Isis as a Guide to Creative Mourning

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For Grievers – For Seekers – Mentoring – Practices for Soul & Spirit

There is plenty of contemporary writing about grief and mourning, but I’ve found it to be very clinical and its focus on the individual isolating.  As a society, we have forgotten that the Goddess and Her Stories are guides for our grief and mourning, but She hasn’t forgotten us.  She remains as She Who Watches and comes to us when we are in need, even when we don’t turn to Her.

She Who Watches showed me Her face as the Egyptian Goddess Isis, and Her story has been as a guide for me to creative mourning.  Yes, even in the deepest loss, Isis shows us how that the new is being born.

DGT IsisIsis from the Dark Goddess Tarot.

There are many version of her story.  I will share with you a version of that story that has 5 parts; you might call them tasks that Isis assists us to complete:

  • Wild grief, weeping, and seeking.
  • Finding the Beloved Dead in unexpected places.
  • Re-membering.
  • Conception of new life.
  • Shapeshifting for the Living and the Dead.

The inspiration for this story of Isis that follows comes from Normandi EllisFeasts of Light:  Celebrations from the Seasons of Life based on the Egyptian Goddess Mysteries (Quest Books, 1999) and the sections in italic are direct quotes from the book.

Wild grief, weeping, and seeking

Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephtys are the children of God Geb (the earth) and Goddess Nut (the sky).  It is said that Isis and Osiris made love in their mother’s womb so great was their passion for each other.  They married and ruled Egypt, brining prosperity to the land through the skills and gifts they shared with the people.  Set grew jealous of his brother and, when Isis was away, killed Osiris by trapping him in a coffin made to his perfect measurements and then throwing the locked coffin into the Nile.  Osiris drowns and the coffin floats down the river.

Could be Isis Mourning OsirisIsis sought his body everywhere in Egypt, but it was nowhere to be found.  Distraught, she tore at her clothes, beat her breast, and in wild grief, cut her long, thick black hair close to her scalp. Alone, dressed in her black mourning rags, the goddess wandered throughout Egypt, barefoot, dust covered, disconsolate.  Up and down the muddy edges of the river bank, she peered into the sedge and papyrus clumps; she walked dusty streets and keened, seeking the coffin of Osiris. Though she had delivered their children, the village people no longer recognized her … grief having shriveled Isis’ once beautiful face into the grim visage of a hag.  

Here is release, unrestrained and unplanned.  There is no one way to release; you can’t control its energy, you follow it.  Isis follows her grief to the edge of the Nile.  In an ancient Egyptian festival, the Night of the Drop, her tears are celebrated as the source of the Nile’s annual flood upon which the crops and harvest depended.

Questions for reflection or for Tarot card consultation:

  • What supports me to follow the energy of my grief?
  • What can my tears (or other form of release) feed?
  • What is the source of my grief?
  • What can my grief fertilize?

But the best thing to say in wild grief may be: Help.  Be open to the comfort of a Tarot image or a feeling of Isis’ presence.  it may be too early to make any sense or use any words.

[Image note:  Could be an image of Isis mourning Osiris from a terra cotta sculpture in the Musee du Lourve.]

Finding the Beloved Dead in Unexpected Places

Osiris and the Tree of LifeShe searches and searches surrounded by scorpions and guarded by snakes, watched over by wild dogs who took pity on the half-mad goddess. She meets three girls who play with a man-doll that they place in a coffin-like cradle.  They do not run away from Isis but tell her of how they dreamed the game of the man inside the coffin when they saw men in animal skins through a jeweled coffin in the river and then watched it be carried out to sea.  Isis follows these clues to Byblos where the coffin has lodged in the branches of the tamarisk tree, concealing Osiris within; but even though he was hidden the good wife Isis recognized that the tree contained the body of her husband and so would not leave it.

The tree grows large and beautiful around the coffin until it is hewn to make a pillar for the palace of the King of Byblos.  Isis follows to the court where she lives in disguised as a nursemaid for a while before demanding and being given the pillar from which she removes the coffin and begins the return journey to Egypt.

