It seems somehow appropriate that Isis is my Goddess for the week....
It seems somehow appropriate that Isis is my Goddess for the week....
Blest is the happy man
Who knows the Mysteries the gods ordain (Euripides)
It is a mystery – that we can be One and also separate, and likewise the gods.
It is a mystery – that we can have a solitary experience which then links us inextricably with others who have shared that same experience, or one like it....
Three years ago, I had a powerful encounter with Isis on Christmas day. I told the story of when I finally heard my Patron call me in issue 83 of Sagewoman magazine (2012: Sanctuary), and I am happy to be able to share this tale here with you know as I celebrate three years in service to Isis.
Finding Isis: Sheltered by Her Wings
Come, the darkest night
Come, new light at dawn
Aset, bring the child of promise,...
Come to your house, Osiris!
Long, long have I not seen you
My heart mourns you.
Shall I not see you, Good King?
Come to your beloved
Gods and men look for you, weep for you together
While I can see I call to you . . .
In ancient Egypt, each person hoped to make the pilgrimage to Abydos at least once in their lifetime to attend the Osirian mysteries, observed in early November, near the end of the season of Akhet, the annual flooding of the Nile.
As the waters began to recede, they left behind rich black silt, leaving the land fertile for another year’s crops. Until the late 19th century, no one knew why the Ninle so dramatically flooded most of the country, or where all the excess water came from, and yet, the Nile, with its accompanying cycle of flooding, sowing, harvest and dry season, was the most powerful force in Egypt. With a reliable food source and a way to travel through the country, ancient Egypt became the richest and most powerful country in that part of the world.
The ancients carried a memory of the great ones who came before them, the children of Ra named Osiris, Isis, Nephthys and Set (the Egyptians called them Asar, Aset, Nebt-Het and Sety). Firstborn and king Osiris, with his sister wife Isis, ruled the land with care, teaching the people to weave linen, make papyrus, brew beer and wine, and beautify (embalm) their dead.
But the most important lesson, the mystery of life, death and rebirth, came through the story of Osiris, which Temple Osireion presents annually as a ritual drama. It is a timeless story, with echoes in other mysteries throughout the classical world - Demeter and Persephone, Attis, Dionysus and Jesus.
The festival opened with a procession in the streets led by a priest wearing the mask of Anubis (Anpu). The soon-inebriated crowd re-enacted the murder of Osiris by his brother Set. Inside the temple, priests conducted the sacred rituals in private. Two priestesses played the parts of Isis and her sister Nephthys, each reciting a solemn lamentation. The first day, the priests placed seeds in a coffin-like container with water and soil. On the third day of the festival the priests opened the container to reveal that the buried seeds, like Osiris, had germinated and come to life.
Every one of us experiences pain, loss, grief, at some time in our lives. To experience that loss through the medium of a drama enables us to gain new insight about what we have gone through. By reliving the mysteries of Osiris we may, like Isis, find the power inside to conceive new life. We may, like Osiris, discover our own eternal, immortal nature, and rise to new life....
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?
—from “A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky” by Lewis Carroll
When I was a child, I had dreams. Lots of them. Run of the mill dreams, fantastical dreams, spy dreams (one of my favorites), and day dreams. There were the flying dreams, dreams where I soared over Egyptian pyramids and thick, darkly lit forests. A few times I had fun zooming around with Peter Pan. And there was one dream where I realized I was dreaming and decided to attempt things that are somewhat more difficult in waking life, such as levitating myself and various objects. While lucidly dreaming, I also decided it would be a cool idea to walk through my wall. It was cool. The grass outside was black-green and barely visible, but the night sky glittered with a few starry jewels, illuminating the tree and slope of the hill in our front yard, where my bedroom faced. I still remember some of these quite clearly and look back with fondness and sometimes yearning, particularly for the flying dreams. A certain few of my dreams, however, have left indelible marks on my life. A certain few have led me to the Goddess....
A few months back, I recommended a few of my favorite Pagan- and polytheist-friendly romances. They covered a variety of sub genres, from urban fantasy romances to science fiction romances. I am pleased to report that I have discovered two more books which should interest Pagan romance readers out there, especially Kemetics.
Seducing the Jackal and Hunting the Jackal by Seressia Glass are part of the Harlequin Nocturne Cravings line of short paranormal romance novels. They run only seventy to eighty pages, but Glass builds a whole, fascinating world in just a few chapters. In the Jackal books, there was once an alliance between the magically-talented Daughters of Isis and the shape-shifting warriors, the Sons of Anubis. Thousands of years ago, they fought side by side to protect the land of Egypt from the Lost Ones*, those souls which failed -- or refused -- to cross over into Duat and returned to torment the living....
I am the incomprehensible silence
and the idea often brought to mind.
I am the voice sounding throughout the world
and the word appearing everywhere.
I am the sounding of my name,
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and bravery.
I am without shame; I am full of shame.
I am power and I am trepidation.
I am conflict and peace.
Listen to me,
For I am the scandalous and magnificent one.
