Upholding Isis

Relief carving of Isis with horned moon headdress

Relief carving of Isis with horned moon headdress

During a hiatus from feline companionship last year, I daydreamed about naming our next cat Isis—after the goddess Isis so central to the religion of ancient Egypt, which is also known for its reverence for cats. Then came the news reports from Iraq and Syria about the horrifying actions of a terrorist militia calling itself by the acronym ISIS—or ISIL, or IS; but the first name seemed to stick. I silently shelved my thought, but couldn’t come up with a better name.

Ancient Egypt has fascinated me almost my whole life, and Isis makes an appearance in the novel I’m working on, which takes place partly in ancient Alexandria. Isis was worshiped in ancient Egypt as a kind of world-mother. The hieroglyph of her name includes the image of a throne, and it was believed that Isis was the source or “seat” of the Pharaoh’s power. Here’s a wonderful discussion of the meaning of her name. As the sister of Osiris and mother of Horus, Isis played the lead in the primal drama of Osiris’ death and resurrection. Her grief for her dead brother Osiris made her an emblem of deep feeling for others’ suffering, as her worship spread through the late Classical world.

Last summer, my husband Steve told me about a kitten he’d noticed at our local cat rescue: a beautiful, self-possessed little black cat, who might have some Siamese in her. And, he mentioned, her name was Isis. The woman who fostered her after she was found had given her the name. I knew we had found our next cat.

Our Isis in Sphinx pose

Our Isis in Sphinx pose

So Isis entered our lives with her name already bestowed. She wears it well: when she sits at attention, she’s the regal image of the Egyptian cat represented in statues, reliefs and paintings. Telling people her name leads to a variety of responses, often reflecting discomfort with the terrorist-militia association. I may answer with something like, “We’re trying to uphold the good feelings around her name.” The truth is, it pains me to think of the Goddess being overshadowed by a group that represents the most heinous actions of which humans are capable. Google doesn’t distinguish very well between the acronym and the ancient Goddess, and I’m afraid humans can get mixed up too.

On the other hand, I keep thinking that those who cover the news may have settled on the ISIS acronym out of the various choices, partly because of its lingering mythological resonance. We need our myths and ancient stories, as a storehouse of symbols to help us move forward. Maybe it’s a good thing that when people hear the next shocking news from that terrorist group, they feel the breath of Isis reminding them of something else.


About Miriam Seidel

Writer and librettist. Love Nikola Tesla, adventurous fiction, art and music.
This entry was posted in Arts in the Digital Age. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Upholding Isis

  1. juliahough says:

    Beautiful!!!! It takes my breath away. And what a perfect photo. Love, Jule

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. That’s beautiful, Miriam! Thanks for keeping the good name of Isis alive. I look forward to meeting her.

  3. What a wonderful reflection on a name, on human history, on conflict and hope. And I love both portraits of Isis.

  4. Leila Daw says:

    Hi Miriam,

    Liked your post! Yes, lets uphold the true identity of Isis! And your new feline friend looks very regal.

    I discovered another great cat name while in Nepal recently: Kumari, for the living goddess, incarnation of Durga, personification of Shakti. Our next cat will have that name, if my allergist gives an all-clear. We had to find another home for our previous beloved cat, Diana, because I developed asthma. Actually Durga would be a good name too, since Durga’s vehicle is a lion (or tiger, depending on culture).

    I look forward to hearing more about your novel.

    Best wishes, Leila

    Leila Daw, Artist Dawleila@aol.com http://www.LeilaDaw.com 203-640-2818

    • mirseidel says:

      Thanks, Leila! Isn’t it interesting how we name our cats – often going toward the numinous. Kumari is a beautiful name. I love getting news about your artwork, too!

  5. Sam Gridley says:

    Nice essay! Would that ISIS the assassins were as Sphinx-like as Isis the Cat. Unfortunately, they’re not a mystery.

  6. mirseidel says:

    Thank you, Sam! Yes, not an awe-inspiring mystery, that’s for sure…

  7. peterckinney says:

    Nice post, Miriam. Being fond of cats, it held a special interest for me. I ,too, have been interested in the Egyptian Gods. I have always wanted a black cat. Don’t have one yet.  We have 5 others, all interesting.  The closest we come is a wild stray, very small and delicate and furtive, that we saw in the depths of the winter, just a few times, walking across our back yard.  I put food out for it.   Peter

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