The Black Madonna

A striking poster advertises an exhibition dedicated to the history of 1000 years of pilgrimage to Einsiedeln Abbey, the seat of the Black Madonna. We see her red robe and the crown but the statue is not there. A veil is all there is. The energetic, blood red colour of the cape arrests and fills with awe. It dresses up the unconscious, adorns the shadow, crowning darkness and emptiness. “I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil,” – the words inscribed on the statue of Isis of Sais come to mind. All the symbolic representations of the divine are just what comes from our attempts at peering through the veil; this is why we communicate the mystery or perhaps how the mystery communicates with us. In our daily world biased towards clarity, obviousness, growth, achievement and tangible benefits, the Black Madonna is an omen of wholeness that we have lost on the way. She heals by making whole, soothes and warms the cold hearts, projecting boundless forgiveness and compassion. She is not always meek, but can be quite defiant and disruptive in relation to the stale status quo. Like the unconscious, she is the great balancing force. The weak, the sick, the disenfranchised, the disempowered, women, strangers, outsiders and foreigners, have all sought refuge under her mantle. It was believed in the earlier centuries that only the Black Madonna can show the right way to murderers and other criminals. Until the eighteenth centuries convicted criminals of Switzerland were able to atone for their guilt and go free if they made a pilgrimage to the holy statue.

The capes of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

There are many covert ways in which the church still try to downplay her vibrant and growing cult. Her blackness, for example, is usually explained by the prolonged exposure of the statue to candle smoke. This is quite hard to believe, since the numerous Black Madonna statues have sprung up in numerous places in the world immediately in their black glory. According to legends, the statues were often found by children, shepherds or animals close to caves or streams, often buried in the earth. The mystery surrounding their sudden emergence is symbolically very fitting. She shows herself to the humble and the weak, her source of origin being veiled in mystery. She does not seek a central or prominent role, and yet she is the centre of the mandala, the creative matrix from which all life came and to which it will return. Although her face is featured on the poster advertising the exhibition, she is just but one of the themes of it. Still, it was easily noticeable how crowds gravitated towards and concentrated in the sections dedicated to her. Disappointingly, the role of Forest Sisters, one of whom offered the statue of the Black Madonna to St Meinrad, the founder of the monastery, was not acknowledged. Nothing is said of the appalling treatment of the Sisters by the male establishment of the Monastery. Namely, they were driven out of the Dark Forest, where they lived in a peaceful community gathering herbs and healing the sick, banned from visiting the Black Madonna statue, ordered to wear black and had to lead a convent life in the nearby town (see my previous post on the subject https://symbolreader.net/2016/02/28/the-black-madonna-of-einsiedeln/).  As a consolation, the sisters received a copy of the original Black Madonna statue. What is more, the lay public were also restricted by the Benedictine monks from adoring the statue right until the beginning of the twentieth century. Older female inhabitants of Einsiedeln still remember the times when they had to sneak in to the church to pray in front of the Black Madonna.

The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

I am Black and Lovely: the Mystery of the Black Madonna by Margrit Rosa Schmid is a booklet rich in detail that accompanies the exhibition. It contains a wealth of stories about the Black Madonnas of the whole world. I was not aware of the sheer number of statues and shrines of her in Switzerland alone. At the beginning of the twentieth century in the Italian canton of Tessin, where her cult is very strong, a local pastor felt uncomfortable with what he perceived as a pagan cult of the statue of La Madonna Nera. He replaced it with a white Madonna, which sparked outrage with the locals. Eventually, the church had no choice but to give in, the Black Madonna was restored, while the white one ended up in pastor’s attic. This particular Black Madonna is a copy of the magnificent Black Madonna of Loreto in Italy. Schmid beautifully describes the symbolism of the appearance of the original Italian statue. Especially striking are the five black moon sickles adorning her gown complete with a reversed red triangle – a symbol of feminine fertility (the chalice and the womb). During the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon moved the Black Madonna statue from Loreto to Paris, where she was displayed in Louvre as an Egyptian goddess. He must have understood subconsciously that the Black Madonna indeed comes from a long lineage of ancient dark mother goddesses, especially but not only Isis. The Loreto Chapel of Madonna showcases statues of nine Sibyls, further strengthening the connection with the ancient cult of the goddess as well as pointing at the gift of prophecy, seeing in the dark, common to all dark female deities. Mary, not only in her role as the Black Madonna, has always fulfilled a symbolic role of a pontifex – a bridge builder between humans and divinity.

