The Goddess Isis & the Cosmic Shekinah

by David Rankine & Sorita d’Este

The influence of the Greco-Egyptian goddess Isis spread throughout much of the ancient world.   From her roots in pre-dynastic Egypt as a minor deity, her cult quickly grew in importance in the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BCE) to a position as one of the major goddesses, as can be seen by the fact that, “Isis above all is simply ‘the divine one,’ or ‘great of divine-ness’.” (Hornung, 1996:63-4)  The Ptolemaic Greeks who ruled Egypt from 305-30 BCE adopted Isis as a major deity and her worship spread into Greek and Roman religions.
Isis was known as the goddess of ten thousand names; she was the mistress of magic, wife of the fertility/underworld god Osiris, mother of the hawk-headed god Horus, and one of the deities who offered wise counsel.  As such we would expect there to be possible connections between her and the Wisdom Goddess tradition.  In fact, there is a definite connection both to other goddesses and also to wisdom literature.  We discussed this in The Cosmic Shekinah, noting that:

“The influence of Isis on Wisdom Goddess literature is primarily from the Greco-Egyptian or Hellenic Isis.  The Hellenic Isis’ mythology, roles and functions assimilated not only that of Aset or Isa (the Egyptian names for Isis), but also that of other Egyptian goddesses such as Hathor, Ma’at and Sekhmet.”

The Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and cosmic harmony, Ma’at, was syncretised with Isis to form Isis-Ma’at.  This may have been a stage in the development of the view of Isis as the wisdom saviour goddess (Mack, 1970:54):

“By identification with Maat, Isis takes over this function and adds soteirological motifs taken from her role in the myths of Horus and Osiris. The wisdom hymn in Proverbs 8:22, like the similar hymn in Sirach 24, reflects this general cosmic pattern of myth.”

Indeed the aretalogical (first person deity list of attributions in poem or hymn form) pattern seen in the Wisdom of Solomon 6:22-10:21 mirrors earlier Isis aretalogies, as does the later Gnostic text The Thunder, Perfect Mind (Kloppenborg, 1982:59-61).  In addition to such aretalogical literature a number of significant writers in the ancient world promoted the view of Isis as multi-powered saviour.  These include the Greek geographer Artemidorus of Ephesus (Geography) and the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (Library of History) in the first century BCE, the Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch (On the Worship of Isis and Osiris), the Berber writer and philosopher Apuleius (Metamorphoses, better known as The Golden Ass) and the Egyptian priest Isidorus (Hymns to Isis) in the second century CE.
Of these texts the best known is probably Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, with its inclusive Isis speech where she equates herself to numerous other goddesses including Ceres, Diana, Hekate, Juno, Minerva, Proserpina and Venus.  What is particularly interesting about this speech is the list of powers and roles Isis ascribes to herself, which are very similar to those describing the Shekinah in subsequent Jewish writings, viz:

“I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the Elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven! the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names”

The role of saviour is something also attributed to Sophia in Gnostic writings and Hekate (as Soteira, meaning ‘saviour’) in the Chaldean Oracles.  With all these goddesses, this emphasis on a female saviour which occurred in the ancient world is something which has been largely lost until recent times.
When we explore some of the motifs associated with Isis we find clear parallels to the Shekinah in later centuries.  A prime example is the tree of life, which in the case of Isis was her sacred sycamore.  The sycamore was also associated with the god Osiris (husband of Isis) as the resting place of his body after his death and dismemberment at the hands of his brother, the chaos god Seth.  A later variation of this symbolism can be seen in the human body being mapped onto the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.  Osiris was also symbolised by the stylised djed pillar, which can be viewed as a prototype for the glyph of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
Another motif which connects Isis, wisdom and the Shekinah is that of the serpent:

“The connection between Isis and the serpent occurs in a number of ways.  Isis used a serpent made from his own saliva to poison and trick the creator god Ra into revealing his true name to her and so giving her his power, effectively elevating her to the status of the creator god.  Isis was often portrayed with the Uraeus serpent crown at her brow, which represented rulership and power, and also merged with the serpent goddess Renenutet, as well as the serpent goddess Hermouthis to form the serpentine Isis-Hermouthis, who probably influenced the Gnostic goddess Edem.”

