the Contendings of Horus and Seth


The myth of the conflicts between Horus and Seth occupies a large part of the egyptian mythology (and many are the religious feasts dedicated to the celebration of this myth), as it is the core of the essence of the God Horus Himself. With the rebellion of Seth against Osiris, “isefet”(the opposite of Maat), translated as “unrighteousness” and “untruthfulness”, enters the world: Horus is He Who destroys isefet and He Who restores Maat, cyclically. This is the basis and the foundation of the Egyptian Kingship: every rightful and righteous King of the Two Lands is a manifestation of the son of Osiris on Earth, He Who upholds Righteousness and Truth, Horus.

After many counsels of Gods and after many battles where Horus and Seth fight one another in various forms, the young God Horus avenges His father Osiris vanquishing Seth, punishing him, dismembering him, and finally the Gods recognize the right of Horus to the Throne of Osiris and to the position that was of His father Osiris as the new King of the Two Lands of Egypt.
The victory of Horus in the judgments of the Courts testifies His superior Righteousness and Truthfulness, instead His victory in the fightings testifies His superior strenght and power, as the God Shu says in the Chester Beatty papyrus I: “Righteousness is the Owner of Power”. With the victory of Horus and His coronation as the rightful King of Egypt, Seth (and especially His ka) is completely under the power of Osiris and Horus: there are depictions in which Horus brings Seth, his body pierced with knives and tied to a stake as a prisoner, to the presence of Osiris. And in many representations Horus rides Seth (in his forms of hippopotamus and donkey), symbolizing His power and dominion over him. So, with the victory and the peace of Horus, Seth is not banished from the Gods, nor he is destroyed, but the two Gods are pacified, “ Horus and Seth, Who bore with each other are united in fraternizing so that Their quarrel is ended wherever They may be” as it is said in the “Theology of Memphis”, pacified under the might and the sovereignty of Horus.


The Conflicts between Horus and Seth from the Chester Beatty papyrus I:

Dated to the XX Dynasty (ca. 1188-1069), the Chester Beatty papyrus has preserved one of the most complete texts regarding the conflicts between Horus and Seth. The great importance of the “Contendings” lies in the chronological order of the narrative and in the account of the several judgements of the Courts of the Gods concerning the right to the Throne of Osiris on Earth. According to this text, Horus and Seth contended in four Courts, named respectively “Path of Righteousness”, “Horus Who is before the horns”, “Field of Rushes”, and “Pool of the fields”: in all the Courts the Ennead of the Gods proclaimed the son of Osiris as right and true, recognizing His right to the Throne and to the office of His father against the claims of Seth. It describes also the fightings between the two Gods, as related by the “Myth of Horus” from Apollinopolis Megale.

I Part:

“. . . . the judgment between Horus and Seth, mysterious of forms, great-ones, mightiest of all the princes who are ever existed.
The youthful God Horus was seated before the Universal Lord Atum, demanding the office of His father,  Osiris, beautiful of appearances, son of Ptah, He Who illumines Amentet with His splendour.
Then Shu, the son of Ra, said, in the presence of Atum, the powerful King Who is in Heliopolis:
“Righteousness is the Owner of Power: accomplish it, saying ‘Give the office to Horus’ “.
Thoth said to the Ennead of the Gods:
“It is right a million times!”.
Then Isis shouted greatly in rejoice, and She was full of joy. Thereupon She came at the presence of the Universal Lord Atum; and She said:
“North Wind, go to Amentet, and give the news to Osiris Onnophris, Life, Power, Health! (…)”

But the Universal Lord Atum (the creator Sun God in all His forms) was angry as the Ennead has judged by Themselves, so He remained silent; Seth spoke to Him, proposing a fight with Horus for to solve the contending between Them. But Thoth said:
“Shouldn’t we try instead to figure out Who is wrong? The office of Osiris will be given to Seth, while His son Horus is still alive?”
In all the judgements in the various Courts, Thoth is always favorable to Horus, whilst Ra, in the first contentions, wishes to give the office of King to Seth, because Horus is still a young child.

