Wisdom Library Logo

Studies in Egyptian Mythology

Chapter XIV - Hathor And The Hathor-goddesses


Hathor, Gods1 4286

The goddess Hathor is one of the oldest known deities of Egypt, and it is certain that, under the form of a cow, she was worshipped in the early part of the archaic period, because a flint model of the head and horns of the cow, which was her type and symbol, has been found among the early archaic, or late predynastic flints in Egypt.[1] The forms in which the goddess is depicted are numerous, but this is not to be wondered at, because during the course of the dynastic period she was identified with every important local goddess, and all their attributes, of whatever class and kind, were ascribed to her.

The oldest form of all is probably that of the cow, and this was preserved, though chiefly in funeral scenes and in the Book of the Dead, until the beginning of the Roman period. Ḥet-Ḥert, Gods1 4287, the name of the goddess, means the “House above,” i.e., the region of the sky or heaven, and another form of it, Gods1 4288, which is to be read Ḥet-Ḥeru, and which means “House of Horus,” shows that she was a personification of the house in which Horus the Sun-god dwelt, and that she represented the portion of the sky through which the course of the god lay.

In the earliest times Hathor, the ‘Αθωρ of the Greek writers, typified only that portion of the sky in which Horus, the oldest form of the Sun-god, had been conceived and brought forth, and her domain was in the east of the sky ; but at length she came to represent the whole sky, and in so doing, she, no doubt, absorbed many of the attributes of predynastic goddesses.

In the text of Pepi I. (line 593) it is said,

“Every god will take the hand of Rā-meri in heaven, and they will conduct him to Het-Heru (Gods1 4289), which is in the heaven of Qebhu (Gods1 4290), and his double shall be able to make his voice (or word) take effect upon Seb.”

From this passage it seems as if the House of Horus was only one special part of the great watery mass of heaven which is generally known by the name of Qebh.”

At the time when the Egyptians first formulated their theogony Hathor was certainly a cosmic goddess, and was associated with the Sun-god Rā, of whom she was the principal female counterpart. In the theological system of the priests of Heliopolis she became, as Brugsch says,[2] the “mother of the light,” the birth of which was the first act of creation; her next creative act was to produce Shu and Tefnut, that is to say, certain aspects of these gods, for according to a very old tradition Temu was their begetter and producer.

Of the various forms in which Hathor is depicted may be mentioned the following[3]:—

1) As the “chieftainess,” Gods1 4291, of Thebes and the mistress of Ȧmentet she is usually represented in the form of a woman who wears upon her head a pair of horns within which rests the solar disk ;

- as the lady of Hetepet, Gods1 4292, she wears the vulture tiara, with a uraeus in front and five uraei on the top of it;
- as the lady of Senemet, Gods1 4293, she appears in the form of a woman with the headdress Gods1 4294, or with plumes and horns;
- as the lady of Abshek, Gods1 4295, she wears a disk between horns ;
- as the great goddess of Dendera, Gods1 4296, she appears in the form of a lioness, with a uraeus on her head, and as a woman wearing

  • Gods1 4297 and Gods1 4298,
  • or Gods1 4299,
  • or Gods1 4300 andGods1 4301,
  • or  Gods1 4302 and Gods1 4303,
  • or the sistrum, Gods1 4304,
  • or Gods1 4305 and Gods1 4306,
  • or Gods1 4307a nd Gods1 4308,
  • or Gods1 4309 and Gods1 4310, and Gods1 4311, and Gods1 4312, and she usually carries a sceptre, Gods1 4313
  • or Gods1 4314, in one hand, and “life,” Gods1 4315, in the other;

- as the lady of the “southern sycamore,” Gods1 4316, she has the head of a cow ;
- as the lady of Ȧnnu she has on her head Gods1 4317;

- as the goddess of turquoise [land], i.e., the Sinaitic Peninsula, called “Māfek,” Gods1 4318, she wears the crown of the north, Gods1 4319, or Gods1 4320 and Gods1 4321; and in another form she wears the vulture head-dress surmounted by a tiara formed of uraei, and above these is a pylon set among a mass of lotus flowers and buds.

2) As the “lady of the Holy Land,” i.e., the Underworld, and Ȧmentet, Gods1 4322, she appears in the form of a cow walking out from the funeral mountain, and she is sometimes represented in the form of a cow standing in a boat surrounded by papyrus plants which are growing up to a considerable height above her body.

As the cow-goddess of the Underworld, however, she wears a long, pendent collar, and on the back of her neck is the Menȧt, Gods1 4323, an emblem of joy and pleasure.

On her back also is a kind of saddle-cloth with a linear design, and the whole of her body is sometimes marked with crosses, which are probably intended to represent stars.

Two other interesting forms of the goddess which are illustrated by Signor Lanzone[4] represent her holding in her hand the notched palm branch, which is usually the characteristic of the goddess Sefekh-āābut, who acted as assistant chronographer and chronologist to the god Thoth, and from this point of view Hathor must be regarded as a female counterpart of Thoth. Finally, she is represented as a sphinx, wearing on her head the vulture head-dress, with uraeus and disk ; the side of her body is made to resemble a part of a menȧt, and she rests upon a pylon.

The titles which accompany this last form call her

“lady of Hetep, the eye of Rā, dweller in his disk, lady of heaven, mistress of all the gods,”

Gods1 4324Gods1 4325

We have already seen that the worship of Horus was universal in Egypt, probably from the earliest period, and that in dynastic times shrines which were specially consecrated to his worship were common throughout the country ; the texts prove that the worship of Hathor was also universal, and that her shrines were even more numerous than those of Horus. She was, in fact, the great mother of the world, and the old, cosmic Hathor was the personification of the great power of nature which was perpetually conceiving, and creating, and bringing forth, and rearing, and maintaining all things, both great and small.

She was the “mother of her father, and the daughter of her son,” and heaven, earth, and the Underworld were under her rule, and she was the mother of every god and every goddess. In all the important shrines of the local goddesses she was honoured with them, and she always became the chief female counterpart of the head of the company or triad in which she had been allowed to enter as a guest.

A clear proof of this fact is given in the list compiled by the late Dr. Brugsch, which showed the various names and forms she took in all the large cities in Upper and Lower Egypt, and from this we see that she was identified

  • with Satet, Gods1 4326, and Ānqet, Gods1 4327, in Elephantine ;
  • with Ta-sent-nefeet, Gods1 4328, in Ombos;
  • with Behuṭet, Gods1 4329, in Apollinopolis Magna;
  • with Nit, Gods1 4330, Nebuut, Gods1 4331, and Menḥit, Gods1 4332, in Latopolis;
  • with Mut, Gods1 4333, and Nekhebet, Gods1 4334, in Eileithyiaspolis ;
  • with Rāt-tauit, (PLAATJE), and Thenenet,  Gods1 4335, in Hermonthis;
  • with Mut, Gods1 4336, and Ámenthet, Gods1 4337, in Thebes;
  • with Ḥeqet, Gods1 4338, in Apollinopolis Parva;
  • with Isis, Gods1 4339, and Ȧnit, Gods1 4340, in Coptos ;
  • with Sefkhet - āābut, in Diospolis Parva ;
  • with Meḥit - Tefnut -Khut-Menhit, Gods1 4341in This;
  • with Isis and Khent Ȧbtet, Gods1 4342, in Panopolis ;
  • with Ḥeqet and Ānthȧt, Gods1 4343, in Aphroditopolis ;
  • with Nit, Uatchet, Gods1 4344, Seehet, Gods1 4345, etc., in Hypselis;
  • with Maāt and Isis in Hierakonpolis ;
  • with Mut and Sefkhet-āābnt in Lycopolis;
  • with Sekhet and Maāt in Cusae;
  • with Neḥemāuait, Gods1 4346, and Sefkhet-āābut, and Meḥ-urt, Gods1 4347, in Hermopolis;
  • with Ḥeqet and Ashet, Gods1 4348, in Ibiu ; with Pakhth, Gods1 4349, at the Speos Artemidos ;
  • with Ȧnpet, Gods1 4350, in Cynopolis ; with Uatchet in Alabastronpolis;
  • with Hathor of Oxyrinchus ;
  • with Ānthȧt and Mersekhent Gods1 4351, in Herakleopolis Magna;
  • with Renpit, Gods1 4352, in Crocodilopolis ;
  • with Khersekhet in Ptolemaïs ;
  • with Isis and Ṭep-ȧḥet in Aphroditopolis ;
  • with Bast, Gods1 4353, Sekhet, and Renpit in Memphis;
  • with Nebuarekht-āat, Gods1 4354Gods1 4355, in Letopolis;
  • with Usert-ḥeqet, Gods1 4356, in Prosopis;
  • with Nit (Neith) in Saïs;
  • with Urt-Ȧpset, Gods1 4357, in Χοϊς;
  • with Isis in Canopus ;
  • with Uatchet in Buto ;
  • with Tefnut in Pa-Tem (Pithom);
  • with Taṭet or Tait, Gods1 4358, in Busiris;
  • with Khuit, Gods1 4359, in Athribis;
  • with Ṭeṭet, daughter of Rā, Gods1 4360, and Tefnut, in the form of a lion, Gods1 4361, and Ḥert, Gods1 4362, i.e., the female counterpart of Horus, and Nesert, Gods1 4363;
  • with Iusāset, Gods1 4364, and Nebt-hetep, Gods1 4365, and Menȧt, Gods1 4366, and Repit, Gods1 4367;
  • with Khent-Ȧbtet, Gods1 4368, in Sele (?);
  • with Neḥemāuait, Tefnut, and Isis in Hermopolis;
  • with Ḥāt-meḥit, Gods1 4369, in Mendes;
  • with Mut, Tefnut, and Khent-Ȧbtet, in Diospolis;
  • with Bast, Gods1 4370, in Bubastis;
  • with Isis and Uatchet in Ȧmmet, Gods1 4371;
  • and with Septit, Gods1 4372, and Khekhsit, Gods1 4373, in the nome of Sepṭ.

