Egyptian Gods: Isis

Isis is the ancient Egyptian goddess of magic, fertility and motherhood, and death, healing and rebirth. She is the first daughter of Geb (the god of the Earth) and Nut (the goddess of the sky) born on the first day of the first years of creation. She is the sister of Osiris, who later became her husband, as well as Set and Nephthys. She bore a son by Osiris in the person of Horus. In Egyptian, she was known as Auset, Aset or Eset, words that were often associated with the word throne.

Her Symbolism

Isis is depicted as a woman wearing a long sheath dress with and empty throne on her headdress. This symbolized her husband’s absence following his death and her role as seat of the power of the pharaoh. Alternatively, she is also seen as a woman with a headdress of a solar disc and horn. More rarely, she is a woman with the head of a cow.

In some forms, she is a woman with outstretched wings making her the goddess of the wind. Often she is shown with her child son, Horus, with a crown and a vulture. She is also often seen as a woman holding a lotus. In the heavens, her symbol is the star Sept (Sirius).

Her sacred animals include the cows, snakes and scorpions. She is also the patron of hawks, swallows, doves and vultures.

Her Functions and Role

In Being the Most Powerful Goddess and as Goddess of Magic

She became the most of powerful of all the gods and goddesses in ancient Egypt – a throne originally held by the Sun god, Ra. Ra, depicted as the uncaring god, caused great suffering to the people during his reign. Aware of this, Isis – being the people’s goddess who helped her people in many ways, devised a plan to usurp the throne. She mixed some of Ra’s saliva with mud and created a very poisonous snake. The snake bit Ra that caused him great pain and suffering. Isis offered a cure for his predicament to which Ra eventually agreed. Isis told him that she would need his true name to perform the ritual. Reluctant at first, Ra gave in and as the goddess was performing her magic, she uttered his true name. Ra was healed yet the power over life and death was transferred to the goddess making her the most powerful of them all. This great power was used to the benefit of the people.

In The Death of Osiris

Isis loved her brother Osiris dearly. When they married, Osiris became the first king of the Earth, and their brother, Set, became extremely jealous of that fact.

Set tricked Osiris into entering a box made especially for him out of cedar, ivory and ebony. Once in, Set sealed the box and threw it away in the river where it was carried to sea. The box was washed up in another country and settled on top of tamarisk tree when the water receded.

In a state of immense grief, Isis went into a fit of insanity, cut off her beautiful black hair, and tore her robes to pieces. Upon regaining emotional stability, she went forth looking for her husband.

She reached Phoenicia and was hired by Queen Astarte (unable to recognize her at first) to be the nurse of her infant son. Having developed a fondness for the infant prince, she decided to make him immortal. While Isis was holding the infant over the fire, Queen Astarte entered the room. Seeing her son smoldering in the fire, she quite instinctively and naively saved her son breaking the magic of Isis.

Queen Astarte demanded an explanation, ans so Isis revealed her true form and told the Queen of her quest to find her husband. The Queen realized that the box containing her husband was at the center of the castle – in the fragrant tamarisk tree. She promptly told Isis of this and Isis was able to find the remains of her husband.

She cradled his broken bones and returned to Egypt for a proper burial. She hid Osiris’ remains in the delta of the Nile. However, on a night of hunting, Set found the box and murdered Osiris once more. To ensure that Osiris would not return, he hacked the remains into 14 pieces and threw them in different directions. He hoped crocodiles would eat the flesh and never be found again.

The goddess Isis searched once more for the remains together with nine dutiful scorpions to accompany and protect her painstaking journey. Each time one piece was found, she promptly rejoined them to reform Osiris’ body. However, the goddess could only recover thirteen. A crab swallowed the last piece, Osiris’ penis. Isis then fashioned this body part out of gold and wax and attached them to make the body whole. As she invented the rites of embalming using her incredible words of magic, she resurrected Osiris.

