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The Decay of Isis Or The Events Surrounding the Decline of the Matriarchal Society in Egypt

By the Zen werewolF
To understand a society, we must look at the myths and the religions produced by that society. By examining the changes wrought upon a society’s myths throughout its history, we can come to a greater understanding of what life must have been like on a daily basis in that society. Thus, when we examine the Neolithic Period of Egyptian religion and mythology, and trace the changes that occur in that mythology as the years pass, we can see a pattern emerge portraying a slow shift in the balance of power from women to men. The matriarchal period of Egypt appears to have extended from prehistoric time up until the first appearance of Osiris c. 3000 BC. This gradual introduction of a male deity into a society parallels the slow colonization of Egypt by foreigners from the north. However, the paradigm shift from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society does not completely overtake Egypt until the very beginning of the New Kingdom, c. 1570 BC. Throughout all areas of the near and middle east during the Neolithic period there appeared to have been a widespread Goddess cult, based on the recovery of the so-called “Venus figurines” from widely scattered archeological sites. The similarity of style in these figurines suggests that a similarity of worship and rituals could also have existed. This Goddess cult could very well have been the origin of all matriarchal societies, especially those of an agricultural bias, such as Egypt and its neighbors to the northeast in the Mesopotamia. The clans of Egypt were matrilineal, in that the mother was seen as the primary parent of her family, perhaps due to a lack of knowledge regarding the processes of conception. If this were so, the act of gestation and of giving birth must have seemed a magical act. Thus it was that family lineage was traced through the female gender, going from mother to daughter instead of from father to son. After countless generations of this type of culture, it is easy to understand how the oldest ancestors of any given clan could have first been revered, then deified, and finally mythologized into becoming a proto-goddess. If this were the case, it would help explain the similarities and the differences in Goddess worship throughout prehistoric Egypt. Prior to c. 3000 BC, Egypt was divided into Upper Egypt, where the Goddess was known as Nekhebt, and Lower Egypt, where the Goddess was known as Ua Zit. Nekhebt was personified in the form of a vulture, while Ua Zit was personified as a cobra. In fact, the sigil of a cobra eventually came to symbolize the word Goddess in hieroglyphic writings. Then, c. 3000 BC, there is evidence of an invasion of Egypt by people from Mesopotamia. These people brought with them the concept of kingship, as well as the technology of brick building and writing, as well as the introduction of Mesopotamian motifs into Egyptian artwork. They also brought the concepts of a male deity. Up until this invasion, Ua Zit and Nekhebt were the supreme deities in Egypt, but after the establishment of a kingship, and the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under one king, Ua Zit and Nekhebt were demoted. Interestingly enough, as this first introduction of a male pantheon was underway, there was the formation of a religion based around the Lady of the Serpents on the isle of Crete. This seems to indicate that refugees had fled the formation of the First Dynasty of Egypt, bringing with them the worship of their Goddess. Ua Zit is also known as Hathor, who was the primal serpent believed to exist at the beginning of time, and who made the heaven, the earth, and all life. Hathor also threatened to destroy all of creation and return to Her primal state as a serpent behind all things. This legend of creation seems to be another form of the legend of Tiamet, from nearby Mesopotamia, which also indicates the cultural influences of this time in Egypt. It is during this period of religious and social upheaval that a great deal of changes in the pantheon of the Egyptians takes place. Pictures from this time show the sun God Hor-Wer riding in his boat of the heavens. This deity is also known as Shu, or Lord Air. Through examination of the hieroglyphs, we see that the sign for air is a sail, and the sign for the word God is a series of banners or pendants, such as those seen at the prow of boats. Therefore, this first male deity can be seen to be arriving in Egypt as a part of an invasion force, rather than an indigenous deity arising from amidst the population. Even as the glyph for Goddess is rooted in the concept of the serpent, as the cobra, so too the glyph for God rooted in the concept of war banners. The followers of Hor-Wer, or Horus, as He eventually came to be known, formed an aristocracy of through conquering and unifying Egypt. This aristocracy, known as the Shemsu-Hor, came to influence all the political aspects of Egypt. Records from this time indicate that men with red hair were sacrificed at the grave of Osiris. The red hair seems to indicate that these men were foreigners, and the symbolism behind their sacrifice ties into the legend of Osiris, Horus, and Isis. Isis is also a composite Goddess. It is important to note that the name Isis is actually Greek, and that Her Egyptian name was Au Set. In human form, Isis also wore a cobra upon her forehead, much like Ua Zit, and is represented as wearing the wings of Nekhebt, indicating that She is the culmination of both deities. Isis is attributed with the invention of agriculture, with the establishment of the laws of the land, and, until the arrival of Ptah, is credited with the creation of the cosmos. She also appropriates the position of Nut and Hathor. Prior to Hathor, Nut was said to have existed when nothing else had been created, and that She was