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:
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.
Hi Thom. Thanks so much for being willing to share your time and effort here in May. Your commentary and questions are very provocative, and I can't wait to dig in to the book. Jung's dream which you describe has always intrigued me, and I really appreciate how you're already tying the idea of alchemical psychology into current events! Looking forward to the discussion. Hey everyone!--Don't hold back while we have Thom's ready attention!....
Count me in Thom! In early March this year, not long before my 41st birthday, I had a 'house' dream. The first of it's kind in my life. The dream began with my looking at it from the outside, on a warm, sunny day. The house looked large and grand, with towers set at each of it's four corners. I entered through the great hall, ignoring the sweeping stairs leading upstairs, and headed down a broad, marble-lined, well-lit stair-case. I reach a square door, which seemed to be made of a curious mix of dense rock and metal. On the door was inscribed a square, with a perfectively symmetrical circle and equilateral triangle set at the centre. I touch my hand to the rock-metal...the door slid open. End of dream.
Welcome Richard. What a wonderful dream! Although it is not my intention to do dream analysis as part of the book club I can't but keep myself from offering these unasked for observations and amplifications: that this dream should occur during the beginning of your mid life transition is significant in that this is a mandala dream - one that reflects not only your whole life but glimpses of the Self. Descending rather than ascending leads toward the unconscious in lieu of more spiritual pursuits. The emphasis on the square points to the alchemical operation known as "squaring the circle" a procedure that is meant to "obtain unity in the material world (as well as in the spiritual life)..." (Cirlot) That the square opens is a very optimistic sign - manifestation is of course always the work to be done in realizing the dream. On my AlchemicaPsychology website I further describe this operation that is so beautifully illustrated in Michael Maier's Atlanta Fugiens:
"As with other alchemical images, this etching was believed to possess all that is needed to transform lead into gold. A caption above the picture proclaims, "Here followeth the Figure conteyning all the secrets of the Treatise both great & small." The image echoes a recipe from the Rosarium, "Make a circle out of a man and woman, derive from it a square, and from the square a triangle: make a circle and you will have the philosopher's stone." The circle containing the male and female figures is the microcosm and the larger outer circle represents the macrocosm. Note how the alchemist connects the concentric circles with a sexton. Circles are considered feminine in nature because they act to contain matter, much in the same way a womb acts to hold within itself the embryo. The square represents a masculine aspect and signifies earth with each of the four elements.
Finally, the triangle symbolizes fire and acts to connect and integrate the above with the below. In the same way it signifies body, soul and spirit. Male and female energies are fused into a complementary wholeness that forms the basis for effective functioning in reality (the square). Extending outward from this inner psychic structure, human consciousness is brought into a divine relationship with the cosmos (the large, outer circle). Thus, there is inner and outer harmony within oneself, with the opposite sex and with the universe."
To kick off our May book club, here is a very brief synopsis of the Osiris myth and some pertinent details concerning his iconography, mythology and history:
Osiris was the first born to Nut and Geb, goddess of the sky and god of earth, respectively. He married his sister Isis and together had a son, Horus. Osiris is a vegetation god who taught people how to farm their lands while Isis instructed them in the methods of cooking their food. These lessons marked a major transition in Egyptian society, bringing civilization, law and order.
According to different interpretations Osiris was either seduced or was seduced by his brother’s wife, Nephythys. They produced a son named Anubis. This set the stage for great enmity between Osiris and his brother, Seth. To get his revenge, Seth murdered Osiris and later dismembered him.
Isis, Osiris’ wife, retrieved her husband’s body, and following his dismemberment, reconstituted his body parts through her powerful use of magic. He was briefly reanimated long enough for them to copulate and produce an heir to the throne. Seth challenged the succession and a prolonged bloody conflict ensued between him and Horus. In the end, with the intervention of Osiris and other gods, Horus was pronounced the rightful heir to his father’s throne. Osiris “resurrected” into the Underworld where he oversees the Judgment of the Dead.
Osiris is typically shown in mummy bandages with his skin color being green or black; sometimes an erect phallus protrudes from beneath his bandages. His arms are classically crossed over his chest and he holds the crook and flail, symbols of his mastery over lower instincts. Atop his head he wears the Atef crown that signifies his kingship of Upper Egypt; other times he bears the pschent crown that represents power over both Upper and Lower Egypt. There are only fragments of his myth from the Book of the Dead. Plutarch, the first century Greek historian, formed the narrative we have come to know as the Osiris myth.
