Posted by: Isidora | January 14, 2012

About the Isis Heart, the Iset Ib

We just ordered ourselves up a treat from Interlibrary Loan. It’s Jan Assman’s (pronounce it with long “a”s or you will be too silly to continue reading) Death & Salvation in Ancient Egypt. He explores Egypt’s relationship with death and rebirth from a number of different vantage points—death as dismemberment, death as separation, death as transition, death as Mystery, and so on.

In the dismemberment section, he has several paragraphs about the two Egyptian words for “heart,” ib and hati. Generally, they’re considered synonyms, but as with all things in Egyptology, there are other opinions. One researcher believes he’s found evidence that ib may refer to all the internal organs as a group—the “insides”—so that, metaphorically, ib would refer to the emotional and inner life of a person; “having a gut feeling” let’s say. The insides were considered to be inherited by the child from the mother, thus “the heart that I had from my mother,” a phrase often found in the funerary texts, would refer to the physical guts as well as an emotional, internal inheritance. The “heart that I had from my mother” was also the heart that connected the Egyptian to her or his genetic heritage. The hati, in contrast, is the literal heart, the muscle itself, and metaphorically relates to things like consciousness, memory, and personal identity, which are not inherited from the mother, but developed by the individual during life. Thus it would be the hati that is weighed against the Feather of Truth in the post mortum Judgment of Osiris.

A heart amulet inscribed with magical text

On the other hand, many heart scarab amulets (worked into the mummy wrappings at the place of the heart) ask “my heart of my mother,” which, according to this this theory, would be the inherited ib rather than the individualized hati, not to speak badly of the deceased during the weighing. So this ib-hati distinction can’t be all there is to it. Apparently both hearts have their tales to tell. One of the Coffin Texts formulates it this way:

There will be given to you your heart (ib) which you had from your mother, your heart (hati) which belongs to your body, your soul which was upon the earth, your corpse which was upon the ground.

The parallelism of the sentence might provide a clue. In the same way that soul is intangible and corpse is tangible, perhaps the “heart which you had from your mother” and “your heart which belongs to your body” are intangible and tangible concepts, too. Because both the ib and the hati will be given to the deceased, it is the totality of the heart, in both physical and spiritual aspects, that is required in the otherworld; both will be needed for rebirth. It’s just a thought, but the parallel structure of this particular text seems to me to point in that direction.

Give to me my heart that I had from my Mother, my Great Mother, Isis.

All of this finally brings me to the Isis Heart, the Iset Ib, that I mention throughout Isis Magic. The Isis Heart is the intangible, spiritual ” heart that I had from my Mother,” the Great Mother of us all, Isis. It is that taste, that spark, that tiny piece of the Goddess that lives within all of us and through which we can access Her greater Divine Heart and Being.

Just as the ancient Egyptian dead needed their hearts, ib and hati, to be reborn, we, too, need our hati heart to live and our ib heart to commune with the Divine. The Iset Ib is the “heart that I had from my Mother” and through it, we can discover Her at any time.

Just be still. Breathe. Focus on your hati heart, the living muscle in your body. Relax that muscle; open your heart. Open to the love and the magic of Isis. Soon, your Isis Heart, your Iset Ib, will be awakened…and you shall be “aware in my heart,” as the Book of Coming Forth by Day says.

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