Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
Pagan and Christian symbolism
Figure 2 is copied from an ancient copper vase, covered with Egyptian hieroglyphic characters, found at Cairo, and figured in a book entitled Explication des divers monument singuliers, qui ont rapport à la religion des plus anciens peuples, par le R. P. Dom.......à Paris, 1739.
The group of figures represents Isis and Horus in an unusual attitude. They are enclosed in a framework of the flowers of the Egyptian bean, or of the lotus. This framework may be compared to the Assyrian "grove," and another in which the Virgin Mary stands. The bell was of old a symbol of virginity, for Eastern maidens wore them until marriage (see Isa. iii. 16). The origin of this custom was the desire that every maiden should have at her marriage, or sale, that which is spoken of in the Pentateuch as "the token of virginity." It was supposed that this membrane, technically called "the hymen" might be broken by too long a stride in walking or running, or by clambering over a stile or wall. To prevent such a catastrophe, a light chain or cord was worn, under or over the dress, at the level of the knees or just above. Its length only permitted a short step and a mincing gait. Slight bells were used as a sort of ornament, and when the bearer was walking their tinkling was a sort of proclamation that the lady who bore them was in the market as a virgin.
After "the flower" had been plucked, the bells were no longer of use. They were analogous to the virgin snood worn on the head of Scotch maidens. Isis bears the horns of a cow, because that animal is equally noted for its propensity to seek the male and its care to preserve the offspring. As the bull with a human head, so a human being with cow's horns, was made to represent a deity. The solar orb between the horns, and the serpent round the body, indicate the union with the male; an incongruous conjunction with the emblem of the sacred Virgin, nevertheless a very common one. In some of the coins pictured by E. P. Knight, in Worship of Priapus
, etc., a cow caressing her sucking calf replaces Isis and Horus, just as a bull on other coins replaces Dionysus. The group is described in full in Ancient Faiths
, second edition, Vol. i., pp. 53, 54.