They then magically conceived their only son, Horus – the sun god. With Horus, Osiris felt it was enough relief to her wife’s grief. He descended into Duat (the Underworld) and became Lord of the Underworld ruling the dead and the sleeping. However, his spirit would frequently visit his wife and their young Horus for guidance and love.

Nurturing Mother

She is nurturing mother as depicted in her love and care for her son, Horus. The strong bond they had is evident in the ancient text that depicted the goddess as a phenomenal force in her son’s eventual defeat of Set. It is believed that she bestowed upon her son critical magical information that made her son overpower Set. In fact, in some stories, she hid her son until he was fully-grown and able to avenge his father’s death.

Goddess of Fertility and Motherhood

She is revered as the mother-goddess by representing the maternal spirit in its purest form. She is the divine life giver. She is honored as the great mother of one of the most powerful gods, Horus. She is believed to be the mother of all pharaohs and ultimately, of the whole country of Egypt itself. She assimilated the role of Hathor and depicted nursing the child Horus. She is also revered because she afforded the Egyptians the knowledge of cultivation and the benefits of the Nile River. In fact, it is believed that the annual inundation of the Nile was Isis’ tears because of her husband’s death preceded by the appearance of the star Sept (Sirius) in the sky. This, to date, is known as the yearly celebration known as “The Night of the Drop”.

Goddess of Death and Rebirth

She garnered this title after she was able to bring back to life her husband Osiris. She, together with her sister Nephthys, is associated with the realm of life and death especially found in funerary texts and in coffins. Both of them are shown as women with wings that protect Osiris.

Lady of 1000 Names

Isis is known as the quintessential goddess because every symbol and goddess name always had a connection to her. She is a terrestrial, water and air goddess rolled into one. She was considered as the complete female from which all life form sprung.

Some of her few known forms include:

  • Khut when she was a light giver
  • Usert when she was the mighty earth-goddess,
  • Thenenet when she was a great goddess of the underworld,
  • she was Sati when she shot forth the Nile flood,
  • as the embracer of the land and producer of fertility by her waters she was Anqet,
  • Ankhet when she was the giver of life,
  • Sekhet when she was a goddess that cultivated lands and fields,
  • Renenet when she was the goddess of harvest,
  • She was Tcheft as the goddess of food that were offered to the gods
  • Ament when she was the great Lady of the Underworld. She was responsible for transforming the bodies of the sacred dead who has been granted passage to live in the realm of Osiris

To say the least, she may have absorbed an assimilated function of some ancient goddesses like Nekhebet, Net, Uatchet, Bast, Mut and even Hathor as the history of Egypt changes.

In the Book of the Dead, she is referenced as:

  • She who gives birth to heaven and earth
  • She who seeks the righteousness in her people
  • She who seeks justice for the poor people
  • She who knows the orphan
  • She who seeks shelter for the weak people
  • She who knows the widow spider

Her many titles include:

  • Queen of Heaven
  • Mother of the Gods
  • The Giver of Life
  • Lady of the Words of Power
  • Moon Shining Over the Sea
  • Isis of Panthea
  • Mistress of the House of Life,
  • She Who Knows How To Make Right Use of the Heart,
  • Light-Giver of Heaven
  • The Brilliant One in the Sky
  • Star of the Sea
  • Great Lady of Magic
  • The One Who is All
  • Lady of Green Crops

Cult of Isis

She is revered al throughout Egypt. She had important temples and Statues across the country and in Nubia. One of her most important temples was that built in the island of Philae, near the first cataract. Her influence eventually spread towards the entire Greco-Roman empire. She was exalted in Alexandria as the patron of seafarers. She reached her peak as the most prominent deity in the basin of Mediterranean until 6th century AD.

Her cult following even became the most formidable opponent of the Christian religion. Despite being pushed into almost obscurity, she has remained influential in many religions. Some scholars believed she was the reincarnated into Mary. She was the inspiration, when she was nursing the child Horus, of the acclaimed painting “Madonna and the Child”. Some early Christians even called themselves Pastophori, which means shepherds or servants of Isis. This word is the origin of the word pastor.

To date, Isis is still revered by the Wiccan religion.