The Egyptian Messiah

Human chains transmit knowledge acquired beyond the ages. From one to the other, you always go up higher, as far as possible, like the salmon in the stream.

Thanks to Clement of Alexandria, in the 2nd century, twenty-two fragments of Heraclitus (fragments 14 to 36 according to the numbering of Diels-Kranz) were saved from oblivion, out of a total of one hundred and thirty-eight.

« Rangers in the night, the Magi, the priests of Bakkhos, the priestesses of the presses, the traffickers of mysteries practiced among men.  » (Fragment 14)

A few words, and a world appears.

At night, magic, bacchae, lenes, mysts, and of course the god Bakkhos.

The Fragment 15 describes one of these mysterious and nocturnal ceremonies: « For if it were not in honour of Dionysus that they processioned and sang the shameful phallic anthem, they would act in the most blatant way. But it’s the same one, Hades or Dionysus, for whom we’re crazy or delirious.»

Heraclitus seems reserved about bacchic delusions and orgiastic tributes to the phallus.

He sees a link between madness, delirium, Hades and Dionysus.

Bacchus is associated with drunkenness. We remember the rubicond Bacchus, bombing under the vine.

Bacchus, the Latin name of the Greek god Bakkhos, is also Dionysus, whom Heraclitus likens to Hades, God of the Infernos, God of the Dead.

Dionysus was also closely associated with Osiris, according to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Plutarch went to study the question on the spot, 600 years later, and reported that the Egyptian priests gave the Nile the name of Osiris, and the sea the name of Typhon. Osiris is the principle of the wet, of generation, which is compatible with the phallic cult. Typhoon is the principle of dry and hot, and by metonymy of the desert and the sea. And Typhon is also the other name of Seth, Osiris’ murdering brother, whom he cut into pieces.

We see here that the names of the gods circulate between distant spheres of meaning.

This implies that they can also be interpreted as the denominations of abstract concepts.

Plutarch, who cites in his book Isis and Osiris references from an even more oriental horizon, such as Zoroaster, Ormuzd, Ariman or Mitra, testifies to this mechanism of anagogical abstraction, which the ancient Avestic and Vedic religions practiced abundantly.

Zoroaster had been the initiator. In Zoroastrianism, the names of the gods embody ideas, abstractions. The Greeks were the students of the Chaldeans and the ancient Persians. Plutarch condenses several centuries of Greek thought, in a way that evokes Zoroastrian pairs of principles: « Anaxagoras calls Intelligence the principle of good, and that of evil, Infinite. Aristotle names the first the form, and the other the deprivationi. Plato, who often expresses himself as if in an enveloped and veiled manner, gives to these two contrary principles, to one the name of « always the same » and to the other, that of « sometimes one, sometimes the other ». »ii

Plutarch is not fooled by Greek, Egyptian or Persian myths. He knows that they cover abstract, and perhaps more universal, truths. But he had to be content with allusions of this kind: « In their sacred hymns in honour of Osiris, the Egyptians mentioned « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ». »

As for Typhon, a deicide and fratricide, Hermes emasculated him, and took his nerves to make them the strings of his lyre. Myth or abstraction?

Plutarch uses the etymology (real or imagined) as an ancient method to convey his ideas: « As for the name Osiris, it comes from the association of two words: ὄσιοϛ, holy and ἱερός, sacred. There is indeed a common relationship between the things in Heaven and those in Hades. The elders called them saints first, and sacred the second. »iii

Osiris, in his very name, osios-hieros, unites Heaven and Hell, he combines the holy and the sacred.

The sacred is what is separated.

The saint is what unites us.

Osiris joint separated him to what is united.

Osiris, victor of death, unites the most separated worlds there are. It represents the figure of the Savior, – in Hebrew the « Messiah ».

Taking into account the anteriority, the Hebrew Messiah and the Christian Christ are late figures of Osiris.

Osiris, a Christic metaphor, by anticipation? Or Christ, a distant Osirian reminiscence?

