Monday, 13 April 2015

Restoring Our Cultural Memory: Dedicated to Isis. Part 2

The Mother of Memory – Mnemosyne and the Muses

Mosiac at Antioch. 2nd century

From the beginnings of Western literature and until the decline of the Renaissance, no creative act was considered auspicious which did not begin with a formal invocation to the Muse.

Originally when time was old and not always completely under the thumb of the chaps, the Muse was a goddess known as the Mother of Memory. She was thought to govern the sacred-springs of inspiration, which the poet Homer depended on to recite thousands and thousands of lines of his epic verse.
Her name was Mnemosyne and she was a Titan – daughter of Gaea – primal earth and Uranus – primal sky. She mated with her nephew Zeus – the light of the sky and produced three daughters – Mneme (Memory), Melete (Attention) and Aoede (Song).

Thus the single goddess became three, and over time those three tripled into nine or quadrupled into twelve. The multiple Muses were born.

Then (sigh) patriarchy ruled and the offices of the Muse goddesses were assigned to a bloke – a god by the name of Apollo – and he became their leader.

Mantegna Tarot

The Titanic Goddess fractured and compartmentalized, was made subservient to her great-nephew, Apollo – god of oracles, song, youth, medicine and so on. Apollo also became the boss of the Delphic Oracle.
But although Apollo took over the arts, inspiration was still held to come from the Muse or the Muses. The impulse and power of creativity still belonged to the Goddess.

The Muses were worshipped throughout Greece and were generally represented as young and beautiful modest virgins fond of solitude.

There was -
Clio – Muse of History with parchment and pen.
Melpomene – Muse of Tragedy with mask and cypress and/or sword.
Thalia - Muse of Comedy with pipe and laurel.

Calliope. Joseph Fagnani

Calliope – Muse of Heroic Poems with wreath and manuscript.
Urania – Muse of Astronomy with globe, compass and lyre.
Euterpe – Muse of Music with double flute.
Polyhymnia – Muse of Song and Oratory veiled with her finger raised to her lips.
Erato – Muse of Love and Marriage Songs with lyre and roses.
Terpsichore – Muse of Dance with cymbals and girded robe.

One of the earlier deck of 15th century tarot cards – the Mantegna -celebrates these Muse Goddesses.

Mnemosyne. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
As a group they entertained the gods and goddesses at banquets on Mt Olympus and made guest appearances at important weddings of deities and half-deities and selected mortals.
They had wings and it was they who taught the riddle to the Sphinx.
They punished with blindness and amnesia.

Unlike other deities they were not offered the wine of Dionysus when libations were poured. The sober rites of the Muse inspired the generative powers of the mind – as opposed to the drunken rites of Dionysus which were intended to excite the sensual thresholds of the body.

The derivation of the word “muse” is unknown but its cognates give us music, museum and mosaic.

The Mother of the Muses – Mnemosyne – is of Indo European root and gives us cognate including mania, mind and mnemon (mindful).

High Priestess. Robert Place
In her form of Muse, tarot’s High Priestess performs vital functions in our lives. Whether we are practicing mindfulness or performing a creative act, we are drawn into her realm. Imagination, day-dreaming and remembering all fall under her dominion.

According to the Greek’s Plato, an artist is “like a fountain which gives free course to its waters.”
The nature of creativity is a deep mystery but there is a link between the creative process and passive receptive states of mind – a willingness to receive. Here we return to the idea of a mirror – the Crescent Moon.

We speak of spiritual experience as similar to the creative act. A practitioner of Zen empties out, a Sufi yields, a mystic submits and a spiritualist or medium prepares for take over.

Every artist according to Plato is possessed “by the divinity Muse to whom s/he is in bondage.”

Plato claims further dominion of Mnemosyne over more than just the creative process. He states that everything we learn and remember comes to us through the Muse. She is the source of our earliest awareness and understanding and she tutors us throughout our lives.
Plato (Raphael) The Hierophant

His notion is that all knowledge is a form of recollection and this is revived by the modern thinker Bergson who claims that consciousness and memory are synonymous. Consciousness which is mnemon (mindfulness) is not simply awareness but also self-awareness which would be impossible without memory. Bergson understands memory to include not only knowledge of the past but that of the future.

Plato links memory with “measure” or “rhythm” which exists to produce harmony in the soul. He believed that there was a rhythm and measure to thinking, a “music” of thought which allows us to be in synch with one another – on the same wave-length – perhaps to the point of telepathy and clairvoyance. He believed that memory was given to humankind by the Muses in order to bring the soul into accord with itself and one person into accord with another.

Another Hierophant

Dr Sigmund Freud found a rhythm in memory and forgetfulness. Contemporary brain researchers and maverick physicists are attempting to find if our memory is holographically encoded and measured at sub-atomic levels – asking how we “tune in”.
Memory, rhythm and measure seem inseparable and all fall in the territory of this seated enigmatic figure gazing ahead with a book on her lap.

