I missed this past weekend’s post because I was away at a lovely Imbolg festival in honor of Bridgit of the many names. A most beautiful and peaceful festival, full of the Lady’s Fire and Water and Forging and Weaving and Poetry. And so the Wheel turns…
But Meanwhile, Back Here in Isiopolis…
I have been pondering last week’s subject, the most secret and magical name of the Sun God Re, which Isis learned when She forced Re to reveal it so that She could heal Him. Turnabout is fair play, so this time I’ll reveal some of Isis‘ most secret and magical names.
These names are to be found in the texts that have come to be known as the Greek Magical Papyri, but which really should be called the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri. After all, most the magic is Egyptian and some of the formulae were even written in Demotic, which is a late form of hieroglyphs. Have I mentioned before that I love, love, love the magical papyri? In case you don’t know them, here a quick introduction.
The Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri: An Introduction
The Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, usually known simply as the Greek Magical Papyri, are a collection of magical texts, written on papyrus rolls in Greek and Demotic which date from the 2nd to the 5th centuries CE. I prefer to call them Greco-Egyptian rather than just Greek, for while they were written largely in Greek and they reflect a profoundly Hellenized Egyptian culture, they are actually from Egypt (the city of Thebes, modern Luxor) and the magical techniques they employ are almost purely Egyptian. First published in English in 1986 as The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation including the Demotic Spells and edited by Hans Dieter Betz, the Magical Papyri are an anthology of ancient “books” and extracts from books which were translated by an international team of scholars.
The information contained in these texts is extremely rare—a legacy of the coming of the Christian era. Magical books and records, such as those in the Papyri, were systematically destroyed as the Christian religion gained power.
Before the discovery of the Papyri, many historians held a distorted view of the role of magic in the everyday lives of the people. That is, they believed that it didn’t have much of a role except among very “primitive” people— which the classical civilizations decidedly were not. I have also read authors who seem astounded that most people didn’t seem to differentiate between “magic” and “religion”. (Ancient Egypt is an example of a culture that didn’t make such a distinction; the ancient Egyptian language didn’t even have a specific word for religion. It did have a specific word for magic: heka.) With the discovery of the Papyri, and an increased respect for ancient religions among scholars, many have reassessed their views. Now it is more commonly accepted that magic probably had a larger role in people’s lives than previously thought and could even have been an expression of religious feeling.
For religious scholars, the Papyri hold clues and tidbits of hitherto unknown mythological material as well as parts of otherwise lost invocations, prayers, liturgy and rituals. The Papyri also contain what appears to be older Greek material. On this subject, Betz comments that “strange as it may sound, if we wish to study Greek folk religion, the magical papyri found in Egypt are to be regarded as one of the primary sources.”
For modern magical practitioners, the Papyri are important, too. The spells contained in these Papyri (and others like them now lost) are almost without doubt, the source documents for medieval and hence modern magical workings. The Magical Papyri contain formulae for summoning spirit helpers, attracting lovers, creating prosperity in business; as well as many, many workings for divination of various kinds. One has only to compare the texts of the Magical Papyri workings with the texts of medieval grimoires such as the Goetia of the Lemegeon, the Grimorium Verum and the Grand Grimoireto see their kinship.
By the way, if that sounded like one long quote, it was. It was from my introduction to the Papyri from an article in Llewellyn’s long-time-gone-now Golden Dawn Journal. So here’s just a tiny bit more, then we’ll get to Isis’ magical names.
As noted earlier, the Papyri are recorded in Greek and Demotic Egyptian, a late form of the hieroglyphs. It is an interesting comment on the degree to which the Greek and Egyptian cultures mixed, at least in the magical communities, that some of the papyri are recorded bilingually — within the same working. The Deities invoked are from an international group of Pantheons, too, (mostly Greek, Egyptian and Hebrew, with some Babylonian, Zoroastrian, Scythian and Thracian thrown in for good measure). Hekate, in Her underworld aspect, is one of the most often-invoked Deities of the Papyri. Apollo and Selene as Sun and Moon also have many invocations addressed to them. Hermes Trismegistos and Thoth are invoked, but not as often as one might think given Thoth’s reputation as a magician. Isis is invoked often, not only in Her magician aspect, but just about every other aspect as well, as are Osiris, Anubis, and other popular Egyptian Gods. In relation to divination and prophecy, again, Apollo appears quite often. Interestingly, IAO is the most often-named Deity in the Papyri.
