Posted by: Isidora | August 16, 2015

Isis & Kore Kosmou, Part 2

An Italian edition of the Kore Kosmou

For those of you just dropping by, we’re discussing a fragment of an ancient text entitled Kore Kosmou. In it, Isis is the Divine Teacher and She instructs Her “Wondrous Son” Horus in spiritual truths.

So let’s start with the title of the text. Unlike some other ancient texts, it actually does have a title: Kore Kosmou. The simplest translation is Virgin (or Maiden) of the World. “Kore” is “girl, maiden, virgin,” as, for example, Persephone is called Kore—Maiden or Daughter—to Demeter’s Meter—Mother. Kosmou is “of the world, universe.”

Oh, but it ain’t that simple.

As is so often the case when discussing Things Ancient, interpretations vary. In fact, as far as I’ve seen, there has yet to be a single agreed-upon scholarly interpretation of the title, though they all have something to offer us.

So let’s have a look. First of all, who is this Virgin, Maiden, or Daughter of Whom we speak?

Isis-Mari by Willow Arlenea

A maidenly Isis-Mari by Willow Arlenea.

The most obvious answer is that She is Isis. Isis is the teacher in this text and She, like so many Egyptian Goddesses, has a youthful Form. In a Hymn to Osiris, Isis is even called the Great Virgin/Maiden (hwn.t or hunet). She is also a Divine Daughter, the daughter of Heaven, Nuet, and of Earth, Geb. What’s more, if the dating of the text to 1st-3rd century CE is correct, Our Goddess is by that time considered a kosmokrator, a universal ruler, so it’s no stretch to consider Isis to be the Maiden of the Universe in the title.

So, problem solved?

Oh, heck no.

What if the Virgin of the Universe isn’t Isis at all? It may be that the Virgin is Nature Herself. Nature is sexually virgin in the tale. She creates Her own abundance from seeds which She Herself supplies to the Sole Ruler and which the Sole Ruler then returns to Her in order to start the chain of fruitfulness upon the earth. We also find identification of Kore with Nature in another Hermetic text, the Perfect Discourse. That text reiterates that the Creator “does not possess the nourishment for all mortal living creatures, for it is Kore Who bears the fruit.” The text is, after all, a creation story, so perhaps the title refers to the creation of the Virgin Universe.

A maidenly Nature by Mystery Kids

A maidenly Nature by Mystery Kids

Isis Herself may certainly be considered to be Nature. Plutarch calls Her “the female principle in Nature” (On Isis & Osiris, 53). We have also discussed the idea that Isis’ name of “Throne” may refer to Her as the Original Place of Being. So perhaps we are intended to understand that Isis, Nature, and Kore Kosmou are one.

And that’s all fine. But now we come to the more interesting interpretations.

They revolve around another meaning of the word kore. For it also means “pupil,” as in the pupil of the eye, that black, liquid, bottomless center in the center of the eye.

Now at first thought, that seems very strange. How can a maiden and the pupil of the eye be related concepts? But it turns out that many cultures have an expression for the pupil that translates as “the girl in the eye.” In fact, according to ethnologists who 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 and which also had the expression: pupilla, the “little girl” of the eye. (“Figurative Language in a Universalist Perspective,” Cecil H. Brown and Stanley R. Witkowski, American Ethnologist, Vol. 8, No. 3, Symbolism and Cognition (Aug., 1981), pp. 596-615.)

The Eye of Horus with its deep, black pupil

The Eye of Horus with its deep, black pupil

The origin of the expression is probably the fact that when we look into someone’s eyes, we can see a tiny reflection of ourselves in the black mirror of the pupil.

The ancient Egyptians had this expression, too. Pyramid Text 155 says to Osiris, “Take to thyself the damsel [girl] who is in the eye of Horus; open thy mouth with her.” (That is Samuel Mercer’s translation; Faulkner translates it “pupil of the eye of Horus.” It is both.) Later, the expression was simplified to “the girl in the eye” and then just “the girl” so that by the time the Kore Kosmou was written, the pupil was frequently just called “the girl.” And yes, the Greek in which our text was written also has the expression: the pupil is the kore.

Not every language in which this expression occurs sees a girl in the pupil; some see babies, little men, or even angels. But in Egypt, it was a hunet, a young woman. Why?

This is pure speculation, but when it comes to the Eye of Horus, perhaps it is because His mother Isis is the young woman Who is reflected in His own Child God’s eye. Or perhaps it is because of the power of the Uraeus “Eye” Goddesses in Egypt.

Isis as a Uraeus Serpent

Isis as a Uraeus Serpent

There are many myths in which the Divine Eye goes forth in the form of a powerful Serpent Goddess, usually as a great protective power.

Isis is among these Goddesses of the Eye. In the Festival Songs of Isis & Nephthys from the Bremner-Rhind papyrus (Faulkner translation), Isis protects both Osiris and Horus and She is “Mistress of the Universe, Who came forth from the Eye of Horus, Noble Serpent which issued from Re, and which came forth from the pupil in the eye of Atum when Re arose on the First Occasion.”

But there are more mysteries of the eye. A praise of Amun-Re from Hibis demonstrates the power and mystery of the Divine Eye: “O Amun-Re Who hides Himself in His iris/pupil, Ba Who illumines by means of His oracular wedjat-eyes, Who manifests a manifestation: sacred one Who cannot be known. Brilliant of visible forms, Who hides Himself with His mysterious akh-eye: mysterious one, Whose secrets cannot be known.”

Reflection in the pupil of the eye

Reflection in the pupil of the eye

As the physical eyes are the organs of perception of the light of the sun and the moon, so the Divine Eyes can illuminate or conceal the deep Mysteries hidden within Their depths, most especially at the core, in the pupil, in the deepest, yet most reflective, part of the eye. For in the darkness of the pupil of the eye lies concealed spiritual illumination.

Thus it seems that the title of our text may also be translated as Pupil of the Eye of the World/Universe and that, as would-be initiates, we should understand the blackness of the pupil to conceal spiritual light. And indeed, in the Kore Kosmou, the Hermetic teacher Isis, begins the process of illuminating Her Wondrous Son, Horus, Who is Himself the possessor of Egypt’s most important eye, the talisman of talismans, the offering of offerings, the Eye of Horus.

The Kore Kosmou teaches about creation, and souls, and reincarnation, and the nature of Divinity. It reveals Mysteries—but not yet all of them—to the Hermetic student, Horus. Thus a title like Kore Kosmou, with its hidden meanings, is quite appropriate to this teaching text.

The Kore Kosmou, the Pupil in the Eye of the Universe

The Kore Kosmou, the Pupil in the Eye of the Universe

Isis is the Girl in the Pupil of the Eye. As a Holy Cobra Goddess, She comes forth from the Pupil of the Eye of Atum and She is a Divine Eye Goddess Herself. She knows the secrets of the darknesses of the kosmos (cosmos), a word that not only means “world” or “universe,” but also order, and so perhaps even Ma’et. Thus She is the one Who can appropriately reveal—or conceal—the Mysteries of the creation, ordering, and structure of the universe and the souls within it.

But on the other hand, perhaps we should understand Horus as the Pupil of the Eye of the World; He is, after all, the student or “pupil” of His mother. And yes, that word is related, too…

So it seems I am not yet done with the Kore Kosmou. I’m still researching and reading and I think I shall perhaps have some more to say on this subject next time.

Posted by: Isidora | August 9, 2015

Isis & the Kore Kosmou, Part 1

Yes, we are in the realm of the Hermetica;

“As Above, So Below” is probably the most well-known Hermetic axiom

Quite a long time ago now, a friend of this blog, Andrea, asked a question about an ancient text known as the Kore Kosmou.

It is one of the Hermetic texts and follows the common pattern of a dialog between teacher and student.

In the Hermetica, most often the teacher is Hermes Trismegistos and the student Asclepios, Ammon, or “Tat,” the son of Hermes. In the Kore Kosmou, Isis is the teacher and Her son, Horus, is the student.

