In magic, as in life, there are certain experiences that stick with you. This is one of mine.
This happened many years ago, and yet it still affects my understanding of the One Who Came to Be Called Isis and, most particularly, the ancient-ancient nature of Her Being. I have never considered it historical truth because—well—it was a vision. Visions tend to be more along the lines of mythic truth, and most particularly, they tend to be mythic truth for the person having the vision. And yet…
I had been doing a series of visions with the Goddess. I asked Her to show me scenes from the history of Her worship—so this was a “watching” vision rather than one I was actively participating in. As the vision began, I knew—in that way that one sometimes just knows in vision—that this scene was to be a very ancient one; even primordial…
And I am in a green marsh under a hot, noontime sky. Brilliant grasses and reeds wave in a soft, warm, and very humid breeze. Before me, waterways, smooth as glass, wind like serpents through the marsh. The scent of living and dying plants rises and falls on an ancient breeze. “It is the breath of Isis,” I think to myself. Her breath is replete with the lives and the deaths of All Things. Her breath breathes upon me. I take Her breath into my lungs. I taste sharp, green sprouting. I scent moist decay, sweet and sickly. The musk of plant or animal, I am not sure which, is in my mouth.
Now my attention turns to the serpentine waterway before me. There is a disturbance beneath the surface. An uprising. Something coming.
Out of that dark water, a tall human figure rises, walking in a bright ecstasy. Her eyes are closed. Her mouth is opened in a slight smile. She is clothed only in the living creatures that accompany Her. A black kite hawk rests on the back of Her neck, embracing the sides of Her head in its wings. Her black hair clings wetly to Her body, falling to Her breasts. Serpents entwine both arms, moving slowly, lovingly. A tusked boar walks on Her left, a crocodile on Her right. They are Her companions, almost pets. Behind Her stride a long-horned cow and bull, along with a trio of playful calves.
As She emerges from the Primordial Water, the Unformed Source, all the creatures of Egypt come with Her. Each one of them is filled with a Divine and ecstatic calm imparted to them by the Goddess. There may be no human beings here at this early, early time; I don’t know. But I do know that this is the Egyptian delta, the holy triangle of wet earth that supports life, where all the rivers diverge as they flow, multi-fingered to the Great Green sea.
This Goddess, this Isis, is the Lady of the Beasts rising from the Waters. She does not speak to me. She simply shows Herself to me in this way. Her emergence is Creation. Her emergence is Life. Her emergence draws a soft sob of beautiful pain from deep within me.
And that is how it went.
As I write it out now, like this, it doesn’t sound very impressive. Yet it was. It hit me hard and strong as Truth. I won’t claim it as historical truth; but for me, it is decidedly mythic Truth. The Divine Power that would eventually be known as Isis, originally coalesced and rose in the Egyptian delta, and particularly as a Goddess connected with animals and the necessary moisture of life.
At this moment, as I write, I am struck by these watery connections. Our Lady of the Waters rises, bringing all living creatures with Her. What’s more, She retains Her connection with life-giving water throughout the millennia. Her Philae temple calls Her “the rain cloud that makes green the field when it descends.” A 2nd century CE papyrus names Her mistress of “all rain, every spring, all dew and snow.” One of the spells in the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri says, “I am Isis, called dew.” A calendar in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus marks the epagomenal day of Her birth as, “Birth of Isis: the Heavens rained.” And Plutarch in his essay On Isis and Osiris relates that Isis was supposed to have been born very near to the moist places. So…the delta.
And while it hasn’t been established for certain, it may well be that Isis’ worship did first develop in the Egyptian delta. In the Pyramid Texts, She and Osiris are to proclaim the king’s resurrection in the delta, while Nephthys and Set are to proclaim it in Upper Egypt.
The Lower Egyptian location that Isis has been most connected with is the area around ancient Sebennytos, for not far from that town are the ruins of the temple of Isis at Isiopolis (now Behbeit el-Hagar). You can read about it here. But those ruins are quite late—from the 30th dynasty of pharaohs who were particularly devoted to Isis. (The delta, being a much wetter land than Upper Egypt, doesn’t preserve artifacts nearly as well.) Then, just a few kilometers from Isiopolis is the city of Busiris, said to be one of the birthplaces of Osiris. So it would make sense that those two neighboring Deities might be connected early on. Herodotus notes the festival of Isis at Busiris as one of the most important in Egypt; it was a festival of mourning for Osiris. And, of course, Isis also became part of the Ennead of Heliopolitan Deities; Heliopolis was located in Lower Egypt just about where the Nile begins to branch into the multiple delta rivers (it’s now in a Cairo suburb).
But the thing is, I didn’t know any of this when I had that vision. And sometimes, just sometimes, that is how it goes.