Wonderful Isis Workshop
On Saturday December 11th, the Museum hosted a truly wonderful workshop on the Goddess Isis. The day was held in the Museum library and was hosted by Judith Noble her focus being “Isis: Queen of Heaven”.
The day started in Ancient Egypt (where else?) with a consideration of Isis and her worship from the pre dynastic period to the Ptolemaic period where religion was described as being visual and physical with everything having its spiritual or religious dimension in a magical, active universe. The connection between Isis and Osiris was explored they are: the perfect couple, the perfect lovers, husband and wife, brother and sister, in love since their conception in the womb.
Isis is a Goddess of many aspects and we moved on to consider some of these:
Isis as mother: the protector of women and children in childbirth.
Isis and the throne: she who conferred on the Pharoahs the right to rule. Her hieroglyph includes a depiction of a throne.
Isis the Mistress of Magic: who obtained the magical name of Ra and figured out the hekaa/the magic/the power that makes the universe work.
Isis the Mistress of the Sea and Ships: all ships were dedicated to her, representations of ships were used in her festivals, ships were said to sail with her blessing.
We also discussed the symbolism of Isis: her wings which were said to be all embracing, all encompassing. Her connections with the Horned Goddess Hathor and with the stars, she is sometimes called Isis Sothis.
In the Ancient Greek and Roman world, Isis became a popular Goddess throughout known Europe and North Africa. Isis became known as Isis Miryonomous (of the many names, she was said to have 10,000 names) and Isis Panthea (the universal Goddess, the Goddess of everything and everywhere). At this time, she became known as the Goddess of the poor, the oppressed, of women, the miracle worker who healed the sick. The Romans created a mystery religion surrounding her worship and temples worshipping her spread throughout the Empire (we were even told there was in Exeter!)
The Romans began to connect Isis with the moon. Judith Noble read us an extract from Apelius’s “The Golden Ass” which included a memorable description of the Goddess Isis as she appeared to a wretched soul on a beach. The Goddess introduces herself thus, “I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time…the Egyptians, who excel in ancient learning…call me by my true name, namely, Queen Isis.” The physical description of Isis given by Apelius in his ancient book was drawn in 1652. The image below shows Isis with corn and fruits in her hair and stars on her dress.
After the Romans converted to Christianity, worship of Isis diminished in the 5th century the Temples of Isis in Egypt were forcibly closed. Isis was described by one writer as a “dark Egyptian devil in female form.” But Judith Noble also explored the idea of the transference of some aspects of the worship of Isis into the Christian worship of the Virgin Mary. They were both said to protect women, the poor and ships (and were known as Stellar Maris or Star of the Sea), the image of the Madonna and Child is very similar to representations of Isis and Horus, the Virgin Mary is often shown standing on a crescent moon and some historians even believe that some Black Madonna statues may be re-purposed statues of Isis. Judith was keen to stress that she thought there was worship of the Goddess Isis in the Christian dominated Middle Ages (all the way to the Reformation in fact).
In the afternoon, we began to look at Isis in western occultism beginning with freemasonry, Eliphas Levi and the Golden Dawn (where Isis was given great prominence) as Isis Eurania (of the stars) and Isis Veiled (the dark moon) and Isis Unveiled (the full moon in all her glory). Isis was significant to many influential esoteric thinkers including Dion Fortune who connected the Goddess with the tides. Judith read to us from “The Sea Priestess” by Dion Fortune and considered the influence of this book (which includes a lengthy invocation to Isis) on the rituals and practices of many practitioners working today especially “All Gods are one God, all Goddesses are one Goddess.”
At the end of the day we discussed the Fellowship of Isis (of which Judith Noble is a priestess) and its origins and purpose. During the day we did guided meditations, enjoyed lively and thought provoking discussions. The group also spent time in the Museum admiring and discussing the new Goddess display (photographed below).
We had a lovely bunch of people at this course, an informed, intelligent and insightful guide and there were calls for another workshop of a similar nature sometime soon. We know Judith is enthusiastic about this and we will look to announce another day like this soon.