Becoming Osiris: The Ancient Egyptian Death Experience

Becoming Osiris: The Ancient Egyptian Death Experience

By Ruth Schumann-Antelme and Stephane Rossini
Trans. Jon Graham. Rochester, VT. Inner Traditions, 1998. Paperback, xiv + 126 pages.

This text is well researched, well put together, and beautifully designed and illustrated. Sadly, it does not live up to its subtitle.

It is a very difficult task to resurrect Osiris, not to mention to become Him. It took Isis a great deal of time, energy, sleuthing, and magic-making to find and reconstitute all fourteen parts of the dissected divine body, finding one tiny leg bone or back bone at a time and blowing off the dust. That said, it may be enough that Antelme has found a few bones of Osiris, already well picked over by so many Egyptological buzzards, and reexamined them. She docs note a few interesting bits of often overlooked information.

It may not be fair to insist that the author uplift and transform our understanding of the Osirian tradition wholly. Yet this book does not explain the ancient Egyptian belief in resurrection or the secret of "becoming" Osiris. It does not clarify the meaning of the Osirian Mysteries that so influenced the Greek mystical traditions. It does not offer a full understanding of the various landscapes of the Land of the Dead. It does not give much more than a blurb about the history of the near-death experience, or clarify the similarities and differences between the Egyptian realm, Amentet, and the Tibetan Bardo.

But the book has great pictures—wonderful line art that might make an Egyptian scribe proud. For that reason alone, I can recommend the book. The text, however, seems to be a gloss of Budge's famed Papyrus of Ani version of the Book of the Dead. It could be most fruitfully used, perhaps, by a beginning reader in tandem with Budge's translation and copy of the glyphs. It at least keeps the sacred text from looking like total gobbledygook.

There is no major "aha!" to be had here, but a few mild eyebrow raises might suffice for those with literalist interpretations of Egyptian myth and history. Antelme timidly goes-but nevertheless goes-where darn few Egyptologists dare to have gone before. The author suggests such irreverent ideas as these: the pyramids may have been initiation chambers; the loot in the tombs is more about magic than taking it with you; the Egyptians had complex ideas about sacred geometry and number, and maybe the secret initiations were a little like near-death experiences. These ideas, however, already will be familiar to readers of Schwaller de Lubica, John West, Jeremy Naydler, Robert Masters, Robert Buvall, and Graham Hancock.

It may be a dry bone, but it's at least something for the academics to chew on.


May/June 1999