ISIS (ISET, ASET, AUSET)
An Egyptian goddess of magic, wisdom, renewal, healing, power, love, marriage, motherhood and the deads. Sister and wife of Osiris, mother of Horus. One of the most famous and the most influencial goddesses not only in Egypt but in the whole ancient Roman Empire and perhaps even in the modern era because Catholic and Orthodox Marian cult is largely based on the one of Isis. Her original name was probably Aset and it meant ‘She Of The Throne’*.
According to most of the myths Isis is the eldest daughter of Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky) born on the fourth day of intercalation and the sister of Osiris, Seth and Nephthys. According to most myths Osiris married Isis and Seth – Nephthys; the first pair represented the fertility and fruitfulness of nature while the second was the symbol of wildness and vastness of desert. A lot of legends about the children of Geb and Nut survived into modern times but I am going to concentrate on the most famous one telling the story of Seth’s jealousy towards Osiris resulting in the assasination and the resurrection of his brother.
This myth has a couple of versions but the most detailed one comes from De Iside et Osiride by Plutarch. Viscious Seth gave the banquet in honour of his brother where he showed a beautifully decorated chest and announced that the one who fits it perfectly may keep it as a gift. Many tried but they did not realise that Seth had already measured Osiris while he was asleep and the chest could only fit him. When Isis’ husband entered it, Seth slammed the cover, sealed it with lead, carried the chest away and threw it straight into the waters of the Nile. Goddess started to search the coffin to bury her husband in an appropriate manner** but a swift current of the river has already taken it to Byblos in Phoenicia and placed on a cedar tree (or tamarisk). Isis took the coffin back to Egypt and hid it in the swamps, alas Seth went hunting at night and found it. He was so furious that he chopped Osiris’ body into fourteen (sixteen or forty – two in other versions) pieces and scattered them all over Egypt so that his wife could not make a proper funeral for him. Then both sisters, Isis and Nephthys, turned into kites, keen-eyed birds of prey, and went searching. They found thirteen of the body pieces except of the penis which had already been swallowed by a fish. Isis, not discouraged at all, made a penis of gold, put her husband’s body together again and she wrapped it with resin – soaked linen strips with the help of Anubis, god of embalming. She created a cobra from spitting which Amon Ra the highest deity left on the ground and then she made the cobra bite him. I am the only one who has got the antidote for its venom, she announced. I will give it to you if you reveal to me your Secret Name. Wise goddess understood that knowing Secret Name will give her the power of his owner including performing rituals connected with resurrection. Amon Ra had no choice but to agree. By chanting and making magical spells Isis managed to resurrect Osiris and she conceived Horus with him (according to other versions she only used a golden penis). Horus was born in the Nile delta, however Osiris having already passed the gate of death, could not stay in the world of the living and he became the ruler of the Underworld. Isis took care of the child herself protecting her son from the anger of Seth. She was teaching him to guard the Egyptians from his uncle and Osiris kept coming back as a ghost to talk with Horus about the responsabilities of a ruler. When Horus grew up, he was fighting long battles with Seth and he nearly killed him but Isis stood between her son and brother and did not let that happen (the goddess even hurt Horus so that Seth would be able to escape but she healed him later). Eventually after the boat race won by Osiris’ son, Seth had to resign and to give the power over Egypt to him.
As her name reveals Isis was closely associated with the power of pharaohs and she represented literally their authority (she was depicted with a miniature of a throne as a headdress, pharaoh was Isis’ child whom she was giving her throne to). It has to be said that she was a very versatile goddess and all the classes adored her; she was guarding both rulers and noble or rich people as much as craftsmen, slaves, sinners and the rejected and she particularly supported the deads and children. She is often mentioned in the funeral papyri of the rulers and later in those of nobility and ordinary people. Not only she is protecting a pharaoh in the Underworld but she is also ‘the mother of Horus’ four sons’, four deities guarding the canopic jars where the organs taken away before the mumification were stored. Isis herself was protecting the jar with liver, Nephtys was watching over the one with lungs and both these goddesses were shown with arms outstretched on the coffins and sarcophagi so that no one dared to undermine the peace of deceased. Isis is depicted as pharaoh’s guardian, wife or mother.
Here she is shown together with Hathor when they are passing Queen Nefertari to the Underworld
Isis’ cult probably began in Sebennytos at least 3100 b.C. and soon spread all over Upper and Lower Egypt. She was especially venerated in the Nile delta, in the Per-Hebitet (modern Behbeit El-Hagar) sanctuary and the Philae island which used to be situated next to the First Cataract of the Nile. When the Aswan Dam was built in 1970, the remainings of temples were relocated to the island on Lake Naser created as a result of inudating the areas near the dam. According to Herodotus she was the only goddess worshipped by all the Egyptians, both in Upper and Lower Egypt. From the times of New Kingdom Osiris, Isis and Horus were forming trinity of the most important Egyptian deities which was later transformed in the Hellenistic times into Serapis (an Alexandrian god who came into existence when Egyptian and Hellen religious beliefs merged), Harpocrates (one of representations of hellenised Horus) and Isis who kept her position.
