The Egyptian goddess Isis is one of the most widely revered and sublime figures of the Divine Mother in ancient Mediterranean civilization. Texts written as far back as the third millennium B.C. speak of the divine couple Isis and Osiris. In the Hellenistic period, the worship of this ancient Mother of the Nile spread from its cradle in Egypt and Ethiopia throughout the area of the Mediterranean. In later centuries the worship of Isis stretched to every corner of the Roman Empire, where it became a major religion. Traces of the religion of Isis have been found as far east as Arabia and Asia Minor and as far west as Portugal and Britain.
In the ancient city of Saïs on the Nile delta stood the temple of Isis on which was written the following inscription: “I, Isis, am all that has been, that is or shall be; no mortal man hath ever me unveiled.” Known by a thousand names, Isis pervades the cultures of the world. Known by any name, she is the Divine Mother who ensouls all life. It is she who gave birth to all things, including the only begotten Son of God. She remains the Cosmic Virgin; for the Divine Mother preserves the Whole-I-Vision of the Godhead, and through the perception of the Eye of God within her forehead, the Christ victorious appears.
Attributes of Isis
Revered by emperor and slave alike, Isis was all things to all men. She was not only the Mother of all nature but also the source of every living thing, calling herself “the Lady of the House of Life.” The Egyptians wrote of their all-powerful Divine Mother: “In the beginning there was Isis, Oldest of the Old. She was the Goddess from whom all becoming arose.”
Isis was also the divine healer and the inventor of all, the creator of laws, champion of justice, and destroyer of despots, the embodiment of Divine Wisdom and Philosophy, and—last but not least—the ideal wife and mother.
Isis was to the whole human race profoundly affectionate, compassionate and loyal. Author R. E. Witt writes:
In the Graeco-Roman world Isis came to win the unswerving love and loyalty of countless men and women of every rank. Her names were infinite and her wisdom immeasurable. She did not allow room for any quarrel between science and religion,... for racial discrimination and segregation according to the color of one’s skin.
The original Egyptian hieroglyph of the name Isis resembles a chair or throne. Scholars believe that this was meant to convey that every king arose from, or was born of, the throne—that is, Isis—the mother and protector of all pharaohs. During four thousand years of Egyptian history, all the pharaohs called themselves “sons of Isis.” The pharaohs were considered to be incarnations of Horus, the son of Isis, and the people believed that Isis lovingly nurtured their rulers just as she had her own son.
As recorded in Egyptian texts, one of Isis’ special attributes was her ability to perform miracles by using “words of power.” Thus, we find among the long list of her titles that of “Lady of Words of Power.” E. A. Wallis Budge explains that
Isis not only used the words of power, but she also had knowledge of the way in which to pronounce them so that the beings or things to which they were addressed would be compelled to listen to them and, having listened, would be obliged to fulfill her behests....
In the Hymn to Osiris ... it is said that Isis was well skilled in the use of words of power and it was by means of these that she restored her husband to life.
In one episode in the Egyptian text called the Book of the Dead, Isis—acting as the Mother in fierce defense of her child—performs a ritual of exorcism to save her poisoned son, Horus.In the midst of her commands which are intended to drive the poison out of her son, Isis proclaims: “I am Isis the goddess and I am the lady of words of power, and I know how to work with words of power, and most mighty are my words!” Her exhortations have the intended effect of healing her son and, as the text notes: “heaven was satisfied with the words which the goddess Isis” had spoken.
The mysteries of Isis
Isis is also depicted as the discoverer of the mysteries of birth, life and death, and is therefore regarded as being preeminently wise. The fifth-century Greek philosopher Proclus wrote that a statue of Isis bore the following inscription characterizing her knowledge of the mysteries: “I am that which is, has been, and shall be. My veil no one has lifted. The fruit I bore was the Sun.” The phrase “to lift the veil of Isis” has come to mean “to penetrate the heart of a great mystery.” It is the Divine Mother who reveals to us the mysteries of Christ.
In about 300 B.C., there developed along with the popular religion of Isis a mystery teaching involving initiations into sacred rites and inner wisdom which Isis herself was said to have established based upon her own path of initiation. C. J. Bleeker writes:
According to the official doctrine, Isis herself had instituted the mysteries. In a great hymn in which she enumerates her virtues, she declares, “I taught people the mysteries.”
