Headdresses of the Ancient Egyptian Deities...by Caroline Seawright
April 23, 2002
Headdresses of the Ancient Egyptian Deities...
The ancient Egyptian deities tended to each have a distinctive headdress, which can often be used to tell the gods and goddesses apart. The headdress seems to have been strongly linked to the attributes of the particular deity, giving the Egyptians a visual clue as to the powers of the god or goddess. This, then, lead to the mix up of headdresses when different deities took over the attributes and powers of another deity. To the Egyptians it made sense - they could easily tell what the god was worshiped for - but it makes things difficult to identify deities today.
Here is a list of the most common headdresses or crowns of the deities of ancient Egypt:
Amen is usually depicted as a man wearing a headdress with two tall plumes rising from a short crown. As Amen-Ra, the sun disk is added between the plumes, showing his connection to the sun. Horus is also seen wearing the headdress of Amen.
It is said that also other gods are unaware of his true form, as they were created later than him and by him. His invisibility carries connotations with the wind, or breeze, his element in the Ogdoad, and which is seen in the depictions where he carries two high plumes on top of his head, plumes being a sign for wind or air.
-- The Creation Myths, Akhet
Amentet, the Personification of the West, was depicted as wearing the standard of the west. The standard is usually a half circle sitting on top of two poles of uneven length, the longer of which is tied to her head by a headband. Often a hawk or an ostrich feather is seen sitting on top of the standard.
... a foreign-looking crown of feathers standing upright in a close ring ... That such is the signification of Anqet is indicated by the crown of feathers, by the meaning of her name "to surround," and by the determinative hieroglyphic of her name, a serpent, signifying "knowledge".
-- The Correspondences of Egypt, C. TH. Odhner
Atem is usually depicted as a man wearing the Double Crown (both of the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt). The crowns signify that he is related to rulership over the Two Lands, giving him a close connection with the pharaoh. Horus is also depicted as wearing this crown.
The Double Crown - Pschent. With the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, the red crown and the white crown were combined to become the double crown, known as the "Two Mighty Ones".
-- Royal Crowns and Headdresses, Egyptology Online
Geb was depicted wearing the headdress of a goose. Most often he is shown wearing no headdress at all. The goose was Geb's sacred animal, and it was also the hieroglyph used in his name. He was also sometimes shown wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt combined with the atef crown and long, spiral horns. The Egyptians believed that Geb was one of the first pharaohs of Egypt, and so he was sometimes shown wearing the crown of Lower Egypt, combined with Osiris' atef crown.
Hathor was pictured as a woman with cow's horns with the sun between them, or as a cow wearing the sun disk between her horns. The horns are her horns, as she was thought to be a bovine goddess, but the solar disk that sits between the horns is her aspect of a solar goddess. Some, though, believe that the horns are yet another symbolism of her celestial role as a goddess:
In the Hermopolitan cosmogonies, a cow [Hathor or Mehet] carried the child Re to the "horizon of heaven" [eclipse]. Thus, it is reasonable to consider that the belief in Hathor had been inspired by the dazzling Diamond Ring effect seen close to totality of an eclipse ... the eclipsed sun looks like a diamond on a ring [or horns] of the solar corona (the outer atmosphere of the Sun). Therefore the horns of Hathor could be the horns of the crescent sun or those of the ring and the face of Hathor would be then the diamond.
-- The Solar (Eclipse) Gods of Ancient Egypt, Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem
Hapi was also both god of Upper and Lower Egypt - this duality was shown by having twin Hapi deities, one wearing the papyrus of the north (Lower Egypt) as a headdress, the other wearing the south's (Upper Egypt) blue water lily as a headdress. When the two gods are shown together, they are usually using their respective plants to tie together a set of lungs and windpipe, symbolising the Two Lands together as one.
Heh was shown as a man wearing a notched palm frond on his head. The palm frond was an ancient Egyptian symbol for long life. Heh was the god of infinity, and so the palm could also stand for an infinite amount of time.
Many of the gods with the name of Horus were shown as hawk headed men, each Horus having a different headdress. These headdresses did get confused, along with the gods, over time. Horus - son of Isis and Osiris - and Horus the Elder - brother of Isis and Osiris - both wore the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Horakhty, Horus of the Horizon, wore the sun disk on his head with the uraeus. These gods could also be shown wearing the headdress of Amen or no headdress at all.
Iabet was shown as a beautiful woman, wearing the hieroglyph of the word 'east' on her head, possibly an image of a standard or a decorated spear. The personification of the east is rarely seen, compared to the much more frequently depicted personification of the west, Amentet.
The Egyptians personified the cardinal points of the horizon in goddesses that differentiated themselves by the headdress which they wore on the head.
-- Iabet, Amigos de la Egiptología
Isis was shown as a beautiful woman, wearing the hieroglyph of the throne of Egypt on her head. Later on when she took on the aspects of Hathor, she started to be shown wearing her headdress - the cow's horns with the sun disk between them - often combined with the vulture headdress of Mut. She took over many of the positions of the goddesses, and so ended up taking on their headdresses as well, though the hieroglyph and the cow horns, solar disk and vulture headdress combination were the most common.
Khonsu was generally depicted as a youth or a hawk headed man wearing a lunar disk and crescent on his head. Thoth and Yah, both moon-related deities, also wore this lunar headdress.
Like the two most important other lunar gods, Yah, whose name simply means "moon", and Khonsu, whose name "the wanderer" refers to the cycles of the moon, Thoth is very closely associated with the calculation of time in specific and arithmetic in general ... As a lunar god, he was responsible for completing the moon during its cycle, that is to say, to make sure that time passes as it is supposed to.
-- Thoth, Jacques Kinnaer
Ma'at was shown as a woman with an ostrich feather - the Feather of Ma'at and the symbol of truth - on her head. The tall feather, attached by a headband, is the hieroglyph for truth, order, balance, justice and freedom.
The reason for the association of the ostrich feather with Ma'at, the goddess of truth, is unknown, as is also the primitive conception which underlies the name, but it is certainly very ancient, and probably dates from Predynastic times.
-- The Gods of the Egyptians, E. A. Wallis Budge
Min was shown as a man wearing a crown with twin plumes, similar to that of Amen, occasionally with a long ribbon trailing down to his feet. When he took the form of Min-Amen, he wore the solar disk between the two tall feathers on his headdress.
Min was one of the most ancient of Egyptian deities and is always depicted with an erect phallus, sometimes ejaculating sperm, and wearing a crown topped by two straight plumes: in his right hand he holds a raised flail used to thresh husks from the ears of corn to make it edible - hence the flail, or whip, is a symbol of power and fertility. Min was later joined with the great solar deity Amen to become the sun god's fertility aspect.
-- Saint Priapus: An Account of Phallic Survivals within the Christian Church and some of their Pagan Origins, Ian McNeil Cooke
Min's other main distinguishing feature, though not part of a headdress, is his symbol, the flail. The way he holds his flail might be symbolic of sexual intercourse - the flail forms the V while his upraised forearm seems to thrust inside the V.
Mut was often shown wearing the double crown of Egypt or the vulture headdress of the New Kingdom queens. She wore the vulture crown because of the link between her name and the name for mother in Egyptian - they were both mwt, and the vulture was the hieroglyph for mw.
In Southern Africa, the name for an Egyptian vulture is synonymous with the term applied to lovers, for vultures like pigeons are always seen in pairs. Thus mother and child remain closely bonded together... the wide wingspan of a vulture may be seen as all encompassing and providing a protective cover to its infants. The vulture when carrying out its role as a mother and giving protection to its infants may exhibit a forceful nature whilst defending her young. All these qualities inspired the imagination of the Ancient Egyptians.
-- Ma-Wetu, The Kiswahili-Bantu Research Unit for the Advancement of the Ancient Egyptian Language
Nefertem was depicted as a beautiful young man with a water lily (lotus) flower on his head. The flower was the floral symbol of Upper Egypt - the Nymphaea caerulea - which the Egyptians related to the sun, healing, perfume and sexuality.
Nit was shown either wearing her emblem - either a shield crossed with two arrows, or a weaving shuttle - or the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.
Linked to royalty since the 1st Dynasty, Nit was a guardian of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt itself. As for the shuttle, her name - nt - was linked to the root of the Egyptian word for 'weave' - ntt. The emblem also could be depicted as that of warfare - the shield and arrows that she was believed to have used to put evil spirits to sleep.
