Hathor, Isis, Mother and Mary Magdalene- Who Tells Your Story for You?
‘If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).
After a series of blogs on the lineage of goddesses associated with Mary Magdalene, I have reached the conclusion that there is a significant yet suspicious duality in the representation of two competing female archetypes of goddesses: Mary the Mother and Mary Magdalene.
I have always maintained that this kind of duality is not only artificial but also undoubtedly a figment of the ascetic mind of old patriarchs afraid of anything fun and sexy, unable to conceive a feminine that is empowered both intellectually and sexually and at the same time can also be a mother-figure.
The reason why I maintain that this could only be the result of the limited and poor imagination of paranoid patriarchs is that nearly every woman – if she explores her powers and possibilities – knows that she can, if she chooses so, be all or any of the above. What the patriarchs could not imagine, many women have managed to live.
But this was only intuition on my part until … well … I did my research. At the beginning, I simply and innocently wanted to explore the Isis archetype, as there have been many so strange things written about her that I wanted to set the record straight. Also, with my academic background I am often suspicious of the New Age take on the ancient goddesses, where imagination and research are too freely mixed – or so I believed. Fortunately, I came across a wonderful book, Goddesses in Myth, History and Culture and found within a chapter on Isis with sufficient references and research to satisfy me.
As I have discussed in my series of blogs on Inanna, Ishtar and Mary Magdalene, Isis not only has a relationship to all of them but on her own, she also has a fascinating Egyptian history. Although I have no doubt she is an alternate version of Inanna, she also has other connections – and one of them is to Hathor.
Now I love Hathor, as she is a sexy mama who liked her fun and did not apologise for it. A true bonne vivante. She is often represented in exactly the same way as Isis – as a beautiful young woman, with some of their portrayals indistinguishable from one another. There is a good reason for this. Hathor, as K K Rodin asserts in the book’s chapter ‘From Heaven to Hell, Virgin Mother to Witch: The Evolution of the Great Goddess of Egypt,’ merged at some point with Isis. She is also often mentioned as the consort of Horus, who was Isis’ son.
I would like you to pay very clear attention here to how mainstream media and research represent goddesses in general: goddesses are always first defined as someone else’s consort or as mothers, even if they came before and were more powerful than the gods who came after them!
But this important observation aside, both Hathor and Isis are often depicted with horns on their heads – something they inherited from an even earlier goddess, Nut, who was the original Egyptian Mother of the Sky. (The sky, in later mythologies, was almost exclusively considered to be male, as it was considered more ‘spiritual’ than the Earth, while the feminine was deemed to be bound to matter and therefore lower.)
Other representations of Hathor-Isis include as a cow, a winged goddess, lioness (when angry), a cat and even a hippopotamus. The cow had only good connotations, as Hathor’s milk was understood to be the ‘milk of life’ from a wonderful earthly power of life and enjoyment. She was a goddess who loved to dance and enjoyed sensuality of life in all its forms. In this aspect, Hathor is very similar to the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar.
But the similarities between Hathor and Isis end here. In many ways, Isis takes on other and more serious qualities, such as spiritual wisdom, as well as being goddess of the underworld and magic, the Virgin Mother of Horus and the sister-wife of Osiris, whom she resurrected. The last two qualities were later copied and adjusted in Christianity to suit the image of the Holy Family, as well as being aligned with the story of the resurrection in the presence of Mary Magdalene (please see my blog or Youtube video on the Lineage of Goddesses …).
The more mysterious and magical qualities of Isis, according to K K Rodin, included influence over the sun and moon, influence over time, the ability to give the breath of life to us, the ability to give us our earthly personality (our ba) and the ability to heal – which is why many of the priests in her temples were also physicians.
Interestingly, Isis, like the Sumerian and Assyrian Goddess Inanna before her, was also involved in divine mischief. As the story goes, Isis outwitted the ancient God Ra and forced him to tell her his secret name in which his power was contained. This was very same way that Inanna tricked her grandfather to steal his Me (power). However, while Inanna simply got her grandfather drunk, Isis nearly strangled Ra to death by creating a serpent out of her saliva and earth. The same story is later repeated in different versions in the Bible; for example in Jacob’s theft of his brother’s blessing and in Eve’s mischievous cooperation with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. The difference here is that all the power (good and bad) was taken away from the female protagonists and given to men.
The influence of Isis was so great that even in early Christian times, she could not be easily dismissed by the Fathers of the Church. Isis had temples in her name all over the Roman Empire and many powerful families paid her homage. The last temple in her name was only destroyed as late as the sixth century, which is a great indication of the endurance of her power.
One of the more interesting questions to ask is: what happened afterwards?
And here is where I enjoyed Rodin’s essay most because she shows how in the fifth century, when worship of Isis was still powerful, the Church simply decided to adopt her as the Holy Mother, which she had been all that time as the mother of Horus (and often represented as such). That is, they used the ‘nice’ and motherly part of Isis. Thus, Isis became incorporated into the dogma, but only after she had been reinterpreted again and stripped of her more ‘dangerous’ sexual and mysterious/magical qualities.
As for the magical and ‘darker’ part of Isis, it was reconfigured to that of a ‘damned witch’. The witch was incorporated into the pagan traditions of Europe – the last surviving traditions to allow female priestesses. Ellen Reed, in her book Circle of Isis: Ancient Egyptian Magic for Modern Times,writes that the worship of Isis became a part of the revival of Wicca (modern witchery) tradition after the second world war. This tradition includes rituals through which ‘the Priest calls a Goddess to a Priestess who serves as a vessel … the Goddess speaks through a Priestess’ to the rest of the group or to an individual.
Personally, I believe that Isis has some relation to the mysterious Gnostic Sophia – as she, too combines the archetypes of Wisdom and Sexuality. But I will write about in future blogs.
So, Isis’ divine genealogy is complex and I still stand by my original point here – until I find a better explanation – that Isis’ story, like many repressed representations of the divine feminine, is the same recurring Story of the Goddess which occurs under many different names and with only slight changes in the plot and character development. I have no doubt hers is a story that wants to be remembered, re-buried and retold.
The re-telling part is up to us, as it we who are in control of choosing our own archetypes and our own stories. The times when sanctified bureaucrats from institutionalised belief systems make these choices for us are over.
I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings in the Comments,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Goddess News Blog©Joanna Kujawa