The Myth of Osiris

The Myth of Osiris - Lecture by Rudolf Steiner

Osiris and Isis as Builders of the
Upper Human Form.

Lecture by Rudolf Steiner September 9, 1908


IN the preceding lectures we have brought before our eyes, in connection with the nature of man, a long series of facts related to the evolution of the earth and of the whole solar system. In the last two lectures we directed our particular attention to bringing forward those facts of the evolution of sun, moon, and earth which had a sort of resurrection in the Egyptian mysteries, and which the pupil of these mysteries, as well as the whole Egyptian people, learned to know. In his clairvoyant seeing the pupil actually learned to know all the things mentioned here, as well as those that will be brought out today.

The greater part of the people, who were unable to raise themselves to clairvoyance, learned about all this in a most significant picture. We have often touched upon this picture, which was the most important one in the Egyptian world-view. It is embodied in the myth of Isis and Osiris. We are all acquainted with this picture, and no one who knows anything believes that it is without significance. It is only a picture for these people, but it was much more. What was contained in the Isis myth was told approximately as follows.

In earlier times Osiris long ruled the earth, to the blessing of humanity. This continued up to a particular moment, later characterized as the point when the sun stood in the sign of the Scorpion. Then it was that Typhon, or Set, killed his brother Osiris by inducing him to lay himself down in a chest, which Typhon then closed and committed to the sea. Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris, searched for her brother and husband, and after finding him brought him to Egypt. But the evil Typhon, still striving for the destruction of Osiris, cut him in pieces. Isis gathered the fragments together and buried them in various places. (Various graves of Osiris are still shown in Egypt.) Then Isis bore Horus, who avenged his father on Typhon. Osiris was now again admitted into the world of the divine spiritual beings and is no longer active on earth, but he aids men when they sojourn in the spiritual world between death and a new birth. Therefore in Egypt the path of the dead was called the way to Osiris.

This is the myth, which is one of the most ancient components of the Egyptian conception of life. Although there were later additions and changes, this legend pervaded all the cults of Egypt as long as any life remained in the Egyptian religious views.

Having directed our attention to this myth, into which was compressed what the pupil saw as a real event in the holy secrets of the mystery schools, we must now turn our attention to what we began yesterday and try to gain a clearer understanding of what was produced in man through the influence of the various aspects of the moon. We have spoken of the twenty-eight nerves proceeding from the spinal cord, which stem from the positions of the moon during the twenty-eight days that the moon requires to return to its first form. We have probed the mystery of how, through the cosmic forces, these twenty-eight pairs of nerves were formed in man from outside. Now I beg you to heed well the following.

So far as possible in a short discourse, we shall now describe, as precisely as possible, what the Egyptian pupil learned about human evolution in a still broader sense. Those who are too strongly infected by modern anatomy will say that this description is pure nonsense from the contemporary point of view. They may say this, but they should be aware that this is the doctrine that the Egyptian neophyte not only learned, but clairvoyantly observed. I shall speak to those who are perceptive enough to be able to follow. This teaching was not only the result of the vision of the Egyptian in the mysteries, but it is also accepted as true by the modern occultist of today.