Plutarch discloses the motives for this deed. “When [Isis,] the sister and the wife of Osiris, as his avenger, had tempered and extinguished the fury of Seth [who had murdered her husband], she desired that the struggle, the danger and the wanderings which she passed through, being so many acts of courage and wisdom, should not be forgotten.
“Therefore, she wove into the most secret mysteries the images—indications of previous sufferings—and she instituted a doctrine of piety and a consolation to men and women who find themselves in the same misfortune.”
The last sentence is particularly noteworthy in that it reveals a side of the character of Isis which in that age became more and more prominent. She is a savior goddess, serving as a comforting example to the faithful in distress. She is able to redeem because she herself, through the courage with which she bore her suffering, had once obtained salvation.
The figure of the Mother
As in many of the figures of the Divine Mother East and West, Isis embodies both the principle and the person of the Mother. That personal presence comes as the teacher and initiator on the one hand and the comforting presence of love on the other. R. E. Witt, summarizing the many faces of Isis, writes:
Isis, by identification with the Mother of the Gods, became without question the Life Force, indwelling Nature, wherever she gained adherents.... We find Isis praised with the awe and wonder by Apuleius as Venus ... by Lucretius for giving life to all things dwelling in the air, amid the sea and on the ground, fauna and flora. Her power controls the winds, the seasons, and the revolutions of the heavens. From her springs the light of the sun....
On a more personal level, writes Witt, Isis is “the acknowledged champion of those who most direly need help. At times of greatest hazard she steps in when all natural means of rescue seem impossible....
In the list of her praises from the Oxyrhynchus Litany we read in the succession the titles “giver of favours,” “gentle” and “affectionate”; yet she is afterwards magnified as one to whom “the spirits’ (the demons, or “the elements”) have to show obedience.
True to the tradition of her native Egypt, where the peasant in the fields was never idle, where the peasant in the fields was never idle, Isis toiled without rest on behalf of her beloved human family, sheltering them on land and sea, banishing the storms that beset their lives, and stretching out to them the strong right hand of a Saviour....
Certainly, Isis gives her children the sure hope of eternal salvation: but in return she demands of them unquestioning, even blind obedience, just as she subjects them to the most gruelling tests before they reach the haven of their rest....
The faithful must sometimes toil for long without reward before the everlasting arms of their Mother are suddenly reached out to rescue them.... She is in the fullest sense Love.
The identity and purpose of the Divine Mother
In Erman’s Handbook of Egyptian Religion, we find certain statements attributed to Isis, the personification of the Feminine aspect, which recall the identity and purpose of the Divine Mother. They are noteworthy in that they evince the continuity of the teachings of the Brotherhood on the Mother flame from ancient times to the present:
I am Isis, mistress of the whole land:
The Earth Mother takes dominion over the entire physical universe.
I was instructed by Hermes,
The God of Science ordains the Mother to teach mankind the laws governing the plane of material manifestation. and with Hermes I invented the writings of the nations, in order that not all should write with the same letters. The communication of God-ideas and identifications through the written and spoken Word is the process whereby the Mother makes intelligible to her children the consciousness of the Father.
I gave mankind their laws, and ordained what no one can alter.
The commandments of the Lord and the laws governing the release of energy from Spirit to Matter, indispensable to the well-being of man, are the unalterable expression of Spirit in Matter.
I am the eldest daughter of Kronos.
While the Mother embodies the consciousness of the Father in the plane of Matter-earth, her energies issue forth from the plane of Spirit-earth.
I am the wife and sister of the king Osiris.
In referring to feminine goddesses as the wife, sister or daughter of the gods, the ancients indicated the polarity that exists between the yang and yin aspects of the creation. Isis is the twin flame of Osiris; together in their appointed sphere, they coordinate the functions of Alpha and Omega.
I am she who rises in the dog star.
I am she who is called the goddess of women....
The World Mother represents God in the Womb-man.
I am she who separated the heaven from the earth.
With the creation of Matter, the divine Whole became twain.
I have pointed out their paths to the stars.
The Mother delineates the destiny of her sons and daughters and imparts to them the wisdom and the love necessary to fulfill the divine blueprint.
I have invented seamanship....
