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The goddess Mut wearing a Royal Crown

Mut, Mother Goddess of the New Kingdom, Wife of Amen, Vulture Goddess

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: June 26, 2013

 

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Statue of Mut wearing the Double Crown of Egypt

Image © Kelsey Museum of Archeology
Mut (Maut) was the mother goddess, the queen of the gods at Waset (Thebes), arising in power with the god Amen. She came to represent the Eye of Ra, the ferocious goddess of retribution and daughter of the sun god Ra. Originally a local goddess, probably from the delta area, she became a national goddess during the New Kingdom and was adored at one of the most popular festivals at the time - the Festival of Mut.

She was either depicted as a woman, sometimes with wings, or a vulture, usually wearing the crowns of royalty - she was often shown wearing the double crown of Egypt or the vulture headdress of the New Kingdom queens. Later she was shown as woman with the head of a lioness, as a cow or as a cobra as she took on the attributes of the other Egyptian goddesses. The ancient Egyptian link between vultures and motherhood lead to her name being the ancient Egyptian word for mother - mwt mwtwoman determinative

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. Pairing, bonding, protecting, loving are essential attributes associated with a vulture. Because of its immense size and power and its ability to sore high up in the sky, the vulture is considered to be nearer to God who is believed to reside above the sky. Thus the qualities of a vulture are associated with Godliness. On the other hand 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. They adopted what seemed to them at the time to be motherly qualities, the qualities of protecting and nurturing their young ... Thus the qualities of being a mother in the eyes of the Ancient Egyptians may be seen as one of protecting, defending, bonding, pairing, care, attention and affection for her child. These beliefs formed the philosophical thinking behind the Ancient Egyptian civilisation and resulted in them bestowing on the mother the attributes of the vulture.

-- The Kiswahili-Bantu Research Unit for the Advancement of the Ancient Egyptian Language, Ma-Wetu

Photo of Mut at Abydos
Image © Ellie Crystal

Mut took over the position of the original wife of Amen - Amaunet, the invisible goddess - during the Middle Kingdom and rose to power when the New Kingdom rulers took up the worship of Amen. The pharaohs moved to Waset, making it their capital, and so the worship of the local Waset gods spread throughout the land. As Amen became the god of the pharaohs, Mut became their symbolic mother and was identified with the queens. Their adopted son was Khonsu, the moon god, and the three were worshipped as a triad at Waset and at the Temple of Amen at Ipet-Resyt (Luxor). Originally their adopted son was Montu, the god of war, but he was dropped in favour of the moon god, possibly because the shape of Mut's sacred lake was in the shape of a crescent moon.

During the Festival of Mut in Waset, a statue of the goddess was placed on a boat and sailed around the small crescent shaped sacred lake at her temple at Ipet-Isut (Karnak). In a yearly matrimonial ceremony during the New Year festival, Amen travelled from his temple at Ipet-Resyt down to Ipet-Isut to visit her. Originally this was for the fertility goddess Ipet (Taweret), as a way of ensuring fertility for the coming year.

Unas hath had union with the goddess Mut, Unas hath drawn unto himself the flame of Isis, Unas hath united himself to the blue water lily...

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 2003, Gods of the Egyptians, Volume 2, p. 32

There was also a composite deity called "Mut-Isis-Nekhbet, the Great Mother and Lady" who was shown as a winged goddess with leonine feet, an erect penis and three heads - a lion head wearing Min's headdress, a woman's head wearing the double crown of Egypt and a vulture's head wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt.

An image of the composite goddess, Mut-Wadjet-Sekhmet-Bast

Image © University of Memphis
In The Book of the Dead, a spell was spoken over a statue of her. The statue had her with three heads - one of the heads was that of a lioness wearing a headdress of two tall plumes, a human head wearing the double crown, and the third being the head of a vulture, again wearing the headdress of two plumes - as well as wings, an erect penis and the paws of a lion. This spell was to protect the dead from being disturbed, and it linked her to Bast, Sekhmet and the sun. In this form she was called both Mut, but addressed as Sekhmet-Bast-Ra.

