Not too long ago, I came across a collection of epithets of Isis in which the author translated the core concept as “awful.” What?

But, in the original sense of the word, “full of awe,” awful makes a great deal of sense as a Divine epithet. Nevertheless, 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.”

Of course, this is not the most common way people think of, or experience, Isis. Most first encounter Her as a kindly mother, protective, guiding, and gentle.

And She is.

An awe-some Isis by Ugo Sirius. Find more of his work here.

But sometimes, the Goddess inspires deep awe. Sometimes, in Isis’ presence, an electric shudder runs up your spine and your hair stands on end and you look into the unending depths of Eternity and you are struck speechless with wonder and some strange and peculiar aspect of fear. Holy awe is the only name by which I can name it.

And She is sometimes like that. So today, let’s talk about the awe-full-ness of Isis.

Eternity looks back

The ancient Egyptian word translated as “awful” in the epithets above 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 the two Vulture Goddesses, the Nerti. (You may recall that the word for vulture in Egyptian is mut, that is, mother. And so the gentle Mother Goddess meets up with the fierce Mother Goddess and perhaps we are no longer left wondering about this awe-full Isis.)

The ner root of the word neru 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.*

Priestess by artofsago

If you are just beginning your relationship with Isis, it is likely that you haven’t met Iset Nerit yet. Ah, but She 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. As the Goddess of Magic, She is the wielder of the First Power, the Power upon which All Things depend. It is, rightfully, an awesome power.

When Isis is at Her Most Primordial, Most Ancient, Most—ENORMOUS—that is when we are greeting Iset Nerit. In Her presence, my belly thrills, I shudder with ecstatic and holy fear. The numinous, the sacred, 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 unsettling. I am reminded of some folks of my acquaintance who apparently thought we were just playing at magic, role-playing with the Deities. Then magic actually happened. And the Goddess was really there. And they were done.

When we’re in the early days of a relationship with Isis, it is probably best not to seek out Iset Nerit. She will appear to us when She is ready and when we are ready. (Unless, of course, we particularly like that feeling of holy fright before the Divine; some of us do, she admits sheepishly.)

What about you? Have you experienced the Presence of Isis in the full power and puissance of Her Awe-full-ness?

*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. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.