“It’s summertime, and the living is easy/Fish are jumping, and the cotton is high” was sung by Bess in Charleston down on Catfish Row. It’s the time of year when a lot of North Carolina families get together at the beach in a rental cottage, lest old acquaintance be forgotten, to share fried chicken, potato salad, sunburn and the resurrection of old grievances. Precious memories, how they linger. Thinking about these annual reunions got me to pondering about what a week at the beach would have been like for the family of the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld, Osiris. It could be fraught.
In case you may have misplaced your Egyptian mythology, allow me to bring you up to speed. Osiris had green skin and was in charge of judging dead Egyptians and causing the Nile River to flood annually so that crops would grow. He was popular among the ancient Egyptians. He was the Elton John of Egyptian gods. His family tree was pretty much a straight line, as the Egyptian gods married their siblings to keep it all in the family. Unfortunately, unlike today’s families who always get along, the families of Egyptian gods had troubled relationships with each other.
Osiris’ friends called him Ozzie, so we will, too. Ozzie first showed up about 2400 B.C. Ozzie’s family tree is a bit complex, but understanding it is necessary for our story. Kindly bear with me through the begats. His grandfather was the god Atum, who created Shu and Tefnut. Despite the obvious temptation to say, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t,” I will resist writing that. The siblings Shu and Tefnut had two children, Geb and Nut, who procreated and produced Ozzie, his sisters Nephthys and Isis, and his wicked brother Set.
Ozzie married his sister Isis. She was not the Isis terrorists who recently were whupped in the Middle East. Ozzie enjoyed being the king of Egypt. As Ozzie was frequently away from the palace making the world civilized, he assigned Isis to handle things when he was out of town. This rankled his evil brother, Set, who wanted to be king.
Set was married to their sister Nephythys. Set came up with a plot to kill Ozzie. He had Nephythys pretend to be Isis to seduce Ozzie. From this misbegotten union was born Anubis, the dog-headed god. Are you following all this? It’s a mess.
Set built a really fancy chest for a big family dinner. He promised to give the chest to whichever member of the family could fit in it. Set had the chest built so that only Ozzie would fit. When Ozzie got in the chest, quick as cat can wink its eye, Set slammed the chest shut. He poured molten lead on the chest, sealing Ozzie inside. He tossed the chest full of Ozzie into the Nile River, where it floated out to sea.
The chest finally hit an island, where it got stuck in a Tamarisk tree, which grew up around the chest. Ozzie couldn’t get out. As a result — being in the chest in the tree — he expired, turning his pretty chest into a coffin. Meanwhile, Isis had been looking for Ozzie all this time. She ultimately found Ozzie’s coffin, which she called a sarcophagus.
Isis turned herself into a bird, said some magic words, flapped her wings and revived enough of Ozzie’s body to conceive a child named Horus. She literally raised the dead.
Evil Set located Ozzie’s body and had it chopped up and spread all over Egypt. When Isis found out what Set had done, she rounded up as many parts of Ozzie as she could find to reassemble them so he could have a proper burial. Unfortunately, she could not locate Ozzie’s manhood, which had been eaten by a fish.
Since Ozzie was not complete, he was not eligible to rule the living. As a consolation prize, he was put in charge of the dead folks in the Underworld. One of Ozzie’s jobs in the Underworld was to help the dead get to their final reward. To determine if the dead were worthy of getting into the Underworld, he would weigh their hearts on a scale against the sacred feather of Maat.
Ozzie, being the benevolent guy he was, didn’t expect people to be perfect. If they were more-or-less good enough, he would let them pass.
Meanwhile above ground, Ozzie’s son Horus got revenge by killing his uncle Set. Horus then got to be king of Egypt. It is unclear if Ozzie let Set into the Underworld.
So, what have we learned today? Once again, very little. But if someone offers you the chance to lie down in a coffin, even if it’s a really pretty box, don’t do it. If your family tree is a straight line, you might be an Egyptian god. Send your DNA to Chromosomes-R-Us and find out if you might have a shot at the Underworld, or at least being king of Egypt.
Be glad you didn’t have to spend a week at the beach with Osiris’ family.