Certainly, there were many more Hermetica than what has come down to us. It also seems likely that there were once more Isis-as-teacher texts than just the Kore Kosmou and the few fragments we have. This, of course, would make a great deal of sense: Isis and Thoth-Hermes—Egypt’s two great and wise Magician Deities—serving as the main Hermetic teachers. It is interesting to note that, as time goes on, more and more scholars are recognizing the genuinely Egyptian elements that are such an important part of the Hermetica. More on that later.

But in case you’re not familiar with Hermeticism and the Hermetica, here’s a brief introduction and then we’ll delve into Andrea’s question about the Kore Kosmou and discuss what the text contains.

Hermeticism & the Hermetic Texts

Hermes Trismegistos as a human sage, from the Siena Cathedral

Hermes Trismegistos as a human sage, from the Siena Cathedral

Hermeticism began as a late Pagan branch of esotericism and was one of the many products of the meeting of the ancient Hellenic and Egyptian cultures in the centuries surrounding the beginning of the Common Era. The primordial and venerable religion of Egypt, its ancient wisdom, and its eternal magic combined with the dominant Greek culture, religion, and philosophy to produce a powerful mix that continues to influence esotericism to the present day.

Hermeticism’s most fertile home was the great syncretic Egyptian capital city of Alexandria—a city that had honored Isis from its inception and which left an indelible stamp upon the Hermetic tradition. As religious wisdom and philosophy flowed into Alexandria from many cultures, it likewise flowed into Hermeticism. In addition to Egyptian and Greek Paganism, Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Iranian Zoroastrian all added to the Hermetic amalgamation.

Thoth; Trismegistos' Egyptian original

Thoth; Trismegistos’ Egyptian original

The Hermetic texts address a wide range of topics, including cosmic principles, the nature and orders of Being and beings, the human desire to know the Divine, astrology, alchemy, magic, and medicine, among others.

Scholars generally place the individual texts of the Hermetica in one of two camps: the philosophical and religious Hermetica, or the technical—that is, magical or theurgic—Hermetica. The main philosophical Hermetic texts that have come down to us are contained in the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of approximately 17 treatises written in Latin and Greek. The exact date for the composition of the texts is unknown, but they are usually thought to be dated to the second or third centuries CE. Technical Hermetica range more broadly, and are tentatively dated to a period spanning the first century CE to the fourth. It is quite possible, however, that at least some of the texts were based on significantly earlier models.

We’re not sure when the Kore Kosmou was written either. In 1909, Egyptologist Flinders Petrie suggested that it could be as old as 510 BCE and thus is the oldest of the Hermetic texts. Frankly, it doesn’t feel quite that old to me and although it can be considered one of the most “Egyptian” of the Hermetica, it has enough in common with the other texts that the 1st-3rd centuries CE date seems more right to me.

So What Was the Question?

You know. This guy.

God the Father, from the Sistine Chapel

Andrea wanted to know what I thought about the androcentricity of the creation story told in Kore Kosmou. And it definitely is androcentric. The Supreme Creator is a He and a Father. “Nature,” the product of Creation, is a beautiful feminine Being. So there ya go; stereotypes all around.

But there’s absolutely nothing special about that. It’s just the usual sexism of the day.

As a woman reading the ancient esoteric texts, I almost always have to mentally “translate” or interpret them for myself. Is the author talking about human men or humankind? Are women intended to be included in this, that, or the other statement? Were women even worth bothering about in the author’s eyes? If there is an encounter with a feminine Divine Being in the text, does the same spiritual dynamic apply to women or would a woman have an encounter with a masculine Divine Being?

This is true of…well…just about every ancient text I’ve ever read, no matter the tradition. Not only must I puzzle through the meaning of the ancient author, but then I must try to discover whether or not it was intended to relate to me as a female seeker. (And all of this applies to heterosexuals; how much more translation is required if you’re LBGT?) So I grit my teeth and try to ignore the sexism to find the underlying spiritual meaning. Some days are better than others but, I must admit, it does get tiresome.

Okay, I’m done now. With that small rant duly ranted, let’s discover what’s in the Kore Kosmou.

As it is my opinion that the Ultimate Divine is ultimately beyond gender, as I summarize the text, I shall be using the term “Creator” and “Sole Ruler” (which is in the original text) instead of Father, Craftsman, God, or the masculine pronoun when referring to the Ultimate Divine. All other Deities retain Their traditional pronouns.

Isis from Athanasius Kirchers

Isis from Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus, 1652

What’s in the Kore Kosmou?

Give heed, my son Horus, for you shall hear secret doctrine, of which our forefather Kamephis was the first teacher. It so befell that Hermes heard this teaching from Kamephis, the eldest of our race. I heard it from Hermes, the writer of records, at the time when he initiated me in the Black Rites [possibly alchemy], and you shall hear it now from me…

—Kore Kosmou, Walter Scott translation

This is how Isis begins Her dialog. She then describes for Her son the creation of the Universe, the Elements, and Nature. Nature is the most important female character in the story and is described as “a being in woman’s form, right lovely, at the sight of whom the gods were smitten with amazement.”

Isis next describes how the Souls—which are Divine and share with the Creator the ability to create—were made and how they became too proud of their creative ability, overstepping the bounds the Creator decreed for them.

To punish the Souls for their pride, the Souls are placed into human bodies by Hermes Trismegistos on command of the Sole Ruler. Yet the Creator is merciful. As consolation to the imprisoned Souls, the Creator allows them to forget their heavenly origins, to receive blessings from the Deities, and to return to the Heavens provided they do good upon earth.

Theres a band called Kore Kosmou...and they have a gorgeous album cover

There’s a band called Kore Kosmou…and they have a gorgeous album cover

Nevertheless, once the Souls are embodied, they began to fight amongst themselves, killing each other and polluting the world, so much so that the Elements complain to the Creator. The Creator bids the Elements to return to Their work, for help is on the way.

And so the Creator sends Isis and Osiris, Who are “the efflux” of the Divine, to help create order, religion, and civilization.

The Goddess and God bring “that which is Divine” into human life, thereby putting a stop to savage slaughter. They establish the rites of worship on earth, consecrate temples, and give human beings food and shelter. They introduce the oath and law and justice. They teach the art of mummification. They discover the cause of death by finding that the life-breath eventually returns to its place of origin. They learn the ways of the Spirits and inscribe the secrets on stones for human edification. They devise the “magic of the prophet-priests” so that human souls can be nurtured by philosophy and human bodies can be healed by the healing art.

Having brought all these Divine blessings to earth, Isis and Osiris are allowed to return to heaven after speaking a hymn. Horus asks to learn the hymn…and that is, unfortunately, where the text breaks off.

Isis and Osiris, from a stele now in the Louvre, photo by Rama

Isis and Osiris, from a stele now in the Louvre, photo by Rama

Another fragment seems to pick up the tale and has Isis answering Horus’ questions about the nature of the many types of Souls, how they are differentiated, and how they become intelligent.

In the surviving Hermetica, Isis often concerns Herself with Souls; an interest continuing from Her early function as a funerary Goddess and a guide and protector of the dead. In other Isis-to-Horus fragments, Isis teaches about reincarnation and the nature of Souls. In their Isian and Hermetic concern with the journey of the Soul after death, the texts resonate with the power of the ancient Egyptian tradition from which they, in part, derive.

Read It for Yourself

If you’d like to read the whole text for yourself, you can find the G.R.S. Mead translation here. And the Kingsford-Maitland translation here. Both of these translations are in the public domain, which is why you find them online. Mead’s is overly poetic in true Victorian fashion and Kingsford & Maitland had their own agenda. Of the translations I know of, the Walter Scott version seems best to me, though he is criticized for some of the “corrections” he made. It, however, is not in the public domain, so you won’t find it online. Always remember; translation is an art, not a science.

But it seems that I’m not quite done with the Kore Kosmou. So next time, we’ll talk about some of the genuinely Egyptian elements in the text and find out how it may indeed be the most “Egyptian” of the Hermetica.

Posted by: Isidora | August 2, 2015

An Isis Cornucopia

Today’s offering is one of those collections of little bits of Isis information that aren’t quite enough to make a post on their own, but are interesting if you put them all together.

