In order to understand the Egyptian Goddesses it is important to take into account the Egyptian view of the cosmos. These Goddesses represented aspects of life, nature and preparation for the afterlife.
It is also critical to note that in discussing even the general characteristics of these deities our knowledge is incomplete.
There is no official religious, standardised text where these myths have been collected. Instead much of our knowledge comes mainly from visual artwork in tombs, funerary texts and inscriptions of hymns and magical incantations.
As there are so many different Egyptian deities I have also included list of Egyptian Goddesses on my website. This list provides a summary of their areas of influence and alternative spelling.
Egyptians did not share our view of the lineal progression of time. Instead it varied according to the class of being, place in the Cosmos and often became cyclical in nature. Much emphasis was placed on the daily movements of the sun, the regular flooding of the nile, birth and the afterlife.
The Egyptians believed in an eternal afterlife where it was important to preserve the body and provide offerings of food, drink and material goods to continue to nourish the dead.
If you knew the way to navigate the land of the dead, the right spells and incantations you could arrive at the domain of the Gods. Here you faced a court of Osiris where the heart was weighed. If you were a king and passed this test you could then take your place in the heavens.
This explains why funerary Goddesses like Nut (Goddess of the night sky) and Nephthys (protector of the dead) were so important to the Egyptians. Isis was also found in tombs as she is linked to rebirth.
Goddesses were also important for presiding over the beginning of life and motherhood, including Taweret (a hippotomus Goddess of fertility and childbirth) and Hathor (the cow Goddess assosiated with nurishment and motherhood).
Egyptians also believed in maintaining order in the universe. Ma'at was the Goddess that personified this natural order, morality and justice. This was achieved by making offerings and communicating with the Gods and Goddesses.These roles were fulfilled at state level by the Egyptian King, who was awarded divine status, and the priests.
As Egyptian society became more complex more knowledge was written down. Eventually these works were housed in the library of Alexandria, the biggest and most famous library of the ancient world. The Goddess Seshet became the Egyptian Goddess associated with knowledge and writing.
When learning about these Goddesses it is important to remember that their relationships and functions evolved over time.This is hardly surprising when we consider that the civilisation of ancient Egypt lasted over three thousand years.
The most Ancient Egyptian Goddesses were often represented in animal forms. Unfortunately we can not know for certain why a particular deity was associated with a particular animal. These myths formed part of a rich oral tradition and there are no surviving records from this period.
Later, as the civilization advanced, many of the Egyptian Goddesses took on more human characteristics. Others were depicted as strange hybrids with human bodies and animal or bird heads. The ancient Nile Goddess is an example of this as she was part human and part bird. Another example shown here is of Sekhmet, a lion headed deity from the Metropolitan Museum Collection. She was a warrior Goddess who protected the Pharoahs. Here we can see her depicted with a solar disc as she was often considered to be the daughter of Ra the Son God.
There were hundreds of Goddesses and Gods, whilst some were recognized throughout the land; others were patrons of specific cities or regions. This makes the study of this field difficult as there are many different Goddesses that perform the same or similar functions.
To make things even more complicated the sexuality of these Goddesses was not always clear cut. A few have bodies exhibiting a combination of both male and female attributes, for example the Goddess Neith is always represented as a female deity and yet was said to be two thirds male.
The relative importance of the different Goddesses of this region changed over time in response to the political climate of the day. As different cities, regions or rulers gained political power the Goddesses they worshipped became more dominant.
There were also many cases where different Goddess’s functions, characteristics and even names were merged to become composites. Isis for example is known as the Goddess with a thousand names representing the merging of many earlier Goddesses and the multitude of areas she had influence over.
All these aspects of Egyptian Goddesses make if more difficult to associate them with specific archetypes. I have therefore tried to find the best match, taking into account their primary functions and characteristics.
For more information and images of Egyptian Goddesses, I recommend the Cairo Museum website, this has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts.
On this website I have concentrated on providing more indepth information on some of the more well known Goddesses:
Bast Hathor Isis Ma'at Nepthys Nut Seshet
As there are so many different Egyptian deities I have also included list of Egyptian Goddesses. This list provides a summary of their areas of influence and alternative spelling.
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