It is, then, quite certain that in late dynastic times, at least, Hathor became the representative of all the great goddesses in Egypt, and that shrines in her honour were built in most great cities there. In his valuable Dizionario tii Mitologia Egizia (p. 875), Signor Lanzone lias collected the names of a number of cities which contained shrines of Hathor, but the enumeration of them all[5] here would serve no useful purpose, because the identifications of the goddess described above are sufficient to indicate the universality of her worship.


The Seven Hathors

A little consideration of the texts shows us that it was quite impossible for any worshipper of Hathor, however devout, to enumerate all the forms of the goddess which existed, and also that some of them were considered of greater importance than the others ; as a result we find that at a comparatively early period a selection of the Hathors was made, and that it usually contained seven.

The Seven Hathors who were worshipped at Dendera were:—

  1. Hathor of Thebes, Gods1 4374.
  2. Hathor of Heliopolis, Gods1 4375.
  3. Hathor of Aphroditopolis, Gods1 4376.
  4. Hathor of the Sinaitic Peninsula, Gods1 4377.
  5. Hathor of Momemphis (Ammu), Gods1 4378.
  6. Hathor of Herakleopolis, Gods1 4379.
  7. Hathor of Keset, Gods1 4380.

These were represented[6] in the form of young and handsome women arrayed in close-fitting tunics, and wearing vulture head-dresses surmounted by Gods1 4381, and holding tambourines in their hands. In the “Tale of the Two Brothers”[7] we find the Seven Hathors acting the part of prophetic fairies, for in that entertaining narrative they are made to come and look upon the wife whom Khnemu had fashioned for the younger brother Bata, and who

“was more beautiful in her person than any other woman in all the earth, for every god was contained in her;”

but when they had looked upon her, they said with one voice, “Her death will be caused by the knife.” Unfortunately we do not know the districts which these Seven Hathors, Gods1 4382, represented.

The Seven Hathors mentioned by Mariette[8] comprise

  1. the Hathors of Dendera, Gods1 4383,
  2. Keset (Cusae),
  3. Nehet Gods1 4384,
  4. the Two Mountains, Gods1 4385 (i.e., the modern Gebelên), Eileithyiaspolis, Gods1 4386,
  5. and Māfek (Sinai),
  6. KepenutGods1 4387 (Byblos),
  7. and Het-seshesh,Gods1 4388( Diospolis Parva) ;

thus it is clear that the company of the Seven Hathors did not always include the same forms of the goddess.

In the Litanies of Seker[9] we have also a “Litany of the Hathors,” wherein are mentioned the Hathors of:—

  1. Ṭep-ȧḥet.
  2. Māfek and Thebes.
  3. Thebes.
  4. Nebt-ḥetep.
  5. Suten-henen.
  6. Memphis.
  7. She-Ṭeslier ;

here, then, is a different group of Seven Hathors.

In the six lines of text which follow, Hathor is identified with the goddesses :—

  1. Bast.
  2. Sati.
  3. Uatchet.
  4. Sekhet.
  5. Lady of Ammu.
  6. Nit (Neith);

and after this we have addresses to

  1. the Hathors of Thebes,
  2. Suten-henen,
  3. Ṭep-ȧḥet,
  4. Nehau,
  5. Reḥsau,
  6. Shet-Teshert,
  7. Māfek,
  8. Ȧneb,
  9. Uaua,
  10. Ammu,
  11. Amem,
  12. and Hathor, lady of the “City of Sixteen,” Gods1 4389, i.e., Lycopolis, in all Twelve Hathors.

If we had full information on the subject we should probably find that each great city possessed its own selection of Hathors, and that the forms of the goddess whose names were inscribed on funeral papyri were only those which were popular with those who caused such documents to be made.



The Greeks identified Hathor with their goddess Aphrodite, and there are many passages in the Egyptian texts which show that they were justified in doing so. She represented not only what was true, but what was good, and all that is best in woman as wife, mother, and daughter ; she was also the patron goddess of all singers, dancers, and merry-makers of every kind, of beautiful women, and of love, of artists and artistic works, and also of the vine and wine, and ale and beer, and, in fact, of joy and happiness, and of everything which contributed thereto.

She was identified astronomically with the star Sepṭ, Gods1 4390, or Sothis, which was called the “second sun” in heaven, she was thereby connected with the rise of the Nile preparatory to the Inundation, and she appeared in the form of this star in the heavens in the neighbourhood of the sun in the second half of July. Sothis rose heliacally on the first day of the Egyptian New Year, and when the Sun-god Rā had entered his boat, Hathor, the goddess of the star Sothis, went with him and took up her place like a crown upon his forehead. [10]

She was, as we have seen, both the wife of Rā, and the daughter of Rā; she herself was brought forth by the goddess Nut in the form of a black-skinned, Gods1 4391, or blackish-red skinned child and received as her name that of the last hour of the day, Khnemet-ānkh, Gods1 4392.[11]


Hathor of the Dead

Hathor, as lady of the Underworld, played a very prominent part in connection with the welfare of the dead, for without her friendly help and protection the deceased could never attain to everlasting life. The position which Hathor held among the gods of the Underworld is well illustrated by the following passages from the Book of the Dead.

In his hymn to Rā the deceased officer Nekht says,

“O thou beautiful being, thou dost renew thyself in thy season in the form of the Disk within thy mother Hathor,”

with which words he refers to the goddess as a nature power. In the Judgment Scene we find that she is one of the company of the gods who watch the “weighing of words,” and who afterwards decree joy and felicity for the heart which has been weighed and found just.

When the deceased is face to face with the monster Āpep, Hathor is one of the group of gods consisting of

  1. Netcheb-ȧb-f, Gods1 4393,
  2. Tem,
  3. Nentchā, Gods1 4394,
  4. Seb,
  5. Nut,
  6. and Kheperȧ, who encourage the deceased to do battle with him, and she cries out to the deceased, “Take your armour;” but she, like the deceased, is in terror of Āpep and “she quaketh” thereat (xxxix. 22).

In the Chapter (xlii.) which describes the deification of the members of the deceased, she becomes his two eyes, and he declares,

“My eyes are the eyes of Hathor.”

Now Hathor was, according to one myth, the star Sothis, Gods1 4395, Sept, and she took up her place in the face of Horus or Rā as his right eye ; another myth which made her the night sky also made her the moon therein ; hence the eyes of Hathor are the sun and moon, and the deceased regards these as his own eyes in the text.

In other Chapters (lii., lxiii.A, lxviii.), she appears as the goddess who provides the deceased with meat and drink, and thus we find the following:—

“Let me eat my food under the sycamore tree of my lady Hathor, and let my times be among the divine beings who have alighted thereon;”

and again,

“In a clean place I shall sit on the ground beneath the foliage of the date palm of the goddess Hathor, who dwelleth in the spacious Disk as it advanceth to Annu, having the books of the divine words of the writings of the god Thoth;”

and again,

“Let me have power over cakes, and let me eat of them under the leaves of the palm tree of the goddess Hathor, who is my divine lady” (lxxxii. 7).

In the Hall of Maāti the name of the left foot of the deceased was “Staff of Hathor” (cxxv. 35), and a special Chapter (ciii.) was composed with the view of enabling the deceased to

“be among those who are in the following of Hathor.”

Thus we see that she was held to be sufficiently important to have a train of attendant gods, or ministering angels, about her. In the vignette of Chapter cxxxiv.

Hathor forms one of the company of the gods of Heliopolis, which here consists of

  1. Tem,
  2. Shu,
  3. Tefnut,
  4. Seb,
  5. Nut,
  6. Osiris,
  7. Isis,
  8. Nephthys,
  9. Hathor,
  10. and Horus,

the last named taking the place of Set or Suti; and in Chapter cxl. Hathor, with

  1. Tem,
  2. Utchatet, Gods1 4396,
  3. Shu,
  4. Seb,
  5. Osiris,
  6. Suti,
  7. Horus,
  8. Menth, Gods1 4397,
  9. Bāḥ, Gods1 4398,
  10. Rā-er-neḥeḥ, Gods1 4399Gods1 4400,
  11. Thoth,
  12. Nāȧu-tchetta (?) Gods1 4401,
  13. Nut,
  14. Isis,
  15. Nephthys,
  16. Nekht, Gods1 4402,
  17. Mert, (?) Gods1 4403,
  18. Maāt,
  19. Ȧnep,
  20. and Ta-mes-tchetta, Gods1 4404,

are said to be “the soul and body of Rā.” In Chapter cli.a Nephthys addresses the deceased and says,

“Rā hearkeneth unto thy cry ; thou, O daughter of Hathor, art made to triumph, thy head shall never be taken away from thee, and thou shalt be made to rise up in peace.”