Or a joint participation in a common fund, an immemorial one?

This is a Mystery.

iAristotle, Metaph. 1,5 ; 1,7-8

iiPlato Timaeus 35a

iiiPlutarch, Isis and Osiris.

Jihad, Beheading and Castration.

Can post-modern philosophy say anything of substance about the religious passions of societies?

I don’t think so. Since Western philosophy decreed the death of metaphysics, it has put itself out of shape to think about the state of the real world.

It has de facto become incapable of thinking of a world in which endless and merciless wars are waged in the name of the God(s), a world in which religious sects slit men’s throats, reduce women to slavery and enlist children to become murderers.

Philosophy is unable to contribute to the intellectual, theological-political battle against fanaticism.

It deserted the fight without even trying to fight. It convinced itself that reason has nothing to say about faith, nor legitimacy to express itself on this subject. Scepticism and pyrrhonism stand in sharp contrast to the assurance of the enemies of reason.

Fanaticism has gone wild. No thought police is able to stop it. Philosophical critics have in advance acknowledged their inability to say anything reasonable about belief.

In this philosophical desert, there remains the anthropological path. It encourages us to revisit ancient religious beliefs, in search of a possible link between what people living in the valleys of the Indus or the Nile, the Tiger or the Jordan, believed thirty or fifty centuries ago, and what other peoples believe today, in these same regions.

How can we fail to see, for example, the anthropological link between the voluntary castration of the priests of Cybele, the dogmas of the religion of Osiris, and the faith of the jihadist fanatics, their taste for decapitation and slaughter?

Castration is one of the anthropological constants, translated throughout the ages into religious, perennial figures. In its link with « enthusiasm », castration projects its radical de-linking with common sense, and displays its paradoxical and unhealthy link with the divine.

On « Blood Day », the priests of Atys and Cybele voluntarily emasculate themselves and throw their virile organs at the foot of the statue of Cybele. Neophytes and initiates, taken by divine madness, fall into the fury of « enthusiasm », and imitate them, emasculating themselves in their turn.

What is the nature of this « enthusiasm »? What does it tell us about human reason and folly?

Iamblichus writes in this regard: « We must seek the causes of divine madness; it is lights that come from the gods, the breaths sent by them, their total power that seize us, completely banishes our own consciousness and movement, and makes speeches, but not with the clear thought of those who speak; on the contrary, it is when they « profess them with a delirious mouth »i and are at their service to yield to the only activity of those who possess them. That is the enthusiasm. »ii

This description of « divine madness », of « enthusiasm », by a contemporary of these orgiastic scenes, of these visions of religious excessiveness, strikes me by its empathy. Iamblichus evokes this « total power that seizes us » and « banishes our conscience » as if he had experienced this feeling himself.

It can be hypothesized that this madness and delirium are structurally and anthropologically analogous to the madness and fanatical delirium that have occupied the media scene and the world for some time now.

In the face of madness, there is wisdom. In the same text, Iamblichus evokes the master of wisdom, Osiris. « The demiurgic spirit, master of truth and wisdom, when he comes to become one and brings to light the invisible force of hidden words, is called Amoun in Egyptian, but when he unerringly and artistically executes everything in all truth, he is called Ptah (name that the Greeks translate Hephaistos, applying it only to his activity as an artisan); as a producer of the good, he is called Osiris.»iii

What is the link between Osiris and castration? Plutarch reports in great detail the myth of Osiris and Isis. It does not fail to establish a direct link between the Greek religion and the ancient Egyptian religion. Zeus’ proper name is Amoun [derived from the root amn, to be hidden], an altered word in Ammon. Manetho the Sebennyte believes that this term means ‘an hidden thing’, or ‘the act of hiding’.

It is to affirm a link between Zeus, Amoun/Ammon, Ptah and Osiris.

But the most interesting is the narrative of the Osirian myth.

