During these last few years, there have been far too many things cut out of our lives. I miss my people.
On the other hand, this time has also given many of us the opportunity to discard things that desperately need to be cut out and left behind. This is a time of change and we have choices to make. And there is a tool that Our Lady Isis offers to us to assist in the powerful magic of making these decisions. It is a tool that has often symbolized discernment. It is Her knife.
Isis gives you this knife of Hers which She gave to Horus after the mourning of the Gods.Coffin Texts, Formula 102
What is this mysterious knife of Isis? Let’s see what we can find out…
In ancient Egypt, the knife was not only a practical tool and weapon; it was also a magical tool and weapon. The preferred ritual knife was the ancient flint knife, called des. Des actually means “flint,” but it remained the general word used for knife throughout Egyptian history. As you might expect, knives, practical and magical, could be used both defensively and offensively.
Knives appear frequently in representations of the Egyptian otherworld. They are used in slaying the enemies of the deceased and smoothing the passage through the land of the dead. Some magical rites called for a protective circle of knives to be erected for the working. (Wouldn’t that be a scary/powerful casting for an aggressive ritual? I feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck thinking about it.)
Knives are also found in judgment scenes where the deceased must be found worthy or fall to the knives of Divine figures with names like Slaughterer and Repulser of the Wicked. In general Egyptian idiom, someone who was suffering in any way was one who was “under the knife.”
Harmful beings, such as Re’s great enemy, the giant serpent Apophis, and Set, the enemy of Isis and Horus, are often shown stabbed repeatedly with magical knives to subdue and render them harmless. Even the hieroglyphs of Set’s name were sometimes shown stabbed with knives. Knives were also used to decapitate otherworldly enemies. In some scenes, rows of bound and decapitated “enemies of Re” or “enemies of Horus” are guarded by knife-wielding Goddesses and Gods. Decapitation by knife seems to have been a particular threat to the deceased as well—and Isis is called upon to “make firm the head” of the deceased upon their neck.
In Egyptian thought, knives have both solar and lunar symbolism. The twin sycamore fig trees between which the Sun God Re rose each day were sometimes called the Two Knives (perhaps from the similarity between the shape of the knife and the hieroglyph for “tree”). And the crescent moon was considered to be a knife wielded by the God of the Moon, Thoth or I’ah.
In the Book of the Amduat, Isis and Set work together to subdue the enemy snake, Apophis, using both magic and knives. Apophis is shown stabbed with knives, bespelled by Isis, and bound by Serket and Set while four Goddesses with knives wait to dismember the serpent. The corpse of Re, awaiting rebirth in the Sun barque, is also guarded by knives.
In yet another myth, Isis transforms Herself into a hound with a knife at the end of its tail in order to engage in a shapeshifting battle with Set. As Isis the Avenger, the Goddess is said to have a knife-shaped phallus (eeeshh!). And in the Book of the Dead, Isis owns a sacred knife that the deceased must know by name in the otherworld. Oddly, it is part of the deceased’s fishing equipment and is said to be the knife with which Isis cut the birth cord of Horus.
As a Great Goddess, Isis’ knife has all these powers. It offers magical protection and defense, as when She uses knives and Her own magical power to protect the Sun God during His otherworld journey, and practical uses, as when She uses it to cut the birth cord of Horus, which is also the re-birth cord of the deceased.
When Isis gives “this knife of Hers” to Horus “after the mourning of the Gods,” the Goddess is giving Her son power and strength following the mournful death of His father, Osiris. By receiving it, the deceased, too, accepts a tool imbued with Isis’ considerable power following their own death—and inevitable rebirth beneath the protecting wings of Isis.
Although I did not suggest a knife as one of the ritual tools of Isis in Isis Magic, those who enjoy sharp objects may enjoy acquiring a ritual knife for Isis and charging it with Her protection and strength.
I once had a vision of a fierce Isis in which each of the feathers in Her wide-spread wings was a blade. It was fearsome, powerful, and…weirdly comforting…