The words of power which form the CLXIVth Chapter to be effectual had to be recited over a figure of the goddess Mut which was to have three heads. The first head was like that of the goddess Pekhat and had plumes; the second was like that of a man and had upon it the crowns of the South and North; the third was like that of a vulture and had upon it plumes; the figure had a pair of wings, and the claws of a lion. This figure was painted in black, green, and yellow colours upon a piece of anes linen; in front of it and behind it was painted a dwarf who wore plumes upon his head. One hand and arm of each dwarf were raised, and each had two faces, one being that of a hawk and the other that of a man; the body of each was fat. These figures having been made, we are told that the deceased shall be "like unto a god with the gods of the underworld; he shall never, never be turned back; his flesh and his bones shall be like those of one who hath never been dead; he shall drink water at the source of the stream; a homestead shall be given unto him in Sekhet-Aaru; he shall become a star of heaven; he shall set out to do battle with the serpent fiend Nekau and with Tar, who are in the underworld; he shall not be shut in along with the souls which are fettered; he shall have power to deliver himself wherever he may be; and worms shall not devour him."

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 2010, The Book of the Dead, pp. 121-122

Mut wearing the Double Crown and the queen's vulture headdress

Image © Su Bayfield
When she started to take over the positions of other goddesses, her name was linked to the older goddess' - such as Mut-Temt, Mut-Wadjet-Bast, Mut-Wadjet-Sekhmet, Mut-Wadjet-Sekhmet-Bast and Mut-Sekhmet-Bast-Menhit. She also started to take on the aspects and attributes of Isis, such as Mut's form of Mut-Isis-Nekhbet. She seems to have also taken the attributes of even the sky goddess Nut, mother of the five deities - Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis and Nephthys.

When Amen was assimilated with Ra, becoming Amen-Ra, Mut took on the title the Eye of Ra, a form associated with Hathor and Sekhmet, among others. The Eye was usually shown as a lioness, representing the fierce heat of the sun, and so Mut was given the form of a lion headed woman. She was then thought to be the daughter of Ra, yet she was also "Mother of the Sun in Whom He Rises" - she was thought to be the mother of mothers, and thus could be both the mother and daughter of the sun god.

Mut was a goddess who rose to prominence in Egypt relatively late, in the middle of the second millennium b.c.e. Championed during the fifteenth century by Hatshepsut, who built a temple to her at Luxor, Mut took her place as the wife of Amen(-Ra), a god who rose to primacy at Thebes and later became the chief deity of the Nubian kingdom of Napata.

Alongside Amen-Ra, Mut achieved great popularity in the New Kingdom, with cults and temples around the Delta. The chief location of her cult was at Thebes, site of the famous Karnak temple complex. Mut appears frequently in Ramesside-period inscriptions from Karnak and from temples in other places. Egyptologists have remarked on Mut's meteoric rise during the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period. A hymn to Mut from the reign of Ramses VI (1142–1134) gave her the epithet "mistress of every city, and its translator concluded that the title may "have been more than purely honorary," since most major Egyptian towns seemingly had at least guest cults of Amen and Mut at that time. The Third Intermediate Period, which overlapped with the Israelite and Judean monarchies, was not as rich in inscriptions as some earlier periods, but Mut was a very prominent deity for the Nubians and Saites as well.

-- Hays, C.B. 2012, 'The Egyptian Goddess Mut in Iron Age Palestine: Further Data From Amulets and Onomastics', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 71, no. 2, pp. 300-302

Mut wearing the Double Crown and Amen wearing the tall Double Plumes The 'Mistress of Isheru' (the sacred lake around her temple) had a large temple mostly built by Amenhotep III. The earliest parts of the temple, though, were built by pharaohs Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. Later rulers such as Ramses II, Ramses III and King Taharqa of the Kushite Dynasty XXV added to the Mut Precinct, expanding the precinct and rebuilding the temple. (Ramses II's wife, Nefertari, was called Nefertari Merytnmut - 'Nefertari, Beloved of Mut'.) The temple of Mut continued to prosper during the Ptolemaic period, right through to the conquest of Egypt by Rome in about 30 BC. By the late Roman period, the temple of Mut was no longer in use, and started to fall into disrepair.

