5-MAY: The Merry Month of May: Come join us in a lively discussion of Embodying Osiris, the Secrets of Alchemical Transformation

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 

In 1926 a man had a dream about exploring mysterious rooms in his house that he’d not seen before. He discovered a library with “large, fat folio volumes” bound in pigskin and filled with strange symbols and ciphers that he couldn’t read. This dream changed my life by arousing my interest and research into the Royal Art. The man, of course, was C. G. Jung and this seminal dream launched his thirty-year exploration into alchemy. The change in direction from his earlier research was so radical that his long time associate, Toni Wolf, essentially quit; Marie Louise von Franz would take up the mission that last the rest of Jung's life.

I have been captivated by alchemy for about an equal length of time. Where Jung showed alchemy’s relevance to psychology, my efforts have been aimed at making alchemical psychology more accessible to the Jungian community. As a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist, I believe that alchemy is perhaps the single best metaphor for describing both the individual and collective psyche. To this end, I’ve written two books, Alchemical Psychology, Old Recipes for Living in a New World (Putnam 2002) and Embodying Osiris, the Secrets of Alchemical Transformation (Quest 2010).

 

I am honored to be tending the May Book Club that will focus on Embodying Osiris. This book is a Jungian, alchemical interpretation of the five thousand year old myth of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of the dead. Osiris became the perfect vehicle for me to explore a variety of related themes, including ancient Egypt (cosmology, psychology, history), individuation, Akhenaton, alchemical psychology, funerary ritual, emergence, gods and archetypes, dreams, dismemberment and magic. The book is filled with clinical examples, alchemical dreams and a glimpse into the ancient Egyptian mind.

 

To help organize our discussion, I will offer a brief description of Osiris and a synopsis of the myth in our first week.  Since I will be referring to specific passages and one chapter in particular, I recommend purchasing the book that is very modestly priced from Amazon. Rather than give reading assignments, we might pursue the circulatio that Jung preferred in his own method of research. I am especially interested in discussing how Osiris and his story have immediate relevance to contemporary culture. To this end, I will pose four questions, one for each week that “resurrects” this ancient god and the need for his service in the following areas:

 

  1. What does the Osiris myth have to do with the revolution that is occurring throughout the Middle East? In particular, how does the Arab Spring in Egypt relate to the chief motif of the myth?

 

  1. What role does alchemy play in this myth and how does it relate to the individuation process? What is the central, alchemical recipe that explains psychic development and how does that emerge in the psychotherapeutic process?

 

  1. What happened to Osiris and other gods and goddesses after the fall of ancient Egypt? Did the gods die? Is Osiris an archetype?

 

  1. Where do we find alchemy in today’s society? Is alchemy dead? If not, then what are its applications? What is “Alchemical Activism”?’

 

I encourage you to listen to the audio/visual presentation that I, along with Bonnie, prepared for our group. You can also take a look at my websites: Alchemical Psychology and Cavalli Books. The first offers a rich sampling of alchemy, including beautiful images, passages, didactic illustrations and even a computer toy! This site is especially useful to those of you who are new to alchemy. I recommend reading the cover page of my more recent website, CavalliBooks.com to get more information about my approach to alchemical psychology. There are also some great links, like how to make a mummy and an excellent video on the recipe, Solve et Coagula.

 

I look forward to your participation and invite your questions, comments and examples from your own work. Together I hope we will form an alchemical experience that will have lasting results in your opus!

 

Blessings on our work,

 

 

Thom F. Cavalli, Ph.D.

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Replies to This Discussion

If Nephthys is the dark feminine, then Isis is the light within the dark. 

 

Embodying Isis!!  This is definetely my angle!

This is sooooo beautiful. And yes, Isis is the light in the dark, the spark in the lead that yields the true gold of alchemy! Thanks for this lovely picture. Did you do it?

Hi Thom,

No I didn`t do it.  I had to know what she looked like so I looked up pictures on line. This was by far my favorite.  I didn`t know she was associated with the moon.  But then again, I am really just starting to get to know her.  Funny thing is, I have had a picture of her on my wall for at least the past ten years, but I didn`t know who she was.  Kind of sad, but everything happens for a reason.  Maybe she was waiting for the right time, or maybe it was me who was waiting.  Anyway, the time is now for me to learn her lessons.  May is far from over for me... this is only the start of brand new journey!

Thank-you Thom for a wonderful book!

Kelly

Thom,

 

Just finished an initial top-level read of "Embodying Osiris" and would like to offer my take on the myth and respond to your question regarding the Arab Spring phenomenon.

