Isis Info


Diane Neisius

The Goddess Isis is the best-known Goddess of Egypt because she was worshipped not only in Egypt of the Pharaohs but also in the Roman Empire during late antiquity (and this was nearly all of the known world at that time). But until we take take a look to the development of the cult of this Great Mother Goddess, we should have a summary of her mythology: [1-6]

When the God of Air, Shoo, seperated his children Nut and Geb (heaven and earth) of each other, the Sky-Goddess Nut was pregnant with four children: Isis and Osiris, Nephtys and Set. It is told of Isis and Osiris they were already in love when still in her mother's womb.
By order of their father Geb, Osiris and Isis became King and Queen of Egypt after the Sun-God Re had departed to heaven. It is told that they were the first to teach men farmership and gave them law and order. When Egypt was civilised, Osiris started a journey to teach the other people about civilisation (he went not as a warrior but convinced by talkings and the play of his harp). Meanwhile Isis reigned Egypt alone.
But Isis was not a talented Queen only but also a skilled mage. By trick she got knowledge of the secret True Name of the Sun-God (meaning she now had power over him), and it was her magic besides the force of her brother Set which protected the barque of the Sun-God Re from evil chaos when travelling through the underworld each night.
When Osiris returned from his mission, his brother Set was envious about his success. There are different reports about Osiris' death, some tell he drunk in the river Nile, other tell he was killed and thrown in the Nile when Set started a revolution against him. However, Set usurped the throne of Egypt and imprisoned his sister Isis. But she quickly escaped an started a search for her dead brother and beloved Osiris.
On her wandering, Isis came to Phoenicia where the waves had driven dead Osiris. The trunk of an ereike tree had grown around him. The Goddess gave no hint of her true nature but served the queen of Phoenicia as a nurse, asking for no reward but the tree-trunk of the ereike. Then she returned.
Hided in the papyrus reed of Lower Egypt, she opened the trunk and cried for dead Osiris. By her Divine Power she revived osiris, and they loved each other begetting the Falcon-God Horus. Nevertheless it was not the wish of Osiris to be back on earth but to reign the Other World to give all men a guaranty of resurrection like his own.
Meanwhile Set obscured there was something going on. He found the body of Osiris when Isis was not there, broke it into 14 parts and scattered them all over Egypt. Therefore it is told Osiris has 14 graves. Isis found and collected all of the parts and made the body whole again.
Hided in the reed, she gave birth to her son Horus and grew him up. Horus became a skilled warrior. When he was old enough, Isis went with him to the Court of the Ninehood of the Gods to claim the throne of Egypt for his own.
This became known as the "Dispute of Horus and Seth", a juidical hearing taking decades and a number of stages of appeal. Horus argued his inheritance and Set his de-facto power. Finally Isis fooled Set out and he unknowingly judged himself. Now the Court of the Gods could do nothing else but accept Horus as King of Egypt.
With her Beloved left in the Other World, Isis swore not to marry again on earth. She lived for a long time in Egypt, being a Wise Woman and Mage before she departed to heaven.

In the religion of ancient Egypt this mythology and its connected cult started as only one among numerous others. But Isis and Osiris soon became popular, and in the classical period (when, among others, the pharaohs Tut-Ankh-Amen and Ramses reigned) it was common to identify the dead king with Osiris to guarantee his resurrection. This funeral rite step by step also became available for all people of Egypt.
When in the late egyptean period the greeks entered Egypt, they were fascinated by Isis and Osiris. Men felt a deep affect about the sorrow of Isis, who searched for her Beloved, grew up her son and disputed for his right against all circumstances. Isis was identified with greek Demeter and became known outside Egypt. The process was accelerated during the Roman Empire. In the late Empire, the most widespread religion was that of Isis (besides the cult of Mithras). Temples of Isis have been exvacated in London, St. Alban (Britain), St. Gallen (Switzerland), Cologne and Mainz (Germany) just to name some.
When Christian Belief became a state religion in Rome it already had assimilated some characteristics of the elder religions (resurrection, divine son, worship of light). Todays worship of the Virgin Mary in southern Europe (and following the spanish conquerors to middle and south America) roots directly in the worship of Isis. "Isis Lactans", carrying young Horus changed to Mary holding the child Jesus. There are still some very old roman churches where it is visible a horned crown has been erased above Isis' head, adding crosses instead. Some song collections of middle ages, among it the "Cantigas de Santa Maria" are based upon ancient hymns to Isis.
And today, not only the members of the Fellowship of Isis worship Isis directly again, but also some five million catholics who want to see the Virgin Mary as the female aspect of the Christian God, if not as the Goddess herself. Isis is alive!


[1] Regula, DeTraci: Mysteries of Isis. Llewyn Publ., St.Paul MN, 1996.
[2] Zingsem, Vera: Göttinnen großer Kulturen. DTV, München 1999.
[3] Brunner-Traut, Emma: Altägyptische Märchen. Bechtermünz Verlag, Augsburg, 1998.
[4] Apuleius of Medauros: Metamorphoses XI:2-13
[5] Plutarch: De Iside et Osiride 12-20
[6] Diodoros Siculus: Historia Mundi I:11-22
[7] Witteyer, Marion: Göttlicher Baugrund. Initiative Römisches Mainz e. V., Mainz, 2003.

© 2004 Medusa Iseum