Oxyrhynchus and Osiris

Many are familiar with the myth of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, son of Nut and Geb. He married his twin sister, Isis. By mistake, one night, he slept with his younger sister, Nephthys, who was married to his younger brother, Seth. Seth finds out about the incident when Nephthys gives birth to Anubis. Seth doesn’t take this very well and successfully schemes to kill Osiris. When Isis finds Osiris’ body, she uses a spell to bring him back to life, makes love to him and conceives Horus just before Osiris dies a second time – supposedly from too much of a good thing. The very idea that Osiris came back to life was too much for Seth to bear so he searches for Osiris’ remains, finds it, and tears it into fourteen pieces and scatters the body parts throughout Egypt. Isis wants Osiris to have a proper burial so she gathers up all the pieces except for the phallus, which a fish ate – the Oxyrhynchus.

Oxyrhynchus and Osiris

This very old myth also contains many Gnostic and alchemical symbols. The four siblings are the four elements arising from the chaos of duality. The good brother and the bad brother is a repetitive theme of good versus evil (Cain and Abel). Our wholeness of Self, the mystical marriage of Osiris and Isis, becomes fragmented in our journey through space and time. As our attention or consciousness becomes preoccupied with the things and ideas of the corporeal world, we lose our connection to our original transcendent state of being. Isis represents the female or inwardly directed force that acts to reunite us to our original state. We are resurrected from the level of scattered attention and reborn into awareness of the spiritual.

It seems that there is no place in heaven for the phallus. Many women will agree. However, the role of the Oxyrhynchus fish, Echeneis remora, is an alchemical symbol. When this small fish attaches itself to a ship with its sucker, it has the power to stop the ship and bring it to a standstill (remora means ‘delay’). The power of the Oxyrhynchus to stop the largest ships gives us a visualization of the paradoxical nature of the process towards ‘wholeness.’ The idea that our true reality and identity lies beyond the senses and reasoning is paralleled with the two zodiacal fish going in opposite directions. The true seeker must learn to swim against the tide of reason and against the externalization of desires (the large ships). From the alchemical point of view, the Oxyrhynchus exerts an attraction on the ships that is compared to the influence of a magnet on iron. It is the power of the magnet that draws out the iron from our base (carnal) nature. Hence, our spiritual resurrection begins only after we lose identity with outward desires and becomes androgynous, as it were. Carl Jung makes the distinction that the magnetic force, in the alchemical view, does not “precede from the fish but from a magnet which [people] possess and which exerts the attraction that was once the mysterious property of the fish.”(1) It is the “magnet of the wise,” that has the power to draw us out of the depths of the ocean of the unconscious, which is the real secret teaching of alchemy.

1. Jung, C.G., Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, Bollingen Series XX, Princeton University Press, 1979, par.239.

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