Isis is the Greek form of the Egyptian name Aset (‘Throne’). As Isis Unveiled, she is the goddess of manifest nature, as Isis Veiled, she protects the most profound secrets of the universe. She is the goddess of marriage, motherhood, healing, magic, prophecy, love, fertility, agriculture, domestic crafts, spinning, weaving and brewing. She is portrayed with a blue robe, wings and her head-dress is the empty throne, which belongs to her murdered husband, Osiris. She is often shown with her young son, Horus, or carries the ankh, the symbol of life. In addition, she may be shown with the sistula, a breast-shaped container for milk, and a jug for carrying the holy waters of the Nile.

She is called the Light Giver of Heaven, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Queen of the Earth, Lady of Green Crops, the Green Goddess, Lady of Abundance, Lady of Joy and Gladness and Lady of the Shuttle. She was the source of the ruling Pharaoh’s power, whose throne was said to be her lap.

Isis and Osiris, together with Set and Nepthys, were the children of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. Osiris married Isis and the pair became rulers of Egypt, teaching humankind how to plant and harvest grain, how to spin and weave, make tools, bread, beer and wine. They also established the institution of marriage.

Isis is a magician called ‘Strong of Tongue’, as she knew how to use words of power with the correct pronunciation and tone. She learned her magic from Thoth the god of wisdom, and from the sun god Ra, whom she tricked into revealing his secret name to her, thus giving her full access to his skills. Like other magical goddesses, she is associated with spinning and weaving, drawing out concepts into being, and weaving or knotting various forces to control them. Isis taught humanity the art of using magical knots. It has been said that the priestesses of Isis could control the weather simply by braiding and releasing their hair. One of her symbols is the tiet, which is also called the “Isis-knot” and “the Blood of Isis” and is associated with her menstrual blood. The fact that she inserted a tiet into her vagina when she was pregnant with Horus tells us its meaning: it was once thought that a woman became pregnant when her menstrual blood coalesced into a baby. Women wore a little symbol of the Isis knot to conceive and protect against miscarriage.

She is the “Lady of Life,” often depicted holding the Ankh, the symbol of life. She had power over life and death, and was a skilled healer titled the “Divine Physician”. She once cured the god Ra from the effects of a scorpion bite, and even brought her own husband back to life. In the twenty-eighth year of his reign, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Set. Set is generally seen as an evil figure, the personification of the dry desert that surrounds the thin strip of fertile Nile Valley. Set and his followers tricked Osiris into getting into a coffin, nailed down the lid, and then threw it in the Nile. It washed up in Byblos, where Set found it and cut his brother’s body into fourteen pieces, which he scattered across Egypt.

Isis searched the whole land until she found the pieces, leaving a funeral inscription at each site, all but the fourteenth part – the phallus, which had been eaten by a crab. [1] The jackal-headed god Anubis embalmed the body, creating the first mummy. Isis formed a new phallus by magic and, transforming herself into a kite, mated with the corpse and conceived Horus, the falcon headed god of day. Isis was forced to hide from Set until Horus was old enough to avenge his father. Osiris chose to remain in Amenti (‘West’) the Land of the Dead to act as the judge of souls.

The protective wings of Isis are depicted folded around may coffins and sarcophagi, showing that she breathes new life into the souls of the dead. Her wings indicate that she may have aspects as the goddess of the cooling breeze, leaving the scent of flowers and spices in her wake. She takes fresh air into the underworld when she goes to take food to the dead. The morning breeze created by her wings heralds the dawn.

Every woman can identify with Isis as the devoted mother of Horus, and with the sorrowing widow who had lost her husband. This may at least partially account for the popularity of her worship, which lasted for 3,500 years. Her cult spread across the Graeco-Roman world, as far as Britain, where there was a temple to Isis in London, on the River Thames in Southwark. The cult died out in Rome after the institution of Christianity, with the last recorded festival of Isis held there in 394 CE. The last Egyptian temple of Isis, situated on the lovely island of Philae, closed around 550 CE.

However, much associated with worship of the Egyptian Holy family was appropriated by the Christian religion. Early Coptic art identified Horus with Jesus, Isis with Mary, and the Christian cross with the pharaonic ankh. The depiction of the seated goddess holding or suckling the child Horus is certainly reminiscent of the iconography of Mary and Jesus. In addition, Osiris was a god who chose to become a man to guide his people. As such he was called ‘the Good Shepherd’ and depicted with a shepherd’s crook. He died, was buried, and brought back to life. He was called the ‘Resurrection and the Life’. His ‘flesh’ was eaten as a sacrament in the form of wheaten cakes. Isis was called ‘The Star of the Sea’ and ‘Queen of Heaven’, titles appropriated by the cult of the Virgin Mary. Isis was a virgin who brought forth a son titled ‘the Saviour of the World’. The family was forced to flee from an evil king and hide until the son became a man. Some say that the so called ‘Black Virgins’ found in some Christian churches, are none other than basalt figures of Isis.

© Anna Franklin

[1] Possibly the Constellation of the Crab (Cancer) which precedes the inundation.


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: