Posted by: Isidora | August 31, 2013

Isis the Lighthouse Goddess

This scene is from a Roman tomb; so think it may be a scene from the Navigium Isidis

This scene is from a Roman tomb; some think it may be a scene from the Navigium Isidis, though I see no ship…

As one of the ancient seaport of Alexandria’s key Goddesses, Isis was closely associated with the sea. She is called Isis Pelagia, “Isis of the Sea,” specifically. The famous festival of the launching of the ship of Isis, the Navigium Isidis, marked the opening of the shipping season on the Mediterranean Sea.

But there is another epithet of Isis that connects Her with the sea, shipping, sailing, and the wind necessary for it. It is Pharia. As Pharia, Isis is connected with the great lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a famous symbol of the city of Alexandria. The lighthouse was called the Pharos after the small island on which it stood. Due to the lighthouse’s fame, pharos eventually became a general term for “lighthouse.” (This persists even in modern languages; in Italian and Spanish, lighthouse is faro and in French, it is phare.)

Isis Pharia with Her sail and the lighthouse on the right

Isis Pharia with Her sail and the lighthouse on the right on an Alexandrian coin

Isis Pharia is Isis the Lighthouse Goddess. Alexandrian coins frequently represented the Goddess and the Pharos together. Roman inscriptions attest to the existence of an Isis temple or shrine on the island, very close to the lighthouse itself. Between 1994 and 1998, archeological divers in the bay of Alexandria discovered a huge, red-granite torso of a woman, the base of an Isis statue, pieces of the Pharos itself, as well as the remains of a rock-cut temple that may very well be part of the temple of Isis Pharia.

There are several legends about how the Pharos island got its name. One says that when Menelaus was returning from the Trojan War, his ship was blown off course and landed on the island. Not knowing where he was, he asked the first Egyptian he saw. The man responded, “Per Aoh,” meaning that the island belonged to the pharaoh. (Pharaoh is the Greek corruption of an Egyptian term for king, Per Aoh, which means “Great House.”) Menelaus heard it as “pharos.”

An artist's vision of the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria

An artist’s vision of the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria

Another story derives the name from that of Menelaus’ helmsman, Phrontis, who died on the island. In Greek, the word pharos refers to a cloth or sail. In accordance with this punning meaning, images of Isis Pharia show Her with a billowing sail in one hand while Her cloak is blown backwards over Her shoulder and the famous lighthouse stands in the background.

In late legend, Isis was said to have invented the sail while searching for Her son, Horus. The early Christian writer Tertullian, writing against the Pagan religions, says that Pharia’s name “shows her to have been the king’s daughter,” (as opposed to being a true Goddess, of course). Tertullian is surely interpreting Pharia as a feminized version of pharaoh.

Just as the illumination of the Pharos lighthouse turned Alexandria’s dangerous seas and tricky harbors into commerce-friendly ports, the spiritual light of the Lighthouse Goddess served as a guide for humankind. Isis Pharia is the guardian of navigation and safe harbors—of ships and of souls.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. […] Here is a great article on Isis Pharia or Isis of the Lighthouse of Alexandria by Priestess and Author, Isidora Forrest: Isis, the Lighthouse Goddess […]

  2. May Isis guide me safely on my journey!

  3. It’s tempting to tie Her to the figurehead on the bows of ships.

  4. This was an aspect of Isis I was not familiar with. Thank you.

  5. […] Isis the Lighthouse Goddess (isiopolis.com) […]

  6. […] across the Alexandrian harbor. Her name is Ankes Philia and she is the priestess of the Pharos, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Her duty is to perform something like the Opening of the Ways ritual—but for the opening of the […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: