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Isis: The Throne Goddess

Matthew Shirfield

The rich history of the Mediterranean countries owes much to their ancient past. Endowed with deep cultural beliefs and deities, civilisations thrived artistically and established an unsurpassable legacy.

As order slowly emerged from chaos, different religious and spiritual rituals were sought not only to understand the fundamental meaning of existence, but also to build a sense of community governed by a unified belief system. Goddesses with varying aptitudes where revered in the temples built to upheave the world from earth.

Deities served as superior ideals of existence which seemingly controlled that which could not be humanly controlled. This was coloured further by ancient civilisations’s intricate mythological narrative which incorporated dramatic battles as well as intimate love stories. Without a doubt, one of the most influential deities to ever grace the sacred walls of ancient times was the Egyptian Mediterranean goddess, Isis.

Isis’s pictorial representation is consistently accompanied by that of the throne, thus dubbed as the ‘Throne Goddess’: loyal wife to the traditional order of Osiris and tender mother to the redeemer, the all-seeing Horus: the central divine family of Egyptian myth. Iris’s role developed throughout the c. 3000 years of Egyptian history, emerging as one of the most widely worshipped deities.

As in the Biblical Cain and Abel story, Osiris was struck down by his vengeful brother Seth. Isis first appears in this unfortunate narrative as the doting wife seeking to reassemble the dismembered parts of her husband’s remains in the hope of restoring order to the Kingdom. During a long vigil, the goddess protected her husband’s remains whilst also bearing a child, conceived by a flash of divine fire. This pietà-mosaic will find its echo in the Christian description of the Virgin Mary as ‘Mater et filia’, and in Dante’s Paradiso as “Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio”.

In later years Isis was hailed as the goddess of the Mediterranean Sea who guided ships towards the kingdom. In Greco-Roman times Plutarch suggested that Isis willfully revealed her sorrow as a source of comfort, offering consolation to all those who were suffering. It was this interpretation interweaved with her tender maternal characteristics that arguably came close to rival Christianity during the first millennium.

According to the Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch, Cleopatra identified herself with the goddess Isis and equated her pregnancy with the divine one bringing forth a fatherless son. She joined forces with Mark Anthony who identified himself with Dionysius, the Greek god who was often recognised as Osiris, Isis’s husband. This led to a seismic political turmoil that changed the Mediterranean forever.


'Isis and Horus',    664–30 B.C.

Mohammed Naghi, ‘La Renaissance de l’Égypte ou Le Cortège d’Isis’, 1923.

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