If you’ve been following along with this blog, you’ll have already seen a number of posts about Isis as one of the protective and fierce Eye Goddesses.
Most recently, we’ve seen how She is likely to be among the wandering and returning Goddesses, in the mold of Sakhmet and Tefnut, Who all have a form as a fiery Divine Eye. (You can read about that here, here, and here.)
One of the words scholars often use to describe these Eye Goddesses is “apotropaic.” It is a useful word, of Greek origin, that means “averting” or “turning away.” These Eye Goddesses are so powerful because They can turn away or avert evil.
With Their fiery nature, They are often said to be the Daughters of the Sun God. They protect Their father and destroy His enemies for Him.
In fact, without Them, He is severely weakened, which is why it is important that, when They wander, They must always be persuaded return home…with much rejoicing among the people upon Their return.
There are more interesting things we can learn about these Goddesses of the Eye. So today, let’s take a little deeper dive into the powers of the Egyptian Goddesses of the Eye including, of course, Our Lady Isis and the Beautiful Sister, Nephthys.
Like the other Eye Goddesses, Isis is a Daughter of the Sun God Re. She is said to “emerge” from Re or “come forth” from His body. At Philae, inscriptions say that She “appears” as the Eye of Re. She is even called Re’et, the Female Re, and “the Re’et of Re’ets,” thus She is the quintessential Re Goddess.
The Divine Eye Goddesses have several common forms: feline and serpentine. While They are usually lionesses, sometimes They take the form of cats (like Bastet). Very often, They are uraeus serpents. The uraeus is the cobra often seen coiled on the headdresses of Deities or royals. The weapon these Divine Serpents wield is fire, breathed forth from Their mouths. It destroys. It purifies. Together, Isis and Nepththys are the Two Uraei, the Two Fiery Cobras, the Two Eyes of God. An inscription at Philae calls Isis “Neseret-serpent on the head of Horus-Re, Eye of Re, the Unique Goddess, Uraeus” and “Eye of Re Who has No Equal in Heaven and on Earth.” Nephthys is “Brilliant on the Forehead of Re” and the one “Whose Flame is Painful.”
In ancient Egyptian lore, the Eye Goddesses are usually associated with the solar eye, the eye of Re, the Sun God. In this form, Isis is “the right eye of He Who shines like gold” and She is the solar disk, the Aten Itself. But if there is a solar eye, there is also a lunar eye. Most often, this is the Udjat Eye, the famous Eye of Horus. Udjat means complete or whole, referring to the full moon. Because of its perpetual healing as it becomes full, the Eye of Horus is associated with protection and healing of all kinds; it also became the ideal offering and could represent all other offerings. (As with so many Things Egyptian, these definitions and categorizations are flexible. Re’s eyes could be the sun and the moon. Horus is also a solar God and so could have a solar eye as well. At Denderah, Isis as Re’et is “in the dual course of the sun and the moon,” and thus encompasses both solar and lunar eyes.)
Egyptian texts sometimes give particular attention to a specific part of the Divine Eye: the pupil or the pupil-and-iris. Interestingly, the pupil is associated—not with fire or light as is the Eye as a whole—but with moisture. One hymn to the Solar God notes that His eyes are the sun and moon, but His pupil-and-iris is the dew. The fiery Tefnut, grandmother of Isis and one of our Eye Goddesses, is also associated with moisture. Isis Herself is specifically connected with dew. One of the magical papyri (PGM XII, 234-5) has Isis say of Herself, “I am Isis called dew.” A hymn to Isis in one of the Oxyrhynchus papyri (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus XI.1380) makes Her bringer of “all rain, every spring, all dew, and snow.” At Her Philae temple, She is “the rain cloud that makes green the field when She descends.”
In the paper about our apotropaic Eye Goddesses that I’m reading, Egyptologist John Coleman Darnell suggests that the returning solar Eye Goddess, in this case Isis, is moisture-laden and thus brings back the desirable Inundation to Egypt when She returns from Her wandering.