It was Hathor in the form of a cow who received the dead when they entered the Underworld, she gave them new life, and celestial food wherewith to maintain it, and in the Roman period the personality of the deceased is merged in that of the goddess in the funeral texts, just as during the dynastic period it was merged in that of Osiris.

Finally, it is said in a passage quoted from a papyrus by M. Maspero[12] which prescribes the placing of the “swathing of Hathor” on the face of the deceased,

“She (i.e., Hathor) shall make thy face perfect among the gods, she shall make thy thighs large among the goddesses, she shall open thine eye so that thou shalt see each day, she shall enlarge thy place in Ȧmentet, she shall make thy voice to prevail over thy adversaries ; and she shall make thy legs to walk with ease in the Underworld in her name of Hathor, lady of Ȧmentet.”

In an interesting text in the Ptolemaic temple at Dêr al-Medîna,[13] on the western bank of the Nile opposite Thebes, we find that Hathor is called Nubt, Gods1 4405, i.e., the “Golden One”, and that she is addressed as the “queen of the gods,” and her adorer says,

“thou standest high in the south as the lady of Teka (Eileithyiaspolis), and thou illuminest the west as lady of Saïs. Thou appearest and thou art commemorated in festivals as Hathor, the great lady, the beloved of Rā in [thy] seven forms.”

Thoth, we are told, comes to look upon her face, and he praises her according to her desire, and she is built up by his words. As Nebt-ḥetepet she is glorious in heaven, and mighty upon earth, and queen of the Underworld. As the goddess Temt she is the lady of the “two lands,” and of the red covering, and she shines in the cities of Buto and Bubastis.

It is evident from the above that as the goddess of the Underworld Hathor was identified with the four great and ancient goddesses, Nekhebet of Nekhebet (Eileithyias-polis), Uatchet of Per-Uatchet, Bast of Bubastis, and Nit (Neith) of Saïs, i.e., with the four typical goddesses of the four quarters of the world and of the four cardinal points, and it is also quite evident that this identification is the product of a late period, when the earliest attributes of Uatchet and Nekhebet, etc., were forgotten.

It is, however, convenient to consider these goddesses under the head of Hathor, and they will, therefore, be described here, not because the writer regards the Ptolemaic identification as the correct one, but because there is something to be said for it.



Nekhebet, Gods1 4407, the goddess of the South.

From the hieroglyphic inscriptions which belong to the archaic period we find that the kings of Egypt were in the habit of placing before their names the sign Gods1 4408, by which they intended to indicate their sovereignty over the South and the North; it is uncertain how these signs are to be read, but there is no doubt whatsoever about their meaning. The vulture is the symbol of the goddess of the South, and the uraeus is the symbol of the goddess of the North, and down to very late dynastic times the kings of Egypt gloried in declaring that they were sovereigns of the country by virtue of the favour of the goddesses whose emblems were the vulture and uraeus.

It is tolerably certain that in predynastic times the vulture was worshipped generally throughout ưpper Egypt, and that a particular form of the serpent was venerated in the Delta; the centre of the worship of the vulture was in the city called Nekhebet, Gods1 4409, or, Gods1 4410, which was named Eileithyiaspolis by the Greeks, and “Civitas Lucinæ” by the Latins, and formed the capital of the third nome of Upper Egypt, and the centre of the worship of the serpent was Per-Uatchet, Gods1 4411, the Βοῦτος of the Greeks and the Buto of the Latins, and the capital of the seventh nome of Lower Egypt.

Nekhebet was declared to be the daughter of Rā, Gods1 4412, and also the

“divine wife of Khent Ȧmenti,”

Gods1 4413.

The shrine of the goddess was Nekhent, Gods1 4414, or, Gods1 4415, or, Gods1 4416, and its site is represented by the modern Arab village of El-Kâb ; in late times Nekhebet lost all its political importance, and the neighbouring towns of Ȧni, Gods1 4417, and Senit, Gods1 4418, came into prominence in its place.[14] Nekhen, also written, Gods1 4419, i.e., the “White Nekhen,” was the town which contained the sanctuary of the “venerable (or, holy) vulture,” Gods1 4420, and the vulture goddess Nekhebet in the land of the South is distinctly, in later texts, identified with Hathor.[15]

Nekhebet is usually represented in the form of a woman who wears on her head the vulture head-dress surmounted by the white crown, Gods1 4421, the sign of sovereignty over Upper Egypt, to which are attached two plumes ; sometimes she holds in one hand the sceptre, Gods1 4422, and sometimes Gods1 4423, and in the other we see the symbol of “life,” Gods1 4424

Occasionally the sceptre is formed of a long-stemmed flower, which seems to be a water-lily, with a serpent twined round it; this serpent is none other than the winged serpent, with the crown of the South upon its head, which is as symbolic of the goddess as the vulture. Nekhebet is also represented in the form of a woman with the head of a vulture, and in a picture of her reproduced by Signor Lanzone[16] she stands upon maāt Gods1 4425, and holds a bow and an arrow in her left hand.

In the form of a uraeus Nekhebet took her place, with her twin sister Uatchet, upon the brow of Rā, and both goddesses devoted themselves to destroying the enemies of the god ; this idea is alluded to in the winged disks which are seen sculptured over the doors of temples in Egypt, for on each side is a serpent, that on the right, or south side, being Nekhebet, and that on the left, or north side, being Uatchet. Nekhebet was, astronomically, the western or right eye of the sun during his journey in the Underworld, and Uatchet was his eastern or left eye.

As a nature power Nekhebet was a form of the primeval abyss which brought forth the light,[17] and she is therefore called the

“father of fathers, the mother of mothers, who hath existed from the beginning, and is the creatrix of the world.”

In the bas-reliefs in Egyptian temples she is usually represented with her twin sister Uatchet, and also in coronation scenes, for it was most important for a king to be crowned with the double crown,Gods1 4426, by these deities.

According to Brugsch, special rooms or chambers were set apart in the temples of Egypt, near the sanctuaries of the gods wherein Uatchet and Nekhebet were supposed to abide; the chamber of the former was on the west, or right side of the sanctuary, and was called per nesertGods1 4427, or “house of fire,” and that of the latter was on the east, or left side of the sanctuary, and was called per ur, or “great house,”Gods1 4428. And it is very probable that at the time of the coronation of a king priestesses dressed themselves in the character of the two goddesses, and that the one declared the South had been given to him whilst the other asserted the same concerning the North. In coloured pictures of Nekhebet Fāḳit,Gods1 4429, we find that she is painted of a light yellow, or almost white colour, which is probably intended to represent the colour of the desert regions of the South, and of the white light of the newly risen sun or moon. From one aspect she was identified with Isis, the fertile nature goddess, just as Uatchet was identified with Nephthys, who was supposed to act the part of nurse to the offspring whom Isis brought forth ; in other words, Nekhebet was the mother of the Sun-god, and therefore also of the king of Egypt, his son, and Uatchet was his nurse.

A passage in the text of Mer-en-Rā (line 762) seems to connect Nekhebet with Ȧnnu, for we read,

“Thou protectest Mer-en-Rā, O Nekhebet, thou hast protected Mer-en-Rā, O Nekhebet, in the House of the Prince in Ȧnnu ; thou hast committed him to Ȧm-hent-f, and Ȧm-hent-f hath committed him to Ȧm-sepa-f ;”[18]

if this be so it is probable that Nekhebet was identified with one or other of the local goddesses Iusāaset or Nebt-ḥetep. In an interesting text published by M. Maspero[19] an allusion is made to the natron of the city of Nekheb, which was apparently much used in embalming the dead, and it was believed that in consequence the goddess Nekhebet would watch over them in the Underworld, and would change their faces into things of beauty with two brilliant eyes of light. To make certain of this result the “bandage of Nekheb” was laid upon the forehead of every carefully prepared mummy.



Uatchet, Gods1 4430, the goddess of the North.

Uatchet, or Uatchit, as we have already said above, is a goddess who was worshipped under the form of a serpent, and the oldest seat of her cult was at Per-uatchet,Gods1 4431, the Βοῦτος of the Greeks, a city which was situated in the “land of Uatchet,” Gods1 4432,[20] i.e., in the seventh nome of Lower Egypt, or Nefer-Ȧment,Gods1 4433. The temple in which Uatchet was venerated and its precincts are known in texts of all periods by the name Pe-Ṭep,Gods1 4434, and from the frequent mention of this double name in the Pyramid Texts it is clear that the shrine was both very famous and very old.

Uatchet was identified with Isis at a very early period, and there is abundant proof that Horus, the son of Isis, was worshipped with Isis at Per-Uatchet; we are, then, driven to the conclusion that Pe-Ṭep was a city with two distinct divisions, in one of which Uatchet-Isis was worshipped, and in the other Horus, and that Horus dwelt in Pe, and Uatchet-Isis in Ṭep. Among the variants of the name worthy of mention are Pi-Tchepet, Gods1 4436, and Pi-Tep, Gods1 4437,[21] In late dynastic times Uatchet was called Ȧp-taui, i.e., “opener of lands,” Gods1 4438, but the exact meaning of this title is not quite certain. Near the city of the goddess was situated the Island of Khebit, Gods1 4439, or  Gods1 4440, or Gods1 4441, which has been rightly identified with the island called Χέμμις and Χέμμες[22] by classical writers, and round about which were the papyrus swamps Gods1 4442, Na-ȧṭeḥ, the Natho of the Greeks, which play such a prominent part in the legends of Isis and Horus.

