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Priests of Isis were known for their distinctive shaven heads and white linen clothes, both characteristics drawn from Egyptian priesthoods and their requirements of ritual purity. Temples to Egyptian deities outside Egypt, such as the Red Basilica in Pergamon , the Temple of Isis at Pompeii , or the Iseum Campense in Rome, were built in a largely Greco-Roman style but, like Egyptian temples, were surrounded by large courts enclosed by walls.

They were decorated with Egyptian-themed artwork, sometimes including antiquities imported from Egypt. Their layout was more elaborate than that of traditional Roman temples and included rooms for housing priests and for various ritual functions, with a cult statue of the goddess in a secluded sanctuary. The daily ritual still entailed dressing the statue in elaborate clothes each morning and offering it libations, but in contrast with Egyptian tradition, the priests allowed ordinary devotees of Isis to see the cult statue during the morning ritual, pray to it directly, and sing hymns before it.

Another object of veneration in these temples was water, which was treated as a symbol of the waters of the Nile. Isis temples built in Hellenistic times often included underground cisterns that stored this sacred water, raising and lowering the water level in imitation of the Nile flood.

Many Roman temples instead used a pitcher of water that was worshipped as a cult image or manifestation of Osiris. Roman lararia , or household shrines, contained statuettes of the penates , a varied group of protective deities chosen based on the preferences of the members of the household. The cult asked both ritual and moral purity of its devotees, periodically requiring ritual baths or days-long periods of sexual abstinence.

Isiacs sometimes displayed their piety on irregular occasions, singing Isis's praises in the streets or, as a form of penance , declaring their misdeeds in public.

Isis - Crystalinks

Some temples to Greek deities, including Serapis, practiced incubation , in which worshippers slept in a temple hoping that the god would appear to them in a dream and give them advice or heal their ailments. Some scholars believe that this practice took place in Isis's temples, but there is no firm evidence that it did. Some temples of Isis performed mystery rites to initiate new members of the cult. Although these rites are among the best-known elements of Isis's Greco-Roman cult, they are only known to have been performed in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor.

The Golden Ass , in describing how the protagonist joins Isis's cult, gives the only detailed account of Isiac initiation. But the account is broadly consistent with other evidence about initiations, and scholars rely heavily on it when studying the subject. Ancient mystery rites used a variety of intense experiences, such as nocturnal darkness interrupted by bright light and loud music and noise, to overwhelm their senses and give them an intense religious experience that felt like direct contact with the god they devoted themselves to.

After entering the innermost part of Isis's temple at night, he says, "I came to the boundary of death and, having trodden on the threshold of Proserpina , I travelled through all the elements and returned. In the middle of the night I saw the sun flashing with bright light, I came face to face with the gods below and the gods above and paid reverence to them from close at hand. Roman calendars listed the two most important festivals of Isis as early as the first century CE.

The first festival was the Navigium Isidis in March, which celebrated Isis's influence over the sea and served as a prayer for the safety of seafarers and, eventually, of the Roman people and their leaders. Like its Egyptian forerunner, the Khoiak festival, the Isia included a ritual reenactment of Isis's search for Osiris, followed by jubilation when the god's body was found.

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Festivals of Isis and other polytheistic deities were celebrated throughout the fourth century CE, despite the growth of Christianity in that era and the persecution of pagans that intensified toward the end of the century. In some cases, these customs became part of the combined classical and Christian culture of the Early Middle Ages.

A contentious question about Isis is whether her cult influenced Christianity. Much attention focuses on whether traits of Christianity were borrowed from pagan mystery cults, including that of Isis. The suggestion that Christianity's basic beliefs were taken from the mystery cults has provoked heated debate for more than years. Isis's similarities to Mary, mother of Jesus , have also been scrutinized. They have been subject to controversy between Protestant Christians and the Catholic Church , as many Protestants have argued that Catholic veneration of Mary is a remnant of paganism.

Witt saw Isis as the "great forerunner" of Mary. He suggested that converts to Christianity who had formerly worshipped Isis would have seen Mary in much the same terms as their traditional goddess. He pointed out that the two had several spheres of influence in common, such as agriculture and the protection of sailors. He compared Mary's title " Mother of God " to Isis's epithet "mother of the god", and Mary's " queen of heaven " to Isis's " queen of heaven ".