That said, it is not as the Fiery One that our Eye Goddesses return. When They return, They have been “pacified” and “cooled” by the waters. They return in Their joyful rather than rage-full state.
As you already know, Isis is strongly connected with the Inundation as Isis-Sothis, the bringer of the flood. When the Star of Isis, Sirius, rose just before the sun, the ancient Egyptians knew that the life-giving waters were on their way. The Divine Eye is no longer red and raging. Instead, Her return is calm, reflected in the cool blue light of Her star.
But I won’t dwell on this part of the tale now. Isis’ connection to the Inundation is so well established and familiar to most of you. For now, I’d like to return to the pupil of the Divine Eye. Why? Because I think it may connect with a later piece of Isis lore found in the Hermetica. Bear with me here and let’s see where this goes.
There are a number of ancient Egyptian amulets in the shape of the Divine Eye that include an image of a Goddess in the area where the Eye’s pupil would be. Artistically, this makes sense; if you’re going to add a figure, that would be the place to add it. It also reaffirmes that the Goddess is in the Eye and is the Eye. What’s more, She is particularly associated with the pupil of the Eye—the part that actually receives light and enables us to see.
The Egyptians had an interesting idiom for the pupil of the eye (any eye; your eye, my eye). They called it “the girl (hunet or hunut) in the eye,” sometimes specifically the “girl in the Eye of Horus.” Did it come about because of the association of the Divine Eyes of Re or Horus with the Eye Goddesses? Maybe. Certainly all of the Goddesses are youthful and so may be described as a hunet, a maiden or young woman.
The funny thing is that the ancient Egyptians weren’t the only ones with that expression. And they still aren’t. According to ethnologists who’ve studied such expressions, about one-third of the languages in the world have a term for the pupil of the eye that refers to a small human or human-like being. For example, Spanish speakers call the pupil the nina del ojo, the “girl of the eye,” which ultimately derives from Latin, which had the expression: pupilla, the “little girl” of the eye. Hebrew has “the little man in the eye” as well as the “daughter of the eye.”
They think it might come from the fact that, when we look into the black pupil of the eye, it acts as a mirror in which we can see a tiny reflection of ourselves, hence the idea of little person in the eye. But why is it so often a girl? I don’t know, and the researchers didn’t either. (The second most common idiom for the pupil, by the way, is something like “the seed of the eye,” which reminds us of the pupil’s essential nature.)
But what does this have to do with Isis, you so rightly ask? As one of the Eye Goddesses, She is a fiery, protective, apotropaic Goddess. In this form, She might be portrayed on amulets as within the pupil of the Divine Eye. She is eternally young, a hunet, a maiden. And Hunet is, in fact, one of Her many epithets.
I also think there’s a possibility that Isis’ ancient identification as an Eye Goddess—the Girl in the Eye—may have led to the title of one of the Hermetica: the Kore Kosmou. While what remains to us is only a fragment, it is the oldest of the philosophical writings known as the Hermetica and ascribed to Hermes Trismegistos. The Hermetica are in the form of teaching dialogs. In the Kore Kosmou, Isis is teaching Horus about the nature of the world and the souls in it. Most Hermetic treatises date from the 1st to the 3rd centuries CE. The Kore Kosmou could go back as far as 500 BCE or sometime in the 100 years after that. And because it is so much older, scholars find more Egyptian elements in it than in some of the other, later Hermetica.
Usually, Kore Kosmou (which was written in Greek) is translated into English as the Virgin of the World/Universe. But it could also be translated as the Pupil of the Eye of the Cosmos. That’s because Greek has the girl-in-the-eye expression, too. Kore in Greek is both maiden and pupil of the eye. You can read more about the Kore Kosmou here, here, and here…and discover why scholars still aren’t absolutely clear on who/Who or what the Kore of the title refers to.
While I can’t say for certain whether this is so, it seems to me a distinct possibility; that Isis is the Kore of the Kore Kosmou because She has always been one of the “Kore” or “Hunet” Goddesses, one of the powerful Goddesses of the Divine Eye.