“Birth of Isis. Feast of ‘revealing the face’ of this Goddess with Her Ennead. Performing all the rites of the feast of robing . . . according to the ritual of the place of the First Feast. They make a great oblation of bread, beer, oxen, fowl, wine, milk, pomegranate-wine, [gazelles, oryx, ibexes], cranes, pigeons, fattened ducks, with fresh vegetables and all fruit. It is sweet to serve the Beautiful One with right offerings!”

                                                       —The Denderah Festival Calendar

This is how I have imagined making offering in the ancient temples of Isis…

An Egyptian shrine
An Egyptian shrine

Each night, while I sleep, the light is withdrawn and a darkened world returns to primordial chaos. This disorder is Isfet, the opposite of Ma’et—Rightness, Truth. Like dark water, Isfet is of infinite, even frightening, possibility. Will it seep up moist like ground water, like dreams, to nourish growth and change? Or will it burst forth, unchecked, unsettling, and destructive? Anything might happen. Anything might exist out there in night’s shadowed darkness.

The formlessness of the unillumined world is why, each morning, I welcome with full heart the awakening of the Golden One. As She scatters Her gold dust across the world—bringing light, creating form—I release my breath to Her in relieved sighs. I am Her servant. I serve the Great Goddess Isis. “Ise” is how we whisper Her holy name. I am called the First of Those Who See Her for it is my privilege and duty to open Her shrine, unveil Her face, and make offering to Her each morning. I know better than most how sweet it is to serve the Beautiful One with right offerings.

I honor Thee, Isis
I honor Thee, Isis

While Isfet is still trembling at the edges of the world, I rise and make my purifications. My body, which will perform the ritual, is made pure with water. My mouth, which will speak the words of power, is made pure with natron. It is salty and, if I have much to purify, it sometimes makes me gag. When I am cleansed, I put on the white linen and white sandals and walk through the night-cooled corridors of the temple toward Her closed shrine.

The cooks, the bakers, the butchers have already been at work. They have prepared Her morning feast. The Pure Ones, the Wab priests and priestesses, have placed it in the Hall of Offerings and even now they chant for Her. The sistra of the priestesses rattle softly as I pass through the Hall of Offerings to finally stand before the closed doors of Her shrine.

Into the darkness before that sacred place, I speak the words that avert evil so that I may approach giving no offense and receiving no harm. I break the clay seal. I draw back the bolt, but I do not yet open the doors. For first I must offer incense to Her Eye, the fierce and fiery Serpent Goddess Who guards the Great One—and indeed Who is another of Isis’ kheperu, Her forms. When that Fierce One has taken Her pleasure and been pacified by the incense and the words of my mouth, I open the doors. Heaven and Earth open before me!

My living Isis image in Her temple shrine with flower offering
My living Isis image in Her temple shrine with flower offering

On my knees, I enter Her shrine, offering incense. The sweet smoke rises into the still air to encircle the Iset Weret, the Great Seat or Throne of the Goddess, Her innermost holy place. My heart remembers one of the Mysteries of my temple: that Isis is She Who is Upon Her Throne, and Who is also the Throne itself, for that is the very meaning of Her name. Isis is All Things; it is a great secret that I know as I prostrate myself before the Goddess Throne. I kiss the ground. My belly touches the Earth before Her. I speak the Adoration of the Goddess with all my heart. As they do every morning that I wear the white sandals to serve my Goddess, tears blur the vision of my eyes as I lift the Goddess’ veil to look upon Her beautiful face.

Isis is alive in Her sacred image. The Goddess is at home in Her temple. I can feel Her magic vibrate within the shrine. Her ka speaks to mine. I bid Her peace in awakening. In Her presence, I purify the food offerings with water and with incense. I name what we have prepared for Her.  She smiles at me with golden lips.

I am now privileged to touch Her image. I take Her sacred body from the Great Throne into the shrine chamber. I wipe away yesterday’s unguent, She having received its ka. With the little finger of my right hand, with my gentle finger, I anoint the uraeus upon Her brow anew with Eye of Horus Oil. It makes Her limbs whole. It destroys evil like the strong talons of Her falcon child.

The king making offering to Isis, from Denderah
The king making offering to Isis, from Denderah

I remove the linen cloths placed upon Her image the day before. They will be taken away and washed. With Her unclothed image before me, I adore Her four times. I feel tender toward the Goddess Whose body I touch. I speak only truth before Her. My adorations are never rote. I speak heart-words to my Goddess. As I re-clothe Her in fresh linens—the white, the green, and the red—I purify with natron between each dressing. I purify again with water and incense. I circle Her image four times before returning it to its seat.

Once more upon Her Great Throne, Isis receives Her ornaments and implements of power. I place them upon Her body. I offer Her precious unguents, full of power. I take up pure sand and with ancient and holy words, I pour it out before Her. It grits beneath my white sandals as I enfold Her image first in the white head cloth, then in the Great Cloth. Now She is veiled once more in the protection of the Weaving Goddesses Who spin magic into linen.

Again I offer incense and circle Her living image four times. I take up the bundle of heden plants. As I back out of the shrine, I use them to sweep the sand clean, obliterating my footprints and returning the holy place to its primordial perfection. I close the doors, bolt them. Outside, I offer incense upon the brazier and circle the room four times, speaking protections.

By the time the rite is complete, the sun is high above the horizon. Day has come. Isfet is banished. The face of Isis shines like molten gold as She smiles upon Egypt. I am content.

                                                    —from the introduction to my Offering to Isis

Making offering is one of the most ancient and eternal ways we may interact with Isis. Do you make offering? If so, what do you do?

An Orientalist imagining of a procession for Isis, complete with Her shrine; art by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, mid 1800s