According to these, Isis retreated tò the papyrus swamps after she had conceived her child, and she remained hidden in them until her months were fulfilled, when she brought forth Horus, who afterwards became the “avenger of his father;” Set never succeeded in finding her hiding place, because the great goddess had found some means whereby she caused the papyrus and other plants to screen her from his view, and the goddess Uatchet visited her and helped her in her retreat.

In pictures and reliefs the goddess is represented in the form of a woman who wears upon her head the crown of the North,Gods1 4443, and she holds in one hand the papyrus sceptre, round which is sometimes twined a long snake ; in some examples she is seen bearing in her right hand the crown of the North,Gods1 4444, which she is about to place upon the head of a king.

Occasionally we find her in the form of a large winged serpent[23] with the crown of the North upon her head ; her titles are

  • “Uatchet, lady of heaven;”
  • “Uatchet, lady of Pe, mistress of Ṭep, the august one, the mighty one;”
  • “Uatchet, lady of heaven, mistress of all the gods;”
  • “Uatchet, lady of Nebiui, Gods1 4445, lady of Neter-ta, Gods1 4446, lady of Per-Menāt, Gods1 4447, and lady of Ȧmemt, Gods1 4448.”

Besides her shrines in these last named cities one built in her honour seems to have existed in Sepṭ, Gods1 4449. The views held about the goddess in connexion with the dead are well illustrated by certain allusions made to her in the Book of the Dead. In the xviith Chapter she is mentioned in connexion with a god called Reḥu, Gods1 4450, and she is definitely identified with Isis who is said to have protected her son Horus by shaking her hair out over him, although Uatchet appears in the form of a serpent twined round the stalk of a papyrus plant and is called the “eye of Rā.” In the xliind Chapter the shoulder of the deceased is said to be the shoulder of Uatchet; in the lxvith Chapter the deceased says,

“I have knowledge.
I was conceived by Sekhet, and the goddess Nit (Neith) gave me birth.
I am Horus, and I have come forth from the Eye of Horus (i.e., Rā).
I am Uatchet who came forth from Horus.
I am Horus, and I fly up and perch myself upon the forehead of Rā in the bows of his boat which is in heaven.”

In Chapter cxxxvi.a the deceased is said to be the

“lord of Maāt (Gods1 4451) which the goddess Uatchet worketh;”

in Chapter cxxxvi.b he says,

“I am the spiritual body (sāḥ Gods1 4452) of the lord of Maāt which is made by the goddess Uatchet;”

and in Chapter clxxix. he says,

“The Enemy hath come to an end beneath me in the presence of the Assessors, and I eat him in the great field on the altar of Uatchet;”

finally, in Chapter clxxii. (l. 19) certain bones in the head of the deceased are identified with those of the Uatchti goddesses, i.e., Nekhebet and Uatchet. During the ceremonies connected with embalming, the operator or priest addressed the mummy, saying,

“The goddess Uatchet cometh unto thee in the form of the living Uraeus (Gods1 4453, Ārāt), to anoint thy head with their[24] flames.

She riseth up on the left side of thy head, and she shineth from the right side of thy temples without speech ; they rise up on thy head during each and every hour of the day, even as they do for their father Rā, and through them the terror which thou inspirest in the holy spirits is increased, and because Uatchet and Nekhebet rise up on thy head, and because thy brow becometh the portion of thy head whereon they establish themselves, even as they do upon the brow of Rā, and because they never leave thee, awe of thee striketh into the souls which are made perfect.”[25]

In the Book of the Dead Uatchet generally plays the part of destroyer of the foes of the deceased, but her connexion with Maāt shows that she was identified with some one of the female counterparts of Thoth. In a calendar published by Brugsch[26] we see that under the name of Ȧpt, Gods1 4454, or, Gods1 4455, Uatchet was regarded as the goddess of the eleventh month of the Egyptian year (Epiphi).



Bast, Gods1 4456, the Lady of the East.

Bast was the goddess par excellence of the eastern part of the Delta, and the centre of her worship was at Per-Bast, or Pa-Bast, Gods1 4457, or, Gods1 4458, or Bubastis, the capital of the Ȧm-khent, Gods1 4459, the seventh nome (Bubastites) of Lower Egypt; this city is often referred to by classical writers (Herodotus ii. 137, 156; Diodorus 16, 51; Strabo xvii.; Pliny v. 9), and is mentioned in the Bible under the name Pibeseth, Gods1 4460(Ezekiel xxx. 17). The site is marked by the ruins at Tell-Basta which were carefully excavated by M. Naville, who made some interesting discoveries concerning the great antiquity of the city of Bubastis, and who published the inscriptions which are still to be found upon the ruins of the great buildings which once stood there.[27]

In the version of Manetho according to Julius Africanus (Cory’s Ancient Fragments, p. 98), it is said that in the reign of Boethus, the first king of the Ilnd Dynasty, a chasm opened at Bubastis, and that many persons perished, but M. Naville found no historical remains so old as this period on the site; he has, however, discovered on blocks of stone there the names of Khufu and Khāf-Rā, kings of the IVth Dynasty, written in such a way as to prove that the inscriptions were cut during the period of the Early Empire.

Of the kings of the Vlth Dynasty only the name of Pepi I. is found at Bubastis, and in connection with this king it is interesting to note that in his funeral inscription (line 569) his heart is said to be the heart of Bestet, i.e., Bast,Gods1 4461. This fact shows that the worship of Bast was already very old in Egypt, at all events in the Delta, and that a definite position was assigned to her in the theological system of the priests of Heliopolis.

In the text of Pepi II. Gods1 4462, it is said,

“O god of the double town (Gods1 4463) the double of Pepi is for thy two fingers ; Pepi hath swept off towards the heavens like a crane, Pepi hath scented out the heavens like a hawk, Pepi hath flown up to heaven like the grasshopper of Rā ; Pepi must not be repulsed, O king, there is no green herb for Pepi, O Bast (Gods1 4464), and none hath made dances for Pepi [who standeth] like a great man at the door”

(line 869).

To find the name of Bast in the Pyramid Texts is natural enough, for their Heliopolitan editors introduced many local, and even foreign deities into the companies of their gods ; in the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead, however, Bast and her city are very rarely mentioned, and her name is entirely omitted from the list of the gods mentioned in connexion with the deification of members (Chapter xlii.).

In the “Negative Confession” (line 16) of the cxxvth Chapter we have the mention of the assessor called Thenemi, Gods1 4465, i.e., he who goes backwards, who is said to come forth from Bast,  Gods1 4466, and an assessor called Basti, Gods1 4467(line 26), is said to come forth from the city of Shetait.

The goddess Bast is usually represented in the form of a woman with the head of a cat, but she also has, at times, the head of a lioness surmounted by a snake ; in her right hand she holds a sistrum, and in her left an aegis with the head of a cat or lioness on the top of it. The form in which the goddess was worshipped in the earliest times was that of a cat, and her identification with a lioness probably belongs to a comparatively late period.

From the inscription we find that she was also identified with Rāt, Gods1 4468, the female counterpart of Rā, and with Temt, Gods1 4469, the female counterpart of Tem ; she is often called

  • the “eye of Rā,”
  • and the “eye of Tem,”
  • and the Shetat, Gods1 4470, i.e., the “Hidden one.”

According to one legend Bast was the personification of the soul of Isis, Gods1 4471, and was worshipped as such in Bubastis, and it was only at “Bubastis of the South,” Gods1 4472, i.e., Dendera, that she was regarded as the female counterpart of Tem. From the fact that she is associated with the god Sepṭ, “the lord of the East,” it is tolerably certain that in one aspect as least she was regarded as a foreign goddess, whose attributes and characteristics had been transferred to her.

As Temt, Gods1 4473, at Dendera, she was said to be the mother of the lion-headed god Ȧri-ḥes, Gods1 4474, the lord of Aphroditopolis, Gods1 4475, the holy Sekhem, Gods1 4476, who dwelt in the temple of Bast of Dendera;[28] her husband in this case was the god An, Gods1 4477, who was a form of Osiris.

At Thebes Bast was identified with Mut, the lady of Asheru ; at Memphis with Mut and Uatchet, at Heliopolis with Iusāaset, and in Nubia with Sekhet and Menliet, at a town in the Delta called Sekhet, Gods1 4478, her name appears to have been Bare-Ȧst, Gods1 4479.[29]

If we are to seek for the derivation of the name Bast in Egyptian we must connect it with the word for “fire,” besGods1 4480, and regard the goddess as a personification of a power of the sun which made itself manifest in the form of heat. That this view is correct is certain from several passages in Egyptian texts, wherein both Bast and Sekhet are described as closely connected forms of a female personification of the heat and light of the Sun-god, and wherein they are made to act as the destroyers both of the enemies of the Sun-god, and of the deceased.

Thus of Sekhet it is said in the “Book of Overthrowing Āpep” (xxvii. 15),

“The Eye of Horus falls upon him cutting and hacking his head from his neck ;
the goddess Sekhet tears out his intestines and kicks them on the fire with her lefties;
she places them on the fire and burns into him in her name of ‘Set-usert-āa’
(Gods1 4481);
she burns into him and drives out his soul from his body ;
she obtains the mastery over him in her name of ‘Sekhet’
(Gods1 4482);
and she overpowers him in her name of ‘Khut-nebȧt’
(Gods1 4483, i.e., Eye of Flame) ;
she consumes his interior and blazes in it with the flame of her mouth.”