The name Isis (or Aset or Isa) means ‘throne’, and this was shown by her distinctive throne headdress, emphasising another possible derivative quality of the Shekinah, who is particularly associated with the throne of God in pseudoepigraphical and Merkavah literature.
One other example of shared motifs is that of the pearl, which was sacred to Isis.  Kabbalistic writings equated the Shekinah to the pearl in parables, e.g. in the classic text the Bahir we see,

“A king had a beautiful pearl, and it was the treasure of his kingdom. When he is happy, he embraces it, kisses it, places it on his head, and loves it.”

It is interesting to note the reference to placing the pearl on the head, particularly when we consider the iconography of crown motifs, particularly in Egypt where they were often a prime method of distinguishing different deities.
From the evidence it is clear that Isis was an influence on the Wisdom Goddess tradition and hence the Shekinah, reminding us that the level of cross-fertilization, fusion and syncretisation in the ancient world was a significant factor in the transmission of wisdom.


Apuleius, Lucius & Adlington, William (trans) (1996) The Golden Ass. Ware, Wordsworth
D’Este, Sorita & Rankine, David (2011) The Cosmic Shekinah. London, Avalonia
Goehring, James E. (1981) A Classical Influence on the Gnostic Sophia Myth. In Vigiliae Christianae Vol 35.1:16-23
Hornung, Erik (1996) Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt. The One and the Many.  New York, Cornell University Press
Kaplan, Aryeh (1979) The Bahir Illumination. Maine, Weiser
Kloppenborg, John S. (1982) Isis and Sophia in the Book of Wisdom. In Harvard Theological Review Vol. 75.1:57-84
Mack, Burton L. (1970) Wisdom Myth and Mytho-logy. In Interpretation Vol. 24.1:46-60
MacRae, George W. (1970) The Jewish Background of the Gnostic Sophia Myth. In Novum Testamentum Vol 12.2:86-101
Pinch, Geraldine (2002) Egyptian Mythology. Oxford, Oxford University Press
Shaked, Shaul (ed) (2005) Officina Magica. Essays on the Practice of Magic in Antiquity. Leiden, Brill


Article based on the material presented in The Cosmic Shekinah, by Sorita d’Este & David Rankine.  For more information see

The Shekinah & The Qabalah

An Introduction to the Shekinah in the Kabbalah
By Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

Whilst the exact origins of the Kabbalah are unknown, it is clear that cultural influences from ancient Greece,Egypt and Sumer/Babylonia played a key part in the development of its philosophies.  According to legend, the Kabbalah was taught to Adam in the Garden of Eden by the archangel Raziel, who is predominantly associated with wisdom.

The term Kabbalah was first recorded in the teachings of the Jewish Rabbi Isaac the Blind (1160-1236 CE), in Provence, France, who was known as the ‘Father of Kabbalah’.  The main Kabbalistic texts and teachings stem from the tenth-twelfth century CE onwards, however one of the most important source texts used by Kabbalists, the Sepher Yetzirah (‘Book of Formation’), dates back to the second century CE thereby suggesting earlier origins.  Moreover many of the other philosophies and cosmologies which influenced the Kabbalah and its development, such as Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism, also date back to this earlier period.

The Kabbalah is essentially a philosophy and cosmology which explains human life and the universe through the ordering of chaos expressed as manifestations of the creative divine impulse at different levels.  The process of manifestation subsequently produces matter and the creation of life.  The central glyph of the Kabbalah is the Tree of Life, an ordered collection of ten circles (called Sephiroth, meaning ‘emanations’) connected by twenty-two paths, which symbolise man, the universe, and the process of creation.

The Shekinah can be found throughout Kabbalistic philosophies and the glyph of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.  Not only is the Shekinah specifically represented by two of the ten Sephiroth and connected with the process of creation through the Four Worlds which comprise the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, but she is also viewed as being the Neshamah or higher soul, which is a significant part of Kabbalistic philosophy.  Additionally, the Shekinah is the feminine divine who is in a dynamic polarity with the masculine divine, resulting in creation and change.  As such, she is both the Greater Shekinah who unites with God, and the Lesser or Exiled Shekinah who is the soul of the earth itself.