Therefore, to solve the contention, Atum called Banebdjedet “the Great Living God” for to judge between Them; Banebdjedet is the sacred ram of Djedet (Mendes), identified and assimilated with the God Khnum:
“Banebdjedet, the Great God Who lives in the island of Setit, was conducted to the presence of Atum, accompained by Ptah-Ta-tenen.
He said to Them:
‘Judge between the two youths, and put an end to Their quarreling every day’.
But Banebdjedet, the Great Living God, answered to what He has said to Him:
‘Do not let Us, in Our ignorance, judge between Them: let a letter be sent to Neith, the Great Goddess, the Divine Mother. We should accomplish what She will say’. ”

At the request of the Ennead, Thoth wrote the letter to the Goddess “in the name of the Universal Lord, the Bull Who lives in Heliopolis”, and Neith replied to the Gods with this words (She sent a letter in response to the Ennead):

“Give the office of Osiris to His son Horus and don’t commit such unrighteous acts against the natural and right order of things; or I will become furious, and the sky will fall down to earth.
Said to the Universal Lord, the Bull Who lives in Heliopolis: ‘Redouble the possessions of Seth, give to Him as wives Anat and Astarte, Your two daughters, but install Horus in the position of His father Osiris’ ”.

The Gods of the Ennead were in the Court known as “Horus Who is before the horns” when the letter of Neith reached Them: Thoth read it, all the Gods declared the righteousness of Her words. But Atum got angry again, and said to Horus that He was too young and too weak for the office of Osiris, being yet a little child. To this words the entire Ennead (“the Council of the Thirty”, as the text said) became furious, and Baba offended Ra. Then the Gods, enraged, expelled Baba for his offense, and the heart of Ra was very sad. It was Hathor to gladden the heart of His father Ra, making Him laugh. After these events, another judgement started.

“Then the Universal Lord said to Horus and Seth:
“Speak about Yourselves”.
Seth, Great of Strenght, the son of Nut, said:
“Concerning myself, I am Seth, Great of Strenght among the Ennead, and I am the one Who daily kills the enemy of the Ra when I am at the prow of the Bark of the Millions: there is no other God able to do it. Therefore I will take the office of Osiris”.

Then the Gods said that Seth was right, but Onuris and Thoth and Banebdjedet get angry, and Isis became highly furious: the Ennead, in fear of Her, promised to do whatever She desires. Seth, enraged at this sentence of the Gods, threatened Them all, and then he swore that he wouldn’t remain no more at discussing in a Court at the presence of Isis, fearing Her and Her power over the Gods.

“Ra-Harakhty said to Them:
‘Ferry up to the Island in the Middle, and judge there between Them. And tell to Anty the ferryman(called also Nemty, “He Who travels”, He is the falcon God of Tjebu, Antaeopolis, in Upper Egypt) : ‘Do not ferry any woman resembling Isis’ ”.

Therefore the Ennead reached the Island in the Middle. But Isis transformed Herself in an old woman, and so diguised the Goddess was ferried by Anty up to the Island in the Middle.
Then Isis transormed again Herself with the power of Her magic, this time in a maiden of incomparable beauty: Seth was seated with the Gods of the Ennead, eating bread with Them all at the presence of the Universal Lord in His pavilion, when He saw Her. She was visible only to Seth, and Her beauty captured Him: he rose up and, full of desire, reached Her: “He stood behind a sycamore-tree and called Her, saying:
‘I am here with you, beautiful maiden!”.
And She answered:
“Indeed, my great lord, I was the wife of a herdsman, and I bore to Him a male child. My husband died, and the boy started tending his father’s cattle. But then came a stranger, and sitted in my stable he said to my son: ‘I will beat you, I will take the cattle of your father, and you will be cast out’. So he said to my son. And now my wish is that you protect him”.
And Seth replied to Her saying:
“The cattle will be given to the stranger while the son is still alive?” Thereupon Isis transformed Herself in a kite, flew up and perched on the top of a tree; She called him and said:
”Be ashamed of yourself: it is your own competence that has said it, it is your own competence that has judged you.(…)”

Ashamed, with his eyes full of tears, Seth reached Ra, but when he told Him everything, the Universal Lord replied:
“Now then, you see? You have judged yourself. What else do you want?”
Then the Universal Lord wrote a letter to the Gods of the Ennead saying:
“(…) you shall place the White Crown upon the head of Horus and appoint Him to the office that was of His father Osiris”.

But Seth became exceedingly furious, and, full of anger, expressed his desire to fight in the waters against Horus, “in order to contend again with Him for the office of King. And Ra-Horakty agreed”. Then begins the second section of this text, dedicated to the fights between Horus and Seth.


