We’re not letting society dictate to us what it means to be a woman - we’re taking a leaf out of Isis’s book. We explore all of the aspects of this layered Egyptian goddess, from her roles in motherhood and magic to universality and more! Also featuring sad falcons, Queer Eye, and the world’s tiniest Pegasus.
- Calm is the #1 app to help you reduce your anxiety and stress and help you sleep better. Get 25% off a Calm Premium subscription at calm.com/spirits.
- Skillshare is an online learning community where you can learn—and teach—just about anything. Visit skillshare.com/spirits2 to get two months of Skillshare Premium for free! This week Amanda recommends the workshop “Create a Killer Podcast: Plan, Find Your Story, Grow Your Audience,” running from April 29 - May 28, 2019.
- Bombas, which will change the way you think about socks. Get 20% off your first order at bombas.com/spirits today.
Find Us Online
If you like Spirits, help us grow by spreading the word! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, & Goodreads. You can support us on Patreon to unlock bonus Your Urban Legends episodes, director’s commentaries, custom recipe cards, and so much more.
Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is Episode 124: Isis.
Julia: Yeah. It's been a while since we've touched on Egyptian mythology, and I am really, really excited because I think Isis really embodies a lot of fascinating aspects of the culture. You'll hear more about it in the episode, but enjoy.
Amanda: Yeah. I really enjoyed hearing this story, and it's fun to trash talk Hercules in our boozy myth movie night, but learning a little bit more about a goddess that I didn't know much about was really exciting.
Julia: Yeah, and she's a fairly common one too, so it's something that people who are already familiar with Egyptian mythology might have a little bit of a basic understanding of it. It's something that everyone can learn a little bit about this episode.
Amanda: Totally, and you know, Julia, I would love to learn a little bit more about our supporting producer-level patrons Philip, Julie, Eeyore, Mercedes, Samantha, Christopher, Kathy Vinny, Danica, Marissa, Sammy, Josie, Neal, Jessica, Phil Fresh, and Deborah, and our legend-level patrons about whom we know lots, but always could stand to know more, Haley, Sarah, James, Jess, Sarah P., Sandra, Audra, Jack, Marie, and Leann.
Julia: Y'all always bring the drinks to the re-embalming of your husband. You'll see. We'll talk about it later.
Amanda: You'll see. You'll see, and we also got a bunch of questions on Twitter last week, and excitement about the Your Urban Legends episodes, and wishing that they could be more frequent, which we really appreciate, but we wanted to remind you that everybody who supports us on Patreon at the $4 tier and above gets a bonus Your Urban Legends episode every dang month.
Julia: So, if you have that craving for some creepy cool stories, and you have the funds to do so, why not pledge to our Patreon at $4 or above?
Amanda: And whenever you pledge, you get access to all of the posts for that level from the past. So, if you sign up for the recipe cards, you get 125 ... well, actually 248 recipe cards because we do an alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Julia: That's true.
Amanda: And all of the bonus episodes we posted so far. We've done three, and they have been so fun.
Julia: Speaking of our recipe card level, if you are at the recipe card level, you'll be able to enjoy the drink that we have this week with us while we listen to the episode. I found this really beautiful lovebird-inspired cocktail that I thought was really fitting for Isis because she's got a lot of bird stuff going on. She really loves her husband. It just kind of covered all of our bases.
Amanda: I love that so much, and Jules, can you recommend something for us to maybe watch or listen to this week?
Julia: Well, speaking of loving your husband and also coming back from the dead, I've been really-
Amanda: And murder.
Julia: I've been really, really enjoying Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. It's got Drew Barrymore in it. It's got the guy from ... I remember you like-
Amanda: Timothy Olyphant-
Amanda: ... from Justified. Hell yeah.
Julia: That was it. I remembered. I was like, "Amanda liked this guy because he was on that cowboy show," but he's fantastic and funny as hell. I really love fun zombie genre media, and this hits all of my boxes.
Amanda: I just finished Sex Education with Gillian Anderson on Netflix, which I so enjoyed on editor Eric's recommendation, so I will have to do that one next.
Julia: It's very, very good. It's a little gory. If that's not your thing, heads up, but it's funny gore, usually.
Amanda: Yeah. It's theatrical and comedic, which I think is nice.
Amanda: We are also so excited to let y'all know that we are going to be in Nashville in June. We are participating in PodX, which is a new podcast festival put on by some folks that I've known for a long time at Mischief Management. They do LeakyCon and other conventions, and we are so excited. We're going to do some life stuff, some panels, some workshops, and you can get the details for that as well as a special link to get 10% off any tickets at Multitude.Productions/Live.
Julia: Yes. I am very excited for PodX. I've never been to Nashville before, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
Amanda: I'm stoked for the Multitude Airbnb. We're going to have to do a stream or something since we're all staying together, which will be really fun.
Julia: It's going to be very good. I'm looking forward to Mike doing all of his laundry while we're there.
Amanda: Oh, yeah. 100%, and we'll also be in Akron, Ohio at the end of this month, so that is again Multitude.Productions/Live, which has details for all of our upcoming performances.
Julia: Also, special shout out to Eric Silver, who helped assist with the editing of this episode. Eric Schneider had some family emergencies, and we're wishing him all of the least stress good vibes he could possibly get at this time, but thank you so much Eric Silver, not Eric Schneider our usual editor.
Amanda: They're different.
Julia: They're different. We promise.
Amanda: So thank you very much for that clutch assistance. That is what Multitude is all about. Well, without further ado, please enjoy Sprits Podcast Episode 124: Isis.
Julia: So Amanda, I've been thinking a lot about what society thinks it means to be a woman.
Amanda: Oh, lord, Julia. Do you have six hours? I have so ... Oh, no. Oh, no.
