Ancient Egyptian Religion

The Goddess Isis

Ancient Egypt, 2500 BC—Greco-Roman world, eastern Mediterranean.

The Egyptian goddess Isis was often depicted with cows horns, or as Mut-Isis-Nekhbet, with the spreading wings of the Egyptian Vulture.

The story of the Ancient Egyptian goddess Isis and her husband Osiris is well known, at least in the form recorded by the Roman historian Plutarch. Retold by J G Frazer in his monumental anthropological work The Golden Bough: Reigning as a king on earth, Osiris reclaimed the Egyptians from savagery, gave them laws and taught them to worship the gods... Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris, discovered wheat... But Osiris was tricked by his evil brother Seth, incarcerated in a box and thrown into the sea. His wife Isis looked for him and found the box washed up in the branches of a tree. Rescuing Osiris from this tree, Isis brought Osiris back to Egypt, but the wicked brother Seth thought up another scheme for getting rid of his brother; he cut him up into fourteen pieces and scattered his remains around the world. Isis attempted to gather all these pieces together but succeeded in finding only thirteen of them; his penis had been eaten by fishes. But by her magic, Isis was able to bring Osiris back to life again, and even to conceive a child by him, who grew to be Horus, the hawk-god.

Isis at the Louvre

The Egyptian goddess Isis (right) with her husband Osiris (centre) and son Horus (left). Display from the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Conceived in the early Bronze Age by a union between the Earth and the Sky, Isis bore the name ‘She of the Throne’. Perhaps this equated to 'Most-High'. An inscription to her in the western Nile Delta in classical times read: ‘I am all that has been, and is, and will be.’

As ancient Egyptian religion evolved, the goddess Isis became equated with the cow goddess Hathor; both were often depicted wearing a cow’s horns with the sun between them. Sometimes Isis appeared as a bird hovering above Osiris’s body. The rising of the Nile was explained as the tears of Isis for her murdered Osiris. But then, of course, as the Nile receded, new life burst forth in abundance.

Story of Isis and Osiris from: Frazer, James, 1922. The Golden Bough. Published by Penguin Books Limited with an introduction by George Stocking Jr, 1996 (Frazer's abridged version). Section XXXVIII: The Myth of Osiris, pp 436–43.

The gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt in: Oakes, Lorna and Gahlin, Lucia, 2002, 2004. Ancient Egypt: an illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the Pharaohs. Hermes House. The Egyptian Pantheon, pp 280–97.

See for yourself

Isis – Wikipedia

Mut – Wikipedia

Nekhbet – Wikipedia

The Goddesses of Ancient Egypt –

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