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A green painting of Nit from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Image © Antikforever.com

Nit, Goddess of Weaving, War, Hunting and the Red Crown, Creator Deity, Mother of Ra

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: June 27, 2013

 

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Relief of Nit at the temple at Iunet (Dendera)

Image © Horus3
Nit (Net, Neit, Neith) was the predynastic goddess of war and weaving, the goddess of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the patron goddess of Zau (Sau, Sai, Sais) in the Delta. In later times she was also thought to have been an androgynous demiurge - a creation deity - who had both male and female attributes. The Egyptians believed her to be an ancient and wise goddess, to whom the other gods came if they could not resolve their own disputes.

Generally depicted as a woman, 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. Nit was probably linked with the crown of Lower Egypt due to the similarities between her name, and the name of the crown - nt ntred crown on a basket determinative. Similarly, her name was linked to the root of the word for 'weave' - ntt ntt (which is also the root for the word 'being'). She was also often shown carrying a bow and arrows, linking her to hunting and warfare, or a sceptre and sceptre and the ankh sign of life. She was also shown in the form of a cow, though this was very rare.

"Nit, the Cow, which gave birth to Ra," ... In late dynastic times there is no doubt that Nit 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 Ra, and it is possible, as Brugsch has suggested, that the name Nit may be akin in meaning to Nut.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 1969, The Gods of the Egyptians: Volume 1, p. 451

Nit wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt As the mother of Ra, the Egyptians believed her to be connected with the god of the watery primeval void, Nun. (Her name might have also been linked to a word for water - nt ntwater determinative - thus providing the connection between the goddess and the primeval waters.) Because the sun god arose from the primeval waters, and with Nit being these waters, she was thought to be the mother of the sun, and mother of the gods. She was called 'Nit, the Cow Who Gave Birth to Ra' as one of her titles. The evil serpent Apep, enemy of Ra, was believed to have been created when Nit spat into the waters of Nun, her spittle turning into the giant water snake. As a creatrix, though, her name was written using the hieroglyph of an ejaculating phallus - phallus determinative - a strong link to the male creative force a hint as to her part in the creation of the universe.

According to the Iunyt (Esna) cosmology the goddess emerged from the primeval waters to create the world. She then followed the flow of the Nile northward to found Zau in company with the subsequently venerated lates-fish. There are much earlier references to Nit's association with the primordial flood-waters and to her demiurge: Amenhotep II (18th Dynasty) in one inscription is the pharaoh 'whose being Nit moulded'; the papyrus (20th Dynasty) giving the account of the struggle between Horus and Set mentions Nit 'who illuminated the first face' and in the sixth century BC the goddess is said to have invented birth.

-- Hart, G. 2012, The Routledge Dictionary Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, p. 101

There is confusion as to the Emblem of Nit - originally it was of a shield and two crossed arrows, but this changed over time. This was her symbol from the earliest times, and there is no doubt that she was a goddess of hunting and war since predynastic times. The symbol of her town, Zau, used the crossed arrows emblem from early times, and was used in the name of the nome of which her city was the capital. She was known as the 'Lady of Zau'. Samuel Sharpe (1837), in Rudiments of a Vocabulary of Egyptian Hieroglyphics, notes some of her other titles as, 'Nit mother of the gods, queen of heaven', 'Nit the queen of Upper Egypt, the great divine mother', and 'Nit the queen of Lower Egypt, the Lady of Zau'. Early dynastic fragment depicting the emblem of Nit (close-up) and two click beetles (close-up)

Image © The Global Egyptian Museum

A less familiar but very early emblem of Nit is a pair of crossed arrows over what has been interpreted as a shield, crossed bows or a pair of elaterid beetles supported on a pole, known as the bilobate sign ... During the Early Dynastic this is the most common representation of Nit, and numerous examples of it survive, often in simplified form as two crossed arrows, with shaped tips and feathered ends either with or without a pole, or simply two crossed lines ...

