If men are not led onto journeys of powerlessness, they will always abuse power. ~ Richard Rohr.
Out of all the myths worked into modern Paganism one of the most moving and powerful for me is that of Isis and Osiris. There are several different versions and several different components of this myth. And like all myth it is a living symbol, expressing eternal verities into temporal consciousness and conditions. There is no single ‘meaning’ to the myth; the meaning for any one individual is different to another, just as the meaning for us changes as we change from youth to maturity to old age. We live and embody the myth and are changed by it.
The snippet of the myth I wish to focus on here is that concerning the right, the correct, the Maat relationship of men and male sexuality in regards to the earth and to women. I am of course relating this from my own (mis)understanding and limitations and therefore am speaking only of cisgendered men; I cannot speak from the perspective of other gendered men.
In the myth, the evil Set, half-brother of the rightful king, Osiris, kills and dismembers Osiris into 14 parts. Afterwards the Goddess Isis, his queen and sister, gathers up the parts of Osiris to revive him, but cannot find his penis since it was thrown into the Nile River where it was swallowed by a bottom dwelling fish. Isis then creates a new penis from clay, affixes it to Osiris and breathes life into him to enact his resurrection. Only then does Osiris become lord of both the upper (earth) and lower worlds.
At this point we reflect on the words of Richard Rohr above: Osiris, through loss in battle, subjugation by his half-brother and physical dismemberment becomes utterly powerless. The thematic connection with aspects of the Paschal Mystery is obvious. It is this loss of power that enables Osiris to later become a just and wise ruler and king. He needs to die to his inherited and assumed male role and become utterly impotent.
Osiris’s restoration, the myth continues, is at the hands of and through the love and magic of Isis. The once powerful king is rescued by a woman, who herself in some versions of the myth becomes disempowered and forgetful of her divine nature during her grief stricken wanderings. The relation of divinity to power is profound in this myth, as indeed it is in the Paschal Mystery.
However, even when restored Osiris is lacking his most vital and visible symbol of potency, his penis. The myth is clear – in order for Osiris to rule both the worlds, upper and lower, conscious and unconscious, he needs to give up his penis, his male power. He needs to accept the assistance of his wife and Goddess and have a new penis, one made from and connected to the earth. Only then is he fit to rule in truth and balance, linked to the greater Earth.
On an esoteric level, this myth installs within us (when worked) the eternal verity that the male force, including sexuality, is not the prerogative of the individual man, but is a gift from the Mother, from the Earth. That is, sexual force in men and pubescent boys is not their own force but flows through their body via their connection to all life, and when transformed, respected and controlled, is a means by which they can connect more deeply to all life, to the Earth.
This verity runs in direct contradiction to both conscious and unconscious attitudes to men and the male force within our culture. Common idioms and sexual slang position the penis as its own entity, its own force and it is not uncommon for pubescent boys to become so focused on and enamoured of their penis they give it a name. The penis, so the boy learns from the world around him, has its own agenda, often in stark contradiction to the boy or man himself. This was graphically illustrated in the comedy show Seinfeld, where ‘Jerry the brain’ played a chess game against ‘Jerry the penis’ to decide if Jerry the man should continue dating and having sex with a woman he actually despised. Underlying the humour here is a dangerous meme of knowledge; the penis is separate from the man, yet it can control a man’s actions. Men, we are told, think more with their dicks than their brain.
The Osiris myth opposes this enculturated view; his penis is from the earth, loving crafted by Isis – he rules by his acceptance of impotence and connection to both the earth and women. This truth is also shown forth (as well as many other things) in the Lovers Tarot trump as painted by Pamela Colman Smith, where Adam looks to Eve who looks to the angel.
“Don’t care if it’s brain dead. Don’t care if it’s limbless. If it has a penis” ~ Garunkel and Oates.
On a social level this verity indicates the need for men to give up male privilege. To accept we have assumed power, vitality, respect and force only through the fact that we are male, that we possess a penis. The power needs to be given back to whence it came, the larger world, women and the earth and we needs to accept true, equal partnership with women – this is not a sexual partnership and applies equally to straight and gay men.
The myth of Osiris and Isis gives us all this – and far, far more – no wonder it is a favourite of the Pagan community. Of course, we need not only to read but to embody, chant, work and enact the myth. Then we will understand. Thanks 🙂