In previous articles on this blog I have drawn my readers attention to an obscure and rather mysterious German Goddess who is variously called Isa/Zisa/Cisa and how there is a clear association between Her and the Dutch Goddess Nehelennia and that Tacitus in his Germania does refer to the worship of Isis. I have pointed out that Isa/Zisa/Cisa was worshipped by the same Bavarian Suebian tribes as Isis and how Isis was probably just Tacitus' classical interpretation of the name of this deity.
"Part of the Suebi sacrifice also to Isis; I have not ascertained the source from which this foreign rite originates, but the fact remains that the image itself, fashioned in the form of a light ship, proves that the cult is imported." (Tacitus' Germania 9.1, Rives translation)
"Some of the Suebi sacrifice also to Isis. I do not know the origin or explanation of this foreign cult; but the goddess's emblem, being made in the form of a light warship, itself proves that her worship came in from abroad." (Tacitus' Germania 9, Mattingley/Handford translation)
Tacitus makes the assumption that this Isis is a foreign deity. However I disagree. J.B. Rives in his commentary to Germania states:
".....most scholars agree that Tacitus (or more likely his source) identified a native goddess as Isis because of similar rituals involving ships. We should note that this is more a case of mistaken identity than of interpretatio Romana, since Tacitus seems to have thought that it was the actual Graeco-Egyptian goddess Isis whose cult these Suebi had adopted."
Rives goes on to discuss how in the Graeco-Roman world the chief priest of Isis would consecrate a small and beautifully adorned ship, loaded with offerings and send it out to sea. Nehalennia, a Frisian Goddess worshipped on the Dutch islands of Walcheren and Noord-Beveland is depicted on votive altars as having sometimes an oar or a ship's prow. We are reminded also of the Goddess Nerthus referred to in Germania 40.2-40.4 who is likely to have had some connections with sea-faring.
"Nehalennia, the protectress of ships and trade, was worshipped by the Keltic and Teutonic races in a sacred grove on the island of Walcheren; she had also altars and holy places dedicated to her at Nivelles. The worship of Isa or Eisen, who was identical with Nehalennia, was even older and more wide-spread throughout Germany. St Gertrude took her place in Christian times, and her name (Geer, ie spear, and Trude, daughter of Thor) betrays its heathen origin." (Asgard and the Gods, Wilhelm Waegner)
There is also a connection between the Goddess Isa and the island of Iceland:
"Rassmann identifies Island as derived from Isa, a goddess of the under-world, probably the same as Holda, and not as Iceland."(Legends of the Wagner Drama by Jessie L. Weston)Furthermore Weston also draws a link between Isolde and Isa:
"German scholars give as the derivation Isolde, Iswalt or Iswalda (Eis-walterin=ruler of the ice), which explains the fact that the early German form seems to be Isalde, as in Wolfram, and not Isolde. The heroine then is no Celtic maiden, but a child of the north, a Viking's daughter; hence the legends always represent her as fair and golden-haired-she is 'die lichte' in the Northern versions, as distinguished from 'die schwarze', the rival Isolde." (Weston)Isolde/Iswalt/Iswalda is clearly a personification of the Goddess. In the Nibelungenlied Iceland is not the island that we know of today located in the North Atlantic Ocean but a mythical realm of the dead:
"With this closely agrees the Nibelungen-lied, which represents the princess as ruling over Island and dwelling in the castle of Isenstein on the seashore. (Rassmann identifies Island as derived from Isa, a goddess of the under-world, probably the same as Holda, and not Iceland.) (Weston)
In other words Isa is the Goddess of the underworld, comparable in part to the Goddess Hel of Norse mythology. Iceland is a representation of the mythical Island, the land of the Goddess Is or Isa.
"Common observation would teach the inhabitants of polar climates that the primitive state of water was Ice; the name of which, in all the northern dialects, has so near affinity with that of the goddess, that there can be no doubt of their having been originally the same, though it is a title of the corresponding personification in the East Indies." (An Inquiry into the Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology, Richard Payne Knight, 1818)
The northern origins of Isa are very clear:
"Her name seems to come from the north; there being no obvious etymology for it in the Greek tongue: but, in the ancient Gothic and Scandinavian, Io and Gio signified the earth; as Isi and Isa signified ice, or water in its primordial state; and both were equally titles of the goddess, that represented the productive and nutritive power of the earth; and, therefore, may afford a more probable etymology for the name Isis, than any that has hitherto been given. The god or goddess of Nature is however called Isa in the Sanscrit;...." (Knight)
The name Isa thus has a clear link with the Rune of the same name! Interestigly Isa was even known amongst the Laplanders (Sami):
"On a Lapland drum the goddess Isa or Disa is represented by a pyramid surrounded with the emblem so frequently observed in the hands of the Egyptian deities;
".....and it seems that the ancient inhabitants of the north of Europe represented their goddess Isa as nearly in the same manner as their rude and feeble efforts in art could accomplish; she having the many breasts to signify the nutritive attribute; and being surrounded by deer's horns instead of the animals themselves, which accompany the Ephesian statues. In sacrificing, too, the reindeer to her, it was their custom to hang the testicles round the neck of the figure, probably for the same purpose as the phallic radii, above mentioned, were employed to serve.
The Goddess was also worshipped in the temple at Old Uppsala in Sweden:
"...and in in the ancient metropolitan temple of the North, at Upsal in Sweden, the great Scandinavian goddess Isa was represented riding upon a ram, with an owl in her hand." (Knight)
Also Isa was portrayed with a quiver of arrows. I am reminded here of the Goddess Skadi who appears to share some of Isa's attributes and may be an aspect of Her:
"A similar union of attributes was expressed in the Scandinavian goddess Isa or Disa; who in one of her personifications appeared riding upon a ram accompanied by music, to signify, like Pan, the priinciple of universal harmony; and, in another, upon a goat, with a quiver of arrows at her back, and ears of corn in her hand, to signify her dominion over generation, vegetation, and destruction." (Knight)
It would thus appear that Isa's worship was not confined to the southern Germanic tribes such as the Suebi but She was known further north in Scandinavia, making Her a far more important deity than initially assumed.