Isis – or Auset, to call her by her Egyptian name instead of the more commonly known name the Greeks gave her – is one of the nine deities of the Ennead, the oldest gods and goddesses of Egypt. She is the daughter of Geb (the Earth) and Nut (the Sky), and the sister and husband of Osiris. She is the mother of Horus – much of the Madonna and Child artwork of Christianity is modeled after older images of Isis and Horus, and in some cases, Egyptian statues and paintings were simply appropriated and relabeled.
When Osiris was murdered and dismembered by Set, Isis searched the world and collected the pieces of his body. With the help of her sister Nephthys and of Anubis and Thoth, Isis performed the first rites of embalming and the Rite of Rebirth, giving Osiris eternal life. Osiris then ascended to the immortal world and Isis hid her son from Set until Horus was strong enough to avenge his father.
The Romans were the ultimate religious pluralists – if a god or goddess was helpful to them, they would include him or her in their worship. Isis was worshipped as a compassionate mother goddess, as a healer and as mistress of magic. Temples to Isis were built as far away as the British Isles, and at least one temple was still active in the 6th century CE.
While we could have spent all day at Pompeii and not seen everything, I made sure we found the Temple of Isis. It’s a small temple on the south side of the city, near the small amphitheater, and like most of Pompeii it’s in excellent condition. It includes a main sanctuary and a purgatorium, where water from the Nile was kept for purification before important rites.
The Temple of Isis was one of the first parts of Pompeii to be excavated, starting in 1764. Modern signs on the exterior wall show a diagram of the temple and a picture of the statue of Isis – the statue itself is in the Archeological Museum in Naples, which I wasn’t able to visit.
Denton CUUPS has performed an Egyptian Temple Ritual at the Summer Solstice every year since 2004. Isis has been invoked and honored at many of them, and we’ve done other circles dedicated specifically to her. I’ve spent a small but significant amount of time in meditation and prayer with her in preparation for these rituals, and as a result I have a stronger personal connection with Isis than with any of the other deities whose temples I visited on this trip.
As with the other temple visits, I wasn’t able to perform any formal rituals. But I was able to have a moment alone with Isis and make a small offering. Just to stand in the same place that priests and priestesses of Isis stood and commune with the same goddess they served was a powerful connection and a tremendous honor.
This Saturday at 7:00 PM, Denton CUUPS will present an Egyptian Summer Solstice ritual for the ninth consecutive year. If you’re in the North Texas area I encourage you to join us to honor Isis – Auset – and other deities of the ancient People of the Two Lands.