“In Italy, Isis was a mother divinity associated with healing; the 6th century BCE temple to Isis at Pompeii is located next to a temple of Aesculapius, or Serapis. A significant characteristic of Isis, one later associated with the christian madonna, was that she was a compassionate mother. In the rhcistian epoch her son Horus was represented as a child figure. Isis is often depicted with a laurel wreath and two prominant ears, symbolizing that she listened with both ears to the prayers of all those who came to her, an image that can be found to this day in italian folklore.
“Water, always associated with Isis, held a sacred quality: holy water, holy rivers, and holy sea. The serpent, identified with Isis, was always sacred. …Isis and wheat, in the roman epoch, became Ceres and wheat. In the christian epoch Isis became santa Lucia, whose images always carry a sheaf of wheat. The olive tree, associated with Isis, has today become symbol of nonviolent transformation. Italy’s contemporary nonviolent left political coalition is named L’Ulivo, or the olive tree. …In her 600 BCE image in the Museum of Cairo, Isis is figured as a black nursing mother, who bears a startling resemblance to christian images of the nursing madonna.
“Veneration of Isis, her spouse Osiris, and son Horus persisted in all the pharaonic dynasties, a 3,000 year old history when belief in Isis spread from Meroe and Alexandria to ‘the whole Mediterranean basin.’ In Italy and other latin countries where the holy family is a focus of devotion, the trinity of Isis and her husband and child became the popular christian trinity of Maria, Joseph, and Jesus, popular trinity that differs from the motherless trinity–father, son, and holy ghost–of canonical christianity.
“At african Memphis, hymns praising Isis as a civilizing, universal divinity who had ended cannibalism, instituted good laws, and given birth to agriculture, arts and letters, moral principle, good customs, and justice. Mistress of medicine, healer of human maladies, sovereign of earth and seas, protectress from navigational perils and war, Isis was ‘Dea della salvezza per eccellenza… veglia anche sulla morte,’ divinity of salvation par excellence, who also watches over the dead. …
“Acknowledging the dark african mother who preceded patriarchal world religions does not, to this sicilian/american woman, seem all that iconoclastic. It may be a matter of how we think. Erik Hronung, egyptologist of the University at Basel, refers to the complementarity of egyptian logic, which resembles complementarity in physics. ‘For the Egyptians two times two is always four, never anything else. But the sky is a number of things–cow, baldachin, water, woman–it is the goddess Nut and the goddes Hathor, and in syncretism a deity a is at the same time another, not-a.’ For Hornung, ‘the nature of a god becomes accessible through a “multiplicity of approaches,” [and] only when these are taken together can the whole be comprehended.’ Sicilians, as Justin Vitiello reminds us, know this intuitively. So do artists, craftsmen, poets, and peasants of the world. In the 1970’s, when I began to research my italian godmothers/grandmothers, I came across a tile with a blue-black star with thrity-two points in a blue green sea. The tile was named Iside, italian for Isis.”
Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, dark mother: african origins and godmothers, pp. 20-21, 27.