 

I could be way off on this but here's a brief synopsis of the myth with how it struck me regarding the possible symbolism as related to certain psychological  & spiritual processes:

 

•    Myth starts with Osiris mating with Seth’s wife, Nephthys giving birth to Anubis.


One can view this initial mating as the force of desire which initiates the journey into incarnation.  Going from passivity into activity from a desire for union and sensation which sets up a process of descent for the human soul.  It is the soul which desires experience of sensate life for its growth and expression and this begins things.  Desire is the evolutionary engine of the universe.

•    Seth is enraged and creates a custom-fit coffin for Osiris.  At a party Seth invites Osiris to get into the coffin.  When he does, Seth seals it and throws it into the Nile river, where it eventually ends up in Byblos where it  becomes incorporated into an acacia tree which is cut and becomes a pillar in a king’s house.

The custom-fit coffin is representative of physical incarnation. The human soul is encased in a body.  Spirit is bound into form.  The river trip and tree growth could represent the chronology of mundane human life and the development of a healthy ego.  The tree could represent the process of psychological growth and then adaptation/pruning to become a functioning (vertical standing) pillar of society.  The development of a strong ego is the first requirement.

We think that it is we who search for the Self, but in fact it is the Self who searches for us.  Isis’ search for Osiris is tantamount to the Self in search of its vehicle for its expression and experience– human personality.

•    When Isis finds Osiris, she is welcomed by the Queen who shows where Osiris’s body is located.  Later Isis burns the Queen’s child (to give it immortality) while flying around the pillar containing Osiris.  The Queen stops them, and Isis returns home with the tomb and body of Osiris.

Perhaps when first the Self/Isis finds us,  that first initiatory experience  is like being lit up – aspects of our personality are energized.  The Queen stops this which may indicate that these first encounters are not the final gold and so the pre-trans fallacy and egoic inflation are to be avoided.

•    On returning to Egypt, Isis hides the coffin, but Seth finds it and cuts Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces.   Isis and her sister Nephthys search for and find all the pieces except for the generative organ (the phallus).  Thoth recovers the phallus from a fish and Isis copulates with the reassembled and reanimated Osiris and gives birth to Horus.  Isis and  Nephthys then protect Horus.

The Shadow eventually finds us and so that amalgam/assemblage of complexes called human personality must be cut/broken up and then reassembled into a new alignment.   On one level, this happens naturally at certain growth or bifurcation points in a person’s life.  Erickson’s stages would be one example.  

To quote “Field, Form and Fate” by Michael Conforti:

“Disruption of stability represents a natural phase transition in the life of every system.  While we have the continual drive toward self-replication, there is an equally strong movement toward complexity.  Continual repetition will eventually result in a deadening of possibilities, thus reinforcing tendencies to remain closed […]  Freud observed the existence of two seemingly opposing forces within the psyche.  The death instinct operates through replication-repetitive cycling, which leaves the system increasingly depleted of energy, while the life instinct moves the system toward higher complexity and the creation of new life.  […]  The repetition, if left to endlessly spin within its own cycle and parameters, becomes entropic and eventually dampens the creation of new energy and growth possibilities.  Hence the progressive development of chaotic attractors within all systems fueled by archetypal fields ” (pg 123-124)



In other words, our repetition compulsions (complexes) eventually cause us to experience a crisis where (if successful) we undergo chaos followed by reorganization into greater complexity.

After the Negredo comes the Albedo, so the key stage in the myth is the finding of the generative principle (the phallus).   This is tantamount to finding the archetypes in the complexes, and discovering & aligning with the generative properties of these archetypes, thus realigning the ego with the Self.

A key clue is that Thoth found this generative property in a fish.   Thoth is related to Mercury, Hermes, the magician and transformer. This is the magical power of attention through which the fish is recovered.   In Hebrew mysticism the fish is given by the Hebrew letter “Nun” (related to Scorpio, and sexual/spiritual energy) and the means of recovering this fish is via the “fish hook” which is the Hebrew latter “Tzaddi”  (related to meditation – the hook which snags the fish).  Without going too much further into the occult symbolism, this generative principle is recovered via a process of mediation (Dissolution) and the resulting spiritual intuition (Coagulation).

Through meditation we recover the generative principle.

Then Isis mates with Osiris – there is a union of sprit and soul which results in the birth of a son – Horus, a new awareness – the child which at first needs to be protected.

As to your question regarding Egypt today, I would have to say that this myth not only applies to the evolution of the individual psyche but can also apply to society at large.  Nations and societies have cultural personae as well as cultural complexes.   When the current social structure of a society becomes non-generative it sets up chaotic processes which will culminate in a crisis and a bifurcation point.  This is the dissolution phase.  But whether things re-congeal into another non-optimal amalgam of complexes or into a regenerated society is an open question.

