If you’ve read Isis Magic and Offering to Isis,you may have noticed that—except when something actually is in the past—I always refer to the Goddess in present tense. In fact, I have been very, very, very, very conscious of doing so.
Because, you see, She IS.
She’s is not a Being Whowas but is no more. She is not “just a myth,” some silly old story deserving of the past tense. Indeed, She is All that Was, and Is, and Ever Shall Be. She existed then, She exists now, and She will exist when the rugged, snowcapped mountain that, on a clear day, I can see from my rooftop has become a gentle, green hill.
And I know you know that. Which is why I am so puzzled when I sometimes see modern Pagans, Polytheists, Wiccans, and insert-your-self-definition-of-choice using the past tense about their Deities.
It usually happens when telling Their sacred stories, trying to offer a brief “definition” of the Deity, or describing Their relationships with other Deities: “Isis was the Goddess of Magic.” Osiris was the husband of Isis.” Isn’t She still the Goddess of Magic? Isn’t He still Her husband? Now if you said, “To the ancient Egyptians, Isis was the Goddess of Magic and Osiris was Her husband,” that would work. No more ancient Egyptians around today, so what they considered is indeed history. To me, however, Isis IS the Goddess of Magic and Osiris IS Her beloved husband.
I may have had a tiny rant on this subject in Isis Magic:
In writing of the history of the Isis religion and the many aspects in which She has appeared to humanity, I have always kept in mind that, to the people who worshipped Her then, as well as to those of us who do so today, Isis was and is a Living Goddess. She is not a historical curiosity. She is not a metaphor for our times. She is not feminist wish fulfillment. She is not merely a psychological archetype. She is Divine Love, Life, Magic, Mystery. She is Goddess and She is.
And speaking of myths, a myth isn’t something that is false—”oh, that’s just a myth.” No. A myth is a sacred story meant to tell us something about the Deity or Deities of the myth. Myths are “things that never happened but always are,” in the words of the 4th century CE Roman writer Sallustius. Or maybe myths are things that never happened historically, but are eternally true. Or ask Joseph Campbell. Or Jean Huston. And remember, just because it belongs to the corpus of the dominant monotheisms doesn’t mean it’s not mythology. Egyptian mythology is. Christian mythology is. Jewish mythology is. They are all sacred stories and they are all mythology.
Okay. I’m done. Enough said. And may we all mind our tenses and our mythologies.
The Is-ness of Isis
But how do we know that Isis is? How do we know that She’s “real”? Must we simply have faith? Do we just choose to “believe in” Her? Can we prove Her is-ness?
We can prove Isis’ is-ness, Her reality, exactly as much as any human being can prove the reality of any Deity, which is to say, we cannot. There is no scientific proof for the Divine. There is no infallible book that holds all the answers to all the questions. Yet this—happily—means exactly nothing when it comes to the truth of Isis’ existence.
This question of belief and faith is much more vexed for those of us in non-mainstream (O how I dislike that designation!) religions. How often have you been asked by some friend or family member or (hopefully) well-meaning stranger, “Well, then, what do Isians—or Pagans or Polytheists or Wiccans or insert-your-self-definition-of-choice—believe?”
And how have you answered?
Many of us involved in alternative spirituality today were reared in one monotheistic religion or the other, most often, Christianity. From early on, we were taught to “believe in” God and Jesus. We were told that a particular book was the Word of God, “proved” that God was real, and explained precisely what He wanted us to do with our lives. In terms of religion, the clergy were to be our role models, the ones whose faith was strong, whose belief was true; we should have faith and believe as they do.
We got used to using those words, faith and belief, when speaking about religion. But perhaps those are not the right words.
For me, what proves that Isis is real is my experience of Her, not my faith or belief in Her. No single book is the touchstone for my spirituality, though I find spiritual truths in many, many books written by many, many wise human beings. I can’t transfer my deep knowing of Her reality to anyone else (though I do admit that the exercises and rituals in my books are attempts to at least set up the conditions that will enable others to open up to their own experiences of Her). Nevertheless, experience of the Divine is an individual thing; each one of us must experience Isis for ourselves—even if we do so in a group. Clergy can facilitate. Books can show us a way. The experiences of others can strengthen us in our desire for our own experience of the Goddess. But, in the end, we will not truly know Isis for ourselves until we have our own experience of Her.
When that experience comes for the first time, it may bring awe, tears, joy, pain. When it comes again and again, throughout the many years, I can tell you that it may still bring all those things. But repeated and ongoing experience of the Goddess will also bring a true knowing, a personal gnosis, of Her. No longer operating just “on faith,” now we know Her reality because we have experienced it. No longer just believing, we have discovered Her truth for ourselves and it has become our truth.