Osiris is sometimes symbolized in the form of a pillar known as the djed. The image is commonly associated with Osiris’ backbone both literally and figuratively. His association with barley and especially with the Nile envisions him as the backbone of Egypt. Osiris, being the only Egyptian deity who dies, draws him closer to the human realm and in that he rises from the dead suggests themes of rebirth, resurrection and regeneration.
In the next few days I will post our first discussion question. This will allow you to obtain Embodying Osiris, begin reading it and allow the myth to embody you! Meanwhile, don't be shy about posting your comments and questions!
Looking forward to discussing your book! I'm just finishing up "Alchemical Psychology" now as a prep, and then will begin "Embodying Osiris" in a day or so.
Great to have you aboard! I welcome your comments about AP and look forward to hearing your thoughts about the Osiris myth. BTW, in a couple of days I will posing a contemporary question for discussion about the relevance of the myth to current affairs in Egypt.
Bloody confrontations continue in Cairo! Daily reports describe clashes between government forces and religious groups, all vying for political control. The Muslin Brotherhood and to a lesser extent the ultraconservative Salafis have seized power in parliament while the traditional tight-fisted military maintains control over candidates in the presidential election and the panel that is tasked with writing a new constitution. The big question is: what type of government will emerge in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s fall.
In the wider canvas of all that’s happening throughout the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” has yet to bear its full harvest. Tunisia – where it all started – has quieted down, but Syria is in the midst of its own bloody conflict. Still, as one correspondent noted, Egypt is like a “planet” compared with surrounding countries. All eyes therefore are watching intently to see whether a more democratic, modern government has any chance of developing in Egypt, a country with a very long history of political strife, civil war, coups, and foreign occupation.
The bigger question for our group is: What do the events in Egypt today have to do with a five thousand year old myth – the myth of Osiris? I thought we might frame our initial May discussion group in this way because it brings immediate relevance to the ancient past. All too often we think that myths are “dead,” a relic from the past that have no impact on the shaping of modern society. As we will learn in the course of our group, the Osiris myth informs us not only of current events in Egypt, but has, as we discuss later this month, particular relevance for Western science and religion.
Hi Thom, Bonnie, and others-
I am interested in this topic and watched the introductory video to get a feel for it. I am familiar with the Osiris myth but have not done any in depth analysis or research into it. I am not a certified therapist but I am a practicing astrologer who sees clients in that context and I am interested in archetypal psychology, archetypes, myths, . . . I am a teacher and advisor at Tacoma Community College, teaching and working with students who have dropped out of high school and are pursuing their diploma at the community college. I am interested in all of your questions, including applying it to current events and investigating if Osiris is an archetype. I would like to know if it would be appropriate to integrate my astrological understanding into posts about Osiris and current events if I am called to do so. I also do have interest in Jungian psychology but have never done official academic work in that capacity- I recently received a copy of the red book and am just at the cusp of exploring it. I am looking forward to this opportunity to work with all of you! Blessings . . .
Some of the most exciting work in contemporary Egyptology involves astrology. In particular, I am fascinated by the ongoing research of Robert Bauval et al. I highly recommend his books The Egypt Code and more recently, Black Genesis. He was among the first to put forth the idea that the arrangement of the pyramids reflect particular star constellations; Isis was initially known as Sirius and Osiris as Orion. How these stars move has much to do with the rising and inundation of the Nile, New Year's day! I would love to hear more about the relationship between the Above and the Below. We might also recall that Osiris was born of Nut, the sky goddess and her lover/husband Geb when both were at first united and later separated by Shu (god of the atmosphere), so that humans owe their existence to that precious space left between these two gods; thus, we are made of both celestial and terrestrial stuff. The question of whether Osiris is an archetype is challenging. I have put forward the idea that he evolves from a nature spirit god to god of the dead to god of becoming. I would love to advance this concept and see how it might translate across cultures, giving it the weight of an archetype. Astrology is not my strong suite and would like to know what is a decan and how does it relate to an archetype? Your knowledge in these areas are most welcomed!
