Hard times for a Denver business named after the Egyptian goddess Isis

These are rough days for businesses named after Isis, the Egyptian goddess of women, love, magic and life.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — the terrorist group the media has referred to by its acronym ISIS — has tarnished the goddess’s name since the group shifted its brand from Al Qaeda in Iraq to the Islamic State.

Now the term ISIS evokes unspeakable horrors: decapitated journalists, sex slavery, desecrated historical relics, patriarchy, rape and murder.

But at Denver’s own Isis Books & Gifts, the name has always been an homage to the sacred feminine.

The pastel peach exterior of the South Broadway store is mirrored inside where soft-hued walls are lined with books, tapestries, teas and fairy statues. Crystals and wind chimes hang from fixtures in the entryway. Smells of burning incense and fragrant candles waft through the air.

This is hardly a den of terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped the public from attacking the metaphysical shop.

Somebody chucked a rock through the front door. Others have splashed hot pink paint on the storefront and torn down parking lot signs.  Prank phone callers have harassed staff, and for a second time this year, the ad out front listing the store’s website and phone number has been destroyed.

“Unfortunately since the media or whoever labeled these insane people ISIS, we’ve experienced periodic vandalism,” says store owner Karen Charboneau-Harrison. “It seems to kind of ramp up when something like what has just occurred in Paris and Beirut. People get very emotional and you can’t blame them for that, but this is obviously not the appropriate way to act out.”

It’s not clear if the destruction of Isis Books & Gifts’ property is a coincidence or an attack on the name’s accidental evocation of ISIS.

Charboneau-Harrison assumes the attacks are related, but she has no plans to change the store’s name. Instead, she’s set out to educate people about the impact of the terrorist organization’s handle on companies like hers.

The name Isis is that of the Egyptian Goddess of women, marriage, magick, healing and more. However, with our media and politicians constantly using the word to name those in the Middle East who are the source of such horror, some people seem to get confused,” she wrote on Facebook.

“Please help us to educate the media and your family and friends to call the terrorists by a more correct name – Daesh – not Islamic State, not ISIS, not ISIL. They hate the term “Daesh” and have threatened to cut out the tongue of anyone who uses it. Since Friday’s attacks on Paris, the French government has switched to using Daesh, and President Obama has also used it.”

Daesh, like ISIS and ISIL is also an acronym. It refers to the Arabic term for the organization: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa’al Sham. The word sound similar to “Dahes,” which The Guardian translates as “one who sows discord.”

The Facebook response to her message about the attacks has been overwhelmingly positive. More than 3,000 people shared it.

As for Colorado’s role in the current Syrian refugee crisis, the reaction to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Tuesday announcement that Colorado welcomes Syrian refugees hasn’t been as supportive.

A petition appeared on Change.org earlier this week telling Governor Hickelooper to “say no” to Syrian refugees and that allowing displaced people into Colorado would be “a trojan horse for Radical Islam.” As of this writing the petition has gained more nearly 38,000 signatures.

In 2015, Colorado welcomed five Syrian refugees into the state through a federal program. With roughly four million displaced and President Obama announcing the U.S. will take in only 10,000, Colorado is not likely to see many new refugees.

Yesterday, the House passed a bill to stop any Syrian refugees from entering the United States without a more intricate vetting process. If it makes it through the Senate, every refugee could have to be approved by the director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security secretary and the director of the FBI. 

If passed, the bill would create the most stringent vetting process targeting people fleeing war in the history of the United States. President Obama’s stance has made it clear that he would most likely veto any bill of this nature.

Charboneau-Harrison’s attitude toward the refugees is straightforward and grounded in her spirituality.

“We are very inclusive people. We believe in the importance of expressing one’s spirituality, but we also believe that everybody is right in their spirituality as long as it’s a form of spirituality that brings light and health into the world. We support everyone who is on their spiritual path. That’s where we’re coming from.”


Photo credit: Bree Davies