The Goddess Isis originated in Egypt and has inscribed on Her temple in Sais, "I, Isis, am all that has been, that is or shall be; no mortal man hath ever me unveiled." By the period of the Roman Empire, she had become the most prominent deity of the Mediterranean basin. She was a formidable contender with the newly founded Christian religion and Her worship continued well into the 6th century AD until persecution pushed Her into the shadows of religiosity.
Egyptian Aset, or Eset, one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt. Her name is the Greek form of an ancient Egyptian word that is perhaps associated with a word for "throne."
Little is known of Isis' early cult. In the Pyramid Texts (c. 2350-c. 2100 BC), she is the mourner for her murdered husband, the god Osiris. In her role as the wife of Osiris, she discovered and reunited the pieces of her dead husband's body, was the chief mourner at his funeral, and through her magical power brought him back to life.
Isis hid her son, Horus, from Seth, the murderer of Osiris, until Horus was fully grown and could avenge his father. She defended the child against many attacks from snakes and scorpions. But because Isis was also Seth's sister, she wavered during the eventual battle between Horus and Seth, and in one episode Isis pitied Seth and was beheaded by Horus during their struggle. Despite her variable temperament, she and Horus were regarded by the Egyptians as the perfect mother and son. The shelter she afforded her child gave her the character of a goddess of protection. But her chief aspect was that of a great magician, whose power transcended that of all other deities. Several narratives tell of her magical prowess, with which she could even outwit the creator god Atum. She was invoked on behalf of the sick, and, with the goddesses Nephthys, Neith, and Selket, she protected the dead. She became associated with various other goddesses who had similar functions, and thus her nature became increasingly diverse. In particular, the goddess Hathor and Isis became similar in many respects. In the astral interpretation of the gods, Isis was equated with the dog star Sothis (Sirius).
Isis was represented as a woman with the hieroglyphic sign of the throne on her head, either sitting on a throne, alone or holding the child Horus, or kneeling before a coffin. Occasionally she was shown with a cow's head. As mourner, she was a principal deity in all rites connected with the dead; as magician, she cured the sick and brought the dead to life; and, as mother, she was herself a life-giver.
The cult of Isis spread throughout Egypt. In Akhmim she received special attention as the "mother" of the fertility god Min. She had important temples throughout Egypt and Nubia. By Greco-Roman times she was dominant among Egyptian goddesses, and she received acclaim from Egyptians and Greeks for her many names and aspects. Several temples were dedicated to her in Alexandria, where she became the "patroness of seafarers." From Alexandria her cult was brought to all the shores of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Rome. In Hellenistic times the mysteries of Isis and Osiris developed; these were comparable to other Greek mystery cults.
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