THE LEGEND OF RA AND ISIS
“This Legend is found written in the hieratic character upon a papyrus preserved in Turin, and it illustrates a portion of the preceding Legend.
We have seen that Ra instructed Thoth to draw up a series of spells to be used against venomous reptiles of all kinds, and the reader will perceive from the following summary that Ra had good reason for doing this.
The Legend opens with a list of the titles of Ra, the “self-created god,” creator of heaven, earth, breath of life, fire, gods, men, beasts, cattle, reptiles, feathered fowl, and fish, the King of gods and men, to whom cycles of 120 years are as years, whose manifold names are unknown even by the gods.
The text continues: “Isis had the form of a woman, and knew words of power, but she was disgusted with men, and she yearned for the companionship of the gods and the spirits, and she meditated and asked herself whether, supposing she had the knowledge of the Name of Ra, it was not possible to make herself as great as Ra was in heaven and on the earth?
Meanwhile Ra appeared in heaven each day upon his throne, but he had become old, and he dribbled at the mouth, and his spittle fell on the ground. One day Isis took some of the spittle and kneaded up dust in it, and made this paste into the form of a serpent with a forked tongue, so that if it struck anyone the person struck would find it impossible to escape death. This figure she placed on the path on which Ra walked as he came into heaven after his daily survey of the Two Lands (i.e. Egypt).
Soon after this Ra rose up, and attended by his gods he came into heaven, but as he went along the serpent drove its fangs into him. As soon as he was bitten Ra felt the living fire leaving his body, and he cried out so loudly that his voice reached the uttermost parts of heaven. The gods rushed to him in great alarm, saying, “What is the matter?” At first Ra was speechless, and found himself unable to answer, for his jaws shook, his lips trembled, and the poison continued to run through every part of his body. When he was able to regain a little strength, he told the gods that some deadly creature had bitten him, something the like of which he had never seen, something which his hand had never made.
He said, “Never before have I felt such pain; there is no pain worse than this.” Ra then went on to describe his greatness and power, and told the listening gods that his father and mother had hidden his name in his body so that no one might be able to master him by means of any spell or word of power. In spite of this something had struck him, and he knew not what it was.
“Is it fire?” he asked. “Is it water? My heart is full of burning fire, my limbs are shivering, shooting pains are in all my members.” All the gods round about him uttered cries of lamentation, and at this moment Isis appeared.
Going to Ra she said, “What is this, O divine father? What is this? Hath a serpent bitten thee? Hath something made by thee lifted up its head against thee? Verily my words of power shall overthrow it; I will make it depart in the sight of thy light.”
Ra then repeated to Isis the story of the incident, adding, “I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire. All my members sweat. My body quaketh. Mine eye is unsteady. I cannot look on the sky, and my face is bedewed with water as in the time of the Inundation.” [i.e. in the period of Summer. The season Shemmu began in April and ended about July 15.]
Then Isis said, “Father, tell me thy name, for he who can utter his own name liveth.”
Ra replied, “I am the maker of heaven and earth. I knit together the mountains and whatsoever liveth on them. I made the waters. I made Mehturit [An ancient Cow-goddess of heaven] to come into being. I made Kamutef [A form of Amen-Ra]. I made heaven, and the two hidden gods of the horizon, and put souls into the gods. I open my eyes, and there is light; I shut my eyes, and there is darkness. I speak the word[s], and the waters of the Nile appear. I am he whom the gods know not. I make the hours. I create the days. I open the year. I make the river [Nile]. I create the living fire whereby works in the foundries and workshops are carried out. I am Khepera in the morning, Ra at noon, and Temu in the evening.”
Meanwhile the poison of the serpent was coursing through the veins of Ra, and the enumeration of his works afforded the god no relief from it. Then Isis said to Ra, “Among all the things which thou hast named to me thou hast not named thy name. Tell me thy name, and the poison shall come forth from thee.”
Ra still hesitated, but the poison was burning in his blood, and the heat thereof was stronger than that of a fierce fire. At length he said, “Isis shall search me through, and my name shall come forth from my body and pass into hers.”
Then Ra hid himself from the gods, and for a season his throne in the Boat of Millions of Years was empty. When the time came for the heart of the god to pass into Isis, the goddess said to Horus, her son, “The great god shall bind himself by an oath to give us his two eyes (i.e. the sun and the moon).”
When the great god had yielded up his name Isis pronounced the following spell: “Flow poison, come out of Ra. Eye of Horus, come out of the god, and sparkle as thou comest through his mouth. I am the worker. I make the poison to fall on the ground. The poison is conquered. Truly the name of the great god hath been taken from him. Ra liveth! The poison dieth! If the poison live Ra shall die.” These were the words which Isis spoke, Isis the great lady, the Queen of the gods, who knew Ra by his own name.
In late times magicians used to write the above Legend on papyrus above figures of Temu and Heru-Hekenu, who gave Ra his secret name, and over figures of Isis and Horus, and sell the rolls as charms against snake bites.”
–E. A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, pp. 37-8.