Let us recall what was said in the last lectures about how the earth, while still at the beginning of its evolution, consisted entirely of human germs, which formed the primeval earth-mist. The Indian clairvoyant, as well as the Egyptian, could see the entire subsequent human form sprout forth spiritually out of this spiritual human germ. All that later grew out of this human germ could be seen clairvoyantly at that time. But one could also look back on those parts of man that first arose out of the germ. The first that arose out of this germ, when the sun was still connected with the earth, was actually like a sort of plant, which opened its chalice upward. These forms filled, so to say, the whole earth as they shaped themselves out of the primeval mist. But in the earliest time in which this arose, like a sort of flower corolla opening itself into cosmic space, this corolla was scarcely visible; man would only have been able to perceive it by feeling its presence as a chalice-shaped warmth-body. This was present at first as a warmth-body. While the earth was still connected with the sun, the inner part of this human formation began to light up and to shine into cosmic space. If at that time one had been able to see with the eyes of today, on approaching such a light-form one would have seen a sparkling sphere, like a glittering sun, which cast its gleams into space in a regular form. Today, one can hardly form a clear picture of what existed at that time. This would only be possible if one could conceive of the pure atmosphere of our earth as completely filled with fire-flies raying their light out into cosmic space. Thus would the first beginnings of man have shone into cosmic space when the earth was still connected with the sun. But this was not all that existed. At about the same time a sort of gas-body took form, outside and around the chalice form. Many substances were present in this, in solution, just as today we find fluid and solid substances in the human and animal bodies. At that time, however, they were air-forms. Soon after all this had arisen, other germs came out of the common earth-mass, germs that were the first indications of our present animal kingdom. Thus the human kingdom came forth first; then came the germs that gave rise to the animal kingdom. The earth still consisted of an air-mass, of gleaming light-disseminating bodies, which shone into cosmic space. Within this air-mass emerged the first traces of sexless animals, which stood at the lowest stage of the present animal kingdom. We shall see that these animals, then arising in their first outlines, had a certain significance for man.

The important thing is that these animals, which then made their appearance, composed the thickest of the gas-masses, like thick clots of gas. These animals developed through most diverse forms to a certain level, and when the sun had just gone forth from the earth, the highest animal form was the fish, although not the fish of today. The form of the animals of that time was entirely different from that of the present fishes, but it stood at the same stage. In the course of evolution our fishes have retained what could be achieved while the sun was still in the earth. Now the earth condensed to a water-earth and the densest forms, the animals, swam in this water-earth. Something singular now came about. Certain of the primitive fish-forms remained animals and troubled themselves no further about the progress of evolution. Others, however, retained a certain relation to the human shapes in the following way.

At the same time that the sun went out from the earth, the earth began to turn on its axis so that at one time one side of the earth would be shone upon by the sun, and at another time it would not be shone upon; thus day and night began. But at that time, the days and nights were much longer than today. At the time when the moon had not yet split off, whenever such a human form (already considerably condensed) was on the sunny side, there was organized into this gas-mass something of such an animal form below in the water-earth. Human and animal forms were combined so that there was a human form above and an animal form below. The upper part protruded toward the sun, but the lower parts were weaker, and the animal body joined itself to them. The upper part protruded out of the water-earth, and the sun influence, proceeding through the flower-men, worked on the inner forces of earth and moon. Because here an animal form was joined to the human body, which was then at the fish level, it was said that the sun, which illuminated the human body, stood at the sign of the Fish. The first hint of this formation actually coincided with the sun's being in the sign of the Fish, but the sun passed many times through this sign before the next formation took place. The beginning of this formation, however, was the time when the sun stood in the zodiacal sign of the Fish, and this sign received its name because beings at the fish stage united themselves with man at that time.

Now, as we know, evolution proceeded in such a way that moon and earth formed one body. At the separation of the sun, Yahweh remained with the earth along with the moon forces, and among his ministers was the godly form the Egyptians called Osiris. Until the moon left the earth, evolution proceeded in a strange way.

We know that the earth was a water-earth, and the formation in the water attained an ever lower stage during the time preceding the departure of the moon. When the moon withdrew, man's lower nature was at about the stage of a great amphibian. This is what the Bible calls the serpent, and what is elsewhere called the lindworm or dragon. During the time when the moon was withdrawing, more and more of the animal kingdom had worked itself into the lower human form. When the moon finally left, man had a hideous animal-like form in his lower parts, although above he still had the last remnants of a light-form into which the forces of the sun flowed from without. It was still possible for the light-beings to work into man. He moved about in the primal ocean, floating and swimming, with this remarkable light-form protruding out of the water-earth. What was this light-form? In the course of time it had transformed itself into a powerful and comprehensive sense-organ. When the moon withdrew, this transformation was complete. When man swam in the primal ocean, if some dangerous being approached him, he could perceive it with this organ. Especially could warmth and cold be perceived with it. This organ later shriveled up, so that today it is the so-called pineal gland. At that time man moved within the earth-mass, floating and swimming, using this organ as a sort of lantern. In very young children we still find a soft place in the head, and it was from there that this organ protruded into cosmic space.