We remember that Seth (recognized by the Greeks as ‘Typhon’ ), Osiris’ brother, killed him and cut his body into pieces. Isis goes in search of Osiris members scattered all over Egypt. Plutarch specifies: « The only part of Osiris’ body that Isis could not find was the manly limb. As soon as it was torn off, Typhon (Seth) had indeed thrown it into the river, and the lepidot, the caddis and the oxyrrinch had eaten it: hence the sacred horror inspired by these fish. To replace this member, Isis made an imitation of it and the Goddess thus consecrated the Phallos whose feast is still celebrated by the Egyptians today.  » (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris)

A little later, Seth-Typhon beheaded Isis. It seems that there is a link, at least metonymic, between Osiris’ murder, Seth’s tearing off of his virile limb and the beheading of the goddess Isis by the same man. A relentless effort to tear, to section, to cut.

Seth-Typhon didn’t do so well. The Book of the Dead tells us that Horus in turn emasculated him, then skinned him.iv Plutarch also reports that Hermes, the inventor of music, took Seth’s nerves and made them the strings of his lyre.

We can see it well: decapitation, emasculation, dismemberment are ancient figures, always reactivated. They are signals of a form of anthropological constancy. Applying to the ancient gods, but also to the men of today, the reduction of the body to its parts, the removal of « all that exceeds » is a human figure reduced to the inhuman.

In this context, and in a structurally comparable way, the swallowing of the divine penis by the Nile fish is also a figure dedicated to continuous reinterpretation, and its metaphorical transformation.

The prophet Jonah, יוֹנָה (yônah) in Hebrew, was also swallowed by a fish, as was Osiris’ penis before him. Just as Osiris resurrected, Jonah was spit out by the fish three days later. Christians also saw in Jonah a prefiguration of the risen Christ three days after his burial.

The belly of the fish is like a temporary tomb (or is it a womb?), from which it is always possible for devoured gods and swallowed prophets to rise again.

Beheading, dismemberment, castration, weapons of psychological warfare, have been part of anthropological equipment for thousands of years. Resurrection, metamorphosis and salvation too. For the Egyptians, everyone has a vocation to become Osiris N., once dismembered, castrated, resurrected, this Osiris whom, in their sacred hymns, the Egyptians call « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ».

Western modernity, forgetting the roots of its own world, cut off from its own heritage, emptied of its founding myths, now without any meta-narrative, is suddenly confronted with their unexpected re-emergence in the context of a barbarism that it is no longer able to analyse, let alone understand.

iHeraclitus DK. fr. 92

ii Iamblichus, The Mysteries of Egypt, III, 8

iii Ibid. VIII, 3

iv Cf. Ch. 17, 30, 112-113

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the dismemberment of Osiris and the crucifixion of Christ

The Rig Veda is without doubt the most sacred text of ancient India.

It has been translated into several Western languages, but with significant differences of interpretation, that may reveal different worldviews, within the West itself.

Focusing here on one of the most fascinating hymns of the Rig Veda (RV, X, 90), dedicated to Puruṣa (i.e. the Man or the Supreme Being, depending on the interpretations), it is interesting, I think, to try to retrieve these points of view, as they are revealed by how they understand the role of the Supreme God’s ‘Sacrifice’.

A. Langlois, the author of the first French translation of Rig Veda in the beginning of 19th century, translates the first two verses of this Hymn, in this manner:

« 1. Pourousha has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He kneaded the earth with his ten fingers, and formed a ball of it, above which he dominates.

2. Pourousha, master of immortality, strong of the food he takes, has formed what is, what was, what will be. »i

H. H. Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford (1888) translates:

« 1. Purusha, who has a thousand headsii, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, investing the earth in all directions, exceeds (it by a space) measuring ten fingers.iii

2. Purusha is verily all this (visible world), all that is, and all that is to be; he is also the lord of immortality; for he mounts beyond (his own condition) for the food (of living beings)iv. »

A famous German scholar, active in the first half of 20th century, Karl Friedrich Geldner, proposes:

« 1. Tausendköffig, tausendaügig, tausendfüssig ist Puruṣa; er bedeckte vollständig die Erde und erhob sich noch zehn Finger hoch darüber. »

2. Puruṣa allein ist diese ganze Welt, die vergangene und die zukünftige, und er ist der Herr Unsterblichkeit (und auch über das), was durch Speise noch weiter wächst. »

Finally, here is another translation of the same verses by the famous French Indianist, Louis Renou:

« 1. The Man has a thousand heads. He has a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. Covering the earth from side to side, he still exceeds it with ten fingers.

