The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis was worshipped throughout Egypt and even in the Greco-Roman regions. Archaeologists have unearthed artifacts, temples and obelisks everywhere from Greece and Italy to Germany and Great Britain that honor the goddess Isis. Isis symbolized the perfect mother and ideal wife and was the patron of magic and nature. Like most gods in polytheistic cultures, she played many roles. Patron of the slaves and sinners. She looked kindly on those who were downtrodden and was a patron of artisans. She was the goddess of fertility and motherhood.
The goddess Isis was born the first daughter of Geb, the god of the Earth and Nut, goddess of the overarching sky. In Egyptian mythology, Isis was married to Osiris, also a powerful god. The two had a son named Horus. One of Egypt’s most prominent folklore tales tells the story of how Osiris was betrayed by his enemy Seth. The evil Seth fooled Osiris and drowned him in the Nile river. Isis used her magical powers to resurrect her husband, but Seth was relentless and killed Osiris again, this time hacking his body into 14 pieces and spreading the remains across the lands.
Isis was consumed with grief and set out traveling around the world searching for the remains of her husband so that she might make him whole again. After years of searching, she was successful and once again used her magic to bring her husband back from the dead.
The story has many versions. Some suggest that Osiris was nearly completely restored with the exception of his genitalia, which she could not find. Instead, Isis protected Osiris and fashioned a substitute from gold and wax and used it to impregnate herself to bear her son Horus. Horus later became a powerful god who avenged his father’s death, killing Seth.
Unlike many of the other gods and goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon, Isis spent time amongst her followers. She taught women how to make bread from grain and weave cloth along with other household duties. Isis was worshipped as the goddess of wisdom and health. She was also considered the protector of the dead in the afterlife. The annual flooding of the Nile is explained as the tears Isis cried at the loss of her husband.
Over time, Isis began to be identified with the sky goddess Hathor and was depicted wearing the solar disk and horns that were Hathor’s signature headdress. Isis is frequently depicted in Egyptian art carrying an Ankh symbol and a simple staff. She is also portrayed with wings outstretched, symbolic of her protector role. Thought to be the symbolic mother of the king, her name also meant “throne.”. Several artifacts in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo depict Isis nursing Horus, a symbol of her nurturing aspect and role as protector of children.