Mythology: How necessary is it? Does it affect your practice? Should it?
If there is one thing that ancient Egypt has a lot of- its myths. Myths of all shapes and sizes and variations- some of which are zaney while others are completely mind boggling. Mythology is one of those great topics that can spawn off lots and lots and lots of interesting and thought provoking conversations. However, mythology can also be a source of headaches and rage amongst Kemetics because many times, we don’t see eye to eye on the myths at hand. I personally find it very interesting to see how other Kemetics use mythology because it really runs the gamut. Some Kemetics don’t use mythology at all, and some take it as a sort of gospel truth.
I, personally, lie somewhere in the middle.
Mythology is very important to me. I feel like myths help us to understand the nature of the deities that we work with. Only by understanding the Osirian myth cycle can I even begin to understand how Set and Osiris might function together and why they might put aside their differences to work with me. I also find that a lot of the symbolism and actions that both gods use with me are heavily tied to their own myths.
Because of this, I feel like if I didn’t know the myths surrounding my gods – to some extent, I’d be missing a huge chunk of what makes up both Set and Osiris. It’s kind of like not knowing your spouse’s childhood, or what your best friend’s favorite foods are.
But its more complicated than that because Egypt’s mythology changed over time. The Osirian myths that I focus on changed multiple times over the course of 3,000 years and it can create so many problems. Most of us know Plutarch’s version, but its entirely inaccurate in comparison to the Egyptian version – and even the Egyptian version changed over the centuries. For just this myth alone, there are probably 4 or 5 versions. So as you can see, it becomes very murky very quickly. Its because of this that I can’t take the myths literally, and I feel like picking one myth while throwing out all of the other variations misses the point all together, because each version of the myth holds some truth to it.
So how does myth come into play in my practice?
Well, sometimes myths will help me to form rituals for holidays. The Mysteries ritual that I use stems from the mythology and symbolism surrounding the felling of Osiris. As he fell into the water and sank into nothingness, I wrap him in blue, watery fabric and store him away in the kar shrine for a month- so that he can come out whole and new again. Mythology also teaches us important concepts such as Zep Tepi- which comes to play in my Osirian ritual (as well as my shrine setup and shadow work).
I also use a lot of mythology in what I offer to the gods. It is said in the Contendings that Set’s favorite food is lettuce- so I am always sure to have romaine lettuce on hand for him. Other myths discuss how Set is related to the foreleg of an ox, and that links to the Big Dipper- which ultimately links to meteors and iron- so I offer him pieces of iron and iron pyrite because the mythos and symbolism tied to him says he would like it.
But above all, I use the myths to understand how these two gods act.
Osiris’ role in his own mythology is very passive. He undergoes his felling with minimal confrontation. He succumbs to the water, he lays inert. Only in a few versions does he actually free himself- instead its always his son who gets him out of the mess he’s in. The mythology tells me that Osiris is likely to be a more passive deity. He will likely be calm, quiet and understated- because that is how the myths present him.
But he is more than that. In the myth where he coaxes Ra to give up his Atef, we see that Osiris can be petty and egotistical- by not only seizing a crown that he is ill prepared for, but also by forcing his brother to give up his lands and bow down to him. Osiris isn’t always the shrewd man that we make him out to be. He can aim high and miss the mark, too.
Set is a very violent and forward god in most of myths. He goes after what he wants and he gets it – provided the other gods actually allow him to. According to Griffiths, he also shows remorse for what has happened regarding his brother, and both Meeks and Naydler mention that there was more going on than meets the eye- so it’s possible that Set carries guilt and can understand hard choices and making mistakes. His myths also indicate that he understands what its like to get the short stick or raw end of a deal- as he has had plenty of those in his own time.
The mythology surrounding these two brothers also reveals that there is a hard past that exists between them. And that when you first approach them, you should likely take it into consideration. The myths tell us a bit about each of these deities. They reveal small truths that might go missed if you didn’t read the stories that form their past. Even if the mythologies are purely fictional- there are still small truths to be seen- both in how the gods act, and how the ancients perceived them.
I think there is power in that.
And I think that power can reveal things about ourselves, too.
And as the myths slowly bridge the gap between ourselves and the gods, we slowly begin to live and understand the essence of mythological time and how that can affect us. We get intimate with these myths because they are suddenly tied to ourselves and a part of ourselves. And through getting intimate, we can learn even more about the gods we interact with, and the varying levels of complexity that exists within ourselves.
I can take a story about Set felling his brother in a river, and see how sometimes life forces us to make decisions that we don’t like. I can see it from Set’s eyes- how emotion, anger, guilt, and duty can mix and mingle and drive me to make hard decisions because they have to be made. I can understand how Osiris feels as I succumb to the water because there is no other way. Because sometimes life crushes us- and that’s okay- but it is a part of life. I understand the nuance of making the hard decision to succumb to the water because I know that is the only way out of the situation. I learn about being passive and active all in the same moment and how that dichotomy – which seems contradictory at first – can actually benefit me if used properly.
I begin to see myths not only as simple “stories” but as useful tools to understand the world around me. The myth quits being words on paper and actually becomes a living, breathing landscape I can learn in. A safe place to let my mind work out problems and understand things that I might not have otherwise.
Myths are important tools in my practice. Even if its not evident or obvious, the myths surrounding Osiris and Set permeate my practice on every level, because I have picked these myths apart and lived them. I continue to reevaluate what I think each round of myths means and what it means to me and my life and the relationship I have forged with my gods. And every time I think I’ve learned all that I can about the Osirian myth cycle- I turn it a few degrees in a different direction- and I see something else that I had missed entirely before.
The myths keep me learning- not only about the gods, but about myself.
To see the master list for this topic, please visit here.