La Madonna Nera of Sonogno, Switzerlad

The Black Madonna of Loreto

A particularly moving legend is connected with the Polish Black Madonna of Czestochowa, who bears two long scars on her face. In the 15th century, the monastery was raided by the Hussites, who stole the icon. However, their horses refused to move the wagon in which they were travelling. In frustration, one of the robbers inflicted two strikes on Madonna’s face with his sword. When he tried to draw his sword upon the image for the third time, he fell to the ground and died a painful death. It is perhaps her fragility and a memento of suffering visible on her face that makes her divine form so human.

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland

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“The Message of Mr Cogito” by Zbigniew Herbert

The Fountain Tarot

“Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards – they will win
they will go to your funeral with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called – weren’t there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant – when the light on the mountains gives the sign- arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way you will be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go”

translated by Czeslaw Milosz

 

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Winter Solstice

“We begin at the southern gate, crowned with the majesty of Christmas. There the Sun enters upon its northward journey — a journey which has been described by seers and poets in beautiful symbolism, for it brings to men, and to all that lives, the great hope of rebirth and self-renewal…. The sun lies low in the southern skies; but the miracle of winter light as it caresses the hills white with silence and with peace is hardly to be described. Only those who have lived where pale skies pour molten white gold over horizons glistening white under the robe of the snow can know the magic of a light reflected by an earth so pure that it actually seems the source of light drenching a darker sky.”

Dane Rudhyar, “New Mansions for New Men”

http://khaldea.com/rudhyar/nmnm/nmnm_p3_pc1.php

Stanislaw Wyspianski, “View of Kosciuszko Mount from a Window in the Artist’s Studio”

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Fernando Pessoa – Weaver of the Soul

Mural of Fernando Pessoa in Portugal

“Weavers of despair, let us weave only shrouds – white shrouds for the dreams we never dreamed, black shrouds for the days when we die, grey shrouds for the gestures we only dreamed of, imperial purple shrouds for our futile feelings.”

Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquietude”, the complete edition translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Kindle edition

Fernando Pessoa, was a magnificent Portuguese writer, who spent all of his life in relative obscurity leading quite a lonely life. As was the case with other famous artists, for example Kafka or Van Gogh, the public discovered Pessoa posthumously. While alive he published a single book of poetry and was working on a book of prose, which was never finished or published.  The Book of Disquietude has been described as a fictional diary or a modern confession. “The book is a single state of soul,” he writes, “analyzed from every angle, traversed in every possible direction.” He wrote an autobiography without events; or rather a diary in which the only events are the inner workings of his being. He saw confessing, confiding, baring a soul as the basest human need. Yet, being misunderstood is just as basic, since “the words of others are errors in our hearing, shipwrecks in our understanding.” It seems that all his life he sought self-understanding mainly through writing but also pursuing other surprising avenues, for example by corresponding with Aleister Crowley or by pursuing avidly the subject of astrology. There are gems hidden on almost every page of The Book of Disquietude, which I am currently rereading.

I leave you with Pessoa’s poem “Advice,” which is reminiscent of Theresa Avila’s comparison of soul’s work to watering a garden:

“Surround who you dream you are with high walls.

Then, wherever the garden can be seen

Through the iron bars of the gate,

Plant only the most cheerful flowers,

So that you’ll be known as a cheerful sort.

Where it can’t be seen, don’t plant anything.

 

Lay flower beds, like other people have,

So that passing gazes can look in

At your garden as you’re going to show it.

But where you’re all your own and no one

Ever sees you, let wild flowers spring up

Spontaneously, and let the grass grow naturally.

 

Make yourself into a well-guarded Double self,

letting no one who looks in

See more than a garden of who you are—

A showy but private garden, behind which

The native flowers brush against grass

So straggly that not even you see it . . .”

Translated by Richard Zenith, taken from “A Little Larger than the Entire Universe” – Selected Poems by Fernando Pessoa, Kindle edition

Although as a poet he frequently used other names than his own (he called those alternative personalities heteronyms), this particular poem was signed with his name. In his affinity for adopting different artistic identities, however, the inner sanctum of his private soul garden remained untouched by this masquerade.

Arnold Böcklin, “Pan in the Reeds”

Links:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/04/fernando-pessoas-disappearing-act

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jul/20/news.poetry

 

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Jung on Alchemy (7): The Coniunctio – part 1 – The Mercurial Fountain

RS01

“And just as the cosmos is not a dissolving mass of particles, but rests in the unity of God’s embrace, man must not dissolve into a whirl of warring possibilities and tendencies imposed on him by the unconscious, but must become the unity that embraces them all.”

