Do you believe in luck? Chance? Fate? Karma? Destiny?
In some way or another, little or large, most of us do. We often discover the notion of good luck and bad luck as kids playing games. Grown ups playing games, such as sports figures, might have a lucky pair of socks or some other talisman they keep close by. As business people, we might wear a favorite suit to an important meeting; we look good in the suit, we feel more confident, and perhaps we boost our luck. And how many of us have not looked up our daily horoscopes from time to time to see what fate has in store for us?
As a general rule, I’m of the “you make your own luck” school. And yet I know people who don’t seem to be doing anything obviously wrong, but who have spectacularly bad luck—as well as those who seem to be doing everything wrong, yet stumble into some amazing piece of good luck.
Ancient peoples seem to have had a keen sense of luck or fate in their lives. Perhaps it was because they were living with a more constant awareness of their Deities, expecting Their intervention in both worldly and otherworldly matters. This tends to be true of very religious people today as well. And it tends to be true of those of us who have specifically invited the Deities into our lives.
There are an number of ancient Egyptian Deities associated with luck and fate. At the birth of a child, the Seven Hathors would speak the various events (usually the bad ones) in the child’s life, They also declared her lifespan and manner of her death. Meshkhenet, the Birth Goddess, named the child’s fate and the work he would do. Renenutet, the Cobra Goddess, ordained how prosperous she would be. The God Shai, “Destiny,” also ruled over the child’s lifespan and “what is ordained” for him. You may be familiar with the famous Egyptian calendar of lucky and unlucky days in which one is advised not to even go out of the house on the bad-luck days. How seriously anyone took advice like that, we don’t know.
In the wider Mediterranean world, the Greeks invoked the Goddess Tyche as the Luck Goddess, while the Romans propitiated Her as Fortuna. We know of Tyche as a Goddess, not just a concept, as far back as the 8th century BCE. From that time on, She becomes more and more of a Divine personality. Both Tyche and Fortuna could be personal Deities, governing the life of the individual, as well as community Deities, ruling the fate and fortune of a city or empire. Every Roman emperor kept an image of Fortuna in his sleeping quarters in hopes of bringing good fortune to his reign.
Of course, not all fortune is good as any human being can tell you. Ancient epitaphs describe Tyche and Fortuna as perverse, cruel, and “hating the brave.” Nonetheless, there were always those who tried to steer chance or change a bad fate. They did this by appealing to the Deities, sometimes by undergoing Mystery initiations, and through the use of magic.
And here is where Isis comes into our story—as Goddess of Magic and Lady of the Mysteries. Over time, Isis came to be either associated with or assimilated to most of these Luck Goddesses and Gods. But as Goddess of Magic, Isis is never Blind Fate. She never demands one simply accept one’s given lot. Isis has the heka, the magical power, to move fate. The Goddess of Magic, the Lady of Mysteries is Fortune Who Sees; She is Destiny With Power. As the Great Enchantress, Isis is a major league Fate Changer.
This is reflected in the fact that Isis was invoked not merely as Tyche, Luck Itself, but as Agathe Tyche, Good Luck. In fact, of all the Goddesses in the Mediterranean world, Isis was the one Deity with Whom Agathe Tyche and Fortuna were most consistently assimilated.
As Agathe Tyche, Isis was considered the “luck” of a number of port cities, particularly Alexandria where She was paired with Agathos Daimon, “Good Spirit,” Who was identified with both Sarapis and Osiris. Legend had it that Tyche gave birth to a Divine figure called Isityche Who was said to symbolize the combination of Divine Providence and Chance. As you can easily see, Isityche is none other than Isis-Tyche. In this combined Divine figure, “Isis” represents the wise guidance of the Divine, while “Tyche” represents mere Chance. Isityche is once again a Fate Who Sees and it is the “Isi” part that makes that so.
Isis’ role as Savior Goddess also connected Her with Agathe Tyche. As far back as the 5th century BCE, the Greek poet Pindar calls Tyche a Savior Goddess, especially of those at sea. Isis Pelagia, “Isis of the Sea,” is also a savior as She brings Her charges to safe harbor, both literally and spiritually.
In some places, Tyche was associated with Nemesis, the Goddess of Divine Retribution. Thus Nemesis is the Goddess of Earned Fate. One of Isis’ many names was Nemesis and Isis Nemesis was commonly known by the 2nd century CE. There was a statue of Isis Nemesis on the holy island of Delos. And once again, Isis Nemesis is not a blind fate. If She sent ill luck your way, you probably deserved it.
As you might expect, Lady Luck was also connected with the heavens and with astrology. In a Mithraic document, reference is made to the Seven Tyches of the Sky, meaning the seven planets that rule astrological destiny. By the time of Isis’ famous Mysteries, the Goddess was known to rule the cosmos as She “of the black garments and seven stoles.” The seven stoles refer, no doubt, to the seven planets.
I mentioned earlier that initiation into the Mysteries was one way people might seek to change their fate. This was certainly true of the Mysteries of Isis. Since Isis rules fate, She can also change fate. In Apuleius’ tale of initiation into the Mysteries of Isis, as Lucius is about to be rescued from his asinine state by a Priest of Isis with a garland of roses, Lucius sees the flowers not only as his salvation by Isis, “but, oh, it was more than a garland to me, it was a crown of victory over cruel Fortune, bestowed on me by the Goddess.”
Dear Isiacs, know that your Tyche, your Fortuna is Isityche and Isis Fortuna and that She is most decidedly not blind, although She will kick your ass when you need it. (And we all do now and then, don’t we?) And so, I wish you always, Good Luck.