This beautiful statue of Isis is Late Period dynastic, about 664-525 BC. It is made of greywacke, a very hard, dark-grey sandstone, and sits slightly over two feet high. That’s about the size of my own (not, however, made of greywacke) image of the Goddess. This one is more detailed than mine, particularly in the hieroglyphs that cover Her throne.
And those hieroglyphs are important. Very important. Because, you see, they are words. And words, written and spoken, were sacred to the ancient Egyptians and are sacred to Our Lady Isis.
We often take words for granted as we communicate in work emails, casually speak with our friends, or yell at the cat to get off the table. But we shouldn’t. Words have power. Words have magic. Remember the first time someone said to you, “I love you.” Did you not feel the power of those words? Did hearing them not cause a flow of energy through your body, a thrill in the bottom of your belly, a flood of emotion in your heart?
On the flip side of the coin, we adults often struggle against negative words spoken to us as children: you’re a loser, you’re ugly, I hate you. Those words, too, have a visceral effect.
This beautiful work, with its hieroglyphs carved upon the throne of the Goddess Throne, has been identified as a healing statue of Isis. The words thickly covering Her throne are a healing formula. The ancient Egyptians would have used this image by pouring pure Nile water over the statue so that the magic of the words infused the water. Then the patient would have drunk the healing water.
To the ancient Egyptians, what we think of as “just” words—really “just” representations of words—were meant to have real effect in the real world. In fact, the power of words is vital to Egyptian magic; so much so that we can think of it as a defining characteristic.
From the very beginning, Isis is associated with words. She is the Lady of Words of Power. She is the Great Enchantress; She works Her magic by means of words—She chants and we are enchanted. As Isis is in command of Words of Power, She is called Great of Magic and She is the Goddess of Magic. A spell from the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri claims to be effective because it is done “according to the voice of Isis, the magician, the lady of magic, who bewitches everything, who is never bewitched in Her name of Isis, the magician.” When you are dead, one thing you really want to happen is for Isis to speak your name—your own special word that can encapsulate your very essence.
Hail to you <your name here> is what Isis, Lady of the Deserts says. Be preeminent within the Sacred Booth [that is, the embalming chamber] for She speaks your good name within the Barque [of Re] on the day of reckoning characters. [The “day of reckoning characters” refers to the Judgement before Osiris.]Coffin Texts, Spell 48
Interestingly, Isis is one of the ancient Egyptian Deities for Whom we have a great deal of attributed speech. Some scholars think that may be because of the famous lamentations of Isis and Nephthys for Osiris. The lamentations are extensive; there’s a lot of speaking in them. And while both Sisters lament the God, at least in the lamentations we have copies of, it is Isis Who does the most speaking.
What’s more, since Osiris is dead, He cannot speak for Himself. It is Isis Who speaks for Him, and Her words not only comfort Him, but they are also what protects Him in His vulnerable state. Isis commands and others act. She orders the Sons of Horus to protect Their father. We hear many times of the words of Isis driving off “the rebels,” that is, the enemies of Osiris, “by the spells of Her mouth.” Through Her speech, Isis removes physical dangers, and also negates the “spells of the enchanters” who work evil magic. She is the one who has “Life in Her mouth.” When She speaks, the venom of poisonous creatures drains out of the sufferer and “falls down upon the ground,” incapable of causing further harm.
We often learn of Isis’ powers from the Goddess Herself. On the Metternich Stele, Isis declares
I am Isis, possessor of magic, who performs magic, effective of speech, excellent of words.Metternich Stele
These “I am Isis” statements, which I believe facilitated the development of the famous Isis aretalogies, make me wonder whether the Goddess was, in effect, working magic on Herself. Was She making Herself more powerful through magical words addressed to Herself? And, if so, are there not magical lessons we can learn from Her? Indeed, rituals in Isis Magic often start with the ritualist making an affirmative statement of their own position and power, e.g. “I am a priestess of Isis, I am a child of the Goddess.”
Of course, not everyone feels comfortable speaking in ritual. Yet, if we are to follow our Goddess’ example, it is an ability worth developing. We are not all Shakespearean dramatists, yet we can still bring our own kind of power to the spoken words and prayers we use in ritual. We can try whispering. Or speaking slowly, being aware of the meaning of each word as we say it. We feel how it forms on our tongue and in our mouth. We are aware of the air and the effort required to speak each word. For more urgent invocations, we might try speak quickly or loudly. We might try speaking a little ancient Egyptian, to the extent that we can know it. “Amma, Iset;” “grant that it be so, Isis” can serve as an Egyptian “so mote it be.” “Iu en-i (Eeoouu-en-ee). Iu en-i, Iset” means “come to me, come to me, Isis” and is a simple calling. Or try speaking Her magical names from the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri.
The ancient Egyptians knew that the sounds produced during the speaking of words as well as the letters used to write them held magic. A Hermetic text from the early centuries of the Common Era expressed the Egyptian tradition that the quality of the speech and the very sound of the Egyptian words contain the energy of the objects of which they speak and are “sounds full of action.” This is precisely why magic words are powerful: they contain the energy of the objects they name, and this energy is the energy of original Creation, when all things were as they were intended to be. By accessing this primordial power, we may use it to bring about desired changes—such as healing in the case of the magical statue we’ve been discussing.
At Busiris in the Egyptian delta, Isis was even called Djedet Weret, the Great Word. This concept may be familiar to many of us from the idea of Jesus Christ as the Logos—the Word (of God)—in Christian myth. Thus this idea is neither unique nor original to Christianity.
I believe this is because, at least on a gut level, we human beings have always, always understood the power of The Word. We can look to the ancient Egyptians as one of the earliest models of a society with great reverence for the Sacred Word and to Isis as an early model of a Deity Who personifies the Great Word.
Very useful and interesting, thank you. I love the sound of the invocation. The importance of words makes me wish I knew precisely how the Egyptians pronounced her name. How we pronounce Her transliterated name in modern English must be very inaccurate. One scholar on Youtube goes by Coptic and asserts Her name is pronounced “Ast.” Thoughts?
Hi, Jason! Indeed I do. Ast is a transliteration of (one version of) the hieroglyphs of Her name. You might know that the hieroglyphs don’t represent the vowels (but of course the ancient Egyptians did have vowels when speaking). What is shown as an “A” in Ast, is not a vowel, but a glottal stop. For ease of pronunciation, it is sometimes represented as an A, sometimes as an I or sometimes as a J. Here’s my take on how to pronounce Her name https://isiopolis.com/2021/03/07/video-game-isis-to-become-eset/ Read down a couple paragraphs from the start of the post for my explanation 🙂
Thank you for clarifying this complex topic-
That post clarifies this complex topic, thanks-
I’m of teen age (I won’t disclose my exact age here, out of safety) and for a long while now I have wanted to get into worshipping Isis. If you aren’t too busy, could I please have your email? I have a few questions about starting up, and how to serve Her with what few resources I have.
Hi, Nuala, you can write to me at isidora dot forrest at gmail 🙂