The first peace between Horus and Seth and the division of Egypt in the Two Lands, from the Memphite Theology:

According to the Theology of Memphis, after the rebellion of Seth against Osiris and after the first battles between Horus and Seth, Geb, the God of the Earth(Geb was the Divine King before Osiris), the father of Osiris (and of Seth) separated Them, ending Their quarreling, and dividing Egypt for the first time in the Two Lands: Geb appointed Seth as King of Upper Egypt and Horus as King of Lower Egypt. For the first time the Kingship over Egypt was divided, and according to the myth it will be the duty of Horus, and hence of every rightful King (Horus-King who dominates over Seth; in fact the “Golden-Horus Name”, one of the royal titles of the Egyptian Kings, is a reference to this dominion of the King as Horus over Seth, represented by the hieroglyph of His sacred city, Nubt) to reunite the Two Lands under His unique dominion based on righteousness and truth as the rightful Heir of Osiris.

“. . . . the Ennead gathered to Him (Geb) and He separated Horus and Seth . . . . He prevented Them from quarreling and installed Seth as Upper Egyptian King, in Upper Egypt, at the place where He was born, in Sesu (near Herakleopolis). And Geb put Horus as Lower Egyptian King in Lower Egypt, at the place where His father was drowned, at ‘Pesescet-Tauy’ (the ‘Half of the Two Lands’, near Memphis).
And so Horus was in His place, and Seth was in His place; and They agreed with each other as regards the Two Lands in Ajan (opposite to cairo), which is the frontier (or separation) of the Two Lands . . . .

 Geb’s words to Seth: ‘Go to the place in which You were born’.
Seth: ‘Upper Egypt’.
Geb’s words to Horus: ‘Go to the place in which Your father was drowned’.
Horus: ‘Lower Egypt’.
Geb’s words to Horus and Seth: ‘I have separated You. Lower and Upper Egypt”.

II Part:

After the first peace (the division of Egypt in the Two Lands) between Horus and Seth, it begins another long series of combats between Them. And after another victory, Horus reached the Goddess Neith at Sais, and He said to the Great Goddess, the Divine Mother:

“Let the judgment be pronounced between me and Seth, as until now it is eighty years that we are in the Court, and They are not able to judge between us, although his right has not been established against me, whilst a thousand times until now my right against him has been established, every day. But he doesn’t care about the words of the Ennead. I have contended with him in the Court “Path of Righteousness”, and I have been proclaimed right and true against him. I have contended with him in the Court “Horus Who is before the horns”, and I have been proclaimed right and true against him. I have contended with him in the Court “ Field of Rushes”, and I have been proclaimed right and true against him. I have contended with him in the Court “Pool of the fields”, and I have been proclaimed right and true against him. The Ennead has said to Shu, the son of Ra: ‘Horus, the son of Isis, is right and true in all that He says’ ”.

Thoth then spoke to the Universal Lord (Ra-Atum), proposing to send a letter to Osiris, asking Him to judge between the two Gods. The letter arrived to Osiris, “the King, the son of Ra, Great of abundance, Master of sustenance”, and He replied to the Gods of the Ennead, saying:

“Why should unrighteousness be inflicted to my son when it is I to have made You mighty? As I have created barley and wheat for the sustenance of the Gods as well as the cattle following the Gods. There is no God nor Goddess able to do it”.

This letter reached the Gods while They were gathered and sitted on the White Mound in Xois, in the Delta.
Then, in a second letter to Ra-Horakhty, Osiris wrote:

“It is exceedingly beautiful, good and perfect all that You do, O You Who have created the Ennead, although it has been allowed that Righteousness sinks down within the Netherworld: You too have to look what is the present situation. The Land in which I am is full of fierce-faced messengers, and they do not fear any God or Goddess: if I let them to go forth, they will fetch the hearts of all those who commit unrighteousness, and they will remain here with me.
Indeed what is the meaning of my resting tranquil in Amentet(the Hidden Land, the Netherworld) while you are all outside?
Who among them is mightier than me? But see, they have invented injustice and lie. When Ptah the Great, He at the south of His wall, Lord of Ankh-Tawy (“Life of the Two Lands”, one of the names of the city of Memphis, or, according to some scholars, the name of the necropolis of Memphis), created the Sky, isn’t it that He said to the stars that are in it: ‘Every night you shall go to rest in Amentet, in that place where King Osiris lives. But after the Gods, the nobles and the commoners also shall go to rest in the place where You live’? So He told me”.