Speaking generally, Sekhet personified the burning, fiery, and destructive heat of the sun, and Bast represented the milder heat which at certain periods of the day and year encouraged the growth of vegetation, and the germination of seeds.

That Sekhet and Bast are goddesses of fire is quite clear, for they accompany Hathor in her character of the “Eye of Rā,” and as forms of the Sun-god they symbolize the heat of the late and early summer respectively. It has already been said that Bast is identified with Mut at Thebes, but we also find that at Thebes Mut-Bast[30] is depicted as Isis, and we see her wearing upon her head the feathers of the god Shu,Gods1 4484, and horns with the sun’s disk between them.

The god of whom she is the female counterpart is in this case Ȧmen-Rā-Temu-Kheperȧ-Ḥeru-khuti, who is represented with the head of a hawk wearing the crown of Shu; the offspring of the two deities is Khensu,Gods1 4485. These considerations lead ns to the conclusion that Bast was, at all events in dynastic times, a personification of the moon, especially when we remember that Khensu was a lunar god. With the head of a lioness, which is usually painted green, she symbolized the sunlight, but when she is given the head of a cat her connexion with the moon is undoubted ; Dr. Brugsch refers to Plutarch’s remark that the pupils of the eyes of cats become full and very large at the time of the full moon, and it is probable that the primitive Egyptians held the same view, and that as a result they identified the cat-headed goddess Bast with the moon.

From another aspect Bast was regarded as exercising a special influence over women who were with child, and she appears on several occasions as one of the goddesses of the birth-chamber ; her son Khensu was declared “to make women fruitful, and make “the human germ to grow in his mother’s womb,” and he was supposed to do this especially in his character of the “moon, the light-bearer.”


Festivals of Bast

According to the Stele of Canopus, the chief festivals of the goddess Bubastis were celebrated in the months of April and May, and of one of these Herodotus (ii. 60) furnishes some interesting information.

He says :—

“Such of this people as with entyre and affectionate zeale most religiously obserue the feast at Bubastis, behaue and beare themselues on this maner. Certayne shippes being addressed, wherein infinite numbers of men and women  sayle towards the city, in the meane season whiles they be in voiage on ye water, certaine of the women play upon drums and tabers, making a great sound and noyse, ye men on pipes.

Such as want these implements, clap their hands and straine their uoice in singing to ye highest degree. At what city soeuer they ariue, happely some of the women continue their mirth and disport on ye timbrels, some others raile, reuile, and scold at the dames of ye city beyond measure : many trauise and daunce minionly: other cast up their clothes, and openly discouer and bewray their shame, doing this in all those cittes yt are neere adioyning to the riuers side.

Being assembled and gathered together at Bubastis, they honour the feast day with principall solemnity, making large offerings to Diana, wherein is greater expence and effusion of grape wine than all the yeare besides. To this place by the voice of ye countrey are wont to repayre 7000 men and women, besides children, and thus they passe the time at Bubastis.”[31]

Of the city of Bubastis itself the same writer says[32] (ii. 137, 138):—

“The noble city of Bubastis seemeth to be very haughty and highly planted, in which city is a temple of excellent memory dedicate to the goddesse Bubastis, called in our speech Diana, then the which, albeit there be other churches both bigger and more richly furnished, yet for the sightly grace and seemelynesse of building, there is none comparable unto it.

Besides, the very entrance and way that leadeth unto the city, the reste is in forme of an Ilande, inclosed round about with two sundry streames of the river Nilus, which runne to either side of the path way, and leauing as it were a lane or causey betweene them, without meeting, take their course another way. These armes of .the floud are each of them an hundred foote broade, beset on both sides the banckes with fayre braunched trees, ouershadowing ye waters with a coole and pleasant shade.

The gate or entry of the city is in heighth 10. paces, hauing in the front a beautifull image, 6. cubites in measure. The temple it selfe situate in the middest of ye city, is euermore in sight to those yt passe to and fro. For although ye city by addition of earth was arrered and made higher, yet ye temple standing as it did in ye beginning, and neuer mooued, is in maner of a lofty and stately tower, in open and cleare viewe to euery parte of ye city.

Round about the which goeth a wall, ingrauen with figures and portraitures of sundry beasts. The inner temple is enuironed with an high grove of trees, set and planted by the hande and Industrie of men : in the whiche temple is standing an image. The length of the temple is in euery way a furlong.

From the entrance of the temple Eastward, there is a fayre large causey leading to the house of Mercury, in length, three furlongs and four acres broade, all of faire stone, and hemmed in on each side with a course of goodly tall trees planted by the hands of men, and thus as touching the description of ye temple.”

According to Brugsch,[33] the great triad of the city of Bubastis consisted of Osiris, Bast, and their offspring, who was called Ḥeru-hekennu, Gods1 4486, or Nefer-Tem, or Bast;

their equivalents

  • in Heliopolis were Tem, Iusāaset, and Nefer-Tem;
  • in Memphis, Ptaḥ-Sekhet, and Nefer-Tem;
  • in Thebes, Ȧmen-Rā-Heru-khuti, and Mut-Bast, and Khensu, or Horus, or Neb-āut-ȧb ;
  • in Aphroditopolis, Osiris-Ȧn, and Bast-Temt, and Ȧri-hes.

In the Bubastite nome were many temples and localities in which the worship of Bast was paramount, and among such may be mentioned Bairàst,Gods1 4487, the modern Belbês, and Netert,Gods1 4488, orGods1 4489, where was preserved a thigh of Osiris, Gods1 4490, shut up in a “hidden chest.”[34]


Net or Neith

Net, Gods1 4491, or Gods1 4492, or Gods1 4493, or Gods1 4494, the Lady of the West.

Net, or Neith, was one of the oldest of all the Egyptian goddesses, and it is tolerably certain that her worship was widespread even in predynastic times ; many attempts have been made to arrive at a decision about her earliest attributes by means of etymological processes, but they are unsatisfactory because they only illustrate the views which the Egyptians held concerning her in comparatively late dynastic times, and several of them only explain the objects which the goddess is seen holding in her hands in pictures.

The examples reproduced by Lanzone represent the goddess in the form of a woman, who wears uponher head the crown of the North, Gods1 4495; she often holds a sceptre, Gods1 4496, or Gods1 4497, in one hand, and the symbol of life in the other, but sometimes the hand which holds the sceptre also grasps a bow and two arrows, which are her characteristic symbols. She once[35] appears in the form of a cow with eighteen stars on one side, and a collar round her neck from which hangs Gods1 4498; on her back is a ram-headed lion with horns and plumes, Gods1 4499, upon his head.

The cow stands in a boat, the prow of which terminates in a lion’s head with a disk upon it, and is provided with wings ; the stern of the boat terminates in a ram’s head, and by the fore feet of the cow, which is described as “Net, the Cow, which gave birth to Rā,” Gods1 4500, is an Utchat, Gods1 4501. In one scene she is represented with a crocodile sucking at each breast.[36]

In late dynastic times there is no doubt that Net or Neith was regarded as nothing but a form of Hathor, but at an earlier period she was certainly a personification of a form of the great, inert, primeval watery mass out of which sprang the Sun-god Rā, and it is possible, as Brugsch has suggested, that the name Net may be akin in meaning to Nut. On the other hand, if we connect her name with the root netet, Gods1 4502, “to knit, to weave,” and the like, we may accept the view of those who describe Net as the goddess of weaving, and who identify the signs, Gods1 4503, and Gods1 4504, which are often seen upon her head, with a shuttle.

It is, however, quite clear that the oldest and most characteristic symbols of the goddess were two arrows and a shield, which at a very early period became the recognized emblems, not only of Net herself, but also of the city in which her chief temple was situated, and they also served as the symbols which formed the name of the nome of which the city Saïs was the capital. Now since Net was represented by a bow and two arrows, there is no good reason for doubting that she was originally either a goddess of war or of the chase, and it is probable that she was identified with a local wood-spirit, or hunting-spirit, which was worshipped in the east of the Delta in the predynastic period.

In any case it is quite certain, when we consider the attributes which are ascribed to her in the texts, that she represents several goddesses who were the conceptions of quite different periods of history and of stages of civilization. Thus, at times, her attributes cannot be distinguished from those of Isis, Uatchet, Sekhet, Bast, Mut, Nekhebet, and other goddesses, and she was identified with one and all of them by turns.

The most ancient and famous sanctuary of Net was at Saïs, Gods1 4505, Saut, the capital of the fifth nome of Lower Egypt, which bore the name of Gods1 4506 “Sȧpi-meḥt,” i.e., “Sapi of the North” and which was also called Ḥet Net, Gods1 4507, i.e., “House of Net,” and “Ȧst-Net,”Gods1 4508, i.e., “The seat of Net;” a rare name of the city quoted by Brugsch[37] and de Rouge[38] is “Sapi,” Gods1 4509, or Gods1 4510.

The texts often mention the “temples of Net,” Gods1 4511, that is to say, the temples of the gods who were worshipped with Net at Saïs; the names of these temples are:—

  1. Ḥet-khebit, Gods1 4512,
  2. Resenet and Meḥenet, Gods1 4513, Gods1 4514,
  3. Per-Rā, Gods1 4515,
  4. and Per-Tem, Gods1 4516.

