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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD Clinical Psychology, DPhil., MA (History)


The Cult of Hathor-Isis and the Mother Archetype (Part Two)

Paul Kiritsis - Sunday, October 09, 2011

The growing independence of masculinity and systematization of ego consciousness in early mankind manifests itself as the moon-god Osiris (Plate 12). It can be inferred that Osiris in his early form is a son-lover of the Great Mother, as the moon is a spiritual symbol of the mother archetype. He is the man-god whom shifts Predynastic Egypt from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society, from a stratum ruled by the laws of the unconscious, instinct and the inscrutable powers which preside over growth and development to one ruled by laws of the selfish, needy and conscious ego. The passion of Osiris indicates an archetypal stage of transformation or ascension where the ego is no longer the seasonal vessel of a lower mechanical nature used by the Great Mother in fertility ritual but a stable and indestructible power of cetroversion and spiritual generation.

In the widely accepted version of the myth, Osiris was once a king of Egypt who granted the people the gifts of agriculture and peace and taught them how to respect one another; it is he who is credited with having civilized and cultured the Egyptians. The twenty-eight years of his rule is a clear analogy to the twenty-eight days of the moon’s life. In this lower form, Osiris is the animated principle of vegetation, and thus his portrayal with green or black skin in bass reliefs (Plate 13). He maintains this role until he is murdered by Seth, his jealous brother, who throws the coffin containing his dead body into the Nile. Seth is the archetypal antagonist who represents the destructive force of the Great Mother against which the patriarchal energy or impulse must liberate itself. Isis, widow and sister of Osiris, retrieves the body from Byblos in Lebanon where it had come to rest but Seth finds it while out hunting one day and hacks it into fourteen pieces, scattering the parts all over Egypt. The dismemberment of the corpse is a metaphor for the insemination of the earth, a feminine vessel, with grain and the fourteen pieces which it is hacked into allude to the parts of the moon that are broken off during its period of waning.   

Isis, together with her sister Nephthys, search for the parts of her husband-brother and find all but the phallus which has been swallowed by an Oxyrhynchus fish. The sisters proceed to replace the lost phallus with a wooden one and then mummify the body (Plate 14a). Subsequently, they turn themselves into swallows and beat their wings to give him the numinous breath of life (Plate 14b). The wooden phallus is a symbol of eternal potency, remaining intact until the death of Osiris’s successor; it is the son-lover who eternally fertilizes the earth mother. He is eventually resurrected under the utterance of magic spells by Isis denoting the crystallization of the anima from the mother archetype. Here, the Archetypal Feminine extricates itself from the grip of the Terrible Mother and Osiris emerges from his cocoon of sleep not as a lower earthy king, but as a reconstituted cosmic god who is the Western God of the Underworld and the Lord of Heaven; the Great Father of All (Plate 14c). His resurrection is also a metaphor for the germination of the grain that was dispersed upon dismemberment. Now, the Egyptian pharaonic line of fathers and sons rests upon the spiritual phenomenon of their identity, where every Osiris was once Horus, and every Horus will become Osiris (Plate 14d). They are two functioning aspects of spiritual generation where ego reaches self-consciousness and the matriarchal stratum is diminished to a lower reproductive vessel whose function is merely to beget one from the other. So what came last into being, solar-spiritual consciousness, now becomes first from which the lower matriarchal stage issued by emanation.                                                    

Evidence for the affluence of the Hathor-Isis cult can be seen at the Great Temple of Denderah which serves to demonstrate the yearly cycle of the sun. Its south wall is a testimony to the survival of the ancient matriarchal stratum in the late Egyptian view of creation (Plate 15). In the centre of the bass relief is the head of Hathor, whose frontal representation shows that she is at the centre of worship. Her body is symbolically ‘buried’ in the earth as the uroboric womb is a lower territory of fertility, and her head is crowned by a small ring of cobra heads called a modius, as a reminder of the animus of her uroboric hybrid nature. The crown is topped by pair of cow horns in between a sun disc. If the cow horns infer Divine Motherhood and the sun disc denotes creation from light, then by analogy Hathor is unmistakably the Mother of Creation.

The symmetrical arrangement of the male and female deities of Denderah that spring from the Great Mother are a figurative depiction of the schism of opposites; male and female, light and dark, heaven and earth, and order and chaos, which proliferate from unconscious origins and conclude that cognition is only possible through their discrimination. A conscious identification with one opposite means leaving the other in the unconscious mind, and this primal loss means the loss of wholeness–wholeness of course being a concept entombed only in the Great Mother Goddess. Thus, the bass relief is implying the expulsion of the masculine ego from the uroboric Garden of Eden. The mirrored images of Hathor-Isis as the Good Mother, wearing the combined red crown of Lower Egypt and white crown of Upper Egypt of the two empires of the world, are followed by the solar gods Atum, Re and Horus the Elder on the eastern flank, and Harsomtus in adult form, Osiris-Onnophris and Horus of Edfu on the western flank. These solar deities each represent a particular phase in the cycle of birth, death and resurrection that the sun suffers and their purpose is to emphasize the eternity of Hathor as regeneratrix of her own father-husband-son and her sovereignty over time. Indeed the Great Father, Osiris-Onnophris, is dwarfed and represented but once on the western flank. The last two deities of that wing are Isis and the child-god Harsomtus balanced by the figures of Hathor as Good Mother and the child-god Ihy on the right where Harsomtus, a form of Harpocrates, and Ihy are gods of the dawning sun. They are both phallic consorts of Hathor-Isis, denoting the infantile stage of ego consciousness where Heliopolitan solar or masculine theology is thrust into the background as images of mother and son are repeated under variant names; there is no father, only the Great Mother. 

The outer extremes of the bass relief show Cleopatra VII Philopator, ‘Ruler, Lady of the Two Lands’, and her son Ptolemy XV Caesar, represented as a fully grown man. They are both performing ritual acts before the gods of Denderah. Cleopatra, like all Egyptian queens before her, displays her ancient rank by wearing the headdress of the queen and mother of gods, Hathor-Isis, and is by equivalence her earthly embodiment, queen and mother of kings. As Ptolemy XV is mirrored by the child-gods Ihy and Harsomtus, it can be inferred that he is still at the dawn of infancy and largely shadowed by and dependent on the supreme matriarch, Cleopatra, who is ruling the empire alone.    

The House of Incarnation at Philae, also known as the Mammisium or Birth House, is also a late representation of Egyptian religious ideology and here ideas concerning Divine Birth and their importance for pharaonic succession lie deeply embedded in the ancient matriarchal stratum (Plate 16). The king is a manifestation of the sun on earth, and his birth from the uterus of the Great Mother Goddess, his life and his subsequent return to her womb upon death are described by hymns etched on the temple walls and bass reliefs in the Birth House. In the lowest depiction, Isis is enclosed in a sanctuary which displays the paradisal perfection between mother and the embryonic conscious of the child. The central relief shows Isis Galaktotrophousa, the milk-giving mother, feeding her child the milk of life in the presence of the solar god Horus the Elder. Here, the ascendance of consciousness is represented, where the ego has identified not only its mother, Isis, but also its Self, represented by Horus the Elder. The king is shown indulging in traditional ritual acts where he makes offerings to this eternal image. Noteworthy is the reflection of the same image in both central plates, implying the ego’s self-awareness and acknowledgement of its own autonomy through the discrimination of opposites. The relief on the top right-hand corner shows the mother’s sovereignty over the developing ego as the child is still suckled by Isis in its adolescent form. The Mistress of Royal Records, the goddess Seshut, is shown writing down the years of life which stresses the sadness ruling over the child’s existence after its separation from the Great Mother. On the top left-hand relief, the cycle of genesis is concluded with Osiris-Onnophris, the deceased king, offering the Egyptian crowns to the fully grown Horus, the independent masculine ego, in the presence of his mother. The process is now complete; regeneration of a new Horus king from the deceased Osiris king has occurred through the womb of the eternal matriarch who takes and brings forth life, Isis Myrionymos.      