So here we go…

Cuneiform writing

Cuneiform writing

Isis in Babylonia…Maybe

Egyptologist have long used transcriptions of Egyptian personal names found in cuneiform as clues in helping them figure out how ancient Egyptian might have been pronounced. Many of the Egyptian names in these texts are what are known as theophoric names, that is, they include a Deity’s name in them. For instance, Isidora is a theophoric (“God/dess-bearing”) name meaning “Gift of Isis.”

A number of the Egyptian names in cuneiform also are Isis-bearing names. Researchers have also found something else interesting about them, and that is that the cuneiform also includes a marking that indicates that the name is divine. But only in the case of the Isis names—even though they have found a number of other theophoric names that include other Egyptian Deities (for example, Amun, Mut, Thoth, and Bastet).

What’s more, the Isis-bearing names with the divine marker in them were found mostly in the records of a wealthy merchant family from Nippur, dating from 465-405 BCE. This coincides with the first period of Persian rule in Egypt: 525–402 BCE.

An artist's conception of ancient Nippur

An artist’s conception of ancient Nippur

We might speculate that some members of this wealthy family, or perhaps an Egyptian family they were trading with during Persian rule of Egypt, had a devotion to Isis. Perhaps they brought Her worship to Nippur. As yet we have no other evidence of a temple there, but the prominence of Isis theophoric names, as well as the unusual divine marker in the writing makes this a possibility.

Another interesting bit of information in relation to this is that all the Isis-bearing names have Her name as “Esi,” which is another confirmation that the final “t” was dropped in saying Iset’s name at least by this time and probably quite a bit earlier…some think as early as the Middle Kingdom.

Personally, I love the softness of Isi/Esi/Ise/Ese…and I think I shall be chanting Her name that way for a while.

Some Notes on Isis as a Tree Goddess

The Tree Goddess Isis nourishing Pharaoh Thutmose

The Tree Goddess Isis nourishing Pharaoh Thutmose; you can see Her name at the bottom of the column of hieroglyphs

There were a number of sacred trees in ancient Egypt, notably the sycamore fig, the persea, and to a lesser extent, the date palm. All of these trees are fruit-bearing, and were sources of nourishment—both in life and in the afterlife. (We talked about the sacred acacia, which is not fruit-bearing but has other fine qualities, several weeks ago.)

Three Goddesses were particularly associated with these sacred trees, in which They could also be seen to dwell. They are Hathor, Nuet, and of course, Isis.

There are a number of representations of Isis as the Lady of the Sycamore. A pillar in the tomb of Sennefer of Thebes (18th dynasty) shows Sennefer and his wife Meryt as they stand before a leafy tree with a Goddess figure in it Who is identified in the hieroglyphic text as Isis. Another 18th dynasty stela shows “Isis the Great, the God’s Mother” as a Tree Goddess Who extends Her breast toward the souls of the man and woman standing at Her roots. A 19th dynasty stela shows a leafless tree in a pot, but which seems to be hung with ribbons. The Goddess wears Isis’ throne upon Her head, yet is identified as Mistress of the West as She pours water to refresh the deceased.

A beautiful piece of Tree Goddess Photoshop work...if you know the artist, please let me know.

A beautiful piece of Tree Goddess Photoshop work…if you know the artist, please let me know.

According to Plutarch, the persea tree (Egyptian ished) is sacred to Isis “because its fruit is like a heart and its leaf like a tongue.” He explains that this is because no human quality is more Divine than reason, symbolized by the tongue, and that there is no more driving human force than happiness, symbolized by the heart. Taking an Egyptian, rather than Platonic approach, we could say it was because Isis created by conceiving something in Her heart, then speaking it into being with Her tongue.

A Praise of Isis from Koptos

On a large stela showing Ramesses offering incense to Isis in Her sacred barque and dedicated by the overseer of the work on Ramesses’ temple, we read this praise of the Goddess:

Flinders Petrie, who excavated much of Koptos...looking a bit obsessive

W.M. Flinders Petrie, who excavated much of Koptos, offering us his intense look

Adoration to Thee, Isis, Fair of Face in the Adtet boat, Great of Prowess [. . . ] ills, abolishing quarrels, driving away [. . .] saving the weak from the fierce [very sketchy in here with many broken lines] this humble servant reached his city in order to give praise to Isis, to glorify the Great Goddess every day.

The rest is too broken up to reproduce here, but I get the idea reading it that perhaps he had had an encounter with Isis in Her barque and he had been inspired him to make this stela in Her honor. Also, I like the idea of Isis “saving the weak from the fierce.”

Women Isiacs in Roman-era Athens Causing Change

We have a number of Greek grave reliefs of women, and some men, in what has been termed “the Isis dress” and carrying a sistrum and libation vessel. The Isis dress is the one with the Isis knot in the center. I’ve written about that here and here. Elizabeth Walters (a professor of Art History and Archeology at Penn State University), who studied these reliefs extensively, believes that the people to whom the grave reliefs belonged were probably initiates of Isis.

Funerary relief of Alexandra in Isis dress, from Roman-era Athens

Funerary relief of Alexandra in Isis dress, from Roman-era Athens

A paper I’m reading now explores the role of these female “religious enthusiasts” and attributes to them some changes in the way priestly activities would have normally taken place. The author, Paraskevi Martzavou (A Greek-born professor of Classics at Oxford University), suggests that at least some of the women in the Isis dress may have played roles in an Eleusinian-style initiatory ritual, perhaps even taking the role of Isis Herself.

Martzavou believes that the influence of these women may have opened up a new way for Isis devotees to be more involved with their chosen Goddess outside of an official priestesshood. He sees it as characteristic of the worship of Isis and terms it “sacerdotization.” He explains that term as there having been a sort of freelance priestessly status among these women who may have been involved in initiatory rites. He says he’d like to see it studied more. And so would I.

Okay, that’s the download from the Isis cornucopia for now. I hope you found something to pique your interest, and as always, may She bless you abundantly.

Posted by: Isidora | July 26, 2015

Werethekau & Isis Great of Magic

“O, Isis, Great of Magic, deliver me from all bad, evil, and typhonic things…”                                                  —Ebers Papyrus, 1500 BCE

Werethekau as a winged Cobra Goddess

Werethekau as a winged Cobra Goddess (photo by Mark Williams)

One of Isis’ most powerful epithets is “Great of Magic,” which you may also see translated as Great One of Magic, Great Sorceress, or Great Enchantress. In Egyptian, it is Weret Hekau or Werethekau. (“Wer” is “great” and “et” is the feminine ending. “Hekau” is the plural of “magic,” so you could also translate it as Great of Magics.)

Isis is not the only Goddess Who is called Great of Magic. Many of the Great Goddesses bear that epithet, too: Hathor, Sakhmet, Mut, Wadjet, among others. Gods are also Great of Magic, notably Set in the Pyramid Texts.

Werethekau from Karnak

Werethekau from Karnak

There is also an independent Goddess named Werethekau. As so many Deities were, She was associated with the king, and especially during his coronation. There had been some doubt among Egyptologists about whether Werethekau was indeed a separate Goddess. But recently, Ahmed Mekawy Ouda of Cairo University has been doing a lot of work tracking Her down. (She was also the topic of his thesis, which I hope to get a copy of someday soon.) He’s gathered references to a priesthood and temples for Her that seem quite clear. More on all that in a moment.

In addition to the Great of Magic Deities, there are objects called Great of Magic, especially objects associated with the king, such as the royal crowns. In the Pyramid Texts, the king goes before a very personified Red Crown:

“The Akhet’s door has been opened, its doorbolts have drawn back. He has come to you, Red Crown; he has come to you, Fiery One; he has come to you, Great One; he has come to you, Great of Magic—clean for you and fearful because of you . . . He has come to you, Great of Magic: he is Horus, encircled by the aegis of his eye, the Great of Magic.”

                                      —Pyramid Texts of Unis, 153

A Lioness-headed Werethekau from Karnak

A lioness-headed Werethekau from Karnak

Some amulets, including a vulture amulet, a cobra amulet, and, as in the example above, the Eye of Horus amulet are also called Great of Magic. So is the adze used in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.

