Goddess of funeral rites and healing in ancient Egypt

Isis, goddess of healing and burial rites, was one of the most important Egyptian gods and perhaps one of the most prominent female gods in the ancient world.

Isis was a magical healer who could bring both dead gods and mortals to life. She was also the divine mother of her young son Horus, a powerful ancient Egyptian god who ruled over the sun and sky. Her young son Horus is often compared to the Christian Jesus, because many of their life events run parallel.

Because she conceived her child through magic, Isis is considered an early member of the virgin goddess archetype. However, Isis differs from Christianity’s traditional story of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary because, like Frankenstein, she engineered her deceased husband to do the deed.

A brief history of religion in ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian culture found roots in the fertile Nile Delta in the northeastern corner of Africa. Along the banks of this winding river, the ancient Egyptians built one of the most dominant empires in human history, packed with architectural wonders, advanced science and technologies, and wide-ranging trade.

Ancient Egyptian mythology developed enormously during dynastic periods lasting nearly 3,000 years, beginning with dynastic rule and the unification of civilization until its inevitable demise under Ptolemy that ended with the dramatic death of Cleopatra.

Even in these closing years of the fourth century BCE, Ptolemaic Egypt was a hyper-religious society, clinging to their gods and engaging in traditions and rituals to keep alive the memories of their civilization’s former glory.

‘Isis’ is the ancient Egyptian word for ‘throne’

The long history of ancient Egypt is divided into dynastic eras, beginning with Narmer’s ascension to the throne after the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt. During these nascent centuries of the Old Kingdom, Isis was a minor deity who lived in the background of male gods.

As the dynastic era progressed into the Middle Kingdom era, rulers began to associate Isis as a strong, beautiful woman who influenced dynastic succession and legitimized Egyptian kingship to the masses. Then the virgin goddess became so closely associated with royalty that the hieroglyphic sign or her spoken name meant “throne.”

Evolution of the Egyptian goddess during the Roman Empire

Egyptian culture was unique, but often underwent minor changes as outside influences came to power in the Mediterranean. Egyptian gods often traveled along trade routes, developing Greco-Roman iterations to the north or Persian influences in Asia Minor.

The Cult of Isis was an ideological and theological export that many locals in distant lands adopted. As the cult spread, its iconography took on a Greek form and dress in other parts of the world until the arrival of Alexander the Great changed its appearance to a cosmopolitan Hellenized form.

Isis achieved its greatest international fame in the pre-imperial era of the Roman world, before falling into relative obscurity with the spread of Christianity in the first and second centuries AD.

What was the cult of Isis?

Like ancient Greek gods and several important goddesses in other polytheistic belief systems, the Isis cult had its own special temples where it worshiped its patron deity. Specialized burial rituals brought believers into contact with Isis’s ability to care for the dead.

Although cult followers would worship Isis above all other Egyptian gods, they would likely still pay tribute to other gods because of their varied attributes and focuses. For example, worshipers prayed to Osiris for the annual flooding of the Nile, which was essential to replenish the soil and irrigate farmland.

Depictions of the goddess Isis in art

Isis first appears in Old Kingdom texts, also known as the Pyramid Texts, as a beautiful woman with cow horns framing a sacred solar disk. This iconography is illustrated in small statues of Isis tending to Horus. Many of these works of art are housed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

The Louvre Museum in Paris also has several pieces depicting Cleopatra VII as Isis, wearing a sheath dress and an elaborate headdress. The symbolism of the solar disk and other divine implements was intended to portray the famous queen as a direct descendant of the gods.

Other gods in the ancient Egyptian pantheon

Like any story worth reading, Egyptian religion needed a diverse cast of complex characters to set their ancient texts on fire and reach a wide audience. Isis was a star of the show, but other Egyptian gods helped flesh out the plot and add depth to the legends.


The God Osiris was a central figure in ancient Egyptian religion. It is fitting that the main deity of death and resurrection became the poster child for the Egyptian belief that anyone who enters the underworld can find peace in death or a second chance at life.


The son of Isis, Horus, was the lord of the falcon-headed sun and moon. He was the main deity of Lower Egypt and conquered the god Seth of Upper Egypt, in line with the true unification of the ancient kingdom. The Eye of Horus, or Wedjat, was a sign of protection and the most universally recognized Egyptian symbol.


Isis’s mother, the sky goddess Nut, was originally the patron god of the night sky and was often depicted as a naked woman or lightly clothed in stars. She is one of the oldest Egyptian gods and eventually became an obscure goddess compared to her divine children, including Osiris and Set.


Thoth was the god of wisdom and writing with the ibis head. Like the howler monkey god of ancient Mayan theology, this deity is also depicted as an intellectual baboon. Thoth possessed knowledge of the universe not shared with other gods and was given the task of weighing the hearts of the dead.

That is interesting

The worship of Isis began with her skills as a magical healer of kings, but like many other female deities in the Egyptian pantheon, her main role revolved around the afterlife. The burial practices of the Isis cult and other groups include various ceremonies and mummification techniques. Similar afterlife rituals were performed by another ancient pyramid-building civilization, the Mayans. In a strange connection, the body of Pharaoh Ramesses II (died 1213 BC) contained traces of cannabis pollen. This forced many researchers to question the possibility of a transatlantic trade route in the ancient world. Although the Central and South American climate is most suitable for cannabis cultivation, data shows that it is an old-fashioned plant that probably originated in Central Asia as early as 12,000 years ago. Although contact between the two civilizations is not impossible, there is not enough evidence to prove the theory.

Original article: Isis: Goddess of funeral rites and healing in ancient Egypt

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