Monday, December 2, 2019

Isis Priests of the Lineage of Scota

Today Bloomsbury publishers announced that they had advance copies of the book, Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination: Art Literature and Culture, edited by Eleanor Dobson and Nichola Tonks, in which I have a chapter, and that they were sending them out to contributors – Wooo!

My chapter is called “Celtic Egyptians: Isis Priests of the Lineage of Scota”. Here’s the Abstract:

This paper analyses and critiques the uses of ancient Egyptian religion by the founders of two modern manifestations of the worship of the goddess Isis. Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, the primary creative genius behind the famous British occult group, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and his wife Moina Mathers established a mystery religion of Isis in fin de si├Ęcle Paris. Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, his wife Pamela and his sister Olivia created the Fellowship of Isis in Ireland in the early 1970s. Although separated by over half a century and not directly associated with each other, both groups have several characteristics in common. Each combined their worship of an ancient Egyptian goddess with an interest in the Celtic Revival; both claimed that their priestly lineages derived directly from the Egyptian princess Scota, foundress of Ireland and Scotland according to Irish and Scottish mythology and pseudohistory; and both groups used dramatic ritual and theatrical events as avenues for the promulgation of their Isis cults.

It is argued here that while both the Parisian mysteries of Isis and the Fellowship of Isis are historically-inaccurate syncretic constructions, they exemplify the enduring popularity of the Egyptian goddess Isis who since antiquity has been appropriated and re-fashioned in order to serve as a symbol of the zeitgeist. Already in Pharaonic and Roman Egypt, Isis was a universal goddess within whom other goddesses were subsumed. In subsequent centuries, so flexible was the figure of Isis that she was even claimed to have been a goddess of the Druids.

The tradition of an Egyptian origin of the peoples of Scotland and Ireland, as espoused in the medieval myth of the Egyptian princess Scota, legitimised the Mathers’s and the Durdin-Robertson’s claims of their ancient Egyptian priesthood. In addition to asserting that the Isis cult was brought by Scota, Pharaonic Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Medieval, Hermetic, and Romantic literary and archaeological sources were utilised in order to construct their understanding of Isis. That Isis was recreated according to the abilities and concerns of the founders of the Parisian mysteries and the Fellowship of Isis is evident from examination of eye-witness reports of ritual performances, occult theatre, personal interviews, missives, and explanatory texts. It is determined that both groups favoured an ahistorical construction of the goddess as an eternal, mysterious, magical figure representative of universal harmony, unity and nature, which appealed to late-nineteenth and twentieth century Pagan sensibilities.

Neither the Parisian mysteries of Isis nor the Fellowship of Isis has been the focus of much critical scholarship to date, and the use of the medieval myth of Scota by these figures has never been analysed. This paper builds upon previous research on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and contemporary Pagan religions, particularly the author’s examination of its prime movers; Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, Florence Farr, and Aleister Crowley; the Order’s utilisation of ancient Egyptian religion; and its influence on the emergence of the modern Pagan movement in the mid-twentieth century.

Keywords: Isis, Scota, Celts, occult theatre

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