Julia: Yeah. I know. I'm sorry. That's kind of a rough way to start this, but I have been thinking about it a lot lately, and I wanted to get to a mythology and a goddess that I think really takes what society expects of her and then subverts it.
Amanda: Oh. My favorite.
Julia: There's plenty of stories about this goddess, and I felt like maybe this was a situation where we should be talking about her more, and so this week I want to tell you about the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Amanda: Isis. I have heard of her, but I don't know anything except for rivers, so I am excited to hear about it.
Julia: Interesting. I'm surprised rivers is where you go with it, but it kind of makes sense. Well, we'll talk about it a little bit more later. I love when you have insight. Okay, so Isis's story actually starts with the murder of her husband, the god Osiris. Osiris, when this story begins, is the ruler of Egypt who can trace his lineage back to the creator of the world in Egyptian mythology, Atum-Ra.
Julia: I love saying Egyptian names. They are a lot of fun to say.
Amanda: I thought you were going to say I love when someone can trace their lineage back to, oh, God.
Julia: Yeah. So, Osiris was a god, but he was also the divine king of Egypt at this point. He, alongside his sister Isis and his brother and murderer Set, were born of Geb, who is the earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess. Osiris was a great king, someone who was focused on the rule of maat, which we've discussed before is the natural order and balance of the world. Meanwhile, his brother Set is associated with violence and chaos, so they're quite literally the opposite sides of the same coin in this story.
Julia: So, why Set kills Osiris depends on the source of the story. For instance, in one story it's over a disrespectful kick that Osiris gave Set.
Amanda: As opposed to all those respectful kicks?
Julia: It's like the gentle, friendly sibling kicks.
Amanda: Oh, okay. All right.
Julia: This apparently was not one of those. In another, Osiris has slept with Set's wife Nephthys, which is ... Okay. That's kind of a fair reason.
Amanda: A reason to be mad.
Julia: Cool motive. Still murder, but still more understandable than you kicked me, so I need to kill you now.
Amanda: Yes. Yeah.
Julia: How Osiris was killed is not often clear, given the texts, mainly because the Egyptians had this really interesting belief that the written word had power to affect reality, which is just a fascinating concept. I kind of want to hear your thoughts on that for a second.
Amanda: Oh, yeah. I was talking about this literally this morning in the Multitude Slack where someone had published an article about podcasting, and there are lots of articles about podcasting that start with, "Podcasts used to be bad. Now they're different." I was just saying you write stuff into reality, and repeating a trope that you hear without questioning it makes that trope more real, and especially people who are in positions of power where their writing influences other people's thought. If you're being held up as an industry expert or somebody people look to for advice and recommendations, you really have a responsibility.
That's why journalists have a code of ethics, and that's why lots of people take really rigorous training to become writers, and cultural influencers, and taste makers in that way. But that's not true of people on the internet all the time or people who grow, like us, from self-taught into quote/unquote "experts" or actual people in our industry. Especially for Egyptians, I really think that that makes sense when you're literally chiseling your writing into stone. There is something about it takes a lot of effort, and the materials are finite, and it's more labor intensive than scribbling on a Post-it. I think that makes sense now that I look at it that way.
Julia: The perception of reality. Every time you write something down, I think personally you should think of it as like this is the first time someone is experiencing this thing, and I need to give them an option to look at it critically, not just my opinion of the thing.
Amanda: Totally, and I try to do this in my own life where I find journaling really helpful for just kind of working through my anxiety brain, instead of just ruminating on a thought again and again. Something about getting it out on paper gives me some perspective to be like, "Okay. This is a little bit silly," or, "This is a little bit overblown." But I also try to end every entry with a compliment or a thing that I really enjoy about the world, like a gratitude moment, because negative self-talk feels true, and the more you do it, the easier it is to do. So, I really try to CBT therapy style interrupt the bad thought with a good redirection.
Julia: Well, you're quite literally balancing out the maat of the universe by doing that, Amanda, and I appreciate it. That's what the Egyptians were trying to do when they avoided writing about extremely negative things because talking about the negative lends itself to evil, and chaos, and imbalance, and then tips the maat towards that.
Amanda: Also though, history and documentation, there's definitely a balance to this.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely.
Amanda: Hashtag maat.
Julia: What is written tells us that Set might have taken a form of an animal to kill Osiris. Bull and crocodile are both mentioned in the texts, or that Set drowned Osiris in the Nile. So, this grows out of an idea that people who drown in the Nile are considered sacred by the Egyptians. I think that's really interesting, and it does take a tragedy around something that is so pivotal and so influential in your society, and make it into something that is divine, and I really do kind of appreciate that.
Julia: However Osiris is killed, the next step is always the same. Set takes Osiris's body and then cuts it into pieces, scattering them across Egypt.
Amanda: Oh, so he can be remembered everywhere?
Julia: Kind of. Well, Set doesn't want him to be remembered. Set wants him to just disappear.
Amanda: Oh, we're-
Julia: This is the hiding of the body murder part of the podcast.
Amanda: You know, it does seem good to put it in different dumpsters.
Julia: Yes. Thank you serial killer Amanda.
Amanda: Here for the small crimes, not for the big crimes.
Julia: So, typically 42 pieces of Osiris's body are spread across the kingdom, which correlates to the 42 provinces of Egypt, which makes Osiris the embodiment, get it, embodiment of his own kingdom.
Amanda: Wow. Yep. I mean, true.
Julia: I think this is a really interesting concept because there's such a tactile tie to both the mythology and the way that your society is created.
Amanda: Statehood, right.
Julia: We see this a lot in a lot of ancient religions and ancient mythologies. Each cult, for instance, of Osiris in each province said to specifically claim a part of the body that resided there.
Amanda: Wow. There's so many examples, right? We heard a lot in the Chinese mythologies that we've covered about origin stories related to the origin of the state, and it happened in Russian mythology. There's the Tribes of Israel, and all kinds of origin stories that have something to say about modern statehood or self-governance.
