The Sons of Horus represent four relatively obscure Godforms of the Invisible Stations within the Golden Dawn Neophyte Ceremony. While seldom given much attention, the role the Sons of Horus play behind the scenes should not be underestimated, for it is a critical one in the alchemical work that is effected during the Neophyte initiation and throughout the entirety of the Outer Order journey.
The Sons of Horus have been attested as a part of Egyptian funerary practice from the earliest records we possess. These four minor deities are especially referred to the four canopic jars that contain the internal organs of the deceased during mummification, and are held to protect them during the process. In the Neophyte Ceremony, these canopic jars are represented by the four Elements upon the Altar. When the Kerux removes Elements from the Altar, they symbolically begin the solve portion of the solve et coagula initiatory formula by separating the spiritual body of the candidate into its constituent parts. In one respect, this is mirrored by the reuniting of the Elements on the Altar later on in the Neophyte Ceremony prior to the Eucharist; in another respect, the separated Elements will not be fully reunited until they are perfected and crowned with Spirit when the initiate reaches the Portal Grade. It is during this time of separation that the Sons of Horus serve a crucial protective role.
As so very little is said about the Sons of Horus in the extant Golden Dawn material, however, it is clear that further introductions are in order. Rather than starting with Regardie, let’s begin by obtaining a more historical perspective on these canopic deities. We can begin with their names: imsti (Imseti or Imsety), dwꜣ-mwt=f (Duamutef), ḥpy (Hapy), and ḳbḥ-snw=f (Qebehsenuef).
As funerary deities with a very long history of use in ancient Egypt, certain predictable correspondences have arisen around each of these Sons of Horus.
Imsety has the head of a man, protects the liver of the deceased, and is watched over by the goddess Isis. His name may mean “He of the Dill”, and he may represent a personification of this herb.
Duamutef has the head of a jackal, protects the stomach, and is watched over by the goddess Neith. His name means “He who praises his mother”.
Hapy has the head of a baboon, protects the lungs of the deceased, and is watched over by the goddess Nephthys. His name means “He of Haste”, and is called “the great runner” in early sources.
Qebehsenuef has the head of a falcon, protects the intestines of the deceased, and is watched over by the goddess Serqet. His name means “He who purifies his brother by means of libation”.
Function in the Golden Dawn
Now that we have achieved a basic familiarity with the dramatis personae, we can start to dive into a bit more detail on how they work within the Golden Dawn system. In terms of their function, we are told very little. The Sons of Horus are called “the Four Vice-Gerents of the Elements”, and we are told that “they are situated at the Four Corners of the Temple, at the places marked by the Four Rivers of Eden” (The Golden Dawn, 6th ed., p. 343). While relaying relatively little, however, Regardie does highlight the importance of the Sons of Horus during the critical point at which the candidate prepares to take the Oath. “In the Neophyte Initiation,” he states, “the Accusor rises from the base of the Altar at the time of the soul’s greatest danger. During this vulnerable time, four Invisible Stations attributed to the Sons of Horus protect the vital organs, symbolic of the essential life forces, until after the Oath has been taken and judgment has been passed” (p. 114).
It is worthy of note that the Sons of Horus are sometimes depicted as standing on a lotus flower, as in their representation in Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead (and it should be remembered that the hieroglyphs on the Black Pillar are drawn from this spell!). This symbolically connects them to the depiction of Harpocrates, another of the Godforms of the Invisible Stations in the Neophyte Ceremony, who stands or sits upon the Lotus and may be said to represent the Higher Self of the candidate.
While the parentage of the Sons of Horus isn’t exactly consistent–and indeed the Sons of Horus themselves are at times instead referred to as the sons of Atum, Geb, or Nut instead–a spell from the Coffin Texts states that Isis is the mother of the quartet and that Horus the Elder is their father. This is the godform of Hoor Ouêr or Haroueris, maintained in the Neophyte Hall by the Past Hierophant. This particular godform is unique in that it stays largely dormant throughout the Neophyte Ceremony, except during the aforementioned critical point at which the Hierophant administers the Neophyte Oath to the candidate. During the point at which the Hierophant advances between the Pillars to the Altar, he takes on the godform of Hoor-Ouêr and symbolically treads upon and stamps down the Evil Triad, binding it in place while the Oath is administered.