The great temple of Net at Saïs must, of course, not be confounded with that of Saïs of Upper Egypt, i.e., Esneh, which was called Per-Net-mut-kheper-ḥetch, Gods1 4517; the names of Esneh are

  1. Ani, Gods1 4518,
  2. and Seni, Gods1 4519.

At Saïs was held the great annual festival in honour of Isis-Net, as recorded by Herodotus (ii. 59), and it is this which is described by the same writer (ii. 62) in the following words[39]:—

“In like manner meeting (as before) at the city Sais, there to accomplishe the rites and ceremonies due to the day, at the approche and neere poynt of the euening, they furnish and beset their houses with torches and lampes, which being replenished with pure oyle mingled with salte, they giue fire to the weike, and suffer them to continue burning till the next morning, naming the day by the feast of lampes.

Such as resort not to this feast, do neuerthelesse at their owne homes giue due honour to the night, placing in euery corner of theyr house an infinite number of tapers and candles, the custome being not only kept at Sais, but spread and scattered throughout the whole region. But for what ende this night is held solemne by lighting of lampes, a certayne mysticall and religious reason is yeelded which we must keepe secret.”

After describing the place in the temple of Saïs where Apries was buried, and mentioning the

“fayre Chamber builte of stone, beautyfied with sundry Pyllers ingrauen like unto Palme-trees, being otherwyse very sumptuously and royally garnished,” and the two “mayne posts in the middest of the chamber, betweene the which standeth a Cophine,”

and the

“toumbe in the same, the name whereof,”

he says,

“I may not descry without breache of Religion,”

Herodotus goes on to speak of other matters connected with Saïs, and says (ii. 170):—

“At Saïs in the Temple of Minerva, beneath the Churche and neere unto the walle of Minerva, in a base Chappell, are standinge certayne greate brooches of stone, whereto is adioyninge a lowe place in manner of a Dungeon, couered over wyth a stone curiously wroughte, the vaute it selfe being on euery side carued with most exquisite arte, in biggnesse matchinge with that in Delos, which is called Trochoïdes.

Herein euery one counterfayteth the shadowes of hys owne affections and phantasies in the nyghte season, which the Aegyptians call Mysteryes ; touchinge whiche, God forbid, I should aduenture to discouer so much as they vouchsafed to tell mee.”[40]

The “Mysteries” here referred to were probably the ceremonies performed in connexion with the annual commemoration of the sufferings and death of Osiris, who, according to an old legend, was buried at Saïs.

Passing now to consider the antiquity of the cult of Net at Saïs we find much to prove that the worship of this goddess dates from the latter part of the predynastic period.

The earliest form of Net’s name is found on an ivory cover of a box and on an ivory vase,[41] where it occurs in connexion with ḥetep, and so serves as a constituent part of the proper name Net-ḥetep, Gods1 4520. Now, Net-ḥetep, we know, was connected with the early king Sma, and she appears to have been the wife of king Gods1 4521, Āḥa, who has been commonly, but on insufficient evidence, identified with Menȧ, the first historical king of Egypt. But whether Āha is Menȧ or not matters little for our purpose here, for it is quite certain that both he and Sma flourished about the beginning of the period of the 1st Dynasty, and this being so the name of the goddess which forms part of the name of the queen Net-hetep must also be as old.

Thus it is clear that even in the 1st Dynasty the cult of Net must have been of considerable antiquity. During the first four dynasties the goddess possessed sanctuaries in many parts of Egypt, and several of her priests and priestesses were buried in maşṭaba tombs in and near Ṣaḳḳâra. M. Mallet quotes[42] an interesting passage from the sarcophagus of Apa-ānkh in which she is addressed together with Ȧnunu, Gods1 4522, and Nesert, Gods1 4523, who are two very ancient goddesses, and in which it is declared that she came forth from the god, and that the god came forth from her.[43]

We thus see that in the IVth Dynasty she was thought to be at once the mother and the daughter of the Sun-god Rā, and that she had more than one form, and possessed also the power to conceive and bring forth the new Sun-god daily by means of the divine and magical formulae with which she was provided.

Among her early titles is that of Ȧpt-uat, i.e.,

“Opener of the ways,”

Gods1 4524,

which seems to suggest that she was in some way a female counterpart of Anubis.

In the text of Unȧs (line 67) we find the “temples of Net,” Gods1 4525[44], mentioned, side by side with the city of Ṭep, Gods1 4526, and the name of the goddess is coupled with that of Tatet, Gods1 4527, who was supposed to dress the dead; thus the passage clearly proves that Net was believed to perform some important ceremonies in connexion with the preservation of the dead, and it would seem that these were of a magical character. We may note in passing that in the late “Ritual of Embalmment,” published by M. Maspero,[45] it is directed that a piece of linen, upon which were drawn or painted figures of Hāpi and Isis, be placed in the hand of the deceased, and that Isis is identified with Neith.

This piece of linen was intended to serve as an amulet, and to bring to the mummy the protection of Net, who is referred to under the name of Isis. In the text of Unȧs (line 597) we have the following address:—

“Homage to thee, O Horus, in the regions of Horus ; homage to thee, O Set, in the regions of Set; homage to thee, O Ȧarer (Gods1 4530) in Sekhet-Ȧarer;[46] homage to thee, O Netetthȧȧb (Gods1 4531), thou son of these four gods who are in the Great Temple, wherefrom the voice of Unȧs goeth not out.

Take off your apparel in order that Unȧs may see you as Horus seeth Isis, and that Unȧs may see you as Nehebu-kau (Gods1 4532) seeth Selqet; and that Unȧs may see you as Sebek seeth Net, and that Unȧs may see you as Set seeth Netetthȧȧb.”

A little further on (lines 620-627) we have another reference to Net and her son Sebek in these words,

“Unȧs hath come in the form of Khent-em-meḥt-aḳebȧ (Gods1 4533Gods1 4534), and this

Unȧs is Sebek with the green feather (Gods1 4535), who watcheth and who raiseth up his forehead, and who is the white one who cometh forth from the thigh[s] of Khebset-urt (Gods1 4536) , who is in the light.

Unȧs hath come to his pools which are on the banks of the canal (Gods1 4537) of Meḥt-urt (Gods1 4538) , at the place where offerings flourish, and in the fields which are in the horizon, and he hath made to flourish his garden on the banks of the horizon.

Unȧs hath brought the crystal (Gods1 4539) to the Great Eye which is in the field.

Unȧs hath taken his place in the horizon, he riseth like Sebek, the son of Net (Gods1 4540), eateth with his mouth, he voideth water,”


In the text of Tetȧ (line 204) Net is mentioned in connection with Isis, Nephthys, and Serqet-Hetu, Gods1 4541, as one of the four goddesses who shot forth flame, Gods1 4542, and worked “protection,” Gods1 4544, on behalf of the god Nu, Gods1 4545, when he was seated on his throne.

These same four goddesses also appear in connection with the Four Children of Horus, whom they assisted in protecting by magical means the various parts of human bodies which were placed in “Canopic jars.”

Thus Isis says,

“I conquer the foe, I make protection for Ȧmseth who is in me”;

Nephthys says,

“I hide the hidden thing, and I make protection for Hāpi who is in me” ;

Net says,

“I pass the morning and I pass the night of each day in making protection for Ṭuamutef who is in me”;

Serqet says,

“I employ each day in making protection for Qebh-sennuf who is in me.”[47]

The Egyptian word used here to express the meaning of “protection” is sa, Gods1 4546, and the character represents a knot of a peculiar kind ; the part which knots and cords tied in various ways have always played in magical ceremonies is too well known to need description, and it need only be pointed out here that the signGods1 4547indicates that the protection which Net exercised on behalf of the dead must have been of a magical character. This view is supported by a passage in the text of Unȧs (l. 271 ff.) in which we find Net mentioned in connection with the goddesses Anȧ, Gods1 4548, Urt, Gods1 4549,

Nesert, Gods1 4550, and Urt-ḥekau, Gods1 4551; now Urt-ḥekau is distinctly said to be the “protective power of the Eye of Horus,” and thus the attributes of Net and of the other goddesses must be of a kindred nature. In the text of Pepi I. (1. 572), in the passage relating to the deification of the members of the deceased it is said that the thighs of Pepi are “Net and Serqet,” Gods1 4552; but in the Theban Recension of the Book of the Dead (Chapter xlii. 11), it is the fore-arms of the deceased which are identified with the fore-arms of the lady of Saïs, i.e., Net.

In the Theban Recension the deceased declares (lxvi. 2) that he was conceived by the goddess Sekhet, and that the goddess Net gave birth to him. In Chapter lxxi. 15, we read,

“Behold, the god of One Face is with me. The god Sebek hath stood up within his ground, and the goddess Net hath stood up within her plantation”;

and elsewhere (cxiv. 5; cxvi. 2) we read that she shineth in the city of Matchat, or Mentchat. In Chapter cxvi. 4, the deceased says,

“O ye gods who dwell in Khemennu, ye know me even as I know the goddess Net” ;

and in Chapter cxlv. 81, he says,

“I have entered into the house of Ȧstes, and I have made supplication to the Khati gods and to Sekhet in the Temple of Net.”

In the Rubric to Chapter clxiii., which has for its vignette a serpent on legs, and two utchats on legs, it is ordered that in the pupil of one Utchat there shall be drawn a figure of the “god of the lifted hand” with the face of Net, and having plumes and a back like unto a hawk. From one aspect at least it is clear that Net must have been a form of the power of the Eye of Horus, as well as of Isis, his mother ; her son Sebek is a local form of Horus, and it is probable that the two crocodiles, which are seen accompanying her, and which have been already mentioned, are in some way connected with the god Henti, Gods1 4553, whose symbols are two crocodiles.

