Isis was The Great Goddess of Egypt for 3,000 years. She was the society’s lover, mother, judge, protector, nature, and the law. Her image passes directly into Mary. She lasted so long that the evolution of consciousness can be seen in the different ways she was conceived of and honored.
She was the milk-giving cow goddess, the fertile pig goddess, the bird goddess, the snake goddess, goddess of the Underworld, goddess of the Tree of Life, goddess of the words of power, mother of her son—Horus, and goddess of the throne where the king sat in her lap and nursed. The primordial unity of the Bronze Age and the Neolithic is reflected in the bird and serpent images of Isis. Like the totality of the snake-image, a vulture goddess and a serpent goddess symbolize the union of 2 lands—above and below—and the union beyond duality. This snake and bird image lives in Meso-American myth of Latin America.
As the goddess, Sekmet, Isis has the magnificent head of a lioness and carries on it the sun, circled by the fire-spitting cobra. She was used by kings to justify war, but she was also a healer. Many other cultures have goddesses that sit on lions, or give birth between them, but here lion and goddess become one.
The mythic soap-opera-story of Isis, in brief—Osiris was her brother and husband, as well as the first king of Egypt. Nephthys was her sister and her dark self. Seth was the other brother, who represents chaos and the vision of the opposing element in the universe that now has to be mastered and continually brought into the rule of the good. Seth is also Nepythys' husband and brother. Seth puts Osiris into a chest, a sarcophagus and kidnaps him.
Isis searches, finds, and brings him back to life with the beating of her great wings. Then she goes back to care for Horus, the babe, and Seth finds him and tears his body into 14 pieces and scatters them. Isis and Nephthys find him, on a quest with Anubis, jackled-headed, son of Osiris and Nepythys, from when Osiris mistook Nephthys for her sister, Isis, in the dark. Horus is hawk-headed, and Thoth, the moon god, is ibis-or-baboon-headed. They find all his pieces, except his phallus, but Isis makes him another one and fans him alive again. Horus loses his left eye—the eye of Horus. Horus grows up and takes his vengeance for his father— the battle takes 3 days and nights, the time of darkness where life hangs in the balance. Then Horus and Seth fight once more over who has the right of inheritance of Osiris's position as king—his brother, Seth, or his son, Horus This is a metaphor of how Seth, or chaos, is made to serve the new order. This storu provided s a major yearly drama ritual for 3,000 years in Egypt.
She, like Inanna, is the start of a personal goddess, almost human. Like humanity, Isis feels pain and anguish, is defeated but will not give in, and recovers—not all she had lost, but some part of it. Because she both suffers and transcends the trials of the human condition, she can serve as an image of reconciliation to the conditions of human life. She is the only Egyptian goddess who has an individual character and a personal story, and is probably ALL of the Egyptian goddess, —Hathor, Sekmet, Nut, and Maat—one figure in many personas. She is the mediator between two realms, as the Virgin Mary would be many thousands of years later.
Deeper symbolic meanings of the story—Because Isis loves Osiris, she searches for him and because of her power, she brings him back to life, mythologically becoming his mother. We see the pattern of the myth of the mother goddess and her son-lover as a variation on a universal theme. She is the perpetual cycle of the moon and the everlasting source of life—Zoe, while he is the living and dying phases of manifestation of the source —Bios. Osiris and Horus are substantially one figure in two aspects as well—the old and the new, the dying and the reborn.
When Isis and Nepythys stand with their outstretched wings, as they are portrayed, guarding the sarcophagi of the Egyptian kings for thousands of years, they are nurturing the Pharaoh's resurrection as the reborn sun in the same way they do for Osiris, in the annual re-telling of the tale, and all the dead who become Osiris and are found by Nepythys and Isis—here is a clear image of the soul's transformation.
