College of Isis - Alchemy of Isis by Caroline Wise
The Alchemy of Isis
Caroline Wise, AU, ArchDrs. GDC, SA
Isis of the Thames Lyceum
The last twenty years have witnessed a huge revival of interest in the Goddess, the feminine aspect of divinity that has been neglected for so long by the dominant world religions. Now She is revealing Herself again at this time, when we have put the earth in such great peril through the abuse of nature.
Many people today have heard the call of the Goddess. They have retrieved Her from the labyrinths of Holy Books, mythologies, archaeology, sacred song and dance, and also through direct psychic contact. This tangle of information has been unraveled by a new priesthood, drawn from the many strands of Ariadne’s silken thread. The Goddess shows us a different way of looking at the world, a new direction and a new focus. By following Her ways that silken thread is transmuted into pure gold. This is the Alchemy of Isis.
Isis of Ten Thousand Names is so named because She represents all Goddesses, some well known, others beginning to flower again like oases in a desert. Isis was the principal Goddess of the Egyptians, but Her worship spread south and west into Africa via the Upper Kingdom, and into the Middle East via the Lower Kingdom. The coming of the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander the Great and the development of Ptolemaic Egypt as a consequence spread Her worship even further. Indeed it is from the Greeks that we gain the name Isis, their version of the Egyptian Auset. Isis was much worshipped in Alexandria, where Alchemy first spread to secular scholars, and She dictates Alchemical secrets in the Hermetic works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the foundation documents of all subsequent Alchemical exploration. The coming of the Roman Empire spread Her worship throughout Europe and both Libya and London boasted temples to Her. It is during this period that Isis became identified with all Goddesses, an identification which continues today.
The Mysteries of Isis practiced in the Graeco-Roman period centred around many themes. She symbolized resurrection, in that She raised through Her magic great Osiris, Her Husband, when He had been slain by Set. They also centred around fertility and prosperity, since Osiris was a Corn God, and His annual resurrection was the birth of the new crop from the black earth of Egypt; known in Roman times as the bread-basket of the Empire. The sharing of sacred bread to celebrate resurrection was later adopted by Christianity. Isis became associated with truth, nature, love and beauty as She absorbed the aspects of other Goddesses, becoming the most universal Goddess of all. She presides over land and sea, becoming Patroness of navigation, whom sailors knew as the Isis of Ships. The female figureheads on the prows of ships have their origins in Isis: She was Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, a title later transferred to the Virgin Mary.
In Her winged form She became associated with the realms of the air and the notion of flight. This association with all forms of transport, both ancient and modern, is very much alive in the Fellowship of Isis today as it reaches out from Ireland to all of the continents of the world.
The ancient name of Isis means “throne’, for She represented the rulership of Egypt, and later by extension the guardianship of all the world, throughout the cycle of the year. These transformations in Her role are as much a part of the Alchemy of Isis as those changes that She brings to those She touches.
Many of these concern matters beyond the physical. She controls the activation of the Kundalini, or ‘serpent power’ in the opening of the psychic centres. She also taught the other Deities knowledge of the stars. Many of those who have experienced psychic transformation through visions of Isis speak of Her coming from the stars. It is no coincidence that so many UFO contactees speak of a ‘woman of divine grace’ imparting wisdom to them, for this was always Her role, whatever form the vehicle was seen to take, and whatever the literal truth of these encounters. Isis is, after all, Daughter of the Star Goddess Nuit.
Those who work with the Goddess in Her myriad forms will discover that the only thing that is constant is constant change! Isis is Mistress of Magic, said to be greater than a thousand magicians. As Mistress of Egypt, the land first known as Khem, She has now brought Her Alchemy (named for Her land) to the thousands of members of the Fellowship of Isis. They have experienced major life changes, an explosion of creativity, a change in the direction of their life, increased psychic abilities and deeper insights into the mysteries and also into their everyday life.
The Fellowship of Isis is now a major force in the international movement for the renewal of the religion of the Goddess. To understand how this came to be we must look into the way that She revealed Herself to the founders of the Fellowship.