Images of Isis with Horus in her lap are often suggested as an influence on the iconography of Mary , particularly images of the Nursing Madonna , as images of nursing women were rare in the ancient Mediterranean world outside Egypt. Sabrina Higgins, drawing on Tran Tam Tinh's study, argues that if there is a connection between the iconographies of Isis and Mary, it is limited to Nursing Madonna images from Egypt. Mathews and Norman Muller think Isis's pose in late antique panel paintings influenced several types of Marian icons, inside and outside Egypt.

The memory of Isis survived the extinction of her worship. Like the Greeks and Romans, many modern Europeans have regarded ancient Egypt as the home of profound and often mystical wisdom, and this wisdom has often been linked with Isis. Some Renaissance thinkers elaborated this perspective on Isis. Annio da Viterbo , in the s, claimed Isis and Osiris had civilized Italy before Greece, thus drawing a direct connection between his home country and Egypt.

Western esotericism has often made reference to Isis. Two Roman esoteric texts used the mythic motif in which Isis passes down secret knowledge to Horus. In Kore Kosmou , she teaches him wisdom passed down from Hermes Trismegistus , [] and in the early alchemical text Isis the Prophetess to Her Son Horus , she gives him alchemical recipes. From the Renaissance on, the veiled statue of Isis that Plutarch and Proclus mentioned was interpreted as a personification of nature , based on a passage in the works of Macrobius in the fifth century CE that equated Isis with nature.

Isis represented nature as the mother of all things, as a set of truths waiting to be unveiled by science, as a symbol of the pantheist concept of an anonymous, enigmatic deity who was immanent within nature, [] or as an awe-inspiring sublime power that could be experienced through ecstatic mystery rites. Helena Blavatsky , the founder of the esoteric Theosophical tradition, titled her book on Theosophy Isis Unveiled , implying that it would reveal spiritual truths about nature that science could not.

Among modern Egyptians, Isis was used as a national symbol during the Pharaonism movement of the s and s, as Egypt gained independence from British rule. A sculpture by Mahmoud Mokhtar , also called Egypt's Renaissance , plays upon the motif of Isis's removing her veil. Isis is found frequently in works of fiction, such as a superhero franchise , and her name and image appear in places as disparate as advertisements and personal names.

Isis continues to appear in modern esoteric and pagan belief systems. The concept of a single goddess incarnating all feminine divine powers, partly inspired by Apuleius, became a widespread theme in literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This conception of Isis influenced the Great Goddess found in many forms of contemporary witchcraft.

Isidora Forrest, Isis can be "all Goddesses to all people". From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the ancient Egyptian goddess. For other uses, see Isis disambiguation. Composite image of Isis's most distinctive Egyptian iconography, based partly on images from the tomb of Nefertari. A tyet amulet, fifteenth or fourteenth century BCE.

Egyptian Deities 101: ISIS

Main article: Mysteries of Isis. Further information: Ancient Egypt in the Western imagination. Classicists sometimes refer to the veneration of Isis, or of certain other deities who were introduced to the Greco-Roman world, as "religions" because they were more distinct from the culture around them than the cults of Greek or Roman gods.

By the time of the New Kingdom it had weakened to a glottal stop sound, and the t at the end of words had disappeared from speech, so in the New Kingdom the pronunciation of Isis's name was similar to Usa. Forms of her name in other languages all descend from this pronunciation. Jitse Dijkstra has argued that Procopius's account of the temple closure is inaccurate and that regular religious activity there ceased shortly after the last date inscribed at the temple, in or CE.

Josephus , a Roman-Jewish historian who gives the most detailed account of the expulsion, says the Egyptian cults were targeted because of a scandal in which a man posed as Anubis, with the help of Isis's priests, in order to seduce a Roman noblewoman. She was largely conflated with Isis in Plutarch's time, and he says the statue is of "Athena [Neith], whom [the Egyptians] consider to be Isis".

Proclus' version of the quotation says "no one has ever lifted my veil," implying that the goddess is virginal. Originally, the form of Artemis that was worshipped at Ephesus was depicted with round protuberances on her chest that came to be interpreted as breasts. Early modern artists drew Isis in this form because Macrobius claimed that both Isis and Artemis were depicted this way. Adler, Margot Beacon Press.

Alvar, Jaime [Spanish edition ]. Translated and edited by Richard Gordon. Andrews, Carol A. In Redford, Donald B. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. Assmann, Jan Harvard University Press. Assmann, Jan [German edition ].