With all this great magic going for him or her, the king or queen becomes Great of Magic, too. King Pepi Neferkare is told, “Horus has made your magic great in your identity of Great of Magic” (Pyramid Texts of Pepi, 315). Queen Neith is told, “Horus has made your magic great in your identity of Great of Magic. You are the Great God” (Pyramid Texts of Neith, 225).

I wonder whether there might be some primordial connection between the Great of Magic royal crowns and the Great of Magic royal throne—Who is Iset, the Goddess Throne. Perhaps we can understand the accouterments of kingship as personified extensions of the Power, Divinity, and Magic of the Living Great Goddesses, which were empowered by Them in order to bestow upon the king his own power, divinity, and magic.

A cobra-headed Werethekau...also from Karnak. Lots of Great of Magics at Karnak, eh?

A cobra-headed Werethekau…also from Karnak. Lots of Great of Magics at Karnak, eh? Or should that be Greats of Magic?

The magic of the crowns is enhanced by the protective uraeus serpents often shown upon them. They’re not just snakes, of course; They’re Goddesses. Most often, the Uraeus Goddesses are Wadjet and Nekhbet or Isis and Nephthys, representing Lower and Upper Egypt. But Werethekau is a Uraeus Goddess, too. The uraei are also known as “Eyes” due to the similarity between the Egyptian word for “eye” (iret) and the word for “the doer” (iret)—for the Eyes of the Deities are the Divine Powers that go out to do things (much like the active and feminine Shakti power in Hinduism.)

The Pyramid Texts of King Merenre associate the Eyes with the crowns:

“You are the god who controls all the Gods, for the Eye has emerged in your head as the Nile Valley Great-of-Magic Crown, the Eye has emerged in your head as the Delta Great-of-Magic Crown, Horus has followed you and desired you, and you are apparent as the Dual King, in control of all the Gods and Their kas as well.”                                               

                                           —Pyramid Texts of Merenre, 52

The human-headed Cobra Goddess Werethekau nursing Tutankhamum

The human-headed Cobra Goddess Werethekau nursing Tutankhamum

The Uraeus Goddesses or Eyes are powerful, holy cobras Who emit Light and spit Fire against the enemies of the king and the Deities. Learn more about Isis as Uraeus Goddess here.

When Werethekau is an independent Goddess, She may have the body of a woman and head of a cobra, be in full cobra form, and we even have a few instances of the Goddess in full human form. Among Tutankhamun’s grave goods is a figure of Werethekau with a human head and cobra body nursing a child Tut.

She also has a lioness form. We know of a lionine Isis-Werethekau from the hypostyle hall at Karnak. A number of the Goddesses with a feline form—Sakhmet, Mut, Pakhet—were also known as Great of Magic, so we can understand that powerful magic has not only a protective and nurturing side, but also a fierce and raging one. Which seems about right if you ask me; magic can be very positive and healing or, if used unwisely, a real mess.

Isis-Werethekau from the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

Isis-Werethekau from the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. You can read Her name in the hieroglyphs above Her. Click to enlarge.

So far, I haven’t tracked down the oldest reference to Isis as Great of Magic. Since She has always been a Goddess of great magical power, the association is ancient. Perhaps it has always been. Perhaps there’s something to my guess about The Great-of-Magic Throne. Or perhaps Professor Ouda will come to my rescue when I finally get a copy of his thesis.

In Ouda’s article outlining some of the references to Werethekau’s priesthood and temples, several of the extant references to Werethekau also tie-in Isis and Her Divine family.

For instance, on a stele of a chantress of Isis, the chantress is shown playing the sistrum and adoring Isis-Werethekau. The inscription reads, “adoring Werethekau, may They [Isis and Werethekau?] give life and health to the ka of the chantress of Isis, Ta-mut-neferet.”

Ta-mut-neferet holds the hand of a man identified as “the servant of Osiris.”  Another stele calls Werethekau “Lady of the Palace” and is dedicated by a chantress of Osiris, Horus, and Isis. A man who was Second God’s Servant of Osiris, God’s Servant of Horus, and God’s Servant of Isis was also God’s Servant of Werethekau, Lady of the Palace.

Iset Werethekau in hieroglyphs...three different ways

Iset Werethekau in hieroglyphs…three different ways

Ouda also notes that Lady of the Palace may be Werethekau’s most common epithet. That is quite interesting in light of the fact that Lady of the Palace (or House or Temple) is the very meaning of Nephthys’ name. (Learn more about that here.) And of course, She, too, is called Great of Magic. Together, Isis and Nephthys are the Two Uraeus Goddesses and the Two Great of Magics.

So if the question is, “is Werethekau an independent Goddess, a personified object, or an epithet of other Deities?”, the answer is, “yes”. With the beautiful and, to my mind, admirable fluidity of the Egyptian Divine, She is all these things…and most especially, a powerful aspect of Isis, the Great Enchantress.

Posted by: Isidora | July 23, 2015

Join me for the Celebrate the Goddess Telesummit


Hello, Isiacs!

Coming this August, I’ll be participating in the Celebrate the Goddess Telesummit that begins on August 3 and runs through the 14th.

The way this works is that you can register for free and tune in for 20 one-hour sessions, two each weekday, with 20 different speakers. Each session will be about building a relationship with a particular Goddess, including Persephone, Inanna, Saraswati, Artemis, the Black Madonna, Aradia, and more. There’s no cost to attend and the sessions are at 10 am and 1 pm. But since many of us work and won’t be able to listen live, you’ll also have access to listen anytime within 48 hours of each session. You can listen online, via phone, or Skype. You’ll receive the connection information after you register.

You can probably guess which Goddess I’ll be talking about. I’ll be the last speaker—on August 14 at 1 pm…or up to 48 hours after that, at your convenience.

One of the things we’ll be doing is the ritual of Opening the Ways to Isis. I’ve never done the ritual remotely before, so this should be interesting. Please do come and help make the magic even more powerful by your presence and participation.

I hope you’ll join us for all these sessions as we explore some of the many, beautiful faces of Goddess.

Click here to register for free.

Posted by: Isidora | July 19, 2015

It’s Time to Get Sirius about Isis

The holy Star of Isis, the brightest star in the night sky

I know, sorry.

But it is that time.

Star and Cow Goddess were associated very early in Egypt

Stars and the Cow Goddess were associated very early in Egypt

The time when we watch the skies for the pre-dawn reappearance of the beautiful and brilliant star of Isis, Sirius.

Thanks to the wonders of modern online astronomical calculators, we can know pretty precisely when the Fair Star of the Waters will rise before the sun in our area. (To use the calculator, just enter your email and the password: softtests. You will need to know the latitude of your area and its altitude. Both of those are easily google-able.)

I’ve written a number of posts about Sirius and Isis. Here are the links, all in one place:

At Denderah, Sothis is a cow with the star between Her horns, and surrounding Her

At Denderah, one image of Sopdet shows Her as a cow with Sirius between Her horns, and stars surrounding Her

The basic information on Isis and Her holy star and why it is called the “dog star”.

Meditations on Isis and Her Mother during this time of waiting.

Why Sirius is appropriately the heavenly marker of our modern New Year, too, and about temples oriented to Sirius.

The experience of my sister priestess and me last year as we watched Her rise.

About the symbol of the star in Egyptian spirituality and being “joined” to yours.

And a ritual for beginning the process of “being joined to your star.”

Sothis from Isis temple at Philae

Sopdet from Isis’ temple at Philae

The rise of the Star of Isis was important in ancient Egypt for it marked coming of the fertilizing Nile Inundation and the day of the New Year. It was also the end of the epigominal days, those days out of time when the the Cairo Calendar tells us that the birthdays of Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis, and Nephthys were celebrated.

Thus, if you wish to celebrate the Birth of Isis, it is two days before New Year’s Day.

(NOTE: Sorry if I confused anyone. I had the epigominals mixed up in my head. Thanks to JewelofAset for the correction.)

There are a number of options for choosing our New Year’s Day.

For instance, perhaps you’ve seen a date of July 19th given for the rising of Sirius? This comes from a 1904 calculation by Eduard Meyer, who was the first modern person to have noticed ancient Egypt’s Sothic Cycle.

