Chapter 29

Isis and Osiris

Worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis, queen of heaven and premier mother goddess, healer, and sorceress, continued throughout every period of ancient Egypt's 3,000-year history. As religious and cultural centers shifted, religious beliefs and practices changed to reflect the values of the worshippers. With the rise of the Roman Empire, Isis, like Demeter (Chapter 28), became the subject of a widespread cult, and her worship became a mystery religion.

As background, this chapter contains a summary of the characteristics of the best-known Egyptian deities. The creation story from Heliopolis includes the birth of Isis and Osiris and provides the background for the cycle of stories related to the death of Osiris and his resurrection through the devotion of Isis. The text by Plutarch presents a complete account of the story of Isis but sometimes shows a bias in favor of Greek philosophy over Egyptian cult.

As you read, compare the content, style, and tone of the stories about Isis, and note how the ritual described by Apuleius differs from—as well as corresponds to–the early Isis stories. Consider the story of Isis according to the stages in the journey of the hero described by Joseph Campbell (Chapter 15), comparing her journey to that of Demeter or Gilgamesh (Chapter 16). Compare the worship of Isis with that of Demeter. What was the basis of each?

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