After the judgement of Osiris and His two letters, the contendings between Horus and Seth came to an end:

“After many days, the letter of Osiris arrived to the place where the Universal Lord was together with the Ennead.
Thoth received it, and He read it at the presence of Ra-Horakhty and the Ennead. And They said:

‘ Everything the Great of Abundance, the Master of Sustenance, Life! Power! Health! says, it is doubly right and true’.
Then Seth said:
‘ Let Us be ferried to the Island in the Middle, so that I may contend with Him!’
He reached the Island in the Middle, and Horus was proclaimed right and true against him. Atum, Lord of the Two Lands, the Heliopolitan, sent a letter to Isis, saying:
‘Bring Seth, tied to a stake’.
Isis brought Seth, tied to a stake like a prisoner. Atum said to him: ‘Why do you do not allow yourselves to be judged and instead attempt to usurp for yourself the office that belongs to Horus?’.
But Seth replied:
‘ No, my good and perfect Lord! Let Us call Horus, the son of Osiris, and be awarded to Him the office of His father Osiris’.

Horus, the son of Isis was lead, and the White Crown was placed upon His head: He was installed to the position of His father Osiris.
They said to Him:

‘You are the right and perfect King of Egypt.
You are the good and perfect Lord, Life! Prosperity! Health! of the entire Land for all eternity, forever!’
Isis shouted for joy towards His son, saying:
‘You are the good and perfect King!
My heart is in joy as you illuminate the Earth with Your splendour’.
Ptah, the Great, south of His wall, the Lord of Ankh-Tawy, said then: ‘As Horus has been installed on the position of His father Osiris, what shall We do regarding Seth?’
Ra-Horakhty said:
‘Let Seth, the son of Nut, be delivered to me in order to dwell with me, and he will be to me like a son: He will shout in the sky. He will be feared’.
It was told to Ra-Horakhty:
‘Horus, the son of Isis, has arisen as King, Life! Prosperity! Health!’ Ra-Horakhty rejoiced greatly and said to the Gods of the Ennead: ‘Jubilate, bow down to Him, jubilate for Horus, the son of Isis’.
Isis said:
‘Horus has arisen as King, Life! Prosperity! Health!
The Gods of the Ennead are in jubilation, the Sky is in joy: They wear wreaths of flowers when They see Horus, the son of Isis, arisen as Great King, Life! Prosperity! Health! of Egypt. The Gods of the Ennead, Their hearts were satisfied, the entire Land is in joy when They see Horus, the son of Isis, to Whom has been awarded the office of His father Osiris, the Lord of Busiris”.


The End of the Contendings between Horus and Seth from the Memphite Theology:

Horus crowned as King of Upper and Lower Egypt, and the peace between Horus and Seth.
After the first peace between Horus and Seth (the first division of Egypt in the Two Lands, the Lower Egypt to Horus and the Upper Egypt to Seth) and the subsequent fights of the Two Gods and the final triumph of the Truth and Rightful Heir of Osiris, Horus (as related by the “Myth of Horus” from the Temple of Horus at Behdet),

“it suited Geb’s heart ill that the portion of Horus was like that of Seth, and so Geb gave His heritage entirely to Horus, that is, the son of His son (Osiris) , His eldest (‘the opener of His body’).
Geb’s words to the Ennead: ‘I have appointed Horus, the firstborn’.
Geb’s words to the Ennead: ‘To Him alone, Horus, the inheritance’.
Geb’s words to the Ennead: ‘To His (Osiris’) heir, Horus, my inheritance’.
Geb’s words to the Ennead: ‘To the son of my son (Osiris), Horus, the Jackal of Upper Egypt’
Geb’s words to the Ennead : ‘The firstborn, Horus, the Opener-of-the-ways’.
Geb’s words to the Ennead: ‘The son Who was born . . . .Horus, on the birthday of the Opener-of-the-ways’.

Horus stood as King over the land. And so became united this country named with its Great Name, Ta-Tjenen-Who-is-to-the-south-of-His-Wall, the Lord of Eternity.
The two “Great in magic” (the Two Crowns) grew out of His head. Thus it was that Horus appeared as King of Upper and Lower Egypt Who united the Two Lands in the nome of the White Wall (Memphis), at the place where the Two Lands are united.
Sedge and papyrus were put at the two outer gates of the Temple of Ptah.
That means: Horus and Seth, Who bore with each other are united in fraternizing so that Their quarrel is ended wherever They may be. They are united in the Temple of Ptah, the “Balance if the Two Lands in which Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt have been weighed”.

(written by Luigi Tripani; quotes from the Chester Beatty papyrus I and from the Memphite Theology)

3 Responses to the Contendings of Horus and Seth

  1. A priestess of many pantheons says:

    I loved this rich history of the Kingdom of Egypt & the dispute between Seth & Horus Thank you for posting this for all to read.

  2. Dua Life Health and Prosperity:
    Let us learn from the wisdom of the Teachings and apply the subtle message shared from our ancestors.

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