Ḥenti, there is every reason to believe, was a form of Osiris. It is, however, possible that one of the crocodiles may represent Horus, or Osiris, and the other Ḥetch-nefer-Sebeq, (Gods1 4554), the son of Net.

We have, unfortunately, no description of the ceremonies connected with the worship of Net, but there is good reason for believing that they were of a mystic character, and that they were modified from time to time in accordance with the change of beliefs of the priests in respect of the attributes of the goddess.

Originally its chief characteristics must have been those of a local Delta or Libyan goddess of nature, and it is probable that it included ceremonies which were intended to represent the various processes of generation and reproduction. This view is supported by several of the titles which are given in Egyptian texts to her and to her kindred goddesses.

Thus as Isis she was the first to give birth to a god, Gods1 4555;[48] as Hathor she was the

“great cow which gave birth to Rā;”

and she is called

“the great goddess, the mother of all the gods,”


“Rāt (i.e., the female Sun), the lady of heaven, the mistress of all the gods, who came into being in the beginning.” I

n a text quoted by M. Mallet she is actually called One,”Gods1 4556, a fact which proves that at a certain period of her history she was to goddesses what Rā was to gods. A certain amount of light is thrown upon the history of Net by the inscription[49] on the famous shrine-bearing statue of Utchat-Ḥeru now preserved in the Vatican, but it must be remembered that this monument is not older than the early part of the Persian period.

Utchat-Heru was an official of very high rank in Saïs, and he was high-priest of Net, and as such bore the official title of Ur-sun, Gods1 4557, i.e., “great one of knowledge.” He was commander of the vessels of Ȧāḥmes II. (Amasis), and when Cambyses came to Egypt and visited Saïs after his conquest of the country, it was Utchat-Ḥeru who received him, and explained to him the antiquity and greatness of the goddess Net, and conducted him through the various sanctuaries which were grouped together in her temple.

In the course of his conversation with the king he told him that it was Net, the mighty mother, who had given birth to Rā, and that she was the first to give birth to anything, and that she had done so when nothing else had been born, and that she had never herself been born. For some reason or other Utchat-Ḥeru found favour in the sight of Cambyses, and the text tells us that the king made offerings “even as every other good king had done.” The funds provided by Cambyses were spent by Utchat-Ḥeru in reviving the schools which had fallen into decay, and in refounding colleges for the priests of Saïs.

The fame and traditions of the antiquity of Net and her worship were current among the late Greek writers, and it will be remembered that Plutarch (De Iside et Osir., ix.) refers to an inscription on a statue of Pallas which he renders,

“I am everything which hath been, and which is, and which shall be, and there hath never been any who hath uncovered (or revealed) my veil.”[50]

Elsewhere (Chapter lxii.) he says that the Egyptians often called Isis by the name Athene, which signifies,

“I have come from myself.”[51]

Up to the present no hieroglyphic inscription has been found which can be regarded exactly as the original of the Greek words, but there is no doubt that Plutarch only turned into words the opinions about the goddess Net which were current when he wrote his famous treatise on Isis and Osiris.

In a passage of Proclus, who gives a Greek rendering of an Egyptian text in terms closely resembling those of Plutarch, after the words Τὸν ἐμὸν οὐδεὶς ἀπεκάλυψεν, the goddess Net is made to say, ὅν ἐγὼ καρτὸν ἔτεκον, ἥλιος ἐγένετο, which beyond all doubt reflects with considerable exactitude the meaning of the Egyptian title of

“Net, the mighty mother, who gave birth to Rā.”[52]

The words put into the mouth of the goddess, “I am what has been, what is, and what shall be,” are, as M. Mallet has remarked,[53] only a development of a play upon her name Net and the word ent Gods1 4558, or entet Gods1 4559, i.e., a person or thing which is, or which exists, or which has being. In other words, the Egyptians regarded Net as the “Being” par excellence, i.e., the Being who was eternal and infinite, and was the creative and ruling power of heaven, earth, and the underworld, and of every creature and thing in them.

Plutarch, however, was not without authority when he made Net say, καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν πέπλον οὐδείς πω ἀπεκάλυνψεν, for in an Egyptian text published by Pierret[54] under the title of “lady of the sycamore house,” Gods1 4560, the goddess Net is addressed in the following words :—

Gods1 4561
Gods1 4562
Gods1 4563
Gods1 4564
Gods1 4565
hath been uncovered
Gods1 4566
thy birth !
Gods1 4568
Gods1 4569
Gods1 4570
Gods1 4571
em khen en
Gods1 4572
the underworld
Gods1 4573
shetat sep sen
which is doubly hidden,
Gods1 4574
ȧtet rekh-s
thou unknown one !
Gods1 4575
Gods1 4576
thou divine one
Gods1 4577
Gods1 4578
Gods1 4579
hath been unloosed
Gods1 4580
thy garment!
Gods1 4581
Gods1 4582
Gods1 4583
thy garment.
Gods1 4584
Gods1 4585
Ḥapt (Hidden one),
Gods1 4586
Gods1 4587
is given
Gods1 4588
my way
Gods1 4589
Gods1 4590
Gods1 4591
to her,
Gods1 4592
Gods1 4593
receive thou
Gods1 4594
the soul
Gods1 4595
Gods1 4596
Gods1 4597
protect it
Gods1 4598
em khen en
Gods1 4599
[thy] two hands.


These lines form a prayer which is put into the mouth of Ānkh-f-en-Khensu, and, in the form in which we have it here, is not older than the Saïte period, i.e., about B.C. 550; but the petition refers very distinctly to the mysterious character of the births of Net, and to her attribute of inscrutability in the doubly hidden underworld, and whilst the deceased declares that none has ever penetrated the cloak wherewith she is shrouded, he beseeches her to unloose it for him.

Two words are used to express “cloak,” i.e., qerȧs and senḥuGods1 4600andGods1 4601, a fact which calls to mind the two words πέπλος and χιτῶν which are used by Plutarch and Proclus respectively to express the same word. It is, however, quite certain that the ideas and beliefs expressed in the above prayer are far older than the time of the Psammetici, and in one form or other they may be actually traced back to the period of the Early Empire.

Another proof of the mysterious and remarkable powers which were attributed to Net by Greek writers is given by Horapollo, who in his “Hieroglyphica” (i. 12) says that when the Egyptians wish to depict a figure of Hephaistos they draw a scarab and a vulture, and when they want to represent Athene (i.e., Net) they draw a vulture and a scarab, for they believe that the world is composed of two elements, the one male and the other female, these two being the only gods whom they believe to be both male and female.[55]

We have already seen that the god Kheperȧ was supposed to possess the powers of begetting and conceiving, and giving birth, and, in fact, to be at once both male and female, “and other forms of the Sun-god were said to be self-begotten, self-produced, and self-born;” these characteristics are, however, not applied to any goddess except Net.

Since the Egyptians declared that she was eternal, and was self-produced, it followed as a matter of course that both a masculine and a feminine nature must be attributed to her. We have already described how Kheperȧ produced his son Shu and his daughter Tefnut, the information on these points being derived from ancient Egyptian writings, but details of the birth of Rā by Net have not come down to us, and as far as can be seen the Egyptian conception of the manner in which this goddess exerted her reproductive powers is of a far loftier character than that which appertained to the creation of Shu and Tefnut by Kheperȧ.

It is customary to say that the Egyptians possessed no philosophical conceptions until the arrival of the Greeks in their country, but this view is a mistaken one, for there is much evidence extant which proves that already under the Early Empire Egyptian philosophers were constantly engaged in thinking out the problems which are connected with cosmogony and theogony. The reason why they did not advance as a nation further in such matters is that they allowed themselves to be hampered by traditional opinions and beliefs, and by the rituals and ceremonies which the people in general demanded should be integral portions of the public worship of the gods.

The statements of Greek writers, taken together with the evidence derived from the hieroglyphic texts, prove that in very early times Net was the personification of the eternal female principle of life which was self-sustaining and self-existent, and was secret, and unknown, and all-pervading; the more material thinkers, whilst admitting that she brought forth her son Rā without the aid of a husband, were unable to divorce from their minds the idea that a male germ was necessary for his production, and finding it impossible to derive it from a power or being external to the goddess, assumed that she herself provided not only the substance which was to form the body of Rā but also the male germ which fecundated it. Thus Net was the prototype of partheno-genesis.

When, however, as Horapollo says, the Egyptians represented Net by a vulture they referred to her in her character of the universal mother, and as such many allusions are made to her in the texts. Certain passages, it is true, speak of her having set her arrow to her bow,[56] and of her enemies falling daily under her darts, but usually she is said to provide clothing for the dead, just as the house-mother arrays her dead in linen.

Thus in the form of Mehenit, Gods1 4602, she brought linen apparel and coverings of white, green, red, and purple linen to deck the face of the deceased, and an ancient legend declared that she arrayed Osiris in the apparel whichhad been specially woven for him by the two Rekhti goddesses, Gods1 4603, i.e., Isis and Nephthys. And because of the part which she had taken in arraying Osiris in his grave-clothes Net was made to preside over the “good house,” Gods1 4604, i.e., the chamber in which the dead were embalmed and swathed in linen, and over the chambers of the temples in which the unguents which were employed in public worship were compounded.

