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Ancient Egyptian Myth, Isis and the Sun God's Secret Name
RE THE SUN GOD
Isis and the Sun God’s Secret Name
Re, the Sun God was known by many names to his followers but it was reported that he had one secret name which held his power and it was a name that only he knew. Legend was that if anyone managed to find out this name, they would be able to have a seat next to Re at the head of the Gods and Goddesses.
Isis, known for her scheming and planning decided that she would try to discover what this secret was. Re was in the body of an old man and he drooled- the spittle was collected by Isis and she mixed it with earth and magic to make a demon in the form of a snake that symbolised Re’s strength and power.
ISIS HEALER AND MAGICIAN
RE IS INJURED BY A SNAKE BITE
Re had a regular routine, every day he would take a stroll outside of his palace. Isis left the snake on a crossroads that Re would pass, so he would not miss it. The snake met Re and managed to bite him, just as Isis had plotted. The venom was very powerful as the snake had come from Re himself. Re became feverous and unable to cure the bite because although the snake was created out of him he had not created it and did not know what the cure was. The other gods came to him after hearing his cries but were not able to help him. Isis arrived and offered to help Re as long as he told her his secret name.
Although feverish Re still had some hold on life. He knew that to let Isis know his secret name would give her considerable power but he also knew that she was a magical and great healer and if anyone could save him, it would be her. Re tried to confuse Isis by telling her all the names he was known as but she would not give in and try to cure him. As the minutes passed Re’s condition grew worse he began sweating, shivering and losing his sight as the poison spread through his body system. As his body began to shut down Re told Isis the secret name but knowing that she would tell her son Horus he made her promise that she would make Horus swear an oath that he woud keep the secret as well as Isis.
Isis was then known as “mistress of the Gods” who knew Re “by his own name” and recited a spell to cure Re of the effects of the poison.
FACTS BEHIND THE MYTH
How do we know about this myth?
The myth was found on a papyrus from the nineteenth dynasty c 1200bc which is currently in the Turin Museum in Italy. There is a second source but this contains fragments only in the British Museum, London called the Papyrus Chester Beatty XI.
The myth stresses the importance of a name and the premise that knowledge of a name equates to power. Knowing names was crucial in making spells and their accompanying rituals- Devotees would require names to pay their observances to the deity. However what is significant in this myth is that we, the audience never learn what Isis learns- namely Re’s secret name. The Gods had to have their own secrets which influenced the power they had and surrounded them in mystery which made the deity status more alluring to devotees.
Isis cured Re by the use of a spell. In Ancient Egyptian society the dividing line between magic and medicine was blurred. About ten texts have survived showing magical/medical cures for illness. These texts show that spells and the use of amulets and ritual objects were used in combination with clinical observation and carefully constructed prescriptions, One particular text stated that the recitation of the spell is to be accompanied by a remedy of “scorpion herb” mixed with beer or wine. It is not known if the patient survived the treatment.