Another fascinating feature of the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri is the use of what the Chaldean Oracles refer to as “the barbarous names of evocation” which the reader is adjured to “change not”. These are holy and magical names, words, and in some cases, series of unintelligible sounds, that the operator uses in invocation or as text for marking talismans or other implements used in the rite. In examining these “barbarous” names (in this case, barbarous simply means “foreign”; Greeks called all foreigners barbarians), one can see traces of the origin of at least some of them in the names and epithets of foreign Goddesses and Gods. For example, this partial invocation from the Papyri’s Eighth Hidden Book of Moses:
ORTHO BAUBO NEORADER SOIRE SOIRE SANKANTHARA ERESCHIGAL APARA KEOPH IAO SABAOTH ABRATIAOTH ADONAI ZAGOURE…
We can recognize easily the names of the Greek Goddess Baubo and the Sumerian Queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal, as well as IAO, the Greek version of Yahweh, and the Hebrew Godnames Tzabaoth and Adonai in this text. How many of the others are actually Deity names or epithets which were corrupted through scribal error or misunderstanding?
Searching for Isis in the Papyri
As you might imagine, I have been though every page of the published Papyri, looking for Isis. And I have indeed found Her. But my favorite-favorite formula records names of evocation for Isis, names that I consider to be Her secret, magical names. Here is the formula in which the names occur; naturally, it’s a protective formula; quite apt for Isis:
Taking sulfur and seed of Nile rushes, burn them as incense to the moon and say,
“I call on you, Lady Isis, whom Agathos Daimon [“the Good Spirit”] permitted to rule in the entire black land. Your name is LOU LOULOU BATHARTHAR THARESIBATH ATHER-NEKLESICH, ATHER-NEBOUNI EICHOMO CHOMOTHI Isis Sothis, SOUERI, Bubastis, EURELIBAT CHAMARI NEBOUTOS OUERI AIE EOA OAI. Protect me, great and marvelous names of the god [add the usual]; for I am the one established in Pelusium, SERPHOUTH MOUISRO, STROMMO MOLOTH MOLONTHER PHON Thoth. Protect me, great and marvelous names of the great god [add the usual].
“ASAO EIO NISAOTH. Lady Isis, Nemesis, Adrasteia, many-named, many-formed, glorify me, as I have glorified the name of your son Horus [add the usual].”
When a Papyri formula says to “add the usual,” it normally means to add your name in order to personalize the spell. Agathos Daimon is here being assimilated to Osiris and refers to the myth in which Osiris leaves Isis to rule Egypt (“the entire Black Land”) while He went on His mission to civilize the world through music and poetry. The formula specifically tells us that these are names of Isis, and we know they are secret names because they are found in the Magical Papyri, which by their very nature are secret and would have been considered “a Mystery of the Goddess Isis.”
The Secret Names of Isis
According to this formula, these are the evocative and protective names of Isis:
- Lou LouLou
- Isis Sothis
Qabalists will be interested to note that there are 22 magical names of Isis in this formula. (The other names are names of Thoth.) But I’d like to narrow down the list a bit for the sake of compactness and magical wield-yness. So I’ll remove Isis Sothis since its a fairly commonly known epithet of the Goddess. I’ll remove Nemesis and Adrasteia as well; these are Greek Goddess names that were applied to Isis in Her role as Justice Bringer. (Nemesis is a Goddess of retribution, especially Divine retribution, and Adrasteia’s name means “Inescapable.”) Neboutos may be a corruption of Nebetho or Nephthys, and though She is Isis’ twin, let’s remove that name for now. Athernebouni might (just a guess) also refer to Nephthys, but since it’s clearly parallel with Atherneklêsich, let’s leave it in. Bubastis is Bast, a Goddess in Her own right, so let’s let Her go Her own way. And finally, I think that Aie, Eoa, Oai, and maybe Asao and Eio, are magical permutations of (mostly) vowels rather than names. Wonderful, beautiful, and magical, such permutations are definitely part of Egyptian magic, but I won’t count them as names of Isis in this case.
That leaves 12 names of the Goddess, a number that inevitably reminds me of the Egyptian 12 Hours of the Night (and it would have to be of the night rather than the day, for these are mysterious names of the Goddess):
- Lou LouLou
The only ones of these names about which I can even guess are Souêri and Ouêri. I think both are corruptions or mis-hearings of Weret, “The Great One,” which was certainly an epithet of the Great Goddess Isis.
Meditations & Magic
These magical names of the Goddess really light me up; your mileage may vary. But I do hope you’ll try them on for size. Meditate on them. Chant them. If you have a copy of Isis Magic, you’ll find an oracular ritual in the Prophetess chapter that uses them. And, of course, you can always work the protective charm, just as it is in the papyrus. It does work; just remember to “add the usual.”