Tales From the Underworld Chapter Three-Isis/Nepythys/Bast/Sekhmet/Maat

October 2, 2010 at 12:58 am (Goddess, love, magic, medicine, metaphysics, Mythology, paganism, religion, sex, shamanism, spirituality)

Chapter Three-Isis/Nepythys/Bast/Sekhmet/Maat

 

From the fertile crescent and the very birthplace of civilization, to the next greatest and ancient culture, Ancient Egypt. Just like the Hebrews and Phoenicians as well as most in the ancient world migrated to this place of profound mystery so now shall we. Isis was the most famous of all Egyptian Goddesses. She was supreme in magical power, which was taught to her by Tahuti/Thoth, Lord of the measures, God of science and knowledge, patron God of scribes and of medicine. Although she was born as flesh, her powers rivaled those of the Gods of spirit. She personified feminine creative power, and although she was regarded as the benevolent mother of mankind, she was worshipped as a virgin for “no mortal man had ever her unveiled”.

 She was the faithful and loving wife of Osiris. Nephthys was her sister and although she was the wife of Set, she always remained faithful to Isis. Unlike the afore mentioned Goddesses, of the pair of Isis and Nephthys, Nephthys seems to be almost a vestigial Goddess, one that really isn’t fully developed in her own right. So it would seem the Egyptians acknowledged the “bi-polar” nature of woman, but Isis’s powers remained her own and she was not cut in two and her “darker” more unacceptable traits banished to the underworld in the form of Nephthys. Isis was often pictured with a throne upon her head and her name means stone seat. She is the bestower of kingship, the archetypal land that grants dominion. Her lap is the throne of Egypt. Egypt was matrilineal when it came to royalty, so both in a spiritual and literal sense this was true. Nephthys’ name means stone castle, meaning the one who protects the king. She was depicted as barren in contrast to Isis’ fruitfulness. Isis is also the mother of Egypt. She is depicted with huge sheltering wings. She helped Osiris civilize Egypt, in addition to discovering wild wheat and barley, she taught women how to grind corn as well as how to spin and weave. She also taught people how to cure illness and instituted the rite of marriage.

Isis became so popular that in time she absorbed qualities of almost all the other goddesses. She was a great mother goddess, a bird goddess, a goddess of the underworld who brought life to the dead and a goddess of the primeval waters. Her following spread beyond Egypt to Greece and throughout the Roman Empire. She was worshipped for more than 3,000 years, from before 3000 B.C. to well into Christian times. Her cult and many of her images, passed directly onto the figure of the virgin Mary.

In order to fully tell the wisdom of this lady, it is imperative to tell the story of her husband as well, Osiris. Originally Osiris was a God of Nature who symbolized the cycles of vegetation. In time however he became God of the dead. He represented the regenerative powers of the natural world, as well as the threat posed by severe weather conditions to the wellbeing of humanity.

Reigning as a king on earth, Osiris brought the Egyptians out of savagery and cannibalism. He gave them laws and taught them to worship the Gods. He is responsible for the building of the first temples and statues to the Gods. Osiris taught the Egyptians how to cultivate wheat barley and corn, and he is most closely associated with the latter. He also taught them to collect fruits from the trees, train vines to poles and the how to make wine. Eager to communicate these wonderful discoveries to all the world, he entrusted Isis with whole of governance of Egypt, who ruled wisely in his stead, and traveled all over the world, spreading the blessings of civilization and agriculture wherever he went. In countries where a harsh climate made the growing of grapes impossible, he taught the inhabitants to make beer from barley. He was showered with wealth by the grateful nations he visited. Upon his return to Egypt on account of his contributions to the world he was unanimously hailed and worshipped as a God. Unfortunately his success earned him the murderous envy of his brother, Set. The story goes as follows,

