The final post in the series by author Paul Andruss… for now…
Last year the National Geographic Magazine ran a cover story about ‘The Most Powerful Woman in the World’. It was Mary, the mother of Jesus.
A woman, who barely speaks in the bible, has been venerated for almost two millennia by billions of Catholics. As a woman, who conceived without sex, and who herself was conceived without sex – ‘The Immaculate Conception’ – Mary is believed to intercede between heaven and earth. She is friend to the downtrodden, sinner and slave. She holds a special place in her heart for innocents and virgins.
Like an indulgent mother, she is the one we ask for the little things; the petty favours we don’t like to bother dad with. And when all else is lost, our heavenly mother is the one we run to.
Over the centuries Mary appeared to numerous ordinary folk all over the world – Walsingham, Fatima and Lourdes – where now millions of incurables go to bathe in her curative spring.
She was lauded as the protectix of cities. It was believed her holy image paraded around the walls of Constantinople lifted a siege. Even entire countries enjoyed her special protection. In the Middle Ages Britain was described in Vatican legal documents as ‘The Virgin’s Dowry’.
Tender, merciful and compassionate, Mary is not only Christ’s mother but our mother too. As a mother she is usually depicted as either cradling her dead son brought down from the cross (the Pieta – which gives her the title ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow’) or nursing him as an infant. She is the Star of the Sea and the Queen of Heaven.
Before there was Mary, there was Isis – the star of the Sea and Queen of Heaven. Most often depicted cradling her dead husband Osiris; tenderly wrapping his body in a winding sheet, or nursing her miraculously born son, Horus; a new-year child celebrated during the winter solstice period, just like Jesus. As the original friend to the downtrodden, the sinner and the slave; Isis holds a special place in her heart for innocents and virgins.
According to Egyptian mythology Isis and Osiris, were the King and Queen of the gods; husband and wife; brother and sister. Osiris, a mighty hunter and defender of the realm, was hated by his brother Set. This may be because he had slept with Set’s wife, who was Isis’s sister.
According to one story, Set devised a cunning plan to get rid of his brother. He arranged a feast, during which he bought out a beautifully ornate chest, fashioned from precious aromatic woods, lavishly painted and gilded.
He declared the chest was a gift for whoever could fit in it. Each guest tried, but of course only Osiris fitted perfectly. Once Osiris was inside, Set slammed down the lid, locked the chest and threw it into the Nile where Osiris drowned. This led to the Egyptian belief that people who drowned in the Nile were sacred, and beloved by the gods.
Isis, overcome with grief, caused the Nile to flood with her abundant tears – as it does every year replenishing the land with the rich thick mud that gave Egypt its name: the Land of Corn. This was probably the real reason Cleopatra was so attractive to Caesar and Mark Antony. When he defeated them both, the victorious Augustus Caesar deposed the Ptolomy dynasty and made Egypt – the bread-basket of the empire – his private property.
Osiris’ casket eventually reached a foreign kingdom. Here it became caught in the branches of a young tamarisk tree that eventually enveloped it, keeping Osiris safe. Heart-broken Iris set off to find her husband’s body: searching the skies in the shape of a hawk. Finding the tree, she disguised herself as a kitchen maid in a story that may have given rise to the original Cinderella fairy tale. When the King fell in love with her, she revealed who she was and asked for her husband’s body.
Variations of the Cinderella story are found the world over – even as far away as China. The most famous version is Charles Perrault’s from his ‘Stories and Tales from Past Times’ where the glass slipper is often considered a mishearing of the word vair (fur) for verre (glass).
With the help of Thoth, the ibis-headed god of healing and Anubis, the jackel-headed god of embalming, Isis restored Osiris back to life – or at least a semblance of life, in that he became the first mummy. On discovering what Isis had done, Set, attacked the reanimated Osiris. Tearing his body into numerous pieces he hid them all over Egypt. The exception was Osiris’ penis. In some versions it is eaten by the Nile fishes. In others it becomes a great magical amulet called the Talisman of Set – sought by magicians down the ages for its power to create life.
