Nut, Sky Goddess, Mother of the Godsby Caroline Seawright
August 13, 2001
Updated: November 29, 2012
To the ancient Egyptians, Nut (Nuit) was the sky (originally she was a goddess of just the sky at day, where the clouds formed) and the heavens personified. The goddess Nut protected the earth, which she and Geb encompassed, against the chaos and darkness above her. She was believed to be the daughter of the gods Shu and Tefnut, the granddaughter of the sun-god, Ra. Her husband was also her brother, Geb. She was thought to be the mother of five children on the five extra days of the Egyptian calendar, won by Thoth.
Osiris was born on the first day, Horus the Elder on the second, Set on the third, Isis on the fourth, and Nephthys, the last born, on the fifth day. The ancient Egyptians celebrated the days on which these deities were born - these were known as the 'five epagomenal days of the year':
- Osiris - an unlucky day
- Horus the Elder - neither lucky nor unlucky
- Set - an unlucky day
- Isis - a lucky day, "A Beautiful Festival of Heaven and Earth."
- Nephthys - an unlucky day
The Company of the Gods rejoice at thy rising, the earth is glad when it beholdeth thy rays; the people who have been long dead come forth with cries of joy to behold thy beauties every day. Thou goest forth each day over heaven and earth, and thou art made strong each day by thy mother Nut.
-- E. A. Wallis Budge (1913), The papyrus of Ani: A Reproduction in Facsimile, Volume 2, p. 348
She was shown in Egyptian artwork as a dark, star-covered naked woman, holding her body up in an arch, facing downwards. Her arms and legs were imagined to be the pillars of the sky, and hands and feet were thought to touch the four cardinal points at the horizon. Far underneath her lay the earth god, Geb, sometimes ithyphallic, looking up at his sister-wife. She was also described as a cow goddess, taking on some of the attributes of Hathor. Geb was described as the "Bull of Nut" in the Pyramid Texts. As a great, solar cow, she was thought to have carried Ra up into the heavens on her back, after he retired from his rule on the earth. She was even been depicted as sow, or with the teats of a sow, ready for her children to suckle. At other times, she was just portrayed as a woman wearing her sign - the particular design of an Egyptian pot ( ) on her head.
In one myth Nut gives birth to the sun-god daily and he passes over her body until he reaches her mouth at sunset. He then passed into her mouth and through her body and is reborn the next morning. Another myth described the sun as sailing up her legs and back in the Atet (Matet) boat until noon, when he entered the Sektet boat and continued his travels until sunset.
-- Egyptian Myths, Nut
As a goddess who gave birth to the sun each day, she became connected with the underworld, resurrection and the tomb. She was seen as a friend to the dead, as a mother-like protector to those who journeyed through the land of the dead. She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the dead until he or she, like Ra, could be reborn in their new life.
This Unas comes to you, O Nut!
He has thrown his father down to earth
he has left a Horus behind him.
His two wings have grown as those of a hawk,
(his) two feathers (are those) of a holy hawk.
His soul has brought him (here),
his magical power has adorned him.
May you open your place in heaven amongst the stars of heaven!
You are indeed the unique star, the comrade of Hu.
May you look down on Osiris, when he gives orders to the spirits!
You stand high up, far from him.
You are not of them, you shall not be of them.
-- Pyramid Texts Online, South Wall Hieroglyphs
In The Book of the Dead, Nut was seen as a mother-figure to the sun-god Ra, who at sunrise was known as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle (at noon he was Ra at his full strength, and at sunset he was known as Atem (Tem, Temu, Atum) who was old and weakening):
Homage to thee, O thou who hast come as Khepera, Khepera the creator of the gods, Thou art seated on thy throne, thou risest up in the sky, illumining thy mother [Nut], thou art seated on thy throne as the king of the gods. [Thy] mother Nut stretcheth out her hands, and performeth an act of homage to thee.
-- E. A. Wallis Budge (1913), The papyrus of Ani: A Reproduction in Facsimile, Volume 2, p. 339
Homage to thee, O thou who art Ra when thou risest, and who art Atem when thou settest in beauty. Thou risest and thou shinest on the back of thy mother [Nut], O thou who art crowned the king of the gods! Nut welcometh thee, and payeth homage unto thee, and Ma'at, the everlasting and never-changing goddess, embraceth thee at noon and at eve.
-- E. A. Wallis Budge (1913), The papyrus of Ani: A Reproduction in Facsimile, Volume 2, p. 488
As a goddess of the dead, in the Old Kingdom it was believed that the deceased could climb up to her after death. Utterance 474 of the Pyramid Texts state that, "N. goes therewith to his mother Nut; N. climbs upon her, in this her name of 'Ladder'". 'Maqet' ( m3qt) was the ancient Egyptian word for 'ladder'. Wooden ladders have been discovered in Old and Middle Kingdom tombs which were probably there to aid the deceased reach the goddess Nut and the heavens.
She was also called on to help the deceased in one of the spells of The Book of the Dead:
THE CHAPTER OF SNUFFING THE AIR, AND OF HAVING POWER OVER THE WATER IN KHERT-NETER. The Osiris Ani saith:- Hail, thou Sycamore tree of the goddess Nut! Give me of the [water and of the] air which is in thee. I embrace that throne which is in Unu, and I keep guard over the Egg of Nekek-ur. It flourisheth, and I flourish; it liveth, and I live; it snuffeth the air, and I snuff the air, I the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, in [peace].
-- E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead
There were many festivals to Nut through the year, including the 'Festival of Nut and Ra' and the 'Feast of Nut'. Some of Nut's titles included the 'Coverer of the Sky', 'She Who Protects', and 'She Who Holds a Thousand Souls'. Yet, despite being a protector of the dead, a cosmic deity, and the sky personified, no large temples or cult centres were linked to her. She only had a few sanctuaries and priests, and was occasionally depicted as receiving food offerings. Yet without her, the Egyptians believed that chaos would once again swallow the world.
Further Information about Nut
- Nut - Wikipedia
- Nut - Encyclopedia Mythica
- Nut - Tour Egypt
- The Sky Goddess Nut - André Dollinger
- Nut - Ancient Egypt: The Mythology
Video of Nut
A video filled with images of the goddess Nut (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present
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