2. The Man is none other than this universe, what has passed, what is to come. And he is the master of the immortal domain because he grows beyond food.»v

We see that Renou translates the word पुरुष Puruṣa, as « The Man ».

Langlois, Wilson, Geldner, prefer not to translate the word Puruṣa (or Pourousha in the 19th century spelling), but to keep it as a proper name. Why?

Maybe they thought that this word was too ambivalent or too complex to be rendered by an apparently too simple equivalent like « the Man »?

Huet’s dictionary defines Puruṣa as « Man, male, person; hero ». In a philosophical sense, this word means « humanity ». According to Huet, Puruṣa can also be understood like a proper name, and it then translates into: « the Being; the divine spirit; the macrocosm ».

In effect, the spectrum of Puruṣa’s meanings is quite wide.

In Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary, which may be the most complete one that we have in the West, we find the following explanation for Puruṣa: « The primaeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle in men and other beings, the soul or spirit; the Supreme Being or Soul of the universe. »

Let us now look at verses 6 and 7, which are rather singular.

Renou translatess:

« 6. When the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation, spring served as butter, summer as kindling wood, and autumn as an offering.

7. On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. Through him the Gods made the sacrifice, as well as the Saints and the Seers. »

Langlois gives:

« 6. When the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering, the butter formed the spring, the wood the summer, the holocaust the autumn.

7. Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice, accomplished on the (holy) lawn by the Devas, the Sadhyas and the Richis. »

Wilson has:

« 6. When the gods performed the sacrificevi with Purusha as the offering, then Spring was its ghí, Summer the fuel, and Autumn the oblation.

7. They immolated as the victim upon the sacred grass Purusha, born before (creation); with him the deities were Sadhyasvii and those who were Ṛishis sacrificed. »

Geldner gives:

« 6. Als die Götter mit Puruṣa als Opfergabe das Opfergabe vollzogen, da war der Frühling dessen Schmelzbutter, der Sommer das Brennholz, der Herbst die Opfergabe.

7. Ihn besprenten (weihten) sie als das Opfer auf dem Barhis, den am Anfang geborenen Puruṣa. Diesen brachten die Götter, die Sādhya’s und die Ŗși’s sich zum Opfer. »

One can see here a serious divergence of interpretation of verse 6:

Langlois is the only one to place (ambiguously) Pourousha alongside the Devas, the all of them apparently sacrificing together: « the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering ».

On the contrary, Wilson, Renou, Geldner, present Puruṣa as the very object of sacrifice, the unique (and divine) victim of oblation: « the gods performed the sacrifice with Purusha as the offering » or « the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation ».

The verse 7 offers another significant difference of interpretation.

For Langlois, « Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice », as if his birth happened at this moment, and this « (re-)birth » allowed him to « become the Sacrifice ».

For Wilson, Geldner, Renou, Puruṣa is treated like the very material, the essence of the Sacrifice: « They immolated Purusha as the victim upon the sacred grass ». « On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. »

In a recent article discussing the « self sacrifice in Vedic ritual » and commenting the same hymn, one can read these lines about Puruṣa’s sacrifice :

« By immolating the Puruṣa, the primordial being, the gods break up the unchecked expansiveness of his vitality and turn it into the articulated order of life and universe ».viii

By immolating Puruṣa, the primordial Being, the gods break the uncontrolled expansion of its vitality, and transform it into the articulated order of life and the universe.