Isis’ companions shift from being a royal court to despised creatures and children.  They aid her; we see here how help for our mourning comes from unexpected sources.  We see then with new eyes and discover the Beloved does remain with us, perhaps in nature, perhaps in memory, perhaps in an experience of communication between the worlds.

Questions for reflection or for Tarot card consultation:

  • How can I open to the love of my Beloved?
  • Where is the presence/the gifts of the Beloved still alive?
  • What is a surprising source of support for me in this time of mourning?

[Image note: Osiris and the Tree of Life from the Temple at Karnak.]


Set learns that Isis has found Osiris body and that with her great magic seeks to return him to the land of the living. He looks for Osiris body, too, and when Isis leaves to speak with her sister Nephtys about how to revive Osris, Set takes his sharp obsidian blade and cuts Osiris into 14 pieces and throws them into the Nile.  They float away in different directions and the phallus is eaten by an oxyrhynchus fish.

Isis once again must seek the body of her Beloved.  This time joined by Nephtys, Isis sailed all over Egypt, searching for the other parts of Osiris.  Whenever Isis found a piece – a foot, an arm, a leg, a thigh, his heart, bits of his backbone, his ears, his tongue, his jaws – she cried with joy: “He lives! He rises up! The god is found anew!

Isis and Nephtys over Osiris

Isis does physically what we do through story:  we remember the Beloved Dead.  We find ways to speak of them and to honor them that helps us to heal.  We do this on our own and in the company of others.  What is remembered lives.

Questions for reflection or for Tarot card consultation:

  • How can I honor my Beloved?
  • What story of my Beloved most calls to be told right now?
  • How can I hold the fullness of the relationship the Beloved and I shared?
  • What might be hard to remember but needs to be included in the story?

[Image Note:  From a drawing of Isis and Nephys over the body of Osiris from Budge’s Osiris and the Egyptian Resurection.]

Conception of New Life

Isis with wingsIsis finds all but the phallus. Ever creative and persistent, she fashions one out of gold in some stories and clay in others.  She changes into a kite and flies above Osiris and using her powerful magic is able to conceive a child, who will be named Horus and become a great ruler, but without the final piece of the body, she can not resurrect Osiris to life on earth.

There is loss. We can not ignore this uncomfortable reality and the pain it causes.  And this loss is part of what creates the new life to come.

Questions for reflection or for Tarot card consultation:

  • What must be left behind?
  • What can I do to conceive the new?
  • How can I find the strength to balance the loss and the new life?
  • What can be born from this loss?

[Image note:  Isis from wall painting from c. 1360 BCE.]

Shapeshifting for the Living and the Dead

Then Isis whispered words of power, passion, and remembrance so that in the next world Osiris might remember himself and give birth to all good things and all growing plants, all children, all souls. By means of her magical voice, she sacalized and mummified the body, creating a “sahu” or “body of light” that would live and rule eternally in the next world. Thus from beyond the grave, Osiris reigned in splendor, and after Horus was born, he delivered messages through dreams to his heroic son to set the world in order.  Isis begins her journey as mother and continues to aid the living to be born, to overcome their suffering, and, at the end, to die.


Change continues for both those who remain and those who have died.  The living must shapeshift into life changed by loss and the dead, too, I believe, have their tasks and callings.

Questions for reflection or for Tarot card consultation:

  • How am I called to shift and grow?
  • How might my Beloved be shifting?
  • How do our paths still run side by side?
  • How do the paths diverge?

Image note:  Osiris in the underworld with the Goddess Ma’at from papyrus of Nehkt in the British Museum.


If you have experienced the death of a loved one or major loss and need support for your own creative mourning process, I am trained as a spiritual mentor.  Sessions can be arranged where you tell your story and I listen with the “ears of my heart”.  The storytelling and listening are central, but additional supports used in session include questions, Tarot work, stories from ancient traditions, nature awareness, and writing/art making prompts.  I choose the word mentor because it implies not an expert, but one who is out a little bit ahead of you on a particular path.  I’ve been on the path of creative morning since November 2012.  Please contact me with your questions, we’ll see what fits your needs, and figure out payment possibilities. 

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