When we say we are “thinking with our hearts,” we mean that we are being led by our emotions rather than our rational minds. The ancient Egyptians would have thought that we had it only partly right. They knew that they thought with their hearts all the time; it was, after all, the organ of thought. In the myth of Isis and Re, Isis was said to have pondered “in Her heart” how She could become more powerful and to have decided “in Her heart” how to do so. Of course, the heart was also the seat of emotions, but most importantly, it was the center of life itself. The heart was so important to the wholeness of the individual that it was the only organ not removed during mummification.
There are two main Egyptian words for “heart,” ib and hati. As it turns out, the relationship between ib and hati is much debated in Egyptological circles. Early in the history of Egyptology, the two terms were considered synonyms and both related to the physical heart. In the 1930s, Alexandre Piankoff argued that hati was the physical heart, while ib was the metaphorical one and described the emotions. Many examples exist that seem to go along with this idea. Having great fear could be described as “the heart not being in the body.” Being happy was “broadness of heart.” “To wash the heart” was to relieve oneself of an emotion, either positive or negative. Friends “entered into each other’s hearts.” “To immerse the heart” was to hide one’s thoughts. Yet not all examples of the use of ib are quite that clear. We sometimes find ib as a seemingly physical thing and we sometimes find hati as a seemingly metaphorical thing.
In the Coffin Texts, the ib (as well as the belly) is a container for magic. Coffin Text 657 instructs the heart to “remember what is in you,” that is, magic. Other texts refer to “magic, which my ib sends out” or command magic to “come to this, my ib.” Knowledge also resides in the ib. In a more metaphorical vein, the hati can be “set against” someone. And in Coffin Text 75, the deceased says “Your hearts (hati) have spoken to me, You Gods.” A number of the texts, known as “heart spells,” often have the two terms in parallel, like Coffin Text 20:
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.
Isis and Her sister Nephthys are among the foremost givers of hearts in these funerary texts. In the Pyramid Texts, Isis says, “I am Isis; I have come that I may lay hold of you and give you your heart for your body.” In the Coffin Texts, Isis and Horus reciprocally bring Their hearts to each other—and will do the same for the dead: “I bring for you your heart into your body even as Horus brought the heart of his mother, even as Isis brought the heart of her son Horus.” A similar passage comes from the daily rites of the temple of Amun Re. Isis is said to bring Horus His heart to “set its upon its seat.” Then Horus brings Isis Her heart to set it upon its seat. There was an Egyptian idiom, iset ib, that may shed some light. It literally means, “seat of the heart” and is equivalent to our “having set one’s heart upon” something. The iset ib is the heart’s desire. Were Isis and Horus giving each other Their heart’s desire?
Yet for Isis devotees, there is another interpretation of iset ib that I think is even more beautiful. In this case, the iset ib would be the Iset Ib: the “Isis Heart” or “Heart of Isis.” The Iset Ib is that inner core where our individual hearts touch the heart of the Great Goddess Isis. The Isis Heart is the intangible, spiritual “heart that I had from my Mother,” the Great Mother of us all, Isis. It is that 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 of our bodies to live and our ib heart to commune with the Divine. The Iset Ib is the ‘heart that I had from my Mother Isis’ and through it, we can discover Her at any time. We become still, we breathe, and we focus on our hati heart, the living muscle in our body, which is the physical heart, but also seems to have been more. As we relax and open the hati heart, we also open our ib heart. The physical becomes a gateway to the metaphysical. One heart opens another heart to commune with a Divine Heart. Isis speaks to both our hati and our ib hearts. And then She awakens our Iset Ib, our own Isis Heart, and we become “aware in my heart,” just as the Book of Coming Forth by Day says.