Continuity of life, victory over death and life after death are the messages of salvation that Osiris and Isis, or Hathor, offer and the ceremonies that venerate the Isiac passion of searching for and conceiving Horus from her dead husband’s body, her sorrow and subsequent triumph over evil penetrate the souls of innumerable people who in their hope for eternal life are persuaded into believing that the cult is relaying information literally. In addition, the cosmopolitan appeal of these cults is set in mysteries and sacraments mentioned in ancient ritual texts, the primary one being the great secret of transformation that is handed from the father Osiris to his son Horus. Although the cult of Isis spreads in partnership with the cults of Osiris, or Serapis (Plate 17) in Greek, and their child Harpocrates, it was she who retains the dominant role. The kernel of the Hathor-Isis archetype, which is the cultural canon of the highest values in its time, is the consciousness of being the seat of life; a woman’s awareness of her own function of beginner, nurturer and medium for life to accomplish its means and it is through her that people can relate to the world, to nature and to life itself. It is during the Ptolemaic Period from 332bce onwards that she undergoes Hellenization (Plate 18), and it is through Alexandria, the most deeply cultured home of learning in the world at that point in time, that this Egyptian goddess with a Greek persona is able to spread via the sea trade to the traditional centers of Greek worship including Delos, Delphi and Eleusis. Her conquests range from Arabia and Asia Minor in the east to Portugal and Great Britain in the west (Plate 19). The Isiac cult reaches the pinnacle of its influence in the second century CE when Rome becomes the centre of its worship (Plate 20).

To the cult’s dismay, a new shift of values begins in the early centuries after the birth of Christ and with the gradual decay of the ancient matriarchal stratum comes the emergence and subsequent dominance of a patriarchal standpoint in the consciousness of Western Civilization. Christianity is a religion which is embedded strongly in the solar-spiritual consciousness of the patriarchate, developing under the cultural canon of the Isiac cult. The forms, titles, symbols, rites and ceremonies associated with Isis and the infant Horus are incorporated in the Virgin Mary and the Babe Jesus who break down the former, becoming tangible and conscious as new content in the collective unconscious (Plate 21). The mother archetype as a dynamic entity in the psychic substratum retains its abstraction but it assumes a different style, one that is subordinate to the supreme patriarch. The enandiodromia (similarity in core values) between the cult of Isis and that of Christianity becomes clearly identifiable; wherever Isis goes Christianity surely follows, showing that there is no longer a place for the Isiac cult in this world after a new constellation of the mother archetype is concretized and expressed by the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is the source of all psychic creation whether it be religious or social and manifests itself through consciousness, becoming visible through the art of its time. After Christianity is proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian is swayed by both political agenda and personal hatred of paganism and elects to put an end to the worship of Isis and the gods of her company, namely Hathor and Osiris, at Philae in 551ce. This decree ends three and a half thousand years of secular worship of the Great Mother in Western Civilization.    

The worship of the Great Mother in Western Civilization is of great antiquity; she is the principle of nature and humankind’s connectedness, relatedness to, and dependence upon it. As an unconscious force, all life is subjugated by her as all things that stand in the light of ego consciousness are childlike in comparison to the darkness. The earth and its seasonal transformation as creative aspect of the feminine entombs the secret of the deeper and original form of conception and generation upon which all life is based. In Ancient Egypt, Hathor’s cosmic functions are so expanded that she comes to be seen as the personification of the female principle, a role she shares with Isis, and from the New Kingdom the two goddesses merge and their iconography and functions become confounded. The cult dates to the Predynastic Period and its origin most likely Sudan. As the hermaphroditic uroboros, she exhibits both positive and negative elementary and anima transformative characteristics by which the ego reaches self-consciousness or is dissipated.

Death itself she never suffers. As the ‘House of Horus’, she is the sky in which he is born as the sun yet she is also the cow of the Western Mountain; the devourer of the dead. As tree of heaven, she encloses the green, lower form of Osiris and it is through her tree branches that he is reborn as the supernal sun-god Re. Her hermaphroditic nature is also seen in the way that she begets her child Horus from her dead husband Osiris, mythical detail which no doubt draws attention to her mastery of life in creating it and resurrecting the dead. The pairing of Divine Mother and Son, of Hathor and Ihy and Isis and Horus, has been prevalent in the religion of Egypt millennia before Christianity’s adoption of this age old subject. Even after the patriarchal solar theory supplants the stellar and lunar variants as the dominant cosmogony, the matriarchal viewpoint of the heavens survives in Denderah and Philae in Upper Egypt and it is during the Ptolemaic Period that the image of Isis becomes cosmopolitan, having her mighty name echoed throughout the Mediterranean world as ‘She of Innumerable Names’. Despite the fact that her worship officially ends in 551ce, she passes on all her attributes to the Virgin Mary, a remolded cultural canon of the Great Mother Goddess who continues to spur the living cosmos from lower elementary phases of development to higher and supreme forms of spiritual transformation.             



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