The Temple of Isis at Clonegal Castle is the Foundation Centre of the Fellowship. This castle is the ancestral home of Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and Olivia Robertson, his sister. It lies in a valley encircled by hills and a beautiful violet mountain. It is magically positioned between two rivers, at their confluence. The Derry, named after the Oak Tree, and the Slaney rush together at the place known as the Crow’s Foot. This is the foot of the Macha, the Irish Mother Goddess in one of Her many guises, and there is a tradition that this was an ancient matriarchal centre for the mysteries. The joining of two rivers, whether they be the Tigris and Euphrates at the cradle of Middle Eastern civilisation; the Beckhamptom and Winterbourne which are part of Avebury’s landscape of the Goddess; or the Derry and the Slaney, form another Alchemical symbol of the Divine Feminine, as different forces merge into a new and greater whole. They create the horns of the head-dress of Isis in Her Mother aspect, when She is suckling the Divine Child Horus, and the cow’s horns of Hathor, Goddess of beauty, love and dance. They form the antlers of Elen, the Green Isis and Goddess of the track ways. The horns of the moon which hold the sun disc on the head-dress of Isis represent the feminine alchemy, as they wax and wane monthly. Antlers grow, mature and are then shed annually marking the seasonal changes of the Wheel of the Year. The turning seasons bring the migrations of the reindeer - the beating fall of their hooves upon the earth forming early tracks and pathways.
The path of the Temple of Isis is formed by a long avenue of lime trees which visitors find acts as a true rainbow bridge between the mundane world and the enchanting temple, where so many experience other realms and communion with the Goddess. In a field to one side of the avenue lies the Bullawn Stone, an ancient round megalith representing the feminine principle. A carved hollow collects rainwater which still transforms sickness into health, the local people using the water to cure their ailments. Just beyond this point in the avenue is the spot where a meteorite fell at the end of the 19th century. This celestial object, choosing to earth itself at Clonegal, glowed for four years providing a warm perch for the local crows, the birds of the Morrigan, a major Irish Goddess.
It was along this avenue that Olivia and Lawrence came as young children when they moved to Eire from Surrey in South East England. It was a physical journey that was to lead to journeys of another kind, to other worlds. Olivia remembers that at the age of eleven she was regularly helping the recently departed on their transition to the next world, the greatest transformation of all. She recalls: “I remember helping a Bishop to cross a river to the next side. His soul was like a lot of dried leaves.”
In the ancient Egyptian mysteries the guide on the most dramatic of transformations, from matter to spirit, was the Goddess Nephthys, Sister of Isis, the Guardian of the recently departed souls. This is a task performed by many dedicated modern-day spiritualists, but Olivia at eleven had no knowledge of these things. She remembers that it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ to talk about such matters: “Millions of people have had experience of psychic phenomena, UFOs, spirits, angels and deity. They astrally project and have visions, but they don’t talk about it. It isn’t because they are afraid of ridicule, but it doesn’t enter into everyday existence. There is a sort of barrier between the material world now, and spirituality. In the Middle Ages one couldn’t talk about it. They either got burnt or became a saint so it was a bit risky being a psychic in those days. But I do think people had more faith in the reality of these experiences.”
Olivia found herself leading a kind of double life. In her everyday outer life she was consciously a disbeliever in psychic matters, yet a the same time she found herself helping the dead, astrally projecting and visiting what she and Lawrence called ‘extensions’. These were realms that seemed to be connected to certain physical parts of the castle. Her powers of premonition increased, and she talked to her father, who was fairly psychic, about some of these. To herself and the outside world, however, Olivia was the ‘sensible’ down to earth girl who did brilliantly at school, liked classical music, got a scholarship to Art School and became an internationally acclaimed novelist. But she quietly continued to search for others who could commune with Deity. At first she turned to Orthodoxy. She recalls: “I felt that the Anglican priesthood was now totally unable to channel spiritual power. The Roman Catholics used to be able to do it, but were now a bit ashamed, it had become vaguely ‘non-U’ to be miraculous. You were just meant to be a socialist and be very good to everybody. This is true, it is what Christ taught them to do, but few of them were very good at it. The Methodists wee wonderful with their singing and healing, and the Hindus were past masters at it all but rather despised the psychic realm. They were into higher spirituality but I thought that the higher spirituality wasn’t doing them much good as regards social reform. They have the caste system, which I found to be very deep when I got to know them better. They have the poor old untouchables, whom nobody seemed to care about except Ghandi, whom I admired immensely. The Sufis are wonderful, but they don’t seem to be very tolerant of idolaters like the Hindus.
I was interested in the Quakers for a long time. They were very good with social work and the material plane, but then they said ‘the Holy Spirit has left, we don’t get the Holy Spirit any more’ so I suppose my attitude was that I’d go with the establishment, the Church of England, although they didn’t seem to have much spiritual power, because they were good and respectable. One settled for Jane Austen and respectability. So I did try with orthodoxy.”
