It’s time we rescued the good name of Isis before it is forever besmirched by that gang of thugs in the Mideast.
It isn’t widely known that Isis is the name of an Egyptian goddess that the ancients worshipped as a Madonna-like figure. Isis in the old tale of love and forgiveness was the ever-loving wife who saw her beloved husband Osris torn asunder by the evil Set, who then threw his victim’s body parts all over Egypt. Isis gathered the parts together, put Osiris back together and by some magical means had sexual congress with him. Out of that unlikely pairing, Horus, the mighty falcon god, was born.
The story goes on (and Set does suffer retribution from the mighty Horus), but Isis remains the goddess of true love, one who sacrifices for her husband, and who exemplifies pure motherhood in her begetting and nurturing of the young Horus. Many say she was a template for the Christians’ adoration of Mary as the Madonna. (However, there were many other female goddesses from other cultures who could have stood in as Mary also.)
Isis was so well beloved, that the Greeks incorporated her in their goddess Aphrodite. Cleopatra was known to dress as Isis and her subject often considered her to be the earthly incarnation of their beloved goddess.
Lost in the middle ages, she arose anew when the Emerald Tablets and writings attributed to the ancient Egyptian god Thoth surfaced in the Renaissance. Isis was rediscovered as a model of female virtue. She remained well regarded right through the French revolution, when the new government threw over traditional Catholicism and instituted a strange and short-lived religion dedicated to Reason. Isis was sculpted on a huge monument where the Bastille once stood, and people came to pay tribute to her feminine qualities of maternal devotion.
That sculpture didn’t last much longer than the leaders of the French Revolution (many of whom were fed to the guillotine), but the name Isis never meant anything but goodness right up until today.
All of a sudden we have the Islamic State In Iraq and Syria or ISIS. Most people in the United States government call the organization the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant or ISIL, but the media insists on ISIS. No one seems to use the Arabic name for the group, Daesh.
So ISIS is now a word degraded in the public mind. I care because I have written quite a bit about ancient Egypt and know what Isis (really Eset or something similar in the ancient Egyptian tongue) really meant to the people. Of course, I’ve written about her influence. I have one unpublished manuscript, held back because I’m searching for a different ending, that is titled The Kiss of Isis. Before 2014, that was a great title, but I surely can’t use it now.
How do we get the media to stop using the acronym ISIS and move to ISIL. The answer is: we can’t. I and many other copy editors and others involved with language tried to stop the creation of the ugly and bizarre plural “e-mails.” Anyone who cares a lick about the language knows that the plural of mail is not mails. So how did we get to “e-mails”? It doesn’t matter now, the media—television, especially—has taken the word and disseminated it everywhere. And that hyphen in e-mail that I insist on using is disappearing too. (I won’t make the argument for it, because I’ve already lost the battle.)
But for Isis, I think those of us who know the legend and the history can keep reminding people of the goddess’ essentially pure properties. It takes more than a gang of terrorist to completely overthrow 4,000 years of history.