Our earliest ancestors looked out upon this world and framed what they saw in stories that reached the heart through the imagination. As man and his questions became ever more sophisticated, the stories evolved, couching abstract concepts and ideas within the age-old tales. The mythology of any culture goes back beyond memory and history to a time before time was… to the Creation and before… in an attempt to answer the questions that arise in all of us.
Stories travelled and changed with each retelling, taking on the character of the teller, coloured by the season, the place, the landscape and by the politics of the local priesthood or rulership… and the myths rooted in different forms in the places they reached.
Yet if we look at the stories mankind has told there are striking similarities beneath the surface. All the mythological systems have some common themes… star-crossed lovers, the trickster, good versus evil and the unlikely heroes. All have the slayers of monsters or demons, their tales of magic and the parallels with fertility, life and death.
Many theories have been propounded, arguing for a common psychological expression of religious impulse through to a simplistic attempt to explain the seasonal growth of vegetation. It has been argued that all the stories are poetic allegories for spiritual truth and, at the other end of the scale, that they are nothing but linguistic misinterpretations… where the functions of the gods arise from the words for their names and stories are built upon them.
I have a feeling there is an element of truth to all of the theories and that the birth of the mythologies arises in as much complexity as the multi-layered mind of man.
What is certain is that there is something in these old tales that speaks to us at a very deep level of intuitive understanding. We can see the morals clearly in some of them, get a grip on the abstract through others and relate to all of them on an emotional level of personal engagement and life experience in spite of the passage of millennia.
The Egyptian myths give us the most complete record of how a system evolves over the centuries and scholars can chart the rise, evolution and demise of the various versions across the landscape of Egypt in both time and space.
From the simplest of stories a cosmogony evolved which encapsulated much of Egyptian history, culture and religious change. Between the words and images that remain we have a window into the minds of those who walked the Two Lands.
We can read their stories for entertainment, much as they would have been told around the hearths of old to while away the hours of night.
We can read them as they might have been told by the priests to the populace and see through their eyes something of the sacredness of the world, learning to see once again that same wonder in our own world, where the landscape is alive and as holy as the gods themselves.
We may choose to look at them as the priesthood may have seen them and read a deeper meaning behind the images and relationships of the gods, seeing in their interaction the story of all things… of mankind and his fallibility, of the relationships between man and nature as well as between man and that which he perceives as greater than all… the Source of Being from whence all arose.
We can read them in another way also and see ourselves in the gods, understanding the fractured facets of wholeness that make up our personalities. We may see that as the gods are both the fragments and the product of the One, then so are we a fragmented whole… pieces of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle waiting to be reassembled… and in doing so might see that we too are of the same essence as the gods.
I have a feeling that the best way to read them is as a child would read, with an openness to wonder and wondering, without analysing too much or dwelling on apparent inconsistencies and impossibilities that the adult may reject but which the child accepts without a blink.
Perhaps we just need to remember how to listen with the heart.
Extract from The Osiriad (Appendix)