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Meskhenet, with Renenutet, both in human form

Meskhenet, Goddess of the Birth Brick and Childbirth

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: November 29, 2012

 

msskhnt

Meskhenet (Mesenet, Meskhent, Meshkent) was a goddess of birth, personified by the birthing brick that the Egyptian women squatted on while giving birth. She was either depicted as a birthing brick with a human head, or as a human with the headdress of a cow's uterus. Her name probably means 'The Place of Alighting', perhaps related to the bricks on which a baby may have been placed after birth.

In ancient Egypt, where child mortality was high, Egyptians called upon the help of their gods through magical objects, like birth bricks, and special ritual practices during childbirth. The Egyptian birth brick was associated with a specific goddess, Meskhenet, sometimes depicted in the form of a brick with a human head. On the newly discovered birth brick, the main scene shows a mother with her newborn boy, attended on either side by women and by Hathor, a cow goddess closely associated with birth and motherhood.

-- EurekaAlert (2002), Archaeologists uncover 3700-year-old 'magical' birth brick in Egypt

Seti I wearing the uterus headdress of the goddess Meskhenet
Image © S F-E-Cameron
She was thought to act as a midwife, and presided over the birthplace - Hatshepsut's (1473-1458 BC) record of her birth at Deir-el-Bahari. Khnum, and other deities associated with childbirth were there to assist the birth - Isis and her twin sister Nephthys, Hathor, Bes, god of children, Taweret, the goddess of childbearing women, and, of course, Meskhenet were all present with Queen Ahmose at the birth of her daughter, Hatshepsut:

When we next see Ahmose, she is sitting on a throne and holding the newborn Hatshepsut in her arms. Other deities surround the mother and child, while the goddess of childbirth Meskhenet sits in front of the throne. Meskhenet is to be the chief nurse and she seeks to reassure the royal infant: 'I am protecting thee, behind thee, like Ra.' Finally Hathor, the royal wet-nurse, takes the newborn baby, and presents her to her father. Amen is overwhelmed with love for the infant.

-- Joyce Tyldesley (1998), Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh, pp. 104-105

A royal birth was a time of celebration and festivities:

Meskhenet as a 'cubit with human head' (birthing brick form) from the Book of the Dead

The Egyptian texts show that birth within the royal family was linked to festivities involving public announcements by the goddess of childbirth Meskhenet, beer and food consumption, as well as different kinds of entertainment

...

Indeed, the announcement by Meskhenet in connection to Hatshepsut's birth proclaiming Hatshepsut king of the land and granting her life, health, and vigor is certainly comparable to Goedicke's interpretation of Meskhenet's announcements concerning the health of the royal offspring in Papyrus Westcar.

-- Magnus Widell (2011), 'Who's Who in "A balbale to Bau for Su-Suen" (Su-Suen A)', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 70, no. 2, p. 290

In the tale of Raddjedet and her triplets, found in the Westcar Papyrus, it was Meskhenet who foretold that each one would be a ruler - "Then Meskhenet went to him and said, 'A king who will rule throughout this entire land.'"

She was also a goddess of fate who read the destiny of the child. She guarded the baby through infancy using her protective powers. Meskhenet as a birth brick, Thoth as a baboon, and Shai as a birthbrick

Meskhenet also appears in the Hall of Judgement when the heart of the deceased was thought to be weighed. She would testify to the character of the newly dead, and perhaps continued her guardianship role in "rebirth" in the underworld. In the Papyrus of Ani, she appears next to the scales, as a human headed birthing brick. She is then depicted as a female goddess, along with Renenutet, in front of Ani and his wife. She was linked to Shai, the god of destiny, and often found with him in The Book of the Dead.

In the papyrus of Ani, Shai stands by himself near the pillar of the Balance, and Renenutet is accompanied by Meskhenet, who appears to be the personification of all the conceptions underlying Shai and Renenutet and something else besides.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A., The Book of the Dead

Two forms of the goddess Meskhenet - Meskhenet-Weret and Meskhenet-Menkhet
Image © Judy of the OI Splendors of the Nile

During the Late Period, she was linked with other goddesses:

[Meskhenet] takes four different forms, each of which corresponds to one of the four bricks. Each of these forms is associated with another goddess: Meskhenet-the-Great (Mshnt-wrt) is identified with Tefnut, Meskhenet-the-Grand (Mshnt-',t) with Nut, Meskhenet-the-Beautiful (Mshnt-nfrt) with Isis, and Meskhenet-the-Excellent (Mshnt-mnht) with Nephthys. These four goddesses represent the female portion of the Heliopolitan ennead, and thus, in addition to childbirth, are intimately related to the creation of the world.

-- Ann Macy Roth & Catharine H. Roehrig (2002), 'Magical Bricks and the Bricks of Birth', The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 88, p. 131

There was no cult centre for Meskhenet, but she was represented on birthing bricks and in The Book of the Dead. She was the goddess of birth, of fate and destiny, as well as the goddess of rebirth into the afterlife.


Further Information about Meskhenet


Video of Meskhenet

A video filled with images of the goddess Meskhenet (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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