Virgo: Egyptian Tarot Isis IX

The Egyptian Tarot trump for the twentieth path of Virgo is Isis IX. Mercury, the Stellar Light, is the ruler of the sign of Virgo and is exalted therein.

Egyptian Tarot Isis IXThe trump depicts the twin sisters Isis and Nephthys giving life to the inert soul, which is suspended in the watery abyss called Aukert.[1] By uniting all dualities, the twin powers of the soul create the star-flower of immortality, shown here with ten rays or petals. Thus the soul’s essence is re-united with its integrality. The twin sisters are placed in the Garden of Eden, which was at one time manifested on the earth as the gardens surrounding the Temple of Neïth in the Delta region, the House of the Lady of Sàis. The image at the same time recollects the legend of Isis as recorded on the Metternich Stele, when she raised Horus to life after he was poisoned by Set in the form of a scorpion. The card thus illustrates the three powers of the path: Parthenogenesis, Invisibility and Initiation. These are reflected in the staff, cloak and lamp of the conventional Tarot designs.

The twin sisters Isis and Nephthys are depicted in the centre of the Tarot picture. We know them from their Greek names but the Egyptians knew them as Iset and Nebhet. Their names literally mean ‘Throne’ and ‘Lady of the House’. The hieroglyphs for these form the crowns of the goddesses. They both wear a fillet, tied at the back, and from the front the erect cobra serpent protrudes over their brows. The uraeus is the royal emblem and symbol of the Kundalini or Serpent Power, the power of divinity and of life.

Isis and Nephthys mirror each other here, so while Isis salutes with her right hand, Nephthys salutes with her left. In the other hand each bears the Ankh of Life. Isis forms a waxing lunar crescent on the right hand side of the Tree of Life and Nephthys forms a waning lunar crescent on the left hand side. Together they are the forces of manifestation and life, symbolised as the dual serpents entwined about the Caduceus staff of Mercury or Tahuti, the word-bird and Logos. Tahuti in the form of a bird such as the white ibis, or sometimes the phoenix, conveys the sense of cyclical return, in which case he is Lord of the Universe

Isis and the Garden of Eden

Between Isis and Nephthys is the hieroglyph for ‘Garden of the North’, the Delta region. The same was used in descriptions of the Temple of Neïth at Sàis (Egyptian Sait), which was originally surrounded by sumptuous gardens and waterways, and among these the royal bee hives. The honey of the bee is the food of immortality. The bee symbol is inseparable from that of the honeyed fields of Sekhet A’aret, the gardens of paradise or Fields of Eleusis.

Beneath the feet of the twin sisters is Aukert, the region of the underworld where the soul is neither truly dead nor alive, suspended in a watery abyss. The gift of Isis and Nephthys blooms above in the form of a flower or star. It symbolises the awakening to the new life of integrality. The star is composed of superimposed upright and averse pentagrams forming a flower of ten petals in all. The sum of the petals plus the calyx makes eleven, the number of the perfect unity of the macrocosm and the microcosm, respectively six and five.

The Hermit is the traditional title of this Tarot card, typifying the sage that wanders alone through desolate, abandoned places and that thirsts only for the knowledge of God. The legends of Isis include her hiding in the Delta swamps to give birth to the divine child Horus. While she is out searching for food, Set assumes the form of a scorpion and stings Horus to death. Her sister Nephthys then cries out to heaven and stops the sun boat of Ra in its tracks. The cessation of time enables Tahuti to whisper in the ear of Isis the spell, the ‘moment in time’, that will resurrect Horus to immortal life. The tale has multiple levels of meaning; the soul must be receptive to wisdom, a word must be heard. In the same story Isis commands seven scorpions to bow down their heads that she may pass. They are obedient to her command because she is Isis—they belong to her.[2] The practitioner must be obedient to the path. The Setian Ass or human ego must be willingly sacrificed to the Great Work, otherwise initiation is impossible. The account given on the Metternich Stele ends with the exhortation, “And these words are true and a million times true”. A true word must be heard ere it can be uttered. Thus the esoteric title of the Tarot trump for Virgo is Prophet of the Eternal: Magus of the Voice of Power, for there is close affinity between Isis and Tahuti (or Thoth).

Egyptological descriptions of Isis focus on the Middle and Late Kingdom mysteries, when many Greeks and then Romans became followers of the cult of Isis. By that time Isis was wedded with Osiris, the Lord of the Dead. With her twin sister, she was seen as the type of the funerary mourner, whose vocalised ululuations led the soul of the deceased along the processional route. The tale of Isis giving birth to Horus noted above dates from the same time, for originally Horus was the child of Hathoor. The same sources give the 5th and 6th Dynasties as the time of the first known reference to Isis, or Iset as she is properly known. She is named in the Pyramid Texts, and we know that these in all probability originate from a time far more ancient even than that of the 5th Dynasty. ‘Throne’, her name, has provoked some amusing scholarly speculation. The explanation is simply that Isis is the Foundation of the Universe, the ‘Throne in the Beginning’. Our translation of Spell 78 from the Book of Coming Forth includes this.[3]

Open thou the ways, that I may return through the wheels of thy spinning, that have established the throne of my becoming; that was my seat before my beginning!

