“Osiris is a dark god” ~ on open secrets and initiations
Incense billows in sweet-scented clouds barely visible in the flickering torch light; behind, in the deeper shadows, the susurration of voices softly chanting sounds like the wind amid the papyrus on the day before the rains come. The air throbs with heaviness, and the ground feels hot under his bare feet. Hot and smooth and swept clean of any grit, it’s unlike any surface he’s ever walked on before, and it slopes ever so slightly, making each step feel longer than expected.
Ahead of him, the priests with their cymbals and musical instruments stop, and stand on either side of the curtained archway. The high priest turns, his eyes gleaming like the finest polished obsidian, and with one hand, twitches the curtain enough to show the blackness within, and with the other beckons the initiate to walk forwards.
The initiate stumbles, his nerves overwrought. His whole life has been leading to this moment and yet, he fears to step within that darkened chamber, for what will he find there?
The high priest beckons again and as he takes a faltering step forward the corridor falls silent. The torches are lowered and the chanting stops. A new wave of myrrh fills the air with its bitter-sweet perfume and other fragrances mingle, deliriously sweet and intoxicating.
He feels the brush of the heavy linen, lined with leather, as he passes into the dark. The floor here feels cool, silky smooth and a shock to his hardened feet. He can feel the high priest beside him and as the curtain falls, a tiny bead of shimmering golden light appears; the priest carries a minute oil lamp, cupped in his hand and hidden till now. He feels the hand of his initiator on his arm, leading him forwards, and a moment later, they are in front of the statue that people might see but once in a lifetime, unless, like the high priest, they have taken extra vows.
In the quivering light of the lamp, the god seems to smile, his eyes glittering so much the initiate recoils, suddenly sure this is no statue at all, but a living god. The skin glows with a golden sheen but its colour is that of ancient ebony, gilded by ages and by the loving touch of initiates like him.
The high priest places the lamp at the god’s feet and produces a flask, and motions the initiate to kneel. He holds his hands out as the priest pours oil, richly scented, over his head and then his hands. As he stands, and extends his hands to caress the god with the unguent, the lamp sputters and goes out.
Standing completely still, he waits. The surface under his hands seems to pulsate as if a living heart filled that skin with blood flow, and he is sure that as well as his own ragged breath and the steady breath of the priest, he can here a third being inhaling and exhaling, long and slow and deep.
The warm hands of the high priest grip his upper arms and draw him into an embrace, and he can smell the ritual honey on the breath of the man who holds him as he whispers into the initiate’s ear.
“Osiris is a dark god.”
And it is over.
Despite my best efforts to find an original source for the title quote, I’ve not been able to trace it. The sentence “Osiris is a dark god” appears in various books, and is said to be the words whispered into the ear of each new initiate to the ancient mystery cults of Egypt and elsewhere. I’m pretty sure it’s mentioned in the writings of occultist Dion Fortune and in the vampire novels of Anne Rice, but since I’ve not been able to locate the exact places, I’d rather not be quoted on those.
An open secret is something that many people know about but which is not talked about. Bit like Fight Club, actually (The first rule of Fight Club is you never talk about Fight Club. My bad). It’s a passage to a kind of membership, the knowing of this secret. I read an account somewhere of the rites of passage of Mormons when they are baptised; according to what I read, at a certain point in the proceedings, each candidate has their true name whispered in their ear. Some people never discover that there are only two names, one for women, and the other for men. They take that secret to the grave, never realising it was an open secret.
Rites of passage are few and far between now in our culture, but open secrets are still very much a part of it. You have to pass certain rites and rituals to be entrusted with them.
A number of years ago, I was sent to the breast cancer clinic after some worrying symptoms occurred by doctor thought needed looking by someone with greater expertise. At the time the unit was housed in a series of temporary buildings, porta-cabins of sorts and I discovered that some thought had gone into the set-up. There were two waiting rooms. One where you could wait alongside your husband or boyfriend. This was light and airy. After the initial paperwork, you were offered the option of sitting in the women only waiting room. This was a darker, more intimate area, with soft seating and diffused light. This is where the oracles sat, the scarred cheerful ladies who’d been several rounds in the ring, and who were relaxed and unperturbed to find themselves here again.
“The thing is, the first time I came here, I was terrified,” offered one. “I didn’t know what to expect. Now I do. It’s only a word, you know, love. Cancer. That’s all it is, a word.”
At this point, the other newcomer in the room bolted back to the light and her boyfriend, the mention of that word too much for her. I sat and listened and took in much of what was said. The tales of chemotherapy, drug trials, mastectomies, hot sweats and other problems. The dark quiet of the room and the low voices felt like I was being initiated into some clan. I was soothed by these tales of survival and humour and vitality and strength. They were telling me the open secrets of that cancer, ones people don’t talk about publicly because there is a fear and a dread of mentioning it.
I was called through for my consultation, and after twenty minutes I could go, with a clean bill of health. They never adequately explained what was actually happening, but as far as I was concerned, that didn’t matter as long as it wasn’t the feared outcome.
The thing was, you went OUT a different way to the way you came in. You didn’t re-enter that darkened sanctuary and see those women still waiting; you went out via the main waiting room with the light and the ladies sitting with their menfolk.
Initiation is a strange thing. You often don’t realise what you have been initiated into until much later, because the open secrets of what you’ve learned are not to be spoken of, discussed and pulled apart. The words are yours to ponder and muse upon but not to be lightly spoken.
Osiris is a dark god
Cancer is just a word
Your true name is Sarah