As a Goddess-centric Witch, I am always looking for new ways to connect with the myriad of global goddesses. Even though I know that I can have powerful relationships with different goddesses from the comfort of my home, I’ve also got a bit of a travel bug, so when I am wandering in new places, I try to hold myself open to spiritual experience and divine intervention. Sometimes, though, I only realize how magical the experience was after the fact. I'll be exploring these different experiences and goddesses on this blog.
Finding Isis: An Anniversary Post
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
Ever since my first flight, at the age of nine, I have loved flying. I enjoy watching the gradual formation of the ground beneath my window; the glow of city lights look like a fiber-optic fairyland. For years I have been, quite simply, hooked on the experience.
As I continued to travel by air, I discovered more things to love. The sensation of weightlessness at the moment of takeoff, the thrill of topography gradually receding and then reappearing in view, and the breathless moment just before the wheels again made contact with the ground all filled me joy. Flying remained magical for me as I moved into adulthood.
Then I traveled to Egypt.
This was not my first international trip, nor was it going to be the longest time I had ever spent air bound, but something about the thought of the void that would be beneath me when crossing the Atlantic from New York to Cairo made me unexpectedly fearful. Moments before departing for the airport, I impulsively cut a length of red embroidery thread and tied it around my wrist. At the time, I didn’t question my intuition, and my choice now seems appropriate: red is a color most commonly associated with sexuality, but other associations include travel, protection, and the banishing of fear.
The trans-Atlantic flight was long and choppy, and when the plane finally touched down in Cairo after twelve hours, I was drained. Then, I stepped out of the climate controlled cabin into another world.
Egypt is overwhelming: the size of the ruins and the metropolitan areas assault you immediately, not to mention the traffic. During my cab ride from the airport to the Cairo train station, I was told, “In America, those white lines on the road mean something. Here in Egypt, they are just for decoration.” Proving the truth of his words, the driver hit the gas, rapidly crossed three lanes and then created his own. I nervously fingered my red thread.
Fortunately, the train ride was less nerve-wracking and my husband and I finally arrived at the ancient Theban metropolis of Luxor. Luxor is a major tourist center that hosts visitors of all nationalities, but I felt oddly uncomfortable in my cargo pants and long-sleeved shirt. My first evening there, we wandered through the Souq, the open air market directly behind my hotel. I was intensely grateful for my husband’s presence as the vendors called out to me that I was beautiful, hawking their spices, scarves, and scarabs. I tried to politely decline, but the Egyptian men were very insistent and traversing just a block of the Souq very intimidating.
The next day, I dressed in a long, dark skirt, and draped a large scarf loosely around my neck. Thus girded, we returned to the Souq. The change was magical. Certainly, it was obvious to any viewers that we were two tourists far afield, but this time every vendor who approached me graciously took “no thank you” for an answer. The harassment was completely gone. I could draw breath, stroll, and actually enjoy the Souq — simply due to the flimsy protection offered by my traditional garb.
This pattern repeated itself throughout the rest of the trip. I took the next step while riding the subway in Cairo. Even with my husband’s hand placed protectively on my elbow, I felt the probing eyes of the Egyptian men on me. Despite the heat of the subway, I hurriedly wrapped my scarf around my head, and just like in the souq, the eyes of the men in the car dropped away.
I longed to travel in the women’s only train car, but did not want to leave my husband’s side, so I made do with covering my hair before we left the hotel each morning. I found a small bit of comfort at the thought that priestesses have traditionally veiled themselves. Surely it seemed like magic: when I was veiled, I found that became “invisible” and was free to gawk at my surroundings in peace. So it was that I explored souqs, tombs, and temples.
The temples of Karnak and Luxor are intensely masculine, dedicated to the god Amun. Although Amun has a celestial wife, none of the places of sites that I visited in Luxor had any feminine energy that I could discern. One of the reasons I had always dreamed of coming to Egypt was a life-long love of the goddesses of the ancient Egyptians; especially a reverence for Isis. But even though I gasped at the size of her form carved three stories high on temple walls in Luxor and her brightly-painted shape was clearly discernible in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, I did not feel her magic in Luxor. I grew disenchanted, worrying that the trip I had long viewed as a spiritual pilgrimage would end up being nothing more than a tourist experience.
Fortunately everything changed when we ventured south to Aswan. Deep in Upper Egypt, near the source of the life-giving Nile, and the magic that had been underground in Thebes pulsed closer to the surface. I was especially excited to visit the temple of Philae, which was the last functioning Pagan temple in the Mediterranean, only officially closed in the 6th century C.E. Best of all: this magical spot was dedicated to Lady Isis.
Isis is the Egyptian goddess of magic. Through brutal wit, She forced her divine father, the sun god Ra, to yield up his magical name to Her, becoming the keeper of all spells. The myth which links Her to Osiris and Horus as sister/wife and mother, respectively, established Isis as the representative of sovereignty. Arguably one of the more powerful Egyptian deities, this association made Her a favorite patron of many pharaohs. Isis was one of the more easily-understood and relatable deities in the complex Egyptian pantheon, and so She became one of the most widely-worshipped goddesses in the cosmopolitan Roman Empire. The worship of Isis became highly syncretic, and emphasized Her magic, sensuality, and role as the divine mother. Isis’s limitless love made her an appealing deity to people from all walks of life and cultures, and it is not surprising that even in today’s monotheistic modern societies She is honored by many.
The approach to Philae was truly magical: coming up alongside it in a small boat, all that was visible at first was bushes bursting with hot pink blossoms. Suddenly, stone pillars loomed above the blossoms, and then the entire temple complex came into view.
Immediately upon disembarking, I felt a powerful feminine energy wrap around me. I visited the mamisi, or birth house, part of the temple complex where the story of Isis, Osiris, and Horus is told in relief along the walls. The mamisi pulsed with residual magic, and I felt my fingertips begin to tingle when I touched its walls. The sanctuary in which the Goddess rested each night before being awakened by her priests and priestesses positively hummed with force. The sensations I experienced at Philae were like nothing I had felt elsewhere in Egypt.
For the first time in this hectic, overwhelming journey, I felt a sense of peace and found myself drifting far away from the other visitors. My husband took one look at the blissful expression on my face, and quietly removed himself, leaving me alone to talk to the Goddess. Enraptured by the beauty of the temple and the views of rich river water, I burned with the desire to leave an offering. With one swift movement, I reached for my red chord, broke the knot, and tucked my talisman into a cleft on the stone wall. A soft breeze rippled over the island, and as I walked away I spotted a small bundle of freshly-cut flowers, carefully tied off with thread. It seemed that I was not the only worshipper of Isis at Philae on that day.
Isis would not allow me to leave Egypt without Her protection, and the red thread I had left in offering was quickly replaced. The small shop adjacent to the temple was just like innumerable others I had seen and avoided, but this day I felt pulled to the display, and a blue and gold scarf spoke softly to me in the voice of the Goddess. Draped in its soft curves as I boarded the boat leaving the island, I knew that I carried the protection of Isis with me for my journey home.
The blue scarf from Philae? It has become my altar cloth, and each morning I greet Isis and thank Her for her protection and love.
A Ritual to Acquire the Protection of Isis
Gather a cup, milk, cinnamon, and honey. After reciting the “prayer to Isis” (below) fill the cup with milk. Add honey and cinnamon, stirring clockwise. (If you prefer, warm the milk on the stove top or in the microwave, if you perform this spell in the evening, you may prefer warm milk to aid in peaceful sleep.) As you stir, whisper the name “Isis” softly to yourself. When the milk is infused with the force of the Goddess, take it to your altar or other sacred space. Have a seat and slowly sip the milk. I like to talk to the Goddess while I do this: you might want to converse, meditate, or just let your mind empty and enjoy the stillness. With each sip of milk, feel the glow of golden light filling your body, and know that each sip of milk fills you with the protection of Isis, Queen of Heaven, Mistress of Magic.
Prayer to Isis:
Mother Isis, shelter me
with your arms,
carry me through
the starry sky
asleep and at peace.
Mother Isis, guide me
with your celestial light,
help me to walk
steady and proud
with my feet on my path.
Mother Isis, protect me
with your magic,
keep me safe from harm
in this world and the next,
I am your child.
Mother Isis, love me
with your wide heart,
lift up my spirit
to the highest peak
with your love.
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