Isis, after turning herself into a dog, managed to sniff out the fragments of her husband’s corpse, except for his penis. In lieu of the original she made him a new golden phallus. Resuming her hawk shape she fanned Osiris; breathing life back into his corpse, or at least his lingam, for just enough time to become pregnant.
Her child was Horus, the Hawk-headed god of the new Aeon. He fought his uncle Set for eighty years, until they divided the world between them. Set had lost a testicle in the fight and so for this reason was given the summer and the desert – for like Set, both are sterile due to the Egyptian heat.
It is thought Set was the original of the Fisher King found in Arthurian legend. The Fisher King was wounded in the ‘thigh’: a festering wound that left him sterile, blighting his kingdom. Until his young pure-hearted nephew Parsifal, took his place returning life to the stricken land.
Horus took the winter half of Egypt’s year, the part made fertile by the Nile flooding, signifying the annual resurrection of his father Osiris that brought the land to life. This is why Osiris was depicted with a green face. He may be the original model for the Green Man – the spirit of nature. As proof of Osiris’s regenerative power, the Egyptians made small linen mummies stuffed with corn that sprouted when watered. To them it showed how life came from dead matter.
As far-fetched as the link between Horus and Parsifal seems, Egyptian faience glass beads have been found in Neolithic long barrows near Stonehenge. They date to a couple of thousand years before Christ.
The revelation of making life from dead seed was probably very similar to the outer Eleusinian mysteries; performed annually in honour of the fertility goddess Demeter or Ceres (whose name gives us the word cereal).
Little is known of the inner Eleusinian mysteries, but they may have involved teaching initiates how to successfully negotiate traps set for the unwary soul after death in order to reach paradise or rebirth. This was certainly the case in similar Egyptian mysteries over which Isis presided, as well as forming part of the teachings of Gnostic Christian schools.
Isis enjoyed a strong cult following in the Roman world. It is fair to say the Roman goddesses really did not have her compassion for humanity or her common touch. Neither did they have her knowledge of the journey after death and wisdom to avoid the pitfalls of the afterlife. Nor indeed did they have her knowledge of this world or magical skill to make life more pleasant and a lot less painful.
Educated Romans were sure of two things: life was not the end, and their gods were just childish myths. Spoilt super beings wrapped up in their lives, just like their emperors who were also made into gods. And with as little regard for humanity. The gods did not even offer a moral code to live up to – that was philosophy’s job.
Around the birth of Jesus, Athenian philosophers had taken to simply referring to ‘The God’ – all pervasive, incorporeal, wise and moral; rather like what we recognise today.
After two centuries of Greek rule – the god of Jerusalem was no longer a local bad tempered thundering mountain god like Zeus or Jupiter, but with two wives. He was evolving, having been remodelled by philosophy influenced Jews like Philo along Athenian lines, and continued to evolve when Jerusalem was destroyed in the Revolt of 70 A.D. and Temple based worship was replaced by the rationalistic Pharisees, and of course Greek influenced Christianity.
Ancient Judaism had already been evolving for some centuries, at least since the exile to Babylon and especially since Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home.
Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Persian Empire and many of its elements had been adopted, such as the battle between good and evil where at the end of days the good receive salvation while the wicked are consigned to eternal flames. Due to Zoroastrianism being the start point of many beliefs found in the ‘religions of the book’, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, Islam recognises it as a sister; a 4th branch.
For the educated Greco-Roman elite, the old gods were simply the property of the state. Anyone could become a god – no matter how amoral. Emperors became gods. Emperor’s boyfriends were gods. Sacrifices were made to the gods to ensure the state endured. Disbelief in the gods was treason punishable by death. At the height of Rome’s power the educated classes embraced mystery religions in much the same way the survivors of World War One embraced spiritualism.
Isis was with identified with Demeter, Ceres and Artemis the Great – a primordial fertility goddess from Ephesus in what is now Turkey. (Artemis was adopted by the Greeks and later watered down to a moon goddess – Apollo’s sister). The mystery cults surrounding all these ancient goddesses were merely considered different names for the one universal truth. Man has an immortal soul and the purpose of life is to prepare for a good afterlife.