Julia: Yeah, and I really, really like that. Another one that comes to mind is Annona and just her ability to create society, and that fact that she was able to win over these laws of the land and laws of humanity, and then give them to humans.
Amanda: Oh, yeah. Wild.
Julia: This very much reminds me of that structural integrity as told through mythology, which I really like.
Amanda: And more like saying is becoming. That's the central thesis of our whole show, right? That the stories we tell say something about us just as we say something about them, so this is kind of like the most institutional version of that. That's something that I love tracing through all the myths that we talk about, whether it's a ruler claiming divine providence and giving themselves authority through that, or it's what do we decide to trust and how do we decide to govern and rule ourselves?
Julia: Oh, man. We're not even into the story yet and you're already killing me with this. I love it.
Amanda: Thank you.
Julia: With Osiris spread across the kingdom, Set has taken over his throne, and now we get to Isis. Isis is joined by her sister, Set's wife Nephthys, in trying to find Osiris's body as they mourn. So, they're actually depicted as either falcons or kites as they sweep across the lands of Egypt. Whether or not they actually turned into birds in their search or if this was some artful metaphor is, again, up to the source or interpretation.
Julia: Also, the falcon imagery is really interesting because it has to do with the fact that raptors or carrion birds would travel great distances to find dead flesh to eat, or even just the fact that falcon cries sound like cries of mourning.
Amanda: That's so true.
Julia: So, it's really beautiful imagery. Just these soulful mourning birds trying to find dead flesh.
Amanda: Same, yeah.
Julia: I think it's beautiful.
Amanda: I also think it's beautiful. Yeah. Can you think of a more calming and noble image than a bird wheeling gently on the air above you? It makes so much sense to me that so many societies hold birds as divine, or otherworldly, or related to death or birth. Thinking about even the stork as the most accessible metaphor to me because they really do look like of another time and place, and like we've discussed before how chicken feet look like dinosaurs. Come on, people. Birds are some serious shit.
Julia: Geese and turkeys are terrifying because they're just tiny, tiny raptors, and I hate it.
Amanda: I don't fuck with birds.
Julia: Don't fuck with birds.
Amanda: By which I mean I love them from afar.
Julia: No bird husband for Amanda.
Amanda: Listen though, maybe it is a good metaphor for giving yourself over to someone else that you really respect, love, and could hurt you, but instead you love each other.
Julia: Okay. Sure.
Amanda: Maybe the only husband for me is a bird husband.
Julia: Maybe. So, it is said that the tears that Isis shed over Osiris's death flooded the Nile, and that the annual flooding of the Nile is associated with that annual tears that Isis shed for him.
Amanda: Oh, what a good counterpart to the potential damning in Gilgamesh of burying someone in the sacred riverbed.
Julia: Very true. Oh, that's a good tie. Thank you for that.
Amanda: Shoulder shimmy as I come up with a metaphor.
Julia: You're so good. Eventually, the goddesses are able to find the pieces of Osiris's body, and with the help of the funerary gods Thoth and Anubis, Osiris was made into the first mummy. I know we covered a lot of this in our Egyptian afterlife episode, but I think it's kind of a important reminder because one, it's been a while, and two, Isis is playing a more important role in this episode.
Julia: So, Osiris is returned back to life through the love and grief that Isis and Nephthys have for their brother, and through the incantations and spells that Isis recites over his body. In these spells and incantations she talks about her grief, her sorrow that he is gone, how she desires him sexually now that he's not there, and the anger she has with him over letting himself get killed and leaving her.
Amanda: And how wonderful, grief is not just sadness. There is so much in there.
Julia: Yeah, and we talk a lot about how psychologists believe that there are different stages of grief, and it's clear that the Egyptians saw that as well because Isis is basically vocalizing many stages of grief, and in this story, those stages of grief help revive Osiris back to the living, if only briefly.
Amanda: Wow, and I think there's something to be said there too for honoring every part of your feelings, where I, in my life and like a hashtag therapy insight, is that I am allowed to dwell on emotions that make me feel uncomfortable, and I am allowed to feel feelings that I am not proud of. They don't say anything about me. They're not about my judgment or my worth as a person, that I can be frustrated with someone I love, or I can yearn for approval from someone that I don't necessarily want to respect or want to have approval from, you know?
There is just so much there, and especially in grief. I love that they're enumerating all the ways that grief can take form, but I think a lot of people don't experience it linearly. Grief contains multitudes because so do our relationships with people, especially people that we love. I love to see that lots of complex ways to think about people who are gone are represented here.
Julia: I 100% agree, and it's really kind of beautiful to know that human beings have known this aspect of ourselves for so long.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: And that we can look at stories that are thousands and thousands of years old and still see the same reflections-
Julia: ... as I say in almost every Spirits episode.
Amanda: I know. I know. There's this great Dear Polly column that includes the phrase like, "You're going to think you're the most fucked up one, but you're not." Each of us, if you're an overthinking anxious person, walks around thinking that we are the most fucked up, that we are singularly messed up and unworthy of love, and blah, blah, blah, but that is not true. Lots of people think that, and there's lots of ways to be a human, and you are not the worst at it. I promise.
Julia: Hey, listener. You're actually good at being a human. I'm not the first person to tell you this, but you know now.
Amanda: We are conspirators in improving ourselves and loving ourselves-
Julia: Yeah, we are.
Amanda: ... improving our relationship with ourself. What if instead of self-improvement we tried to aspire to better self-acceptance? Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Julia: That would be. I almost feel bad getting into the story now because we-
Amanda: Isis already teaching us lessons. Let's follow her now, though.
Julia: So, Isis breathes life into Osiris's body. In some stories she's still in bird form, and she actually flaps her wings to beat air and life into him. Again, beautiful imagery. Really, really love it, and the two of them, now reunited, have sex because that's what you do when your husband's back from the dead.