A Puzzle of Direction
Among the more significant correspondences historically assigned to the Sons of Horus is that of directionality. While this directionality did change a bit in how it was represented, most notably when the direction of burial changed from north-south during the Middle Kingdom to west-east in the New Kingdom, the directional associations of the four canopic gods is generally a matter of historical record.
It is rather confusing, then, that there should be apparent disagreement or debate regarding their positioning in the Hall of the Neophytes. Yet this is precisely what we see in modern Golden Dawn practice. Regardie is clear in the attributions he lays out: beginning in the Northeast and moving clockwise, we have Imsety (NE), Duamutef (SE), Ahapi (SW), and Qebehsenuef (NW). We can see a different arrangement, however, in the Ciceros’ works: in Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition (p. 16), the positions of Ahapi and Qebehsenuef are flipped; and given the elemental correspondences the Ciceros provide for the Sons of Horus, this does not appear to be a mere error.
This discrepancy was what originally sent me down the rabbit hole of research with respect to the Sons of Horus, and it has proved to be a deeper and more interesting one than I had at first anticipated. We can posit that the original Golden Dawn had a reason for ordering the Sons of Horus as they did; and we can further posit that the Ciceros had a reason for changing this ordering. By delving into the traditional symbolism and attributions of the canopic gods, we can perhaps find a foothold which will allow us to comment on what that reasoning was, and moreover to determine for ourselves what the correct layout in the Neophyte Hall should be.
J. W. Brodie-Innes (Frater Sub Spe), who along with Robert Felkin and Percy Bullock founded the Stella Matutina offshoot of the Golden Dawn, turns out to be an important resource for us on this front. Brodie-Innes wrote a paper “The Canopic Gods: The Symbolism of the Four Genii of the Hall of the Neophytes”, which is included in Regardie (6th ed., pp. 358-362). This paper lays out a rationale for the directional ordering of the Sons of Horus, and additionally attributes them to the four Elements. His assignation of the gods to the directions is based principally on a rather curious argument having to do with the division of the four canopic organs between the alimentary system and the circulatory system, and further divided between “that which divides or distributes to the body” and “that which casts out from the body” (p. 359). With this scheme of fourfold division set, Brodie-Innes contends that “the organs of the Alimentary System, the most material and earthy, should be in the North, and the warm and vital heat of the Circulatory System should be to the South, while in the cross division, the Receptive and distributive organs should be placed to the East, the source of Life and Light, and the organs that purify and cast out should be to the West that borders on the Qlippoth” (p. 360). This scheme of ordering results in a set of directional attributions that matches those of the Sons of Horus in the Neophyte Hall, except that it places Qebehsenuef in the Southwest and Hapy in the Northwest–an arrangement which exactly matches that given by the Ciceros.
But this arrangement does not match the layout given in the Z.1 positions of the Invisible Stations, and indeed Brodie-Innes accounts for this. The arrangement of the Sons of Horus as proposed in this scheme of ordering “would, as it were, symbolise the entire separation of the Alimentary System and the Circulatory System, which is contrary to Nature, for they continually counter-change, and thus arises Life. Wherefore in the Hall of Two Truths, the portions of Ahephi and Kabexnuf are reversed” and the order becomes that given in the Z.1 (p. 361).
Frankly, I personally find this latter rationale to be a bridge too far on Brodie-Innes’ part, and it seems to me reminiscent of the sort of semantic sleight-of-hand that one resorts to when a theory almost but not quite fits the details. But we shall see if any better scheme presents itself as we tread onward. In the meantime, we make a note of it and move on.
