Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Resurrect Your Own Osiris For Spring

It's almost spring, the time when the dead ground brings forth new life. That means it's almost Easter. At that time, the Christian God is resurrected. For the rest of us most modern rituals at this time of year involve things like coloring rabbits' eggs and putting Peeps into baskets of excelsior.


In olden days, the new life was considered to be part of a cycle. The new shoots were cause for celebration, but the death of the old plants was a cause for celebration too - you grew them to make beer and bread, after all, so their death was your life. There's a British figure that corresponds to Osiris in this way, called John Barleycorn.

Robert Burns describes his life and death. And the beer.

They took a plough and plough'd him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show'rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris'd them all.

If the peeps and rabbit eggs aren't doing it for you, it may be time to resurrect a god yourself. How about Osiris?

The ancient Egyptians used to resurrect Osiris using a simple technique. In Tutankhamun's tomb, in the room called the Treasury, was found a wooden frame filled with Nile silt. It had been planted with wheat seeds and watered, germinating in the tomb to symbolize the resurrection of both the god and the deceased.

In her classic book on Tutankhamun, Tutankhamen (Penguin books, 1965) Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt says:
In the south-west corner of the room, beneath several of the black chests, was a long narrow box containing a frame outlining the mummiform silhouette of the god Osiris. It contained alluvial Nile mud sown with corn. The grains had germinated in the darkness of the tomb, and had thus recreated a sprouting and new-born outline of Osiris, symbol of resurrection. Of human size, it had been wrapped in linen like a mummy.

Later she explains:

To assist the deceased to reconstitute himself and be reborn, the great silhouette of Osiris, laid flat in a coffer at the bottom of the tomb, was covered with grain which was watered. The corn soon germinated, its tender young shoots giving promise of a harvest. This magical mechanism was intended to recreate the process leading to resurrection.
Here's the original from Tutankhamun's tomb. It's a bit faded but it is several thousand years old.

To do this yourself, you need an outline of Osiris (here's one as an Excel file), some paper, some earth, and some wheat seeds, or failing that, grass seeds. You'll also need water and patience.

Print the outline and cut out the seedbed center

Put the outline on earth and sow the seeds on it. Sprinkle some more earth on top of them and water. Here the paper is held down by stones. I've laminated the paper to help it last for two weeks while being watered.

A week later, the seeds have sprouted

In less than two weeks, you have a living Osiris!

The first day of spring this year is March 20th. Easter Sunday is on April 12th.
In a city, you can get wheat and barley seeds from a beermaker's supply shop - plus ca change there.

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