers the corpse only after Isis has retrieved it. Isis then finds and buries each piece of her husband's body, with the exception of the penis, which she has to reconstruct with magic, because the original was eaten by fish in the river. According to Plutarch, this is the reason the Egyptians had a taboo against eating fish. In Egyptian accounts, however, the penis of Osiris is found intact, and the only close parallel with this part of Plutarch's story is in "The Tale of Two Brothers", a folk tale from the New Kingdom with similarities to the Osiris myth.


From right to left: Isis, her husband Osiris, and their son Horus, the protagonists of the Osiris myth, in a Twenty-second Dynasty statuette

Thinking on your version:

Were he not emasculated in his final form it would be expected that he would deal with Seth. He needed a son to vindicate his line and Isis managed it.

It is interesting that in this image Osiris is shown only from the waist up, indicative of the emasculation.

The penis that Isis magically regenerated recalls the parthenogenesis myths in the region.

  • Thank you for your answer. So, if I understand you correctly, the lost of the penis would force the (magical) union between Osiris and Isis, to conceive a heir-avenger for Osiris: some sort of redeemer figure, who will fight evil. The (magical) union between Osiris and Isis must have further connotations, that I don't get. – Kreann May 3 '15 at 1:05
  • The enemy Set should be repulsed. Osiris dismembered cannot do it, nor an emasculated Osiris. An avenger has to be born. The magic has to be invoked to explain the birth of Horus . Isis could go ( and probably did) with anybody and be with child, but for the succession it has to be a child of Osiris, hence magic is invoked, a child conceived supernaturally. – anna v May 3 '15 at 3:16
  • The Ancient Egyptians were hyper-sensitive to mention of death (except the death of their foreign enemies, which was OK by them.) E.g. the euphemisms used for the assassination of King Amenemhat, and the narrator's own death, in the Tale of Sinuhe. Hence it is quite likely that they would not refer directly to the death of Osiris in surviving texts, but Greek or Roman visitors might learn the story from Egyptians, and not have the same inhibition about referring to it in writing. – Timothy Feb 4 at 20:55

I am reminded of the NTR, the Neteru, or Netyeru, the great beings, however they were called, that the most ancient of Egyptians are believed to have worshipped most fervently, who reputedly could resurrect themselves time and again and never die, once with the appearance of a man or woman, then a falcon, an ibis, or a jackal, and so forth, and who were also able to arise in the world by force majeure without the requirement of sexual activity to cause conception. In other words a baby could conceivably be born to a woman who may not have had sex at all...

However, Osiris' goal is to have a spiritual successor to oppose evil, and even many successors, though he doesn't necessarily need a penis to achieve that goal, especially as he has his faithful wife, Isis, who is faithful in more ways than one, because not only is her husband an immortal in the faith through wisdom, but so is Isis herself, through her close association with Djehouti, or Thoth, who has instructed her in the art of uttering words of efficacy. The words of a hymn declare that she was

...strong of tongue, and uttered the words of power which she knew how to pronounce, and she halted not in her speech, and was perfect in giving the command and uttering the word

and she took the form of a bird and hovered above the dead body of her husband Osiris, fanning him with air by beating her wings, and emanating light from the sheen of her feathers, and uttering words of power unceasingly, and at length she roused the dead to life. The embrace that followed resulted in Horus being born, so perhaps in the process of being resurrected Osiris was made whole again. Personally, I'd like to think so!

I used as a source E. A. Wallis Budge's Egyptian Magic


The phallos is made from beeswax in some versions, pretty sure. Neith is Tanith, a rough equivalent of Asherah and Anat/Athena. Asherah was called Anat Yahu in ancient inscriptions. Her Temple was called the "house of the bee".



Here is how I would Interpret the absence of his penis. I really see this as a depiction of successful grief. Now it's important to note that Isis revives Osiris, but after conceiving Horus, Osiris goes and becomes the God of the underworld, ruling over the dead. Does this count as a resurrection? It's common among other resurrection myths from the region, as well.

But Isis runs around Egypt, gathering all of the pieces she can find. This is what we do when we lose someone this close to us! Of course, no matter how we surround ourselves with their belongings, no matter how we strive to engage in activities that reminds us of our lost loves, we can never actually be with them again, hold them, kiss them, make love to them.

I think you're onto something, with the fact that the penis represents the ability to reproduce. It's a symbol of the future, as well. Remove it before reproduction and the bloodline dies. In some versions of the myth, the phallus she makes is vegetable, a reed or a cucumber. In most versions, it isn't described, it's more magical. She somehow managed to conceive his son through a magical phallus, maybe one that wasn't even there corporeally.

So what does conception represent, here? If we continue interpreting the story through a lens of grief, I'd say it represents the final stage of grief, acceptance. That is, Isis finds a way to lay hold of the future, even without the physical presence of her dear husband. She finds a way to move forward, and as she does, she finds herself accompanied by a new form of him, a falcon God. This new form, of course, isn't Osiris himself, she'll never have him back. But he is always watching, from above. Watching over her.

I find it beautiful. Full disclosure: I recently lost somebody very close to me, and I've honestly just discovered that there are very many good stories which can be quite helpfully interpreted through the lens of grief. I'm sure there are many other, perfectly valid, ways to interpret this story.

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