Who was the Egyptian goddess Isis?
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Who was the goddess Isis?

Isis nurses Horus
(Middle Kingdom, ca. 2000 BC,
now in Metropolitan Museum, New York)

The goddess Isis, in Egyptian mythology, was married to her brother Osiris (as Hera was married to her brother Zeus). Isis means "the queen", in Egyptian. Osiris was killed by his enemy, the god Set, and torn apart, and his body was scattered all over Egypt. Isis mourned for her husband/brother, and travelled all over Egypt finding the pieces of his body. Then she put them back together again into Osiris, and brought him to life again. They then made their child, the god Horus. When Horus grew up, he fought Set with his mother's magic spells.

This story has a lot in common with the West Asian story of Magna Mater and her husband Attis, or with the Greek story of Demeter and Persephone, or the story of Dionysos. Like them, it is a story of death and rebirth, where by praying to Isis people may hope themselves to be reborn.

Learn by doing: Egyptian afterlife project
More about ancient Egyptian gods

Bibliography and further reading about the Egyptian goddess Isis:

Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, by Leonard Fisher (1999). For younger kids.

Isis and Osiris, by Geraldine Harris (1997). A retelling of the story for kids.

The Egypt Game (Yearling Newbery), by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (reprinted 1985). A great kids' story about kids who pretend to be Egyptian gods and goddesses.

Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, by John Baines, David Silverman, and Leonard Lesko (1991). Pretty hard going, but it will tell you everything you need to know about Egyptian religion.

Isis in the Ancient World, by R.E. Witt (1997). Mostly about the spread of Isis worship to Greece and the Roman Empire.

More about the Egyptian gods
More about African religion
More about ancient Egypt
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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