The Muse of Memory seems to me inextricably linked to the High Priestess idea for she tutors us and initiates us into the creative flow of consciousness and unconsciousness where we  re-member and re-assemble. The entire practice of Tarot revolves around this principle of recollection. What the cards unfold in their telling to us is the recovery of knowledge we already possess.

In her story, Isis reassembled the dismembered body of Osiris – a restorative and creative act. When we remember, we create a whole new entity bringing the forgotten and lost back to a new wholeness.

T.S.Eliot. Another Hierophant
T.S. Eliot
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
To connect with her we have to reach into the subconscious/unconscious – what lies behind her veil – and then give what comes up a voice that will bridge the treasure into consciousness.

Ritual, images, myth, music, fairy tales, dreams, symbols all help us in this process of recovery.  We will often need withdrawal from outer involvement to reach her inner voice.

Much of this work on Mnemosyne I attribute to Dawn Kolkithas from an article in Gnosis magazine.


Sofia is an ancient goddess - spirit of female wisdom.

This section on Sophia, I am indebted to
Caitlin Matthews – a seer, a writer and one of the world’s greatest living High Priestesses – has written the most wonderful book on Sofia. Sophia Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God.

Caitlin Matthews

For the Hebrews, Sophia was God’s mother or soul. “The great revered Virgin in whom the Father was concealed from the beginning before he had created anything.”
Before he had created anything.

Sofia  -  just like Isis – is the throne on which the Pharaoh – or Jehovah -  sits.

Her familiar, the Dove, was later transformed into the sign of the Holy Ghost.

Like Isis and Egyptian Hathor, she was mother of 7 emanations – the 7 planetary spirits – the secret names of God.
In classical traditions, Sofia was born from the primordial power of Sige – Silence.

Sige. Pamela Matthews

Sofia’s greatest shrine was erected in Constantinople in 6th C AD.
Hagia -Sofia in Greek - means Holy Female Wisdom.

Western Christians denied the church was ever dedicated to Jehovah’s mother and declared the name means Christ - the word of god. In plain Greek however the word means Holy Female Wisdom.

Sofia was christianized in the West herself and became a fictionalized martyr – this is a common motif of Christian treatment of this kind of goddess/woman who holds too much power. Like the Virgin Mary, she despite her virginity, was able to give birth.

Mother Sophia with Martyrs, Faith, Hope & Love. Russian silk

She had 3 daughters named St Faith, St Hope and St Charity which symbolically tells us that Wisdom gives birth to Faith Hope and Charity .
(8th and 9th Chapters in Proverbs.)

Caitlin Matthews suggests that because Sophia sprung out of the weaving together of Hellenic, Judaic, philosophical and Gnostic strands and has long been the preserve of Biblical scholarship.

For ages there has been a reluctance to approach her as a practical esoteric archetype. She has often been seen as a concocted personification of wisdom and became of inferior status to God.

However, for the first time in two millennia, the concept of the Divine Feminine is finding a welcome response in particularly women’s’ hearts and minds. And even the mainstream group consciousness is beginning to accept the idea that Goddess can be the central pivot of creation.  Sofia the Goddess is back in business.

The goddess is back and she’s pissed.

Wisdom  - in nearly every culture – has appeared under two polarized archetypes; as dispossessed daughter of god, wandering the road in tatters “Wisdom found no place where she might dwell”.
– or else as transcendently lovely virgin whose highway is the stars.

Once again we come up with the familiar theme of the maiden and the ugly hag dichotomy that animates The High Priestess archetype.

Sofia frequently appears as the Black Goddess or Madonna. She is black because she is primal/primeaval. Like Isis, she keeps her glory veiled. She often takes the appearance of a hag, an aged widow or dispossessed woman. But she is primarily the keeper of earthly and heavenly wisdom and the guardian of its laws.

At the other end of its archetype, wisdom as Sofia is gloriously ageless, eternal, mediating, compassionate spirituality.

A Pre-Raphaelite Sophia. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
High Priestess. Salvador Dali Tarot

These polarized appearances –as Hag or Queen of Heaven –are two sides of one coin, one archetypal power. The goddess of Wisdom manifests through seemingly opposing appearances just as our tarot card
The High Priestess who in her Sofia guise is the philosopher who connects us to wisdom.

Mantegna Tarot

(Philosophy  is a word made up of the Greek words love – philo and sophy meaning wisdom.)


To end – and yet begin - with Isis, who was for almost 3,500 years, the principle Goddess of Egypt. As the personification of the "complete female", Isis was called "The One Who Is All", and the "Lady of Ten Thousand Names".