Now, Brodie-Innes appears to be using a different scheme of correspondences for the particular organs associated with each Son of Horus than was common, as we can see in looking at his directional schema. He begins it in the North with the stomach, because this is “the most material and earthy” of the bodily organs. He therefore ascribes Imsety to the Northeast; for, as he states, “Ameshet was also termed ‘The Carpenter’ for he it is who by the medium of his organ, the Stomach, frames the rough materials and builds up the structure of the body; to him the Stomach and Upper Intestines were dedicated” (p. 360). Similarly, Hapy is given the intestines, Duamutef is given the lungs, and Qebehsenuef is accorded the liver. While this differs from the most common arrangement, I must assume Brodie-Innes knew what he was talking about with respect to the sources that the Golden Dawn drew from, at least insofar as he was familiar with them.
Brodie-Innes proceeds to ascribe elemental correspondences to each of the Sons of Horus, which largely serve to connect them to the existing elemental attributions of the directions within the Neophyte Hall. Suffice it to say that in Brodie-Innes’ reckoning each of the Sons of Horus takes on an elemental attribution. Oddly, however, the Brodie-Innes paper lays these attributions out ascribing Qebehsenuef to the North/Earth and Hapy to the West/Water, but the text in the following paragraph contradicts the text and reverses the directional and elemental attributions for them both. Given that Brodie-Innes has just made much of the counterchanging of these two names with respect to his Alimentary/Circulatory scheme of division, this reversal is quite surprising. One isn’t quite sure whether to chalk this up to an error on Brodie-Innes’ part at this point. The principle of charity requires that we assume Brodie-Innes knew his sources intimately and was aware of what he was doing; but he appears here to have stated one thing in the text and immediately proceeded to say something else entirely.
Regardless of whether Brodie-Innes was in error or whether he simply lost me in a brilliant leap that I was not able to follow, it does not seem that his monograph on the Sons of Horus is likely to shed any more light on the directionality question than we currently possess. So let us back out of this line of inquiry and take stock of what we are given. The symbolic language we are using is built on layers of correspondences, and certain of those correspondences will always have greater fixity of meaning or weight of attestation. For correspondences “baked in” to the Golden Dawn system, we must take them as they are given. For all the rest, we have leeway. In this case, we know the names of the four Sons of Horus, we are given ordinal directions in the Z.1, and thanks to the Brodie-Innes paper we can conclude that the source the Golden Dawn drew from had a pairing of the individual organs to the canopic gods that was at variance with the most common attributions. These are the elements of meaning we are required to work with and account for. To wit:
- NE: Imsety (Stomach)
- SE: Duamutef (Lungs)
- NW: Qebehsenuef (Liver)
- SW: Hapy (Intestines)
In the interests of taking stock, it is also worth observing that we are given color notes on the appearance of the four Sons of Horus. These appear to have no direct connection to any potential elemental attribution, however, so they do us little service in attempting to decipher the language of meaning that the Sons of Horus are communicating within the Neophyte Hall.
It should be noted that the Sons of Horus also appear as Enochian chess pawns, in which context they also possess set elemental attributions; but these differ starkly from the elemental attributions in the Brodie-Innes paper, and we can infer as a result that the elemental correspondences of the Sons of Horus as Enochian chess pawns are unconnected to their elemental correspondences as Godforms of the Invisible Stations.
Getting Back to Basics
So where does this leave us? As so often happens when investigating Golden Dawn symbolism, we are forced to return to historical sources to seek meaning. We are fortunate in this respect because while the directional attributions of the Sons of Horus were not necessarily constant throughout history, their directionality is nonetheless one of their strongest historical associations. So let’s try to better understand what those directional attributions were, how they changed over time, and how they might be reflected in the meanings selected and choices made by the Golden Dawn founders when they first architected the system. With any luck we can arrive at an understanding that leads us to the same destination, even if we find ourselves arriving at it by a different journey.
