Auset – (Isis in Greek) – one of the earliest and most beloved representations of the Goddess was known both as the Giver of Life and the Divine Mourner. She is the sacred model of African woman-hood and matriarchal agency who is at the genesis of life itself and its passage into the afterworld. The traditional practice in which African women preside over matters of death in their performance of funeral songs is very much in keeping with the role of Auset’s lamentations. It also fits the Shulamite’s role in the Song of Songs where she is referred to as the “fairest among women” because of who her beloved is; his special regard for her; and the regenerative role she is especially qualified to play as his “sister” and his “spouse.”
Auset – “Queen of Heaven,” “Giver of Life” and “Divine Mourner” – is the beloved sister and spouse of Ausar or Osiris (Greek), who served as King of Egypt before he became God of the underworld and the afterlife. Credited with having taught Egyptians agriculture, irrigation, construction, and hieroglyphic writing using the script invented by Djehuti or Thoth (Greek) during his reign, Ausar is murdered by his jealous brother Set or Seth (Greek) who thereafter imposes his own tyrannical rule over Kemet / ancient Egypt.
Auset’s mourning as she gathers and mummifies the pieces of her beloved’s body that Set has scattered throughout the land – or diaspora, in other words – becomes a hallmark of how this goddess came to be identified over the centuries by her numerous followers. The language Auset cries in as Ausar’s funerary deity is a lamentation and plea for her beloved to return to life. The sacred tears she sheds over him are said to be the cause of the annual flooding of the Nile River, which is still commemorated by Egyptian Muslims in “The Night of the [Tear-]Drop” festival. Auset is able to magically resurrect her consort. Their son who is posthumously conceived – Heru or Horus (Greek) – in manhood avenges his father’s death and overthrows his uncle Set’s evil rule.
Goddess of the home and person rather than of the temple and priest, Auset nevertheless comes to represent the throne of Kemet upon whose lap Pharaohs, like her own son, were enthroned/enstooled and reigned. “Justice and judgment are the foundation of thy throne” (Psalm 89: 14) originated from her Goddess principles of Right, Justice, and Truth (Ma’at). The Throne-Mother’s nature-based magical powers of resurrection/reincarnation in concert with her lamentations are a matriarchal mystery ritualized throughout Africa. Associated with Mut, Hathor, Bast, Ma’at, Sekhmet, Neith among others, the Goddess of Goddesses – Auset – is the ideal and universal sister, mother, and spouse who hears the cries of the downtrodden, children, her beloved… and responds with compassion and wisdom.
Ancient Egyptians addressed Auset as “Mistress of the gods, thou bearer of wings, thou lady of the red apparel, queen of the crowns of the South and North, only One… superior to whom the gods cannot be, thou mighty one of enchantments (or, Words of Power)… thou who art pre-eminent, mistress and lady of the tomb, Mother in the horizon of heaven… Praise be unto thee, O Lady, who art mightier than the gods, words of adoration rise unto thee from the Eight Gods of Hermopolis. The living souls who are in their hidden places praise the mystery of thee, O thou who art their mother, thou source from which they sprang, who makest for them a place in the hidden Underworld, who makest sound their bones and preservest them from terror, who makest them strong in the abode of everlastingness.”
The cult of the Virgin Mary originally entered the Greco-Roman world as worship of Throne Mother and Queen of Heaven Auset, whose iconic breast-feeding of her son Heru was transformed into the popular Madonna and Child version. Auset’s awakening of Ausar from the dead and her posthumous conception of a son (Heru) is echoed in the “virgin” birth of Jesus Christ and later resurrection from his tomb by Mary Magdalene after he lived a life performing miracles once ascribed to the Goddess. Roman Christian Pastors evolved from the Pastophori or “pastors/ shepherds/servants of Isis,” and were among those who advanced the legend of Mary and her son Jesus taking refuge in Egypt in the sycamore tree. Sacred to Auset-Hathor, this tree is now promoted as a Christian pilgrimage site in Mataria, Egypt. Indeed much that has been promoted as Christianity – such as the Ten Commandments which assume a Euro-patriarchal posture in their reinterpretation of the Negative Confessions (found in the ancient funerary text referred to as The Book of the Dead or Book of Coming Forth By Day) – has its African origins in ancient Egypt.
The Divine Mourner who shows up as the “black [and] comely” Shulamite in the biblical Song of Songs retains the essence of Auset in her relationship to Ausar – her beloved; their sacredness captured in the testimony of nature itself; their communication dynamic an intimate testimonial of Ubuntu. However, the Goddess’s mystery and role was diminished across the board in the packaged Euro-patriarchal revisions that came back to Africa in conjunction with slavery and colonialism. As Kenya’s President Jomo Kenyatta pointed out (discussed elsewhere), When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.
One illustrative and cruel twist of the knife that has historically been stuck in the Goddess’s back can be interpreted from the colonial designation for the source of the Nile which is where the river’s annual flooding (commemorated in “The Night of the [Tear-]Drop” festival) issues northwards from. Lake “Victoria” – the source which continues to provide livelihood and the sacred wisdom that took ancient Egyptian forms which were usurped by subsequent civilizations – is still named for the British Queen who presided (1837-1901) over her country’s role in occupying and obtaining African land and treasure.
In the documentary entitled The Language You Cry In, a Mende elder advises, “You can speak another language. You can live in another culture. But to cry over your dead, you always go back to your mother tongue… You know who a person is by the language they cry in.” The language the African Goddess mourns in echoes down every corridor of time since Eden – the axis mundi or genesis of humanity – our peculiar experience of history as a community resonant in the emotional hues that color Her blues like no one else’s to this day… Hotep, M
Malaika Mutere, Ph.D. is author of Towards an Africa-centered and pan-African theory of communication: Ubuntu and the Oral Aesthetic perspective Communicatio 38 (2) 2012: 147-163