Isis-Sothis, Lady of the Dog-Star, riding on Her dog

Isis-Sothis, Lady of the Dog-Star, riding on Her dog, from an Alexandrian coin

You may recall that the Sothic Cycle is a period of 1,461 ancient Egyptian years during which the 365-day Egyptian year, which is one quarter day too short, loses enough time so that the Egyptian New Year, once again coincides with the rise of Sirius.

Meyer was trying to calculate the date of the star’s rising from the ancient Egyptian calendar and translate it to the modern Julian so that the reigns of the pharaohs could be more accurately dated. The Sirius rising date he came up with was July 19—but that would have been for 140-142 CE.

You may certainly use that date if you prefer a firm date for planning your celebrations. That would make New Year on the 19th and Isis’ birthday on July 22nd.

Personally, I like to use the date when Isis’ star may actually be seen in the morning skies in my area. In my part of the world, the Pacific Northwest of the US, that’s August 23rd. You can use the calculator link above to find out when She rises in your area.

The jumble of stone blocks that is, today, Isiopolis

You could mark the rise of Isis’ star at Isiopolis…

Another option might be to use the modern rising time at either of Isis’ major sacred temple sites in Egypt.

At Her Lower Egypt temple of Isiopolis in the delta, that will be August 9th this year.

 The Temple of Philae; photo by Ivan Marcialis from Quartucciu, Italy and used under Wiki Creative Commons usage guidelines

…or from Her Philae temple; photo by Ivan Marcialis; used under Wiki Creative Commons

At Her Upper Egypt temple of Philae/Agilika, that would be August 3rd.

So you can see that latitude makes a great deal of difference as to when the rising of the Goddess’ star may be actually observed.

This year, at my latitude, the rise of the Star of Isis falls on a weekend (no work worries, yay!), which means that I will be getting up in the wee hours of the morning, traveling a short distance to a high place, and watching as the Mystery unfolds and the Goddess emerges once more from the Underworld into the dawning light.

If you wish to join me, you’ll need to be at your observation point about an hour before sunrise in order to see Her. We may chant Her name—Iset-Sopdet, Isis-Sothis—as She rises. We may offer Her milk and lotuses. Or we may watch in beautiful silence as She comes, She comes.

Posted by: Isidora | July 12, 2015

Isis, the Acacia Goddess

Birds in an acacia tree, from a Middle Kingdom tomb

Birds in an acacia tree, from a Middle Kingdom tomb

There are many species of acacia, medium-sized, thorny trees with rough, dark bark that can be found in the arid parts of Africa and Asia.

In parts of Africa, the trees characteristically have a dome-shaped canopy because of the way the giraffes graze them. Yet the acacia has developed what seems like an almost miraculous defense system. The tree senses its leaves being grazed. This triggers the release into the acacia’s leaves of a poisonous tannin—so poisonous, if enough is consumed, it can even be deadly.

Researchers discovered this when they observed giraffes browsing only one in ten acacia trees, while antelopes on a fenced game ranch that could not roam freely ate acacia and died.

Furthermore, the tree emits a chemical, ethylene, into the air that can travel on the breeze about 50 feet to alert nearby acacia trees—and they produce the tannin, too.

While the ancient Egyptians may not have been aware of the less observable aspects of this cycle, they clearly recognized acacia as special—both practically and magically.

A stool made from acacia wood

A stool made from acacia wood

On the practical side, the Egyptian acacia, acacia nilotica, has many, many uses. Acacia, called shont, shonnet, shondj, or shondet in Egyptian (it is called sont in modern Arabic), is an attractive hardwood from which the ancient Egyptians built, among other things, boats, sarcophaguses, and furniture.

… the Boat of Ra arrived at the town of Het-Aha; its forepart was made of palm wood, and the hind part was made of acacia wood; thus the palm tree and the acacia tree have been sacred trees from that day to this.

—the Legend of Horus of Behutet and the Winged Disk

Acacia flowers are sweet smelling and look like mini suns

Acacia flowers are sweet smelling and look like mini suns

Acacia’s sweet smelling, yellow flowers, which look like little yellow sunbursts, are astringent and were used to help cleanse the skin and clear up skin problems. Brewed acacia leaves were drunk in a cough mixture. They were also applied to wounds and swollen limbs for their astringent properties. The tree’s seedpods are edible by livestock. The crushed bark produces tannin that was used to help heal burns and tan leather.

Gum acacia (aka “gum arabic”), a resin exuded by the tree, has an amazing variety of uses. It is edible and is extremely nutritious. During the gum harvest, modern-day pickers are said to live almost entirely on it, and just six ounces is enough to sustain an adult for a day.

Young woman gathering gum acacia in Sudan

Woman gathering gum acacia in Sudan

Gum acacia assists in blending and smoothing fats, so it is often used in candy making. It can be used in medicines, incense, paint, and even as glue. Ancient Egyptian women used gum acacia, blended into a base of dates and honey, as a contraceptive. And it worked, too. When gum acacia is dissolved, it produces lactic acid, a spermacide.

DMT, a hallucinogen associated with spiritual experiences, may be present in acacia nilotica in low doses. It is, however, present in other species of acacia in higher doses. This has, of course, led some to speculate that the Egyptians may have used the drug as a way to contact the Otherworld.

And that thought is the perfect crossover to look into acacia’s magical potencies.

Acacia pods, very nutritious, make excellent fodder for all kinds of animals

Acacia pods, very nutritious, make excellent fodder for all kinds of animals

The acacia could represent both life and death for it was thought to encompass both. As the antelopes learned, the tree can be deadly, though it is more often connected with life and healing. The tree is evergreen, making it an apt tree of life. Its yellow flowers look like small suns, making it a solar and renewing, tree. Among the virtues of acacia recorded by Pliny, is a quality that would seem to associate it with resurrection and renewal:

…but the principal merit that it possesses is, that when it is cut down, it will grow again within three years.

—Pliny, Natural History, Book XIII, chapter 19

In one of the formulae of the Coffin Texts, wood from the Goddess Saosis’ (that is, Iusaaset, the primordial Grandmother of Creation and the Gods, sometimes identified with Hathor or Isis) sacred acacia is crushed by the deceased for its healing properties.

In another, the acacia provides an unidentified instrument of power that enables the deceased to avoid evil things in the Otherworld. In yet another text, the acacia appears to be an ingredient in a divine mortar.

Just as the Double Lions served as the gateway to the Otherworld, sometimes Two Acacia Trees could be a gateway, too

Just as the Double Lions served as the gateway to the Otherworld, sometimes Two Acacia Trees could be a gateway

The acacia is also associated with the Double Lion, the twin lions Who guard the horizon to the Otherworld.

The Egyptians must have considered the acacia an ancient, even primordial, tree. In the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the deceased says that he stands before Anubis in a time before the acacia was born, that is, In The Beginning, before the Deities had established All Things. At Heliopolis, there was a tradition that all the Goddesses and Gods were born beneath an acacia tree. In the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the deceased goes to “the Acacia Tree of the Children;” probably the Divine Children of Iusaaset, the Goddesses and Gods born beneath the sacred acacia.

The deceased and his ba receive water from the Acacia Tree Goddess in the Otherworld

The deceased makes offering while his ba receives water from the Acacia Goddess in the Otherworld

While the acacia is associated with a number of Egyptian Deities, it has specific associations with Isis and Her family. A particular acacia—simply called The Acacia, or Shondj—was sacred to Her. The Goddess Shontet, the Acacia Goddess Who took part in the Osirian resurrection rites at Djedu (Mendes), was considered to be a form of Isis. And Isis and Nephthys together were called the Two Shonti Goddesses, that is, the Two Acacia Goddesses.

In the story of the “Contendings of Horus and Set,” Isis, in the form of Her sacred bird, flies into the branches of Her holy acacia after tricking Set into condemning His own attempts to usurp the rightful rule of Horus, Isis’ son. In some tales, the acacia is the tree that magically grew up around the body of Osiris when His sarcophagus washed up on the shores of Byblos. He is called “the One in the Tree” and “the Solitary One in the Acacia.” In the Pyramid Texts, Horus, “comes forth from the acacia tree.”

