Harpocrates (Ancient Greek: Ἁρποκράτης) was the god of silence, secrets and confidentiality in the Hellenistic religion developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria (and also an embodiment of hope, according to Plutarch). Harpocrates was adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus, who represented the newborn sun, rising each day at dawn. Harpocrates's name was a Hellenization of the Egyptian Har-pa-khered or Heru-pa-khered, meaning "Horus the Child".

Harpocrates gulb 082006
Ptolemaic bronze Harpocrates, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon


In Egyptian mythology, Horus was the child of Isis and Osiris. Osiris was the original divine pharaoh of Egypt, who had been murdered by his brother Set (by interpretatio graeca, identified with Typhon or Chaos), mummified, and thus became the god of the underworld. The Greeks melded Osiris with their underworldly Hades to produce the essentially Alexandrian syncretism known as 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 Eurasian 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. Thereafter, the pharaohs of Egypt were seen as reincarnations of the victorious Horus.

Steles depicting Heru-pa-Khered standing on the back of a crocodile and 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.

Isis Sarapis Harpocrates Dionysos Louvre Ma3128
Isis, Serapis and their child Harpocrates (Louvre)

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

Bronze statuette of Harpocrates, Bagram, Afghanistan, 2nd century.

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 chin with the fingertip just below the lips of 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, 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.[1]

One other tale relates the story about the Greek gods. Aphrodite gave a rose to her son Eros, the god of love; he, in turn, gave it to Harpocrates to ensure that his mother's indiscretions (or those of the gods in general, in other accounts) were kept under wraps. This gave roses the connotation of secrecy (a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber pledged all present – sub rosa "under the rose"), which continued through the Middle Ages and through the modern era.

Harpocratic Eros Louvre Myr805
Harpocratic Eros, terracotta figurine made in Myrina, Greece, c. 100–50 BCE. (Louvre)

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:

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.[2]

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: "[Q]uidam redimitus puer ad os compresso digito salutari silentium commonebat". The boy was identified, however, as Cupid in glosses,[3] a syncresis that had already resulted in the figure of Harpocratic Cupid.

Plutarch wrote that Harpocrates was the second son of Isis and that he was born prematurely with lame legs. Horus the Child became the special protector of children and their mothers. As he was healed of a poisonous snake bite by Ra he became a symbol of hope in the gods looking after suffering humanity.[4]

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

20th century reference

From the 1920s through the 1950s, Harpo Marx performed pantomime and wore either a curly red or curly blonde wig in character. His brother Groucho jokingly said he named himself in honour of Harpocrates, as a god of both silence and childhood, or childish joy. In truth he was named Harpo because he played the harp.[5]

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 may be termed the 'god of silence' and said to represent the higher self and be the 'holy guardian angel' and more in similar vein, adapted from Aleister Crowley's often-reprinted Magick.

Many Discordians consider Harpo Marx to have been a contemporary avatar of Harpocrates. Because of this, Discordians often invoke Harpocrates as a trickster god or god of humor in addition to his classical attribution of god of silence.[6]

Cultural uses

Roses, a symbol strongly associated with Harpocrates, can sometimes be seen painted or else plastered upon borders around the ceilings of rooms intended for the receiving of guests (dining rooms, parlours, etc.), as a sign that topics discussed within the room are not to be discussed or else repeated outside of the room and other outside parties. Similarly, roses may be placed over confessionals to symbolize confidentiality. [7]


In 2018, archaeologists discovered a bone statuette depicting the god dating back to the 1st century BC. In addition to the god, two satyrs and a goose are depicted. It was discovered during excavations at the ancient Greek city of Tiritaka at Crimea.[8]

Further reading

  • Malaise, Michel (2005). Pour une terminologie et une analyse des cultes isiaques (in French). Académie Royale de Belgique. ISBN 978-2-8031-0217-4.
  • Malaise, Michel (2011). À la découverte d'Harpocrate à travers son historiographie (in French). Académie Royale de Belgique. ISBN 978-2-8031-2853-2.
  • Sandri, Sandra (2006). Har-pa-chered (Harpokrates): Die Genese eines ägyptischen Götterkindes (in German). Peeters. ISBN 978-90-429-1761-3.

See also

External links


  1. ^ 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;
    (Metamorphoses on-line)
  2. ^ Augustine, The City of God, XVIII.
  3. ^ Kinney, Dale (14 August 2014). "Spolia from the Baths of Caracalla in Sta. Maria in Trastevere". The Art Bulletin. 68 (3): 391 note 73. doi:10.1080/00043079.1986.10788359.
  4. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (2004). Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-19-517024-5.
  5. ^ Marx, Harpo; Rowland Barber (1988). Harpo Speaks!. New York, NY: Limelight Editions. ISBN 0-87910-036-2.
  6. ^ Hine, Phil (1999). Prime Chaos. London: Chaos International Press. ISBN 0-9521320-0-1.
  7. ^ "Definition of Sub-rosa by Merriam-Webster". Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  8. ^ In Crimea, archaeologists have found a bone statuette depicting the god of Harpocrates
  • 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.