Leaving aside everything else for a moment, we can begin with the knowledge that “the classic Middle Kingdom arrangement” of the Sons of Horus as laid out on “the typical arrangement of a Middle Kingdom rectangular coffin” places Imsety and Duamutef on the East side, and Hapy and Qebehsenuef on the West (Collier, p. 62). This accords with what we are given in the Z.1, and seems like a good place to drive our stake as we attempt to survey the territory. Further, it appears that while the Sons of Horus were closely linked to the ordinal directions in Middle Kingdom burials, they generally only took on associations with the cardinal directions when the direction of burial changed with the New Kingdom. Given the source material the Golden Dawn drew from, we can likely narrow our focus to the Middle Kingdom period when it comes to fixing our reference point of meaning.
Now we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that these directional attributions ultimately have a physical basis for their meaning. The directionality of the Sons of Horus arises solely because of the orientation of the coffin of the deceased, and it is therefore this physical arrangement that has primacy of meaning–regardless of what arrangement made it into the Golden Dawn system. We must therefore seek to decode that meaning, and to understand it on its own terms, before we can properly accept or evaluate what we are given within the Z.1 document.
And here, unfortunately, is where we run into problems. Because while the classic Middle Kingdom arrangement did place the Sons of Horus in an east/west orientation that coincides with their layout in the Z.1 document, this means that on each side of the coffin you will have one canopic god who is at the head and another who is at the foot. And it doesn’t take a lot of looking at Middle Kingdom coffins to make it very obvious that Imsety and Hapy consistently correspond to the head of the coffin, and Duamutef and Qebehsenuef belong with the feet.
Below you can see an image of the Coffin of Nakhtankh, a Middle Kingdom coffin bearing the traditional funerary inscriptions. The picture is of the Eastern side of the coffin, as indicated by the presence of the eyes: bodies were laid in the coffin on their left side, facing towards the east, such that they could look out of the eyes on the coffin to see the rising sun. The name of Imsety has been circled in red at the head of the coffin, and the name of Duamutef has been circled at its foot.
This all means that we end up with a set of consistent ordinal directions for the Sons of Horus as attested in the primary source material (i.e. the Egyptian coffins themselves). And as much as we can dislike the conflict between this arrangement and that given in the Z.1 document, we cannot avoid it. In circumstances such as this, where we are able to discern the language of meaning that the system is attempting to use and are further able to determine that the system is using that language incorrectly, we must choose to preserve the integrity of the meaning rather than that of the structures encoding that meaning that have been handed down to us. Consequently, I find that we must reverently discard the Z.1 directional attributions which seek to reflect the positioning of the Sons of Horus on the Egyptian burial coffin, and replace them with attributions which faithfully reflect the meaning which was originally intended.
Curiously, when we lay out the four Sons of Horus in a diagram corresponding to their orientation around a Middle Kingdom coffin, we can see that the elemental attributions for which Brodie-Innes advocated are reflected even more perfectly than they are if one adheres to the ordinal directions as given in the Z.1 document. Whereas Brodie-Innes was forced to account for the flipping of Hapy and Qebehsenuef in his reckoning, an arrangement which places the “Vice-Gerent of Water” in the Northwest and that of Earth in the Southwest, we can see in the diagram below that when we preserve his elemental attributions but simply place the four Sons of Horus in their correct ordinal positions, the Elements line up seamlessly with their cardinal directions–only rotated by 45 degrees.
Put simply, we could not have anticipated a more ideal outcome. By acknowledging the error inherent in the Z.1 configuration of the Sons of Horus, we have arrived at a conclusion that largely vindicates Brodie-Innes’ own work (despite its attempts to justify that error), and which consequently yields a more pleasingly regular mapping of the Elements onto the Neophyte Hall as represented by the Godforms of the Invisible Stations.
