Isis and Osiris attend a family celebration, where their brother Suty presents a beautiful new coffin, both as a game and a gift; like Cinderella’s slipper, it is a gift for the person who fits most perfectly inside, and no one does fit until Osiris tries. Suty immediately seals the coffin shut and his seventy-two minions attack from the four quarters, seize the coffin and throw it into the waters.
The coffin is then carried by the River to a distant land, where it becomes entangled in the branches of a beautiful tree; this tree grows around him, and Osiris imparts to it an enchanting aroma. When the king of the land hears about this magical tree, he has it carved into a pillar, in order to bring its odor of sanctity into his home.
Isis wanders the land in search of her beloved, until she learns of the pillar in the palace of the king. A group of maids find her seated by the well, singing so enchantingly that they decide to present her to the king as nursemaid for his newborn son; by day, Isis nurses the baby from her fingertip; at night she suspends him in a net of magical flames that burn away his mortal parts, night by night making him immortal. While this magical process is working, she turns into a bird and flutters around the pillar of Osiris, singing the mournful birdsong of her grief.
The baby’s mother comes upon this scene one night and quite misunderstands; she sees only that the nursemaid is gone, her baby is in the fire and there is a bird loose in the room. Her maternal panic breaks the spell, so the child must then be rescued from the flames, and Isis reveals herself and explains that she is there because the body of her husband Osiris is enclosed within the beautiful pillar. The king removes the coffin and gives it to Isis, but during the return journey, Suty discovers them and dismembers the body of Osiris, scattering the pieces throughout the Two Kingdoms.
Once again, Isis goes in search of Osiris, and at each place along the River where she finds a portion of his corpse, she builds a shrine. She locates all but one portion, the genitals, however, a fish finds and swallows them in order to return them to her, then Isis uses her great powers of magic to rebind the sundered body of her Beloved. She places him into the coffin and, while floating down the River, she uses her magic spells to conceive his child. Protected by Thoth and the seven sacred scorpions, Isis and Nephthys conceal the coffin in the marshlands, where she bears and raises the Child Horus, Heir of Osiris.
Even though the Osiris story cycle permeates their entire mythological field, there are no complete versions surviving, only scenes from it depicted everywhere; perhaps the narrative so imbued their culture that fragmentary scenes were enough to keep the story alive in their hearts and minds; staged productions of episodes, similar to Medieval mystery plays in Europe, were a central part of their annual round of national celebrations. For whatever historical reason, the only version of the Osiris cycle condensed into a single narrative is from an outsider, the Greek historian Plutarch in the 4th century BC; however, he assembled it according to his own Hellenistic mythology, which codified a very different, more testosterone-centric view of human reality. Rather than seeing the death of Osiris as a necessary sacrifice, a natural function of the Duat-spacetime interface of life, Plutarch wrote that Suty was jealous that Osiris had sired the child Anubis with Suty’s wife, Nephthys.
Suty, however, needed no such rationalization for his actions; he is the essence of the irrational. Suty is your unconscious, the A.I. by which you control the Solship, and he is ready at the blink of an eye to run the show without you; it is a daily struggle for you to keep Horus at the helm and Re on deck. Once awareness of the soul wakes, however, Suty loses his full rule of the Solship’s incredible powers; he resists this with all his might because that’s his duty, which he carries out with ruthless discipline in order to keep you functioning in spacetime; when you are not paying attention, he takes over. When he stands up, he is Horus; when he relaxes, he is Suty.
