Happy spring! Whether you are still digging out from the snow or are, like lucky me, going to enjoy a warm(ish) and sunny equinoctial weekend, still the light is returning and the everything is rousing itself to shake off winter’s grip. Ahh.
As this is the post-equinox weekend, I have a number magical obligations to attend to, so it’s re-run time. Here’s a slightly revised post from last spring. And it’s about sex. Again. Because, well, spring.
In his essay on Isis and Osiris, Plutarch mentions an Egyptian festival that he says marked the beginning of spring and which was called The Entry of Osiris into the Moon. Here’s what he says:
“Further, on the first day of the month of Phamenoth they hold a festival, which they call Entry of Osiris into the Moon, for it is the beginning of spring. Thus they locate the power of Osiris in the moon and say that Isis, as the creative principle, has intercourse with him. For this reason they also call the moon the mother of the world and they believe her nature to be both male and female since she is filled and made pregnant by the sun while she herself in turn projects and disseminates procreative elements in the air.” (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 43)
In his discussion of this passage, J. Gwyn Griffiths (have I mentioned he’s one of my favorite Egyptologists?) notes that there is no festival by that name in any known Egyptian calendar.
Then he goes on to discuss some Egyptian texts from the temple at Denderah that show Osiris in a boat with Isis and Nephthys and explain that Osiris is entering into the Left Eye; and the Left Eye, as you may know, is an Egyptian designation for the moon. Osiris is said to enter on the 15th of the month, which would be at the full moon. Spring is not mentioned in the Denderah texts, but the Egyptians definitely celebrated the full moon.
Griffiths suggests that Osiris is here considered a solar Deity; the sun “entering into” the moon. At full moon, moon and sun are in opposition and it is only in this position that the moon can be fully revealed, so in opposition, the sun could be said to “enter into” the moon, fully illuminating it. And Osiris can have solar aspects as when He is the Sun at Midnight in the otherworld.
We don’t know where Plutarch got his information about the Entry of Osiris into the Moon. But it would have been natural to him to think in terms of a masculine sun uniting with a feminine moon. Not only were those the commonly assigned solar and lunar genders in the Greek world, but by his time in the broader Mediterranean world, Isis was associated with the moon—along with all Her other cosmic connections.
But for the Egyptians, the moon was masculine so I’m not sure Osiris must be considered solar in this case. Perhaps He is intended to be the lunar Deity He could be in Egyptian tradition. At the full moon, He is fully reassembled and whole, the 14 days leading up to the full moon symbolizing the 14 pieces of His body that Isis found and united for His renewal.
So Osiris, reassembled and whole, enters into the moon and Isis, the Creative Principle, unites with Him in sexual intercourse. Now the moon is both male and female for the God and Goddess are united in sexual embrace in it. The fertility bringing moon is ultra-complete not only because the God is fully reassembled, but because He is also united with the Goddess. The masculine-feminine moon becomes the Mother of the World. Like everyone else, the Egyptians connected the moon with fertility and preferred to plant seeds at the full moon, that is, at the height of its fertile power.
To date, this is all I know about this ever-so-intriguing reference. Maybe there was a special full moon celebration at the first full moon in spring. Whatever the case, I very much like the idea of a spring sexual rite of Isis and Osiris and, in fact, this reference inspired the rite of sacred sexuality called (not surprisingly) The Entry of Osiris into the Moon in Isis Magic, which takes a whole weekend and should leave you…well satisfied.
Happy spring equinox…and may Isis and Osiris inspire and bless you in this season of growing light and life.
You piqued my curiousity.
I checked the internet to find out when Phamenoth occurred in the Egyptian calendar and the agricultural year. It turns out that according to every source I found, Plutarch was wrong! Gasp! The Egyptian civic calendar is made up of three agricultural seasons, Inundation, Growth, and Harvest. Innundation is heralded by the rising of Sirius which occurs in Egypt sometime in July or August. Phamenoth is the third month in the growth season, which would put it sometime in January or February, I’m guessing. The point is, if this rite actually took place in the month of Phamenoth it would have been toward the end of the growth cycle and approaching the harvest cycle. Not what we would call Spring.
That time of year in Egypt is fairly cool and spring-like though. Maybe that’s what Plutarch meant.
It does seem like something got lost in translation. I wonder whether he might have been talking to someone who was describing two different rites—a moon rite and an early-growing-season rite and maybe he smooshed them together in his head?
Something like that must have happened, because, as you say, his report doesn’t make sense.
This was a great post. It really makes you think.
Great post. Thank you for sharing.