Acacia nilotica

Acacia nilotica, showing leaves and thorns

In one of the poison-curing spells that include the legend of “Isis & the Seven Scorpions,” when Horus is stung and cries out in pain, it is the doorkeepers at the Temple of the Holy Acacia Tree who hear Him and send a cry to the heavens for help, since Isis is away making libations for Osiris.

Because of Divine associations like these, acacia could serve as an offering to both Horus and Isis—and although I haven’t yet run across it, it would seem that it would be a very appropriate offering for Osiris as well.

The acacia is a tree of beauty, usefulness, powerful protection, life and death, and the magic of healing…and thus it is sacred unto Isis Shontet, the Lady of the Acacia.

Posted by: Isidora | July 5, 2015

“Doing Things” for Isis

A Sem priest...Doing Things

A Sem priest…Doing Things

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while may be familiar with my small rants about The Old Gentlemen of Egyptology and their innate sexist attitudes. Well, today it’s time for another rant…just a little one…but this time it’s about the Even Older Gentlemen of Ancient Egypt and their innate sexist attitudes.

You see, I just came across a scholarly article by Carolyn Routledge entitled “Did Women ‘Do Things’ in Ancient Egypt? (c. 2600-1050 BCE)” at the same time as served me up a thesis by the same Carolyn Routledge about ancient Egyptian ritual practice, which was an in-depth study of two specific words having to do with ritual, one of which translates as “doing things” (iri ḫt).

Routledge explains that the Egyptians used ir ḫt (“to do things”) in several specific ways. In addition to its meaning as ritual performance, including funerary rites, it also has to do with the performance of work or duty, and even negative behavior. It was used particularly in relation to physical activity.

A priest making a ritual gesture...part of Doing Things, probably offering

A priest making a ritual gesture…part of Doing Things, probably offering

Of course I’m most interested in ir ḫt meaning “to do ritual.” The kinds of ritual activities that were Done included libating and censing and making offering, including burnt offering: “you perform rites; bread, beer, and incense upon the flame.”

Interestingly, there also seems to be some emphasis on doing these things with one’s arms and hands. Makes me wonder whether, in addition to the sheer physicality of using a sacred vessel to libate, a censer to burn incense, or employing some other ritual object, there was also supposed to have been an accompanying gesture. There also seems to have been a connection to written instructions in the performance of ritual. So the lector priest, the sacred reader, was one who definitely Did Things.

If one wanted to be quite specific, one could also say he was iri ḫt nṯr, “doing God’s rites” or iri ḫt nṯrt, “doing Goddess’ rites.” But notice that pronoun I just used in relation to the person doing the Doing? Yeah. He. Sadly, Routledge answers the question posed in her article title with a resounding no; women did not Do Things. At least as far as we can tell from the evidence left to us, and I must admit it seems reasonably conclusive.

A queen…obviously not Doing Things; from the tomb of Nefertari

For example, the king has the title, neb ir ḫt, “Lord of Doing Things.” It is often used in connection with the king Doing Things that maintain Ma’et, including cultic functions as well as kingly duties and activities. The queen, however, does not Do Things. She has no title, Lady of Doing Things. Instead, she “says all things and it is done for her.” I used to think that was a nice expression of queenly power; now, I’m kinda thinking it’s the opposite: an expression of the perceived inability of women to Do Things themselves.

There are only two exceptions: Sobeknefru and Hatshepsut, both women who ruled as king, not queen. In Hatshepsut’s case, about half of the references to that title are in the masculine form, half in a feminized form: nebet ir ḫt. (We have no references to Tausert, a later woman ruler, using that title.)

The exclusion of women from Doing Things is, of course, the basis of my rant. Or maybe it’s not even really a rant. More of a whine. Or an exhausted, put-upon sigh.

The king, priests, and officials of all stripes Did Things. But when it came to women, the “things” part of the important phrase was avoided. There are instances of women iri irw, “doing doings” or “performing performances,” but not iri ḫt. Routledge gives an interesting example of a husband and wife, both named Djehutynakht, both with the same funerary text on their coffins, but hers excludes the word ḫt.

A new image of queen Tjye recently found at Luxor; pretty sure this woman could Do Things

A new image of queen Tjye recently found at Luxor; pretty sure this woman could Do Things

It’s practically impossible not to smell the old sexist weakness-of-women, unfitness-of-women-for-important-stuff stereotypes here. But we don’t know. Routledge suggests that it may be because iri ḫt was associated with educated, literate, and highly trained people, very few of whom would have been women in ancient Egypt. True enough. But the question underlying that conclusion is “why not?” Which, of course, refers us back to the first sentence in this paragraph.

So what can we do with this information? Why am I sharing it with you?

First, I enjoyed learning an important ancient term for doing ritual and reading about its specific connotations. Second, we sometimes tend to idealize the ancient Egyptians—we do so love their Deities, their art, their magic and mysterious ancient wisdom. It is important to know that every society—theirs, ours, everybody’s—has flaws, often significant ones, and we should not be blind to them.

And third? Third, I hope to encourage all of us to Do Things for Isis. We all have the capacity for Doing Things in the ancient sense: with power, purpose, and effectiveness. Let us also be reminded that the physicality of ritual is important. For when we are fully engaged with what we are Doing—body, mind, soul, and spirit—ritual is far from being empty show. It is instead Right Action that can truly Open the Ways so that we may come, once more, to the Divine Heart of Isis.

Concept art from Exodus; my Egyptian dream...

Concept art from Exodus; an imagined royal palace


Posted by: Isidora | June 28, 2015

Isis, MacGregor & Moina, Part 2

The masthead of L'Echo du Merveilleux

The masthead of L’Echo du Merveilleux

The other big source of information about the Mathers Rites of Isis was published in the French periodical L’Echo du Merveilleux (December, 1900), entitled “Isis á Montmartre” and written by André Gaucher. It is rather more breathless and its prose is deeply—deeply—empurpled.

At the time of the article, the Mathers moved to a new home in Montmartre (a Parisian arrondissement) where they could have a larger temple and a garden. Apparently, they had just moved when they had L’Echo interview—everything was still in boxes.

Napoleon's Coat of Arms for the city of Paris, with Isis enthroned on the prow of the ship

Napoleon’s Coat of Arms for the city of Paris with Isis enthroned on the ship’s prow

Mathers told Gaucher the myth of Isis and Osiris, explained Isis’ connections with Paris (at least according to the lore of the day, including the not-true idea of the city having been named for Her), and eventually—with much mysterious cloak-and-dagger, which I’m guessing was largely in the perception of the author—invited Gaucher to one of the Isis ceremonies.

The article is in French, so please forgive my Google Translate-aided English translation. Here is Gaucher’s account of the ritual:


Removing the blindfold. Light. Before my eyes, a large room draped entirely in white, decorated with garlands of flowers to graceful effect. There are roses, camellias, morning glory and purplish clusters—wisteria. (And in November!) Around me are men and women draped in long robes, or rather colorful peplums [probably meaning what appear to him to be Greek-style robes]. Moreover, they all seem to deeply ignore my presence. Nobody pays attention to me or seems to notice my strange dress in this “Greek Revival” meeting. Motionless, serious, and attentive, their faces were turned to the back of the room where, on a sort of stele supported by a platform, is erected a veiled statue of—Isis?

As if they had waited for my arrival, long curtains that hid the back of the room are opening. At the foot of the statue, a man and a woman appear, also dressed in white, their waists encircled by a length of saffron-colored fabric. Their arms are bare [except for] wide bands of gold or silver. The woman’s abundant, black hair floated over her shoulders.

MacGregor as the Hierophant Ramses in the L'Echo article; click to enlarge

MacGregor as the Hierophant Ramses in the L’Echo article; click to enlarge

They then performed the rites of a simple ceremony.

At the foot of the veiled statue, both kneel to ignite perfumes in a censer; the warm air of the sanctuary is charged with a strong odor of benzoin and incense. Then the priest and priestess scattered grains of wheat and [petals of] flowers on the ground. They pass these to an assistant, who bows deeply. Some of the wheat and flowers are then placed on the burning coals of the censer. They burn slowly.