A rather more surprising symbol for her during the Early Dynastic, which survived into the Old Kingdom, was an elaterid beetle (probably Agrypnus notodonta, also known as the "click beetle"). Although few amulets have survived from the Early Dynastic, Nit is represented in the form of this beetle in one of a set of three hollow gold amulets found in a woman's burial in Nag ed-Deir, the surface of which was marked with emblems of the goddess. The above-mentioned greywacke fragment in Brussels shows two of these beetles, nose to nose, beautifully carved, adjacent to the bilobate emblem ... Another greyacke item (E 578, also in Brussels), this time a bowl from the reign of Den at Umm el Qaab, shows the beetle with arms and hands held out to the sides, the left one holding a was-sceptre, the right one holding a staff with the top missing. The was sceptre, which was often associated with Nit in later times, represents the concepts of power and dominion.

-- Byrnes, A. 2013, 'The goddess Neith in the Early Dynastic period', Egyptological

The earliest use of the shield and two crossed arrows emblem was used in the name of queen Nithotep, 'Nit is Pleased', who seems to have been the wife of Aha "Fighter" Menes of the 1st Dynasty. Another early dynastic queen, Merytnit, 'Beloved of Nit', served as regent around the time of king Den. The emblem is also used in the depiction of the Temple of Nit on a tag belonging to Aha Menes, found at Abydos, depicting two sacred boats float on the sanctuary of the goddess Nit to the right of the first register. This item is currently in the British Museum (35518), but sadly much of this tag has been lost, including the depiction of Nit's emblem. Nit from the Tomb of Nefertari

Image © Peter Schmidt

Her most ancient symbol is the shield with crossed arrows, which occurs in the early dynastic period... This warlike emblem is reflected in her titles 'Mistress of the Bow... Ruler of Arrows'.

-- Hart, G. 2012, The Routledge Dictionary Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, p. 100

The later form of the Emblem is what some people believe to be a weaving shuttle. It is possible that the symbols were confused by the Egyptians themselves, and so she became a goddess of weaving and other domestic arts. It was claimed, in one version of her tale, that she created the world by weaving it with her shuttle.

She was linked to with a number of goddesses including Isis, Bast, Wadjet, Nekhbet, Mut and Sekhmet. As a cow, she was linked to both Nut and Hathor. She was also linked to Tatet, the goddess who dressed the dead, and was thus linked to preservation of the dead. This was probably due to being a weaver goddess - she was believed to make the bandages for the deceased. With Serqet, she was a watcher of the sky who, in one story, was thought to stop Amen and his wife from being disturbed while they were together, making her a goddess of marriages.

She might have also been linked to Anubis and Wepwawet (Upuaut), because one of her earliest titles was also 'Opener of the Ways'. She was also one of the four goddesses - herself, Isis, Nephthys and Serqet - who watched over the deceased as well as each goddess protecting one of the four Sons of Horus. Nit, along with the wolf- or jackal-headed Son of Horus, Duamutef, watched over the east cardinal point of the sarcophagus where the canopic jar containing the stomach was placed. Also, during the earliest times, weapons were placed around the grave to protect the dead, and so her nature of a warrior-goddess might have been a direct link to her becoming a mortuary goddess. However, as 'Opener of the Ways', she had other functions relating her back to the sun god, Ra: A painting of Nit wearing her Headdress from the tomb of Rameses I

An analysis of the goddess Nit's attributes shows she was a goddess with many roles. From predynastic and early dynasty periods, she was referred to as "Opener of the Ways" () which may have referred not only to her leadership in hunting and war, but also as a psychopomp in cosmic and underworld pathways. The main imagery of Nit as was as a deity of the unseen and limitless sky, as opposed to Nut and Hathor, who represented the manifested night and day skies, respectively. As the "Opener of the Sun's paths in all her stations" refers Nit's functions in how the sun is reborn (due to seasonal changes) at various points in the sky, beyond this world, of which only a glimpse is revealed prior to dawn and after sunset. It is at these changing points that Neith reigns as a form of sky goddess, where the sun rises and sets daily, or at its 'first appearance' to the sky above and below. It is at these points, beyond the sky that is seen, that Nit's true power as deity who creates life is manifested.