Julia: I get it. Their son, the falcon god Horus, is born of this union. Not immediately, but he is conceived and later born from this union.
Amanda: I really thought you said falcon god horse, and I was like, "Whoa."
Julia: Too many things. The Pegasus god.
Amanda: I mean, a cool mashup. Not going to lie. Even a little bird head, tiny horse body I'd be pretty into. Pretty cute.
Julia: Okay. Now the birth of Horus is important not only to Egyptian mythology because Horus was a substantial player in the cosmology, but at this point, because Osiris is still dead even though he has life in him, he has to remain in the underworld, which is called Duat. Horus, as his son, is now able to avenge his father's death and carry out the funerary rites for Osiris, so he can continue to exist in the afterlife.
Amanda: Okay. Cool loophole.
Julia: Yeah, and because of this story, Isis has a role that is played in mummification and the Egyptian belief in the afterlife. So, she is said to help restore the souls of the dead so that they can become whole again, much as she did with Osiris, so that they can continue to exist in the afterlife because otherwise, if you're not maintained, you can wither away, basically. She is supposedly the mother of the deceased. She provides protection for those in the afterlife as they begin to face their judgment and will provide nourishment for the dead if they do not receive offerings from their families.
Isis is also said to be part of the divine council that judges a person's soul and their moral righteousness before they are admitted into the afterlife. We talked a little bit about that in our Egyptian afterlife episode. So, Isis is not just the mother of the dead, but the mother of Horus as well. The stories of the how she raised him provide insight as to why she is considered the goddess of maternal devotion. Isis's pregnancy with Horus, according to stories, is long, like longer than the typical nine month pregnancy, but it isn't specified just how long it is. When it was time for her to give birth to him, the labor was difficult, and she did it alone on the banks of the Nile River.
Julia: So, she raised him on her own as well in most stories, scared that Set might try to harm Horus because he is Osiris's heir, and she wanted him to grow up and get his revenge, but as a single mother, Isis struggles at times. The world is full of things that want to hurt her child. Even common illnesses can take him away from her, so just take a moment to think about this. She is a woman who has lost her husband, who brings him back for a short time, only to have a child with him, and then he becomes inaccessible in the afterlife. So now she is alone, a little paranoid, struggling in a world where her child could be taken from her at any moment.
Julia: It's really this impactful moment in the story where you understand how difficult it is to raise this god king to fulfill his destiny, and to almost be in his shadow in that sense.
Amanda: Yeah. Any one of those complications would be a lot to handle. Having a kid in the best of circumstances is a lot to handle, and I really respect that. Wow.
Julia: But the kind of beautiful part of this story is Isis always remains kind. For instance, there's stories that tell that out of desperation, Isis hides herself amongst humans and tries to seek help from them. In one story in particular, Isis creates these scorpion guards to travel with her for a short time as she is disguised as human. So, when Isis tries to get help from a wealthy woman, the woman rejects her, and to defend their goddess's honor, a scorpion soldier stings the woman's child. Isis has to intervene, healing the child because he was blameless in her eyes. It wasn't the child's fault that the mother was cruel, but rather the mother's fault.
Amanda: Yeah. That's a really lovely illustrative example of her character.
Julia: Yeah, and it also ties her into some healing aspects that we'll talk a little bit about later. After raising Horus, when he finally grows up to become a man and enact his revenge, Horus steps up and gets revenge against Set, and is able to usurp him from the throne that was taken from Osiris. Isis actually assists her son in this, although it doesn't necessarily end well for her. In some stories, Horus and Isis come to blows over how to handle Set, and Horus chops her head off. In another, Isis gets in the way during the battle and the decapitation is accidental.
Whichever the story is, Isis replaces her original head with that of a cow, which is why often in depictions in art, you see Isis either with a cow head or a cow-horned headdress. Another interesting aspect is that she and a couple of other goddesses are considered midwives of future kings in many stories. So, her presence is invoked whenever a birth of what is expected to be a future pharaoh occurs. Because of this as well, she is considered, quote, "The mistress of life, ruler of fate and destiny."
Amanda: Wow. I totally see the link where that culminates in the most important figure ever. Wow. That's so much.
Julia: Yeah. She's also said to supervise the work of Shai and Renenutet, which are deities that also preside over all of human birth, and as such, she is said to determine the length and quality of human lives from their birth onwards.
Amanda: I love that she isn't just the mom of a king, that she has so much relevance herself that is, of course, informed by, but not totally defined by the kid she happened to give birth to.
Julia: You did that thing again where you kind of guessed what my next part and point was, and I love it.
Amanda: Bring me home, Julia.
Julia: Because of her association with Horus and Osiris, both godly kings of Egypt, Isis herself is associated with the kingdom and its protection. So, she is considered the mythological mother and wife of kings. For example, there is art found in temples where Isis nurses future kings from her own breast, as her breast milk is said to both heal and basically give the pharaohs the divine right to rule in the first place.
Amanda: Damn. More of that.
Julia: More of that. In the new kingdom, as women became more prominent in leadership and as rulers, queens became earthly avatars of Isis, among other goddesses like Hathor. Stories of the way Isis protected the body and pieces of Osiris also relay a very protective nature to Isis, and she's also associated with protection of the kingdom since, as we mentioned, the pieces of Osiris basically make up the provinces of Egypt. Kings would call on her protective power when there were invading armies at the borders of the kingdom, and when needed, it was said that Isis would even do battle herself. She was said to be more effective in battle than millions of soldiers, especially in the period where Egypt was under Roman rule.
Amanda: Yes. Get it.
Julia: I knew you'd like that bit.
Julia: I love this image too of Isis giving power to the men and the kings that would come after her, like they are all her children. They are all her husbands, as is laid out in the mythology and the symbolism of the role of pharaoh.
Amanda: Yeah. Again, not something that either you or I have experience with yet, but I have friends who are moms. Obviously, I see growing up being gendered female in society, that's something that you are made to reckon with. I think so often it's portrayed as something that's passive, or a mother can only achieve meaning, like that's the only kind of societally acceptable way for her to have ambition is to channel that through the children and the children's destinies and relevance. So to have this image of her not being a passageway for future leaders, so to speak, but a source of strength, a defender, a protector, a proactive and knowledgeable expert is amazing.
Julia: Yeah, and she literally gives the power to them. They would not have that right if it wasn't for her own breast milk.
Amanda: That's amazing.
Julia: That is such a beautiful imagery, and I'll send you the picture and I'll link it in the show notes, the image of her holding the king to her breast and him drinking from it. It's absolutely striking. So, if you want to get into the historical reasons behind her worship, it actually has a lot to do with an increased emphasis on the triad of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, which grew in around the 1st millennium BC. So, the Pharaoh Nectanebo I claimed Isis as his patron deity, which tied her to the political power.
When Greek influence started to come over to Egypt around 305 to 30 BCE, Isis grew in popularity because she was likened to several Greek goddesses such as Demeter, whose search for Persephone is very similar to Isis's search for Osiris. Because she was so easily adapted into Greek goddesses, she became super, super popular with the Ptolemaic kings, so several of the Ptolemaic queens actually identified Isis with their rule. Cleopatra III uses Isis's name instead of her own in historical records and inscriptions. Then Cleopatra VII, which is the Cleopatra that we all know, she was the last ruler of Egypt before it was annexed to Rome, referred to herself and was referred to by her kingdom as the new Isis.
Amanda: Damn. Oh, man.
Julia: That's a powerful choice.
Amanda: There is no more powerful claim, right? That's it. All that Isis did for us, I'm going to do again, like shepherding, and birthing, and midwifing, and raising a country. I mean, that is the work of rule. That's why it's so fucked up to me that, especially in the US, our vision of what leadership is, is characterized as such a masculine thing because leading a company is management, and management is coded feminine in so many ways in that just taking care of a household, of raising people, of forming a culture of a family. There are so many ways in which "women's work," with quotations around it, is devalued when in fact it's the lifeblood of society.
Julia: This reminds me of a late episode of The West Wing where they are doing the Santos campaign, and they are telling him, "Hey, listen. We're in a time of war now. At times of war, people want a daddy. When it's peaceful times, people want a mommy." I'm just like, "That is super fucked the way that that is worded and the way that we look at that as a society," but at the same time you can have a queen and a goddess be so influential, and have so many domains, and be powerful, but also be hands-on in the birth of society.
Amanda: Yeah, and it's like season three, episode one of Queer Eye, Julia, where there's not masculine and feminine, and those are not walls walling off what you are and aren't allowed to access. There is just the world. There are the things that appeal to you, the ways you express yourself, and your particular unique combination of things that matter. Yeah. No, it's bullshit.
Julia: Did you just watch the first episode of Queer Eye?
Amanda: I sure did.
Julia: Do you want to go get a refill and we can talk about Queer Eye for a second?
Amanda: Yes, please.
Julia: All right, cool.
Amanda: Because yellow heels. Oh my god. Julia, we love learning. We love teaching, and that's why we love Skillshare. I am actually super stoked to let you know that my Skillshare class on podcast marketing is going to be a part of a podcasting workshop that Skillshare is putting on. They have a few different classes, one of them on podcast production basics, the other one on story and getting a show out there, and then mine is all about marketing once your show is around.
So, there's three of them. There's going to be a kind of learn-along. There's going to be discussion with other classmates. So, if you haven't taken it yet and you want to get into podcasting, as I know many of you do, it's a great time. Skillshare is offering you two free months of Skillshare Premium, which gets you access to not just these three classes, but more than 25,000 of them all for free. That is at Skillshare.com/Spirits2, the number two.
Julia: Yeah. If you are interested in social media marketing, mobile photography, creative writing, even illustration, Skillshare is the place to learn about those things. Again, it is Skillshare.com/Spirits2 for two free months of Skillshare Premium.
Amanda: Thanks, Skillshare.
Julia: Amanda, has this ever happened to you where you just feel stressed, and anxious, and tired throughout the day, and then the minute you try to go to sleep, you just can't?
Amanda: Yeah. Definitely knowing that I'm exhausted, but not being able to sleep is kind of the bane of my existence.
Julia: Yeah, which is why I am so grateful for our next sponsor Calm. Calm is the number one app to help you reduce your anxiety and stress, and help you sleep better, which god, I need. More than 40 million people around the world have downloaded it, and if you head to Calm.com/Spirits, you can get 25% off your Calm Premium subscription, which includes guided meditations, sleep stories, which are like bedtime stories for adults. There is this absolutely beautiful one about the lavender field of Southern France. It's read by Stephen Fry.
Amanda: Oh, I love that one.
Julia: I know. It's one of my favorites too, and they even have soothing music and so much more. If you go to Calm.com/Spirits, you can get 25% off a Calm Premium subscription.
Amanda: I actually love Calm so much that I paid for my own premium subscription with my own human dollars using this discount and it really helps. I like to fall asleep to the rain sounds when I don't want to use the sleep story, so it really is wonderful, and it's made a big difference in my life. That is Calm.com/Spirits.
Julia: C-A-L-M.com/Spirits. I know our act sometimes makes it hard to tell what we're saying.
Amanda: There it is. Now Jules, we talk about being mindful and thinking about what's going in our body, and our brain, and our world, but how often do you think about your socks?
Julia: Every time I get a hole in one.
