Immersion in the World of Myth
So why Isis, you may ask? Why does my character, Ange, turn out to be Isis incarnate? Why the Egyptian pantheon? Why a goddess, and not a shape-shifting vampire slayer, or a technically advanced time-travelling do-gooder, or some kind of well-meaning elf-dryad-unicorn hybrid, or a priestess from the sunken, undiscovered-by-humankind island of Atlantis, or a Fairy Godmother Voodoo Queen, or some other supernatural entity?
Easy answer: Er, I dunno.
Honest answer: I guess this is how the idea first came to me – Ange, after being an outsider all her life and then witnessing a truly horrible event at the start of Book One, wishes to change the world for the better. And then she finds out that she’s a goddess…
Wish fulfilment? Dream come true? Or disaster waiting to happen? (Perhaps a dose of all three!)
So I just dug out and read the first outline I ever wrote for this story, before I started writing it or did a jot of research about gods and goddesses, Egypt, or anything else to do with it. I was very definite that she is Isis, but I can’t remember a conscious reason for choosing Isis over any other goddess, or any other type of person or entity.
From what I remember, her identity as Isis came with my very first idea for the story. I never questioned it, or looked for alternatives, or contemplated writing that she was actually an alien with super powers who was dumped on earth as a baby and raised by an average American family.
No, right from the start, Ange was Isis, who had incarnated physically at this time to bring back balance, peace and harmony to this great big rotten old world.
Only Ange didn’t know it. In retrospect, she finds subtle hints peppered throughout her life memories, but not enough for her to suspect anything of the sort about herself. After all, a goddess? Really???
The surprise aspect of her discovery, and then her ignorance of just HOW to be a goddess, propels her through the trilogy. She has much to learn, and she has to learn it fast and well. She makes mistakes. She does things wrong. She has failures. She must assimilate and consolidate all her learning to achieve her mission by the end of Book 3.
But she’s not alone. Literally. No god or goddess exists in isolation, and Isis is no exception. She belongs not only to the Egyptian pantheon, but to a very specific group of deities within that pantheon – the Ennead of Heliopolis. This refers to nine gods and goddesses that were worshipped primarily at the ancient city of Heliopolis. For most of them, their worship spread over much larger areas with time. Especially that of Isis.
When I started to research Isis in depth, I found that she had been one of the most popular and revered goddesses of ancient times. Worship of Isis spread outside of Egypt, to the Middle East and then throughout the Roman world. It seems that she was so popular that the early Christian church considered her to be their main rival, and it took until about 600AD to stamp out Isis worship in areas where Christianity had spread.
What was it that made Isis so attractive to her followers? She was a healer. She wielded great magic. She was the perfect wife and mother. She helped the poor and oppressed, and always held a dignified and highly moral stance. Early depictions of Isis suckling her son, Horus, became the standard iconography of the Christian church in images of Mary and her baby, Jesus. She was well and truly a part of the psyche of the ancient world.
The rest of the Ennead are also well-known and respected deities. Her brother/husband, Osiris – the god who died and was brought back to life by his loving wife. Her sister Nephthys, who she shared strong bonds with and who assisted her in much of her magic. Her brother, Set, who brought her (and others) many trials and tribulations with his evil ways. Her son, Horus, who grew up to avenge his father.
Also there is the Egyptian creator god, Atum – interchangeably Ra – as well the parents and grandparents of the four siblings. Other Egyptian deities I have as characters are Thoth – a good friend and ally of Isis, Hathor, and Sekhmet.
So, nothing simpler than writing in a few Egyptian gods and goddesses to give Ange’s adventures some context, right? If only.
Over thousands of years, the stories of these deities often changed. In some, they had a different mother/father/sister/brother/lover/wife/husband altogether than in other stories. Or they had slightly different associations of place, or attributes. By the time the Greek and Roman writers, such as Plutarch, started writing down these tales, many of them had changed substantially from the earliest records.
My challenge was to decide which versions of the tales I wanted to use. I didn’t want to just cherry-pick the bits I liked from different stories and periods. I wanted to stay as true as I could to the earlier versions of the myths, and especially those before the Ptolemaic line of pharaohs if I could (the Greek Ptolemy family ruled Egypt for about 300 years, after the death of Alexander the Great).
So I dug through the internet, finding records of the Pyramid Texts, the Book of the Dead, and other funerary texts. And I managed to put together the fragments that told the most cohesive and – to my mind – the most likely stories of these deities.
Of course, I wasn’t finished there. In books two and three I introduce other pantheons – the Greek, the Indian (Hindu), and even the Atlantean pantheons. Mentions are made of the gods and goddesses of the Romans, the Celts, the Scandinavians, the native Americans, China and Japan. The Dreamtime. Sub-Saharan Africa. And the Middle East.
The Middle East was, in fact, one of the most interesting, mainly due to being the area from which the Abrahamic religions originally sprang. Amongst the pantheons of the Middle East, I found mention of a god who split away from his pantheon and required his followers to change to a monotheistic religious practice.
Eventually, he became the god of the tribes who became the Jewish people. And then that of the Christian and Muslim people. At first he was known as El. But over time, that name was lost and he became the god we know from the Tanakh (including the Torah), the Holy Bible, and the Quran.
Apart from gods and goddesses, there are also mythical creatures. Vampires and werewolves feature early on, and a wide range of creatures from various myths and legends are found inhabiting other dimensions in the second and third books. You will even catch a glimpse of some fey folk from time to time, not to mention a special creature from Japanese myth that becomes a special friend and guardian to Ange.
Last but definitely not least, there are angels and demons. My research indicated that these spirits were not unique to any one religion or myth. Nowadays we tend to think of them – angels especially – as ‘belonging’ to the Abrahamic religions, but angel-like beings were common to many practices. As for demons – just about every culture has their idea of a devil figure and ‘demonic’ evil spirits.
I have included many of the well-known arch-angels, such as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Azrael, as each had important and differing functions. You’ll also find Satan – though he introduces himself as Lou (a derivative of Lucifer), and Beelzebub (who is a separate entity altogether). In my books, the demons can disguise themselves as gargoyles, and as humans – which Ange must learn to see through.
I really have immersed myself in myth of all sorts to research for this trilogy. I’m hoping it adds lots of extra colour (and personality!) to what I’ve written.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a brief appearance by a zombie too?
Keep a smile on your dial until next time, and peace and love in your heart
From Lana Lea and her time-travelling muse