Hello : )
The Egyptian revolution has certainly caused a shift in my thoughts about resurrection, rebirth, and evolution, especially in regards to the Christian belief of a Second Coming. It appears as a though a second coming may be in our presence as this revolution may be seen as a resurrection from oppression, and a transformation of engeries from the "I Am" to the "We Are." There is a new awareness, an awakening, an evolution. The second coming may not come in the form of one person, but in the rise of, or the resurrection of the collective. Jesus said, "I am the way" and the way was the I, but there seems to be a birthing of a new light; an emergence of a new way. We are the way.
I couldn't agree with you more, Kelly! In fact, this idea resonates with ancient Egypt in that the society was shaped in the form of a pyramid with the pharaoh at the top, the priests in the middle and the people forming the base - all aspects of one majestic, eternal form. I have termed this movement toward conscious wholeness "collective individuation." As to the Second Coming: Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, has long been considered the prefiguration of Christ. In fact, Osiris, Isis and Horus may account for the origin of the Holy Family; Isis giving birth to her reanimated dead husband set the stage for the Virgin birth. Osiris resurrects and becomes god of the dead, while Horus carries on his earthly mission by becoming the falcon god who is patron to every pharaoh. Horus in essence brings civility to the throne. We might contrast Horus to Seth in that the latter is easily mistaken as a devil while the former represents the kind of freedom that modern Egypt is demanding. But...there were followers of Seth in ancient Egypt, not because he was evil but because an effective government requires physical might. Where Horus stands for freedom, Seth puts limitation on excess. This is what I consider the mythological underpinnings of the struggle we are witnessing in Egypt today. Unfortunately, the fall of a dictator (Mubarak) has left the military and religious zealots (the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis) to fill the vacuum - all reflecting Sethian energy!! When you say "we" you and I must define just who that includes. Unless there is the right alchemical ingredients and sufficient time, there will be no transformation.
I have come to think about the energy of the Second Coming also in the shape of a pyramid but an inverted one, with the smallest point at the bottom and the energy radiating up and broading out. I haven't got it all worked out in my head yet, so my thoughts about this are still quite disorganized; but it seems to me that the smallest point of each pyramid represents those closest to the gods. So in the standing pyramid we would have, yes, the pharaohs, and today, in our modern world, our religious leaders. And it would be from those closest to the gods that we recieve the grace of god from; from without. With the inverted pyramid the smallest point would represent the individual as they come to recognize the spirit within and broadens to recognize the spirit within everyone and every living thing; the notion of Namaste. This brings me to how I have defined the "We". I had said in my above post "We Are" but I didn't finish it : ) Finished it reads "We Are One;" coming from the notion that we are all pieces of one spirit; one energy. It thereby includes all of humanity and every living thing, including our planet and the universe. A pretty expansive group : ) I do believe that there is a power strong enough to handle it and that power is love. In terms of alchemey there is a lot I don't know and I do worry about time. But when I let things get the best of me and start to worry that love won't be enough, something always brings me back to love and I feel incredible peace. The words of Gandhi, "Be the change" have also stuck with me. I would like to share an example. I was at a rally not to long at one of our local parks. There were a number of police there keeping an eye on things and there was amoungst the members of our group feelings of anger which had seeped into me; but not my friend. I had brought cookies and we were standing close to a couple of the officers. My friend presented me the idea of sharing my cookies with officers. I did but I admit with resentment. After watching so many vidoes of rallies involving confrontations with police and am beginning to wonder. Rallys have there place but maybe cookies are the way!! I am taking locally. I do understand that the situation in areas like Egypt is much graver. Not there is not oppression here but.... sometimes I think we should work harder to be peaceful here, locally, out of respect for those who maybe can't. And at the end of the day, if anger and resentment can spread like wild fire in a small park, then why can't love. Anyway, when I don't know stuff, I start with what I do know. I have started a manifestation box. In the box I am putting in things that represent love. I have surrounded the box with objects representing the four elements. When I returned from that rally I put a cookie on the box... just for a little while : ). And I TRY to live love ... even in the smallest ways... a smile when maybe I would have grimaced. That's where I'm at : )
Hi Kelly. Here is an excerpt from Alchemical Psychology that speaks to your point:
Finally, we end with a paradox that captures what alchemy is really all about: at the center of the heart is a consciousness that knows no distinctions between inner and outer, above and below. At the heart of the matter, alchemy is about coming to the realization that we already possess the philosopher's stone and its name is love.
Now, I would ask you to comment on Isis' love for Osiris and Horus - it plays a critical role in their transformation (and ours!)