Isis and Osiris

isisandosirisTitle: Isis and Osiris
Publisher: Doubleday
Author: Jonathan Cott
Pages: 224 pp
Price: varies (out of print)
ISBN: 978-0385512435

Jonathan Cott’s Isis and Osiris sets out to explore “the ways in which an ancient myth can be used to empower our lives today.” The book seeks to illuminate what the archetypes, philosophies, and psychology suggested by the myth of Isis and Osiris mean in the context of modern society, most especially for people who find themselves drawn to the altars of Isis and Osiris. What was most disappointing about this book is how infrequently these things are actually spoken on.

The introduction of Isis and Osiris oozes with the author’s excitement about the myth. Almost immediately thereafter, though, follows a halting account of the myth in question told in large part by awkwardly cutting and pasting bits and pieces of other people’s accounts of the myth. Where there would otherwise be gaps our author fills in with his own words but beyond that he seems quite content to let an array of other poets and storytellers do the work for him.

Beyond this point we see less of Isis and Osiris and more descriptions of apartments, gardens and castles than I ever thought I would find in a book on the meaning of Egyptian myth in the modern world. In addition we are presented with a short and entirely unnecessary biography of Olivia Roberston, founder of The Fellowship of Isis, and a plethora of information about the founding and works of the Fellowship, compared with surprisingly little detail about how Olivia and her fellows approach, worship and work with Isis herself (or Osiris, for that matter — and let’s just face the fact that Osiris was drowning in Isis’s shadow through the vast majority of this book).

Strange and unsubstantiated theories about Egyptian spirituality are also presented in the text — which, to get a little off topic myself, included an equally strange diatribe about Anubis that I can’t help but address: in chapter seven, A Conversation with Mark Hasselriis, Mr. Hasselriis poses this question: why is Anubis associated with a jackal? He answers that jackals are pathfinders, which I suppose could be true enough: “He knows where water is in the desert,” Mr. Hasselriis says. He goes on to say: “…and like a dog he is faithful.” I’m pretty sure I actually had to stop reading for a full on face-palm here.

It became immediately clear that the man who was the focus of this entire chapter wasn’t exactly familiar with the symbolism or history of the jackal in this context (which makes someone as critical as I am question how seriously I should be taking anything he says in relation to any of the symbols found in Egyptian mythology and art). He also lets on that he may not be so sure what the distinction is between a wild animal and a domesticated one.

For those of you who don’t know, Anubis’ association with jackals is overwhelmingly considered to be due to the fact that jackals are scavengers — they know where to find the dead, and I would argue they are known for this far more than they are known for their ability to find water. Those that are unable to find the dead join the dead in short order. As such they likely haunted the Egyptian burial grounds of old. Thus they became a symbol of death not only for their very real consuming of the dead, but also for their presence among the honored dead of the Egyptians. None of this is recognized by a man who the author apparently recognizes as some brand of expert or by the author himself, which casts a bit of a shadow on the legitimacy of the chosen sources for this book.

Not everything put a sour taste in my mouth, however. Though it quickly became pretty clear to me that a fair deal of what I was reading was not going to touch upon the myth of Isis and Osiris in any tangible way and that much of it was, in fact, filler, there was some decent information here and there. The chapter on the Ammonite Foundation, for example, was fascinating. Nonetheless I would have wished to see more of this chapter devoted to speaking on the Ammonite view of and relation to Isis and Osiris than on the tenuous position the Ammonite’s occupy in the world. The author had a lot to say about these people, their practices, and how they lived their lives, so much so that I honestly would have preferred to see a book dedicated wholly to this subject, with a lot of pruning of the chapter so that it contained only relevant information.

For me the saving grace of the entire book was the eighth and final chapter on a workshop based upon the myth of Isis and Osiris lead by psychologists Evangeline and Franklin Krane. This chapter features a discussion of the roles of Isis and Osiris in the myth and what that might mean to people in the modern world, in addition to detailing the ways in which they’ve actually put itto practice — in other words, this was the chapter which addressed most clearly and concisely the very thing the book set out to address in the first place.

Overall, I’m not sure that what can be taken away from this book that is worth reading. I’m quite sure you could find a plethora of articles on the subject far more enlightening than this book — with far fewer kooky theories and far less gratuitous description.

[Tahni is beginning to lose track of how long she has been a practicing pagan, but she believes that it’s been somewhere around eight years. She recently became a devotee of Loki, but continues to work with deities and spirits from many pantheons. She often honors the deities and spirits she works with by telling stories for and about them in her art and writing. Some of her work has been featured in Huginn, Lilith: Queen of the Desert and Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology for Independent Goddesses. She often shares snippets of writing at]

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