Osiris and Isis were the product of an intrigue between the Earth God Geb and the Sky Goddess Nut. When the Sun God Ra saw that Nut had been unfaithful to him, he cursed her that she should be delivered of the child in no month and no year. He sent the great God of the pillars of light, and the father of Geb and Nut, Shu, to separate them. He commanded them to part, which they did and in doing so was the first act of creation. The Goddess Nut had another lover though, the Moon God, Tahuti, and he playing checkers with the moon won from her a seventy second part of everyday and having compounded five whole days out of these parts he added them to the Egyptian year of 360 days. This was the mythical origin of the five supplemental days which the Egyptians inserted in to reconcile lunar and solar time. On these five days, regarded as outside the year of twelve months, the curse of the sun god did not apply, and accordingly Osiris was born on the first of them. At his nativity a voice rang out, proclaiming the lord of all had come into the world. But Osiris was not the only child of his mother. On the second of the supplementary days Nut gave birth to the elder Horus, on the third the God Set, the fourth Isis and on the fifth to Nepythys. Afterwards Set married his sister Nephthys, and Osiris married Isis. All five children of Nut were of the flesh. They could be killed by violent means, even though they were immortal. Osiris’ brother Set was jealous of his popularity, so he plotted against Osiris with 72 co-conspirators. Having taken the measure of his good brother’s by stealth, the bad brother Set fashioned and highly decorated a coffer of the same size, and once when they were all drinking and making merry he brought in the coffer and jestingly promised to give it to the one whom should fit it exactly. Well they all tried one after the other, but it fitted none of them. Last of all Osiris stepped into it and lay down. On that the conspirators ran and slammed the lid down on him, nailed it fast, soldered it with molten lead and flung the coffer into the Nile. This happened on the seventeenth day of Athyr, when the sun is in the sign of the scorpion, and in the eighth and twentieth year of the reign or life of Osiris. When Isis heard of it she sheared off a lock of her hair, put on mourning attire and wandered disconsolately up and down , seeking the body. The coffer containing the body of Osiris had floated down the river and out to sea, till at last it drifted ashore in Byblos. Here a tamarisk tree, also known as salt cedar grew up around the coffin, enclosing it in its trunk. The king of the country, admiring the growth of the tree, had it cut down and made into a pillar of his house; but he did not know that the coffer with the dead Osiris was in it. Word of this came to Isis and she journeyed to Byblos, and sat down by their well, in humble guise, her face wet with tears. To none would she speak till the kings handmaidens came, and them she greeted kindly, and braided their hair and breathed on them from her own divine body a wondrous perfume. But when the queen beheld the braids of her handmaidens hair and smelt the sweet smell that emanated from them, she sent for the stranger woman and took her into her house and made her the nurse of her child. But Isis gave the babe her finger instead of her breast to suck, and at night she began to burn all that was mortal of him away, while she herself in the likeness of a swallow fluttered around the pillar that contained her dead brother, twittering mournfully. But the queen spied what she was doing and shrieked out when she saw her child in flames, and thereby she hindered him from becoming immortal. Then the Goddess revealed herself and begged for the pillar of the roof, and they gave it to her, and she cut the coffer out of it, and fell upon it and embraced it and lamented so loud that the younger of the king’s children died of fright on the spot. But the trunk of the tree she wrapped in fine linen, poured ointment on it, and gave it to the king and queen, and the wood stands in a temple of Isis and is worshipped by the people of Byblos to this day. Isis put the coffer in a boat and took the eldest of the kings children with her and sailed away. As soon as they were alone, she opened the chest, and laying her face on the face of her brother she kissed him and wept. But the child came behind her softly and saw what she was about, and she turned and looked at him in anger, and the child could not bear the look and died. Isis hid the coffin in a swamp. Set however found the coffer, and knowing Isis had the power to resurrect the dead, he rent Osiris’ body into fifteen pieces and scattered them abroad. But Isis, with the help of her sister Nephthys, sailed up and down the marshes and would not rest until they found all of Osiris’ body. She earned great respect from the people of Egypt when they saw just how devoted and faithful she was to him. They did recover all of him, except his male member which had been eaten by the fishes. Isis fashioned a replacement of wood and with the help of Anubis, put him back together and mummified Osiris. Isis was the mistress of Magic in Egyptian lore. She made love to Osiris and using her knowledge of magic revived him through sexual alchemy. At this point Osiris was so disillusioned with his brother that he chose to quit life and became lord of the underworld. For these reasons he is depicted as a mummy, green in color and bearded, holding the crook and flail of kingship. He and Isis conceived a child through this act of resurrection, Horus, who would later go on to destroy Set and avenge his father.

The first striking element of this story is the fact that it is almost identical to parts of the story of the abduction of Persephone, in the next chapter. Demeter is said to have disguised herself by a well until she was taken into the house of the King and Queen of elesiuis. She was made the nurse of the queens son and at night she would burn all that was mortal of the child away. Identitical to the story of Isis in the palace of Byblos. Isis is said to be associated with the constellation Virgo, the virgin, an earth sign that Demeter is also associated with so in that alone they have a link. Even the ancient writer Herodotus equates the two as one. As to the meaning of the story of Isis, Osiris is the grain, he is the corn and he is cut down in his prime. Isis and Nephthys gather him and put him back together and by a rite that to our modern sensibilities is monstrous, resurrects him. Sex and regeneration, both presided over by the lady of death.

As lord of the Underworld it fit that Isis became lady of the underworld. In that sense the fact that she was supreme in Magical power and that she had her own rite of sexual alchemy and resurrection, needs to paid attention to. This is part of the archetype I am presenting. However it could be argued that in Ancient Egypt, even though Isis was as incredibly popular as she was, Nepythys and her were actually the light and dark natures of an even more supreme Goddess, Ma’at.

Ma’at was the supreme principle in the Egyptian cosmology. She was Truth, and it follows that the Truth of what is woman, is both the light natured Isis, and the dark natured Nepythys. As I said though the Egyptians maintained this totality quite well even in delineating the light from the dark. Ma’at however is associated with Athene of the Greeks and Anath of the Libyans and as such was supreme wisdom., Ma’at is the characterization of Soul, Karma, the highest feminine wisdom. She was represented by a feather, again bird association, and she was the absolute Truth against which all men’s heart were weighed on the scales of judgment. It should also be noted that the Egyptian underworld possessed the same configuration of gates, as Ereshkigal’s, in Sumerian lore.

One other lady of Egypt should be mentioned in light of the theme of this book. That being Bastet, and in her dark form, Sekmet. Bast was the infamous cat goddess. She was a patroness of sex, fertility and love, and festivals honoring her included music and dancing and probably a lot of beer. She was usually depicted as benevolent, but if crossed her other side came out, Sekhmet. Sekhmet was the lioness, and she was known for ripping humanity limb from limb. There is a story of her slaughtering people because they were plotting against Ra, the sun god. The only way they got her to stop was by dying beer red with pomegranate juice (the fruit of the dead I might add) so that it appeared to be blood and Sekhmet drank it and eventually mellowed out. While she is sometime associated with Hathor(who is also associated with love and dance), originally she was the flip side of her fellow feline deity Bast.

 ***To those reading this on my blog, note that I will be expanding the section on Ma’at, on Bastet and Sekhmet, and adding Hathor and the story of humanity plotting against Ra.  Should have it edited within a week.

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2 Comments

  1. Missy said,

    Nice

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