Horus: The Divine Archer

By Marin Smallridge

Also available as a Winning Paths Podcast episode

“Straight be your arrows, Horus, your heart unstained.” If nothing else, it’s a way of saying the same thing—in ancient Egyptian lingo—about Horus, god of Egypt and divine archer, having a falcon-headed face that greets you from a thousand temple walls, standing head and shoulders in the pantheon of gods. His is a tale as twisted as one an Irishman might try to tell an American about hurling. You see, Horus isn’t just your average run-of-the-mill deity; he is the symbol of kingship, the personification of divine order, and one guy who had more family drama than a season of EastEnders. So, pull up a stool, pour a pint, and let’s pick apart the story of Horus, complete with all the sarcasm, wit, and wry humour that an Irishman can muster.

And that’s where we start off—with the tangled web of Egyptian mythology. Horus was the son of Isis and Osiris and was destined for great things, or at least a whole lot of headaches. Osiris, being his father, was a pretty decent chap until his brother Set decided that sibling rivalry indicated hacking poor Osiris into pieces and scattering said shards across Egypt. At least Isis, being the good wife, managed to gather most of the bits and, with a bit of magical prowess, bring Osiris back to life, though only long enough to conceive Horus.

Young Horus was marked for vengeance from the start. He was the avenger of his father, the usurper of Set, and the rightful heir to the throne of Egypt. Picture young Horus, probably thinking, “Great—just got this place, and now I’ve got to avenge my daddy. Thanks, Dad.” Horus never really got a chance to enjoy a quiet childhood. Well, he was reared secretly, withdrawn from the world by his mammy Isis, who, very like any good Irish mammy, coddled him, teaching him the ways of the universe: magic, combat, and archery. Now, this isn’t all that easy because teaching archery to Horus wasn’t just a lesson in how well he could shoot an arrow; it included the lecture part in the science of accuracy, concentration, and divine justice that he was going to be responsible for. Arrows without and within: his was the holy simple way set down.

One can almost imagine a young Horus with his bow, setting up some kind of makeshift target, perhaps with the smug face of Set on it. And Isis, standing around with a mixture of pride and worry, thinking, “If only he could channel that sort of aggression into something productive, like building pyramids or inventing hieroglyphs.” The Horus and Set soap opera is one for the ages, with betrayals, alliances, and battles taking center stage in what, at its core, really is a battle of ideologies: order against chaos. Set was the god of storms and disorder—not one to let some jumped-up pretender take his throne—and Horus was itching to prove who was really boss by showing him up with razor-sharp shooting.

There was, after all, a lot of fighting between Horus and Set, not just on land, then in the sky, but later on also on the Nile. This is where Horus lost his eye – and this is how the legend of the eye – This eye of Horus – begins. Indeed it became a very large symbol of protection and royal power. It’s like getting into a bar fight, losing an eyeball, and then realizing the eyepatch is a really good look. One of the most epic battles took place in the air, just that Horus transformed himself into an enormous falcon, flying through the sky over the battlefield. And there was no way Set was going to be outdone. He turned himself into a grotesque, monstrous hippopotamus. Picture it: a falcon, honorable and huge, stooping down on a hippo in the middle of the Nile. So the two went at it, each cursing the other with invective that would have made any sailor blush. ‘Twas a battle through the ages, a war that made the heavens and earth tremble.

Eventually, after years of fighting and politicking, Horus won the right to become king of Egypt. His reign was seen as a golden age – a time when order was restored and the will of the gods was fulfilled on earth. He himself was not a king, but a right to rule, just and protective, flowing from divinity.

Yet ruling was not just about grand feasts and divine decrees. Running a kingdom brought with it all the daily nonsense that Horus had to go through. One can imagine him on the throne, dealing with all the complaints about grain prices and temple disputes, probably thinking: “They didn’t teach you that in the school of the Avengers”.

His coronation was not just a grand affair—it hosted all kinds of gods, each coming with a quirk of their own. Ra, the sun god, beaming in pride while Thoth, the god of wisdom, was sure to write down every detail meticulously. One can only believe that Set, the god of the desert, sulked in one corner of the happening. There were drums being beaten for days at end, offerings, prayers, and more wine than an Egyptian vineyard could churn out.

With all of that in mind, we suddenly come to the realisation that everything about this guy, in one way or another, falls outside the bounds of normality. He wasn’t simply a skillful archer, characterized by his physical prowess of aiming and striking with his bow. More symbolically, the arrows he held were in his talons: a symbol of the divine justice of precision, the piercing truth that cuts through falsity and disorder. On many levels, Horus is the very epitome of the ideal archer: focused, determined, unmoving in his hopes. In such the grand temples dedicated to Horus, his depictions are always present in some form while holding a bow, either holding it or with it in his hand, ready to strike down the forces of chaos. Cosmically enforced, the ancient Egyptians didn’t miss the symbology in Horus either, one who could keep the scales of Ma’at balanced: the truth, balance, and order.