There were ever higher animal forms, which man took into himself. At one time, what had developed out of the fish was called the Water-man, because it lived in the water and contained the germ of the later man. A still higher form that developed could be called the Goat. The singular thing is that what corresponded to man in his lower members actually gave the name to the then prevailing constellation. The feet are actually the original Fish; the calves or shanks are the Water-man, which for a long time enabled man to steer while swimming; the knee we find to be related to the sign of the Goat. The animal kingdom evolved more and more, and what became the thigh was designated as the Archer. It would lead too far if I attempted to explain this expression, but we shall try to give a picture of how man looked when the animal kingdom corresponded to the Archer.

Man was an animal then, which for the first time could move about on the islands that were forming in the water. In his upper parts he became ever finer, and at the top he actually preserved the flower-form. He was illuminated from above by an organ that he carried on his head like a lantern. The then human form is rightly conceived if we see the upper part as etheric and the lower part as animal-like. In older pictures of the Zodiac, the form of the Archer is shown as an animal below and a man above. These signs portray the stage of evolution at which man then stood, even as the centaur reflects an actual stage of evolution-upward man and downward horse. The horse must not be taken literally, but as a representative of the animal kingdom. This was the artistic principle in earlier times; the artist portrayed what the clairvoyant described to him or what he himself had seen. Artists were often initiates. It is said that Homer was a blind seer, but that means that he was clairvoyant. He could look back into the Akashic Record. Homer, the blind seer, was much more seeing in the spiritual sense than were the other Greeks. Thus, the centaur was once an actual human form. When man looked like this, the moon had not yet withdrawn. The moon force was still in the earth, and in man was still what had formed itself during the sun period, the shining pineal gland, which he bore like a lantern on his head.

When the moon withdrew from the earth, sexuality appeared. The centaur-man was still sexless. Sexuality appeared when the sun stood in the sign of the Scorpion, and this is why we always connect sex with this sign. The Scorpion is what in the animal kingdom corresponds to the stage of evolution at which man stood when he had developed sexuality. In his upper half, man was turned toward the cosmic forces, but in his lower half he was a bisexual being. He had become a sexual being. When the clairvoyant pupil of the Egyptian mysteries directed his gaze toward this period of earth-evolution, he saw the earth peopled by men whose lower bodily form was becoming denser, in harmony with their baser nature, but who had a luminous human shape above.

Then began the time when, through the forces of the moon, the nerve-filaments appeared in the region where the spine now is. The formation above the spine, the present head-region, had condensed and changed itself into the human brain; that was the completely transformed light-organ. Attached to this was the spine, from which the nerves proceeded, and attached to this in turn was the lower man whom we have described. This was revealed to the Egyptian pupil, and it became clear to him that any being wishing to incarnate on the earth would have to assume the corresponding human form. Osiris, as spirit, often visited the earth and incarnated as a man. Men felt that a god had descended, but he had a human form. Every exalted being who visited the earth appeared in the shape that man then had. This shape was then such that one still, saw that light-body, that remarkable head-ornament, theLantern of Osiris which has been described in a pictorial way as the eye of Polyphemus. This is the organ, the lantern, which at first was outside the human body, and which then transformed itself into an inner organ in the brain. Everything in early art is a symbol of actual forms.

When the Greek initiates became acquainted with these mysteries of the Egyptians, they had already learned many things. Basically, they had learned the same things as the Egyptian initiates, but they gave them different names in their language. The initiates of the Egyptians had developed the clairvoyant gifts to a high degree, so that many of their pupils could look back clairvoyantly into those most ancient times. The Egyptian initiate had a direct connection with those mysteries, hence the Greek priests seemed to him to be only childish stammerers. This is illustrated by the words that an Egyptian priest once spoke to Solon, “O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes remain always children, and there is not an old man among you. In spirit you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you from ancient tradition, nor any science that is Horary with age.

Thus did the Egyptian point out that his wisdom stood infinitely far above anything that can be experienced materially. Only in the Eleusinian mysteries did the Greeks progress equally far, but only a few participated in them.

In his study of earth-evolution, the Egyptian initiate saw that the god Osiris had separated himself from the sun and had gone to the moon, whence he reflected the light of the sun. What this god did was also sacred to the Greeks. They too knew that it was this god, Osiris, who formed the twenty-eight moon-aspects, and thereby laid the groundwork for the twenty-eight nerves in man. Through Osiris, the nervous system is built onto the spinal column, thereby forming the whole upper body of man. For what appears as muscle can maintain its form only because the nerves are its shapers. All we have as muscles, cartilage, and other organs such as heart and lungs, maintains its form only through the nerves. Thus through the earlier sun-activity appeared what took form as brain and spinal column, and on this spinal column the twenty-eight aspects of Isis and Osiris work from outside. Isis and Osiris are the shapers of all this, and in the tentacles that the brain sends down into the spinal column, Osiris works upon the spine. The Greeks experienced this also, and as they became acquainted with the Egyptian mysteries they recognized that Osiris was the same as the god whom they called Apollo. They said that the Egyptian Osiris was Apollo, and that, like Osiris, Apollo worked upon the nerves so as to achieve a soul-life within man.

Now in a simple way, let us try to view this formation. Let us think of the brain as it might be sketched. This continues itself into the spine, and there the twenty-eight arms of Osiris enter in; there Osiris with his twenty-eight hands plays upon the spine as upon a lyre. The Greeks had a significant image for this — the lyre of Apollo. We need only think of it as transposed. The lyre is the brain, the nerves are the strings on which the hands of Apollo play. Apollo plays on the cosmic-lyre, on the mighty work of art that the cosmos has formed, and that causes to resound in man the tones that compose his soul life. For the Eleusinian initiate, this was what the Egyptians had given in their pictures.

From such a picture we can see that these things should not be expounded too rigidly, or we shall merely be forcing fantasies into them. For as a rule, our experience should be that these pictures are actually much deeper than anything we can dream into them by means of the intellect. If the Greek clairvoyant spoke of Apollo, he had before his mind the mystery of Osiris-Apollo and the human musical instrument. Osiris stood before the Egyptian pupil when he was initiated into the mysteries of earth-existence. Thus we must say that these symbols, these pictures, which have been preserved for us and which characterize what has been taken from the primeval mysteries, mean much more than can be expounded by the intellect. This lyre was seen, the hands of Apollo were seen. The important thing is that we should relate every symbol to some actual vision, to something really seen. There are no symbols, no legends, that have not first been seen.

The Egyptian pupil could penetrate to such mysteries only after a long time. He was first prepared through a definite course of instruction, which was somewhat similar to basic theosophy. Then only was he admitted to the real exercises. There he experienced a sort of ecstatic condition which, although not yet true clairvoyance, was more than a dream. In this condition he beheld what he was later to see in the form of pictures. The pupil actually beheld in a mighty living dream the departure of the moon, and of Osiris with it, and Osiris's working upon the earth from the moon. He dreamed the Osiris-Isis legend. Every pupil dreamed this Osiris-Isis dream. He had to dream it, for otherwise he would not have been able to come to a perception of the true facts. The pupil had to go through the picture, the imagination. The legend of Isis and Osiris was inwardly experienced. This ecstatic soul-condition was a preliminary to the true vision, a prelude to his seeing what takes place in the spiritual world. What has been described today could be read by the pupil in the Akashic Record only when he had reached a high degree of initiation. Tomorrow we shall speak further of this, and also of the other signs of the Zodiac and their significance.

Last modified: Saturday, 4 October 2014, 10:13 AM