responsible for all that had come into being. Once Hathor became an important deity, Nut’s importance was lessened, until Isis appropriated the personality of Hathor. Nut was thereafter known as the mother of Isis. Because Isis was a later incarnation of Ua Zit, She was also an incarnation of the Goddess Hathor, the primal serpent. (It is interesting to note that the symbol of a serpent as a symbol of a priestess or prophetess still appears in our language in the word ‘pythoness.’) Isis was not the only female deity of the time, however. Maat, who represented the order of the universe and all that was righteous, retained her own individuality by becoming a possession of the male deities. Maat became known as the Eye of Horus at first, then later was known as the Eye of Ra, and finally the Eye of Ptah. Maat is also understood to represent the embodiment of the cobra, the essence of wisdom. Along with Maat, there were countless other lesser Goddesses, such as Bast, Iusaset, and Sekhmet. Isis, however, was still in charge of Egypt, at least in a mythological sense. This fact is reflected in both her title as The Throne and in the dominance of the Queen over the King in terms of political power. Even wives enjoyed authority over their husbands, the husbands having agreed formally in the marriage contracts of the time. Anecdotes recounted by Herodotus indicate that the women went to the marketplace to carry out business affairs while their husbands stayed home weaving on their looms. Daughters, not sons, inherited the royal throne, and all property went to the female line, from the rulers on down through the social structure. The woman was the mistress of the house, in complete control of all decisions regarding her property. Egyptian women even did all the wooing and often deliberately intoxicated men to weaken their protestations. Eventually a subtle shift came about in the ruling class, whereupon brother-sister marriages developed, allowing sons to gain the royal privilege. As this shift in policy came about, it was reflected in the myth of Isis and Osiris. Osiris, who was Isis’ brother, also became Her lover. Then, c. 2400 BC, a series of aggressive invasions began to move through Canaan down into Egypt. These Indo-European invaders brought their own religion with them, a patriarchal religion which worshiped a supreme Father deity. These invaders introduced the concept of light as good and dark as evil. This was a time of war, for the invaders appear to have been involved in a religious crusade of sorts. The God which these invaders worshiped seems to have been the Zoroastrian God Ahura Mazda, also known as the ‘Lord of Light.’ In light of this fact, the simultaneous appearance in the Pyramid Texts of the equation of Horus with Ra becomes important. Ra, much like Hor-Wer, is portrayed as the sun that rides the heavens in His sacred boat, and is known by the name ‘Lord of Light.’ This indicates that the God of the Indo-European invaders had invaded the mythological structure of Egypt. This illustrates the proposition that religion and politics were identical, that no major event or battle could occur without being replicated through cultural mythology. As the invaders gained more territory, the theologies of the area became intertwined. Despite the conqueror's efforts to belittle and destroy Goddess worship, Isis and Her many masks of divinity continued to draw followers. One example of this war between male and female deities is the legend of Ra and Zet, later called Apophis. Zet was the serpent of darkness Ra fought daily when the sun rose. The undercurrent of this myth can be seen as a struggle between the primal Goddess, a serpent, and Ra, the new God from the north. Another tactic in this struggle between conflicting ideologies was the introduction of the God Ptah. Ptah was credited with the creation of all existence through an act of divine masturbation. This then eliminated the need for either Isis or Nut in the creation myths of Egypt. It was a deliberate attempt to establish the male deities as either the dominant husbands or the divine assassins of the female deities. Then the northern groups, c. 1900 BC, brought cuneiform to Egypt. The introduction of cuneiform to Egypt at this time, when the patriarchal forces were clashing so severely with the matriarchal, suggests that existing tablets of laws could have been changed to fit the patriarchal beliefs. This would account for the gradual changes in the society of this time. From c. 1900 BC up through c. 1570 BC, women lost their right to choose their own partners at will, and the wife became subject to her husbands lordship. It was also during this period that children became members of the father’s kin, as opposed to the mother. By c. 1570 BC, the patriarchy was firmly entrenched in Egypt, and the rulers had begun accepting wives sent to them from neighboring countries as a form of tribute. Hittite, Hurrian, and Kassite princesses married Egyptian kings. It was also during this time that there were no priestesses available in the temples, and the word pharaoh came to be applied solely to the king rather than the royal house. This drastic change in the social structure culminated in c. 1300 BC with the religious revolution of Ikhnaton. Ikhnaton not only rejected all deities but Ra, who he renamed Aten, but he also relocated the traditional seat of power to El Amarna. In doing this, he succeeded in finally establishing a patriarchal society, nearly seventeen hundred years after the first introduction of male deities to Egyptian theology. This did not completely decimate the worship of Isis as a deity. Followers of Isis spread outward in a variety of directions as the years progressed. A Roman era temple of Isis on the banks of the Thames in the British Isles attests to this very fact. But it did signal the end to the era of the matriarchal society in Egypt.

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