Her Functions and Role

The Search for God in Ancient Egypt. Translated by David Lorton. Cornell University Press. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Baines, John In Loprieno, Antonio ed.

Facts About Isis

Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and Forms. Cambridge University Press. Belayche, Nicole Benko, Stephen Bianchi, Robert S. Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar. Nile into Tiber: Egypt in the Roman World. Bodel, John Household and Family Religion in Antiquity. Blackwell Publishing. History of Religions. Bolman, Elizabeth In Vassilaki, Maria ed. Ashgate Publishing. Bommas, Martin In Riggs, Christina ed. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt. Bowden, Hugh Mystery Cults of the Ancient World. Princeton University Press. Bremmer, Jan N. Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World.

Walter de Gruyter. Bricault, Laurent In Bricault, Laurent ed. Atlas de la diffusion des cultes isiaques in French. Diffusion de Boccard. Bricault, Laurent; Versluys, Miguel John Power, Politics and the Cults of Isis. Burkert, Walter Ancient Mystery Cults. Cooney, Kathlyn M. December Near Eastern Archaeology. Cruz-Uribe, Eugene Delia, Diana Studies Dedicated to the Memory of Jan Quaegebeur.

Dijkstra, Jitse H. Philae and the End of Ancient Egyptian Religion. Donalson, Malcolm Drew The Edwin Mellen Press. Forrest, M. Isidora Llewellyn Worldwide. Frankfort, Henri [First edition ]. University of Chicago Press. Frankfurter, David Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance. Antike Mythen: Medien, Transformationen und Konstruktionen. Gasparini, Valentino Franz Steiner Verlag. Griffiths, J. Gwyn The Conflict of Horus and Seth. Liverpool University Press. Gwyn, ed. Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride. University of Wales Press.

Apuleius, the Isis-book Metamorphoses, book XI. The Origins of Osiris and His Cult. When Set calls this situation unjust, Isis taunts him, saying he has judged himself to be in the wrong. Many stories about Isis appear as historiolae , prologues to magical texts that describe mythic events related to the goal that the spell aims to accomplish. She offers to cure Ra if he will tell her his true, secret name —a piece of knowledge that carries with it incomparable power.

After much coercion, Ra tells her his name, which she passes on to Horus, bolstering his royal authority. Many of the roles Isis acquired gave her an important position in the sky. Sirius's heliacal rising , just before the start of the Nile flood , gave Sopdet a close connection with the flood and the resulting growth of plants.

By Ptolemaic times she was connected with rain, which Egyptian texts call a "Nile in the sky"; with the sun as the protector of Ra's barque; [62] and with the moon, possibly because she was linked with the Greek lunar goddess Artemis by a shared connection with an Egyptian fertility goddess, Bastet. In Ptolemaic times Isis's sphere of influence could include the entire cosmos. It says her power over nature nourishes humans, the blessed dead, and the gods. Amun was most commonly described this way in the New Kingdom, whereas in Roman Egypt such terms tended to be applied to Isis.

In the Late, Ptolemaic, and Roman Periods, many temples contained a creation myth that adapted long-standing ideas about creation to give the primary roles to local deities. Like other deities throughout Egyptian history, Isis had many forms in her individual cult centers, and each cult center emphasized different aspects of her character. Local Isis cults focused on the distinctive traits of their deity more than on her universality, whereas some Egyptian hymns to Isis treat other goddesses in cult centers from across Egypt and the Mediterranean as manifestations of her.

A text in Isis's temple at Dendera says "in each nome it is she who is in every town, in every nome with her son Horus. In Ancient Egyptian art , Isis was most commonly depicted as a woman with the typical attributes of a goddess: a sheath dress, a staff of papyrus in one hand, and an ankh sign in the other.

Her original headdress was the throne sign used in writing her name. She and Nephthys often appear together, particularly when mourning Osiris's death, supporting him on his throne, or protecting the sarcophagi of the dead. In these situations their arms are often flung across their faces, in a gesture of mourning, or outstretched around Osiris or the deceased as a sign of their protective role. This form may be inspired by a similarity between the kites' calls and the cries of wailing women, [73] or by a metaphor likening the kite's search for carrion to the goddesses' search for their dead brother.

