The news is depressing; everything we know is falling apart; the familiar bonds of work and financial security which hold society together are everywhere failing. Security and unpredictability are unfamiliar in the west, not so for much of rest of the world which has simply learned to live with chaos. But chaos is an alchemical process. The core of Western society is being dismembered, hacked into pieces by our own Sethian nature, the impulse to materialism and accretion run wild.
Osiris the Good God, the green-faced God of death and renewal was tricked by treachery, so everyman has been tricked by sleight of hand and deception. Osiris was made vulnerable by trust, likewise we have been betrayed by trust.
Through the enactment of the ancient mysteries, the Egyptians reminded themselves that life was cyclical, a repeating pattern of death, dismemberment and subsequent renewal. This mythic framework embraced both natural and human life, for the resurrection of Osiris, through the raising of the potent Djed Pillar, signifies the fertilising power of cyclical life. The resurrection of Christ is no longer the sustaining myth of western spirituality in the age of new belief; we are adrift. The New Age provides many things but it cannot offer any overarching framework, we must rather look to the Old Age of Primordial Tradition.
Disconnected from the primal myths of being and becoming, it is easy to lose sight of the essential interconnection with all life; the draught of forgetfulness or memory is offered to the initiate; we are now in the grip of a collective amnesia.
The remembering of Osiris, the primordial mythic quest, embodies the classic initiatory phases from death to rebirth in its three phases: questing, finding and rejoicing. Osiris, rendered into death, his body hacked into pieces and scattered throughout the land. This, the first initiatory phase of dissection and breaking is central to all initiating traditions. ‘As above, so below,’ says the Hermetic maxim; what exists in the microcosm exists in the macrocosm. The fabric of society is currently in a phase of dissection and dismemberment; for many the sudden disruption of the working life must feel like a kind of death.
Osiris meets his death at the hands of Set; aspiring to seize the kingdom, he has prepared a trap in the shape of an ornamented chest measured exactly to fit Osiris. At a feast Set promised to present it to the man who should find the chest to be exactly his length when he lay down in it. Each tried it in turn, but it fitted no one. Osiris alone was left, as soon as he lay down the lid was slammed shut and fastened by nails, carried to the river and sent it on its way to the sea.
On hearing this terrible news his loving wife and queen, Isis, cut off her hair and put on a mourning robe, wandering from place to place, not knowing what to do, she questioned everyone along the way. Emptied by weeping and in the depths of her sorrow she did not hesitate to do everything in her power to find her beloved; she quests to re-member that which has been so savagely dismembered After searching without ceasing, probably after several years, Isis, learned that the chest had been cast up by the sea on a foreign shore where a tree had grown around it. After another initiatory tale, she finally retrieved the chest which had become a coffin.
Osiris has waited upon the cycle of regeneration, dismembered and passive, he has been compelled to surrender to the forces of nature and time. Isis alone has been active in her desire to re-member. In this second phase, the initiate must passively await on the inner processes of regeneration, resting in the cocoon of the psyche as the work of transformation silently proceeds. We too are entering the stage of transformation; broken institutions, shattered corporate bodies, dismembered organisations, now all are subject to process and change.
Isis, the mourning mother and grieving wife has shared in the human condition. Her voice of lamentation; the voice of grief and loss was raised to the heavens, our shared cultural lament has been sounded on the streets carrying despair and rage, it is both a lament and a wake-up call. From the depths of her grief, she calls upon Thoth, the lord of wisdom; Isis too is a wisdom goddess; wisdom alone has the power to embrace all, emptied as it is of self-interest. As the power to seek the greatest good, wisdom should walk hand-in-hand with public service. The Seven Wise Men of Greece were legislators and advisers especially chosen for their quality of wisdom. Who might we choose as our seven wise men? Human folly: the absence of wisdom, has decimated institutions designed to spread wealth; greed, self-interest and the love of money by the few has stolen peace from the many.
Under the aegis of Thoth, the magical work of reconstruction begins. Step by step, stage by stage the process of renewal commences; nothing is impossible with the help of wisdom: wisdom is not a vacuous concept or a timid voice, but a robust and skilled clarity brought to bear without self-interest. Thoth the ancient Egyptian embodiment of wisdom brings expertise to his calling: writer, peacemaker and diplomatic go-between, physician, law giver and judge, the writer of the truth, ‘whose horror is the lie’, the lord of the laws, the teacher of rightful order and the balance between order and chaos. These are exactly the skills needed at this time of unprecedented global crisis. These are the saving skills, this is the path of salvation through the unknown and uncertain; not a salvation doled out by the invisible almighty but earned through the skill and wisdom of men. It is Thoth who breathes new life into the body: the phallic Djed pillar, the axis mundi, the spine of Osiris stands upright once more; natural order has been restored. These annual enactments aligned the Egyptians to simple truths that we have forgotten at our peril: life and death are equally dynamic phases in the cycle of rebirth and transformation.
In this last phase the initiate rendered outwardly deathlike by the intensity of inner remaking, comes now to a new understanding of life, renewed and reborn, the past has been sloughed off as an outworn garment. This time of transition between the Great Ages, as Pisces wanes and Aquarius beckons, so a radical transformation of values and priorities is inevitable and essential: chaos though a fearful state, releases energy to the alchemical process which recombines the essential elements into a new matrix.
Globalization is here, arriving in an unguarded moment along with the Internet revolution, the family of humanity diverse and extraordinary now has unprecedented opportunity to recognize itself as never before. Isis the winged Goddess of Ten Thousand Names through her infinite compassion will always seek out the dismembered beloved and preside over the Mysteries of Rebirth in the infinite cycle of being and becoming which makes the world new again.
The ancient Mysteries of death and rebirth belong not to the past but to the Eternal Present; their timeless truth is valid in every generation. These great rituals connect us to life, by transcending the trivial and the mundane, these enactments of life and death are the true Passion Plays. Known as The Mysteries, from the earliest times, these particular dramatic performances are a class set apart from all other the theatrical forms. Their purpose is not to entertain but to initiate, to awaken the spirit and immerse all participants in the process of renewing life.
The word mystery is derived from the Greek, myein meaning ‘to close’ referring to the lips or eyes, the gesture of silence: the finger raised to the lips is familiar to students of the Mysteries, generally understood to imply a secret or even a closed event. However Egyptian vocabulary is possibly more insightful with regard to such performances. There is no Egyptian word for worship, instead the word, iau implies the establishment of a relationship between the participant and the divinity. The word, sheta means mystery but in daily use it means ‘hidden’, ‘concealed’ or ‘unprecedented.’ In a religious context the word means ‘a truly religious secret.’ The word djeser is usually translated ‘magnificent’ or ‘exalted,’ but it also means, ‘secluded,’ ‘inaccessible’ or ‘hidden.’ The verb bes means ‘to usher in’ or ‘to enter.’ It is used to describe the investiture of the pharaoh, the installation of a priest and a cultic secret. These words take us beyond the gesture of silence into the Mysteries of the Primordial Tradition: hidden, magnificent, exalted, and unprecedented experiences which usher in a relationship between the divinity and the devotee.
Since it is my wish to keep these ancient sacred enactments alive, the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris will be performed in 2010.
Naomi Ozaniec is the Director of Studies for the House of Life. She is a priestess, author and workshop facilitator. Naomi’s books include practical guides to many aspects of the Western Mystery Tradition. For further information see Amazon and www.thehouseoflife.co.uk