This relationship between the Shekinah and the Earth as anima mundi (world soul) has found a modern scientific outlet in the Gaia Hypothesis of the scientist James Lovelock, which argues that the Earth is a single self-regulating system which responds to changing circumstances.  From here it is one small step towards the perception that the anima mundi should exist, and should be feminine as she engenders creation. This is a perception presaged in the medieval Kabbalistic work, the Bahir, “it is impossible for the lower world to endure without the female.”[1]

In Jewish tales the Shekinah ascends to heaven and descends to earth on different occasions.  Originally there was no clear distinction between the Heavenly Shekinah and Earthly Shekinah, until Adam and Eve left Eden.  Here then we may see the Heavenly Shekinah as representing the purity and innocence ofEden, the idealised Golden Age.  She remained behind on earth but ascended through the seven heavens as a result of man’s sins until she was reunited with God.  The holiness of various prophets brought her back to dwell in theTempleofSolomon.  The destruction of theTempleagain saw her leave the Earth to ascend the heavens.  The Temple of Solomon has come to represent an ideal, a place of wisdom, knowledge, skill and fellowship.

It was in the Kabbalistic doctrines of the tenth century CE onwards that the Shekinah began to be more openly revealed as the divine feminine power opposite the masculine Yahweh.  German Kabbalists in the tenth century expressed the doctrine that the Greater Shekinah encircled God as a circle of flame, and their union created not only the universe and the divine throne (as described in the Book of Ezekiel), but also the angels and human souls.[2]

The Heavenly Shekinah was seen as the divine bride, united with the masculine God in an equal relationship.  This pattern was also repeated with the Earthly Shekinah being seen as the bride of the Sun/Son.  The Heavenly Shekinah was viewed as the Mother and Yahweh as the Father, with the Lesser Shekinah being the Earth and divine Daughter, and the Sun (the Sephira of Tiphereth on the Qabalistic Tree of Life) being the divine Son.  This mother-father relationship repeated the pattern of ‘Yahweh and His Asherah found in the Hebrew tribes prior to the reforms of the seventh-sixth century BCE described in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy.

The famous Kabbalist Rabbi Eleazer of Worms (1176-1238 CE), who was one of the first great propagators of the Kabbalah, said of the Earthly Shekinah that:

“The Shekinah is called the daughter of the creator … and she is also called the tenth Sephira and royalty (Malkuth), because the crown of the kingdom is on his head.”[3]


In the Zohar, symbolic reference is made to the whole Tree of Life as the Shekinah, with the words:

“There are ten curtains, which are ten expanses. And who are they? The curtains of the Dwelling, which are ten and are susceptible to knowing by the wise of heart.”[4]


This passage is describing the ten Sephiroth (as curtains or expanses), which comprise the Shekinah as the Tree of Life (Dwelling).  The wise of heart hints at both the Shekinah (wisdom) and also the Tree of Life itself, as the numbers attributed to the letters of heart (Lev) adds up to thirty-two, the number of paths and Sephiroth of the Tree of Life.


[1] Bahir, 173, C12th CE.

[2] Kabbalah,Ponce, 1974:64-67.

[3] Sepher ha-Hokhmah, C13th CE.

[4] Zohar 2:165a, C13th CE.



[Article based on the material presented in The Cosmic Shekinah, by Sorita d’Este & David Rankine – as well as the book PRACTICAL QABALAH MAGICK by the same authors.  For more information see About the Book]


The Cosmic Shekinah: Now Available

For the last few years Sorita d’Este and I have been continuing our research into the origins of different mystical and magical practices, especially those associated with the Qabalah.  Along this journey we encountered The Shekinah on a regular basis and decided to bring together our historical research on the origins and development of the Feminine Divine in this new book The Cosmic Shekinah, which is now available for pre-order from Avalonia.   You can order your copy now at

It is my sincere hope that many readers who enjoy my work on the Qabalah and Ceremonial Magick, as well as those who are interested in the Goddess traditions, will find this book and the research we have presented in it of interest.


