Isis is the Egyptian great Mother Goddess, prototype of the faithful wife and fertility, and protective mother in egyptian mythology. She is associated with Sirius, the dog star, the rising of which signals the vernal equinox. The moon is her symbol. Frequently she is depicted as being crowned with a lunar orb nestled between the horns of a bull or Rem. Both the Greeks and Romans adopted the worship of Isis.
The name Isis is the Greek word representing the Egyptian hieroglyphic for “thrown,” for her name literally means “seat.” She was the daughter of Nut, and sister and consort of the god Osiris. When a mortal magician and weary of worldly affairs, Isis acquired immortality by tricking the sun god Re, who was dotage, into revealing his secret name to her. She did this by obtaining some of his spit, which she transformed into a snake and left it in his path. The snake bit Re as he passed and caused him great agony. Isis offered to relieve Re’s suffering if he told her his secret name, but he relented.
When Osiris’ treacherous brother, Seth (or Set), murdered and dismembered him, Isis scoured the land finding the body parts. When finding them, Isis used her magic to assemble them and breathed life into the body so she and Osiris could be together for one last time before he went to the underworld. A son, Horus, was born posthumously and in a virgin birth. Isis protected the child Horus from Set until he was old enough to defend himself by fighting. In art, she is ofetn pictured as holding Horus in her arms. After the child’s birth, Set returned once more to cut Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces, which he scattered in the Nile. Again Isis searched for the body parts, but this time when finding them, she buried each piece where she found it so it would fertilize the land.
In another version of this legend, Isis swallowed Osiris and brought him back to life, reincarnated as the child Horus, or else as the ithyphallic moon-god Min, or Menu. To some the myth that Isis assembled Osiris from his body parts that she swallowed and spat him out as Osiris-Min represents reincarnation, or continuation of life. Another version has Isis telling Osiris to stand up, which he does and marries his goddess, and life continues.
Some claim the annual flooding of the Nile is caused by Isis’ teardrop that she shed when lamenting for the dead god Osiris. This lead to the Nile festival of the “Night of the Tear-Drop.”
Isis has been connected to Hermetic wisdom. Plutarch said that numerous ancient writers believed Isis to be the daughter of Hermes, others said she was the daughter of Prometheus. Plutarch claimed her name meant “wisdom.” She was known as the goddess of 10,000 applications. In the Egyptian mysteries, Isis represented the female aspect of the Deity to mankind; she was the Universal Mother to all that lives; wisdom, truth, and power. Statues to her were decorated with stars, the moon, and the sun. Her girdle was joined together by four golden plates that represent the four elements of nature. Her priests were adept at controlling and using Unseen Forces.
It is thought in Hermetic wisdom that Hermes schooled Isis, the Goddess of Women. She with the knowledge that he taught her invented the writings of all nations, caused men to love women, invented sailing, gave mankind its laws, ended cannibalism, made justice more powerful than silver or gold, instructed mankind in the mysteries, and caused truth to be considered beautiful. An inscription in her temple at Sais read: “I am that which is, which hath been, and which shall be; and no man has ever lifted the veil that hides my Divinity from mortal eyes.” The Isis of the mysteries is completely veiled by a scarlet cloth. To the initiates who learn her mysteries, she lifts her veil, but they are to remain forever silent about what they have seen.
In 1527, after the sacking of Rome, a bronze tablet, which measured 50 by 30 inches and decorated with silver and emerald inlay, came into the possession of a locksmith or iron worker who sold it to Cardinal Bembo of Italy. The Bembine Table of Isis, or Isaic Table, is covered with hieroglyphics and inscriptions concerning mystical knowledge and an occult system of sacrifices, rites, and ceremonies. The tablet apparently was once used as an altar, perhaps in those chambers where the mysteries were revealed to the initiates. Eliphas Levi believed the tablet was a key to the Book of Thoth or the Tarot. The tablet resides in the Museum of Antiquities in Turin.
It seemed that Isis possessed powerful magic that made even Anubis, god of death, subject to her whims. Therefore, people prayed to her on behalf of the sick and dying. Being the goddess of healing and childbirth, Isis, at night, would visit the sick, brushing the gently with her wings as she said magical incantations to heal them.
She is the Virgin in the constellation Virgo. In Christianity, some hold that, the Virgin Mary partially absorbed Isis. A.G.H.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen, The Encyclopedia of Witches and WitchcReft, New York: Facts On File, 1989, pp. 173-174
Walker, Barbara G, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, New York, HarperCollins, 1983, pp,. 453-456
Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1980, p. 37