The unguents which she mixed for Osiris proved to be the means by which the body of the god was preserved from destruction and made young again, and happy were the dead who were able to secure the ministrations of Net. We must note in connexion with these facts that many of the attributes of Net as a goddess of the dead were assigned to her because of her association with Osiris, and it is clear from the texts of the late dynastic period that Net was regarded in the light of a mother of Osiris, and Saïs was actually called the city of Osiris.

At certain seasons of the year, festivals were celebrated there in commemoration of the embalming, and bandaging, and burial of this god, and the great feast of lamps, which is also referred to by Herodotus, was one of the most important. Another very important festival was that kept in the spring, on the birthday of Osiris, the son of Isis-Net, which the late Dr. Brugsch identified with the birthday of the spring sun.[57]

In Upper Egypt Net was chiefly worshipped at Seni (Esneh), the Latopolis of the Greeks, which is called in the texts,

“the house of Net in the land of the south.”

Here she was identified with

  • Nebuut, Gods1 4605,
  • Menḥit,
  • Sekhet,
  • and Tefnut,

and was represented with the head of a lioness painted green; and her titles were,

“Father of fathers, and Mother of mothers,”


“Net-Menhit, the great lady, lady of the south, the great cow who gave birth to the sun, who made the germ of gods and men, the mother of Rā, who raised up Tem in primeval time, who existed when nothing else had being, and who created that which exists after she had come into being.”

The people of Seni (Latopolis) assigned to her as husband the ram-headed god Khnemu,Gods1 4606, the lord of the First Cataract, and she be came therefore “lady of Ābu” (Elephantine), and the mother of Tutu, a form of the god Shu, whose symbol was a lion walking. Tutu,Gods1 4607,[58] is also known by the names Ḥer-ka,Gods1 4608,[59] and Hetch-nefer-sebeq,Gods1 4611, and he is depicted in the form of a young man[60] wearing on his head the crown of the North, and the Atef crown with uraei and disks ; the forefinger of his right hand is raised to his mouth, which suggests that he had something in common with the Harpocrates gods. According to Dr. Brugsch he is the personification of the sun when he enters the zodiacal sign of Leo, and the same scholar would connect the lion-headed rain-spouts of the temples of Dendera, Ivhensu at Thebes, Edfû, and Philae, with the summer sun.[61]

In the texts which describe these spouts they are called

  • “Lion,” the “Strong one of strength,”
  • “mighty of strength,” “possessor of two-fold strength,”
  • “the mighty one of roarings,”
  • “fiery-face,”
  • and “lion of the face which enchanteth (or terrifieth).”

A form of Tutu, the son of Net and

Khnemu, called Ȧr-ḥes-nefer,Gods1 4612, often appears in inscriptions wherein he is described as a “god of the south,” and he must be identified with the crocodile-headed god who appears in the temple at Esneh under the names Sebek-Rā and Ḥes-nefer-Sebek, the son of Net.

From certain passages in the texts quoted by Dr. Brugsch[62] it is clear that Ȧmen-Rā, the “king of the gods,” was the son of Net, and in the hymn which Darius II. caused to be inscribed on the walls of the temple of Hebt, in the Great Oasis, it is said that the Cow, Gods1 4613, i.e., Net, rejoiceth in the “Bull of his mother.” Here the Sun-god is described as the husband who maketh fertile with his seed,[63] and lie is said to come to the town of Sapi, , i.e., Saïs.

The hymn continues,[64]

“Thine image reposeth in Gods1 4614H et-khebit, in the nest of the lady of Saïs. Thy mother Net uniteth herself unto thee (Gods1 4615) in the form of Nu, and with  thy body arrayed in the veil [which she hath woven] thy body dwelleth in the temples Resenet and Mehenet. Thy raiment is upon the hands of the two crocodile gods, (Gods1 4616).”

The crocodile gods here mentioned are, of course, the two crocodiles which are seen one on each side of the goddess in certain pictures of her. Finally, we find that in Thebes Net, as the mother and wife of Ȧmen-Rā, was known under the form and name of the ancient goddess Ȧment.

She is represented as a young woman who wears upon her head the crown of the North, and holds in each hand the emblem of water, assuch she is called

“Ȧment, the dweller in Ȧpt, Nini,”

Gods1 4617.

Under the name of Ȧment-Rā, Gods1 4618, she is seen suckling Horus, and she also appears as a ram-headed goddess wearing the Atef crown.[65] All the attributes of Net were ascribed to Ȧment, who was originally the female counterpart of the local god Ȧmen, and of necessity a deity of little importance.

Thus Ȧment is styled,

“the Cow, the great lady, who fashioned the company of the gods, the mother of Rā, who gave birth to Horus.”

It is very difficult to harmonize all the various statements which are made in the texts concerning the attributes of Net, and the above paragraphs on this goddess will illustrate the difficulty. They prove, however, that the opinions which the Egyptians held concerning her varied from time to time, and that contradictions in their statements are due, not so much to inconsistency or ignorance on the part of the priests and copyists, as to the attempt made to harmonize every new religious system of belief with every one which had existed before it.

first previous index next last

- Footnotes:


This is preserved in the British Museum, No. 32,124.


Religion, p. 312.


Lanzone, op. cit., pl. 314 ff.


Op. cit., pl. 325 ff.


The following selection may, however, be of interest:—

  • Ārit, ,
  • Ȧkent, ,
  • Sekhet-Rā, ,
  • Keset, ,
  • Senmet, ,
  • Khauit, ,
  • Mātcheṭ, ,
  • Sheṭenu, ,
  • Āḳenu, ,
  • Khakhat (?), ,
  • She-Ṭesher, ,
  • Kepenut (in Syria), ,
  • Per-ṭennu    in Ānkh-tanit, ,
  • Rehesu. , Feka, ,
  • Ṭep-ȧḥet, ,
  • Alkat, ,
  • Ȧn-Menthu, ,
  • Maāti, ,
  • Sebti, ,
  • Ḳennu, ,
  • Tcherutet, ,
  • Seḳ, ,
  • Per-Utchat, ,
  • Ḥes, ,
  • Kenset, ,
  • Neferus, ,
  • Khekhuit, ,
  • Antet, ,
  • Sennut, .

Brugsch, Mythologische Inschriften, Leipzig, 1884, p. 801 ff.


Page ix., 1. S. (Birch, Select Papyri.)


See Denderah, tom. l, pl. 27 ; Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 972.


See my paper in Archaeoiogia, vol. lii. (Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu).


Brugsch, Religion, p. 318 ; Lanzone, op. cit., p. 865.


Brugsch, Mythologische Inschriften, p. 844 (Twelfth Hour of the Day).


Mémoire sur quelques Papyrus du Louvre, Paris, 1875, p. 104.


The Egyptian name of the place was , Kheft-ḥrȧ-en-neb-s, and the Greek Pasêmis; Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 574.


Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 352 iĭ.



Op. cit., pl. 348.


Brugsch. Religion, p. 324.



The Φθενότης of Ptolemy, and the Ptenetu of Pliny; see de Rouge, Geographic, p. 41.


Méoire sur quelques Papyrus, pp. 50, 83.


See Lanzone, op. cit., pl. 58 f.


Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 215.


p. 568.


Their = Uatchet and Nekhebet.


Maspero, Mémoire sur quelques Papyrus, p. S2.


Astronomische und Astrologische Inschriften, p. 473, No. 11.


See Bubastis, Eighth and Tenth Memoirs of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1891 and 1892.


See Brugsch, Dict. Géog., p. 208 ; Religion, p. 332.


Lanzone, op. cit., p. 226.


See Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie, p. 33-1.


B. R.’s Translation, fol. 86a.


B. R.’s Translation, fol. 108a.


Religion, p. 336.


See de Rouge, Géographie, p. 122.


Op. cit., pl. 175 ff.


Lanzone, op. cit., pl. 175, No. 3.


Dict. Géog., p. 1323.


Geographie de la Basse Égypte, p. 24.


B. R.’s translation, fol. 86b.


B. R.’s translation, fol. 116b.


See Petrie, Royal Tombs, ii., pp. 4-20, and pl. ii.


Le Cult de Neit à Sais, Paris, 1888, p. 104.




Compare also.


Mémoire sur quelques Papyrus du Louvre, p. 90.




For the texts see my Mummy, p. 199 ff.


See Mallet, Le Culte de Neït, p. 140.


See Revillout in Revue Égyptoiogique, tom. i., p. 72ff.


Εγώ εἰμι πᾶν τὸ γεγονὸς, και ὄν, και ἐσόμενον, και τὸν ἐμὸν πεπλον οὐδείς πω ἄπεκάλυψεν.


ἦλθον ἀπ’ ἐμαντῆς.


Net urt mut mes Rā.


Op. cit., p. 191.


Études Égyptologiques, etc., Paris, 1873, p. 45 ff.


οὗτοι γὰρ μὸνοι θεών παρ’ αὐτοῖς, ἀρσενοθήλεις ὑπάρχουσι (ed. Leeraans, p. 19).


See Brugsch, Religion, p. 340.


Religion und Mythologie, p. 347.


Variants, .


Or,Ḥ er-ka-p-kharṭ.


Lanzone, op. cit., pi. 407, No. 3.


Religion, p. 349.


Ibid, p. 353.




See Brugsch, Reise nach der grossen Oase, pl. xxvi., 1. 28 f.


See Lanzone, op. cit., pl. 25.

first previous index next last

Article published on

Last update on