This form alluded to the maternal nourishment she provided. Beginning in the New Kingdom, thanks to the close links between Isis and Hathor, Isis took on Hathor's attributes, such as a sistrum rattle and a headdress of cow horns enclosing a sun disk. Sometimes both her headdresses were combined, so the throne glyph sat atop the sun disk. Isis-Thermuthis, a combination of Isis and Renenutet who represented agricultural fertility, was depicted in this style as a woman with the lower body of a snake. Figurines of a woman wearing an elaborate headdress and exposing her genitals may represent Isis-Aphrodite.

The tyet symbol, a looped shape similar to the ankh , came to be seen as Isis's particular emblem at least as early as the New Kingdom, though it existed long before. Used as a funerary amulet , it was said to confer her protection on the wearer. Isis with a combination of throne-glyph and cow horns, as well as a vulture headdress, Temple of Kalabsha , first century BCE or first century CE. A winged Isis appears at top. Despite her significance in the Osiris myth, Isis was originally a minor deity in the ideology surrounding the living king. She played only a small role, for instance, in the Dramatic Ramesseum Papyrus , the script for the coronation rituals performed for the accession of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom.

The early first millennium BCE saw an increased emphasis on the family triad of Osiris, Isis, and Horus and an explosive growth in Isis's popularity. It equated Isis with the kandake , the queen or queen mother of the Kushite king. The Ptolemaic Greek kings, who ruled Egypt as pharaohs from to 30 BCE, developed an ideology that linked them with both Egyptian and Greek deities , to strengthen their claim to the throne in the eyes of their Greek and Egyptian subjects. For centuries before, Greek colonists and visitors to Egypt had drawn parallels between Egyptian deities and their own, in a process known as interpretatio graeca.

Demeter was one of the few Greek deities to be widely adopted by Egyptians in Ptolemaic times, so the similarity between her and Isis provided a link between the two cultures. Isis, portrayed in a Hellenized form, was regarded as the consort of Serapis as well as of Osiris.

Ptolemy II and his sister and wife Arsinoe II developed a ruler cult around themselves, so that they were worshipped in the same temples as Serapis and Isis, and Arsinoe was likened to both Isis and Aphrodite. Down to the end of the New Kingdom, Isis's cult was closely tied to those of male deities such as Osiris, Min, or Amun. She was commonly worshipped alongside them as their mother or consort, and she was especially widely worshipped as the mother of various local forms of Horus. The earliest known major temples to Isis were the Iseion at Behbeit el-Hagar in northern Egypt and Philae in the far south.

Both began construction during the Thirtieth Dynasty and were completed or enlarged by Ptolemaic kings. The most frequent temple rite for any deity was the daily offering ritual, in which priests clothed the deity's cult image and offered it food. Temples also celebrated many festivals in the course of the year, some nationwide and some very local.

Festivals dedicated to Isis eventually developed. In Roman times, Egyptians across the country celebrated her birthday, the Amesysia, by carrying the local cult statue of Isis through their fields, probably celebrating her powers of fertility. The cult statue also visited the neighboring temples to the south, even during the last centuries of activity at Philae when those temples were run by Nubian peoples outside Roman rule. Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, including Egypt, during the fourth and fifth centuries CE.

Egyptian temple cults died out , gradually and at various times, from a combination of lack of funds and Christian hostility. In many spells in the Pyramid Texts Isis and Nephthys help the deceased king reach the afterlife. In the Coffin Texts from the Middle Kingdom, Isis appears still more frequently, though in these texts Osiris is credited with reviving the dead more often than she is.

New Kingdom sources such as the Book of the Dead describe Isis as protecting deceased souls as they face the dangers in the Duat. They also describe Isis as a member of the divine councils that judge souls' moral righteousness before admitting them into the afterlife, and she appears in vignettes standing beside Osiris as he presides over this tribunal.

Egyptian God Isis Facts

Isis and Nephthys took part in funeral ceremonies, where two wailing women, much like those in the festival at Abydos, mourned the deceased as the two goddesses mourned Osiris. Unlike many Egyptian deities, Isis was rarely addressed in prayers, [] or invoked in personal names , before the end of the New Kingdom. Isis was prominent in magical texts from the Middle Kingdom onward. The dangers Horus faces in childhood are a frequent theme in magical healing spells, in which Isis's efforts to heal him are extended to cure any patient.

