“Osiris is a dark god” ~ on open secrets and initiations

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

Being in the Moment- a reality check

Being in the Moment- a reality check

I started writing something about being in the moment a week or so ago and circumstances made sure I never finished the article. I was trying to explore how I feel about the people I call Bright-siders (from Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Bright-sided”, “Smile or die” in the UK ) who always seem to find a good side to everything. Ms Ehrenreich was herself suitably appalled, not by solely by her breast cancer, but also by the movement that seems to exist that declares that far from being a catastrophe, breast cancer might just be the very best thing that has ever happened to you. 

I’ve heard this sort of thing before and it’s never ceased to amaze me how people can do this. Forgive my cynicism but hold on one moment…Cancer is good? While I am willing to accept and understand that after a serious event in one’s own life, it is possible to see collateral benefits of that devastating illness, that heartache, that bereavement, that job loss or that destructive divorce, I must stress that this can surely only be afterwards and only apply to your own acceptance of the outcome.  

The other train of thought that has been thundering through my mind lately has been that I simply do not understand how those who speak of the Bright-side also speak about being in the moment. Now being in the moment is a buzz word, an “IN” concept. I have heard of it first via Zen Buddhist practices and subsequently in almost every self help manual I’ve ever come across. Basically the practise consists of seeking to maintain the mind(and therefore the self) entirely in the present moment, without looking either ahead at the future or back at the past. Forgive me if I have oversimplified or misunderstood this but this is how I have understood it. In self help manuals it then stresses that doing this somehow magically transforms everything. I’ve read and heard comments to the effect that when a person started to live more in the moment, their life was transformed. I don’t understand this. I understand that a detachment from either the future or the past can be very liberating but it is the same people who preach this who also tend to be Brightsiders. The two are incompatible.  

Imagine the scenario. Life is going very badly for whatever reason. To try and improve it one tries to seek the good within the bad. This automatically pulls you out of the present moment and into the future, of seeing where this experience will benefit you or where it may take you. 

Pain is probably the most effective teacher of being in the moment. Serious chronic pain, or sudden acute pain catapult you into the moment by moment endurance of life. I don’t recommend either form of pain. Grief too, is another effective teacher of being in the moment, though most of us seek any sort of comfort we can to escape the unendurable agony of losing someone. In both these cases, this is where the Brightsiders have the most difficulty in coping. Pain and grief make you exist moment by moment and it’s then for me, the futility of trying to find a good in bad becomes most evident. What’s good in the death of someone I love? Nothing. That they were loved and that they are beyond pain now is besides the point. Those are tattered rags of comfort that flutter in the roaring gale of pain.

 Later, perhaps, comes philosophy and acceptance. Later comes the realisation that the void their loss brought has been filled by something else that could never have come before. But these are things one can see(truly see, not imagine in an orgy of denial) later. At the time, these are not just irrelevant but inconceivable to someone who has truly lived through the moment by moment, inch by inch of pain and grief. 

There are times when people offer words of comfort that seem to proceed from a need to relieve our pain. These words, sincerely meant, can be poorly received. A parent who has lost a baby does not want to hear their baby is safe in the arms of Jesus; she wants that baby in her arms.

 I have no answers. I walked to work today, fighting tears. I wanted to escape into my mental landscape where the sorrow I face does not exist. I did not; I found I could not. I realised also that joy is the dark sister of sorrow. No, I make no mistake here. Joy is what balances the sorrows of our life, but joy makes us complacent. Joy makes us believe we are beloved and chosen by God for special care and favours. So when sorrow comes, we believe ourselves to be cursed, or abandoned or that the joy we once felt was an illusion because how can something be that bright and that beautiful and that fleeting? Sorrow is as much a gift from God as joy is. For every birth there is a death, for every day, a night. You cannot have one without the other and while we crave the light, we demonise the dark. Dark and light are two sides of the same thing, just as joy and sorrow are twins joined at the heart. Ever noticed that the place we are said to feel both emotions is the heart? 

I do not wish to be in the moment now but I seem to have little choice but to take one day, one hour, one moment at a time and live as the day takes me. And my God, it hurts.

Not good

I made the mistake of ringing home at lunchtime and thus am I here now, having come home missing my last hour of teaching.

The vet didn’t have good news. When they got a proper look, it seems that it’s not a cut but a tumour that has done the damage. Now in dogs, any cancers of the mouth are often aggressive and malignant.

All the way home my inner voice was saying “it’s not malignant, it’s not as bad as it might be”. I don’t want my inner voice to be a liar, but I also don’t want to be an ostrich.

If you pray, please pray for my dog.

Click to give

This link takes you to a breast cancer fund raising page; every time you click, a mammogram is provided for a woman in the US who is unable to pay for it. This is entirely funded by the sponsors who advertise on the site but it does need people clicking daily to get those mammograms.