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Isis, Persephone, and thoughts on a vision

One of the thoughts that happened through my mind during the recent Eleusinian Mysteries weekend regarded a journey vision I had long ago, back near the very start of my pagan path.  It was then that Isis revealed herself to me, but the circumstances were odd, and to tell the truth they almost point more to Persephone than to Isis.  It was not the first time I'd entertained this thought, but now it is pulling at me more and more.

I found myself falling down, down, deep down.  Finally, I hit dirt in a place completely devoid of light.  I could only feel around with my hands.  It was a chilly, uncomfortable place which immediately suggested "underworld," and "get out of here as quickly as possible."  There in the darkness, a brilliant female figure, shining from within with bluish-white light, approached me.  She wore a white Greek chiton or robe of some kind, and over her face was a white veil.  A subtle wind lifted the veil up, but underneath was only more inky darkness.

The instinct to kneel immediately overwhelmed me.  Never had I felt such a commanding presence, nor ever since.  At the same time, out of compelling curiosity and naivete, I asked, "Who are you?"  The glowing figure answered with a quiet, echoing hiss, "Isis."

That was the vision that I had.  Upon researching Isis--I knew the name but had never looked into Egyptian mythology at all--I discovered only one tiny reference in all the enormous Isian tradition that fit my vision.  It was an inscription at a temple in Sais reported by Plutarch: "I am all that is, was, and will be, and no mortal has yet lifted my veil."

So that is what really launched me on my pagan path, and that is why Isis remains my first, foremost, and forever goddess.  However, I have always been perplexed at how incongruent my vision was with the Isis tradition.  Apart from the suggestive inscription, nothing matches up.  She is deeply involved in a cult of life and death, but the underworld is more the province of her husband Osiris.  Isis, for her part, seems much more a deity of light and day.  Her images are brightly colored, her mythic actions are bold and out-in-the-open, and she frequently appears with the red sun atop her head.  She didn't receive associations with the moon until later times, when she became associated with the Greek goddesses like Artemis and Selene.  And the inscription at Sais which suggests a hidden aspect does not seem to have become important till post-Imperial times, when alchemists and scientists read into it a metaphor of discovering the secrets of nature.  The popularity of the "veil of Isis" motif today is due mostly to such writers and their descendants, including Winwood Reade and Blavatsky, who used the motif to connote mystery with little reference to actual Isian traditions.

So it seemed quite odd that Isis should appear in such an obscure form.  Add to this that in my vision, she was wearing not garb not Egyptian but Greek.  Truthfully, had she not told me her name, I would never have identified her as Isis.

So who does my vision resemble?  If she had not said her name, who would I have identified her as?

The vision, apart from the veil motif, seems much more appropriate to Persephone.  The location in the underworld, the sense of deathly mystery and foreboding, the Greek chiton--it all feels like the Greek queen of the dead.

So what is this association of Isis and Persephone telling me?


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 23rd, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
Persephone is often portrayed veiled as well.

I don't know - the whole vision seems like Persephone to me, except for the name. Perhaps your brain interpreted it wrong, or perhaps something more complicated is going on.
Sep. 23rd, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
Any passages in particular you could point me toward?

I've found references to Demeter and other Greek goddesses as veiled, but it's been my impression, based on sculptures and narrative context, that this refers to a sort of veil of the hair, or head scarf-type thing, almost as you see today in Arabic and some European areas. Whereas in my vision it was a full-face veil, like a bride's veil but not see-through.

But I don't have any direct evidence. :-(

Sep. 23rd, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
I think usually that's the type of veil that is meant, yes - though I believe that the head scarf was often pulled over the face in ancient Greece. Here's a statue of a very veiled Persephone:

Sep. 24th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
Indeed she is. I see. I wonder what exactly it meant to veil one's face in that way. A quick search turned up this:

Aphrodite's Tortoise: The Veiled Women of Ancient Greece
Sep. 23rd, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
I would also not worry too much about details like that (ie the exact type of veil). Remember that the gods can only communicate through the faculties we possess. Our minds, eyes, ears, etc. are the apparatus through which the message is received, and those things are not always precise. So if She is veiled in some way, and that comes through to you in a way that is familiar to you, that makes sense, even if it's not exactly the way it was done. And remember that Persephone is older than Classical Greece, too, and will not necessarily conform to that fashion sense. The Greeks themselves were probably only interpreting what they perceived about Her.
Sep. 23rd, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
Well I can see a connection between them. Both had husbands that ruled the underworld. Didn't Isis also have something to do with seasonal changes...something about the Nile flooding? Seems to me that there is a connection between the two of them that advises study. Have you tried googling their names together just to see what turns up?
Sep. 23rd, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 222 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) : "I [Isis in the guise of Persephone], whom you now behold, shine brightly in the darkness of Acheron and reign in the inner Stygian depths."

From Theoi.com
Sep. 23rd, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
Article: The Cults of Isis and Kore at Samaria-Sebaste in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.

Sep. 23rd, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
Wow, that is definitely *the* quote to clinch the case. ;-)

And thanks for your other comments as well. Historically, the cults of Isis-Osiris and Demeter-Persephone became syncretized. Herodotus already noticed similarities, and Plutarch made the case that the Greek cult actually came from the Egyptian (I think that's right, would have to look it up again to be 100% sure). Actually, this is the very reason that I started with the Eleusinian goddesses in the first place. I had just joined ADF, which focuses on Indo-European pantheons. Since Isis was not I-E, and I couldn't find an Egyptian-oriented org that I liked, I decided to go with the next closest thing: the I-E Demeter.

Thank you for reminding me of that quote. I've read Apuleius and just now I picked it up off my shelf and reread that passage.
Sep. 23rd, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
AFAIK, though, Isis was more regularly equated with Demeter (they share the epithet Thesmophoros in this guise).
Sep. 25th, 2008 03:25 am (UTC)
What comes to mind, for me...

Hades... is not unlike Osiris...

Persephone... is not unlike Isis...

She who is behind the veil, the great yin, who is the yin of the yin-yang duality of maya-lila... She who sets the stage for us, the actors, to act -- as the essence yang within the greater yin.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )