The name Philae was translated by the ancient Egyptians as ‘Island of the Time of Ra’ suggesting that the place recreated the primeval world when Re ruled on earth. On the neighbouring island of Biga was the Abaton or ‘pure mound’ one of the many tombs of Osiris around Egypt.
Philae is situated at the frontier between Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia, at the beginning of the First Cataract of the Nile. From there the river descends on its way to the sea. At the southern end of the First Cataract, before the Aswan dam was built, the river gathered speed, dropping sixteen feet in swirling eddies and turbulent falls of white water, for three miles, until the Cataract ended, and the Nile resumed its calmer flow through seven hundred miles of desert, to the Delta and the Mediterranean.
The ritual focus was Biggeh, the site of the abaton, one of the alleged tombs of Osiris. At Philae, regular visits were paid every tenth day by Isis to the island of Bigeh and the tomb of Osiris.
The ancient Egyptians relied on the annual flooding of the Nile to irrigate and fertilise the land of the Nile Valley, renewing and regenerating the earth. Herodotus said that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. They believed that the river emerged from a cave on Biga Island. Sometimes the floodwaters of the Nile were described as the Tears of Isis, which she cries for her husband.
On Philae Isis was called the Lady of Abaton. Here Isis and Hathor have merged into one deity.
Isis is also depicted as the Mother and Protector of the King, In the Birth house of the temple of Isis, there were rites held at every new king’s ascendancy to the throne of Egypt, to manifest and secure his Divine birth.
An end to the cult was made in 535 ACE by Justinian who ordered its forceful suppression.