Amanda: Yeah. Really, it's a thing you don't really think about until there's a problem. This has changed in my life, though, because we are now sponsored by Bombas, and they sent us some sample socks that I cannot get over. Now, I have big feet. I'm a size 12 women's shoes, so there are usually not cute socks in my size that are intended for women, but I like a pattern. I like a print. It's not a gendered thing, so I love that Bombas are not just available in my size, but also really beautiful. They have knee-length. They have calf-length. They have athletic socks. All kinds of patterns, lengths, styles, sizes that make them great for the gym, for the office, or out on the town.
Julia: Amanda, I know you like them because most of the patterns that they have are bee-inspired or honeycomb-inspired.
Amanda: There are so many good ones, and they're so comfy. They have arch support. The toe doesn't have a seam in it, which always sucks when you get that grating on your toe from the seam in your flats or whatever, so it is really, really wonderful. Best of all, we love a sponsor with a civic mindset, and for every pair of socks that you buy with Bombas, they donate a pair to someone in need. You can check out your first pair of Bombas socks at Bombas.com/Spirits, and that'll get you 20% off your first purchase. That's B-O-M-B-A-S.com/Spirits for 20% off.
Amanda: Thanks again Bombas, and now, let's get back to the show.
Julia: We're back. We've talked about Jonathan Van Ness and all the rest of the team.
Amanda: We sure have, but mostly Jonathan.
Julia: Oh, god. So good. So many good outfits. As I've mentioned before, Isis is able to perform magic, which she uses to revive Osiris, to heal Horus while she raised him, a bunch of different stuff. So, Isis is often evoked in the beginning of magical texts and spell books in Egypt asking for her help when it comes to the goal of what the spell is supposed to accomplish. Very cool evocation there. I really, really like it.
Amanda: Also, very important to think of the goal of a spell and not just to do it, because right? Thinking about a Gift of the Magi-type situation where you ask for something, and then you get its complete opposite. It makes total sense for me to have a thesis statement of your spell like, "In this essay I will ... In this spell I try to," and hope that that sets you off on the right path.
Julia: If any genie story or any Monkey's Paw incident has taught us anything, it means you need to be very, very specific with your intentions when you do spells and magic, please and thank you.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: It is said that her magic is stronger than any other god or goddess's in Egyptian mythology, and the story as to why is really fantastic. I think you're going to enjoy it.
Julia: The story says that Isis used a spell to create a snake that she sends to bite the god Amun-Ra, which I mentioned before is the creator of the universe.
Julia: So, Amun-Ra is older, greater than her in every aspect, but he still grows sick with the venom that the snake bit him with. Isis has a solution. She offers to help heal Amun-Ra, but only if he tells her his true name, and which we just talked about this with our names episode with Gretchen, but names have power. Amun-Ra's true name would mean that she would have power over him.
Amanda: That's like a season seven plot twist in a magical show, you know?
Julia: It's Game of Thrones.
Amanda: Not just someone's true name, not just access to the creator of the universe, not just power of a god. It's the true name of the origin god.
Julia: Yeah. It's wild to me. I really, really love it. So, with this information, her magical powers are stronger than any of the gods so long as she knows his true name. Isis is often mentioned and evoked in magical texts. She uses magical healing in many stories as she raises Horus. At one point she actually tells Ra, the sun god, that she will stop the sun in the sky with her magic if Ra does not help her son in battle.
Amanda: Whoa. I believe it.
Julia: It's absolutely beautiful, and oftentimes because we talked about how she is the midwife to the kings and her role in birth, oftentimes pregnant people will invoke her magic to ensure that children are delivered successfully and without any issues.
Amanda: I would name every child Isis.
Julia: Yeah. It's a shame that it's somewhat ruined now, given our current political state of affairs, but it is what it is. As implied in that story, Isis is super cunning. She is called more clever than a million gods, and this comes into play significantly in the story where Horus challenges Set for the throne.
Amanda: Tell me all about it.
Julia: Okay. In this story, it's called The Contendings of Horus and Set.
Amanda: Oh, what a euphemism. What a euphemism. That's definitely what you would call the meeting on your boss's calendar when it's actually the ultimate shit-talk session.
Julia: So, The Contendings of Horus and Set outlines how Isis helps her son trick and con Set out of losing various contests that are held between the two. At one point she actually transforms into a young human woman who approaches Set and tells him how she has this inheritance dispute. Set, being the king, has to listen to these kind of disputes.
Julia: So, she outlines the details of the dispute, which are very clearly mirroring the same situation where Set killed and overthrew Osiris.
Amanda: This is my favorite.
Julia: When Set calls the scenario unjust, Isis transforms back into her own form and mocks her brother, calling him a hypocrite and that his claim to the throne is null.
Amanda: That is like chef's kiss. I love it.
Julia: She's clearly not a trickster goddess by any means of the word, or definition, or anything like that, but I consider her almost a Hermione Granger of sorts. She's using her cunning to get ahead.
Amanda: Yeah, and I'm not 100% up on the role of gender in the wide, vast variety of Egyptian societies that we're talking about, but if you're born into a world where you aren't 100% enfranchised, sometimes you need to use creative thinking to make up for that, and to play a game that is stacked against you.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. In this situation where her husband is dead, he's been dethroned, her brother has taken the place, she's very much in a situation where she did not have the same amount of power that she was born with.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: So, coming into that and being able to influence her son, and bring him into a place of power, and then put herself back into a place of power despite not having those influences that she had before is very, very impressive. Later depictions of Isis portrayed her not only as a sky goddess, but a universal goddess as well. Throw on all of the birth stuff, the sovereign nation stuff, the protector goddess stuff, the magic stuff, she's also a sky goddess and a universal goddess.
Amanda: Meaning like universes outside of our own?
Julia: Meaning the universe as a whole.
