We often talk about Isis and Her priestesses and priests in ancient days, but today, I’d like to go a bit more modern. It’s important because those of us who are attracted to Isis today have a modern Isis heritage, too. Exploring that heritage helps us understand why Isis continued and continues to be a potent presence in much of society even today.
Isis today lends Her name to a variety of medical, scientific, and technology companies, an institute working for international peace, a superheroine who rights wrongs, and parent-training classes. And this list by no means exhausts the subject.
All these organizations chose to use Her name for a reason—besides the awesome acronym-creating symmetry of I-S-I-S. Their choice surely has to do with the well known ancient character of the Goddess. (Except for the folks responsible for the Isis mobile payment system. Know what they or their PR folks did? They actually went in and edited the Isis Wikipedia article to make Her “the goddess of simplicity” and used that false definition in their press releases to justify use of Her name for their “simple” mobile payment system. Luckily, that bullshit has since been removed. Sheesh.)
But I digress.
Part of the reason Isis continues to be known generally is that there have always been those who knew Her not only from Her myth, but more personally: as the Goddess She is. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a few of them from the last two centuries.
Born in 1846, Kingsford was one of the first women in Britain to become a medical doctor, edited a feminist newspaper, and served as president of the Theosophical Society. She was a vegetarian, an anti-vivisectionist, and an opponent of fox hunting. She is considered one of the inspirations for the Golden Dawn, a school of Hermetic magic that has been was one of the sources of modern neo-paganism. The equality of the sexes in the Golden Dawn is acknowledged as her contribution.
Kingsford’s theology might be called Gnostic Christian Polytheist…and I might add Goddess for, to the feminist Kingsford, the Mother of God, Sophia, and Isis were all quite present and Kingsford even posited a new and female savior.
In Kingsford’s visions, Isis appears as the mother of Jesus, or rather, Jesus appears as Her son. Just as in the early days of Christianity, Isis and the Virgin Mary are identified. Isis also shows up as the Goddess of Initiation, as the Angel of the Moon, and as Nature Herself. She was also the Goddess who could represent the Higher Genius (Higher Divine Self; Holy Guardian Angel; Augoides), serving as a Divine Mother of the human being. This is one of the things Isis has indeed done for me personally.
If Isis was present in the theosophy of Anna Kingsford, She is even more so in the work of the magicians of the Golden Dawn, especially Moina and MacGregor Mathers. He was one of the founders, she was a leading adept and ran the order after his death.
Established in 1888, the Golden Dawn is one of the most important esoteric groups of the modern age. Its influence on modern theurgic groups has been immense. Many modern spiritual groups, from Rosicrucians to Neo-Pagans, continue to work the rituals and exercises originally created by the magicians of the Golden Dawn. In a book published less than a decade ago, Doreen Valiente, a leader of the Wicca revival, cited the Golden Dawn material as the best way for Wiccans to learn and understand magical technique.
Goddess is an essential and equal aspect of the Golden Dawn’s understanding of the Divine. In the Golden Dawn, the Goddess goes by many names, but one of the most prominent is Isis.
MacGregor and Moina had a very deep personal interest in Isis. Through their Isis Movement, which they promulgated in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, they hoped to do no less than revive the worship of the Goddess. To this end, they performed what they called the Rites of Isis, at first privately and eventually publicly.
MacGregor stated that he and Moina had become Isis converts due to their “re-discovery of lost truths.” They also claimed to worship Isis in a “pure and primitive form.” And they stated that they believed that the revival of the Isis religion would be a great force for good in the world.
Dion Fortune, born in 1890, was a prominent British occultist, author, psychologist, teacher, artist, mystic…and priestess of Isis.
The special focus of Dion Fortune’s magical work with Isis had to do with the moon cycles as reflected in women and which she believed offered healing to men. She taught that women and men must awaken to the natural magic of the cycles which are an integral part of our lives; that we must open ourselves to the flux and reflux power of the Moon Goddess in order to bring balance and spiritual healing to our souls and to our lives.
To Dion, the Great Goddess Isis is both the source and the Divine teacher of this esoteric knowledge of balance. She is the universal Divine Feminine and She is the Goddess of the Moon, which was at the time THE essential symbol of femaleness.
Dion Fortune’s books, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, are about the awakening of a man to Isis via Her priestess, Dion’s alter ego, the priestess Vivian LeFay Morgan (yeah, I know…). But these novels are arguably the best—and perhaps the only—novels about real magic ever. Other novels fantasize the magic. Dion doesn’t. She simply tells you what she is perceiving on the astral. What’s more, she intended the reading of the novels to be a sort of initiation to Isis. And so they have been for more than a few priestesses of Isis that I know.
Dion Fortune was extremely influential and deeply involved in the occultism of her day. She continues to have influence even today for the Society of the Inner Light (founded as the Community of the Inner Light) that she founded continues to teach students to this day. A modern day Mystery school, the Servants of the Light, continues Dion’s legacy, having developed from the Society of the Inner Light.
Her biographer, Alan Richardson, opines that, “she was never more true to herself or more potent on magical levels, or more influential within the world, than when she assumed the qualities of the Great Goddess herself, when she became priestess of Isis.” (Alan Richardson, Priestess: the Life and Magic of Dion Fortune)
Just as we who love Isis today are heirs of an ancient tradition with its roots in Egypt, so we are part of a continuing line of priestesses and priests, including some who are much closer to us in time than the priestesses and priests of 1500 BCE. Perhaps someday our own daughters, sons, and students will be among those who carry Her name and magic into the future as well.