Sorita d’Este & David Rankine

A historical study of the Goddess of the Old Testament and Kabbalah

The Shekinah is the manifestation of the Wisdom Goddess of the Kabbalah,the Old Testament and Merkavah Mysticism. She encompasses the primordial light of creation, the wisdom of the serpent and the inspiration of the dove. She is the beauty of the lily and the embodiment of the Tree of Life. She is also the World soul, heavenly glory, mother of angels, inspiration for prophecy, and source of souls, as well as being the Shabbat Bride and the wife of God.

In The Cosmic Shekinah the authors present a concise history of the different influences of earlier wisdom goddesses on the development of the Shekinah. These goddesses include the Sumerian Inanna, the Egyptian Ma’at, the Greco-Egyptian Isis, the Semitic Anat and Astarte and the Canaanite Asherah. They show that from these ancient sources the unnamed Wisdom Goddess and wife of God portrayed in the Old Testament and early Jewish wisdom literature arose. It is this unnamed Wisdom Goddess who would subsequently become the source for the development of the Shekinah as well as the Gnostic Sophia.

The influence of the feminine divine as the Shekinah has continued to find expression, with the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit of Christianity and the Sakina of Islam all being shaped by the enduring influence of the Wisdom Goddess. Through tracing her roles, myths and functions the authors show that in addition to her resurgence, the Wisdom Goddess has always been present throughout history, even when she has been suppressed and disguised by deliberate exclusion and mistranslation.

Drawing on numerous sources including medieval Kabbalistic works, Hekhalot texts of Merkavah Mysticism, ancient literature such as the Egyptian, Sumerian and Ugaritic myths, the Old Testament, Gnostic texts and recent finds in Biblical archaeology, The Cosmic Shekinah draws attention back to the light of divine feminine wisdom.

For order information see:

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Heka, not Hekate

Heka, as well as being the name of magic, was also the name of the god of magic. To clear this up I thought I would include the following piece, which is an excerpt from my book Heka: The Practices of Ancient Egyptian Ritual and Magic:

The word heka can mean several things, each contributing to our understanding of the complexities of ancient Egyptian magic. The function of heka is described in the Instruction for Merikara, the Middle Kingdom teaching of the Pharaoh Amenemhet I (c. 2000 BCE):

“He [Re] gave them [mankind] the heka as a weapon in order to ward off the effect of dangerous events.”

Heka was seen as a gift from the sun god Re to mankind (his offspring), a manifestation of his creative energy as an embodiment of his Ba (his soul). It empowered man to create using words and actions, mirroring the sun god’s creation of the universe. Heka can be seen as the creative force or life-giving energy connecting the objects, links and symbols of life with the universe, like a subtle tapestry of energy, which the magician must learn to read if s/he is to effectively work magic.

Heka is also the inherent magical energy (mana or personal power) found within living beings. Different creatures were perceived as possessing different amounts of heka. The gods had the most heka. The pharaoh (as a channel for the divine energy) also had a lot of heka, as did people who were considered unusual, such as dwarfs and people with birth defects. Red hair was considered a sign of having much heka, due to the magical associations with that colour. And of course the other class of being with a lot of heka was the dead, hence the use of spells calling on the dead to assist with performing rites.

As well as being the term for magic, Heka was a god, indeed he was the god of magic. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say he was magic, being the divine personification of magic. He is sometimes shown in images as appearing among the crew of the solar barque. He was depicted as a bearded man wearing a lion nemes headdress.

Another definition of heka is given in funerary spell 261 of the Coffin Texts, from a Middle Kingdom sarcophagus. The spell is entitled “To become the god Heka”, and reads:

“I am he whom the Lord of all made before duality had yet come into being … the son of him who gave birth to the universe … I am the protection of that which the Lord of all has ordained … I am he who gave life to the Ennead of the gods … come to take my position that I may receive my dignity. Because to me belonged the universe before you gods had come into being. You have come afterwards because I am Heka.”

The hieroglyph used from 1000 BCE to write his name was interchangeable with the concepts of god and power. Visually the hieroglyph depicted the hindquarters of a lion, and may well be linked with his attribution as one of the sons of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. In this form he was shown as a young child with a solar disk on his head.

So no, Heka and Hekate are not etymologically related. The only real connection is that they are both associated with magic in their own ways.