Can we relate?

Not just what we read about Her myths. Not just what we learn about Her history.

Who is Isis when we experience Her?

A gentle caress? An earthquake? A tingle up the spine that makes your hair stand on end? An anchor in the stormy sea of life?

Yes, She is all of those.

Yet many of us might start to describe Who She is by naming a relationship. She’s like a mother, a sister, a lover, a teacher. Since that’s the way we relate to the people in our lives, it makes sense that we would relate to Divine personalities in the same way. The models for relationship with which we have to work are the ones we’ve used all our lives, the human ones. And this approach works quite well, too.

Isis, Mother of Horus, Divine Mother of us all

I have been comforted by the motherly wings of Isis. I have argued with Her like a sister. I have been crazy for Her like a lover. I have bowed to Her will as to a queen. (In fact, a very interesting and worthwhile devotional exercise is to interact with Her in relationships like these—a different type of relationship each day for a week.)

But we must also remember that although Isis can relate to us in ways similar to human beings, Isis isn’t human. She’s a Goddess. She is Goddess. And that adds a whole new dimension to how we experience Her—and to Who we might think She is. Perhaps we can think of this as part of the priest/ess/ex-ly relationship, or the philosophical (remember it means “loving wisdom) relationship, or the mystical relationship.

Isis the Magician with serpent wand

Answering the question of Who Isis is means trying to figure out what we think the Divine is and Who we think the Deities are (or Deity is, if that’s your preference).

Those are very big questions.

For myself, I have found the Qabalistic concept of the Four Worlds helpful in trying to sort all this out. Egyptian theology (to the extent that we can deduce it), along with Hermetic Qabalah and a dose of some sort of Neoplatonism, form the center of my own current understanding of the unmanifest and Divine realms. (Yes, I know it’s eclectic and I’m okay with that. And yes, I know it will change over time, and I’m okay with that, too.)

In simplest terms, the Four Worlds concept envisions four levels of existence, which proceed from a unity at the highest level and become increasingly multiple with each successive stage. Yet all the levels remain intimately connected. This reminds me of Jeremy Naydler’s (Temple of the Cosmos) expression of ancient Egyptian thought. The heavens, the earth, and the underworld exist together at all times, interpenetrating each other at all times.

Diversity of life in the manifest world

Here in the manifest universe, the Fourth World, we have diversity. Diverse plants, animals, people—and Deities.

The next level up (or in, or out, if you prefer) is also very diverse, but it’s the first of the unmanifest realms. For lack of a better term, we might call it the astral. In Qabalah, this level is the Treasure House of Images and contains, among many other things, spiritual images—thoughtforms, Godforms, Goddessforms—from the pantheons of the world. In our regular interactions with the Divine, this is most likely the level on/in which we’re interacting. When I talk to Isis and She answers me in words and images, this is probably where we’re connecting. This is the realm of visions and psychic perceptions, in part created by us.

A great example of this comes from a TV show from the early 2000s called Dead Like Me. (Bear with me, here.) It’s about a group of grim reapers whose job is to take human souls out of their bodies just before they die—and to send the soul to the next life. In the first season, we always got to see the souls as they walked into the afterlife—and each vision reflected the person’s individual belief about what “heaven” is like. The Buddhist was greeted by a meditating Buddha, the Christian by Christ, a child by a wonderful amusement park. That’s kinda my picture of what happens, too—at least during that first transition after death. Thus all religious traditions are true; if you’re picturing a purgatory, you’re probably going to find one. If you’re picturing a journey through the underworld with Re, you’re probably going to get it.

What is your death dream?

(On a side note, this is why I recommend having and practicing a death dream; by visualizing your transition in advance, you build up your own specific images in the Treasure House so they’ll be there for you when your time comes. As you might guess, mine is Egyptian flavored, with Wings and Her.)

The next level, the Second World, is known as the World of Creation. Here we find the Deities in a more concentrated expression. I sometimes envision Them as wellsprings or currents of Divine energy. Here is the creative numinosity that lies behind and empowers the many names and faces of the Divine found in the world’s many spiritual traditions. As a Great Goddess, the energy of Isis flows into our world through many of these channels, but we are always free to choose to connect with Her via whatever current particularly resonates with us. In Hebrew, this realm is usually called Briah, but an alternative name is Korsia, from a word meaning “seat,” and usually understood as the Throne, the same as the meaning of Isis’ name in Egyptian. Which I find quite interesting.

One consciousness

The next level is Unity, the undifferentiated Divine. Here, we can think of Isis is The Only One—as indeed the Egyptians called Her. Of course, if you were approaching from a different stream of the Divine current, Yahweh or Odin or Allah or Amun or Inanna would be The Only One. The Egyptians understood this; there were a number of Deities they called The Only One, though this designation seems to have been a particular title of the Great Goddesses and Gods. This harkens back to our discussions here and here.

For me, this underlying unity of the Divine is why I can know that Isis is the One Goddess and Mother of All Things one day, then the next, understand Dionysos as The One. Both are true. We only start messing things up when we begin insisting that our preferred stream of Divine current is the One True Way and, what’s more, there’s only one proper method for interacting with It.

Qabalah goes beyond this level of Unity, through the Veils of Negative Existence (a poetic description if ever there was one). This idea very much reminds me of the Egyptian Nun, the “watery” abyss of preexistence that Was Not.

So. Who is Isis? Isis is the Only One, THE Goddess. At the same time, Isis is also to be found in the beautiful and perplexing diversity of our world. She is One and She is Many and She is One among Many. Isis was and is alive in all the homes people have created for Her throughout the millennia—from the marshes of the Egyptian delta to the island of Philae, from ancient Memphis, Rome, Athens, and Londinium to modern Oregon, Germany, and Japan. Differences in the cult or perceived character of the Goddess in all these times and places arise from the diversity of the people and cultures that honored Her, yet all were and are in contact with the Divinity that Isis is, was, and ever shall be.