Nekhbet was depicted as a woman wearing the crown of Upper Egypt or the vulture headdress, a woman with the head of a vulture. She was shown to wear the vulture crown because she was believed to be the mother - the Egyptian word used the hieroglyph of the vulture - of the pharaoh. Her claim to the crown of Upper Egypt came from the fact that she was one of the pharaoh's 'Two Ladies' - nebty - who was the goddess of all of Upper Egypt. In later times, these two crowns were combined.
...but by the word "house" we must understand that portion of the sky which was supposed to form the abode of the Sun-god Horus.
-- Nephthys, TourEygpt
Nut was sometimes portrayed as a woman wearing her sign - the particular design of an Egyptian pot on her head, though most often she was not shown wearing a headdress at all.
Osiris is generally shown as a green man wearing the atef crown on his head. It seems that the atef crown was originally the crown of Ra when the Egyptians believed that he ruled the earth. For Osiris to be pharaoh of Egypt, he had to wear this crown, though it produced much heat, as expected from an object belonging to the sun god.
But, on the very first day that he wore it, Osiris had much suffering in his head from the heat of the atef crown which [he wore] that men and gods should respect him. And when Ra returned in the evening to see Osiris ... he found him sitting in his house with his head angry and swollen from the heat of the atef crown.
-- Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, R. T. Rundle Clark
Ptah was shown as a mummiform man with a false beard, wearing a close fitting skull cap that exposed only his face and ears. A golden statue of Ptah from the tomb of Tutankhamen has a blue faience cap on his head.
Satet was often shown wearing the crown of the south - Upper Egypt - and a pair of long antelope horns. This crown has a vulture's head and tail peeking out from within it, linking her to the mother goddesses of Egypt.
The vulture beneath the crown is the symbol of maternal love and protection, and the horns signify the power of celestial love.
-- The Correspondences of Egypt, C. TH. Odhner
The goddess Serqet is usually represented as a woman wearing a scorpion-like animal on her head. Contrary, however, to popular beliefs, she was originally associated with the so-called water-scorpion, an aquatic animal that physically resembles but bears no relation to the real scorpion. Only through a (graphical) assimilation between the water-scorpion and the real scorpion in the 19th Dynasty, she would become associated with the real scorpion.
-- Serqet, Jacques Kinnaer
Seshat was depicted as a woman with a headdress that was also her hieroglyph, which may represent either a stylised flower or seven (or nine) pointed star on a standard that is beneath a set of down-turned horns or a down turned crescent of the moon.
Much argument is made over whether the symbol over Her head is a star or a rosette. An article brought to my attention recently has shed an interesting light on this issue. in "Seshat and the Pharaoh" by G.A. Wainwright, he shows the development of Seshat's symbol over time. It first appeared ... on Narmer's palette, perhaps as part of a title. There it is clearly a flower-shape, and not a star.
-- Seshat: A Goddess of Ancient Egypt, D. A. Schaefer
Shu was generally depicted as a man wearing an ostrich feather headdress, though sometimes he was shown wearing the sun disk on his head. The feather was the same ostrich feather of Ma'at, but his name might be derived from the word for dryness - shu, the root of words such as 'dry', 'parched', 'withered', 'sunlight' and 'empty'. His name could also mean 'He who Rises Up'.
Thoth was usually depicted as an ibis headed man or as a full ibis, or with the face of a dog-headed baboon and the body of a man or, again, as a full dog-headed baboon. Each form could have the lunar disk and crescent on his head. Khonsu and Aah, both moon-related deities, also wore this lunar headdress.
Wadjet was depicted as a woman wearing the crown of Lower Egypt or with a cobra on her head. Her claim to the crown of Lower Egypt came from the fact that she was one of the pharaoh's 'Two Ladies' - nebty - who was the goddess of all of Lower Egypt. In later times the crown of Lower Egypt was combined with the vulture headdress.
The goddess Wadjet cometh to thee in the form of the living Uraeus to anoint thy head with their flames.
-- E. A. Wallis Budge (2003), The Gods of the Egyptians: Studies in Egyptian Mythology, pp. 443-444
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2002 - present
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