The Mother, often called the Star of the Sea, is the mistress of the seas—water being the most feminine, or yin, aspect of the material creation.
I have brought together men and women....
The love aspect of the Divine Mother is the cohesive force of atoms, universes and twin flames.
I have ordained that the elders shall be beloved by the children.
Through the Mother, the continuity of the Flame—of life, culture and the blissful awareness of the Father—is preserved from one generation to the next.
With my brother Osiris I made an end of cannibalism.
Through the Mother, man comes to understand reverence for life, for the God who inhabits his creation.
I have instructed mankind in the mysteries.
Wisdom teaches her children the geometrization of the Spirit of the Lord.
I have taught reverence of the divine statues.
As the statue is the symbol of the identity of God individualized in his manifestation, so every manifestation is the embodiment of Universal Christ Principle. It is to this rather than to the statue or to the person that we bend the knee and direct our devotion.
I have established the temple precincts.
Mater is the temple of Spirit and forms the boundaries thereof, enshrining the sacred law, the sacred science and the sacred flame of life.
I have overthrown the dominion of the tyrants.
The perversions of the God consciousness and of the Father Image are exposed by the Divine Mother.
I have caused men to love women.
The Mother is the counterpart of the Divine Magnet as she attracts the flow of Spirit into the womb of Matter.
I have made justice more powerful than silver and gold.
Through the discovery of the Mother Image mirrored in nature, man is no longer wedded to materiality as an end in itself but perceives in the virtues of the Spirit rising out of the crucible of time and space that the material universe is but the means to an end; moreover, he recognizes those virtues as having the power to take dominion over the human spirit, making it to transcend itself and the clay vessel that houses the Spirit.
I have caused truth to be considered beautiful.
Truth, as the arrow of the Father’s consciousness, becomes beauty in manifestation through the Image of the Mother.
Isis is the verb “to be” written twice: is-is. And so we see its link to I AM THAT I AM. “I AM THAT which is below, even as I AM that which is Above.”
Her statement, “I AM in Matter everything that has been and that is and that shall be, and no mortal hath lifted my veil,” could very well be the affirmation of Omega. The mysteries of creation were not entirely revealed, and because the Mother as the Shakti, as the Word itself, is not revealed, Isis has remained veiled.
Isis is the veiled goddess whom we do not know until that veil is parted, partially or totally, in moments of inner recognition and of a profound sense of oneness with this Universal Mother. The Divine Mother, Above and below reveals herself as God reveals himself. We see her first universally in the realm of Cosmos, of Spirit and spiritual realities. But how do we know God individually? How do we know Father and Mother individually?
The Gospel of John tells us, “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus was the vessel for the universal God, the universal light as Father-Mother, as Christos, and that immensity apportioned to each one becomes the individual Christ, the individual I AM Presence and the individualized Mother.
Therefore, the unveiling of Isis was accomplished by Jesus. This is clearly seen when we understand that in the Hindu tradition the Word is always feminine, like the Shekinah in the Hebrew tradition. So the Word revealed is the light that when embodying in each one of us takes on the active nature and becomes manifest as action in this world. By good deeds, virtuous deeds, beneficent deeds, we reveal a whole scale of qualities of this light that is not comprehended except when it is individualized. Our reason for being, then, is to reveal who is the I AM dwelling in this temple and to unveil the Isis. This we do by our daily actions.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, April 17, 1988.
Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Path of the Higher Self, volume 1 of the Climb the Highest Mountain® series, pp. 415–17.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, November 29, 1981.
- R. E. Witt, Isis in the Graeco-Roman World (New York: Cornell University Press, 1971), p. 27.
- Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1978), p. 219.
- Witt, p. 22.
- E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, Studies in Egyptian Mythology, Volume 2 (London: Methuen, 1904), p. 214.
- Ibid., p. 207.
- Ibid., p. 208.
- C. J. Bleeker, “Isis and Hathor,” in The Book of the Goddess: Past & Present, ed. Carl Olson (New York: Crossroad, 1987), p. 38.
- Witt, pp. 134–135, 137.]
- Adolph Erman, A Handbook of Egyptian Religion, trans. A. S. Griffith (London: Archibald Constable & Co., 1907), pp. 244–45.
- John 1:5, 14.