Hatshepsut (1472-1457 BCE), he long-reigning female pharaph, built the Temple of Mut at Karnak...

Encircling the three sides of the southernmost end of the Temple of Mut is an Isheru, a sacred crescent-shaped lake. Isherus were found throughout Egypt in association with the veneration of lion goddesses, though the lake at the Temple of Mut is the only surviving one. The Isheru may have served as a place to attract lions with the promise of water, or possibly even to accentuate that many of these lioness goddesses are associated with water. The Temple of Mut, rebuilt and expanded a number of times, was used from the 13th century BCE until the Ptolemaic Dynasty (ending 330 BCE).

-- Monaghan, P. 2010, Book Goddesses in World Culture, p. 260

Arial view of the sacred lake, Isheru, surrounding Hut-Mut
Image © The Brooklyn Museum of Art

Statue outside the Temple of Mut, Hut-Mut The temple, Hut-Mut hwt-mwt hwtt house determinativemwt egg determinativevulture in a basket determinative, was situated to the south of the great temple of Amen-Ra, with an avenue of sphinxes approaching her temple. She was worshipped there as "Mut, the Great Lady of Isheru, the Lady of Heaven, the Queen of the Gods". Mut was believed to have existed since primeval times, existing along side Nun, the primeval waters. This was probably due to her replacement of Amaunet, one of the primeval Ogdoad - the great eight - who lived in the waters. In her temple she was depicted in the form black basalt statues, showing Mut as the Eye of Ra, Sekhmet.

The precinct of Mut lies about 100 yards south of the precinct of Amen to which it is oriented, and covers an area of about twenty acres. The focal point of the complex is the temple of Mut itself, surrounded on three sides by a lake called the Isheru, a term used to describe sacred lakes specific to precincts of goddesses who can be leonine in form. The Mut Precinct's Isheru, fed probably by an underground spring, is the largest in Egypt that is preserved.

... The Mut expedition also uncovered a gate in an early western enclosure wall that bares traces of a possible graffito of Senmut, an important official under Hatshepsut, and the cartouches of Tothmose III (perhaps replacing Hatshepsut's cartouche), an Amarna period effacement of the name of Amen, and an inscription by Seti I recording the restoration of the gate.

Despite the evidence of early Dynasty XVIII activity at the site, many publications continue to identify the Mut temple as a work of Amenhotep III, primarily because of the many statues of the goddess Sekhmet found at the site that bear his name. However, it is now thought that the Sekhmet statues bearing the king's name were originally erected in his funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile. They were probably brought to the Mut Precinct during Dynasty XIX when Mut and Sekhmet became more closely associated and rituals involving both with the Isheru first appear to have gained prominence.

-- The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Precinct of The Goddess Mut

The Griffon Vulture She was also worshipped in Djannet (Tanis), Zau (Sau, Sai, Sais), the Oases of Jarga and Dajla. Her followers believed her as the great mother, the one who created and brought forth everything that existed. This was probably why she was sometimes depicted with male parts - she was not just one who gave birth to life, she was one who conceived life itself. She was "Mut, Who Giveth Birth, But Was Herself Not Born of Any". Another reason why Mut may have been seen as being able to have conceived by herself was the ancient Egyptian believe that there were no male griffon vultures (the vulture of the Egyptian goddesses and royalty). This vulture (Gyps fulvus) has no significant markings between the female and the male of the species. They believed that this bird conceived with the wind.

The great mother goddess of the New Kingdom, Mut replaced or assimilated many of the Egyptian goddesses. She became a great, all-in-one goddess of the capital city, and her popularity spread. Although possibly a local goddess from the delta, she was married to Amen, replacing his original wife. She came to represent the mother of the pharaoh, the royal crown being her symbol, and firmly established her place with the rulers of Waset. From there, she became one of Egypt's great goddesses, worshipped through the land from the New Kingdom well into Roman times. Both male and female, her followers believed her to be the one who created and gave birth to all.


Further Information about Mut


Video of Mut

A video about the goddess Mut and her sacred animal, the vulture, by bemoorfund:


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