His eye, lost in battle and later restored, became a symbol of healing, protection and the uninterrupted cycle of life. It was painted on amulets, engraved on tombs and even used as a mathematical symbol for fractions. Thus, the casual debate over the eternal legacy of Horus moved beyond the battlefield and shifted into the schoolroom.

Today, Horus’s legacy lives on, not just penned into the dusty pages of history books but in popular culture, where ancient myths are being rediscovered every day.

Poor Horus. How he fears that one day he’s going to snap and scream, “I wasn’t always angry. Sometimes I just wanted a quiet evening with a papyrus scroll.”

But the modern archer—no matter if portrayed on a screen or in a sports arena—recalls his precision and focus. Archery, with its demand for concentration and skill, remains to this day a metaphor for the pursuit of excellence. Every arrow released is a testament to the archer’s discipline, much like Horus’s arrows symbolized his divine mission.

Now… It would behoove us to take a break from the divine drama and go to the picturesque little village of Ballybricken, where the annual archery contest, being heralded as the social event of the season, had folks all atwitter. Seamus O’Grady, a local lad described as a “lad o’ mischief,” had signed up for the contest more out of sheer boredom than any real skill with a bow. Seamus was no Horus, but rather the poor man’s version, with a pint of Guinness never far from his hand. That, and his mother’s directive that fresh air would add platinum to his crimson cheeks. There was also a prize of a golden arrow that supposedly gave good fortune to its possessor. To this, Seamus eyed and merely thought, “Sure, why not? If Horus could become a god-king with a bow, I can surely win a bit of luck.”

Seamus was, at best, a truly lousy archer. His arrows always flew sideways, landing just where they would least be expected. But then, on the day of the challenge, something altogether new and different happened. It was like a giant and invisible hand guided each arrow truly to its mark as he drew and loosed again and again. The people’s eyebrows were raised as they watched in total astonishment. Seamus hit bullseye after bullseye. His final shot was meant for the furthest target. Released arrow took a gust of wind and struck dead center. The crowd erupted, and Seamus beamed from ear to ear as he took the golden arrow with a grand flourish. The arrow, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, had been blessed by a local wise woman, who saw in Seamus, deep within, a spirit like unto that of Horus—boastful, audacious, and surprisingly capable.

Why do old myths of gods and heroes resonate so deeply within us in our contemporary life? The lessons of the story of Horus provide a general framework for resilience and growth, remind us that no matter the trials and troughs we face, we have the wherewithal within us and the group effort to rise above all. We have the capacity to cut a path toward a more compassionate, aware, and harmonious future by embracing the wisdom of our past.

In the frantic tempos of modern society, we all too often face our own Set, sometimes in the form of a person or situation that introduces disorder and distress into our sense of order. Whether in the form of personal betrayals, systemic injustices, or unforeseen calamities, these disruptions are going to force us to adapt, reassess our values, and draw strength from within ourselves and our communities. Horus’s story teaches the need to be on the lookout. His battles with Set epitomize humanity’s own failure to take notice of the small, almost inconsequential things that carry colossal consequences. In a more intimate context, the tale reminds us of the need to take a second look, to question facts, and to ponder over what weight a decision would carry on.

By all means, the conflict of Horus is, in literal terms, the burden of the law of unintended consequence. He was unwittingly entangled in divine conflict, although it must be noted that his realization came last minute, which signifies the virtue of mindfulness: weighing and assessing the general condition of a decision to be made. For whatever man does today, an equal reaction follows; what we do might echo in the lives of millions. The legend of Horus, therefore, has to be recognized as the roundabout view of the human heart. His high charm coupled with stubborn will represents the duality within every human.
By the integration of both aspects of himself, charm and tenacity, he attains high consciousness and a leveled life.

And eventually, the community coming together because of the victory of Horus—feasting and building of towers, and establishment of justice—speaks of collective effort. The concept of man assures that, in unifying in crisis, pooling of available resources and solidarity might turn into actual difference or change.

Today, archery has moved from a history of life and death to an exercise of precision and concentration. On the other hand, in modern sports, archers who aim at the targets realize that the virtues of Horus in myths speak of characteristics as calm precision. The sports realize that the exercise is about waiting, focusing, and developing a strong hand and mind. The legend of Horus is proper as a metaphor of goal setting. Archers respect the target and approach it with care, just as people respect pursuing their dreams with patience and due respect for the natural process. The preciseness of archery is required just as much in thoughtful and considerate actions in personal or professional pursuits.

So we traverse the paths along which the gods move, perhaps without noticing upon whose footsteps we are treading.

