The attraction of men for the worship of Isis has existed since early times. While there has always been an abundance of priestesses of Isis, the official temple staff was predominately male, both in Egypt and in the many temples of Isis in the Graeco-Roman world.
These priests did not lead an unremittedly ascetic life. Like most other Egyptian priests, they rotated their service at the temple with periods spent with their families in the ordinary life of the local community. Many priesthoods were hereditary, and religious offices were passed on to the sons and daughters of the priests and priestesses.
Looking at the mythology of goddesses, it's not surprising why Isis holds a special attraction for men. In Greek, Babylonian, and Middle Eastern myth, many goddesses are hostile to or contemptuous of males. Diana's hounds tear apart Actaeon for spying on her at her bath; Venus's lover Adonis castrates himself for love of her; Ishtar, though initially willing to go the Underworld to save her love, ultimately will not sacrifice herself to save him and returns to the physical world alone, leaving her lover to his fate.
Isis, on the other hand, is deeply and romantically in love with Osiris. To Her, he is Usar-un-Nefer, the "beautiful being", with whom she shares love, pleasure, and the throne of Egypt.
When Osiris is torn into bits by their treacherous brother Set, Isis travels the length of Egypt looking for the pieces. All but his phallus is found. This is regarded as a catastrophe by Isis, who desires that her partner be her erotic equal. She promptly makes him a new one out of pure gold. Using her healing magic, she attaches this new, imperishable phallus to him and lays herself on top of him, successfully becoming impregnated with their son Horus, whom she raises to avenge Osiris and reclaim the throne of Egypt.
Apuleius, a second-century novelist believed to have been an initiate of Isis, describes his vision of Isis in terms that vividly evoke her erotic, majestic beauty and power. She appears to him rising from the waves on a moonlit night, Her dark curling hair streaming over her shoulders and fragrant with the perfumes of Egypt.
Cleopatra, a woman whose reality and legend have moved many men, was a priestess of Isis and saw herself as the goddess incarnate on earth. It was as the avatar of Isis-Hathor (or Aphrodite) that she approached both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, offering to them in turn both pleasure and power in return for their aid in holding the throne of Egypt.
Soldiers and sailors were certainly not immune to the attraction of Isis, and many of these men left dedications and inscriptions at her temples, thanking her for healing, for victory, or for a safe passage through perilous waters. The transmittal of the faith of Isis throughout the Roman Empire was largely due to her followers in the Roman Legion, who built temples and shrines to Her wherever the legions travelled.
Several male authors composed hymns to Isis. Four hymns of Isidorus of the Fayum still exist on the stones of a ruined temple to Isis at the site now called Madinet Madi, in the Fayum region of Egypt. In the prayer known as "Hymn III", Isidorus writes what men who believe in Her can expect:"...the best of men: sceptre-bearing kings and those who are rulers,if they depend on You, rule until old age, leaving shining and splendid wealth in abundance to their sons, and their sons' sons, and men who come after..."
There are many ways modern priests of Isis relate to Her. Some, likethe fictional character Dr. Rupert Malcolm in Dion Fortune's initiatory novel,Moon Magic, see themselves as an Osiris, her equal and opposite power, lending their masculine power to Her in exchange for her gift of bountiful life. Many others see themselves functioning as Her servant, tending Her altars and temples and seeing that Her rites are performed, as tens of thousands of priests of Isis have done in the past. Still others see themselves as Her child, Her brother, or as Her husband.
But it's not necessary for a man to confine his relationship to Isis to only one aspect. The Pharaohs, who were not only divine rulers of Egypt but were also the supreme high priests in whose name the temple priests performed the sacred rites, saw no conflict with any of these relationships to Isis. They are depicted on Her lap, as Her son Horus, nursing at her breasts, or with Her standing behind the throne, perhaps with Her hand on their shoulder, guiding them and supporting them as a loving wife and magical mate, calling forth their power to answer Her own.
For many modern men, Isis offers no less today.
- deTraci Regula
copyright 1997. This article, minus minor changes, originally appeared in the Llewellyn Magical Almanac.
Further Reading:The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic, both by Dion Fortune
The Man Who Died by D.H. Lawrence
The Four Greek Hymns of Isidorus and the Cult of Isis by Vera Frederika Vanderlip
The Mysteries of Isis by deTraci Regula
Isis in the Ancient World by R.E. Witt
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