We have also solved the mystery of why the Ciceros flipped the ordinal directions of Hapy and Qebehsenuef in Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition, as the above diagram now coincides with the attributions they provide. One can infer that they too observed the mismatch between the directional attributions of the Sons of Horus in the Z.1 and their historically attested correspondences, and corrected for the error in their material.
Curiously, Brodie-Innes may not have been barking up the wrong tree when it came to his Alimentary/Circulatory division model either: Maarten Raven argued in a paper published in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology that the Sons of Horus may have found the directional attributions they did because the lungs and liver occupy a higher position in the body than the stomach and intestines, thus explaining the positioning of Imsety and Hapy toward the head and Duamutef and Qebehsenuef toward the feet. Remarkably, given very different correspondences of the four organs to the four Sons of Horus, Brodie-Innes not only proposed a similar hypothesis but managed to arrive at a similar end point.
There and Back Again
This has been a rather meandering journey, and I appreciate your sharing it with me. From a purely informational standpoint I could no doubt have written up my conclusions and presented them in a much more straightforward fashion, but to me the journey is as important as the destination: how you get somewhere matters just as much to me as where you get in the end. I believe there is value in taking you along for my process of inquiry, in letting you wrestle with the question alongside me, in laying out and evaluating the evidence together. And in a case such as this, where we conclude that the system is in error and needs modification, I believe we indeed owe it to the tradition we hold sacred to wrestle with it in this manner.
And I promise, I’m not just saying all of that because I hate editing. Skipping on the editing is merely an added bonus.
So with the mystery solved, let’s have a reintroduction to the Sons of Horus, shall we? What follows is largely a combination of the words of Regardie and Brodie-Innes, condensed and with the relevant attributions corrected. I have additionally changed the attributions of the Sons of Horus to their respective bodily organs such that they match what is generally historically attested, as I see no touchpoint of meaning within the system that could be impacted by making such an alteration. I have also elected not to present the two forms of the names of the Sons of Horus, which are ostensibly two different renderings of each name in Coptic that correspond to different spiritual forces, because the use of the Coptic language within the original Golden Dawn was almost hopelessly corrupt. Beyond these two alterations/omissions, I have endeavored simply to present the entirety of the information available to me.
The Sons of Horus are the four Vice-Gerents of the Elements and are situated at the four corners of the Temple, at the places marked by the Four Rivers of Eden in the Warrant; for the body of a Warrant, authorizing the formation and establishment of a Temple, represents the Temple itself–of which the Guardians are the Kerubim and the Vice-Gerents in the places of the Rivers.
Imsety (man-headed) is placed in the North East between the Man and the Bull. He protects the liver. His name may mean “He of the Dill”, and he may represent a personification of this herb. He is watched over by Isis (i.e. the godform of the Praemonstrator). Being the Vice-Gerent of Air, Imsety has the head of a man, as does the Kerub of Air which is associated with Aquarius.
Duamutef (jackal-headed) is placed in the South East, between the Lion and the Man. He protects the stomach. His name means “He who praises his mother”. He is watched over by Neith (who is arguably the godform of the Dadouchos). Per Brodie-Innes, the jackal “is the purveyor of the Lion (for these are the Vice-Gerents of the Elements, while the Kerubim are the Lords thereof)”, whence his kinship with the Fire Kerub of Leo.
Hapy (ape-headed) is placed in the North West, between the Bull and the Eagle. He protects the lungs. His name means “He of Haste”, and is called “the great runner” in early sources. He is watched over by Nephthys (i.e. the godform of the Imperator). Brodie-Innes states that the Ape “represents the Elemental Strength” of Earth which complements the “Divine Strength of the Eternal Gods” as represented by the bull, the Earth Kerub of Taurus.
Qebehsenuef (hawk-faced) is placed in the South West, between the Eagle and the Lion. He protects the intestines. His name means “He who purifies his brother by means of libation”. He is watched over by the goddess Serqet or Sakhet, the scorpion goddess. As such, the connection to the symbolism of the Water Kerub of Scorpio needs little explanation.