Pray to catch a single ray of thought of the Unmanifest
Contemplate the order of Nature animate and inanimate

Such epitaphs were common in ancient Egypt, when October brought the realization of Horus to Isis, Parent of All Things, called Mother of Time, Space, and Elements and the Mistress of the Gods.

Isis and Horus

With the sinking of the Nile, her husband Osiris, god of vegetation, was murdered by his brother Set, who tore his green body to pieces. In grief, Isis cut her hair and went out to find him. Her journey mirrors Demeter’s search for Persephone.

Among other similarities, each goddess’s attempts to bestow immortality on a human child were thwarted, leaving the child only partially initiated, “semi-immortal,” as it were, emblematic of the human belief in our reincarnation or resurrection, our belief that death is as impermanent for us as it is for vegetation. As if in mimicry of flora, humans conceived of transmigration.

Egyptian gardener

It is said that the women of Egypt gave the women of Greece the art of gardening. Isis taught planting to her people, while Demeter rewarded the shepherd Triptolemus with barley seed, a plough, a beehive, and a chariot drawn by serpents to travel the world teaching the honeyed art of horticulture.

Isis found her husband, not once, but twice, a process reminiscent of the dicey stop-and-go beginnings of Spring. Piece by piece she reassembled him, just as bud by bud, seed by seed, the growing season returns after a period of dormancy.


She pieced Osiris together, but she could not find his penis. In certain versions she substituted a shaft of gold — that is, a sheaf of wheat — and Osiris revived long enough to implant Horus, the hawk-faced Sun god, into the womb of the goddess.

His conception marked the time of ploughing, as the vegetation god ploughs the womb of the goddess, and of planting, the realization of the seed in the womb. Then Osiris retreated to the Underworld to await the next enactment of the annual drama.

horus statue

Where does the green go and how does it come back, if not through the grace of unutterable mysteries? The Mysteries of Isis were celebrated in ancient Egypt in October. Her quest takes a year, a full turn of the calendar, of river rising and sinking, of ploughing and planting, growth and decay, plenty and scarcity, Chaos and unity, spun in perfect pattern and perfectly orchestrated to Nature.

Among Nature’s greatest mysteries is her resilience. In the stories of Isis and Demeter, it is their resilience, as well as their persistence, that bring the green back to life.


Today, a Cooper’s hawk landed on the tree outside my study, not five feet away. He waited a few seconds, long enough for me to admire his sublime insignia and dignified bearing. Then he skimmed away after a house finch, a king of the Underworld come to shroud us in winter.