Books and words have the magic power of being able to transmit thoughts from one person to another and from one person to many—without those people ever having met each other face to face. This is a great magic indeed and the ancient Egyptians well knew it. That is why their greatest Divine Magicians, Thoth and Isis, both commanded Words of Power (Hekau) and through these powerful words, worked Their holy magic.
The magic inherent in words is only emphasized when we know that only a very small percentage, perhaps only 1%, of the people in ancient Egypt could read and write. Magician-priest/esses who “know their spells” were considered to have the God Heka (“Magic”) Himself in them.
Egyptian books were kept in the temple Houses of Life, which we can think of as a library or perhaps even a research library. (Libraries might also be called Houses of Words.)
The ritual formulae within the libraries were great mysteries that could even be regarded as “state secrets,” for magic was used in protection of the pharaoh and of the country. One of the most beautiful things I’ve read about the libraries is from Diodorus Siculus. He recorded that the temple library at the Ramesseum was designated as the Psyches Iatreion, the Healing Place of the Soul. I can attest that there have been many books that have healed my own soul.
Of course, Thoth is the God most closely associated with books and writing. He is the Great Divine Scribe and Lord of Books. I have no doubt that when His scribes wrote, they were considered to be in the Godform of Thoth, or “to have the God Thoth in them.” Perhaps due to Their knowledge of Words of Power, both Thoth and Isis are Divinely wise. We frequently find Them together in one way or another. In the Egyptian myth of Horus’ poisoning by scorpion bite, Thoth brings His Words of Power to aid Isis in healing Horus. Isis was often assimilated with Seshat, the Goddess of Writing, Reading, Arithmetic, and Architecture, Who is sometimes considered the wife of Thoth. By the Late Period, Isis and Thoth were related in another way; He is said to be Her father in one of the spells in the magical papyri.
With the importance of Egyptian books, the papyrus that was used to make the books was also a sacred thing. The marsh-loving papyrus was thought (like the lotus) to be the first plant to emerge from the primordial waters. It could also symbolize the primordial marsh from which all life emerged. The hieroglyph for papyrus meant “green” and, to the Egyptians, surrounded by the red land of the desert, green was synonymous with good. The papyrus hieroglyph was used with concepts like “flourish,” “joy,” and “youth” as well. A papyrus amulet served as a general good luck charm. When placed with a mummy, it was meant to keep the body supple and “green.” One of the Coffin Texts mentions that “reassembly” (for rebirth of the deceased) is carried out “by means of papyriform amulets.”
Isis is associated with the green powers of papyrus in Her role as the Goddess Who reassembles and renews Osiris and the deceased and with papyrus itself in Her role as Goddess of writing and sacred words. In Isis aretalogies from Kyme in Turkey and Maronea in Greece, Isis and Thoth are credited with being the creators of hieroglyphic and demotic letters (a later script form of hieroglyhs). The Cairo calendar calls Isis “Provider of the Book.” In the aretalogy from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, Isis is praised for being skilled in writing and calculations. At Busiris, also in the delta, Isis was even called Djedet Weret, the Great Word. (In fact, this reputation followed the Goddess all the way into the Middle Ages when, as an ancestress and culture bearer, Isis was credited with teaching the Egyptians the letters of the alphabet and how to write.)
As you may have guessed, I chose this topic of Isis as Lady of the Book in anticipation that Isis Magic will soon be available once more. We expect delivery of the books next week…and we are currently building the website from which you will be able to purchase them.