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Set and the Dismemberment of Osiris

Todd Powelson
"Set and the Dismemberment of Osiris" by Todd Powelson

I finished this new artwork a few days ago, but felt like I needed to write out why I'd spend my time making something like this. I mean, I already know why, but I need to organize my thoughts so that I can articulate them. An image is one thing, words are something else.

This is a dream image. About 5 or 6 years ago, I had a dream of Osiris. There were certain images from that dream that stuck with me, imagery I found myself thinking on regularly. Powerful images. Images that redefine and shake things up. This image, the artwork I've just finished right here, is one that really stuck with me: The jealous desert god Set attacking his brother, Osiris. Dismembering Osiris' body, blood falling to the ground, becoming flowering plants and vines.

Bringing an image out from the dream world, bringing it out into the really real world so other people can see it too... well, that always changes things. Plus, I've had 5 or more years to reflect. And this is a difficult image to see, to contemplate, at least for me. It ain't pretty. In addition to all that, I've attached other ideas and experiences to the symbolism. This image has shifted, shimmered, and burned. I began to associate one thing in particular to Set and my dream image, something that has shaken me to my core. Its something we've all been experiencing and witnessing together recently (to varying degrees). That is, FIRE!

Fire raging through our dry forest green. Fire burning through the world we once dreamed of and worked toward, the world we thought we might have. The fires getting worse every year, with no end in sight. That fire burns through my thoughts and emotions. Fire turns trees and animals into ash and smoke. I breathe in that smoke every time I step outside lately. Smoke I carry in my lungs and heart, each and every breath a constant reminder that our is world on fire.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

We face so many issues and problems these days. A global pandemic, economic inequality and decline, the collapse of the natural world, an authoritarian leech empire, constant war, and on and on. But for me, it has been the fires... This has been my struggle. Watching this beautiful world, the critters living here, burn. I haven't been able to see a way through the despair I've felt. The grief I feel.

A little side note here... I have these birds, you see. I take care of two parrots (used to be three) the best I can. They are so beautiful to me, they bring me joy, they are my friends. The thing is, as a responsible caretaker, I know I can't even burn candles or incense around my birds. Much as I might like those things, even that small amount of smoke can damage their lungs. That little smoke can kill them dead. And then, every day, I breathe in and am reminded of all the wild birds and animals with nowhere to go to escape the smoke and flame... I just want to freak out! But what can I do about it? I don't know... Its all about breath and breathing in 2020!

It's been hard. I've spent the last few years trying to make peace with my grief. The only way I've been able to do that is by accepting that my grief will always be there. It is part of me now. I read or heard somewhere that "grief is love with nowhere to go." I love this world. I love the forests and trees, and the animals who live there. And, although they often confuse me, I love the people living here too. We're all so beautiful.

But here is the thing... Set isn't the only character in this image. Osiris is there too. See, Osiris is reborn again each spring. He is the green plants and flowers that grow up through the ash and fertile/renewed soil.

Anyway, I see the story of Set and Osiris repeating again and again throughout history. It is a true story, repackaged into mythology. Retold and reinterpreted by many different cultures and traditions. This could also be a Titan eating the Greek god Dionysus. It could be the great dragon Nidhogg chewing at the World Tree Yggdrasil's roots. It's the Great Red Dragon and the Green Man... Maybe it is even Cain and Abel. A story retold, and retold again, because it is a true fiction. We're seeing it play out in real time right now. It is a brutal and disturbing story, and I don't really know anymore where human beings or other animals will end up, but I'm sure this isn't "THE END".

This image is a small contribution to that story.

"Set and the Dismemberment of Osiris" drawing by Todd Powelson
Todd Powelson
Todd Powelson works as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Visual Artist.

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