Julia: Isis is often associated with a goddess named Sopdet, who is represented by the star Sirius. Sopdet's relationship with Sah, who is the constellation Orion, and their son Sopdu is very similar to Isis's relationship with Osiris and Horus. Sopdet is also associated with the annual flooding of the Nile, which I mentioned as well is Isis's domain. As such, she is also associated with rain, which is a valuable aspect of Egyptian society, as well as in many stories the moon, which especially in Greek and Egyptian mythologies as they started to interact, she became associated with Artemis, as did Bastet.
In song, she is referred to as the Lady of Heaven, in comparison of Osiris's rule of Duat and Horus's control of the earth. So, she gained more and more popularity and influence when we see the Greeks start to enter the sphere of influence of Egyptian mythology, and she began to appear as a goddess with influence over the cosmos. She had the ability to bring about rain, so she brought life to the natural world. As the protector of Egypt, she had power over all nations in their mind, so not just Egypt, but all nations.
Julia: In Greek-language hymns, she is called the beautiful essence of all the gods. In certain temples, the story of the creation myth shows Isis having designed the world and sculpted it into being. In earlier accounts, this is the work of the god Ptah, so it said that Isis formed the cosmos, quotes, "through what her heart conceived and her hands created." Oof. I love that imagery.
Julia: That is beautiful.
Amanda: That's the definition of art, right? The heart conceives something that the hands then create.
Julia: A literal sculptor is how I picture her.
Julia: Oh, man. I love, again, the tactile nature that a lot of these stories have, especially when you look at the mummification process and stuff like that. You really start digging into these ideas that everything is very hands on, and there's no poof, this happens and comes into being, but rather everything is formed by hands, and by voice, and by magic.
Amanda: 100%. Yeah. Nothing is theoretical. No origin is purely intellectual. Everything happens. Even things that happen 100% in our minds are shaped by the fact that we experience the world only through the body, and that is so wonderful to have that aspect. It's poetic. It's beautiful. I love it in my mythologies, but I especially like that it makes me feel slightly less weird and alone for having my imperfect flesh prison.
Julia: I love imperfect flesh prison. I do my best with it. So, in regards to worship, she was often worshiped alongside the gods that she's associated with, such as Osiris, Horus, Amun-Ra, but she also had her own independent cults and places of worship. Her daily ritual involved dressing her image, usually a statue, and then offering the statue food, which is a very common practice throughout all the ancient world and is still practiced to this day in many living religions.
At first, she actually didn't have a lot of her own festivals, but she played a major part in the annual festival that was thrown for Osiris. In those festivals, women acted out the roles of Isis and Nephthys through song and chanting in mourning for Osiris. You can actually read some of these songs that are sung because they're preserved in these documents called the Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys. Here's actually a small selection because it's quite long, but I wanted to give you an idea of what it sounded like.
Julia: Come to your wife, come to your wife. Weary-hearted, come to your house mistress. I am your sister by your mother. You shall not leave me. Gods and men look for you, weep for you together. While I can see you, I call to you, weeping to the height of heaven, but you do not hear my voice though I am your sister whom you loved on earth. You loved none but me, the sister, the sister.
Julia: If you look it up, you can look it up, there's a bunch of different archives that have translations of it, but it's really, really interesting because it is very ritualistic where there is a lot of repetition of either lines such as the sister, the sister, or the similar framing device that happens over and over again. When Nephthys comes in, she doesn't talk about the love, but rather the sisterly bond that they have, the sibling bond that they have.
Amanda: Right. Oh, man. I can't imagine the power seeing that done year-in, year-out.
Julia: Yeah. I wish there were videos or something like that of what those festivals would look like because I would be so interested to see what that music sounds like, what that mourning and longing sounds like when it's actually quite a festive nature.
Amanda: Yeah. I felt that way when I visited the Globe Theatre reconstruction in London where we'd spent four years studying Shakespeare, and then to go there and stand there, to smell the smells, to hear music, to see it painted the way that it would have been painted, to see people perform in the open air in the drizzle, and the rain, and the cold. It was just so wonderful to be a groundling and sit there with my elbows on the stage or stand there because what you think of as the orchestra was just an open pit where people brought their sheep and their snacks, and hung out, and spit, and talked, and kissed, and-
Julia: Love it.
Amanda: ... had their life happen. Anyway, but it was so powerful for me because it was seeing a thing that had been only abstracted instantiated, embodied, put on the ground and have tactile sensations. I can only imagine the power of having that experience with even more of these things that shape us and the stories that we tell. I would love it so much.
Julia: Yeah. Me too. I'll talk a little bit more about Isis's own festivals because as she became more popular, her own festivals developed.
Amanda: Oh, good.
Julia: So, they would carry her statue into the fields, and for 10 days the statue would be visited before it was carried to the island of Bigeh, which was said to be the burial place of Osiris. The priest would then perform a ritualistic funerary rites on Osiris, quote/unquote "Osiris," calling back to Isis's role in bringing him back to life. In any funeral, Isis and Nephthys were evoked with two women standing in for them singing mourning songs and wailing, which is the clear callback to the first funerary rites where Osiris had been killed, and Nephthys and Isis's journey to bring the pieces of him back.
Amanda: Wow, and way to make an individual loss respected and brought into this larger history canon siblinghood of people who have experienced this.
Julia: Yeah. I love the idea that with Osiris being the first quote/unquote "person" to die and to become the first mummy, to create a ritual and a place in society where everyone is as important as that, everyone gets treated the same way, the mummification process remains the same, is so absolutely beautiful. I do love the idea of, hey, death is the great equalizer, but society treating it as such is really, really kind of beautiful.
Julia: Isis's worship actually spread to the Greco-Roman world, as I mentioned before, and so she was considered the inventor of marriage and parenthood.
Amanda: Whoa. She invented it?
Julia: She invented it. Did it herself.
Amanda: Marriage TM, TM, TM, TM, TM.
Amanda: That's how every marriage ceremony ends.