Aceso (Greek: Ἀκεσώ) was the Greek goddess of the healing process.


Aiwass () is the name given to a voice that English occultist Aleister Crowley claimed to have heard on April 8, 9, and 10 in 1904. Crowley claimed that this voice, which he considered originated with a non-corporeal intelligence, dictated The Book of the Law (or Liber Legis) to him.

Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Greek: Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο Θεσσαλονίκης) is a museum in Thessaloniki, Central Macedonia, Greece. It holds and interprets artifacts from the Prehistoric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, mostly from the city of Thessaloniki but also from the region of Macedonia in general.


In Greek mythology, Erebus , also Erebos (Ancient Greek: Ἔρεβος, Érebos, "deep darkness, shadow" or "covered"), was often conceived as a primordial deity, representing the personification of darkness; for instance, Hesiod's Theogony identifies him as one of the first five beings in existence, born of Chaos.

Fides (deity)

Fides (Latin: Fidēs) was the goddess of trust and bona fides (good faith) in Roman paganism. She was one of the original virtues to be considered an actual religious divinity.


Heru-ra-ha (literally "Horus sun-flesh", among other possible meanings) is a composite deity within Thelema, a religion that began in 1904 with Aleister Crowley and his Book of the Law. Heru-ra-ha is composed of Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Hoor-paar-kraat. He is associated with the other two major Thelemic deities found in The Book of the Law, Nuit and Hadit, who are also godforms related to ancient Egyptian mythology. Their stelae link Nuit and Hadit to the established ancient Egyptian deities Nut and Hor-Bhdt (Horus of Edfu).


Isis was a major goddess in ancient Egyptian religion whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. Isis was first mentioned in the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2181 BCE) as one of the main characters of the Osiris myth, in which she resurrects her slain husband, the divine king Osiris, and produces and protects his heir, Horus. She was believed to help the dead enter the afterlife as she had helped Osiris, and she was considered the divine mother of the pharaoh, who was likened to Horus. Her maternal aid was invoked in healing spells to benefit ordinary people. Originally, she played a limited role in royal rituals and temple rites, although she was more prominent in funerary practices and magical texts. She was usually portrayed in art as a human woman wearing a throne-like hieroglyph on her head. During the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1070 BCE), as she took on traits that originally belonged to Hathor, the preeminent goddess of earlier times, Isis came to be portrayed wearing Hathor's headdress: a sun disk between the horns of a cow.

In the first millennium BCE, Osiris and Isis became the most widely worshipped of Egyptian deities, and Isis absorbed traits from many other goddesses. Rulers in Egypt and its neighbor to the south, Nubia, began to build temples dedicated primarily to Isis, and her temple at Philae was a religious center for Egyptians and Nubians alike. Isis's reputed magical power was greater than that of all other gods, and she was said to protect the kingdom from its enemies, govern the skies and the natural world, and have power over fate itself.

In the Hellenistic period (323–30 BCE), when Egypt was ruled and settled by Greeks, Isis came to be worshipped by Greeks and Egyptians, along with a new god, Serapis. Their worship diffused into the wider Mediterranean world. Isis's Greek devotees ascribed to her traits taken from Greek deities, such as the invention of marriage and the protection of ships at sea, and she retained strong links with Egypt and other Egyptian deities who were popular in the Hellenistic world, such as Osiris and Harpocrates. As Hellenistic culture was absorbed by Rome in the first century BCE, the cult of Isis became a part of Roman religion. Her devotees were a small proportion of the Roman Empire's population but were found all across its territory. Her following developed distinctive festivals such as the Navigium Isidis, as well as initiation ceremonies resembling those of other Greco-Roman mystery cults. Some of her devotees said she encompassed all feminine divine powers in the world.

The worship of Isis was ended by the rise of Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries CE. Her worship may have influenced Christian beliefs and practices such as the veneration of Mary, but the evidence for this influence is ambiguous and often controversial. Isis continues to appear in Western culture, particularly in esotericism and modern paganism, often as a personification of nature or the feminine aspect of divinity.

Judgement (Tarot card)

Judgement (XX), or in some decks spelled Judgment, is a Tarot card, part of the Major Arcana suit usually comprising 22 cards.

Nebiriau II

Nebiriau II (also Nebiryraw II, Nebiryerawet II) was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Theban-based 16th Dynasty, during the Second Intermediate Period.

Nebiryraw I

Sewadjenre Nebiryraw (also Nebiriau I, Nebiryerawet I) was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Theban-based 16th Dynasty, during the Second Intermediate Period.


The Nesoi (Greek Nῆσοι "islands"), in ancient Greek religion, were the goddesses of islands. Each island was said to have its own personification. They were classified as one of the Protogenoi, otherwise known as ancient elemental Greek primordial deities. The Nesoi were thought to have been Ourea who were cast under the sea during one of Poseidon's rages.

Pan (horse)

Pan (1805 – circa 1822) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a career that lasted from June 1808 to July 1814 he had six different owners, ran twenty times and won nine races. His most important success came on his only appearance as a three-year-old in 1808 when he won the Derby as a 25/1 outsider. Pan won another eight races over the next four seasons, running mainly in match races at Newmarket. He raced for two more years without success before being retired as a nine-year-old in 1814.


In the Roman Empire, the Pelusia was a religious festival held March 20 in honor of Isis and her child Harpocrates. It would have coincided with the second day of the Quinquatria, a five-day festival to Minerva. The holiday was not a part of the Roman calendar before the mid-1st century AD, but had been added by the time of Marcus Aurelius (161–180). It is preserved in the Calendar of Filocalus (354 AD) as an official holiday.The Byzantine scholar John Lydus (6th century) explains the festival as commemorating the "mud" from the flooding of the Nile, which generates fertility and ends hunger and drought, and was probably thought to be embodied by the birth of Harpocrates, who in art is depicted emerging from mud and bearing a cornucopia.

Participants in the Pelusia were sprinkled with water in order to obtain rebirth (regeneratio) and immunity from offenses to the gods (impunitas periurorum). The sprinkling is thought to mimic the symbolic effect of the flooding, and water from the Nile itself may have been used as a form of "holy water" as it was in other ceremonies of Isis brought to Rome. In Christian discourse of the time, regeneratio was used in connection with baptism. The Christian polemicist Tertullian (d. ca. 225) contrasts the rites of Pelusia with what he sees as the superior efficacy of baptism.In Egypt, the Pelusia of March 20 marked the beginning of the sailing season. The day was under the protection of Isis and Serapis.

Perses (Titan)

Perses (; Ancient Greek: Πέρσης) was the son of the Titan Crius and Eurybia. His name is derived from the Ancient Greek word perthō (πέρθω – "to sack", "to ravage", "to destroy"), the fact of which may have given scholars the impression that Perses was perhaps the Titan god of destruction. He was wed to Asteria (daughter of Phoebe and Coeus). They had one child noted in mythology, Hecate, honoured by Zeus above all others as the goddess of magic, crossroads, and witchcraft.


Raet (Rˁỉ.t) or Raet-Tawy (Rˁỉ.t-tȝ.wỉ) is an ancient Egyptian solar goddess, the female aspect of Ra. Her name is simply the female form of Ra's name; the longer name Raet-Tawy means "Raet of the Two Lands" (Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt).

Red Basilica

The "Red Basilica" (Turkish: Kızıl Avlu), also called variously the Red Hall and Red Courtyard, is a monumental ruined temple in the ancient city of Pergamon, now Bergama, in western Turkey. The temple was built during the Roman Empire, probably in the time of Hadrian and possibly on his orders. It is one of the largest Roman structures still surviving in the ancient Greek world. The temple is thought to have been used for the worship of Egyptian gods – specifically Isis and/or Serapis, and possibly also Osiris, Harpocrates and other lesser gods, who may have been worshipped in a pair of drum-shaped rotundas, both of which are virtually intact, alongside the main temple.

Although the building itself is of an immense size, it was only one part of a much larger sacred complex, surrounded by high walls, that dwarfed even the colossal Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek. The entire complex was built directly over the River Selinus in a remarkable feat of engineering that involved the construction of an immense bridge 196 metres (643 ft) wide to channel the river through two channels under the temple. The Pergamon Bridge still stands today, supporting modern buildings and even vehicle traffic. A series of tunnels and chambers lies under the main temple, connecting it with the side rotundas and giving private access to different areas of the complex. Various drains, water channels and basins are located in, around and under the main temple and may have been used for symbolic reenactments of the flooding of the Nile.

The temple was converted by the Byzantines into a Christian church dedicated to St John but was subsequently destroyed. Today the ruins of the main temple and one of the side rotundas can be visited, while the other side rotunda is still in use as a small mosque.

Serapeum of Alexandria

The Serapeum of Alexandria in the Ptolemaic Kingdom was an ancient Greek temple built by Ptolemy III Euergetes (reigned 246–222 BCE) and dedicated to Serapis, who was made the protector of Alexandria. There are also signs of Harpocrates. It has been referred to as the daughter of the Library of Alexandria. The site has been heavily plundered.

Sub rosa

The Latin phrase sub rosa means "under the rose", and is used in English to denote secrecy or confidentiality, similar to the Chatham House Rule. The rose as a symbol of secrecy has an ancient history.


Telethusa (Ancient Greek: Τελέθουσα) was the Cretan mother of Iphis in Greek Mythology. She was told by her husband Ligdus that if she gave birth to a girl, the child would be put to death. But when the child was about to be born Telethusa had a vision in her dreams in which Isis, in the company of other Egyptian gods (Anubis, Bubastis, Apis, Harpocrates and Osiris), told her not to obey her husband's orders. Doing as the vision said, Telethusa then raised her daughter Iphis as a boy to spare her from Ligdus's wrath. Iphis was later transformed into a man by the Egyptian goddess Isis in order to marry her true love, the maiden Ianthe.

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