Priests and priestesses of the goddess were considered to be healers, they were also able to explain the meaning of a dream or even to control the weather through braiding or not combing their hair (this is why Isis’ knot was believed to be magical). The cult on the Philae island survived until 6th century when Emperor Justinian ordered to destroy it. It was the last ancient sanctuary to be closed down.
At the beginning particular deities were worshipped locally but then their cults began to spread all over the country and gods and goddesses were merged. Isis was identified as goddes Hathor and around that time the myth of resurrecting Osiris has become more and more popular. From the Hellenistic period throughout the whole era of Roman Empire the cult of Isis became increasingly popular in the lands far from Egypt and she became of one the main deities of the ancient world. She was venerated during the mysteries called Navigium Isidis (literally The Vessel of Isis) in Rome on March 5th. The celebrations included processions with the offerings of milk and spices, flowers, torches, laterns and her sacred objects; her worshippers were singing and dancing. Another popular Roman celebration was Isia which was taking place between October 28th and November 3rd/4th. It was retelling the story of ressurecting Osiris; both priests, priestesses and common believers were divided into guilds: pastophori were carrying small chapels during processions and melanephors were wearing black gowns to remind about Isis’ grief after Osiris’ death. She was venerated by many inhabitants of Rome including emperors: Caligula built a temple of her on the Campus Martius which was called Isis Campensis i.e Isis of the Fields, among her worshippers were also Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian, Galerius and others. To understand her importance one should read the quote from Metamorphoses by a Roman writer Apuleius
‘I come, Lucius, moved by your entreaties: I, mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, first-born of the ages, highest of the gods, queen of the shades, first of those who dwell in heaven, representing in one shape all gods and goddesses. My will controls the shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the mournful silences of hell; the entire world worships my single godhead in a thousand shapes, with divers rites, and under many a different name. The Phrygians, first-born of mankind, call me the Pessinuntian Mother of the gods; the native Athenians the Cecropian Minerva; the island-dwelling Cypriots Paphian Venus; the archer Cretans Dictynnan Diana; the triple-tongued Sicilians Stygian Proserpine; the ancient Eleusinians Actaean Ceres; some call me Juno, some Bellona, others Hecate, others Rhamnusia; but both races of Ethiopians, those on whom the rising and those on whom the setting sun shines, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning, honour me with the worship which is truly mine and call me by my true name: Queen Isis. I am here in pity for your misfortunes, I am here with favour and goodwill. Cease now your weeping, put an end to your lamentation, banish your grief: now by my Providence the day of your release is dawning. Attend therefore with your whole mind to the orders I give you. The day which will be born of this night has been consecrated to me by immemorial religious usage. It is the day on which the tempests of winter have abated and the stormy sea-waves have subsided, when the ocean is again navigable and my priests sacrifice a brand-new ship as the first-offering of the season’s trade. It is this ceremony that you must await without anxiety and without unholy thoughts. ***.
In the Hellenistic era, after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East, Isis was identified with such goddesses as Demeter, Astarte or Aphrodite, at that time she gained the titles which were associated with them: Queen of Heaven and Star of the Sea (Latin Stella Maris, Hellenic Pelagia – ‘Of the Sea’, in this represenation she was depicted with a sail) as a guardian of seafarers and merchants who were spreading her cult throughout the Mediterranean area. Her temples were called Isidions (Isideons) and were situated not only in such important cities of the ancient world as Delos, Delphi, Eleusis or Athens, but also in Gaul (contemporary France), Spain, Portugal, the British Isles, Panonia (the area of modern Austria, Hungary and the Balcans), Germany, Asia Minor and Arabia. Archeologists have also found the remainings of her temple in Pompei and Herculanum. The cult of Isis was only abandoned when Christianity was introduced as an official religion of the Empire and pagans were persecuted.
But was it really abandoned?
Isis was depicted as a devoted wife and mother, the protector of the poor and the slaves and when Christianity was becoming increasingly popular, one of its most important drawbacks was the lack of female element accompanying the cult of Jesus. It was a serious shortage in the ancient world where divinity had both male and female form. To complete this deficiency Mary the mother of Jesus was given the features of Isis, often literally, on pictures and sculptures:
Of course, those of us who have been ‘initiated’ into this topic, are aware of the issue but an average Catholic or Orthodox would be really surprised that in reality they worship an eternal Egyptian goddess under the disguise of Mary.
