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Symbols of Osiris: Egyptian Mythology

Symbols of Osiris: Egyptian Mythology

Ancient Egyptians were known to be really religious as a community. They believed that everything in life occurred due to several gods that all had their realms. Different gods were known to control various aspects of the world and life.

For example, if a family had a bad crop of grain and wheat, they would count that as a punishment from the gods. If the River Nile flooded way too much or not enough, the gods played a role in that too. 

Several of the gods were quite important to the way of life of the Egyptian people, and God Osiris is one of them. He was the god of the underworld, meaning he controlled resurrection and death. He was also the god of agriculture, fertility, and life. 

Osiris was just a local god at first. He was worshipped by little Egyptian groups that prayed to Osiris for fertility. He started gaining popularity slowly over time, resulting in him being hailed as one of the chief gods in Egyptian mythology.

Osiris’s earliest depictions have been traced back to 2300 B.C., with artworks of the god being found as far back as 1075 B.C. 

The Story of Osiris 

Plutarch, a Greek historian, wrote that Osiris was the son of Goddess Nut and God Geb. He had a brother called Seth and a wife called Isis (who was also Osiris’s sister). Since Osiris was the king of Egypt, Seth was jealous of his title and power.

He wanted to take the throne, so Seth tried to drown his brother in the waters of the River Nile. When he failed, he kidnapped Osiris and cut his body into 14 parts. He hid them all over the Egyptian lands in order to ensure he never returned. 

However, Isis took it upon herself to restore Osiris. She collected all but one piece of his body and put him back together. She used magic to fix his life, but he was caught between life and death since one piece was missing.

So, Osiris wasn’t able to stay and rule the mortal world. Instead, he ruled the afterlife and underworld. 

Symbols of Osiris

Many powerful symbols were used to represent the Osiris God. He was the god of life, fertility, agriculture, resurrection, and death. He was the first King and Pharaoh in Egypt – a mighty and powerful figure. 

Let’s take a look at the top 6 symbols of Osiris below: 

1. Crook and Flail 

The Crook and Flail in a museum.
The Crook stands for kingship while the Flail represents the land’s fertility.
Bill Abbott via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The crook was called a heka, which comes from the staff used by shepherds to protect the sheep. It was seen as a symbol for the pharaoh since they protected and cared for the Egyptian people in the same way.

The flail was called a nekhakha, a rod with three beads at the top. Historians have some theories on how it was used, but there are two main interpretations of the flail’s origin. 

One interpretation is that it was often used to thresh grain in the fields. It is thought to represent the role of the pharaoh in protecting the land so that there would be food for the people and providing for them.

The second interpretation was that it was used as a weapon to keep the sheep herd safe, which was interpreted as the role the pharaoh played in establishing order in sustaining the society. 

2. Atef Crown 

Head of Osiris wearing Atef Crown.
Head of Osiris wearing Atef Crown
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Atef Crown was used during religious rituals. It has a gold disk and ostrich feathers on top of a white crown. It was worn by the first king of Egypt, Osiris when he ruled as the god of agriculture and vegetation.

When Osiris overcame death after Isis breathed life back into him, the pharaohs thought that they would also transform into Osiris after their death. To all the Egyptian worshippers and the kings, Osiris was known as the ultimate King who represented the ever-moving cycle of life, death, and rebirth

3. Djed

Djed / Shine of Osiris.
Djed / Shine of Osiris
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Djed is a pillar that represents the spine, or backbone, of Osiris. It also symbolized all the dead that were associated with him as the ruler of the underworld.

The worshipper believed that the spine was a crucial part of the body since it allowed King Osiris to be able to function and remain intact after his death. 

In the Book of Dead, spell 151e is known to be an amulet made with the Djed. It was known to offer magical protection for the Osiris god. A few spells after, Spell 155 was read out loud when this amulet was put over the mummy’s throat. 

The hieroglyph of the Djed represents rejuvenation, endurance, and stability. 

4. Mummy Gauze

Mummy Gauze.
Mummy Gauze
Saltanat ebli, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Osiris was the first king, so he was the first one that was associated with the concept of mummy gauze wrap. After he was killed and then cut into pieces by Seth, Isis put together the pieces and bonded them using mummy gauze. This is what allowed him to return to life. His gauze remained as the ruler of the underworld too. 

5. Green Skin

Osiris shown in typical mummy wrappings. 
Osiris shown in typical mummy wrappings with green skin. Image courtesy: Jeff Dahl [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Green was, somewhat predictably, connected with vegetation and life in Egypt. It was, nonetheless, associated with concepts of death. Osiris was the god of fertility, the afterlife, and death, and he was often shown with green skin.

Due to the beetle’s symbolic connotation of rebirth and immortality, even popular amulets, scarabs, and seals were frequently green.

Green pigments derived from a mineral known as malachite were the most common and certainly the oldest. It is vulnerable to extreme heat and acid exposure, which is why it is known as a stable colorant and common copper carbonate – known to be durable. 

From the 4th Dynasty, it was widespread in Egyptian tomb painting, although it wasn’t widely used in European art till the 15th and 16th centuries.

6. Black Skin

Osiris statue.
Osiris statue with black skin
Rama, CC BY-SA 3.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons

The Egyptians associated black with death and the underworld. Since he’s the monarch of the afterlife, he and the god of embalming, Anubis, were shown with black faces. Osiris was also given the moniker of “the black one.”

Since much of their cultivation was based on the rich black silt produced on the River Nile’s banks during the flood, the Egyptians connected black with resurrection and fertility.

Green and black were equal when it came to representing resurrection. As a consequence, the god, Osiris, was represented as having dark or green skin to emphasize his fertility. 


Osiris was an important figure in Egyptian times as the first king of the pharaohs. The symbols of the god Osiris are representative of his powers and effect on mortal and immortal lives. 



Header image courtesy: Louvre Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons