I’m exploring myth these days, considering what mythic archetypes can teach us. Most recently, I’ve been looking at Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of the Underworld.
Like all writers I am often a traveler in Osiris’s realm, a place located below the horizon, out of reach of the sun. It’s dark down here. I am discovering that there are many types of darkness.
1. Where the Rules Don’t Work
Visitors to Osiris’s realm discover themselves in a labyrinth of dimly lit passages.
Things do not work the same way here as they do in the rational world above. Nothing is coherent. There are no maps, the guidebooks are incomprehensible, and you never know where you’re going to end up. This is the first type of darkness: Chaos.
The writing life is full of chaos. Embarking on a career you might never earn a living from, working for years on novels that might or might not get published: No one but another artist could understand that. Not to mention the writing process itself—a journey full of dead ends, detours, and blind curves. As I finish my current fantasy novel, I keep thinking, “If the thing gets published, someone is sure to ask me how I came up with this stuff, and I have absolutely no idea.”
When you enter the Underworld, you can check your logic at the door, and perhaps your sanity.
2. The Shadow Self
Osiris’s kingdom is full of danger. It is there that you find the forbidden desires, fantasies, memories, and fears that make up our Shadow Selves, the dark side of our personalities, too threatening to bring out into the daylight.
That is why most people stay out of Osiris’s realm. But not writers. We gird our loins, take deep breaths, and dive into our subconsciousness, trembling perhaps, but willing to face what is there.
When James W. Hall talks about the “unrestrained, disobedient, bad boy part of consciousness,” I think this is what he’s talking about. I love the word “disobedient.” because rule-breaking is what the Shadow is all about. Guillermo del Toro, writer and director of Pan’s Labyrinth, uses the word, too. He talks about “a deeper disobedience than a social or religious one.” He says, “You can disobey everything: the rules of aesthetics, the rules of nature. Trust only your compass, which is your instinct.”
That compass leads you to the Shadow Self: the second type of darkness to be found in Osiris’s realm.
3. That Which Cannot Be Seen
In some versions of his myth, Osiris enters the Underworld to encounter a strange being known as Atum—The Face of Emptiness. Osiris asks to see that face, but his request is denied. He knows his companion is there, but he can never look directly at him.
Every writer has had the experience of knowing something is there which they cannot see. Sometimes I think that it’s the whole point of writing: You say things through story and poem because you can’t look at them directly. “A poem is getting at something mysterious, which no amount of staring at straight-on has ever solved,” said poet William Meredith in an interview with George Plimpton. “You don’t stare at the mystery, but you can see things out of the corner of your eye that you weren’t supposed to see.” (William Meredith in Plimpton 41).
This corner-of-the-eye looking, this knowing without seeing: It is the third type of darkness.
And all of it is good
One of the ironies of Osiris is that he isn’t just the Lord of the Underworld, but also the god of fertility. He was worshipped as the one who made the crops grow and provided sustenance to the people of Egypt.
Fertility is the result of our journey into Osiris's realm. Yes, it’s dark here: It’s bewildering, treacherous, and frightening. But it is also what feeds our creativity. Out of death comes renewal; out of the soil springs life. And out of our willingness to enter the dark comes the rush of words, images, and ideas that give life to our writing.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...