In many of these spells, Isis forces Ra to help Horus by declaring that she will stop the sun in its course through the sky unless her son is cured. Egyptian magic began to incorporate Christian concepts as Christianity was established in Egypt, but Egyptian and Greek deities continued to appear in spells long after their temple worship had ceased. Cults based in a particular city or nation were the norm across the ancient world until the mid- to late first millennium BCE, when increased contact between different cultures allowed some cults to spread more widely.

Greeks were aware of Egyptian deities, including Isis, at least as early as the Archaic Period c. The conquests of Alexander the Great late in that century created Hellenistic kingdoms around the Mediterranean and Near East, including Ptolemaic Egypt, and put Greek and non-Greek religions in much closer contact. The resulting diffusion of cultures allowed many religious traditions to spread across the Hellenistic world in the last three centuries BCE.

The new mobile cults adapted greatly to appeal to people from a variety of cultures. The cults of Isis and Serapis, in the Hellenized forms created under the Ptolemies, were among those that expanded in this way. Spread by merchants and other Mediterranean travelers, the cults of Isis and Serapis were established in Greek port cities at the end of the fourth century BCE and expanded throughout Greece and Asia Minor during the third and second centuries.

The Greek island of Delos was an early cult center for both deities, and its status as a trading center made it a springboard for the Egyptian cults to diffuse into Italy. Greeks regarded Egyptian religion as exotic and sometimes bizarre, yet full of ancient wisdom. Authorities in the Republic tried to define which cults were acceptable and which were not, as a way of defining Roman cultural identity amid the cultural changes brought on by Rome's expansion.

The Flavian emperors in the late first century CE treated Serapis and Isis as patrons of their rule in much the same manner as traditional Roman deities such as Jupiter and Minerva. The cults also expanded into Rome's western provinces , beginning along the Mediterranean coast in early imperial times. At their peak in the late second and early third centuries CE, Isis and Serapis were worshipped in most towns across the western empire, though without much presence in the countryside.

Isis's cult, like others in the Greco-Roman world, had no firm dogma , and its beliefs and practices may have stayed only loosely similar as it diffused across the region and evolved over time. Parts of these aretalogies closely resemble ideas in late Egyptian hymns like those at Philae, while other elements are thoroughly Greek. Elaborating upon Isis's role as a wife and mother in the Osiris myth, aretalogies call her the inventor of marriage and parenthood. She was invoked to protect women in childbirth and, in ancient Greek novels such as the Ephesian Tale , to protect their virginity.

The aretalogies show ambiguous attitudes toward women's independence: one says Isis made women equal to men, whereas another says she made women subordinate to their husbands. Isis was often characterized as a moon goddess, paralleling the solar characteristics of Serapis. Various texts claim she organized the behavior of the sun, moon, and stars, governing time and the seasons which, in turn, guaranteed the fertility of the earth. This idea derives from older Greek traditions about the role of various Greek deities and culture heroes , including Demeter, in establishing civilization.

She also oversaw seas and harbors. Sailors left inscriptions calling upon her to ensure the safety and good fortune of their voyages. Rome's food supply was dependent on grain shipments from its provinces , especially Egypt. Isis therefore guaranteed fertile harvests and protected the ships that carried the resulting food across the seas—and thus ensured the well-being of the empire as a whole. Both Plutarch and a later philosopher, Proclus , mentioned a veiled statue of the Egyptian goddess Neith , whom they conflated with Isis, citing it as an example of her universality and enigmatic wisdom.

It bore the words "I am all that has been and is and will be; and no mortal has ever lifted my mantle. Isis was also said to benefit her followers in the afterlife, which was not much emphasized in Greek and Roman religion. They characterized this afterlife inconsistently.

Some said they would benefit from Osiris's enlivening water while others expected to sail to the Fortunate Isles of Greek tradition. As in Egypt, Isis was said to have power over fate, which in traditional Greek religion was a power not even the gods could defy. Valentino Gasparini says this control over destiny binds together Isis's disparate traits. She governs the cosmos, yet she also relieves people of their comparatively trivial misfortunes, and her influence extends into the realm of death, which is "individual and universal at the same time".

More than a dozen Egyptian deities were worshipped outside Egypt in Hellenistic and Roman times in a series of interrelated cults, though many were fairly minor. In Roman times he became, like Dionysus, a symbol of a joyous afterlife, and the Isis cult increasingly focused on him. He absorbed traits from Greek deities such as Apollo and served as a god of the sun and of crops. Isis also had an extensive network of connections with Greek and Roman deities, as well as some from other cultures. She was not fully integrated into the Greek pantheon, but she was at different times equated with a variety of Greek mythological figures, including Demeter, Aphrodite, or Io , a human woman who was turned into a cow and chased by the goddess Hera from Greece to Egypt.

