“The Goddess is great.”

(Jesus of Nazareth)


So, here's the story. After crawling, barely alive, out of the tomb (they took him down from the cross too soon), Jesus is thoroughly sick of his previous life and ministry. Physically alive but dead within, he wanders off into the world as a wounded itinerant healer.

So begins the “20th” century's most unlikely pagan novel, D. H. Lawrence's 1928 The Escaped Cock, a.k.a. The Man Who Died.

Well, but there's more. In his travels, he chances upon a Priestess of Isis. He stays with her in her temple, in its sacred seaside grove, and in time she heals him of the world-hating philosophy and physical impotence from which he has suffered heretofore.

“I am risen!” he proclaims when, courtesy of the priestess' ministrations, he achieves his first post-crucifixion erection.

In Escaped Cock, the gospel morphs into—and is healed of dysfunction by—the story of Isis and Osiris. Jesus, become Osiris Risen, sires tomorrow's Horus, and once again wanders off into the wide world of experience.

“Tomorrow is another day!” he proclaims (along with Scarlett O'Hara) as he sails off alone into the sunset.

Oh, Lawrence. So jejeune: if only we would all just shed our sexual inhibitions, the world would be healed and everything would be just peachy. Ah, if only things were so simple.

Still, it's Lawrence, and Lawrence is always worth a read. His language is lucent, biblically lambent. (Whenever I read the book, I'm always struck by how readily it would translate into Hebrew. Oh well: planning, as I am, to live to 113, I'll need something to keep myself occupied.) Lawrence grew up in a nasty evangelical sect that drummed bible into him, but in him that language is transformed into an affirmation of eros and the life of the body which is thoroughly un-biblical (with the exception, perhaps, of Song of Songs).

Some things, of course, don't change. I find Lawrence's deep-set elitism thoroughly distasteful. Having grown up as one of the Elect, he never quite managed to escape his thorough-going sense of belonging to a spiritual elite, though now he's “in Touch” instead of “saved.”

As Lawrence sees it, every individual is intrinsically alone. Paradoxically, individuals may truly touch one another only when we—and men and women in particular—are willing to respect, and leave alone, each other's intrinsic aloneness. The icon of this touching-in-aloneness is the Hieros Gamos, the Great Rite.

The book is intended as a parable. Neither Jesus nor the Priestess of Isis are ever named: they are the “Lady of Isis” and “the man who had died” throughout (in my Hebrew translation, this latter would be הוא חמת, hû ha-mêt, "he the dead [one]"). (Think about it: a entire novella in which neither of the two main characters is ever named. Literary-wise, that's quite a trick.) They are, rather, Every (hetero) Man and Every (hetero) Woman, healing the world with love.

Wicca, of course, says the same. It's hard to disagree.

Great is Isis!” says the Man Who Died = Jesus. “In her search she is greater than death. Wonderful is such walking in a woman, wonderful the goal. All men praise thee, Isis, thou greater than mother unto man.”

Bet you never heard that one in Sunday school.


Above: Eric Gill, The Nuptials of God (1922)

Giclee print