Bob Dylan and Rastafarianism

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By Larry Fyffe

 

‘Isis’, and ‘Oh Sister’ are songs co-written by Bob Dylan and Jaques Levy; the influence of Egyptian mythology is clearly detected by ear in both of these songs.

Twins Osiris and Isis married they be; Osiris is killed by his brother Seth who usurps the throne. Using ‘gypsy’ magic, Isis revives her male twin and husand long enough to become pregnant, and, by so doing, she preserves the natural order through an heir; Osiris becomes the guide of the dark valley below the horizon; Isis, of the daytime sky above.

Taking artistic license, Bob and Jaques cook the Egyptain stuff up in a pot with Christianity mixed in:

We grew up together
From the cradle to the grave
We died and were reborn
And then mysteriously saved
Oh sister, when I come to knock at your door
Don’t turn away, you’ll create sorrow
Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore
You may not see me tomorrow

(Bob Dylan: Oh Sister)

Everyone’s part of Adam and Eve’s huge family. Biographical suggestions in regards to Bob Dylan pop into the listener’s head –  like perhaps, Egyptian sister-goddess Isis really represents Joan Baez (and/or Sara Dylan):

She can take the dark out of the night-time
And paint the daytime black ….
She wears an Egyptain ring that sparkles
before she speaks
She’s a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique

(Bob Dylan: She Belongs To Me)

With its roots in the Holy Bible, Rastafaranism is a form of intuitive Gnosticism, a mysticism that holds that the messiah of the chosen African people is Jesus, a black descendant of King Solomon; Haile Selassie of Ethiopia be the Second Coming thereof, the King of kings in the Promised Land. For Rastafarians, many of whose forefathers were enslaved not that long ago by white Europeans of modern Babylon, Ethiopia is thought of as New Jerusalem.

The dark and light motif remains in many a Rasta song,  but peace is at hand, saith Jah (Yahweh) in the Bible:

Princes shall come out of Egypt
Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hand unto God

(Psalm 68: 31)

Haile Selassie, sworn enemy of the Italian invaders in World War II, is envisioned by the followers of the Rasta religion in terms of symbolism found within the pages of Judeo-Christian Bible:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse
And he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True
And in righteousness he doth judge and make war

(Revelation 20: 11)

During the 1960’s and ’70’s, Jamaican Rastafaranian Bob Marley, a well-known singer/songwriter of Caribbean popular songs and music, expands the appeal of reggae music:

Below, a song covered with reggae music, originally performed country style by Claude Gray:

One cup of coffee, then I’ll go
Though I just dropped by to let you know
That I’m leaving you tomorrow
I’ll cause you no more sorrow
One cup of coffee, then I’ll go

(Bob Marley: One Cup Of Coffee)

Accompanied by ‘gypsy’ music, Dylan presents lyrics that emphasize the light and dark aspects of mystic Gnosticism:

And your pleasure knows no limits
Your voice is like a meadowlark
But your heart is like an ocean
Mysterious and dark
One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee before I go
To the valley below

(Bob Dylan: One More Cup Of Coffee)

In the following verse, Bob Dylan, as usual, notes he’s well aware of how religion gets manipulated to demonstrate that God favours the side one is on. Alluding to the Bible’s ‘Song Of Solomon,’ Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, and Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, he satirically sings about Rastafarian-like politics blowing in the wind:

She was the rose of Sharon from paradise lost
From the city of the seven hills near the place
of the cross
I was playing in Miami in the threatre of the
divine comedy
Told about Jesus, told about the jungle where
her brothers were slain
By a man who danced on the roof of the embassy

(Bob Dylan: Caribbean Wind)

What else is on the site

1: Over 490 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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3 Responses to Bob Dylan and Rastafarianism

  1. Bob Higgin says:

    You’ve missed the obvious themes of ‘I and I’ which is a Rastafarian phrase used by Jamaicans particularly.

  2. TonyAttwood says:

    If you look at the two other I and I articles on the site Bob you’ll see there is reference to that in correspondence there. The point about “Untold” Dylan is we are trying in the articles to come up with information that is not mentioned in everyone else’s review.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    Bob, thanks for the input…not really missed though….Isis and Osiris are emanations from afar – I and I, earth and sky twins ….But trying to include too much of everything in a little space can make matters that are not that clear seem even more unclear.

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