Around us, the spectators seem to be readying for some important act of the ceremony. Faces become brighter, eyes shine, joy radiates everywhere. What is going to happen? Now, solemn, majestic, and hieratic, the priest of Isis moves toward the statue; he seems to grow taller, with a light touch and triumphant gesture, the mysterious veil falls away. The goddess appears smiling as assistants prostrate themselves, crying, “Isis! Isis! Isis!”

The priestess falls to her knees. The priest remains standing, arms wide, head flung back, ecstatic. A heavy silence—frightening!—falls on the kneeling crowd, and slowly, as if the earth moved under its base, the statue descends bit by bit. As it passes by the priest, he quickly takes up the veil. Then he lets out a frightful cry which is met by a mournful howl from the kneeling people.


Moina as Anari in L'Echo article

Moina as the High Priestess Anari in L’Echo article; click to enlarge

As I wonder in amazement whether I am dreaming or awake, a long and sinister rustling is heard. The white veils and flower garlands fall from the walls with an ominous shudder and the walls now appear to be draped in black. The torches are extinguished one by one as if by the breath of an invisible wind. On the right and left of the sanctuary, two sole flames burn, reddish and sooty. The blackness at the back of the room is rent with a sinister screeching. Away, in that deep darkness, a huge mass, chaotic, separates itself from the black background. Again a cry of the priest, a brief call, and the assistants become rigid, stiff and immobile. They shout three times: “Osiris! Osiris! Osiris!”

Indeed, my eyes, accustomed to the darkness, can better distinguish the details of the huge statue. It’s the Egyptian god wearing a gigantic pschent [the Double Crown]. But how could this colossal statue, this inexplicable prodigy, be transported as far as here? Is it a trick, a disappointing show of painted cardboard? Or is it really the god himself, the art of ancient Egypt torn from the stone bowels of Luxor and Karnak; what mysterious force, what superhuman powers were able to make this great image answer the prayers of his new worshippers? And I hear singing in my memory the verses of the poet [Victor Hugo], “The idol then, blind and monstrous fetus, emerges from the half-open mountain.”

In the middle of Egypt, the presence of such a granite monument would already be extraordinary; in Paris, it becomes completely incomprehensible.

Ramses & Anari, surely from the same L/Echo photoshoot

Ramses & Anari, with a really big sistrum!

I do not have time to think about this new strangeness. Other phenomena both weird and wonderful require my attention and once again I wonder whether I am the victim of an hallucination—or whether the phenomena are only clever tricks? Anything is possible. But then the skill of the architects of this fantastic scene itself touches on the unreal.

Here from the top of the statue, something luminous, phosphorescent, bursts forth and moves, circulating its inexplicable radiance. One by one the attendants appear haloed by the changing light that seems to move around them in a formidable magnetic effluvium. Round and about, under the eyes of the god, the worshippers fall in ecstasy or catalepsy. Around me sighs, convulsive cries. Their bodies roll on the ground, in the darkness, in the anguish of dreadful nervous spasms. Others stand, straight, rigid, with bloodless faces, haggard eyes. The vision descends into a nightmare. A scarlet torch illuminates the back of the sanctuary with an infernal glimmer, I believe that, at the rear, I see the gigantic statue in a terrible grin. Horror!

Scary Osiris from the TV show, Supernatural; maybe this is what Gaucher saw?

Scary Osiris from the TV show, Supernatural; maybe this is what Gaucher saw?

The monstrous head [of the statue] oscillates in darkness, unleashing a dull, deep sound; the indescribable rhythmic motion seems to carry with it, around the statue, a fantastic array of superhuman beings. Confusedly, I see the hawk-headed god Horus, the muzzle of the jackal of Anubis, the face of the bull god Thor [he probably means Hathor]. All the monsters of ancient Egypt—are they here?

Well, I’m afraid; yes, I am afraid, and suffocated by the acrid smoke from the bloody torches, which is becoming thicker and darker; I half-lose consciousness.

Having fainted, the over-excited journalist is driven back to Paris and safely delivered to his front door at “two o’clock, the hour of dreams, visions hour.”

Well! Now that is a ritual. I sincerely wish I could have been there.

Caroline Tully of the University of Melbourne suggests in her paper, “Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and Isis” that, since this rite took place in November, the Mathers’ ritual could have been inspired by the Osirian Khoiak festival that lamented Osiris’ death and celebrated His rebirth, and which took place at roughly that time of year. It’s a very interesting idea. If we can believe Gaucher, the extreme emotionalism he witnessed at the Mathers’ Rite of Isis would definitely fit the festival of lamentation and joy in Khoiak.

The Palais des Nations from the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris

The Palais des Nations from the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris; you really should click to enlarge this one.

Now, you might think that being public Isiacs, developing their Isis Movement, and dealing with various Golden Dawn upsets (that never happens!) would have kept the Mathers plenty busy enough. But no. It seems that at least MacGregor was involved with creating an Isis Temple for the Exposition Universalle of 1900 in Paris.

MacGregor’s friend, J.W. Brodie-Innes wrote an eulogy for Mathers in the Occult Review of April, 1919.

In it he writes, “When he arranged a Temple of Isis for the Paris Exhibition, an Egyptologist whose name is world-famous said, ‘MacGregor is a Pharaoh come back. All my life I have studied the dry bones; he has made them live.'” We don’t know which world-famous Egyptologist Brodie-Innes intended, more’s the pity.

In a letter to Adept Order member Florence Farr (who had her own Egyptian connections), MacGregor writes, “My time is just now so enormously occupied with the arrangements for the Buildings and Decorations of the Egyptian Temple of Isis in Paris, as well as other matters, that I must write as briefly as possible.” Presumably, this is the Exposition temple. And, having just moved (you’ll recall from earlier), it could also be the smaller temple in their home. Or both.

The Egyptian Palace, 1900

The Egyptian Palace, 1900, note the Temple on the left

From some catalogs of the Exposition as well as descriptions of the Egyptian Palace (the Egyptian pavilion for the Exposition) we know that ancient Egyptian art, including images of Isis, Horus, and Osiris, was reproduced in the temple section of the Palace.

A book in English about the Exposition describes the Egyptian exhibit like this;

“Its facades were copied from the most famous buildings of ancient Egypt with their huge porticos, their strange bas-reliefs and hieroglyphics depicting the history of the ancient dynasties of Egypt, their friezes crowded with polychrome designs. There were three distinct divisions: on the right, the “Temple;” in the centre, the “Onakala,” or Arabian bazaar; to the left, the “Theatre.” The front facade of the Temple was a reproduction of that of the Temple of Dandour in Nubia. The sides were copied from buildings at Philae, Abydos and Karnak. The entrance hall, which formed a vestibule, led to a large square covered gallery in the form of a colonnade, with the atrium in the centre open to the sky.”

And about the Theatre:

In the third division, or Theatre, the exterior and the entrance were antique in style, like the Temple. The interior was richly decorated with immense frescoes, depicting in polychrome the life of ancient Egypt, the triumphal progress of the kings, public festivals on the Nile, ceremonies in the temples, etc. The arrangement of the auditorium and the furnishing was entirely in conformity with the Egyptian style. On the stage there were Arabs and Soudanese enacting their “fantasias” and characteristic dances. The sacred dances of ancient Egypt were also performed; in fact here were gathered together all varied attractions and delights of the mysterious East.

Were the “sacred dances of ancient Egypt” the four elemental dances we read about last week? I don’t know. But the Exposition—and the Egyptian Palace in particular—is another event from that period that I would dearly love to have been able to attend.

And there you have it. That’s about all we know about the Mathers and their Isis Movement.

However, an account on a Golden Dawn site that details the history of the GD’s Ahathoor Temple in Paris, opines that the Isis rites survived MacGregor’s death and Moina’s return to London within l’Ordre Eudiaque headed by Hector Durville. The Ordre Eudiaque seems to have been focused on magnetism and massage as well as Egyptian and Hermetic magic. The Aurum Solis claims it as a close relative and has the Ordre Eudiaque’s papers in its archives.