The Iset ‘throne’ hieroglyph nearly always depicts a rectangular or square insert on the base of the seat. This declares the phi ratio or Golden Mean, the foundation of the visible universe that is also descriptive of geometric forms such as the pentagram and spiral. Ancient architecture frequently incorporates the Golden Mean in its proportions. Qabalistically, Binah (‘Understanding’) is the completion of the supernal triad, the geometric foundation of form, and is often personified as Isis. The corresponding name in the world of Yetzirah (‘Foundation’) is Aralim, ‘Thrones’, the Foundation of Understanding. As Isis is also the principle of love, we are reminded that there is no understanding without love, and that love and wisdom are therefore inseparable terms. The literal meaning of philosophy is ‘love of wisdom’—would that it was the norm and not the exception!

Nebhet, the sister of Iset, also wears her name for her crown, ‘Lady of the House’. This is formed from the neb, a bowl or basket, placed upon the het symbol for ‘house’, a rectangular enclosure. The house, temple, shrine or abode thus rests on the foundations of the universe, expressed through the proportions of the phi ratio. It is then the ‘House of God’, the chakra, star or flower that is the abode for the indwelling Soul of the Eternal.

Voice of Power

The position of the twentieth path of Virgo on the Tree of Life extends from the azure sphere of Gedulah (Jupiter) to the golden blaze of Tiphereth (the Sun). Gedulah is the natural sephira for both Isis and Ma’at. In Tiphereth, the Magnificent Fountains flow forth to irrigate the radiant gardens of Eden.

The path is called the Intelligence of Will. The yod, bindu, flame or seed-star that is the letter of the twentieth path is, in the cosmic sense, Ishvara (Lord), the giver of Life, the animator of all things that live and move and have their being. The same principle may be seen as Mercury in the modality of the higher intellect. Mercury is the planetary ruler of the astrological sign. Virgo is unique in the Zodiac in that Mercury rules her sign and is exalted therein. The Intelligence of Will is called thus ‘because it prepares all created beings, each individually, for the demonstration of the existence of the primordial glory’. The path may be compared with the ray of light-intelligence that forms the innermost structures of the mental faculties in man, called manas in the Sanskrit, the ‘inward sense’. Ascending the path in the fullest sense constitutes the realisation of the integrality of total being, or ‘Universal Man’. The knowledge of the spiritual Will constitutes the fullest realisation of the cosmic purpose or meaning in all things. On the human level, this path includes the possibility of knowing and doing the True Will (Dharma).

The letter yod of this path is the feminine essence—“the substance of creations in pure darkness” of the fifteenth path, as the higher analogue. On the ascent of the path, the ‘seed-self’ or bindu is thus conveyed to the matrix to unite with the Khu, Spirit or Holy Ghost. The descent of this path brings the recollection of cosmic memory into the realisation of Tiphereth, the individual self (jivatma). All solitary creatures are assigned to this path, yet the Initiate of the path must illumine the way for others.

The Pythagorean number of the path is 210, an indication of the mystery of NOX or Night, personified as Lilith or Lilah. This has a dual meaning: in the higher sense it is the ‘night’ of the unmanifest, to which manifest being is exterior. In the inferior sense it is no more than the darkness of ignorance or unknowing. Thus in the Vedanta, prakriti, the undifferentiated primordial ‘substance’ is sometimes referred to as mere nescience, while at other times, as the source of the intellect as first production  of prakriti, it is the primary goal.

The trinity of the number 210 is summed up in the staff, lamp and cloak of the hermit of this path. The staff is the energy, the Occult Force, which must be applied with strict vigilance and economy of means towards the Great Work. The lamp is a metaphor for the Intelligible Light, which the Initiate necessarily veils from the world. The cloak of invisibility is the silent means of transmission of the secret Word of the True Will. Thus the magical powers of the path are said to be those of Invisibility, Parthenogenesis and Initiation.

The zodiacal sign of Virgo is associated with Isis as the virgin mother. In very ancient times, before the cult of Osiris held sway, Nuit and Hathoor gave birth to a divine child by parthenogenesis, which is to say, without paternal intervention. The child is the sun-star or son of God who possesses the mysterious Shakti power by which all things appear to the senses. The divine intermediary is thus identified with the Logos, as Universal Being. The ‘child’ that is born in secrecy and silence, not by any generative means, is the Flower of Mind or Sanskrit boddhi. It is the higher intellect that is able to perceive the Atma or uppermost tip of the yod directly, without distortion by the mental faculties that are drawn by the magnetism of sensorial objects. Initiation is a silent ‘vibration’ that is transmitted through a tradition or organisation, or its representatives. As such, it must be understood that initiatic transmission is not in any true sense a magical power as such. On the individual scale, a guru may have the power to transmit a thought or latent impression directly, but the effect is temporary unless the chela works at the knowledge.


Abridged from the forthcoming book and Egyptian Tarot deck.

1. The ‘watery abyss’, Aukert, is the region of the unawakened dead. The same is also depicted as a lake of fire. Bika Reed has compared this with the alchemical symbolism of the bath or vessel that is heated by a furnace. “The flood of man’s despair has drowned him. The heat of his own rebellion has destroyed him. Fish feed on him in shallow water.” See Rebel in the Soul—a sacred text of ancient Egypt, Bika Reed, p. 119 [Inner Traditions International, 1978].

2. Selqet, the Scorpion goddess, is closely linked to Isis. To the Egyptians, the scorpion was not only a symbol of death but also a symbol of life-giving breath or spirit.

3. P. 74, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Second Edition Revised]. The Book of Coming Forth into Light is called by Egyptologists the ‘Book of the Dead’, a name that was originally afforded it by tomb robbers.

© Oliver St. John 2020 (revised 2024)

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