Saturday, November 5, 2011

Some little, lighter thoughts

We often speak of Isis as the Goddess of 10, 000 names, and find in her aspects that fill many roles: Mother, Sister, Wife, Friend, Mage, Mourner, Seeker; Goddess of the Sea, the Moon, the Black Land, the Throne; nurturing Cow Goddess, Bird Goddess, and so on. But—while most of Her names are serious in nature—nature is never completely serious. And it is our capacity to laugh at both pleasure and adversity that makes us stronger as human beings.

So, a few years ago, I began speaking of a "face" of Isis that I call "Isis Hilaria," the Isis of laughter. She shares the aspect of joy with Bast, but is able to use her magical wisdom to laugh at herself as well as help others to see the humor around them. I tend to picture Isis Hilaria as the Goddess with the fake nose and eyeglasses (or red nose to you Brits). Humor heals us, sometimes when we're in the deepest of adversity.

I'm not trying to make fun of the Goddess, mind you, but to merely advocate for an additional one of Her 10, 000 names. Goddesses who use humor—frequently bawdy humor—to cheer up those who are grieving or hurting show up in a wide range of cultures. There is Sheila-na-Gig in Ireland, Baubo and Iambe who cheered up Demeter in Eleusis, Uzume whose bawdy dancing drew Amaterasu out of the cave where she had hidden in frustration over her brother's behavior.

Even the Muses honor humor. Thalia, who presided over comedy and pastoral poetry is remembered as one of the two traditional masks of the theater; her sister, Melpomene, was her counterpart holding the mask of tragedy. Erato was the muse of lyric poetry—especially erotic poetry—and mimicry. And Euterpe, whose name means "delight," was associated with music and flute playing, as well as with joy and pleasure; her attribute was the double flute, which she invented. When we think of the Muses as sustaining the Arts, we should remember that not all arts are serious, dramatic things. There is more to life, e.g. Isis Hilaria.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, in Rome the Hilaria were festivals associated with Cybele/Attis and Isis and Osiris, respectively. Cybele's Hilaria was on March 25th, marking the resurrection of Attis, and is remembered today as "April Fool's Day." The Isis Hilaria festival took place on November 3rd, the day that marked the resurrection of Osiris. In ancient Egypt, this likely fell in the first month of Peret (Emergence) after the Inundation, when gardens planted with grain in the shape of Osiris began to sprout, signaling the Black Land was ready to be planted for the year. One would expect such a time to be jubilant and full of laughter, knowing the Flood was over and the land fertile and ready to sustain life.

Many of Isis' other myths contain elements of humor. Using the elderly Re's drool to form a snake, which then bit him, so that she could get his sacred Name from him is pretty funny, when you think about it. So was the time when Horus was enraged by Isis' releasing her brother, Set, after Horus had captured him. Horus cut off her head, and Thoth replaced it with the head of a cow. Isis sat about wearing the cow face until Horus finally forgave her and restored her own face to her once again. I can just see Her staring at Him with sad, cow eyes, mooing lowly, and making him feel like the lowest worm ever born—if you've ever watched a cow just stare at something, it's so pitiful it's hilarious.

Within the pagan communities, several groups use sacred humor. Discordians, for example, use humor regularly—I've personally participated in several events that were hilarious. A great favorite is the Chocolate Ritual, in which every participant contributes chocolate to the feast, the quarters are marked by wonderful chocolates, and the presiding priesthood calls in the circle with a Tootsie Roll athame. Back when Berk Breathed's Bloom County comic strips were popular, one group created the Order of Bill the Cat (of which I am a proud member, ack ack). The circle was drawn with cat litter, the quarters were called with blown smoke and "Hi, east," and we generally "ack acked" ourselves silly. I've also helped celebrate "Moosemas" more than once. :-)

One of the best stories, though, came from a seminar on humor in the Craft. One group had run out of ideas for honoring the Goddess and the God, and in a brainstorming session came up with the idea for a humorous honoring of Them. So the next Full Moon, they invoked the Great Goddess Barbie and Her Consort, the God Bullwinkle. A fun time was had by all, but they came up missing one of their members after the feast. Looking around, they found him sitting by himself, laughing and crying at the same time. He said he'd been coming to worship for months and had never really gotten what it was about until that evening's ritual. The humor helped him break through to understanding, something for which the Gods are well known—hence the myths of grieving Goddesses being "cured" by bawdy humor and dancing!

So take some time to celebrate Isis Hilaria yourself. Put on a comedy that always makes you laugh (I find the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" generally works for me), read a funny book, or have a joke-off festival with your friends to see who can tell the funniest (or worst) joke. Write some dirty limericks, in honor of Thalia. Remember that bawdy humor was not frowned on by the ancients; they enjoyed laughing at the body and the strange and rather silly things it does.

After all, Isis conceived Horus after she carved a wooden phallus—the world's first dildo—because Osiris' penis had been eaten by a fish. You can't get much funnier than that.