Isis - Isis and the Sistrum

An Excerpt from Book V of the Moralia written by Plutarch, First Essay, titled “Isis and Osiris”

Addressed to Clea, a priestess at Delphi

63. The sistrum (rattle) also makes it clear that all things in existence need to be shaken, or rattled about, and never to cease from motion but, as it were, to be waked up and agitated when they grow drowsy and torpid. They say that they avert and repel Typhon by means of the sistrums, indicating thereby that when destruction constricts and checks Nature, generation releases and arouses it by means of motion.

The upper part of the sistrum is circular and its circumference contains the four things that are shaken; for that part of the world which undergoes reproduction and destruction is contained underneath the orb of the moon, and all things in it are subjected to motion and to change through the four elements: fire, earth, water, and air. At the top of the circumference of the sistrum they construct the figure of a cat with a human face, and at the bottom, below the things that are shaken, the face of Isis on one side, and on the other the face of Nephthys. By these faces they symbolize birth and death, for these are the changes and movements of the elements; and by the cat they symbolize the moon because of the varied colouring, nocturnal activity, and fecundity of the animal. For the cat is said to bring forth first one, then two and three and four and five, thus increasing the number by one until she reaches seven, so that she brings forth in all twenty-eight, the number also of the moon’s illuminations. Perhaps, however, this may seem somewhat mythical. But the pupils in the eye of the cat appear to grow large and round at the time of full moon, and to become thin and narrow at the time of the wanings of that heavenly body. By the human features of the cat is indicated the intelligence and the reason that guides the changes of the moon.

Moralia, Book V, “Isis and Osiris”, (De Iside Et Osiride), Plutarch, translated by F. C. Babbitt, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, UK, first published 1936, reprinted 1993

Isis holding sistrum, "Abydos: Holy City of Ancient Egypt", Omm Sety and Hanny El Zeini, LL Company, Los Angeles, 1981

Back to Isis of Ten Thousand Names