As is so often the case, it depends on who you ask.
Folks who are trying to reconstruct a form of ancient practice will, of course, find it very important. Others who are attracted to Isis, but not necessarily the entire ancient Egyptian milieu, might find it less so.
For me, there isn’t a yes-or-no answer to this question; rather, there’s a yes-and-no answer.
Yes, Tradition is Very Important
Without tradition, where do we even begin to think about Isis? How can we know Who She is for us if we don’t know Who She was for those who went before us? Without tradition, we have nowhere to begin as we try to come into relationship with Her. Without a knowledge of the symbols traditionally associated with Her, the stories traditionally told about Her (at least the ones of which we have records), how do we know we’re contacting Isis rather than a more generic Divine Feminine?
Indeed, we may feel truly called to Isis as Isis—even without indepth study of ancient Egyptian religion and traditions. But then what do we do? How can we honor the Goddess Who calls us in a way that is most pleasing to Her? How can we honor Her in a way that will help us succeed in our heart’s desire of coming to know Her?
Tradition is our savior in this.
Tradition provides the deep roots of our worship. It gives us an anchor for our modern love of Isis. Suddenly, we have a way to feel close to Her. We can learn and interpret Her myths. We can give Her the offerings that were traditionally given to Her. If we are of a scholarly bent, we might learn a bit about hieroglyphs so that we might write Her name in the ancient ways. We can use excerpts from the ancient Egyptian sacred texts in our rites.
With Isis, we are blessed for there is a wealth of information available about Her, online and off. And its growing all the time. Those of you who know me also know that our house is full of books. Books are our friends. Scholars who never worshiped the Goddess, but who have done the research Isis worshipers need, are our friends. If you’re a crazy Isiac like me, interlibrary loan is your friend (and for free, too). Academia.edu can be good (even the free version) as can scribd.com (which is a paid service).
Learning about Isis’ ancient worship, Her history, and the way Her devotees thought about Her connects us to our chosen past. It connects us to our chosen Goddess.
But Maybe Not So Much?
But I strongly believe that tradition should not constrain us. Ancient rites are not Her only rites. Tradition provides the anchor and the roots, not the sails and the flowers. Thousands of years have passed since Isis’ name was first spoken in praise by human beings. We have changed. We shall continue to change. And that means that our experience of the Goddess can never be exactly the same as Her ancient devotees. One thing we learn from our study is that Her Divine expression changed over time. So while our understanding of the Goddess begins with the roots of tradition, it continues with the flowering of our own experience of Her.
She may show us new symbols that pertain to Her. (For instance, I think there is very good reason to consider Isis as the Digital Goddess and Isis Technologia.) We may not be content to only recite the ancient sacred texts, but wish to write our own heartfelt ones. Many, many are the Isiacs who have expressed their modern understanding of the Goddess in new poetry or prose or prayer or ritual or art.
So I guess, as usual, my answer is “both-and,” not “either-or.” This is a more difficult—because more ambiguous—answer. Yet for me, it is the more truthful answer. We need both tradition and innovation. If we are to be Her devotees, then we need to know about Her past. We need to both create and be Her present. And when we do, we will carry Her love and Her power and Her wisdom and Her magic forward, into tomorrow.