C. G. Jung, “Psychology of Transference”

“To be great, be whole;
Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor
Because it blooms up above.”

Fernando Pessoa

There is a desire in every soul to open up and merge, rather than stand alone. The Sufis called this the longing of every soul for the beloved, while the Orphics placed Eros at the top of the Pantheon. Jung, after Silberer, referred to the coniunctio as the central idea of alchemy. In Rosarium Philosophorum, a sixteenth-century alchemical treatise, we read:

“There is the conjunction of two bodies made, and it is necessary in our magistery, and if but one of our two bodies only should be in our Stone, it would never give tincture by any means.”

As Jung explains in The Psychology of Transference, “the coniunctio oppositorum in the guise of Sol and Luna, .., occupies such an important place in alchemy that sometimes the entire process takes the form of the hierosgamos [holy marriage] and its mystic consequences.” In the same book he guides the reader through a sequence of selected woodcuts from Rosarium Philosophorum. Adam McClean of The Alchemy Website, inspired by Jung, presents his own reflections on the full sequence of twenty images (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/roscom.html).  This and the subsequent posts will summarize Jung and McClean’s offerings concerning the images of the Rosarium. My goal is to elucidate the nature of the coniunctio as presented in the Rosarium images while simultaneously referring to the Jung’s final work Mysterium Coniunctionis.

IMAGE 1 (view all the images here: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/virtual_museum/rosarium_philosophorum_room.html)

This image showcases the Mercurial Fountain, which symbolizes the activation of the unconscious. The fountain as a symbol is “an image of the soul as the source of inner life and spiritual energy”, as was aptly summarized by Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. About Illustration 1 McClean writes:

“In illustration 1, we have a picture of man’s inner soul world. In the lower part of the soul we see a triple fountain which pours forth the threefold soul-substance – the Virgin’s Milk ( the feminine receptive lunar forces in the soul), the Spring of Vinegar (the masculine sharp, penetrating solar forces in the soul) and the Aqua Vitae, the water of life (the inner source of soul energies). These three streams pour forth from the head of the fountain, at the central point of the soul, and stream down merging together in the basin at the lowest part of the soul. This vessel contains the primal substance of the soul forces, the Inner Mercury, the Mercury of the Philosophers, that is one and yet is composed of these three streams.

Thus we have here a picture of the unintegrated soul realm of man. The three streams pour down from the heart centre into the lower soul world, but are cut off from a balanced direct connection with the upper soul, the realm of the soul that can touch upon the spiritual. The only connection with this upper soul initially is through the unintegrated polarity of the lunar and solar streams within the soul.”

For alchemists, Mercury was the fluid substance symbolizing the oscillating nature of the unconscious. In Mysterium Coniunctionis Jung called Mercurius the ligament of the soul because it united the body with the spirit. To amplify McClean’s description, in image 1, there are four stars which symbolize the four elements while the fifth star stands for  the quintessence, the unity achieved at the end of the opus. Further, if we see the Mercurial Fountain as located in the centre of the universe, then the four stars may be an allusion to the Four Rivers of Paradise. The three mercurial streams point to the inherent ambivalence of Mercurius – he is both nourishing and poisonous, as indeed is the unconscious. The vinegar is the dissolving substance, which penetrates and breaks down the forms which need to be destroyed before the new structures can be built. The forces erupting from the depths of the unconscious may have a destructive aspect. The water of life cleans and purifies, healing and reviving after the shock and suffering caused by the acidic spring erupting from the unconscious. Finally, the milk nourishes and allows the soul to grow. There is also nourishment coming from the stars, which are being licked by the two mercurial dragons.

The first image already heralds the future coniunctio, while presenting all the elements of transformation. “With its quiet song and strange power” (to quote Denise Levertov) the Mercurial Fountain is rushing, moving and flowing within our innermost being.

To be continued with further images…

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“Alchemy” by Gillian Clarke

“All night the moon stares at the stream

strumming its way over stones,

stopping it dead in its dream;

gazes at the field’s ghost

where all the white night long

no mouse, fox, hare has passed.

 

Moon, witch, goddess, alchemist, old stone,

strikes trees to iron, silver, steel, stills sheep

where they stand asleep in their bones,

till dawn, the sun on the sill of the world,

when all the night-work of the moon

is hallowed, haloed, turned to gold.”

