‘Sunken Cities’ background: The Mysteries of Osiris

By | January 11, 2018

Franck Goddio’s discoveries helped scholars understand the Mysteries of Osiris, an annual water celebration along the canals between Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus commemorating one of Egypt’s most important myths—the murder and resurrection of the god Osiris.

Many of the Mysteries were conducted in secret by specially consecrated priests, and we know of them now only through temple carvings and archaeological discoveries. Though precise details could vary across Egypt, the essential elements of the Mysteries remained the same. Figures of Osiris, god of the afterlife, were made out of highly symbolic ingredients, such as soil from the Nile River. These figures were then used during rituals that recreated and celebrated the god’s death, dismemberment, reassembly, and resurrection.

In antiquity, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were connected by a sacred waterway, which allowed Canopus to serve as the festive climax to the Mysteries of Osiris. After the figures of Osiris vegetans and Osiris-Sokar had been installed in the temple at Thonis-Heracleion, the previous years’ figures were taken by boat to Canopus, where they received their final burial.

The Mysteries of Osiris were believed essential to ensure the balance of the cosmos, to safeguard dynastic continuity of the pharaohs, and to guarantee the annual floodwaters that regenerated Egyptian daily life.