I recently came across a collection of epithets of Isis in which the author translated the core concept as “awful.” In the original sense of the word— “full of awe” —awful makes complete sense as a Divine epithet. In our common understanding of the word today, it’s…oh, let’s say…uncomfortable.
So you can get a full taste of the strangeness of it, here are some of Isis’ awful epithets: She is “The Lady of Awfulness,” “The Lady of Awfulness More than the Divine Powers,” “She Whose Awfulness is Great,” and “She Whose Awfulness is Greater than the Gods.” She is awful on earth, in the heavens, among the Deities, in Egypt. She is “Great of Trembling” and “Hundreds of Thousands Tremble at Her Sight.”
And, She is. Scary. Sometimes.
So today, let’s talk about the awfulness of Isis.
The ancient Egyptian word translated as “awful” is transliterated nrw. To be able to pronounce it, we go with neru. It is associated with the vulture and with Isis and Nephthys as two Vulture Goddesses, the Nerti. (And you recall that the word for vulture in Egyptian is mut, that is, mother.) The ner root means to be strong, to be mighty, to terrify, to strike awe, to be victorious. Neru can be The Terrible One…or the concept of strength, might, or victory. It can also be fear or dread. Neri can be to over-awe. There is a Goddess of Strength called Nerit. And ner also can have connotations of protection because of the Awful One’s strength and might and power to protect. So, I guess, “awful” may be a pretty good translation of the idea.
Iset Nerit is Isis Who Strikes Awe.*
An awe-some Isis by Ugo Sirius. Find more of his work here.
If you are just beginning your relationship with Isis, it is likely that you haven’t met Iset Nerit yet. Most often, we first meet kindly Isis, the Great Mother, the protectress. Ah, but Nerit is always there. For instance, She may come to you disguised as Isis the Ass Kicker. Or She may give you a glimpse of Her fierceness or Her fire.
But it is when Isis is at Her Most Primordial, Most Ancient, Most—ENORMOUS—that is when we are truly greeting Iset Nerit. In Her presence, my belly thrills, my spine shivers, my hair stands on end. The numinous, the holy, the strange, and the powerful is with me, before me, around me. I kneel and kiss the ground before Her beautiful face.
For some, this experience may be somewhat unsettling. I am reminded of some folks of my acquaintance who apparently thought we were playing at magic, pretending about the Goddesses and Gods. Then magic actually happened and the Goddess was really there and they were done.
If you are in the early days of your relationship with Isis, I suggest that you not seek out Iset Nerit. Not yet. Unless, of course, you like the feeling of sacred fright before the Divine. Some of us do (she admits sheepishly).
What about you? Do you know the awe-full-ness of Isis?
*For Coptic fans, Nerit is Noure (noor-ray), which is rather beautiful in the same soft way that Coptic Ise (Ee-say) is: Ise Noure.