The celebration to which Suty brought the beautiful coffin was the celebration of human life, and the river journey of Isis with the coffin of Osiris was the journey from birth to death and beyond. The coffin was a metaphor for the mortal flesh enclosing the immortal soul and Suty, in fact, must throw the coffin into the waters, committing the flesh of Osiris to the river flow of time, lest you die in the womb without being born. Suty also must rend the corpse of Osiris in order to release him at the end of the journey, or else you remain trapped in decaying flesh, a fear which haunts us all; Poe wrote some exquisite stories on the theme, and zombies, vampires and frankensteins roam the landscapes of our modern Duat. As Woody Allen has said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
One of the truths of spacetime is that to be born is to begin dying; the measure of your coffin is taken at the moment of your birth, your first inhalation at birth will be exhaled as your last in death; the end of your journey is marked by your first step. Humans are the only animals who know that they are inevitably destined to die; the first waking of adult consciousness comes with an acceptance of your own mortality. Flesh, therefore, “betrays” the soul by ensnaring it in the physical world, just as Suty betrayed Osiris by building his coffin; the seventy-two minions who sealed Osiris into the coffin are the decan constellations, stellar markers of the calendar round and metaphor for your years in spacetime; in other words, this is your life, painted as big and grand as a sky full of stars.
Birth is initiated with a gush of sacred water, the amniotic fluid; these waters carry Osiris to a far away land, where his coffin is snared by a tree, in other words, conception is a portal through the barrier between Duat and spacetime; the tree which grows around Osiris is Hathor, the Tree of Life; she is motherhood and carries that portal within her. Osiris is manifest, hidden in the pillar of this homey palace, present as an odor of sanctity that enchants everybody; in other words, conception, birth and childcare are all pheromone-guided activities. As Joseph Campbell points out, every baby is a royal prince within its own household. The king has the Holy Tree made into the pillar of the palace; in other words, the conception of a child is the establishment of a family home, resonance of the role of marriage and the profound value of children in their society. Marriage was based on love of man and woman and family; they were romantic people. This was so powerful and omnipresent that only a metaphor from the lives of the gods themselves was powerful enough to express it.
The burning-away of the infant’s mortal parts in the flaming net of Isis is a metaphor for the experience of the glory of Duat from which it has just come, “trailing clouds of glory,” and the father who accepts the support of Isis while raising his children provides them with her magical protection; in other words, the love of mother and father are the central support of the home. Father accepts responsibility by building a home, a “palace” around them, and mother imparts spiritual values along with her mother’s milk; the phrase Son of Isis and Heir of Osiris implies that father will cherish and nourish any child of his beloved’s body, and any son of hers will be accepted as his heir.
Once the coffin of Osiris is released from the tree, Osiris is carried along by the river of spacetime, and Horus, the child’s unique identity, is conceived; in other words, family, events and training shape the adult personality. “The child is father to the man.” The magic of Isis bonds the flesh to the soul and powers your life-journey. As always, the assistance of friendship, loyalty and family love, represented by Nephthys, are the support and comfort along the way as we grow up; indeed, the ultimate goal of the story is to grow up. They wanted to make possible the smoothest and most successful transition through every stage of life, to grow up healthy, sane and happy but, most importantly, to grow up. Adult maturity marks every gesture of Egyptian lifestyle, literature and art; the ruins of their world show the methodical cooperation of a civilized nation. In this story of Osiris, Isis and Horus, we see the way Egyptians began the journey of growing up, and step one is to look at your own coffin without fear and choose the one that suits you best.
Plutarch also miscast the roles of Anubis and Nephthys. Anubis is the spirit guide, the faithful hound who leads you safely through the darkness, and patron of the funerary guild. Nephthys is Lady of the House, archetype of the best friend, sister and wife, in other words, the kind of woman you want raising your children; Anubis was her Beloved because the lady of the household was the “Sunday school teacher” of the ancient world; together, they are the ones who set you out on your journey and guide you along the way, start to finish.
Making mental maps of spacetime has been a keen trick of brains since long ago when they were very tiny; humankind has extended that to making maps of Duat, for both navigation and entertainment; your own maps are stored and accessed in there, particularly your maps of the mapmaker. In the scenario of her search for the scattered portions of Osiris, Isis brings her dynamic cohesion to the nation itself, bonding the people and land together in the metaphor of the slain Osiris reunified. Festivals throughout the year ritually re-enacted her search along the River at each of the Osiris shrines, thus embedding the boundaries of their spacetime world in Duat. She is coherence, and she bound the nation together as securely as she bonded the scattered fragments of Osiris.