In Apuleius’ moral novel called ‘The Golden Ass’ – poignant and funny in turn – it is such magical mysteries that eventually lead the luckless protagonist (turned into an ass) to salvation through Isis’ intercession. The novel works in much the same way Mozart’s Magic Flute’ which is an introduction to the exciting and appealing mystery cult of his own time – Freemasonary.
It should also be noted that educated Romans like Apuleius thought the new and somewhat distasteful superstition of Christianity worshipped a crucified ass-headed god – which may account for the title of his book.
This is not as ludicrous as it sounds.
The Ancient Egyptian believed an Israeli god had the head of an ass. Called Iu or Iau he was believed to draw the Barge of the Sun and was depicted lying outstretched on the ground with his donkey ears piercing the sun disk that surrounded his head like a halo.
The early Christian Clement of Alexandria (circa 150 A.D.) refers to Jehovah as Iau Saboath, perhaps meaning ‘of the hosts’. Yet some hundred years later Epiphanius the Bishop of Salamis in 350 A.D. speaks of Gnostics worshipping the Ass-headed Saboath. The Gnostics (early Christians who valued knowledge of God over faith alone) confirm this calling the Ass headed Saboath a son of god in their mystical treatise ‘Psitis Sophia’.
All this relates to a piece graffiti (Alexamenos Graffito) found in Rome and dating from around 200 A.D. It depicts a crucified man with an ass’s head. Underneath are the words ‘Alexamenos worships (his) God’.
In our modern world where Christianity has been an official religion in the West for some 1,700 years, it is hard to imagine there were once many types of Christianity, each with different beliefs and claims.
Some maintained Jesus was not the literal son of God – just a man containing God’s spirit, some thought Christ was not crucified but some hapless victim was substituted. Others believed Christianity was just a branch of Judaism, Yet others thought salvation came through knowledge not just faith, and some saw Christianity not as a new religion but the perfect continuation of the old mystery schools of Isis and Demeter and continued to teach secrets of immortality in much the same way.
About Paul Andruss:
Sue asked for a brief biography. I genuinely don’t know what to say.
If I were a musician I would be Kate Bush or the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson; but without the mental issues or dependency on prescription drugs. For Brian not Kate! I can talk about anything except myself, so let’s talk about my work.
I’ve written 4 novels, Finn Mac Cool, and the (Harry-Potteresque) Jack Hughes Trilogy. ‘Finn Mac Cool’ and ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ are available for free download. Hint! Hint!
As with many writers, I began with no formal skills; was working long hours and could not spare family cash to pay for professional help like courses or editors. Unlike sensible people, I did not write short stories to build up my writing skills but went straight for an epic (Finn is 180,000 words). Big mistake!
Finn took 4 years to write and another 2 to realise how badly it was written. So I started learning proof-reading and editing, and started taking more notice of how other authors construct their work.
‘Thomas the Rhymer’ came about after watching a Harry Potter film. I thought I can do that! Just goes to show how wrong you can be. Damn these big ideas!
After ‘Thomas the Rhymer’, the sequels ‘Daughters of Albion’ & ‘Thirteenth Treasure’ were a lot of fun to write. I knew the characters and where I want to take them.
‘Thomas the Rhymer’ took 18 months from concept to first draft; another year to get it to agents, and 18 months with agents. It was well received by some but not taken any further.
I later learned rejection can have more to do with an agent’s belief that publishers won’t take the risk, rather than a comment on quality. Publishing is in crisis. A bit of research shows it always has been. After discovering this, I decided to go down the indie route. These days, authors have ever-expanding learning curves. Writing is just the tip of the iceberg.
Before leaving rejection letters, about which everyone can contribute! I used to take comfort from this story while crying myself to sleep.
As the author of ‘Vernon God Little’ walked away from the stage with the 2003 Booker Prize every major Literary Agency asked. ‘Why didn’t you send it to us?’
To each and every one, he replied… ‘I did!’
They had all ignored it. Yet ‘Vernon God Little’ also won the Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and the 1st Novel Award in the Whitbread Awards.
Download a free copy of Paul’s book, Thomas the Rhymer HERE
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