Posted by: Isidora | June 21, 2015

Isis, MacGregor & Moina, Part I

Isis devotees are fortunate in having a long line, though not an unbroken one, of spiritual ancestors that stretches from ancient Egypt to the present. It’s important for us to know our history. Today’s post is the story of two of those ancestors who have definitely made their place in Isiac tradition…

The Golden Dawn by Gwyllm Llwydd; you can get you own copy of Gwyllm's beautifu work here.

The Golden Dawn by Gwyllm Llwydd; you can get you own copy of this beautiful artwork here.

Established in 1888, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is one of the most important esoteric groups of the modern age. Its influence on today’s theurgic groups has been immense. The Order is rightly credited with, and sometimes criticized for, bringing together many strands of esoteric wisdom from a variety of traditions and weaving from them a coherent and effective system of spiritual development.

Many modern spiritual groups continue to work the rituals and exercises originally created by the magicians of the Golden Dawn, sometimes unaware of their provenance. Doreen Valiente, a leader in the modern revival of witchcraft, cited the Golden Dawn material as the best way for witches to learn and understand magical technique.

Yet the Order has received scant recognition for the important part it played in the “return of the Goddess” that continues unabated in much of the developed world today.

In the Golden Dawn’s understanding of the Divine, the Feminine Divine is essential and equal. More than a hundred years ago, the GD honored the Goddess by insisting that women and men be admitted “on a perfect equality”. In a paper on the history of the Order, William Wynn Westcott, a co-founder, explained women’s inclusion in the Order in part due to the importance of women in the Ancient Mysteries, “notably those of Isis”.

Florence Farr, GD Order member and the model for G.B. Shaw's "New Woman"

Florence Farr, GD member and the model for G.B. Shaw’s “New Woman”

It is easy to see why suffragettes and New Women, part of the first wave of modern feminism, were among the Order’s members.

There was, however, a particular Goddess Who particularly inspired two of the Order’s most important members. As you no doubt suspect by now, that Goddess is Isis. The members are MacGregor and Moina Mathers, founding members of the Order.

The Mathers’ Isiac devotions were outside of the Order proper—though Isis is definitely to be found within the Order, too. (For instance, the Order’s Mother Temple was named Isis-Urania and Isis, as well as other Feminine Divine Beings, is found throughout the Order’s curriculum.)

For this post, however, we’ll focus on the Mathers’ personal Work with Isis; and it was personal for they were true devotees and worshippers of the Goddess. What’s more, the Mathers were Isiac evangelists. By the turn of the 20th century, they were living in Paris and publicly performing Isis rites for the avowed purpose of “resurrecting” the worship of Isis and attempting to share the “beautiful truths” they discovered during their study of the religion of Isis, which for Egyptologists was long dead, but was for them “full of life and vital forces.” They believed that the revival of the Isis religion would be a great force for good in the world.

Moina Mathers; if the 1895 date on this photo is correct, she would have been about 30

Moina Mathers, circa 1895; if that date is correct, she would have been about 30. Best photo ever!

At first, however, their worship of Isis was private. As so many of us do, they had a private temple in their residence. In an interview about the public rites, MacGregor and Moina said that they began their “Isis Movement” when Jules Bois, a journalist familiar with the Parisian occult scene, asked them to perform a public Isis ceremony at the Bodinière Theatre, a small Paris theatre that could be hired for lectures and performances. At first, they refused, but then Moina had a dream in which Isis gave Her permission for the public ceremony, so they proceeded.

Most of what we know about the Mathers’ Isis Movement are from a few newspaper and periodical articles. An interview with the Mathers and an account of one of their Rites of Isis is given in Frederick Lees’ “Isis Worship in Paris: Conversations with the Hierophant Ramses and the High Priestess Anari” in the February, 1900 issue of The Humanitarian. (The Humanitarian was a progressive periodical published in New York and London and edited by Victoria Woodhull-Martin, a Spiritualist, a Suffragist, and the first woman nominated as a candidate for President of the United States.)

Moina's portrait of her husband in his GD regalia; MacGregor met Moina in the British Museum as she was drawing Egyptian antiquities. Egypt had long been a passion for both.

Moina’s famous portrait of her husband in his GD regalia; MacGregor met Moina in the British Museum as she was sketching Egyptian antiquities. Egypt had long been a passion for both.

Yes, you are correct. Ramses and Anari were the Isiac magical names of MacGregor and Moina. Lees describes the Rites of Isis like this:

“In the center of the stage was the figure of Isis, on each side of her were other figures of gods and goddesses, and in front was the little altar, upon which was the ever-burning green stone lamp. The Hierophant Ramses, holding in one hand the sistrum, which every now and then he shook, and in the other a spray of lotus, said the prayers before this altar, after which the High Priestess Anari invoked the goddess in penetrating and passionate tones. Then followed the ‘dance of the four elements’ by a young Parisian lady dressed in long white robes. She had recently become a convert and had previously recited some verses in French in honour of Isis. The four dances were: the ‘dance of the flowers,’ which symbolized the hommage of the earth to the Egyptian goddess; the ‘dance of the mirror,’ that represented waves of water; the ‘dance of the hair,’ symbolic of fire; and the ‘dance of perfumes’ for the element of air. Most of the ladies present in the fashionable Parisian audience brought offerings of flowers, whilst the gentlemen threw wheat upon the altar. The ceremony was artistic in the extreme.”

A magical ceremony as imagined in a novel of about this period

A magical ceremony as imagined in an illustration of about this period; some have thought that it was supposed to be MacGregor and Moina in their Isis Rites, but I don’t think so. I’ve also seen it called “Necromancy” and I’m thinking that might be more like it given the ghostly look of the floating being between the Pillars.

A reviewer from another newspaper pretty much snarked at the whole thing, especially MacGregor’s “terrible English accent,” but was, however, somewhat smitten with Moina:

“His wife, on the other hand, completely won their sympathy by her graceful attitude and dignified manner. More than that, she is very handsome, she has a beautiful oval face with large black, mysterious eyes—and beauty always tells in Paris.”

The Lees article also included what the black-eyed priestess had to say about priestesses:

The High Priestess Anari holds some very interesting opinions on woman’s role in religion.

“The idea of the Priestess is at the root of all ancient beliefs,” she said, on one occasion. “Only in our ephemeral time has it been neglected. Even in the Old Testament we find the Priestess Deborah, and the New Testament tells us of the Prophetess Anne. What do we find in the modern development of religion to replace the feminine idea, and consequently the Priestess? When a religion symbolizes the universe by a Divine Being, is it not illogical to omit woman, who is the principal half of it, since she is the principal creator of the other half—that is, man? How can we hope that the world will become purer and less material when one excludes from the Divine, which is the highest ideal, that part of its nature which represents at one and the same time the faculty of receiving and that of giving—that is to say, love itself in its highest form—love the symbol of universal sympathy? That is where the magical power of woman is found. She finds her power in her alliance with the sympathetic energies of Nature. And what is Nature if it is not an assemblage of thoughts clothed with matter and ideas which seek to materialize themselves? What is this eternal attraction between ideas and matter? It is the secret of life. Have you ever realized that there does not exist a single flame without a special intelligence which animates it, or a single grain of sand to which an idea is not attached, the idea that formed it? It is these intelligent ideas which are the elementals, or spirits of Nature. Woman is the magician born of Nature by reason of her great natural sensibility, and of her instructive sympathy with such subtle energies as these intelligent inhabitants of the air, the earth, the fire and water.”

The Ecclesiastical Review with the Isis article; click to enlarge and read

The Ecclesiastical Review with the Isis article; click to enlarge and read

Although it all seems a bit stereotypical now, it was pretty strong stuff in its day.

Strangely enough, a summary of the Lees article—noting this topic in particular—found its way into the Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review, a source of sermon ideas for clergy. Even more strangely, it was presented positively, which just goes to show how the times, they was a changin’.

There is yet more that we can know about the Mathers’ Parisian Isis work. But we’ll save that for next time as this post is quite long enough for today.

Next week, a pretty wild account of one of the ceremonies as well as images of the Mathers as Ramses and Anari.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: