Google the name Queen of Heaven today and most of the sites you will find relate to Mary, the Mother of God in the Catholic faith. Just a click away are sites for churches, schools and other organizations named for Mary, sites with information about Mary, and many gorgeous images of Mary. However, if the citizens of the late Roman Empire had access to the same technology, a similar search engine would have found for them a plethora of sites for temples to Isis, sites with information about Isis, and many gorgeous images of a tremendous female figure who was associated, like Mary, with the heavens and the sky, and often depicted bearing a son, who was a God, sitting upon her lap. This is because Mary absorbed Isis’ sky goddess characteristics in the European imagination, just as Isis had absorbed those of a great many other Mediterranean goddesses before her. The human need for images of a divine mother is very ancient indeed.
Isis was a very old Goddess by the time Rome ruled the world. She pre-dates the pharaohs and the historic record in ancient Egypt, and that’s saying something. She was first a local goddess in Northern Egypt beginning to be worshiped some time before 3100 B.C. Over time she increased in popularity and absorbed characteristics of other Egyptian goddesses, such as the cow goddess Hathor and the cat goddess Bast (both of whom were identified initially with the sky and the sun). She was said to be the daughter of the Sky Goddess Nut and the Earth God Geb. She was the wife of Osiris, who died and was reborn, and became God of the Afterlife. And she was often depicted with the child god Horus sitting on her lap. Mother, Queen of Heaven, and often invoked as a protector, a kind goddess who protected mothers, sailors and the dead, among others, her popularity in Egypt foreshadowed an even larger following in later times. By the second century A.D., she had absorbed the traits of many Greco-Roman Goddesses as well, and her worship was so common throughout the Roman Empire that she was known as Isis of Ten Thousand names. About that time, Lucius Apuleius wrote of a visitation by Isis to Lucius in his novel The Golden Ass, describing her like this:
When I had ended this prayer, and made known my needs to the Goddess, I fell asleep, and by and by appeared unto me a divine and venerable face, worshiped even by the Gods themselves. Then by little and little I seemed to see the whole figure of her body, mounting out of the sea and standing before me, and so I shall describe her divine appearance, if the poverty of my human speech will allow me, or her divine power give me eloquence to do so.
First she had a great abundance of hair, dispersed and scattered about her neck, on the crown of her head she wore many garlands interlaced with flowers, just above her brow was a disk in the form of a mirror, or resembling the light of the Moon, in one of her hands she bore serpents, in the other, blades of corn, her robe was of fine silk shimmering in divers colors, sometime yellow, sometime rose, sometime flamy, and sometimes (which sore troubled my spirit) dark and obscure, covered with a black robe in manner of a shield, and pleated in most subtle fashion at the skirts of her garments, the welts appeared comely, whereas here and there the stars peaked out, and in the middle of them was placed the Moon, which shone like a flame of fire, round about the robe was a coronet or garland made with flowers and fruits. In her right hand she had a timbrel of brass, which gave a pleasant sound, in her left hand she bore a cup of gold, out of the mouth whereof the serpent Aspis lifted up his head, with a swelling throat, her sweet feet were covered with shoes interlaced and wrought with victorious palm.
Thus the divine shape breathing out the pleasant spice of fertile Arabia, disdained not with her divine voice to utter these words unto me:
“Behold Lucius I am come, thy weeping and prayers has moved me to succor thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names, for the Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, the mother of the Gods: the Athenians call me Cecropian Artemis: the Cyprians, Paphian Aphrodite: the Candians, Dictyanna: the Sicilians , Stygian Proserpine: and the Eleusians call me Mother of the Corn. Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis. Behold I am come to take pity of thy fortune and tribulation, behold I am present to favor and aid thee. Leave off thy weeping and lamentation, put away thy sorrow, for behold the healthful day which is ordained by my providence, therefore be ready to attend to my commandment.”