The Egyptian Goddess Isis: Facts & Symbols

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

If you've ever studied the Ancient Egyptians, you know that gods and goddesses were a very important part of religion and daily life. This lesson explores the history and symbols of Isis, the most powerful Ancient Egyptian goddess.

Egyptian Gods and Goddesses

Who is in control of what happens in your life? Do you make your own decisions, or does someone else make decisions for you? When you trip and fall walking down the side walk, is that an accident or an act of some greater being? What about if you get a cold or win the lottery? Are those things that just happen by chance, or is there someone else who's calling the shots in your life?

In Ancient Egypt, gods and goddesses reigned supreme. Egyptians believed that the gods controlled the ebb and flow of the Nile River, when the sun rose and set, and when good fortune (or bad fortune!) came up on you and your family. You may be familiar with some of these all-powerful gods and goddesses, for example Osiris the god of the afterlife or Horus the sun god. But how much do you know about the magical goddess Isis?

Humble Beginnings

Isis is considered the most powerful goddess of the Ancient Egyptian religion, but she didn't start out that way! The Ancient Egyptians began celebrating different gods and goddesses beginning before the year 3100 B.C., over 5,000 years ago. The goddess Isis, however, did not really emerge until about the year 2350.

The earliest mentions of Isis show up in a series of writings called the Pyramid Texts between 2350 and 2100 B.C. The Pyramid Texts are groups of stories, poems, and prayers that the Egyptians buried with their kings to help them find their way in the afterlife, kind of like a road map. According to the Pyramid Texts, Isis was very helpful to the dead Egyptian kings.

Eventually, Isis became a goddess for both the Egyptian kings and people from all parts of society in Egypt. The cult of Isis, or the group of her most dedicated followers, spread out of Egypt through the Roman Empire and into the Middle East. Isis is considered such a powerful and important goddess that there are still people who worship her today!

Origin Story

Now that you have a general idea of how important Isis was (and still is), it's time to learn a little bit of her backstory. How did she come to be the most powerful goddess in Ancient Egypt?

According to Egyptian high priests, Isis was the daughter of the earth god Geb and a sky goddess Nut. Geb and Nut had three other children: two sons named Osiris and Seth, and another daughter named Nephyths. Isis married her brother Osiris and the two of them ruled over Egypt as king and queen.

Seth, brother of Isis and Osiris, was very jealous of Osiris. So jealous, in fact, Seth tried to kill Osiris so he could become the king of Egypt. Seth's first attempt at killing Osiris wasn't very successful. Seth captured his brother and put him in a lead-coated coffin, then sent him down the Nile River. Isis eventually found Osiris and released him from the coffin. Seth tried again to kill Osiris, this time chopping up his brother's body into little pieces and scattering them all over Egypt.

According to legend, Isis transformed into a bird and searched far and wide for the remains of her husband. Using her powerful magic, Isis put Osiris back together. Despite her best efforts, Isis couldn't bring Osiris completely back to life. Instead, he was caught somewhere between the living and the dead. Osiris was forced to go to the underworld where he became the god of the Egyptian afterlife. After Osiris left for the underworld, Isis gave birth to their son Horus, the sun god. Isis protected Horus until he was old enough to challenge Seth for the Egyptian throne.

Signs and Symbols

Like many other Egyptian gods and goddesses, Isis is associated with a number of different meanings and symbols. Isis is known for being:

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