The child Horus represented to the ancient Egyptians the new-born Sun, rising each day at dawn. When the Greeks conquered Egypt under Alexander, they transformed the Egyptian Horus into their Hellenistic god known as Harpocrates, a rendering from Egyptian "Har-pa-khered" or "Heru-pa-khered" meaning "Har, the Child").


Horus was conceived by Isis, the mother goddess, from Osiris, the original god-king of Egypt, who had been murdered by his brother Set [The Hellenes, by "interpretatio graeca", identified Set with Typhon, or Chaos.] , and so became the god of the underworld. The Greeks melded Osiris with their underworld god, Hades, to produce the essentially Alexandrian syncretism, Serapis.

Among the Egyptians the full-grown Horus was considered the victorious god of the Sun who each day overcomes darkness. He is often represented with the head of a sparrowhawk, which was sacred to him as the hawk flies high above the Earth. Horus fought battles against Set, until he finally achieved victory and became the ruler of Egypt. All the Pharaohs of Egypt were seen as reincarnations of the victorious Horus.

Stelae depicting Heru-pa-Khered standing on the back of a crocodile, holding snakes in his outstretched hands were erected in Egyptian temple courtyards, where they would be immersed or lustrated in water; the water was then used for blessing and healing purposes as the name of Heru-pa-Khered was itself attributed with many protective and healing powers.

In the Alexandrian and Roman renewed vogue for mystery cults at the turn of the millennium — mystery cults had already existed for almost a millennium — the worship of Horus became widely extended, linked with Isis (his mother) and Serapis (Osiris, his father).


In this way Harpocrates, the child Horus, personifies the newborn sun each day, the first strength of the winter sun, and also the image of early vegetation. Egyptian statues represent the child Horus, pictured as a naked boy with his finger on his mouth, a realization of the hieroglyph for "child" that is unrelated to the Greco-Roman and modern gesture for "silence". Misunderstanding this sign, the later Greeks and Roman poets made Harpocrates the god of Silence and Secrecy, taking their cue from Marcus Terentius Varro, who asserted in "De lingua latina" of "Caelum" (Sky) and "Terra" (Earth)

"These gods are the same as those who in Egypt are called Serapis and Isis, [Only by "interpretatio romana"; in actuality Serapis was a syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian creation disseminated by Roman imperium, and Isis was linked in Egyptian culture with Osiris.] though Harpocrates with his finger makes a sign to me to be quiet. The same first gods were in Latium called Saturn and Ops."

Ovid described Isis:

"Upon her Isis' brow stood the crescent moon-horns, garlanded with glittering heads of golden grain, and grace of royal dignity; and at her side the baying dog Anubis, dappled Apis, sacred Bubastis and the god who holds his finger to his lips for silence sake." [Ovid, "Metamorphoses" 9:688 - 9:692. :aut stetit aut visa est. inerant lunaria fronti:cornua cum spicis nitido flaventibus auro:et regale decus; cum qua latrator Anubis,:sanctaque Bubastis, variusque coloribus Apis,:quique premit vocem digitoque silentia suadet;( [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/OviLMet.html "Metamorphoses" on-line)] ]
Inexpensive cast terracotta images of Harpocrates, suitable for house shrines, are found scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Thus Augustine of Hippo was aware of the iconic gesture of Harpocrates, though he has attributed to Varro the resolutely euhemerist interpretation of a good Christian:
"And since in practically all the temples where Serapis and Isis were worshiped there was also a figure that seemed to enjoin silence by a finger pressed against its lips, Varro thinks this had the same meaning, that no mention should be made of their having been human beings" [Augustine, "City of God", XVIII.]

Martianus Capella, author of an allegorizing textbook that remained a standard through the Middle Ages recognized the image of the "boy with his finger pressed to his lips" but neglected to mention Harpocrates' name: "...quidam redimitus puer ad os compresso digito salutari silentium commonebat". The boy was identified, however, as Cupid in glosses, [Dale Kinney, "Spolia from the Baths of Caracalla in Sta. Maria in Trastevere" "The Art Bulletin" 68.3 (September 1986:379-397, "Isis and Serapis in medieval mythography" p. 391 note 73.] a syncresis that had already resulted in the figure of Harpocratic Cupid ("illustration, right").

Another solar cult, not directly connected with Harpocrates, was that of the Unconquered Sun, "Sol Invictus".

Early 20th century reference

During the 1920s thru 1950s, Harpo Marx, performed pantomime and wore either a curly red, or curly blonde wig in character. He named himself, as was related by his brother Groucho (Julius) Marx, in 1977, in honour of Harpocrates, as a god of both silence and childhood, or childish joy, which Harpo believed, referred to humour.

Modern occultist uses

Modern occultists display his image, loosely connected now with Hermetic gnosticism. Typically, "Harpocrates is the Babe in the Egg of Blue that sits upon the lotus flower in the Nile. He is the 'God of Silence' and represents the Higher Self and is the 'Holy Guardian Angel'" and more in similar vein, adapted from Aleister Crowley's often-reprinted "Magick".


* Franz Cumont, "The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism," Dover Publications, 1956.
* Harry Thurston Peck, "Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities," 1898: "Harpocrates."
* David Sacks, "Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet," Random House 2003.

External links

* [http://www.kemet.org/glossary/heru-pa-khered.html A brief definition]
* [http://www.religionswissenschaft.unizh.ch/idd/prepublications/e_idd_harpocrates.pdf Iconography of Harpocrates (PDF-article)]

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