The key to the future of Egypt is in task of finding the generative principle which is capable of giving birth to a new social structure and then whether or not the people are able to protect and preserve this new structure until it is capable of becoming the dominant paradigm.

Joe

What a wonderful analysis. I'll try and respond to most of your comments, but indeed they deserve much more than I can share here. I agree with your remarks about Nephthys; indeed, desire is the attractor of instinct, the root of the archetype. This is a very mysterious element in the myth with many different interpretations. I refer to Nephthys as the dark feminine, just like the instinct she represents. I have some difficulty with the notion that the coffin plays a part in developing a healthy ego. I see this scene more as a death of ego, a separatio. Osiris is cut off, then cut down. However, I like your words, "pillar of society." This reflects the djet column as the backbone of society, that which supports the world; thus, we hear over and over again the call for him to "rise up." It is a call to us to rise up from the 'mud," the unconscious. In this view, Osiris is the prima materia as he enters into the king's palace - the world. If he had any ego at all, it would have been him, not Horus, who does battle with Seth! I love your comment about how the Self finds us, beautiful and true. The next scene is perhaps the most alchemical of all. I think you are bit too kind to the Queen, who I believe is ignorant to what is taking place. You give her too much credit - I don't think she would recognize the true gold much less be able to confront her own ego inflation.This is what happens when human ignorance fails to recognize divinity! I absolutely agree with your next comment regarding the entropic, degenerative forces on one hand as they transit into the generative, coagulatio on the other. There are endless ways to express these forces that are summarized by the alchemists' recipe, solve et coagula. This was precisely what drew me to the myth, namely, that Osiris is torn to bits and reassembled - a perfect, mythical visualization of this ubiquitous formula. Conforti beautifully reposits the recipe in physical terms. I also concur with your comments about Thoth. He, a divine trickster, is the master mediator, a role he plays throughout the myth. And yes, Isis and Osiris' conjunction is the royal marriage of luna and sol. That they produce a child points to a resolution of the opposites, something that is missing and longed for in the current crisis in Egypt. Horus is the god of civility and patron to pharaohs. The birth is both of a new nation but I believe before that can happen there must be the birth of a (Horus) hero. Recently, one might have arisen from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, a man who seems to blend the orthodoxy of Islam but at the same time, embraces the needs of all people. Stay tuned! We are at that bifurcation point, that phase transition where greater complexity will either develop, or we're in for a long, long period of chaos. Remember the battle between the "two fellows" lasted eighty years; Jung said it would take six hundred years for the ideal society to emerge.

Thom,

Thank you for the reply!  The hermeneutics of such a text can be quite complex!  Sections of the myth can be taken as evidence for alchemical recipes, metaphysical stages, psychological analogies, etc...  This reminds me of something I read both in Conforti's "Field, Form, and Fate" and in Yoram's "The Way of the Image," and that is the relentless "search for the dominant and essence of an image [without being] tempted to make an image fit [one's] own belief system."  We can try an perform best-fit template matches to a story, but ultimately there has to be an exhaustive survey of all the outstanding evidence to try and come to an objective hypothesis as to the myth's meaning.   Again, from Yoram's "The Way of the Image" :

I submit that there is an optimal “interpretation” of a given interaction or an image or a dream, one that brings about the most transformative energy [...] The idea that there is a “correct” or “true” answer, raises, inevitably the thorny philosophical-epistemological question of the possibility of ever understanding the nature of truth and objectivity. The battle between the two sides— those that claim that objectivity exists and truth is attainable, and those that say that it does not exist— has been waged for more than two thousand years, starting with Aristotle to our modern age.  [...]  One can look at an image (or a dream or fantasy) from any number of layers: psychic, psychological, religious, spiritual or soul layers. One can view it through an infinite number of orients: musical, botanical, sociological, historical and so on. One is only limited by one’s imagination, and thus can gain unexpected insights into various fields and endeavors.

The process involves two stages:

  • first, the raw material— a newspaper headline, a proverb, a film, a book— has to be translated (not interpreted) into its exact psychological equivalent.
  • Once this is accomplished, it can be directly applied to whatever orient we have chosen, provided, of course, that one possesses enough familiarity with the orient to be able to accomplish this.

So the task of translating the Osiris myth into an exact psychological equivalent is the hard part.  Afterwards one could then look for optimal template matches to such orients as alchemy, metaphysical stages, other myths, motifs, and spiritual traditions, etc...   And this is made especially difficult since we (as moderns) are so far removed in time, geography, and culture from the ancient Egyptians.  Your book provides a fantastic amplification of this myth and I'm grateful for it.

