Isis and Osiris were a happy couple. They had everything going for them. (I’ll tell you now, because you’ll find out sooner or later, they were brother and sister.
I know, that’s creepy, but in the primordial world of gods and goddesses, it was perfectly normal for brothers and sisters to marry.) Isis and Osiris were the children of the sky god Geb and the earth goddess Nut; and Set and Nepthys were their brother and sister, who also grew up to marry each other.
Osiris was the oldest sibling and the golden child. He was bright and steady and destined for greatness. Set, on the other hand, was turbulent and brooding, one could never tell what was going on behind his shifty eyes. He always knew that his inscrutable presence was unsettling to those around him and he grew into a bitter and vengeful god. Nepthys was the only one who even tried to love him. A classic villain, Set was fated to cast the shadow that made Osiris shine all the brighter.
The brothers grew into their assigned roles, Osiris becoming the god-king of Egypt, Set, his skulking nemesis. Driven by defiance and a lifetime of jealousy, Set mounted a coup. He killed Osiris, cut him into pieces, scattered his body across Egypt and took the throne.
Fearing for her husband’s soul, Isis combed the deserts and waded through marshes, reassembling Osiris’ body piece by piece, so that he could pass on to the afterlife. Before letting him go, Isis used her magic to conceive a child with Osiris.
Osiris became lord of the afterlife and Isis gave birth to their son, Horus. As the son of Osiris, Horus was his natural avenger and the rightful heir to the throne. From his first breath, his life was in danger. Isis kept him hidden in a papyrus thicket, and, thanks to her devotion and special magic, he survived.
When Horus was old enough, he set out to take the throne from his evil uncle. They engaged in physical battles and also pled their cases before a panel of gods. In the end, the other gods favored Horus because his claim was righteous and he became the eternal ruler of Egypt.
This story reflects the belief that Egyptian pharaohs were living gods, the incarnation of Horus. After death, pharaohs lived on as Osiris in the afterlife. With Isis as the magical force connecting the two gods, they formed a trinity that was at the heart of ancient Egyptian religion.
Horus is most often portrayed as a falcon, or a falcon-headed man. Osiris is portrayed wearing the crown of unified Egypt, wrapped like a mummy and holding a crook and flail. Isis, the great mother, is variously portrayed with a throne on her head, nursing the infant Horus, crowned with cow horns and the sun disk, and sometimes with the head of a cow.