The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Isis (Au Set)
The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods
The Egyptian deity Isis has countless epithets: “Mistress of Magic,” “She Who is Rich in Spells,” “Great of Sorcery,” “Speaker of Spells,” “The Great Witch,” and “The Many Named” are just a few.
Magic and witchcraft are central to her myth and identity: Isis casts spells and utters incantations. According to the Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge, in his book Legends of the Egyptian Gods, her “mouth was trained to perfection and she made no mistake in pronouncing her spells.”
Isis was not an obscure goddess but was worshipped as a primary deity for thousands of years. Originating in Egypt, her worship eventually stretched from East Africa throughout Western Asia and Europe as far as England’s Thames River.
Magic enters Isis’ life even before her first breath. Because her mother’s pregnancy breaks a spiritual injunction, she is cursed and unable to give birth. Lord Thoth, Egypt’s baboon-headed inventor of magic, secretly loves Isis’ mother. He creates the magical device of dice and gambles with the moon god, who controls the calendar. Thoth wins and is able to magically reconfigure the calendar, enabling his beloved to deliver quadruplets: Isis, her sister Nephthys, and brothers Set and Osiris.
Osiris and Isis fell in love in the womb; their love will transcend death. The two epitomize soulmates, albeit star-crossed ones. Thoth adores Isis and serves as her godfather, instructing her in the magical arts until her powers outshine his. Isis repeatedly proves herself to be the Mistress of Magic:
She learns Ra’s true name, the ineffable name of power, with which she can stop the sun in the sky.
She resurrects her brother-lover Osiris from the dead to magically conceive their son, Horus.
She performs miraculous acts of healing magic.
Isis is associated with snakes, crocodiles, cows, scorpions, and kites (a type of raptor). Her sacred mineral is bloodstone; her botanicals include vervain and myrrh.
Isis is also associated with water and the moon. She protects travelers at sea and is identified with the constellation Virgo. She is a grain spirit, too—a Corn Mother. No blood sacrifice existed among Isis’ rites. She accepts offerings of milk, honey, flowers, herbs, and incense.
The cult of Isis was officially introduced to Rome in 86 BCE and became very popular because, unlike other cults, hers was open to all: not only free men but women and slaves. The tradition developed a bad reputation in conservative Rome because of the alleged licentiousness of its rites and it was suppressed at least five times between 59 and 48 BCE.
The last official temple of Isis stood on the southern Egyptian island of Philae. In 537 CE Narses, Commander of Emperor Justinian’s Egyptian troops, ordered the temple closed.
Isis went underground. Devotees refused to abandon her but found masks with which to camouflage their rituals, including those of Kwan Yin and the Virgin Mary. Statues of the Madonna and Child are identical in form to those of Isis and baby Horus. One interpretation of Europe’s Black Madonnas is that they represent Isis. Images of Isis, Horus, and his elder half-brother Anubis (the “fore-runner”) may be understood to survive in images of the Madonna, Baby Jesus, and his elder cousin, John the Baptist (the “fore-runner”).
See also Thoth; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Isis.