Thanks again!

Joe Camosy

Your welcome! I will be posting another question this Friday and hope you will continue to bring your insights to bear on this incredible myth.

Will do!  I may also attempt (as time permits) to create a cross reference...

 

Osiris Myth story element

Dominant

(objective psychological translation)

Orients

 

 

 

Western Mystery Tradition

Alchemy

Esoteric Astrology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe

 

In our first week's discussion of Embodying Osiris, we have touched on such diverse subjects as a big dream, astrology and the Second Coming. Our new discussion question is

What role does alchemy play in the Osiris myth and how does it relate to the individuation process? What is the central, alchemical recipe that explains psychic development and how does that emerge in the psychotherapeutic process?

Thank you for your welcoming reply Thom.  I did order a copy of your book but have not received it yet.  Joe, I am curious to read the book and come to a fuller understanding of your analysis, but I can tell already you focused on some aspects that would also draw my attention.  I agree with you that Thoth showing up at that time in the myth to retrieve the missing phallus from the fish, helping to ultimately give birth to Horus through making the body of Osiris whole for Isis to revive, is full of potent archetypal symbolism.  It also happens to be the exact section of the myth I was immediately drawn to in relation to current events in Egypt, just going off my intuition from my previous understanding of the myth.  Following my initial pre-read intuition, I find myself drawn to seeing much of the revolution embodied in Isis and her act of reanimating and reloving Osiris, birthing Horus in the end.  Isis as an archetype of the powerful, deep healing intention of the revolutionary movement that even managed to be relatively nonviolent, giving birth to Horus- here I see Horus as the ideal of the revolution, and ideal that has not yet manifested, but that revolutionary groups are still striving to achieve. Horus symbolizing what the revolution hopes to create with its new birthing; in contrast, what has actually been running things in Egypt has been more of a Seth archetype of military might and strategizing power plays.  Perhaps the regeneration of Osiris by Isis could be seen as the people of Egypt attempting to regenerate their own power and livelihood.  I am interested in hearing thoughts about when there ever may have been a more egalitarian society in Egypt, however, since it seems to have been linked with a pyramidal and hierarchical power structure for ages.

 

Thom and others interested in astrology, I can integrate some of my understanding into posts.  I am not familiar with the decans but looked them up- they sound interesting but are not something I have experience with.  One current aspect I am sure many of you have heard about is the square between Capricorn Pluto and Aries Uranus that will get to be exact later in June.  Astrological transits in general have embodied the  “dissolution phase” Joe referenced and go along with the idea of chaos and crisis happening in order to eventually lead to systematic reorganization and regeneration on a mass level (Pluto in Capricorn).  Personally fascinating to me, related to this topic, is that I was really struck by the astrological aspects at the time of the Egyptian Revolution beginning.  There had been a long transit of Jupiter and Uranus conjunct at the end of Pisces and beginning of Aries leading up to the revolution, in fact an exact conjunction at the time of a Solar Eclipse on January 4, 2011.  Richard Tarnas in particular in Cosmos and Psyche has documented the association between Jupiter-Uranus conjunction and opposition cycles related to revolutions, including the French and American Revolutions.  Saturn stationed retrograde at 18 degrees Libra on the day the revolution blew up (I think January 25 if I remember right) squaring the solar eclipse that was at about 15 degrees Capricorn.  On a personal level, I found that many external events manifested for me on that day that related to the previous Jupiter-Uranus conjunction transit that happened to be conjunct my own natal Sun-Jupiter conjunction.  If anyone has heard of the “sabian symbols” related to astrology, the sabian symbol for 18 degrees Libra is “two men placed under arrest.” Anyway, it seemed as if Saturn stationing retrograde that day seemed to help bring all of the revolutionary energy into manifestation as Egypt literally exploded with protests that day.  The Uranus-Pluto cycle we are currently approaching an exact square in, is also a revolutionary aspect and had the previous conjunction in the mid-1960s, with the previous opposition before this in 1901-2, another revolutionary time.  At the time the Egyptian revolution began, with Saturn stationing retrograde in Libra, the Sun and Mars were approaching a conjunction in Aquarius that became exact as events became more intense, and there was a wide trine aspect between Saturn and Sun-mars.  In this time period of the revolution beginning, the Moon also moved through Scorpio (ruled by Pluto) and would have squared the Sun-Mars conjunction, while also being in sextile to the earlier Solar Eclipse as well as in trine to the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction of that time.  Sorry that is probably all confusing but it was interesting to me at the time so thought I’d share it!

 

As far as Osiris being an archetype, in astrology one point of general agreement is that astrology works on archetypal levels.  We normally speak in terms of the 12 archetypes of the zodiac signs, but there are also many other archetypes that astrologers will reference.  In “Cosmos and Psyche” Richard Tarnas links Isis and Osiris with Pluto, as well as Shiva, Kali, Shakti, Pele, and other deities of “destruction and regeneration, death and rebirth” (p. 99).  It seems to me the immediate link many would think of would be linking Osiris with the Pluto archetype, but there could be other applications.  Using asteroids in astrological analysis, popularized by astrologer Demetra George, has also become a lot more common.  There is an Isis asteroid as well as an Osiris asteroid.  In fact, when I had a reading with Demetra George she made special mention of Isis being conjunct my Mercury on my mid-heaven, and I looked up to see that I also have Osiris conjunct my Mars and Vesta, another popular asteroid used.  When astrologers use asteroids in this way they usually just draw on the actual archetype of the actual myth, and it can become more compelling when other similar figures emerge in the chart.  For example, in my chart I have Persephone opposite Isis and my Mercury which both also happen to be conjunct Demeter.  And I also have a Ceres-Pluto opposition.  I think it is clear that Osiris is an archetype in a general sense and it will be interesting to see how it can tie in more with astrology.  I have not seen any one write about the Osiris asteroid so I will work on paying more attention to it as well as the Isis asteroid to see what I could come up with.  At the moment, Isis is retrograde at 10 degrees Libra (so squaring Pluto and opposite Uranus roughly- actually making a t-square with them!) and Osiris is retrograde at 21 degrees Scorpio.

I look forward to receiving and exploring your book soon Thom!

I wish I had more space (literally) to have explored Isis. She plays a fascinating role in the myth. As I wrote, she is "exhibiting her most powerful magic in four critical actions - reassembling Osiris, reanimating him, sexually joining with, and bearing an heir." 143 And yet, there are limits to her magic (heka). She cannot capture the missing phallus, she is duped by Seth and even decapitated by Horus for her folly. I like these details - they humanize her, we can relate to this goddess as we can with Osiris, who after all is the only god who dies. I don't think however that she embodies the "revolution," but instead represents its soul. What threatens this revolution is precisely a loss of relatedness, it is the solvent that can melt the fiercest military power or religious ideology. If people cannot talk with one another, then this whole situation will explode! Horus carries both the masculine and the feminine, the future depends on this hero (a word that etymologically relates to Hera). As the Pyramid Texts state, "Osiris is yesterday, Horus is tomorrow." The history of Egypt is a story of conflict and so, the promise of the current crisis is unprecedented. (If you're interested in Egypt's long history of internecine warfare, I recommend Toby Wilkinson's excellent book The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt.) I would however preface this comment by agreeing with your observation that Egypt had a pyramidal form (with the pharaoh at the apex, priest at the midsection and the populace forming the base). The modern version of this was similar to the Mubarak government and we see how that turned out! In a sense, what is needed is a new form that can accommodate the many different parties vying for control - the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis. I very much like your comment regarding the connection between archetypes and astrology. But what really blew me away was the fact that there are Osiris and Isis asteroids! I'll need some time to wrap my head around that concept!! I would love to hear more about your thoughts on this subject. As to your other remarks pertaining to astrology, I am hopelessly at a loss to understand such a detailed, complex interpretation. I invite others who are knowledgeable in this area to add their comments. I look forward to hearing your "post-read intuitions."

In Alchemical Psychology I wrote,

"In 1572, a tailless star [an asteroid] appeared in the constellation of Cassiopea and disappeared from the night sky two years later. This celestial event was spied with suspicion by the leading astrologers of the time. Some interpreted it as a sign of great heavenly power being bestowed on the incarnation of King Rudolf II of Hungary as Roman emperor of the entire Christian world...others had trepidation. The astronomer Tycho Brahe was suspicious of the new emperor. He interpreted the appearance and sudden, mysterious disappearance of a new star that had streaked across the night sky as a very ominous sign...Brahe believed that the disappearance of this star would mean the event destruction of the world by fire. He based his reasoning on the current alchemical belief that the celestial world was a place where gods and spirits dwelled in an unchanging, eternal ether. But, this nova seemed to come out of nowhere, signifying that change was as much a part of the heavens as it here on earth. Something new had not only entered the universe, it came crashing into a consciousness that previously felt safe and secure. A new age of anxiety and uncertainty set in that both explains Brahe's pessimism and upset the canons of science and religion. As developments unfolded, the new star proved to herald an end of a magical era and set the stage for a new world of empirical philosophy." 67 - 68

This excerpt was taken from a section entitled, The Myth of Alchemy's Decline.

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