Moonlight, a Landscape with Sheep c.1831-3 Samuel Palmer 1805-1881 Purchased 1922 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03700

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Two Symbols of the Jewish Warsaw: the Wall and the Palm Tree

I. THE WALL

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 “In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori

baskets of olives and lemons,

cobbles spattered with wine

and the wreckage of flowers.

Vendors cover the trestles

with rose-pink fish;

armfuls of dark grapes

heaped on peach-down.

 

On this same square

they burned Giordano Bruno.

Henchmen kindled the pyre

close-pressed by the mob.

Before the flames had died

the taverns were full again,

baskets of olives and lemons

again on the vendors’ shoulders.

 

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori

in Warsaw by the sky-carousel

one clear spring evening

to the strains of a carnival tune.

The bright melody drowned

the salvos from the ghetto wall,

and couples were flying

high in the cloudless sky.

 

At times wind from the burning

would drift dark kites along

and riders on the carousel

caught petals in midair.

That same hot wind

blew open the skirts of the girls

and the crowds were laughing

on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.”

Czeslaw Milosz, “Campo dei Fiori”

In this touching poem, the brutality of the Nazis liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto is happening behind the wall, sheltering the potential onlookers from the atrocities. In Polin, the Warsaw Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (see below for the meaning of “Polin”), these words written by Chaim A. Kaplan struck a poignant chord with me:

“We are imprisoned within double walls: a wall of brick for our bodies, and a wall of silence for our spirit.”

The Jewish story is no longer surrounded by the wall of silence. The central thought of The Story of the Jews, beautifully imagined in the opening credits to that magnificent documentary by Simon Schama, is that the people who were left with nothing started living in the house of words. Their story and their holy book, the Torah, was sustaining them. The thought is strengthened in his book The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words. Those who have found their words, have found themselves.

II. THE PALM TREE

palma_warszawa_rondo

 

The 15-metre tall artificial Palm Tree at a busy roundabout in the centre of the city may seem an unlikely symbol of Jewishness. It stands at the intersection of the two most representative streets – Aleje Jerozolimskie (Jerusalem Avenue) and Nowy Swiat (New World Street). The palm tree, reminiscent of the palms of Jerusalem, marks the absence of the Jews in the city, which was previously their settlement. Wikipedia explains why the Jews chose Poland as their home:

“Some Jewish historians say the Hebrew word for ‘Poland’ is pronounced as Polania or Polin in Hebrew. As transliterated into Hebrew, these names for Poland were interpreted as “good omens” because Polania can be broken down into three Hebrew words: po (“here”), lan (“dwells”), ya (“God”), and Polin into two words of: po (“here”) lin (“[you should] dwell”). The “message” was that Poland was meant to be a good place for the Jews.”

The palm is an ancient symbol of life, victory and fertility, and the Christian symbol of resurrection. It has both masculine and feminine connotations, making it a symbol of totality. In the Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Michael Ferber wrote, “The word “palm” (Latin “palma”) is the same as that for the palm of the hand: to the ancients the tree resembled the hand, the branches or fronds looking like fingers.” In the web of symbolic meaning, another association was solar, the branches of the palm resembling the rays of the sun. Apollo was born under the palm tree. On the feminine side, both in the Odyssey and in the Song of Songs, the beauty of women is compared to the beauty of palm trees. Ferber adds, “The Hebrew word for palm, tamar, was and remains a common girl’s name.” “Phoinikos”, the Greek word for the palm, brings to mind its association with rebirth.

There is something very triumphant, exultant and joyful in this ancient symbol positioned in the middle of a busy roundabout in the part of Europe where palms do not belong. As the symbolic palm unites the opposites, so does this one bringing two worlds together.

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Thoughts on Harmony on the Equinox

Emma-Kunz

It was incredibly lucky that around the time of the Autumn Equinox I got to make a trip to Emma Kunz Centre, where this nineteenth-century-born Swiss healer and painter lived and worked. Quiet and secluded, it was an ideal place to reflect on balance and its role in healing. A collection of her artwork oozed tranquility. It was beneficial to focus on single pieces and let them work through the mind and the body. Each of them was a remarkable feat of balance. Emma Kunz believed that healing was tantamount to activating the powers that lie dormant in everyone. She described her work as “design and shape as dimension, rhythm, symbol and transformation of numbers and concepts.” (“Gestaltung und Form als Mass, Rhythmus, Symbol und Wandlung von Zahl und Prinzip”). She used the pictures, which she completed in non-stop creative phases, when she would not eat or sleep, not only for healing but also to answer numerous esoteric questions her restless mercurial mind (she was a Gemini) produced every day. She preferred to refer to herself as a researcher rather than a healer.

The Centre is located in the old Roman quarry in Würenlos. There Emma Kunz discovered rock which she believed to have healing powers. She called it Aion A, the Greek word for age and eternity. For Plato, Aion was the eternal world of ideas – the true reality behind the manifest world of illusion. In the middle of the complex stands a magnificent stone cave. Emma Kunz claimed that the place had enormous harmonizing and balancing powers.

As I stood there, I had a feeling, banal perhaps, that, despite all the chaos in the world, harmony is the natural state of being. Two quotes capture that fleeting understanding:

“To have inner harmony is to be in accord with the eternal, and to be in accord with the eternal is to be enlightened.”

Lao Tsy

“Although the opposites flee from one another, they nevertheless strive for balance, since a state of conflict is too inimical to life to be endured indefinitely.”

C.G. Jung, “Mysterium Coniunctionis”

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Link:

https://www.emma-kunz.com/en/

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“The Guardian Angel” by R.M. Rilke

“You are the bird whose wings came

when I wakened in the night and called.

Only with my arms I called, because your name

is like a chasm, a thousand nights deep.

You are the shadows in which I quietly slept,

and your seed devised in me each dream,—

you are the image, but I am the frame

that makes you stand in glittering relief.

 

What shall I call you? Look, my lips are lame.

You are the beginning that gushes forth,

I am the slow and fearful Amen

that timidly concludes your beauty.

 

You have often snatched me out of dark rest

when sleep seemed like a grave to me

and like getting lost and fleeing,—

then you raised me out of heart-darknesses

and tried to hoist me onto all towers

like scarlet flags and bunting.

 

You: who talk of miracles as of common knowledge

and of men and women as of melodies

and of roses: of events

that in your eyes blazingly take place,—

you blessed one, when will you at last name Him

from whose seventh and last day

shards of glory can still be found

on the beating of your wings …

Do I need to ask?”

Translated by Edward Snow, found in R.M. Rilke, “The Book of Images”, Kindle edition

Leonardo da Vinci, detail from “Madonna of the Rocks”

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Osiris, Master of Silence and Renewal

path_hands_osiris

Osiris rising

Three giant statues of Osiris, Isis and Hapi, the Nile god of fertility, have been placed at the entrance to Museum Rietberg in Zurich. They were recovered from the sea bed by Franck Goddio, a French underwater archaeologist, who directed excavations of the site of Thonis-Heracleion, a long-forgotten sunken city which played a key role in Egypt before the establishment of Alexandria. It was here, in the trading hub, that the Greeks and the Egyptians first came into contact and where they forged a close relationship. Hapi, “god of fertility, lord of the river, life-giving steward of its floods,”

Hapi

“stood for centuries at the very edge of ancient Egypt, gazing down imperiously upon the trading ships as they blew in from the Mediterranean. … And, on his plinth at the western mouth of the Nile, a massive red granite gatekeeper to one of the greatest port cities on earth.

Until one day, probably towards the end of the second century BC, there was a tremor and the ground began to churn and liquefy at Hapy’s feet. He wobbled, lurched, and then six tonnes of intricately carved stonework crashed into the sea.”

From https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/15/lost-cities-6-thonis-heracleion-egypt-sunken-sea

A recreation of Thonis-Heracleion

The exhibition “Osiris, Egypt’s Sunken Mysteries” is a rare treat. Its most outstanding part is devoted to the mysteries of Osiris, celebrated in the month of Khoiak, which was the last month of the inundation of the Nile, when the fields were fertilized and ready for cultivation. Those elaborate ceremonies commemorated the god’s death and rebirth. Though I thought I was well familiar with the myth of Osiris, never before had I pondered and experienced it so deeply as at the exhibition. The curators managed to recreate an eery underwater ambience with subdued light and scant use of new technologies. Somehow, despite the crowds, the atmosphere was quite intimate, the connection with the Master of Silence very palpable.

impressionen-aus-der-ausstellung-osiris-im-museum-rietberg

Museum Rietberg

The threat of the sea was very real in ancient Egypt, where a number of cities sank beneath the waves. Seth, the brother and assassin of Osiris, as can be read in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition (written by Franck Goddio and David Fabre), “was the incarnation of that element of disorder (chaos) that is intrinsically embedded in order and is necessary for its dynamics. The pharaoh, in fact,“assembled and united in his person the two incessantly warring gods who found their balance in him.” Any order is always threatened with dissolution, as all human structures are fragile. Yet in every death there is a seed of rebirth and regeneration. As Plutarch put it, “Osiris is the Nile uniting with Isis the earth, and Seth is the sea into which the Nile rushes, disperses and vanishes.”

