D.H. Lawrence, 1906
D.H. Lawrence, 1906

I’ve been catching up on my reading on modern Paganism lately and have been working on Ronald Hutton’s masterful Triumph of the Moon, a History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. In one chapter, Hutton refers to a short story by D. H. Lawrence in which “The Man Who Died” survives His crucifixion, meets a devout Priestess of Isis, honors her Goddess, and makes love to her as her Osiris.

Wait…what!? D.H. Lawrence, author of Lady Chatterly’s Lover and other well-known erotica, wrote a story about Isis and Her priestess?

Turns out, yep. He did. Is it erotic ala Lady Chatterly? Turns out, yep, it is. In fact, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “He is risen!” I am not kidding. It must have caused more than one vicar’s head to explode when it first came out in 1929, a year before Lawrence’s death.

Here is Lawrence’s own summary of the story in a letter to a friend of his:

I wrote a story of the Resurrection, where Jesus gets up and feels very sick ’bout everything, and can’t stand the old crowd any more—so cuts out—and as he heals up, be begins to find what an astonishing place the phenomenal world is, far more marvelous than any salvation or heaven—and thanks his stars he needn’t have a mission any more.
But as you already know from the introduction to this post, dear Isiacs, that is just the beginning of the story. So I shall tell you the rest:
After some healing up at the home of some peasants, Jesus has an encounter with the Magdelene (whom Lawrence calls Madeleine) that sorely disappoints her as Jesus will not return to the disciples with her. Leaving, Jesus wanders to the sea at Lebanon.
A very interesting rendition of the High Priestess card, or The Papess
A very interesting rendition of the High Priestess card, or The Papess

At the sea’s edge, He comes upon a small Temple of Isis, built to face towards Egypt. It had been built by a 27-year-old priestess of Isis, who had tended it for the past seven years. She serves “Isis Bereaved, Isis of the Search.” Lawrence describes the statue of the Goddess beautifully, but the description doesn’t match any images I know of, except perhaps the Isis Pelagia on Alexandrian coins. The priestess has quietly serving her Goddess, waiting.

Jesus and the priestess meet. He asks for shelter saying, “The Goddess is great.” The priestess gives Him shelter. The slaves of the priestess spot the marks on His hands and feet and declare Him a “malefactor.” Days pass as the pair comes to know each other.  Jesus is numb to the world and has no interest in women. The priestess, too, has no interest in men.
But, of course, things change.
The priestess invites Jesus to the temple with her to see the Goddess. He goes. Eventually, she believes Him to be Osiris:

“Great is Isis!” he said. “In her search she is greater than death. Wonderful is such walking in a woman, wonderful the goal. All men praise thee, Isis, thou greater than the mother unto man.”

The woman of Isis heard, and threw incense on the brazier. Then she looked at the man.

“Is it well with thee here?” she asked him. “Has Isis brought thee home to herself?”

It is important to remember that Jesus could not be touched during all this time; His experiences made it just too much. Eventually, though, He allows Himself to be touched and healed as Osiris through the priestess and the Goddess Herself. They make love in the temple before the Goddess. He never asks the priestess’ name; she never asks His, but knows Him to be Osiris.

Time passes. The priestess conceives.

But just as Osiris leaves Isis in His death, so Jesus must leave the pregnant priestess. Slaves have recognized Him and the Roman authorities are on the way. Jesus makes His escape.

man who died coverIf you wish to read the whole story—and it is worth doing—you’ll find it here.

I thought this was pretty cool. I was prepared to be disappointed by the story itself, but in general, I wasn’t. The writing is moody, only gently steamy.

According to Hutton, the story is fully of its day; a time when, in England at least, many people were trying to reconcile Christianity with their ideas about (little p) paganism and finding much good in doing so. The equation of Jesus-Osiris was well known in alternative religion circles of the period. And it is from that time that the equation most recently comes into our modern understanding.

Still, they didn’t make it up then. The connection was definitely being made at the time Jesus is supposed to have lived. In Coptic magical papyri, Egyptian and Jewish Deities are invoked together for help. I’m checking the magical papyri now to see if I can find a direct Jesus-Osiris equation, but there definitely is an Osiris to Dionysos, Dionysos to Jesus historical equation. For more on Jesus and Osiris, have a look at this earlier Isiopolis post on the subject.

At any rate, the Lawrence story is one more link in modern Isiac tradition and I’m very pleased that Mr. Hutton helped me to discover it. I hope you will enjoy it, too.