The same article cites verse 6 as particularly significant: « With sacrifice the gods sacrificed sacrifice, these were the first ordinances « ix

What a strange formula! « With the sacrifice, the gods sacrificed the sacrifice. »

This verse presents itself as an enigma, it is an incentive to research.

Man is the sacrifice. The gods sacrifice Man, and in doing so they « sacrifice the sacrifice. »

What is the meaning of this?

This formulation is irresistibly reminiscent of another divine sacrifice, which happened more than two thousand years after the Rig Veda was composed, — the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, « the Son of Man », in order to save Man.

The similarity of the sacrificial structures suggests the hypothesis of a trans-historical permanence of a trans-cultural « myth » or « paradigm », establishing a sacrificial link between God and Man.

However, it is also interesting to underline that this sacrificial structure (in the Veda and in Christian sacrifice), is the exact opposite to the one represented by the sacrifice that the Biblical God asked Abraham to perform with his son Isaac.

Let’s continue with verses 11, 12, 13, 14

Renou translates:

« When they had dismembered the Man, how did they distribute the shares? What happened to his mouth, what happened to his arms? His thighs, his feet, what name do they get?

His mouth became Brāhman, the Warrior was the product of his arms, his thighs were the Artisan, his feet were born the Servant.

The moon was born from his consciousness, from his gaze the sun was born, from his mouth Indra at Agni, from his breath the wind was born.

The air came out of his belly button, from his head the sky moved, from his feet the earth, from his ear the orients. Thus were the worlds settled. »

Through the magic of metaphors, we seem to move from the Indus Valley to the Nile Valley. These verses of the Rig Veda evoke formulas from the Book of the Dead. The dismemberment of Man is reminiscent of the dismemberment of Osiris.

Plutarch reports that after Osiris’ murder by his brother Seth, the latter tore Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and dispersed them. « His heart was in Athribis, his neck in Letopolis, his spine in Busiris, his head in Memphis and Abydos. And Plutarch concluded: « Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the killing and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ and the communion of his Body and Blood, share a deep structural analogy.

It is the idea of a God, primordial, supreme, sacrificed and then dismembered. In India, Egypt and Israel, God is sacrificed on the altar or on the cross, and its « dismemberment » allows universal communion.

iA. Langlois. RV Lecture IV, Section VIII, Hymn V: « 1. Pourousha a mille têtes, mille yeux, mille pieds. Il a pétri la terre de ses dix doigts, et en a formé une boule, au-dessus de laquelle il domine. 2. Pourousha, maître de l’immortalité, fort de la nourriture qu’il prend, a formé ce qui est, ce qui fut, ce qui sera. »

iiWilson comments: « As one with all creatures, Purusha or Viraj may be said to have a thousand, or thousands of heads, eyes, etc., a thousand being put for an infinite number. »

iiiWilson explains in a footnote: « Mahídhara gives the same explanation as Sáyaņa, but adds that it may also mean that the human soul, extending from the navel, takes up its abode in the heart — a doctrine to be found in the Upanishad. Hence Colebrooke renders it ‘stands in the human breast’; compare Burnouf’s version, ‘il occupe dans le corps de l’homme une cavité haute de dix doigts qu’il dépasse encore.’ All, however, that seems intended is that the supreme soul, having animated the universe, is moreover present in man, either in a minute form or of definite dimensions, a doctrine taught in the Upanishads and by the Vedántists. »