Olivia’s visitations and visions of other-worldly beings led her to ask those she assumed would be authorities on the subject to tell her more. She says: “I had a vision of an angel once, and I remember asking a Bishop about it in the House of Lords in 1952. I asked him about angels, expecting a man in his position to have some knowledge. He told me very reassuringly that I didn’t have to believe in angels. What I wanted to tell him was that I knew there angels, I’d seen one, and I wanted to have a nice chat about them! Then he said he didn’t believe in miracles, but I knew there were miracles, not very often, but they did happen. He was meant to be giving people the Holy Spirit and communion, and here he was saying that he didn’t believe in miracles! It struck me as a most extraordinary conversation. I was told before my Confirmation that when the Bishop laid his hands on my head not to expect anything, as nothing would happen, and of course it didn’t. I don’t think that the Bishop was any more capable of channeling the Melusina - the Holy Spirit - than a cup of tea. In fact a cup of tea would do it better - it would cheer you up!”
Olivia’s psychic powers continued to increase, to the extent that she had to accept their reality and look elsewhere for guidance. “I was trying to find a group of people I could really join. I met the Theosophists and many groups studying the occult arts and could compare notes with them.” Her spiritual path was still very male-dominated. She agreed with Ghandi and Albert Schweitzer and she believed in Christ, as she still does, as a manifestation of God: “We all are, but he did it very well”, but she didn’t recognise the Goddess at all at that time. She describes the effect of the initial transformation: “The Goddess comes as an absolute shock. I was always taught it was rather common to go around seeing the Virgin Mary, especially by well educated Catholics. Their attitude was that they were a bit ashamed of it. So when I began seeing apparitions it was a bit embarrassing. I remember a clergyman, in a Church of Ireland sermon, talking about the Madonna of Fatima, saying: ‘And they claim to have seen the Virgin Mary, up in a tree, a very improper position for any young person to be found in.’ The Protestants had this extraordinary dislike for Mary, and were dubious about the Virgin Birth, as miracles were going out of fashion, but a miracle is simply the sudden manifestation of a greater sphere into a smaller one.”
Olivia’s vision of the Goddess certainly began to have an Alchemical effect upon her life. She realised it was a Sangreal, a Holy Grail, symbol of the divine feminine principle: “It came in the form of the sign of Mars, and the evil super-child, legs straddling the world, the sort of child who bullied everyone in the sand pit. Then I saw this symbol reversed and becoming the Holy Grail. It was the sign of Venus, or the Ankh, the host was there, the circle of Mars, but reversed over the equal armed cross, and the outline of a cup. Across the ankh or the sign of Venus were two horns, and the host, the sacred bread, was resting upon these things. Only later I recognized that these were the horns of Hathor which I used for the emblem of the Fellowship of Isis. So the discovery of the Goddess was a bit like Cinderella’s fairy godmother revealing herself, or Venus appearing suddenly in a rock in Tannhauser.”
It was to her brother Lawrence (Derry), that the truth of the reality of the Goddess first manifested. Both had read the Acts of the Apostles in their early 20s. Derry became a clergyman, and he came through his studies, and through intuition, to see ‘God the Mother’, the Divine Feminine. He became completely converted. Olivia comments: “I was always trying to bring in the God, although my brother was totally for the Goddess, as was my nephew. Then I realized that it had to be like this to be totally effective. Derry didn’t like the sacrifice of Christ, bloody, violent, tortured on a cross, a horrific unnatural image. But a woman gave blood monthly, naturally, as a source of life, fertility. The Mother was all-important. Derry saw that our neglect of this had brought so much horror into the world, from the Synod of Whitby, where the new Christians decreed that women had no souls, to the witch burnings were millions cruelly lost their lives. One day I found Derry un-nailing Jesus from a crucifix in our chapel. I saw that the Goddess was right and his kindness told me that I should work with him on reintroducing the religion of the Goddess. It was the same kindness shown by the woman washing the feet of Christ and the mercy of the Magdalene.”
This discovery of the Goddess overturned the whole of Olivia’s life. The Goddess was everything she had been taught to despise as an Anglo-Irish Protestant, socialist and materialist. The shock of finding that these things were actual, that “we should take heed of the Lady up in the tree” was enormous.
Olivia was, at that time, a highly successful novelist. She had left Ireland during WWII to act as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse) for the Red Cross. While staying with a clergyman relative in Somerset, she had seen the bombers flying to and from Coventry. Until then she had been a committed pacifist. Her old socialism and idealism were still there, but tempered by the Morrigan, the Goddess Who helps men pass over after death on the battlefields. Olivia was proud to have been present in ‘England’s Finest Hour’.