There are also other, indirect but symbolic associations of Isis with Christianity through Magdalene and her participation in the mystery of Jesus’ death. It is Magdalene whom he appears to as the first person after resurrection, Isis is guarding a canopic jar and Magdalene is also often depicted with a jar. As a curiosity I am showing an image Madonna with a Child and St. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene by Giovanni Battista Cima/Cima de Conegliano (around 1510, Musée du Louvre) where Magdalene is wearing a knot in the shape of Isis’ Tyet, (read below).
She is the goddess who is quite adeqately referred to as Isis of Ten Thousand Names, here go some of them: Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Mother of the Gods, Divine Mother, Great Lady of Magic, The One Who is All, Lady of the West, Lady of the Pyramid, Lady of Green Crops, The Brilliant One in the Sky, Mistress of the House of Life, Lady of Truth (together with Nephthys), Ideal of the Throne, She Who Knows How To Make Right Use of the Heart, Light-Giver of Heaven, Life – Giver, Lady of the Words of Power, Moon Shining Over the Sea, She Who Seeks Justice For the Poor People, She Who Seeks Shelter For the Weak People, She Who Seeks the Righteousness In Her People, She Who Gives Birth to Heaven And Earth, Lady of the Osiris’ Tomb, She Who Knows the Orphan, She Who Knows the Widow Spider.
IMAGES, SYMBOLS AND ANIMALS
The animals closely related to Isis are birds of prey especially a hawk and a kite. Hawk has been connected with power, the sun, the wind and masculinity, the canopic jar with a liver which Isis was guarding had a the figure of hawk at the top, her son Horus has also been depicted with the head of this bird. Kite is a similar species to a hawk and an eagle which lives on the areas of Europe and northern Africa. It is capable to fly high and when it is endangered, a mother sends a signal to her young to pretend they are dead and they do it so convincingly that a predator usually leaves them alone. Quoting Wikipedia, a kite may attack aggressively other birds of prey even the bigger ones to grab their victims. This is the only possible expanation of the remainings found in kites’ stomaches; the birds of the size of a kite are not be able to catch such victims by themselves. Kite has weak legs but very long wings and its flight is considered to be very elegant.
Isis’ plants are lotus, cedar tree, sycamore tree (pharaoh Thutmose III, Hatshepsut’s nephew, was depicted as drinking milk from a sycamore tree which had a breast, it may also be an association with his mother Iset, one of Thutmose II wives) and roses which began to be attributed to her in the Hellenistic era probably because of the associations with Aphrodite and her symbols. It is interesting that the demand for the roses necessary for rituals and rites was so big that a rose industry which was aimed at supplying the flowers became very profitable. A garland of roses was being left in the tombs as the symbol of Isis.
The planet associated with Osiris and Isis is Syrius (this star’s appearance was announcing the Nile’s flooding and thus fertile soil, abundant harvest and small chance of hunger). They are also both connected with the Moon and lunar cycle through the aspect of waxing and waning. Because of identifying her as Aphrodite and Astarte during the Roman times, she was also related to the planet Venus.
Isis is also related with a type of knot called Tiet, Tyet or Tet (or simply Isis’ Knot). Its name can be translated as welfare or life and as it can be easily observed it is linked to the symbol of ANKH. The knot was probably the part of clothing of deity and it is possible it was also worn by the priestesses of the goddess. When made of red wood, glass or stone, it was the Blood of Isis , a funeral amulet which probably represented menstrual blood flow from the goddess womb and the magical properties of birth – death – rebirth cycle. The Blood of Isis is mentioned in the 156th verse of the Book of the Dead: You possess your blood, Isis, you possess your power, Isis, you possess your magic, Isis. The amulet is a protection for this Great One, which will drive off anyone who would perform a criminal act against him.
As it was already mentioned Isis was initially presented with a miniature of a throne as a headdress, here she is also carrying a sceptre with flower often carried by goddesses and ANKH, the symbol of eternal life as the guardian of the deads.
From the time when she started to be identified with goddess Hathor, she was shown as the mother of Horus and her headdress changed into the one with a solar disc (the symbol of Ra whose mother was originally Hathor) and cow horns as a representation of abundance and fertility. At that time she is also attributed objects symbolising fun such as sistrum and menat necklace which had been so far associated with Hathor. Her headdress also acquired the vulture which had previously been the symbol of goddesses Nekhbet and Mut as well as uraeus (cobra) of goddess Wadjet. All these goddesses were related to the power of pharaohs.
In the Book of the Deads Isis is depicted standing on the prow of the Solar Bark with her arms outstretched. And here are modern representations of Isis – Hathor
The person represented by this card is talented, versatile, educated, universal and incredible. S/he is able to arrange literally everything and convince everyone. This person has a huge wisdom but is young at heart regardless of real age. Someone not only intelligent but also wise. A person of high – ranking, a boss or superior but also a parent.
Professions: a physician, an official, a scientist, an inventor, a psychologist, regardless of profession this person is of either high – ranking or of great achievements.
