In these days of waning Sun and increasingly Golden Sunlight, and in anticipation of next year’s SunFest, I offer you an excerpt from Offering to Isis on Gold and the Goddess Isis…..
Incorruptible, imperishable, beautiful, and very, very valuable—gold was the wealth of ancient Egypt and its most sacred metal. Pharaoh drank from golden cups and ate from golden plates. His royal house was lavishly decorated with gold. Wealthy Egyptians wore golden jewelry about their necks and wrists and fingers. Egypt’s reputation as the Land of Gold was so widespread that one neighboring king wrote asking Pharaoh to send him some gold since the metal was known to be so plentiful in Egypt that it was as easily found in the streets as dust. It was, of course, not that easy. Gold mining was and is grueling work and the Egyptians mined not only their own desert lands, but conquered Nubia (Gold-land), at least in part, for its ample supply of gold.
For our purposes, we are less concerned with the wealth gold can confer than with its magic. As the only metal that doesn’t rust or tarnish, gold is a Divine metal. Like the Deities Themselves, gold is incorruptible and ever living. As were so many of the symbols of ancient Egypt, gold was connected with the power of the Sun, not only by its solar color, but also by its imperishability. Many of the Goddesses and Gods have epithets that refer to gold. Both Hathor and Isis were called The Gold and the Golden One. Re was the Mountain of Gold, while the living God, the Pharaoh, bore a Golden Horus name as one of his ritual titles. The flesh of the Deities was metaphorically made of gold, while Their bones were silver. Some sacred images were made exactly that way: with a silver substructure, covered with purest gold. Larger images were often gold-leafed. The temples of Egypt, the homes of the Deities, were likewise filled with magical, solar, perfect gold adorning the images of the Goddesses and Gods carved into temple walls. The capstones of obelisks were encased in gold to catch and reflect the first and last light of the sacred Sun. Isis’ holy of holies in Her temple at Philae may have been entirely gold-leafed so that it would always shine with Her radiance.
Gold also played an important part in funerary customs. During the New Kingdom, the royal burial chamber was called the House of Gold. Gold may have been thought to impart its magic through physical contact. Royal mummies were buried with golden amulets upon their bodies and golden masks upon their faces. Tutankhamun’s famous golden masks are stunningly beautiful examples. As far back as the Old Kingdom, funerary rites included a ritual dance with a position called “Gold.” Surely, it was intended to charge the deceased with the sacred powers of gold. In one tomb painting, the text asks the viewer to behold “the gold movement” of the tcheref dance. Less-well-off Egyptians craved gold’s power, too. So their mummy cases were painted yellow, the color that could substitute for gold. In the land of the dead, both king and commoner could expect to be transformed into a Hawk of Gold.
The hieroglyphic symbol for gold represents a golden necklace with a series of beads hanging down from the front. On many ancient sarcophaguses, Isis and Nephthys can be seen kneeling upon this hieroglyph. In fact, some scholars think this image of a Goddess kneeling on the hieroglyph for gold originated with Isis. A good example of the image comes from the 18th dynasty sarcophagus of Amenhotep II. There, Isis kneels on the glyph for gold and touches the shen, the symbol of eternity. Kneeling at the head and feet of the coffin, Isis and Her sister bring golden immortality to the deceased. Like gold, he shall not perish; like the golden Sun he will always rise again.
In addition to this amuletic image of Isis the Gold, the Goddess is also associated with a number of other golden funerary amulets. An image of “a vulture of gold” was inscribed with the story of Isis protecting Horus in the marshes and placed about the neck of the deceased. A golden collar for the deceased had a magical formula which asked the deceased’s father, brother, “and my mother Isis” to release him from death. The famous, protective Knot of Isis (see “Knot of Isis”) could sometimes be colored yellow instead of the more usual red—both colors were symbolic of red-golden solar resurrection. And, of course, like most Deities, Isis received offerings of gold—jewelry, vessels, golden lamps in the shape of ships. Texts from the first century CE, make mention of “eighty gold leaves” given to Isis by Her hierophoroi, Her Bearers of the Sacred. And in his tale of initiation into the Mysteries of Isis, Apuleius mentions a number of sacred objects that were made of gold and carried in the holy procession for Isis.
Isis is the Golden One Who comes bearing the magic of immortal gold, the sacred magic of rebirth and regeneration. Thus do we offer unto Isis that which is Hers.
To Isis, Gold
En Iset, Nub
This is a gift the priest/ess brings before the Golden One, Isis the Radiant Goddess, Lady of Eternity, Everlasting: an invocation offering of a necklace of gold.
From out of the deep Earth, from a place untouched by light, dirt-blackened men wrench the luminous metal of the Sun. Artisans melt it over red-hot coals until it flows like the thick, warm blood of the Gods. Purified by fire, the gold is cooled.
The goldsmith comes. He re-heats and hammers and rolls and stretches the immortal metal. His work is perfect. He makes no mistake, not one. For he is making a necklace to grace the throat of Isis—the Radiant, the Golden.
It is dark, Isis, when finally I bring before You the bright metal of light. O You Who fills the Earth with gold dust, accept this offering. It is from us all, the Earth that conceived it, the men who toil in the darkness, the smith who gave it beauty, all who call You Golden, all who love You, Isis. It is from us all.
Listen, O Isis, to the words of Gold: “I am offered unto Isis for I am the Malleable One and, in so being, I am perfect.
Infinitely supple am I, ever being transformed into something else. No part of me is corruptible. No part decays. No part can ever be lost. I am ancient and ever changing. I am whatever you desire. I am flesh perfected. I am Gold.”
To You, Isis, I offer this necklace of gold and all things beautiful and pure. M’den, Iset. Accept it, Isis.