ivWilson adds here in a note: « Literally, ‘since he rises beyond by food.’ This may well admit of different explanations. Colebrook has ‘he is that which grows by nourishment’. Muir, ‘that which expands by nourishment.’ Burnouf has, ‘Car c’est lui qui par la nourriture (que prennent les créatures) sort (de l’état de cause) pour se développer (dans le monde)’; which follows Sáyaņa rather closely. Sáyaņa explains annena as práņinám bhogyenánnena nimittabhútena, and lower down adds, ‘Inasmuch as he assumes the condition of the world in order that sentient beings may enjoy the fruit of their acts (práņinám karmaphalabhogáya), that is not his true nature.’ The notion is that the supreme spirit, which in its own state is inert and undiscernible, becomes the visible world, that living beings may reap the fruit of their acts; and inasmuch as they may thereby acquire moksha, or final liberation, the supreme spirit is the lord or distributer of immortality. The word anna, ‘food’, which constitutes the chief difficulty here, is used in the Upanishads in a very vague and mystical sense; see, for example, the Muņḍaka, I. 8 [where it is translated ‘matter’ by Max Müller, Sacred Books of the East, vol. XV, p.28]. »

v In French : « 1. L’Homme a mille têtes. Il a mille yeux, mille pieds. Couvrant la terre de part en part, il la dépasse encore de dix doigts. 2. L’Homme n’est autre que cet univers, ce qui est passé, ce qui est à venir. Et il est le maître du domaine immortel parce qu’il croît au-delà de la nourriture. « 

viAccording to Sáyaņa, the sacrifice here was imaginary, or mental (mánasam).

viiWilson notes: « Sadhya, meaning ‘competent to create’, i.e. Prajápati and the rest ».

viii Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

ix Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

The Black God

Alphonse Constant, aka Eliphas Levi, gave a precise description of the « mysteries of Eleusis », of which this is the final scene:

« When the initiate had triumphed through all the trials, when he had seen and touched the holy things, if he was judged strong enough to bear the last and most terrible of all the secrets, a veiled priest came running towards him, and threw this enigmatic word into his ear: ‘Osiris is a black God’. Words darker and brighter than jet! »

André Breton, in his book Arcane 17, quotes these same words, ‘Osiris is a black God’, which he describes as a « magic formula » that « works ».

« So, every time an association of ideas treacherously brings you back to that point where, for you, all hope one day has been denied and, from the highest point you then hold, threatens, soaring in search of the wing, to rush you back into the abyss, testing myself the vanity of every word of consolation and holding any attempt at diversion as unworthy, have I convinced myself that only a magic formula here could work, but what formula could condense in it and instantly restore to you all the strength to live, to live with all the intensity possible, when I know that it had returned to you so slowly? The one I decide to stick to, the only one by which I find it acceptable to remind you to me when you suddenly lean towards the other side, is in those words of which, when you start turning your head away, I just want to touch your ear: « Osiris is a black God ». »

What is actually behind the name of this « magic », and whose help Breton invokes?

What do these words really mean: « Osiris is a black God »?

Anubis, funerary god, reigning over the necropolises, one of Egypt’s oldest deities, dates back to the pre-dynastic period, more than 5500 years ago. Anubis is usually represented as a large black canid. Is it a wolf? A jackal? A wild dog?

Being a hybrid, it has the ears of a fox, the tail and head of a jackal, and the silhouette of a greyhound.

Anubis is the adulterous son of Osiris, according to the version of the myth transmitted by Plutarch in his Isis and Osiris.

« Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

In some manuscripts Osiris is also represented with a black face.

It can be noted that the cruel death of Osiris murdered by his brother Seth, the dismemberment of his body and his resurrection are irresistibly reminiscent of an analogy, at least in form, between the faith of the ancient Egyptians and the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in Christianity.

But why a « Black God »?

I propose the following down-to-earth explanation.

The flooding of the Nile (in its part called the « white » Nile) brought a black silt each year, allowing to cultivate its banks.

In those days, this phenomenon remained mysterious and unexplained for a long time.

It is from this black silt that Egypt’s ancient name, Kemet, comes from, which means « the black land », that is, the « arable land ».

Osiris is a « Black God » because he brings life, every year, covering land with black silt.

The three colours of the Egyptian flag, black, white and red, still bear witness to this mythical belief long after. These three colours are a reference, respectively, to Osiris, Isis and Set, Osiris being the black God, Isis the white goddess, and Set, bound to the desert, being symbolized by red.

Black is the colour of life, of eternal life.