Published January 31, 2008 by
Isis was creatrix, protectress, healer, and deliverer from suffering. She also offered the promise and hope of rebirth and rejuvenation, and this seems to be at the core of her rituals. Initiation into the cult of Isis in antiquity was a mysterious process, and we know very little since the steps to conversion were private and guarded, rarely spoken about, just as the Eleusinian rites to Ceres were. Apuleius does give us a glimmer of the magic moment in which he was reborn: "I underwent a near death experience as I descended to the underworld ruled by Persephone. Yet I returned. It was midnight, yet I saw the sun shining in all of its majesty. I touched the gods below and the gods above. I stood next to them. I worshiped them.... I was born again".
Indeed, this is a very powerful statement describing a very personal moment of enlightenment and union with the divine. Isis promised rebirth and salvation to those who believed. During the Isia, on a special day called the "Finding of Osiris," worshipers reenacted the myth of Isis and Osiris, sharing the grief and the joy of Isis searching for the body of Osiris and finally finding it and embalming it. They shouted in unison, "Heurekamen, synchairomen," "We have found! We rejoice together!" It is also said that in one rite during the Isia worshipers gathered in a darkened room and mourned over a prone statue of Osiris. During the ritual, a light was carried into the room; a priest then anointed the throats of the mourners with oil and whispered, "Take heart, 0 Initiates, for the god is saved, and we shall have salvation".
Hope and salvation from all of our troubles and suffering, overcoming our fear of death, and living a blessed life on earth are promises that resonate in all religions throughout the ages. These words of Isis can find meaning for each of us especially during the dark and doubt-filled days of October, when the end of the year and darkness looms in the path ahead.
Modern Ritual of Promise and Hope: The Ship of Isis
In antiquity, a yearly ritual to Isis was carried out on a beach or near water. A model ship was prepared. It was painted with sacred words and text, bearing a special message for the year's prosperous journey. Worshipers gathered around the boat, first purifying it with flame, egg, and sulfur and chanting solemn prayers. They then piled it with small gift baskets, winnowing fans, perfumes, and incense and threw libations of milk mixed with grain into the water. The small ship was set adrift and allowed to sail away on its own, following its own course. Thus, the rite ended.
The Promise of Isis
Behold. I come to you in your time of trouble. I come with solace and aid. Put an end to your crying and tears, send your sorrows away. Soon through my benevolence will the sun of salvation rise up. Listen to what I say with great care.
You will live a blessed life. You will have a glorious life under my care and guidance. When you have traveled your full length of time and go down unto death, there also. I will be beside you. You will see me shining on amidst the darkness.
Through your religious devotion and constant faith, you may learn that I have it within my power to prolong your life beyond the limits set to it by Fate. Through me, you may be reborn.