Here are some interesting quotations I picked out of my recent reading of Plutarch's famous text on Egyptian mythology.
"In Sais the statue of Athena, whom they believe to be Isis, bore the inscription: "I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my robe no mortal has yet uncovered."
Athena and Isis are both examples of Virgin goddesses, a common feature found in many ancient religions.
"Pythagoras, as it seems, was greatly admired, and he also greatly admired the Egyptian priests, and copying their symbolism and occult teachings, incorporated his doctrines in enigmas."
It seems that Pythagoras got his ideas upon his trip to Egypt, where many Greek rituals, such as the Eleusinian mysteries, are thought to have originated.
"Therefore, Clea, whenever you hear the traditional tales which the Egyptians tell about the gods, their wanderings, dismemberments, and many experiences of this sort, you must remember what has already been said, and you must not think that any of these tales actually happened in the manner in which they are related."
Plutarch is here warning the Pythian priestess of Delphi, about that all too common and lamentable trait of taking religious ideas literally. Something which befalls all religions when they outgrow their original group of followers.
"Nor, again, do they believe that the sun rises as a new-born babe from the lotus, but they portray the rising of the sun in this manner to indicate allegorically the enkindling of the sun from the waters."
Plutarch here reminds us that religions originate in an attempt at understanding the phenomenal world which we inhabit.
"They say that the sun, when he became aware of Rhea's intercourse with Cronus, invoked a curse upon her that she should not give birth to a child in any month or any year; but Hermes, being enamoured of the goddess, consorted with her. Later, playing at draughts with the moon, he won from her the seventieth part of each of her periods of illumination, and from all the winnings he composed five days, and intercalated them as an addition to the three hundred and sixty days. The Egyptians even now call these five days intercalated and celebrate them as the birthdays of the gods. They relate that on the first of these days Osiris was born, and at the hour of his birth a voice issued forth saying, "The Lord of All advances to the light."
Thus it is clear that Osiris, is born at the winter solstice which celebrates the rebirth of the sun and the return towards longer days of light, which is still celebrated today as Christmas.
"On the second of these days Arueris was born whom they call Apollo, and some call him the elder Horus."
"But Isis and Osiris were enamoured of each other and consorted together in the darkness of the womb before their birth. Some say that Aruetis came from this Union and was called the elder Horus by the Egyptians, but Apollo by the Greeks."
Apollo and Horus are both considered to be solar deities.
"Later, as they relate, Osiris came to Horus from the other world and exercised and trained him for the battle."
"Έπειτα τω Ωρω τον Οσιριν εξ Αιδου παραγενόμενον διαπονειν επί την μάχην και ασκειν."
"In fact, men assert that Pluto is none other than Serapis and that Persephone is Isis, even as Archemachus of Euboea has said, and also Heracleides Ponticus who holds the Oracle in Canopus to be an Oracle of Pluto."
Serapis would be a later amalgamation of Greek and Egyptian gods in the multicultural city of Alexandria. Yet the symbolism is clear as Pluto/ Hades is the God of the underworld, just as Osiris traverses the never realms in his nightly journeys.
"It is better to identify Osiris with Dionysus and Serapis with Osiris, who received this appellation when he changed his nature. For this reason Serapis is a God of all peoples in common, even as Osiris is; and this they who have participated in the holy rites well know."
It is thought that many of the aspects of Dionysian ritual come from similar Egyptian rites of Osiris which Plutarch here relates. The Apia bull which is sacred in Egypt reminds us of the Dionysian bull sacrifices.
Another possible meaning for the name of Dionysus, the son of God.
"The story told of the shutting up of Osiris in the chest seems to mean nothing else than the vanishing and disappearance of water. Consequently they say that the disappearance of Osiris occurred in the month of Athyr, at the time when, owing to the complete cessation of the Etesian winds, the Nile recedes to its low level and the land becomes denuded. As the nights grow longer, the darkness increases, and the potency of the light is abated and subdued."
"Then among the gloomy rites which the priests perform, they shroud the gilded image of a cow with a black linen vestment, and display her as a sign of mourning for the goddess, inasmuch as they regard both the cow and the earth as an image of Isis; and this is kept up for four days consequently, beginning with the seventeenth of the month... On the nineteenth day they go down to the sea at night time; and the keepers of the robes and the priests bring forth the sacred chest containing a small golden coffer, into which they pour some potable water which they have taken up, and a great shout arises from the company for joy that Osiris is found."
This passage can clearly be compared to the easter time rituals of the Christians, and shows the agricultural origins of all such religious symbolism. The fact that Osiris is resurrected after three days should not be missed. The month of Athyr seems to be that which coincides with the onset of winter with its progressively shortening days. This process ends with the rediscovery of Osiris and the reversal of the process, with the days gradually lengthening once again, until light finally equals darkness at time of the spring equinox. This is how the "birth" at christmas and "rebirth" at easter are related. They are in fact the beginning and end points of the first phase of the yearly cycle. Both Osiris' birth and rebirth at the winter solstice should then be understood as the same event repeating annually.
"The fact is that the creation and constitution of this world is complex, resulting, as it does, from opposing influences, which, however , are not of equal strength, but the predominance rests with the better. Yet it is impossible for the bad to be completely eradicated, since it is innate, in large amount, in the body and likewise in the soul of the universe, and is always fighting a hard fight against the better. So in the soul Intelligence and Reason, the Ruler and Lord of all that is good, is Osiris, and in the earth and wind and water and the heavens and stars that which is ordered, established, and healthy, as evidenced by seasons, temperatures, and cycles of revolution, is the effluent of Osiris and his reflected image. But Typhon is that part of the soul which is impressionable, impulsive, irrational and truculent, and of the bodily part the destructible, diseased and disorderly as evidenced by abnormal seasens and temperatures, and by obscurant ions of the sun and disappearances of the moon, outbursts, as it were, and unruly actions on the part of Typhon. And the name "Seth" by which they call Typhon denotes this; it means "the over-mastering" and "overpowering", and it means in very many instances "turning back", and again "over passing".
Thus gods are considered to be parts of the living psyche (the human mind) as well as allegories of the world and the changes of the seasons rather than as external beings or deities in the way that they have come to be understood.
Here's an abridged audio book of the text...