Isis's sphere of manifestation extends way beyond Osiris, or the king, and beyond that of any other goddess. "She discloses the unity of creation." Plutarch, quoted in the 2nd century AD portrays her as the universal principle. "She offers the god an opportunity to create from her and to impregnate her...and she rejoices, made pregnant and teeming with these creations." She comes out of an ancient Neolithic tradition rooted in a unified world. She creates the wind with the beating of her great wings— understood as the breath of life—and she awakens her dead husband and conceives a child from him as he lay recovering there, passive, breathing her breath, and so, suspended from death. Isis hovers over all the dead with her life-giving wings offering the first breath of eternal life.
There are 2 parallel images of soul, the Ba-soul— the individual personal soul, and the Ka-soul— the universal soul of the life force from which they were made, and that welcomes them back. Zoe and Bios, again.
Isis as Throne—The shape of the throne is an ancient image of the original mound, the hill or sacred mountain, which was closest to heaven and thus revered. Like Silbury Hill and the ziggurat of Inanna, the pyramid was also a mountain. The lap of goddess Isis became the royal throne of Egypt, and the kings would ascend and suckle milk from her breast, and receive the divine nourishment that would guarantee his right to rule and give him the qualities of kingship. It is important that She had to give this to him. Isis was the throne, personified, and the adoration and awe felt from this manifestation of power was the next phase of the Great Mother Goddess. 2,000 years later, in Egyptian paintings, King Seti sits upon the lap of the goddess and she nurses him, giving the term "son-lover" a precise image, that no other goddess took on.
Isis as other goddesses—In ancient Egypt, Isis merges in and out of other goddesses, as though the feminine principle were so all-pervasive that it could come into manifestation at any time as any character under any name.
Nut, the goddess of the sky was also Isis, as the mother-of-the-gods. Her image is a cosmic-mother-as-cow giving life’s milk to the people. Nut was also drawn in the image of a woman arching over the body of the earth, her husband. She is the all- encompassing feminine form, the primeval ocean, and the sun, moon, and stars are her children.
This was the matriarchal view of the people, as opposed to the patriarchal view of the priests. Later, Nut becomes the granddaughter of the new god, as happened in Sumeria and Babylonia. The story of sunrise changes then, as the reddening of the dawn is seen, not as the birth blood of the mother, but as the blood of the serpent of darkness who has been slain, heroically, by the sun. Each night, he is reborn, as the sun is reborn each day. This image passes into Greece and Rome as the myth of the slaying of the powers of darkness by the god of light. Nut, as the night sky, is present on the inside of coffins facing downwards, and on the outside, facing upwards, so that the deceased may lie enfolded in the loving embrace of the heavenly mother.
Maat, the goddess that binds divine and human beings to the one universal law, wore an ostrich feather on her head and balanced that against the soul of the deceased. "Make me light" was the plea and the prayer, and we still say light as a feather. If the deceased was light, it was because they had Maat in their heart, and they would be taken to Osiris, lord of the underworld, with Isis and Nepythys standing beside him. She is often pictured as giving the breath of life to the Pharaohs by holding the ankh to the nose. Maat was the principle of harmony— she embodies truth, right order, lawfulness, and justice. She isn't separate from the other goddesses and gods, but is the principle enacted in all of them. Social order was a reflection of divine order, and Ra, the sun god was seen to put order, or Maat into the places of chaos.
Maat, as a principle parallels the ME in Sumeria and the Tao in China, the Dharma in India, and Sophia in the old testament and gnostic gospels. All these terms refer to an image of cosmic order, archetypal harmony, or universal law. Unity became manifest from diversity, and this was experienced as the continuous birth of all creation from the divine mother.
Mother and Child is a constant motif in the myths of the world— the infant lying alone and helpless, cradled only by nature in a wilderness far from human company. This person often frows up to be the Hero. Horus was born and left in secret, safe as long as Isis looked after him, but she had to leave him. Like Jesus, here is the savior of the world, poised on the whims of hazard. The image of a vulnerable mother, alone and facing dangerous forces which she overcomes is an enduring image which invites compassion from humanity. It was this vision of the Goddess Mother and her child-savior which caught the imagination of the new manifestation of the myth that was Christianity.
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