After the war Olivia returned to Ireland and researched the street games of the Dublin slum children. She was surprised to encounter the ancient mysteries in their play. She wrote for the Irish Times, Tribune and for Radio of how ancient mystery-games had been transformed by the children’s experience of poverty; the ancient game of hopscotch, where the final goal had once been ‘heaven’, now finished at the GPO, since that was where their fathers went to draw the dole! She found that these games had come down via ancient traditions based on pagan ritual, from initiations into mystery cults and warrior societies; the ‘piggy in the middle’ that children pushed around had once been the symbol of the soul.
Olivia also investigated and wrote on the pioneers of baby therapy, including the Sister Mary Kenny technique for helping malformed children, and the work of Estrid Dane, of the British War Relief Society of the USA. Estrid Dane developed the work of the Neumann-Neurode method of exercises for infants, making the spine move freely through natural movement rather than ballet or ‘physical jerks’ exercises. This system had similarities with both Yoga and Eurhythmics, and the free-expression in the dance of Isadora Duncan. This led Olivia to the realisation that it was good for both physical and mental health for people to project themselves. They could get rid of inhibitions which clog up the system and cause all sorts of problems, through chanting, song, and natural dance, the domain of the Goddess Hathor. By free expression, children could develop their personalities and adults transform their lives.
When she turned to writing novels, Olivia was immediately successful. Her second novel ‘Field of the Stranger’ was a Book Society choice and received extremely good reviews in the London Times Literary Supplement and the Chicago National Herald, to name but two. This novel was set in the Irish countryside she knew so well and until the Goddess arrived, Olivia played the part expected of her. She wore the usual dark browns, wore no make-up and kept her hair short, since at that time and in her circles it was not the done thing to look feminine, since femininity was equated with foolishness. Suddenly she decided to allow the inner transformation to show to the outside world. She grew her hair, astonished that she could grow so much of it, began to wear bright colours and make-up. She began to write rituals and use romantic language rather than the ‘very good Anglo-Saxon ‘Low Dutch’ English”. She recalls: “I suppose I appalled my previous readership. I was told that ‘Field of the Stranger’ was in every country house in England. I produced my last work for orthodoxy in 1956, ‘Dublin Phoenix’ for Jonathan Cape. It sold out on the first day of publication, but my star was transforming, I was changing. I felt like I was growing wings, emerging from a chrysalis. I was doing Yoga and I seemed almost to become younger. I was very short-sighted but I stopped wearing glasses and my sight improved, curiously. I started wearing black velvet and silver amulets. I supposed my friend and I, with our pre-Raphaelite look, were pioneer hippies!”
Although her experiences in the war had transformed Olivia’s view on pacifism, she nevertheless feels that the Goddess began increasing the strength of Her Call after the explosion of the atomic bomb:“We are gardeners of the earth, as in Eden. We are guardians looking after all the species, and are part of the great symbiosis of animal and angels. We have failed, so we are getting help from non-human realms. I am totally against duality, everything being seen as good against bad, black and white. The most horrible demons come from inside you, and so you have to transform them.”
The reintroduction of the religion of the Goddess through the Fellowship of Isis has worked, and Her Alchemy is shaping and changing the lives of those who have answered the call. Isis in Her 10,000 Names is being animated across the planet. Some, for instance, are following the path of Sekmet, the Lion-headed Goddess Who transforms war to joyous celebration; some honour Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of smith-craft and poetry, Who transforms mere words and base-metals; others have chosen Artemis, Mistress of the Beasts, and strive to make the world a better place for animals, and there is a growing band working with the Goddesses Gaia and Elen, dedicated to the conservation of our precious earth. Kwan Yin and Amaterasu are being heard again in the Far East. The celebration of Ngame of Africa and Lakshmi of India continues after thousands of years. Through the Fellowship of Isis, one may experience communion with, and receive wisdom from, all of These and more. The Alchemy of Isis, the ultimate transformation, is slowly but steadily changing the world.
About the Author: Caroline Wise has been a member of the Fellowship of Isis for 21 years. She is Priestess, Hierophant, ArchDruidess, Grand Dame Commander, Solar Alchemist and member of the ArchPriesthood Union, ArchDruid Union and Grand Commander Union within the FOI, and a Priestess in the Temple of Isis, Geyserville, California. She helped to found several lyceums, groves and priories within the Fellowship. Caroline organized the first FOI Convention which took place in London in September of 1990. She has been active in the esoteric community for many years. Her research on the Goddess Elen is due to come out in book form later this year. Caroline is a regularly featured contributor in the Mirror of Isis. She is a member of the Star of Elen Advisory Board, the Circle of Isis Advisory Board and a founding member of the Muses Symposium.
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Note: This article is included here by request of FOI Co-Founder Olivia Robertson.
This article was originally published in the Neptune Press edition of the "Call of Isis", 1993. Re-printed here by permission. All rights reserved.