Excerpted from Thunder, Perfect Mind, trans. by George W. MacRae
In the silence of the night the waters were troubled. We did not know that far to the south, in the headwaters of the great river, rains swelled the flow, sending the fertile black earth our way. What we did know was that the star of Sopdet, whom we know as Aset (Isis), had disappeared from the sky for weeks now. Each evening the priests watched for it to reappear at the horizon, the signal that Aset was weeping, mourning the loss of her husband Asar (Osiris). After dark there is no way to see if a crocodile lies in wait or a hyena quietly stalks you coming home late. Except in the cities, the silence here is vast, incomprehensible. Against that quiet, the change in the water showed itself in little lappings higher up the bank, a swath of new green advancing up the shores on both sides.
The priests told us that Aset’s tears were flowing, rousing Hapy from his sleep among the rocks of the headwaters. I do not understand these things. Like the Lady, I had suffered loss, the death of my husband at the hands of an evildoer. My grief was unabatable; like hers, my tears seemed a limitless flood. Then I found myself carrying my own Heru, pregnant with my own shining Horus boy, and hope soothed my tears. By the time of planting, I could hardly stoop to the water’s edge with my jar, and as the first harvest came in, my son saw the light of Ra.
The mother is so many things – fearful, yet brave, cunning, but also confused, wandering in search of Asar’s body. I am not pharaoh in his House of a Million Years, nor am I a priest who can explain these things. But I see that she is like me, or maybe I am like her. Maybe we are the same, though she is eternal. When I am cowed by shame or ignorance, I remember that she found her power, found a way to her heart’s desire. When the waters rise each season of Akhet, I remember that even while she wept, Aset brought new life to the world. I smile when I walk back to refill my jar, knowing it is her lovely tears, her life I’m bringing back home with me.
It could be argued that there is no more famous Goddess in modern Paganism than Isis. Her figure -- often winged, with ankh in hand or perhaps an infant Horus, usually crowned by a sun and horns -- is immediately recognizable.
Such was the case in much of the ancient Western world, as well. Known as Au Set or Aset in Egypt, her myths and worship spread across northern Africa, deep into the Middle East, throughout Europe, and as far north as Roman Britain. The memory of her survived even into the Christian Middle Ages. With the (re)birth of Paganism, songs and hymns are once again being raised in her honor; Wiccans, solitary Pagans, Goddess Spiritualists, Kemetics and many others praise her as the Queen of Heaven, the Throne of Creation, the Great Magician, the Mother of Mothers, the Rose of Eternal Life.
Isis was the first non-Greek Goddess to catch my eye. I loved reading stories about her: how she won the Secret Name of Ra, how she mourned her murdered husband, conceived a son, and eventually helped him to win his rightful throne. I found it fascinating that Isis was the personification of the Egyptian throne and that the few women to rule Egypt in their own name (such as Cleopatra VII) closely identified with her....
Like many people moving out of Christianity and into "alternative" spirituality, it was devotion to female Deities which first attracted me. As a child, I was drawn to Artemis and Athena (and Apollo). Through my teen years and into college, it was books about the Goddess and Goddesses which steadily filled my shelves, eventually overflowing. I was fascinated, enthralled by this idea of a female Deity, so different from the male Deity I had grown up honoring.
In graduate school, that overflowing pile turned into a landslide as Goddess Spirituality became the focus of my master's thesis. While I concentrated on the Fellowship of Isis (even making a pilgrimage to Clonegal Castle), I read broadly on the subject -- and it quickly became apparent that there is no one Goddess Spirituality. Goddess Spiritualities would be more accurate, as those who honor the Female Divine fall all along the spiritual spectrum, often touching different points simultaneously. Some devotees are monotheistic in their thealogy, believing in a single, all-encompassing female Deity. Others are more pantheistic or panentheistic, honoring nature and the female entity which created and manifests in it. Still others are henotheistic, acknowledging the existence of other Deities but choosing to honor only one (or a small handful). And there are devotees who identify as polytheistic, acknowledging and honoring multiple female Deities exclusively, or giving them priority over male Deities. Finally, there are strains of Goddess Spirituality running through progressive branches of Judaism and Christianity and (less visibly) Islam.
For those interested in practicing or becoming more familiar with Goddess Spirituality, there are lots and lots of books available. They range from heavy academic texts on ancient beliefs and rituals to translations of Gnostic Christian texts to modern Isian texts to archaeological reports to collections of poetry to modern fantasy and science fiction. Considering just how vast a topic this is, I'll focus here on my favorite nonfiction* texts, those I found most informative or which had the most impact on me....
One of the key foundations of modern (and ancient) Paganism is also one of the most contentious. We find it very hard to talk about, it seems, and yet it's fairly key to many people's personal practice. When I've talked about it in the past, it almost seems like I'm breaking a taboo, with the words themselves being 'dirty' or embarrassing. And yet, learning from my passionate and heartfelt Heathen friends, that embarrassment is itself disrespectful, dishonourable and, ultimately, rather foolish.
Who are your Gods and Goddesses? What does Deity mean to you, and how does it influence and affect your Paganism? From the Platonic 'ultimate Male/Female' images (tallying with 'All Gods/Goddesses are One') to the pantheistic, international eclectic transference of pretty much any deity with any other no matter where you yourself live, talking about Deity is a tricky business. Especially because ultimately, nobody can really tell you you're wrong. Or right. Except, perhaps, those Gods themselves.
The Judgement of Paris (Classical)