Personally this card is always positive to me unless it is accompanied by really ‘heavy’ cards.
In the situation you are inquiring about there is nothing that you would not be able to fix.
Respect yourself and the others will respect you too. Straighten up, go ahead, be assertive. You have the right to feel power and authority. Do not believe anyone who perceives you as weak or helpless.
Do not be afraid of changes, you will adapt to a new situation easier than you expect. Going abroad is beneficial for you.
Do not try to force your loved ones to stay with you. Even if it is you who brought them to this world or was supporting them in difficult moments, it does not mean you must guard them until death. You have to know when it is time to let go.
In negative this card may show inability to solve problems at once, trying to kill many birds with one stone or problems with balancing professional and domestic life.
Power. Healing. Magic. Mystery. Intuition. Self – Awareness. Determination. Cycle. Natural Adaptability Skills. Versatility. Past Returning. Invention. Courage. Care
If you are in the relationship: time of renewal. Relation which requires effort but provides emotional satisfaction. Mature love. Deep feelings which remain even if attraction is gone.
If you are single: this card suggests that sooner or later you will find your true love. Single parenthood.
Time for learning, developing and educating on higher levels. You have the potential you must not waste. Expanding your activity to other fields or including new products in your offer is recommended. Profits from the abroad.
This is a card of regeneration and renewal. Check your circulatory system. If you have already been examined, it is suggested to repeat the tests. Endangered parts of the body: liver.
Isis might have been the most important goddess in the whole antiquity so it is no wonder that she appears in all the decks I have come across. However, it has to be noticed that in none of them she appears in her original throne appearance but instead on most images she already has the attributes of Hathor.
This time I am starting with Tarot decks and the assignments to Major Arcana: in the deck by Kris Waldherr Isis is the Mage while in the deck by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano she is the High Priestess. It is probably the only situation when I agree that the classification to both these cards is correct. Despite big diferrences in meaning this particular goddess suits perfectly both Major Arcana. Isis has courage, skills and need for acting of the Mage and secret wisdom, tenderness and protectiveness of the High Priestess. In fact the second Major Arcane comes from the tradition of Isis – Hathor (it can be seen especially in the Rider – Waite – Smith deck where the High Priestess is wearing her crown, also the moon and the sea are related with her).
And if someone should classify Isis as the Empress, it would also be well – founded on the base of mythology.
Isis – Hathor as the Mage in The Goddess Tarot and in Goddess Inspiration Oracle by Kris Waldherr accompanied by kite/hawk and behind her there are images of Osiris and Horus on the wall
A cartoon – like Isis – Hathor as the High Priestess in Universal Goddess Tarot by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano . But at least she is sitting on the throne . Maybe it is just me but doesn’t she look like an Italian woman? Even considering her cartoon – like appearance… Both authors come from Italy, perhaps this is a self – portrait or an image of a mother, a sister or a friend?
Isis with a throne, wings, ANKH and Horus in Oracle of the Goddess by Anna Franklin&Paul Mason
A beautiful representation of Isis with Osiris and baby Horus in The Goddess Oracle by Hrana Janto&Amy Sophia Marashinsky (according to some sources Isis resurrected Osiris by covering him with wings)
Isis – Hathor with double ANKH in Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews
Isis with a cobra in The Goddess Wisdom Cards by Jill Fairchild, Regina Schaare & Sandra M. Stanton
Isis – Hathor with roses, sistrum, Solar Bark and the sea in the background in The Oracle of the Goddess by Gayan Sylvie Winter&Jo Dosé
A blue eyed Isis in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took
Isis – Hathor and Osiris in The Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock
Isis – Hathor in Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue (image by the same Jonathan Earl Bowser who painted Ishtar – Cleopatra http://jonathonart.com/isis.html , on the website you can see clearly that Isis is being observed by her mother Nut – Heaven)
Isis in Ascended Masters Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue
Isis – Hathor in Goddess Card Pack by Juni Parkhurst stylised on contemporary images
Isis in Goddess: A New Guide to Feminine Wisdom by River Huston&Patricia Languedoc
Isis in The Goddess Power Pack by Cordelia Brabbs
Isis as a special guest star on the card of Osiris in Gods&Titans by Stacey Demarco&Jimmy Manton
Based on Wikipedia and the following pages
*‘Isis’ is a Hellenic form, similary to other languages of the Middle – East, in native Egyptian vowels were not marked in writing, Egyptologists guess that her name was pronounced as Iset, Auset or Aset, moreover a female suffix ‘t’ vanished with the time.
**It has to be said that according to the beliefs of ancient Egypt, body must have been preserved afer death so that soul did not suffer in the Underworld thus the custom of balming the corpses.
*** A fragment of Metamorphoses or Golden Ass by Apuleius translated by E. J. Kenney.