Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Quest of Isis

My Beloved, how I have searched for you.
Yesterday, as my Lord Ra kneeled
to touch the horizon,
I stood among the great river’s reeds.
The waters were high,
swelled with the tears I have shed for you.
Now Ra has again returned 
from his voyage through the nether world
and his radiance once more floods the heavens,
filling the gracious body of Nut with light.
And still I continue my search.
Where are you, my Beloved?
Nowhere can I find you,
and all the land feels as empty as my heart.

Were that it never had happened.
Cruel Set, our dark brother, flattered you,
and like all those who flatter, wished to be you.
And so you lowered yourself
into that treacherous box:
the perfectly-fitting box made even more perfect
by your beautiful body that still lies within,
sealed by dark arts and honeyed words.

Where must I search for you,
my beloved husband?
Where do you lie, sweet Osiris?
If you were abandoned to these waters
then it is these swollen waters that I must follow
and my guide will be my own footsteps
for they surely will grow lighter 
When they sense that I grow nearer to you.
I will follow these waters swollen with my tears
and note my lighter tread
northward to the lands of the great delta,
northward to the lands half-glimpsed in visions
northward along the coast to Byblos
and the miraculous tamarisk of my dreams.

The episode in the story of Isis which my prose poem relates concerns the events leading to the entrapment of Osiris by Set, the jealous brother of Isis and Osiris, and the subsequent search of Isis for her missing husband. Set desired to take over Osiris’ position as the principal god, and invited him to a feast. At the feast, Set revealed a box which he knew would fit Osiris perfectly, and invited Osiris to lie in it. As soon as Osiris had done so, Set sealed the box shut and threw it into the Nile. The box eventually drifted from the Nile delta into the Mediterranean Sea, finally coming to shore at Byblos on the northeast coast, where it became embedded in a tamarisk tree that formed one of the columns of a palace. Isis, desolate at the loss of Osiris, shed so many tears that it caused the Nile to flood. Her search eventually brought her to Byblos, and the remarkable tree which concealed the box in which her husband had become trapped.

This is the first part of the myth of Isis and her search for Osiris. On one level it of course makes a wonderful story, but the myth speaks powerfully on a deeper level. In the entrapment of Osiris is mirrored the story of the soul, and its entrapment in an incarnated material body. The Spirit (Isis in the myth) longs to be reunited with this body, for as with Isis and her beloved Osiris, Spirit and Soul are never complete without each other.

Painting Nile Reeds by Susan Elizabeth Wolding

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Angel of the Labyrinth

Resourceful Ariadne saw me not at all, although I am sure that she felt my presence as I glided silently at her shoulder. How ingeniously she wound the skein of thread that would be unwound by Theseus, there in the tortuous corridors of the Labyrinth. Ah, bold Theseus, claimed by myth as a hero for slaying the Minotaur that waited for his arrival at the heart of the winding ways. Hero indeed! The wretched monster already knew its own destiny, and needed only to await the arrival of the son of King Aegeus for it to be fulfilled.

I tell you that Ariadne’s deed was more heroic, providing as she did the means for Theseus’ return. And what was her reward? To be deserted by him on the island of Naxos, left behind like any castaway, to be rescued by a god who showed clever Ariadne more honour than he ever did.

All these things I have seen, for I am the witness of history, although history sees me not. Secretly I stand at the gate of every labyrinth, and as you enter the gate of your own labyrinth you will be sure to pass me. But you as well will not notice as I slip my skein into your hands. Unknowingly, you will begin to unwind it as you enter the turning ways. And at every turn it will be laid down, and every measure of it records the event which you experience. Here at this turn you made the decision to go either to the right or to the left, never being sure which path might be the right one to follow. Here farther along, you fell in love, and the path ahead changed for you because of this. And here, you suffered a loss, and the path changed direction once again.

All this is known, because all of these things, these life events, are recorded on the unwinding skein as they happen. Look closely: you can see them written on the skein. All which you experience is faithfully set down, a true document of your passage inwards. 

But what you cannot know is what will be written on the part of the skein which has yet to be unwound, because you can only discover that by unwinding it. And you can only unwind it by travelling farther on your journey. And since you cannot see what is ahead of you, you must have trust. You can read readily enough what has been written as it unwinds behind you. But what is yet to be written is negotiable, and up to you, and dependent upon the paths of choice which lie ahead of you in the labyrinth. And I, who have wound the skein which you now unwind, will help you to make those choices if, like Ariadne, you allow me to help you to reach the labyrinth’s heart.

Painting: Labyrinth, by Jake Baddeley.