Mythic + Night Sea Journeys
Returning to Oedipus, the foreign country to which he’ll depart is where the sun goes at night—where souls go when dead—beyond the western shores. The journey of the dead to where the Sun goes is a motif that can be found from the Chumash in Southern California to the myth of Osiris, who I’ve decided to put forward as the most central and recurring mythological example—not unlike how Vogler uses, The Wizard of Oz.
Osiris’ journey is a synthesis of countless natural cycles. The first and most obvious is that of the sun. Osiris literally travels with the sun, on a solar barque (boat). His journey to and from the Duat (underworld) is bookended by sunset and sunrise. The Duat is described as night, and as we’ll see, it’s also described as the place of death, dream and the heavens. After Ra, the father sun god, had passed his leadership to Osiris, Osiris made love with Nepthys, a goddess of death and sunset.
Her husband, Set, plotted to kill Osiris. In the myth, Set trapped him in a coffin and set him to sea, where a fish swallowed his penis. This aligns him with countless whale-fish myths about swallowed humans who escape; and as Frobenius points out, these myths are particularly adorned with solar motifs. According to him, the swallowing is associated with sunset, and the journey of the fish is conflated with the night journey of the sun. Between point A and point B, fire is lit or stolen in the belly—as seen in Pinocchio, for example, or when Hercules’ burns off his hair. This symbolizes new light, which is returned at sunrise, at which point the hero “slips out.” We’ll return to this motif when we reach a more extended history of mythic story structure, but in starting with the sun, Frobenius deserves his day.
Myths are often exoteric, meaning they’re made for everyone. However, they’re often based on an esoteric narrative, which is only meant for wisdom keepers. For example, the myth of Persephone is an exoteric expression of the mysteries at Eleusis, which were esoteric. They give us the broad strokes and core wisdom, but they don’t detail the real mysteries. This is also the case with Osiris’ myth, which is an exoteric version of an underworld journey. This journey is called the Amduat, or Book of the Dead, and it’s written in The Pyramid Texts.
Where the mythic journey of Osiris begins when he’s shut in the coffin and sent out to sea, in the esoteric narrative, the coffin is a solar barque—a boat for carrying souls. And the sea through which it travels is on the other side of sunset—the starry waters of death. For the Egyptians, the world of common day was separated from the Duat by a world encircling snake, Apophis, which meant that, to enter the Duat, Apophis was confronted. This was Set’s job. Every night, he cut their way through the serpent. The red sunset we see is bloodshed at the threshold. The same battle occurs at sunrise.
The Greeks also believed in a world encircling snake, and the serpent battle at sunset and sunrise can be seen in the respective battles for the golden apples and golden fleece. But we have to cut off the amplifications somewhere. I’m committed to writing a short book, and the point has been sufficiently made: it’s common for major myths to be informed by day and night—From Oedipus and Osiris to Hercules and Jason.
The cycle of procreation can not be reductively connected to the moon, however, when discussing the cycle of procreation, special reference must be given. Where Mary stands on the crescent moon, it hangs above Inanna and Isis wears it as horns—in each case, the crescent sliver is associated with their motherhood. The new or empty moon is as an empty womb, which is regulated by lunar-length monthly cycles. The first sliver of moon represents the emergence of life in and/or from the womb. In the story of Inanna, when she’s hanging on the peg, rotting, at the bottom of the underworld—just before she goes into labor—help is sent. It comes in the form of her maternal grandfather, who cleans the dirt from beneath a thumbnail. He then molds the dirt into two creatures. They carry the water and bread of life to Inanna, who is revived on the cross by the communion. This white crescent sliver of thumbnail can then be seen as the vessel from which divine bread, elixir and life come forth—the same that trigger Inanna’s labor. Again, the crescent, which represents the lunar shift from waning to waxing, is symbolic of the shift from death to life. Inanna goes from dying to giving labor.
From The Goddess of Spring to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast, Disney has been especially attentive to fairytales with seasonal motifs. The Goddess of Spring is loosely based on Persephone, whose abduction to the underworld brings Winter, and whose return brings Spring. This myth was of the utmost centrality to Ancient Greek religion. Dressed as women, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle participated in the mysteries of Eleusis.
From Persephone to Snow White, Disney continued with the theme of the nature maiden. As Persephone’s abduction and return mimes seasonal death, so does Snow White’s hibernation. The same can be said of Sleeping Beauty. In both stories, the lifelessness of winter is aligned with a curse. Beauty and the Beast follows a similar pattern of abduction and return (like Persephone). And the arc of Beast is curse and redemption (like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty). All are inflected with a journey through winter.
Christ was buried and rose on the third day. In Medieval Europe, the story of the Harrowing of Hell was seen to have taken place during this time. This is when Christ goes to Hell, fights the devil and rescues Adam, Eve and all those worthy before his birth. He then flees with them from Hell. This is seen as synchronized with his own resurrection. And so we see his departure from the cave as mimetic and synchronized with his salvation of others in Hell. Where his death is associated with Sunset, his resurrection is celebrated at Sunrise and in connection with the Spring Equinox. It is also in connection with the moon, as it's the during the full moon after the Spring Equinox, at sunrise, that the resurrection is celebrated.