Julia: It's mine actually, thanks. Similar to her worship and domain in Egypt, she was invoked to protect women in childbirth, but her role expanded even further where she protected women in their virginity, kind of like what Artemis does. So, other sources refer to her as the patron of women in general. Stories say that Isis made women equal to men.
Amanda: I wonder if Iris is secretly there all along for trans women, or if they have a special meeting ceremony where she's like, "Hello. Welcome. You've always been here. I'm here for you. Here's your orientation, and call on me if you need me."
Julia: I think it's they've always been there, but Isis pays special attention.
Amanda: I love it.
Julia: Interestingly, the Roman traditions say that she oversaw seas and harbors, and often sailors would inscribe their boats with her name or prayers to her to ensure safe travels on the sea. It's really interesting as to why. It's a lot of mental gymnastics, but I love it.
Amanda: I was already doing that, so let's please see which of the bizarre paths my brain took is the right one.
Julia: Do you want to take a guess before I tell you?
Amanda: I mean, the sea and primordial goop is much like the birth process, and so the sea contains all, it gives all, and it takes all. I see how all of that is tied up in someone that oversees birth.
Julia: Okay. Not quite. So, Isis guaranteed fertile harvest with her association with the flooding of the Nile, right? By protecting ships that crossed the sea to bring grain from Egypt to Rome, Isis was protecting the harvest and the wellbeing of the entire empire.
Amanda: I like it. I like it.
Julia: Thus overseeing the oceans and harbors.
Amanda: That's like a natural extension of calling dibs.
Julia: Yes. Yes, it is.
Amanda: Dibs on grain. Your grain duties do not stop when the grain is harvested.
Julia: Any grain things? That's me.
Amanda: That sounds like a really wonderful argument that someone would come up with in court and you're like, "It is bananas and I completely respect it." Anyone who works on or is familiar with law, I really want to hear the most bananas train of logic that you've ever witnessed or heard of.
Julia: Yes, please. That's going to be great. So Amanda, that's all I've got on Isis. I would really love to hear your thoughts because Isis is very much a goddess of what we consider the traditional forays into "womanhood," quote/unquote, the societal expectations of what a woman is. Birthing a child, marriage, following your husband and bringing him back to life. Obviously, every woman is expected to do these things.
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, really the main thing to come to mind for me is this idea of how active she is. She goes places. She does things. She talks to people. She accomplishes stuff, and I think that this two dimensional view of femininity is extremely passive in the society we grew up in where you're meant to be demure, quite, smell nice, look nice, not really excite anybody if you think about sexual shaming in this virgin/whore dichotomy. The minute you have any activity, and agenda, and wants with your body, then you are penalized, but that's not the way it is. She's not just a passive mother where her one great act is to birth a child, and then everything else from there is irrelevant. She really owns all those parts of her identity.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. I like you pointed out, for one, she has a very tough pregnancy. The labor that she goes through is very, very difficult.
Amanda: And solitary.
Julia: And then she still has to raise this child on her own, and this is kind of a beautiful thing because it's not just that like, "Oh, this is my child and I need to protect him." Isis understands that Horus is the only thing standing between Set being the king, and acting as a king, and being this chaotic force in all of Egypt, and a rule that is just and fair.
Julia: Making sure that she raises this child, one, properly, and two, to become strong enough where he can challenge the king and become the new king, it's such a burden that she has to bear and bear on her own, but she does it in this phenomenal way. She teaches herself how to protect her child. She teaches herself magic and healing. She tricks a god into learning his true name so that her magic is more powerful than anyone else's. It is, on the surface, such a shallow, oh, women are expected to be mothers and wives, and that's it, but she has so much power beyond that.
Amanda: That really strikes home for me. When I first realized I was queer when I was like 11, my first thought was like, "Oh, okay. So, I will never marry or have a family." A, because same-sex marriage was illegal, but also because I didn't have any examples of queer adulthood, of queer partnerships, or queer family. That's something that, honestly, took me a good 10 to 15 years to come around on and realizing that I don't have to reject all of these things that have been coded to me as a straight CIS heteronormative experience because they don't get to have that. I can choose what that looks like for myself.
Amanda: Just because something might have been presented to me as not for me or as weak, that doesn't have to mean that I can't participate in it and make of it what I want. There are so many great examples of people being spouses, parents, people who are in all kinds of configurations of families that I so appreciate, and surrounding myself with a ton of those examples online, like on Tumblr, on Instagram, it really is wonderful when you just take charge of the images that you take in because that really does shape your sense of possibility.
That just has been a really lovely ... a challenge of course, but something really lovely too in my adulthood that I am certainly not done with, but I think am a lot better than I used to be in the sense that I have so many more options. I realize that there's no right and wrong. There's just the one that I choose, and whatever I do, however that looks for me, it's going to be what's right.
Julia: Yeah, and I think it's really interesting too, because as you said, there's no real understanding of what is a family. The nuclear family is not the only option, and society usually portrays that to us as that, and I think that it's really, really interesting to see this single mother, which I wasn't raised by a single mother, but I really respect anyone who is a single mother who is raising a child without a support system, or just a single parent who is raising a child without a support system. That is such an incredibly tough thing to do, and society shits on you for doing it.
Julia: So, good on the people who are taking care of a child and don't have that support system, or have a society that is telling them that they shouldn't be doing the thing that they're doing.
Amanda: Yeah. It is so valuable, and it is not the only way for a person to have value. No matter your gender, no matter your family configuration or status, it's worthwhile work, and it's one of many, many ways to find belonging and to participate in this messy, wonderful, interdependent ecosystem that is life.
Julia: Yeah, and like Isis, you have so many more domains than just raising your child, and we are super proud of you. You are doing incredible, sweetie.
Amanda: Sweetie, you're doing amazing. Just remember-
Julia: Stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool.