An Isis altar at The Hallows
An Isis altar at The Hallows

I wanted to make this an introduction to Isis; to answer the question “Who is Isis?” Of course there’s a little problem with that—because how can I possibly “define” a Goddess? What can I write that will express how awesome (in the proper sense of the word) She is? How soulful and powerful and magical She is? How can I explain the way She knows your heart—and how having Her know it can make you weep with relief and gratitude?

To describe Her, I have to compare Her to…something. The depth and infinity of space? Yes, She’s like that. The fierce love in a mother’s heart? Yes, that’s Her. The aching beauty of the green earth, the shuddering of an earthquake, the rumble of thunder? Oh, yes. The magic that raises the hairs on the back of your neck as you feel the Mystery of the Holy? Yes, yes, She’s like that.

This inability to describe the fullness of Isis isn’t a new problem, however. The women and men who loved Her during Her religion’s heyday—the second century of the Common Era—had the same problem. And they pretty much solved it the same way. Here’s part of a list from that period of some of the many names and epithets by which Her worshippers knew Her in different parts of the Mediterranean world:

…at Bambyce, Atargatis; among the Thracians and in Delos, Many-Named; among the Amazons, Warlike; among the Indians, Maia; among the Thessalians, Moon; among the Persians, Latina; among the Magi, Kore, Thapseusis; at Susa, Nania; in Syrophoenicia, Goddess; in Samothrace, Bull-Faced; at Pergamum, Mistress; in Pontus, Immaculate; in Italy, Love of the Gods; in Samos, Sacred; at the Hellespont, Mystic; at Myndus, Divine; in Bithynia, Helen; in Tenedos, Name of the Sun; in Caria, Hekate; in the Troad and at Dindyma …, Palentra [?], Unapproachable Isis

If fact, if you read through this papyrus, you’ll find Isis called by the names of just about every Goddess and many of the Gods of the time. This was the only way people could devise to describe Her complexity. That’s why Isis was known as Myrionymos (Gk.), Isis of the Myriad or Many Names, which is sometimes translated as “of the ten thousand names.” Thus, to many of Her ancient devotees, Isis simply became THE Goddess. Which is the same thing  many of us do today when we chant the names of many Goddesses as a way of invoking THE Goddess. “Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hekate, Demeter, Kali…Inanna.”