I wonder if Osiris dreamed while He was dead? Did He dream of Isis? Did He dream of being healed?

Sometimes, people write to me about their Isis dreams. They hope for confirmation of the importance of the dream. (That’s usually easy. If it hits you hard enough to seek an outside opinion, then yes, it is an important dream.) More often, they want to know whether their dream was, in fact, a dream of Isis or a dream from Isis. (That’s usually a bit harder to tell without knowing a lot more about the person.) Perhaps you have your own Isis dreams? I know I do. One of the most important was the dream I had when She finally accepted me as Her priestess and it filled me with bright, turquoise-colored joy.

More wonderful art from Andrew Gonzales

Isis is, most certainly, a Goddess associated with dreams and dreaming. Anciently, people slept in Her temples in order to receive dreams. They sought out dream interpreters to help them decipher the meaning of dreams they believed She had sent them. They fulfilled commands that She asked of them in their dreams. And often, what they sought from the Goddess were healing dreams.

We know that healing dreams were important throughout Egyptian history, even though much of our more concrete evidence comes from the later Greco-Roman period. For instance, the Greek historian, Diodorus of Sicily, writing in the 1st century CE, tells us that Isis

gives assistance in their sleep to those seeking it, visibly revealing Her very own presence and Her beneficence towards those in need. As proof of these claims they say that they themselves offer not myths akin to those of the Greeks, but visible results: for nearly all of the inhabited world serves as witness for them, seeking to add to Her honors because of Her manifestation through healings. For appearing in their sleep She gives aid to the sick against their diseases, and those who heed her regain their health contrary to all expectation. (Capitalization mine.)

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, I.25

Diodorus also notes that Horus, through the teaching of His mother Isis, is also an oracle and a healer.

The practice of ritual sleep in a temple of healing Deities like Isis, Hathor, Serapis, and Asclepius is known as incubation. It’s a modern term for this ancient practice. It comes from the Greek term enkoimesis, induced sleep, and Latin incubatio, meaning “to lie down” (like a hen on her eggs). We know of a Greek orator named Aristides who made quite a practice of temple sleep throughout the Mediterranean world; some scholars think he may have been something of a hypochondriac. But happily for us, he wrote about his travels in search of healing. In one account, he writes of making a sacrifice of geese to Isis prior to receiving health information in dream from Serapis and Asclepius “pertaining to my salvation.”

An artist fantasy of an Egyptian temple

A fragment from the Roman writer Varro mentions a healing dream in which Serapis “comes in my sleep, and orders me to eat onion and mint,” which gives us an idea of the types of dream prescriptions these Deities might provide. We also have a letter from a Greek hetaira named Aspasia who sought healing through dream in the temple of Isis at Memphis. Isis temples at Canopus and Menouthis were also famous for dream healing. At Menouthis, Isis was known as Isis the Physician. Priests (and probably priestesses) working in the temples might have divine dreams as well. We have records of a priest named Hor who was very much involved with both dreaming and Isis. Read his story here.

A dreamy landscape from the Temple of Isis in Pompeii

Of course, not everyone could afford travel to a temple for their healing dreams. There were, no doubt, personal dream rites that one could undertake at home. Some of these may be preserved in the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri (aka PGM). There are numerous spells for receiving dream oracles. One interesting one involves the God Bes (Besas in the spell) in which the dreamer is to use strips of “the black cloth of Isis” as a protective device, preserving a magical drawing on the hand and around one’s neck during sleep.

One of the risks of dreaming at home—whether as divination or just the normal consequence of sleep—was nightmares. Here, too, one might call upon Isis for healing from the shock or fear of nightmare. As is often the case, here the dreamer takes the part of Horus, child of Isis, with Isis as His motherly comforter:

Words spoken by a man who wakes up on his place: “Come to me! Come to me my mother Isis! Behold, I see something far away from me, as something that touches me.”

[The Goddess replies]: “Here I am, my son Horus. Do not divulge that which you saw, that your numbness may be completed, your dreams retire, and fire goes forth against that which frightens you. Behold, I have come that I may see you, that I may drive out your bad things, that I may eliminate all the ailments.”

[The dreamer speaks]: “Hail, O you good dream, which is seen in the night and in the day. Drive out all the ailments and bad things which Seth, son of Nut, created. As Ra is vindicated against his enemies, I am vindicated against my enemies.”

This spell is to be spoken by a man who wakes up on his place, after he has first been given pesen bread and some fresh herbs (which have been) marinated in beer and incense. The man’s face should be rubbed with them; all the bad dreams that he has seen will be driven out.

Chester Beatty Papyrus III

The dream world is an odd and interesting place. Sometimes, it’s purely our own “stuff;” re-hashing of the day’s events, the last thing we read or movie we watched, stress or frustrations that manifest as monsters or irritating “I can’t find my purse” dreams. (Ugh. I hate those.) But sometimes important things come to us in dream. And those dreams have a different “flavor.” They stand out. They may be more vivid, detailed, or just plain weird. They may represent a bubble from our own unconscious that we really, really should pay attention to. Or they may be a connection with something, someone, or Someone Who is [also] outside our own psyche. Like Isis, perhaps. Or our own Higher Self tapping out a “wake up” tune on our sleeping Isis Hearts.

A world between life and death

For the ancient Egyptians, the dream state enabled the dreamer to enter another world, somewhere between life and death. In the funerary literature, death of often compared to sleep with the deceased being enjoined to awaken. Perhaps that is why the most common Egyptian term for dream was rsw.t, from a root meaning “to awaken.” So in dream, we awaken in our sleep; to be preferred to the unconsciousness of dreamless sleep or death.

I think there’s more to this discussion of dreams and Isis, but that’s enough for now.

What do you think? Does Isis communicate with you in dreams? Do you dream of Her? Do your dreams ever help you in healing?