“In Egyptian, the name Isis means throne and Isis was thought to be the embodiment of the royal throne.”
That’s usually the first thing you find when you look into the meaning of the name “Isis.” (And if you’re interested in the meaning of Her name, you probably already know that Isis is the Greek version. In Egyptian, Her name would have been more like Iset (Ee-set) or Eset (Eh-set), which you have probably seen as Aset. For a detailed explanation of the pronunciation of Her name, please see my post here.)
The Goddess Isis is the Goddess Throne. It is certainly true that Isis was associated with the kingship—as were all the major Deities and most of the minor ones. The living king, seen as the embodiment of the God Horus, was considered the son of Isis (as well as many other Goddesses). After death, the king became an Osiris, so naturally Isis became his mourning widow. As the personification of the royal throne, Isis is the institution of the kingship itself. A feminist interpretation could rightly be that no king could take his place on the throne unless he had a right relationship with the Goddess Throne. To rule, the king must sit in the lap of the Goddess as Her child and husband. To identify Her, the Goddess often wears the hieroglyph for throne on Her head.
But to me, defining Isis—arguably the Greatest Goddess of all time—as merely the “royal throne” is the most bloodless and boring of the possible explanations of the meaning of Her name.
Other meanings of Iset
Interestingly, “throne” isn’t even the most common meaning for the hieroglyph Isis wears on Her head. More generally, iset means seat. The ancient Egyptians seemed to have had a flexible, idiomatic use for the word similar to its use in English. For example, when we say “he is in the seat of power,” we are not often referring to an actual seat, but we mean that he is in charge. Similarly, iset smeter means judgment seat and the term referred to a tribunal of judges. Just as we say we have our heart set (a word that comes from seat) on something, the Egyptian wished for her iset ib—literally the seat of the heart—but meaning her heart’s desire.
Even more generally, iset means place. Judging by the uses of it we have left to us, it often means an important or sacred place. Iset Weret is the Great Place, an idiom for Heaven. The iset wabet is the place of purity; that is, the sanctuary. The Iset Maat is the Place of Law or Truth, that is, the Otherworld. Iset neferet is the beautiful place; the cemetery. Iset hotep is the place of peace; the tomb. Temples can be designated as isets, as the special places of the Deities. The Iset en Neit is the Temple of Neith. The Iset Heqit is the Place of the Frog Goddess, Heqit.
The coming together of society
Egyptologists believe that the coming together of people around the shrines of Deities played an important part in the early organization of Egyptian society. What’s more, the Egyptian term for a settlement was the seat or abode of the Deity—and generally, Egyptian place names are feminine. So iset is a seat, an abode, a tomb, a place, a temple, a chamber—a feminine seat, abode, tomb, place, temple, or chamber.
The coming together of all things
In the Coffin Texts, the Creator God Atum says He was “alone in lassitude” in the Nu, the Primordial Chaos, and describes it as a time “when my throne had not yet been put together that I might sit on it.” Here, the throne is a symbol of everything. With the coming together of the throne is the coming into being of all things. Thus, I believe we can say that the Goddess Throne is the Goddess of Existence. She is the seat not only of the king, but of all things. Without the Throne, nothing exists but the Primordial Chaos and the Divine consciousness.
The Goddess Throne is the Seat, the Abode, the Place; but importantly, She is The First Place, the First Holy Point of Being, the Sacred Something that First Came Into Existence from Nothing. The Goddess Throne is the One Who First Came Into Being and She is also the Divine Creatrix, the One Who Brings Into Being. Utterance 1153b of the Pyramid Texts says,
She [a Divine Cow Goddess] leads him [the deceased King] to the Great Throne [Iset Weret], who created the Gods, Who created Horus, Who engendered Thoth. Isis conceives him, Nephthys engenders him. He sits upon the Great Throne, Who creates the Gods.
To me, and perhaps to you, dear Isiacs, this is a much more satisfying explanation of the meaning of the name of the Great Goddess Isis, the Great Goddess Throne. She is the Goddess of Existence and She is the One Who is Great of Magic due to the enormous magical power it takes to bring something into being. Isis creates by conceiving something in Her heart/mind, then speaking it into existence with Her magical tongue. Through the holy power of Isis, Something comes from Nothing, Being comes from Non-Being. From the Mysterious Womb of the Mother comes the Holy Child—always, always, as if by magic.