Shall we talk about a subject that can be a tad touchy?
It can be touchy because discussing it can make us uncomfortable for it bears on the whole question of what our concept of the structure of the Divine universe is. We human beings tend to get quite invested in how we see, or how we were taught to see, what that Divine Reality is.
There are many different terms we’ve come up with to address the different ways of interpreting that reality. Monotheism, polytheism, atheism. Agnosticism, monism, henotheism, pantheism, panentheism, animism, autotheism. Some of these can be considered subdivisions of others, and then they might have their own subdivisions as well. It’s complicated.
With the exceptions of atheism and agnosticism (believing there are no deities or that we simply cannot know whether there are), most of the world’s interpretations of Divine Reality—and our relationship with those interpretations—can have value for us in our own relationship with Isis.
Wait, what? Aren’t a lot of those concepts contradictory? Yes, they are. Or perhaps they are paradoxical. In the same way that light behaves as both a wave and a particle, perhaps the answer is “yes, and.” And isn’t it interesting that Light has often been used as a metaphor for Divine expression? For me, the Divine Reality is a universe of paradox. So, paradoxtheism?
Isis & Monotheism
In Egypt, She was called T3 w’t (Tah Uwah-et), “The Only One.” In Greek, this same epithet of the Goddess became Thiouis (Thee-oou-iss). The way some Romans expressed this concept may be summed up in a graffito found on one of the walls of the Temple of Isis in Rome: Una, quae es omnia, Dea Isis, “Being one, Thou art all, Goddess Isis.” While Isis is the Only One and the Unique One, so are other Deities. Re is the Only One and the Unique One, and so are Atum and Ptah and more. For me, this is a clue about the nature of Deities and Divine Reality—that each Deity, at some time, in some way, on some level, for some people, can be The Only One.
Egyptologist Jan Assman, in The Price of Monotheism, discusses what he calls “the Mosaic distinction,” the concept that my God is the One True God and every other Deity is a “false god” and he names the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton as its first known practitioner.
Assman also makes the interesting observation that following Akhenaton’s “revolution,” as the old Deities were restored to worship, Akhenaton’s influence nevertheless continued to be felt as the idea of a Hidden Deity Who existed behind and was expressed in all the other Deities came into prominence. He calls this development “evolutionary monotheism” and finds it in the later stages of polytheism not only in Egypt, but in Mesopotamia, Greece, and India as well. In Egypt, this was most notable in the worship of Amun-Re, the Hidden One Who is both the Creator outside of Creation and immanent in all things.
So, what can we learn if we relate to Isis in a monotheistic way?
This would be Isis as THE Goddess. And there IS only THE Goddess. I’ll admit this one is a bit hard for me; it’s been a long time since I broke the spell of monotheism in my own spiritual life. But as a thought experiment, then. How would we relate to Her if She were indeed the Only One? Would She even need a name? If this were the only Divine Reality, I think I might find myself inching over into panentheism. At the very least, such a thought experiment might give us a better understanding of some of our neighbors who do conceive that theirs is the only [true] Deity. Ah, but there’s the rub again isn’t it; “only true.”
Isis & Monism
Another expression is called monism and the idea here is that everything derives from One Source. There are varieties of monism, but singularity and unity are central. The Greek Neoplatonist Proclus likened it to the spring from which all rivers flow. The ancient Egyptian concept of the Nun, the Primordial Watery Abyss from Which All Things Arose, is very much in harmony with this idea. From undifferentiated no-thing-ness arose multiplicity and every-thing-ness.
What can we learn if we see Isis as as The Source? And in fact, one of Her epithets is Mother of Waters, referring not only to the yearly Inundation, but also to those primordial Waters.
For Offering to Isis, I imagined a new myth, inspired by this monistic conception of Isis as the One Source as well as my personal fascination with the four fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. Here’s my story…
In the Time Before Time, there was only the No-Thing-Ness, the Divine Womb Waters of Isis Thiouis, the Only One. The Throne had not yet come into Being. There was No Existence. Nor was there any Becoming. And the Goddess and the No-Thing-Ness were One; and They were Not.
Then Thiouis conceived in Her Heart the desire to create. As Her Heart conceived, so Her tongue spoke the Words of Power, and immediately, the Throne—the Iset—came into Being, Full of Magic. From No-Thing came forth Some-Thing.
The Goddess made as the four sides of the Iset the Four Primordial Forces of Nature: Attraction, Flow, Disintegration, and Integration. She stretched out Her Great Wings and fanned Life into the Throne of Herself.
The Forces awakened, extending Themselves into the Universe, which was unfolding as They, too, unfolded. The Goddess fanned Her Wings again and All Things were in Chaos whirling, spiraling, and turning in Space. The stardust that contained the Seeds of Growth was scattered.
The Four Forces of the Iset did their work. They began the Awakening. They initiated the Movement. They embarked on the Changing. They entered into the Coming Together. Creative Chaos became Creative Order. The planets, solar systems, and galaxies coalesced.
And on the widespread planets, Integration drew to Herself the Seeds stirred up by the Wings of Isis. And the Seeds came together on the planets and the chain of evolution began in Fire and Water and Air and Earth. The Becoming had begun. And thus did the Goddess Isis birth the Being and the Becoming and All That Is by what She conceived in Her Heart and brought forth with Her tongue.from ‘Throne’ in Offering to Isis
In this myth, while Isis is the One Source, the universe She brings forth is multiform, multi-reality, and multi-Divine. All Deities, all things, and all of us flow from Her spring. We are Her Children so that Isis is All Things and All Things are Isis.
And that’s just one story, one way of looking at the Divine Reality. These different ways of looking at the Divine Reality are just that: ways of looking at It. They might be true for the moment we are looking. They might be true, for us, forever. They might be true at exactly the same time another way of looking is also true. Paradoxtheism.
I didn’t think this post would get so long, so we’ll carry the rest over into next time. Then, we’ll look at the many and varied polytheisms, where Our Lady is very much at home, as well as a few other theisms.