Mythology of Ancient Egypt
Isis and the Name of the Sun God
The ancient Egyptians were firm believers in magic. The Goddess Isis was considered to be especially potent in the magical arts, and one of her greatest coups came when she persuaded Re to divulge his secret name so that she held power over him.
Isis “was a clever woman,” explained one story, “more intelligent than countless gods … She was ignorant of nothing in heaven or on Earth.” She wanted to place herself and her son Horus at the head of the pantheon of Gods and the only way to do this was to discover Re’s secret name.
One day Isis came upon Re when he was asleep, snoring loudly. From the corner of his open mouth hung along dribble of saliva which gather weight and fell to the ground. Isis pounced: scooping up the spittle, she mixed it with clay in the form of a poisonous snake. Then she breathed magic into the snake to make it come alive.
Isis had noted Re’s movements and knew that every so often he would leave his Palace to go for a walk. Each time, on his route, he passed a crossroads. Isis left her snake there and awaited further developments.
Re emerged for his excursion, and as Isis had planned, the snake bit him. Re saw nothing, but he felt the poison coursing through him. In pain, he called to the other gods for help. Re had a fever and was sweating and shivering, but the gods were helpless: they could do no more than mourn the impending loss of the sun.
Isis then made a dramatic entrance. She could cure him, she said, but only if he would tell her his name. Re refused. She offered again and again, but still he declined. Eventually, his agony became so extreme that he could bear it no longer, and he agreed to give Isis the secret, on condition that she should tell it to no one other than her son Horus. Isis accepted these terms, and speaking aloud the god’s true name, she removed the poison. The sun god was cured at once, and Isis and Horus attained the power that they had sought.