Many of the aretalogies include long lists of goddesses with whom Isis was linked. These texts treat all the deities they list as forms of her, suggesting that in the eyes of the authors she was a summodeistic being: the one goddess for the entire civilized world. At the same time, Hellenistic philosophers frequently saw the unifying, abstract principle of the cosmos as divine.

Many of them reinterpreted traditional religions to fit their concept of this highest being, as Plutarch did with Isis and Osiris. One aretalogy avoids this problem by calling Isis and Serapis, who was often said to subsume many male gods, the two "unique" deities.

Images of Isis made outside Egypt were Hellenistic in style, like many of the images of her made in Egypt in Hellenistic and Roman times. The attributes she bore varied widely. As Isis-Fortuna or Isis-Tyche she held a rudder, representing control of fate, in her right hand and a cornucopia , standing for abundance, in her left. Like most cults of the time, the Isis cult did not require its devotees to worship Isis exclusively , and their level of commitment probably varied greatly.

However, the word— Isiacus or "Isiac"—was rarely used. Isiacs were a very small proportion of the Roman Empire's population, [] but they came from every level of society , from slaves and freedmen to high officials and members of the imperial family. Jaime Alvar suggests the cult attracted male suspicion simply because it gave women a venue to act outside their husbands' control. Priests of Isis were known for their distinctive shaven heads and white linen clothes, both characteristics drawn from Egyptian priesthoods and their requirements of ritual purity.


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Temples to Egyptian deities outside Egypt, such as the Red Basilica in Pergamon , the Temple of Isis at Pompeii , or the Iseum Campense in Rome, were built in a largely Greco-Roman style but, like Egyptian temples, were surrounded by large courts enclosed by walls. They were decorated with Egyptian-themed artwork, sometimes including antiquities imported from Egypt.

Their layout was more elaborate than that of traditional Roman temples and included rooms for housing priests and for various ritual functions, with a cult statue of the goddess in a secluded sanctuary. The daily ritual still entailed dressing the statue in elaborate clothes each morning and offering it libations, but in contrast with Egyptian tradition, the priests allowed ordinary devotees of Isis to see the cult statue during the morning ritual, pray to it directly, and sing hymns before it.

Another object of veneration in these temples was water, which was treated as a symbol of the waters of the Nile. Isis temples built in Hellenistic times often included underground cisterns that stored this sacred water, raising and lowering the water level in imitation of the Nile flood. Many Roman temples instead used a pitcher of water that was worshipped as a cult image or manifestation of Osiris. Roman lararia , or household shrines, contained statuettes of the penates , a varied group of protective deities chosen based on the preferences of the members of the household.

The cult asked both ritual and moral purity of its devotees, periodically requiring ritual baths or days-long periods of sexual abstinence. Isiacs sometimes displayed their piety on irregular occasions, singing Isis's praises in the streets or, as a form of penance , declaring their misdeeds in public.

Some temples to Greek deities, including Serapis, practiced incubation , in which worshippers slept in a temple hoping that the god would appear to them in a dream and give them advice or heal their ailments. Some scholars believe that this practice took place in Isis's temples, but there is no firm evidence that it did. Some temples of Isis performed mystery rites to initiate new members of the cult. Although these rites are among the best-known elements of Isis's Greco-Roman cult, they are only known to have been performed in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor.

The Golden Ass , in describing how the protagonist joins Isis's cult, gives the only detailed account of Isiac initiation. But the account is broadly consistent with other evidence about initiations, and scholars rely heavily on it when studying the subject. Ancient mystery rites used a variety of intense experiences, such as nocturnal darkness interrupted by bright light and loud music and noise, to overwhelm their senses and give them an intense religious experience that felt like direct contact with the god they devoted themselves to.

After entering the innermost part of Isis's temple at night, he says, "I came to the boundary of death and, having trodden on the threshold of Proserpina , I travelled through all the elements and returned.