Some scholars think that Sofia was patterned upon Isis. The name of Isis is the Greek form of an ancient Egyptian word for “throne” and in fact like Sofia upon whose lap Jehovah sat, she was the power behind and under the Pharaohs’ right to govern. Her lap was regarded as the royal throne, while her breast poured forth the nectar that conferred the Pharaohs’ divine right to rule.

Egyptian scriptures said:
“In the beginning there was Isis Oldest of the Old. She was the Goddess from whom all becoming arose.” As the creatrix she gave birth to the sun “when he rose upon this earth for the first time”.
Isis was the Egyptian throne. Pharaohs sat on her lap protected by her wings or arms.
Under the Roman Empire, she was worshipped from England to Afghanistan and is still revered by modern pagans.

Just like the Triple goddess, she is role model for all women within relationships. She was the personification of the faithful wife and devoted mother (the tarot’s Empress) but she also very clearly held powers that fall into the High Priestess’s domain.

She was a principle deity in rites connected with the dead; a great magician with powers of protection that transcended all other deities; a healer who cures the sick and bought the deceased back to life.
She is often shown at the foot of coffins with long wings spread to protect the deceased.

Golden Tarot. Kat Black
There is a direct lineage from Isis to the medieval witches - healers, midwives and the women who laid out the dead.

Isis taught her people the power of the word, the skills of reading as well as of agriculture, weaving and spinning. She was worshipped as the goddess both of medicine and wisdom.

If she is a forerunner of tarot’s High Priestess – then scholars, writers and intellectuals owe their power to her divine rule.

Isis is most often represented as a beautiful woman wearing a sheath dress and either the hieroglyphic sign of the throne or a solar disk and cow’s horns on her head.
 Occasionally she was represented as a scorpion, a bird, a sow, or a cow-woman.

This is such a foreign (and radical) notion for us moderns. To recognise the divine within a non-human creature and even to see the image – half animal/half woman as a goddess is a revelation.

Our cultural assumptions that animals don’t have souls or that humans are superior in intelligence run very deep. It is normal for us to think of a cow as a commodity to be exploited by humans. Because a scorpion is poisonous makes its very existence become problematic for the modern human.

And yet strangely we do know - intellectually at least - that we humans share our ancestral lineage with all the other creatures on this planet. If we have a divine nature why not the evolutionary web from which we emerge?

To imbue an insect or a bird with divine intelligence and special power that is on par with human is not so radical to me, as the queer notion that only the human creature is master of the universe.

During the fourth century when Christianity was making its foothold in the Roman Empire, the worshippers of Isis founded the first Madonna cults in order to keep her influence alive. Each of her temples featured a carved stone moon-boat containing her figure which Christians called a witch or a demoness.

Isis was indeed not so much ousted as absorbed into Christianity, for her identification with the Virgin Mary was part of the Madonna cult. Early Christians called themselves pasophori a title of “shepherds” or “servants of Isis’ which evolved into “pastors”.

The Christian story of Mary’s Egyptian journey with her child seems to have been devised to justify the extensive identifications between Isis and Mary.

The influence of Isis is still seen in the Christian ikons of the Virgin Mary. Both Mary and Isis were capable of a magical virgin birth, and interceded between the human and the divine. Indeed, the ancient images of Isis nursing the infant Horus inspired the style of portraits of mother and child for centuries.

Leonardo da Vinci

This great painting by Leonardo da Vinci is a beautiful example of this old idea.
Jesus sits on his virgin mother’s lap who sits on her mother’s lap.
Anne the grandmother, is the lap or throne of Mary and her baby. 
The power behind/under  the throne of god is that of the grandmother – who in earlier times was known as Sofia or Isis.

Isis played an important role in the development of modern religions, although her influence has been largely forgotten by the patriarchal mob that has been running the mass media for the last couple of thousand years.

Her femaleness is a huge contributing factor to this massive cultural memory loss.
It appears dangerous to the mainstream paradigms to have any kind of womanpower shown visually - let alone worshipped - as a role model for ordinary people.

Isis was a goddess for and of the people.

It seems crucially important to remember and honour her extensive power at this time of world history.

It is abominable that we allow a brutal extremist misogynistic Islamic terrorist group to take her name – and it appears to me that it is mainly the fault of a western media, that this has happened.

Woman-hating is insidious, pernicious and ultimately life-threatening for our species and its habitat.

I invoke Isis – life-giver and death-dealer – to re-unite the dismembered pieces of our herstories, to breathe new life back into our communities.

If we re-member our women’s’ mythology and use its wisdom to patchwork a new gestalt of story-telling, then we can we raise the curse that our humanity suffers under; the curse of stigmatising female leadership – political, educational and spiritual.

Isis is our ancestor, our muse – our High Priestess - and we need her more than ever.

Isis the Wise Teaching Hermes & Moses.Pinturicchio 1494

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