More popularly, it was within art that the mythology of Horus resonated with the myth. The myth is one that has inspired many a writer, poet, or artist, giving a framework within which to expound.

It has become a theme in itself, a way of describing the desire for change or the human intricacies of passion.

It is most interesting to trace the ways by which the tale of Horus has filtered into modern culture by appearing in books, movies (Gods of Egypt 2016) , and even video games. The Archetype of the Divine Archer, symbol of Pure Precision, Justice, and Unswerving Focused Will, spreading his power ever and ever further. Today, with almost mythic feats in the guise of superhero powers, or in the epic fantasy genre that draws so much of its elements from the classic mythologies, Horus continues to live.

One almost cannot help chuckling at the thought of Horus being quite confused at his modern metamorphoses. “A bow that shoots arrows of light?” he might muse. “Where were these when I was fighting Set?” Yet the core of his story—the struggle against chaos, the pursuit of justice, and the triumph of order—is as pertinent today as it was in the sands of ancient Egypt.

But his was a story not only fraught with battle and divine right; it was a story of personal growth and transformation. At fierce youth, he was vengeful, and at last he became the wise ruler that symbolized it all. In many ways, the path followed by Horus took up the shape of the trials and tribulations that make us all. His challenges were bumpy, yet the stepping stones rose him to god-king.

In so many ways, Horus trod the same path as us. We have to undergo disappointments, meeting adversities, and fighting with elements tugging at us to let us down. Yet we, like Horus, can rise above, make our defeats victories, and find our place in the world.

Thus, the story of Horus would not be complete were it not for the essential paradox of power. Here is a god – strong and full of authority, and yet marked very clearly by personal loss and sacrifice. Indeed, for him, power represented neither open access , but the acquisition of the wisdom – to remain reasonable in the exercise of power. This is a paramount lesson that is in stark contrast to the ways of the modern world, where power is deliberately abused, resulting in devastating consequences for the population as a whole.

This kind of tales always remind one and all that true might is never in submission, but in the balancing act of dispensing justice for the common good. His triumphs were not only over Set but over that chaos that threatened to gobble up his world. In his fierce loyalty to order and justice, Horus exemplifies the ideal leader: one who serves with humility, wisdom, and relentless dedication to the well-being of his people.

In fact, it amounts to a continuous struggle between two opposite poles. The fights of Horus with Set, his search for justice, and the final triumph are symbolic of the human condition. We all have our own Set—the forces of disruption and disorder that try to throw our lives out of kilter. Like Horus, we have to find our inner strength, focus, and aim with precision if we are to restore harmony.

As we move eons back into the Horus’s yarn, the definition of human resilience hits us. It is about how we can endure, achieve, and from our woes, gain strength. It teaches us to invite the struggles, learn from our stumbles, and strive toward a balanced, just future.

In this fast-changing, modern world, the lessons from the journey of Horus are even more topical. The journey reminds us that resilience is not avoiding challenges but facing them with courage and indefatigable determination. Moreover, it is drawing strength from adversities and using them as a spur for one to grow and transform.

So next time you pick up a bow, whether literal or metaphorical, remember Horus. Remember the young god training in secrecy, the implacable warrior against his chaotic uncle, and the wise ruler bestowing on his kingdom order. His is a story of reminding us time and again that with focus and resilience, we, too, can overcome anything that burdens us into our place within life’s grand montage.

Whereas now… let’s step from the ancient sands of Egypt to the green hills of Rathdowney, Ireland. Here lives Mr Cian Fitzgerald – a man of peculiar beliefs and an even more peculiar background. For Cian was no ordinary Irishman; his mother, Deirdre, was of long-standing Egyptian stock, a pedigree she could trace back to the Nubian archers who fought alongside their Pharaohs. And so it was that Cian came to realize that he, too, was a portion of Saher, that mythical Nubian archer whose prowess in the throwing of the shaft was said, now and again, to outshine even Horus, that god with the head of a falcon.

Cian’s dawning came upon a misty morning like that, upon which Irish mist clogs up your clothing and whispers secrets into your ear. He’d been up in the attic, rooting about for an old family photo album, when he’d stumbled over a dusty, what-was-it, ancient-looking chest. Inside were gathered some very peculiar things: an old, leather quiver, a rusty arrowhead, and a scroll inscribed in hieroglyphs. His mother, Deirdre, would often tell him stories about their Egyptian ancestors, but Cian had always taken them with a pinch of salt in the same way he dismissed the local legends of leprechauns and banshees; yet there was something different about this time. His heart pounded in his chest as he unrolled the scroll; there was something in the symbols etched onto the papyrus that spoke to his very soul, for some reason.

That night, Cian dreamt of Kadesh—a battle fought in ancient times and renowned as one of the bloodiest in history.

In his dream, he was Saher, the Nubian archer. He saw himself ridden on a swaying chariot – bow in hand, arrows flying with the precision and speed of a falcon in flight. He could feel the heat of the desert sun, the tension of the bowstring, and the exhilaration of each perfectly aimed shot. When he awoke, the dream felt more like a memory, and he knew, with a certainty that defied logic, that he was Saher reborn.

As Cian sought to know more about his new personality, he learned of the life and—more disturbingly—death of Saher. Legends spoke about the jealous priestess, the bearer of the grudge, one whose skill and bravery she coveted, cursing him. She cast a spell upon Saher, condemning him to traverse the earth in different bodies, never to find peace, forever to remember his greatest battle.

Cian’s mother, however, was a storehouse of ancient Egyptian wisdom. She explained it was old, older than time itself, and it was powerful, bound to the depths of Saher’s soul. It would follow him through the veils of time, and there would never be escape from one’s destiny, each life plagued by the memories of battles and enemies long lost.

Cian could not help but be a little fascinated; it was clear to see the similarity to the myth of Horus, yet still, he failed to see the intimate connection between his destiny and the god of old. Horus, god of the archer, fought for the avenging of his father and the rightful order—a fight very much of that which Saher fought, for an ancient chaos and betrayal. Both had against the odds in multitudes, with the hard bow clasped within hands and the bowstrings flexing with deadly accuracy, with their arrows that just and true word of judgment.

Now, Cian began to think of his curse as enshrined as part of Horus’ legacy, that his destiny was with the divine archer – and perhaps, with it, he could somehow reap Horus’ power and the curse undone, to finally find peace. He, therefore, decided to take a trip to Egypt, looking for answers in the land of his forebears.

Cian’s journey to Egypt was horrible and forbidden. As he journeyed through that great ancient land, at each step, he’d be close behind the footsteps of many learned men—as well as those that professed to know of the secret arts. And each of them had his own explanation for the nature of Cian’s curse and that of Horus. Some laughed at his tale and called him mad; others beheld a divinity in him.

One night, he stumbled upon an old man in the shadow of the Horus Temple in Edfu, who introduced himself as Khaled. The typical beggar-man with eyes staring at the depths that must pierce the soul of time was there, attentively focused on the tale of Cian. He unfolded the secret that every book should tell: the curse of Saher was more than a punishment but a trial, a test of worthiness straight from the gods’ judgment seat, something that surely separated the men from the beasts and divided the gods from the mortals. The only way to ever break the curse was through proving oneself worthy in Horus’s eyes. Horus is supposed to be the only one that may break the curse. Only an act of valor and precision befitting of its divine archer deeds would make the gods set him at liberty.

He started to research and find a way to break such a curse, having the most difficult mission to imagine. He came to know that in the remote village there had appeared a monster crocodile, which was none other than the god Sobek and in fact had been afflicting the local population. That, he decided, would be his final test. His bow in hand and the ancient quiver strapped to his back, Cian faced the beast. The villagers watched in amazement at the way he moved, with the grace and confidence of a true archer. He waited for the right moment, drawing his bow with the precision of Horus himself. As the crocodile lunged, Cian released his arrow. It flew true, striking the beast in its eye and felling it with a single shot.

The village erupted in cheers, and Cian felt a weight lift from his shoulders. For the first time, he sensed that he had truly connected with the spirit of Horus. However, as he stood there, victorious, there prevailed the uncanny realization that breaking the curse was not defeating the monster but rather accepting his past and being in peace with his own self.

Cian came back to Ireland, sad but unyielding in spirit. He knew that what Horus and Saher taught in their battle was not about how brutally to fight, but how to be unyielding. That life, like archery, was all about focus and persistence: how to balance oneself against all odds. In Rathdowney, Cian became a local legend—a man who had travelled to Egypt and faced a god. At the same time, he continued to practice archery, teaching the enthusiastic young how to do the same—what he had learned over lifetimes. And though the curse hung over him, there was some solace in his town, in passing such knowledge, and in the quiet moments of contemplation that rested within each draw of the bow.

More important, Cian’s remains a story of confluence between mystery and myth. It is a tale of a man caught in between two worlds, ever seeking peace. Invariably, the townsfolk of Rathdowney speak with reverence towards him—a living embodiment of ancient legends; timeless truths. Standing in the fields with his bow and arrow, the man will shoot at the horizon because he knows it is still far from over.

Finally, with him, the life of Cian Fitzgerald epitomized the age-old powers of myth and the human spirit. Maybe he would never break the curse, but he accepted his fate just the same, with the strength and grace Horus presented in his contests. As the sun sets over the Irish countryside, casting long shadows that meld into the past and present, one can almost see the falcon-headed god smiling down—a silent acknowledgment of a kindred spirit.

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