-- Griffis-Greenberg, K. 1999, Neith as a Celestial Wepwawet, p. 1

Other than the sun god Ra, her son was believed to be Sobek, the crocodile god. She was regarded as his mother from early times - the two were mentioned as mother and son in the pyramid of Unas - and one of her titles was 'Nurse of Crocodiles' (especially when she was depicted a woman nursing a baby crocodile). During the Old Kingdom she was also regarded as the wife of Set, though by later times, especially at the Fayum, this relationship was dropped and she became the wife of Sobek instead. In Upper Egypt, especially at Iunyt, she was married to the inundation god, Khnum, instead. Statue of the goddess Nit

Image © Mbzt

"Give the office of Osiris to his son Horus! Do not go on committing these great wrongs, which are not in place, or I will get angry and the sky will topple to the ground. But also tell the Lord of All, the Bull who lives in Iunu (On, Heliopolis), to double Set's property. Give him Anat and Astarte, your two daughters, and put Horus in the place of his father."

-- Clark, R.T.R. 1960, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, p. 198

As an important goddess from the beginning of ancient Egyptian history, she was accorded great authority. In the tale of the contendings of Horus and Set, she was also given great authority over the gods, too:

Nit addresses the gods in a very authoritative voice. Her missive omits the elaborate titularies with which Thoth had addressed her in the letter he had sent on behalf of the sun god. Immediately, she orders the gods to give the office to Horus. She criticises their behaviour, using very explicit language - 'Don't do the blatant deeds of falsehood which are out of place' - and tells the other gods what to say to the Lord of All. She uses the simple and direct imperative and conjunctive forms, a very common way of requesting others to take action, not overtly marked for politeness.

The other gods respond favourable to Nit's suggestion, saying m3`.tw t3jj ntr.t, 'This goddess is correct'.

-- Sweeney, D. 2002, 'Gender and Conversational Tactics in "The Contendings of Horus and Seth"', The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 88, p. 150

By Greek times there was a great annual festival in honour of Isis-Nit. Part of the festival, recorded by Herodotus, said that the people lit their houses with lamps and torches that were fuelled by oil mixed with salt. The lamps and torches were kept burning until the morning, while the people themselves feasted.

At Zau, when the assembly takes place for the sacrifices, there is one night on which the inhabitants all burn a multitude of lights in the open air round their houses. They use lamps in the shape of flat saucers filled with a mixture of oil and salt, on the top of which the wick floats. These burn the whole night, and give to the festival the name of the Feast of Lamps. The Egyptians who are absent from the festival observe the night of the sacrifice, no less than the rest, by a general lighting of lamps; so that the illumination is not confined to the city of Zau, but extends over the whole of Egypt. And there is a religious reason assigned for the special honour paid to this night, as well as for the illumination which accompanies it.

-- Herodotus, The History of Herodotus: Book II

A sketch of Nit wearing the Red Crown, holding a bow, arrows and a sceptre

A protectress of Osiris, the pharaoh and the dead, she guarded the coffin and one of the canopic jars along with a Son of Horus. She wove the linen bandages for the dead, protecting the body from decomposition. Linked to royalty since the 1st Dynasty, she was a guardian of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt itself. She used her arrows to put evil spirits to sleep, and thus was a goddess of the chase and of warfare. She was thought to be the water from which Ra was born, becoming the mother of Ra and thus of the gods themselves. Eventually she became the creatrix, the great creator, who was neither male nor female, but a combination of both. Despite the attempt at Iunyt to give her northern origins, where she was the wife of Khnum, she was a goddess of the delta and of Upper Egypt itself, linked with Ra, Set and Sobek. She was one of the earliest deities worshipped in Egypt with her origins in the predynastic period, with strong ties to the rulers of the early dynastic period. Her worship continued on until Greek times, where she was worshipped as the conflated goddess, Isis-Nit. She was 'Everything that has been, that which is, and everything that will be', the female creator god of Egypt.


Further Information about Nit


Video of Nit

A video filled with images of Nit (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2002 - present

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