The International Cults of Isis and Serapis

Serapis is an underrated god, his cult spread across international borders. Apis, the sacred bull of Egyptians, represented Ptah powers of renewing life. At the time of a Pharaoh ‘s death a bull which symbolized Apis was sacrificed and Osiris takes ownership of Apis–this combination of Osiris and Apis was named Osorapis, the deity who the Greeks named Serapis. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, he searched for a deity in which would unite the Egyptians and and the Greeks; he failed, but his death brought about the sacrifice of the bull symbolizing Apis. Alexander’s adviser, Ptolemy I Soter, took control of Egypt and successively found a deity who could bring together Egyptians and Greeks–Serapis, who at the site of Alexandria, the locals worshiped Osorapis.

Greeks preferred gods of human form, so they favored Osiris over Apis and made the god in the image of the their Underworld deities, Hades and Pluto. Another god of more ancient roots may have played a role in the creation of Serapis because Serapsi which translates to ‘king of the deep,’ a title of Ea/Enki.

A serpent is another symbol of Serapis; which, brings to mind the Minoan culture’s worship of bulls and serpents. Healers and heralds hold serpent staffs, and Serapis is a healer; heralds travel between realms, and Serapis is a god of resurrection. Ningishzida, the Sumerian god of vegetation also wields a serpent staff, and is called the ‘the lord of the good tree, so one must wonder if this is Old Testament’s ‘tree of knowledge. Gnostics adopted Serapis, in their teachings, and one emperor caleed worshipers of Serapis–Christians. You may have heard the phrase, ‘All roads lead to Rome;’ you could also say all gods lead to Serapis. Name a god and you will often find a close link to Serapis, from the Persian Mithras to the Hindu Yama.

The two Egyptian deities links to great goddesses; Apis, the son of Hathor, and Osiris, the husband of Isis. Official recognition of Serapis by a Greek priest of the Eleusinian Mysteries and well-respected Egyptian priest let the deity’s cult thrive.

Serapis is partnered with Isis due to Osiris. Isis is much more renowned than Serapis, so she doesn’t need a write-up. Their cults were separate, but entwined. The cults even gained favor in the Roman Empire, in the Flavian era, and appeared on coins. Like Serapis, Isis links to many deities. When you think of major religions, you may not think of the cults of Isis and Serapis, but you probably should.

Isis and Serapis


Ancient Greece preferred their gods to take exceptional human form, so Ptolemy I created Seapis by merging Apis, the bull, with Osiris, the castrated. Isis already had a human appearance and her marriage to Osiris shifted to Serapis. Isis compares to the mother and daughter combo of Demeter and Persephone. Isis and Serapis had a large cult following in Rome. The destruction of the Temple of Serapis at Alexandria signifies the destruction of Paganism.

Serapis is similar to Dis Pater and all the links, to this Egyptian, god combine to make him the centerpiece of my novel’s mythology. I prefer Ptah, the original god linked to Apis..

Exotica of Isis


Isis has a talent for wrapping her arms and legs around things. A fertility goddess can twist around an animal goddess like Artemis-Diana or search for the penis of Osiris to screw it back on. The Herculaneum fresco on the bottom left shows a smorgasbord of women – Nubians, Blondes, and Redheads and I bet an Asian woman or two had a place in the ritual. A cult has much use for the exotic because the exotic is interesting. Cults want to mystify so, I’m sure they imported many rare beauties from other lands. Slaves saw Isis as the goddess who gave them riches in the afterlife.

The Roman temple of Isis in Pompeii has a theatre and it shows scenes of Io (mythology), Argos, and Hermes ( they have a role in one of my favorite chapters, in my book). Metamorphoses, Music, and Mystery held a place in all mystery cults, but the main theme of all mystery cults is life and death. Isis, the Cabeiri, Orpheus, and other deities of mystery cults represented salvation before Jesus came along and stole the scene. The bottom right image is an illustration by Jean de Bosschère for The Golden Ass and the Isis provides salvation for the hapless hero who turned into a donkey (also has a role in my book).

The theater played a role in mystery cults and my last few posts have tried to emphasize this fact. Isis had so much power she moved from Egypt to Greece and then to Rome. She’s preceded by the myths of Ishtar, Astarte, and the first divine striptease artist – Inanna. Feel free to go visit your local stripper to worship and tithe.


Loving The Ass


A crude comedy and a romantic love story rolled into a classic. I think Canova captures Cupid and Psyche love story within the ass’s tale with the sculpture on the right. Note the beauty but also consider how the wings can allude to an ass’s ears. Her arms may form a heart, but I can see how ass’s muzzle can nuzzle above Cupids’ arm and Psyche’s breasts. It may come from my tendency toward double entendre or the artist, like Apuleius, put it there.

Even before I started weaving The Golden Ass into my novel; I had many of the same aspects. We both use metamorphoses and use fertility cults. Apuleius uses cults of Isis and Osiris; while, I make note that the names change but the roles stay the same in fertility cults. The female role often stars a mistress-goddess; which, no one dares to name. Apuleius and I also use hapless heroes and frame story technique.

The Cupid and Psyche tale falls under the term mise en abyme. Las Meninas by Velázquez, uses the visual form of this term. I use Velázquez in my first chapter for a reason; I also use mise en abyme. If my brain can can come up with a tale similar to the Cupid and Psyche tale; I might refine my use and improve on one of my weaker chapters. Don’t hold your breath; I’ve strained my brain past its limit already.

Clodion’s Cupid and Psyche (center) shows the little guys sometimes called the Putti. One of my first posts shows my thoughts.

The Great Gods? She’s a cow.


Yes, the beautiful Isis is a cow. Associate a woman with a cow these days and a spiked hell may find where the sun don’t shine. Some people make fun of the Hindu respect for the cow, but many cultures did the Holy Cow thing. Hera was the cow eyed goddess. Osiris was of one of the many gods that lost his wiener. Ptah has his and some depictions have him well endowed. The many cat videos and pics prove many still worship Bast. Horus may be a bird brain, but birds without a doubt look down on us humans. Bes looks made for kid TV and he did entertain kids in the early Egypt.