Last week, we talked about the symbolism of the Knot of Isis. This time, let’s talk about actually wearing the amulet.
It’s relatively easy to find a jewelry version of the amulet and that’s certainly the easiest way to wear a symbol of the Goddess. If that’s the way you’d like to go, purify and consecrate your new piece of jewelry, then charge it by speaking the formula of the Knot of Isis over it:
You have Your blood, O Isis. You have Your power, O Isis. You have Your magic, O Isis.
It would be well to “touch up” the magical charge from time to time by repeating the Knot of Isis formula on occasion; perhaps yearly at the rising of Sothis in your area, or monthly on the full moon.
It takes a bit more doing if you’d like to actually wear the Knot of Isis tied into your ritual clothing. (Generally, this is a woman’s dress; having breasts helps keep it in place a bit. But I see no reason why a man could not wear the Knot, too, should he choose to do so.)
The image above is a Roman-era Isis and shows the most common way we’re used to seeing the Knot of Isis tied into clothing. During this period, this was the most most common way of depicting both the Goddess and Her representatives. I presume that this was considered ritual clothing and not everyday wear, but perhaps it was daily wear for full time priestesses; just a speculation.
The Knot of Isis ensemble consisted of two pieces: an under-robe, long or short-sleeved, and an over-mantle that was draped around the body and tied together with a large knot—the Isis Knot—between the breasts. The mantle is often fringed. The statue above has just a little fringe, which you can see a little bit where the ends of the knot hang loose. I added the photo on the right so you can see the fringe more clearly.
In Egypt, however, the draped mantle was not quite the specialized mode of dress it became in the Greco-Roman world. In fact, scholars believe that the later Knot of Isis outfit derived from the type of Egyptian dress worn by many queens and noblewomen beginning in the New Kingdom (1570-1085 BCE). Goddesses, on the other hand, are almost always shown wearing the old-fashioned sheath dress, the kalasiris, which is tight-fitting and held up by two wide straps that (sort of) cover the breasts. New Kingdom fashion became more sumptuous. Women’s clothing gained drapery and folds, but because it was often made of very sheer material, you could still appreciate the curves of the wearer’s body beneath. (Egyptian weavers were famed for their ability to create exquisitely fine linen. It was said that it was so fine that it could easily be pulled through a finger ring.)
As you see on the left, the New Kingdom dress also has material draped over both arms and knotted between the breasts. What we don’t see here is the heavy draping under the breasts that became characteristic of the Knot of Isis costume in later periods. Our beautiful New Kingdom lady has no need of an under-robe. Yet Isis’ Greek and Roman devotees, in their more modest—or perhaps, restrictive—cultures, preferred an undergarment of some kind, usually a simple robe like a Greek chiton. As time passed and Egypt came under Greek and then Roman rule, Egyptian women would opt for an undergarment as well, either a slim, Egyptian kalasiris or a Greek chiton. There are some Egyptian images in which we can see the undergarment through the diaphanous draped mantle. In the Greek and Roman worlds, with the under-robe standard, the mantle could become shorter and more decorative. The fringe becomes more common and the draping, especially beneath the breasts, becomes more pronounced.
Researchers are in a chicken-and-egg situation when it comes to figuring out when and how the Isis Knot first came to be used so prominently in Greek and Roman images of the Goddess and Her devotees. It is, as yet, unknown when Isis was first represented wearing the characteristic knot. We don’t know whether devotees began wearing the knot because they saw images of Isis depicted that way or whether devotees adopted the Egyptian fashion, then artists started creating images of Isis wearing the knot because they saw devotees wearing it. Some scholars think it may have been Cleopatra VII who was responsible for spreading the use of the Isis-knotted mantle; Plutarch tells us that she sometimes dressed as Isis and called herself “the New Isis” though he does not describe the ritual clothing Cleopatra wore on these occasions. Personally, I tend to think the Isis Knot ensemble was earlier than Cleopatra. Perhaps Plutarch did not describe it because everybody already knew what Isis would be wearing. (On an interesting additional note, the long corkscrew curled locks so frequently shown in Greco-Roman images of Isis are also thought to have a genuine Egyptian antecedent; the long curls may have been in imitation of the long wavy or braided wigs favored by many Egyptians.)
If you would like to tie your own Isis Knot into your ritual clothing, here’s the diagram from Isis Magic, reproduced for your knot-tying pleasure. Oh, by the way, be sure you use linen or some other non-slippery fabric for your mantle. My first mantle was made from a silk-like fabric and the knot slipped right off!