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In the middle of the night I saw the sun flashing with bright light, I came face to face with the gods below and the gods above and paid reverence to them from close at hand. Roman calendars listed the two most important festivals of Isis as early as the first century CE. The first festival was the Navigium Isidis in March, which celebrated Isis's influence over the sea and served as a prayer for the safety of seafarers and, eventually, of the Roman people and their leaders.

Like its Egyptian forerunner, the Khoiak festival, the Isia included a ritual reenactment of Isis's search for Osiris, followed by jubilation when the god's body was found. Festivals of Isis and other polytheistic deities were celebrated throughout the fourth century CE, despite the growth of Christianity in that era and the persecution of pagans that intensified toward the end of the century. In some cases, these customs became part of the combined classical and Christian culture of the Early Middle Ages. A contentious question about Isis is whether her cult influenced Christianity.

Much attention focuses on whether traits of Christianity were borrowed from pagan mystery cults, including that of Isis. The suggestion that Christianity's basic beliefs were taken from the mystery cults has provoked heated debate for more than years. Isis's similarities to Mary, mother of Jesus , have also been scrutinized. They have been subject to controversy between Protestant Christians and the Catholic Church , as many Protestants have argued that Catholic veneration of Mary is a remnant of paganism.

Witt saw Isis as the "great forerunner" of Mary. He suggested that converts to Christianity who had formerly worshipped Isis would have seen Mary in much the same terms as their traditional goddess. He pointed out that the two had several spheres of influence in common, such as agriculture and the protection of sailors. He compared Mary's title " Mother of God " to Isis's epithet "mother of the god", and Mary's " queen of heaven " to Isis's " queen of heaven ". Images of Isis with Horus in her lap are often suggested as an influence on the iconography of Mary , particularly images of the Nursing Madonna , as images of nursing women were rare in the ancient Mediterranean world outside Egypt.

Sabrina Higgins, drawing on Tran Tam Tinh's study, argues that if there is a connection between the iconographies of Isis and Mary, it is limited to Nursing Madonna images from Egypt. Mathews and Norman Muller think Isis's pose in late antique panel paintings influenced several types of Marian icons, inside and outside Egypt. The memory of Isis survived the extinction of her worship. Like the Greeks and Romans, many modern Europeans have regarded ancient Egypt as the home of profound and often mystical wisdom, and this wisdom has often been linked with Isis.

This told that Isis was the daughter of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut and the sister of the deities Osiris , Seth , and Nephthys. Married to Osiris, king of Egypt, Isis was a good queen who supported her husband and taught the women of Egypt how to weave, bake, and brew beer. But Seth was jealous, and he hatched a plot to kill his brother. Seth trapped Osiris in a decorated wooden chest, which he coated in lead and threw into the Nile.

With his brother vanished, Seth became king of Egypt. But Isis could not forget her husband, and she searched everywhere for him until she eventually discovered Osiris, still trapped in his chest, in Byblos. She brought his body back to Egypt, where Seth discovered the chest and, furious, hacked his brother into pieces, which he scattered far and wide.

Using her magical powers, she was able to make Osiris whole; bandaged, neither living nor dead, Osiris had become a mummy. Nine months later Isis bore him a son, Horus. Osiris was then forced to retreat to the underworld, where he became king of the dead. Isis hid with Horus in the marshes of the Nile delta until her son was fully grown and could avenge his father and claim his throne. She defended the child against attacks from snakes and scorpions. In one episode Isis took pity on Seth and was in consequence beheaded by Horus the beheading was reversed by magic.

Eventually she and Horus were reconciled , and Horus was able to take the throne of Egypt. Isis was the perfect traditional Egyptian wife and mother—content to stay in the background while things went well, but able to use her wits to guard her husband and son should the need arise. The shelter she afforded her child gave her the character of a goddess of protection. But her chief aspect was that of a great magician, whose power transcended that of all other deities.

Several narratives tell of her magical prowess, far stronger than the powers of Osiris and Re. She was frequently invoked on behalf of the sick, and, with the goddesses Nephthys, Neith , and Selket , she protected the dead. Isis became associated with various other goddesses, including Bastet , Nut, and Hathor , and thus her nature and her powers became increasingly diverse.

Other important temples, including the island temple of Philae , were built during Greco-Roman times when Isis was dominant among Egyptian goddesses. Several temples were dedicated to her in Alexandria, where she became the patroness of seafarers. From Alexandria her cult spread to Greece and Rome. Images of Isis nursing the baby Horus may have influenced the early Christian artists who depicted the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus.

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