The dismemberment of Osiris by Seth was into 14 or 42 parts, depending on the source. Fourteen represents “the days of the waning moon as parts of it are subtracted from the full disk.” The waxing phase is Isis’ quest to reconstitute the body of Osiris, “culminating in complete reapparance of the full moon.” An alternative source talks about 42 parts which represent 42 Egyptian nomes, i.e. administrative units. Because the body of Osiris was the body of Egypt. His dark skin was the dark fertile earth and a cradle for the crops. As vegetation comes out of decomposition, so did Horus came into the world from the posthumous union of Osiris and Isis. Thus the dismembered corpse became the source of life and nourishment.

The valley of the Nile with its black fertile earth gave birth to the word alchemy, from the old Egyptian word kemet, i.e. the Black Earth. The Canopus vase, representing Osiris, contained “water from the inundation mixed with the bodily fluids  of the god resulting from the putrefaction of his corpse, to fertilize the black earth of Egypt.”

Osiris Hydreios statue

In their wisdom, the Egyptians connected the agricultural cycle of death and regeneration with the experience of the soul in the afterlife. All the dead “participated in the course of the sun, which like Osiris, perpetually regenerated and triumphed  over darkness.” As it often happens, when the mind is occupied with a subject, answers start coming unexpectedly from various sources. I was pondering the life and death cycle locked in the myth of Osiris, when I came across an article entitled “Sacred Soil” written by Stephali Patel for the new issue of the Parabola magazine (Fall 2017). He opens his article like this:

“SOIL IS BORN FROM THE CYCLE OF LIFE AND DEATH. Soil is about 50% air and water, 45% minerals, and 5% organic matter. Soil mineral is formed from the wearing of bedrock that is birthed from core of the earth. This weathering takes thousands of years and much of our present day agricultural soils are more than 10,000 years old. But before there was an Earth, there was just universe. The universe was originally composed primarily of the lighter atomic elements hydrogen and helium. The rest of the heavier elements, including carbon and oxygen, were fused in the hearts of the giant floating nuclear reactors we call stars. When a massive star is dying, it becomes hotter and hotter; its pressure-fueled expansion culminating in a violent explosion, a supernova. These massive explosions blow the heavier elements in the star’s core out into space, where they are incorporated into the formation of other planets, moons, and stars. The minerals within and on the earth come from stars that died when the universe was young. All living matter on Earth is composed of this ancient debris. And stars are still dying and exploding. Every year, 40,000 tons of cosmic dust rains down upon us, erasing all validity of human conceived borders. This cosmic dust settles everywhere, particularly in our soil. The chemical elements in the cosmic dust are taken up by plants, which are then eaten by us. Our bodies are constantly being rebuilt and nourished by dying stars.”

Book of the Dead showing ploughing with oxen

Osiris was the son of Earth (Geb – male) and Sky (Nut – female). The heliacal rising of Sirius was used annually to predict the coming of the Nile flood. This heavenly event marked the onset of earthly celebrations of Osirian mysteries down below. First, the sacred drama was staged – Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth. Officiants placed a mummified figure of the god in a tank garden. The statuette, made with barley and the black silt collected from the rising Nile, was watered until it germinated and turned into “Osiris vegetans.” Simultaneously, another figure of Osiris was made from precious stones and resins.  This latter effigy was later transported in a barque greeted by a jubilant crowd:

“The divine barque navigated from Thonis-Heracleion to the holiest of holies in the Osireion – the ‘tomb of Osiris’ – in Canopus. The liturgical procession observed the course of the sun and the moon (moving from east to west). The course of the festivity merged with the cosmic trajectory: in the divine morning, the god crossed his town in rejoicing: he had triumphed over death and came forth entire, just like the moon had crossed invisibility to triumph in its fullness. The journey on water which followed symbolized the passage from the world of the living to the Afterlife (the west).

At the onset of the inundation, the offering of the primeval water was an evocation of the original birth of Osiris, prelude to the quest for the body, dismembered, reconstituted, interred, and returned to life.”

In every great mythical drama the strands of opposites are constantly being woven and unravelled while nature seeks to transmute itself. Osiris taught humans agriculture, provided them with laws and brought them civilization. But he would not have done any of these things without the nourishing power of  darkness, chaos, passivity and wetness.

Grain growing from the body of Osiris, via https://cowofgold.wikispaces.com/Osiris

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