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Close-up of the goddess Satet
Image © Ma'at Productions

Satet, Archer-Goddess of the Inundation and the Nile Cataracts

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: July 1, 2013

 

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A painting of Satet, from the Hathor Temple of Queen Nefertari

Image © LookLex Encyclopaedia
Satet (Setet, Sathit, Satit, Sati, Setis, Sethat, Satis) was the archer-goddess of the Nile cataracts, her name linking her to Setet Island (Sehel Island) and the area around it. She was also a fertility goddess, due to her aspect as a water goddess and a goddess of the inundation, and a goddess who purified the dead with her water. She was a goddess of the hunt who protected Egypt and the pharaoh with her bow and arrows.

Depicted as a woman, Satet was often shown wearing the crown of the south - Upper Egypt - and a pair of long antelope horns. She was originally worshipped as an antelope goddess. She was sometimes shown carrying a bow and arrows. More often she was shown carrying a sceptre and the ankh symbol.

As a goddess of the hunt, she was also believed to be a protector of Egypt and of the pharaoh. It was her arrows that protected the southern border, keeping the enemies at bay. Yet she was more closely linked to water than to the bow and arrow. There may be a connection between water and the bow and arrows she sometimes was shown to wield:

The name probably means 'to pour out' or 'to scatter abroad', so that it might signify a goddess who wielded the powers of rain. She carries in her hands a bow and arrows, as did Nit, typical of the rain or thunderbolt.

-- Spence, L. 1997, Egypt, Myths and Legends, pp. 155-156

Originally, Satet's name was written with the hieroglyph for a shoulder knot (st) and was replaced with a sign of a cow's skin pierced by an arrow (st). This was probably in relation to her function as a goddess of the hunt, giving her the name 'She who Shoots'. The sign was not only used for 'to shoot', but with water related words as well meaning 'to pour'. Satet could also mean 'She who Pours', a link with her guardianship over the Nile cataracts.

Geb stretcheth out his hand to Pepi and guideth him through the gates of heaven, a god in his beautiful place, a god in his place ... and behold Satet washeth him with the water which is in her four vases in Abu (Elephantine).

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 1969, The Gods of the Egyptians: Volume 2, p. 56

Satet wearing the headdress of Sopdet

Image © Kyera Giannini
To the dead, she was one who washed them to purify them so that they might enter through the gates of the Egyptian heaven. Her water was the water that came up from the underworld, where the Nile was believed to have poured out into the world. It was this water that she used to cleanse the departed so they were washed clean of all impurities for their afterlife.

By the New Kingdom she was believed to be the wife of Khnum and the mother or sister of Anqet and made the third member of the Abu triad. Like Anqet, she was originally thought to have been a daughter of the sun god Ra, his protector. As Khnum was related to Osiris, and Anqet was to Nephthys, Satet was connected with Isis, especially at the time of the Nile flood. It was believed that she released the inundation while the star Sirius (Sothis) appeared in the sky. In this, she was also linked to the goddess Sopdet, a personification of that star. In Iunyt (Esna) she formed a triad with Khnum and another huntress, the goddess Nit.

Satet is connected with the yearly flooding of the river Nile, the season known as 'akhet', the inundation. Heavy rains during the summer months between June and September in the Ethiopian highlands result in the flooding of the river that brings with it both water and precious fertilising silt. Each year the goddess Isis was said to shed a single tear on the 'night of the teardrop' which Satet would catch in her jars and pour into the Nile.

-- Morgan, G. 2009, The Holy Grail, p. 25

It was due to her link with the inundation that she was a fertility goddess. She gave fertility to the land by releasing the flood and the Nile's silt, allowing the land to be able to grow crops again, and to give the life-giving water back to the Egyptians each year. Satet wearing the crown of Upper Egypt and a pair of long antelope horns
Image © Manuel Miguel

A number of epithets of Satet, mostly from Ptolemaic times, can be interpreted as attributes of her role as the star Sirius. Among these are, for example: "mistress of the be ginning of the year"; "goddess of the eastern horizon of the sky, at whose sight everyone rejoices"; "Lady of stars"; and "the great one in the sky, ruler of stars". A New Kingdom epithet, "who brightens the Two Lands with her beauty (shdt t3wy m nfrw.s)" could be a much earlier reference to her dazzling blue-white stellar appearance, particularly shortly after the star has risen and dominates the eastern horizon.

-- Wells, R.A. 1985, 'Sothis and the Satet Temple on Elephantine: A Direct Connection', Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, vol. 12, p. 258

She was eventually linked with Hathor, and became not just a goddess of the flood, but a goddess of human fertility and love as well. As such, phallic-shaped pebbles given as votive offerings at the Temple of Satet in Aswan during the Old Kingdom:

Hathor is most closely linked with phallic symbolism in her role as Hand of Atem ... Satet was worshipped as the consort of the creator and fertility god Khnum, and has many aspects in common with Hathor, so the phallic pebbles from Aswan may also be linked to the celebration of a divine union.

-- Pinch, G. 1993, Votive offerings to Hathor, p. 244

The Temple of Satet, built by Hathshepsut and Thutmose III

Image © Ma'at Productions
Her main temple was on Abu Island, in the Aswan area. She was worshipped through the Aswan area, especially on Setet Island, and Upper Egypt, though early items with her name on them were found in Saqqara. The origin of the Satet Temple on Abu Island is from the Old Kingdom, centred around a natural enclosure which was formed by three large boulders (see Wells, R.A. 1985, Figure 2, p. 257) with an opening to the south east:

The earliest dynastic stage consisted of a sacred hut built into the corner of this rock niche. By the 3rd Dynasty alterations included an enlargement of the hut and the construction of an enclosed forecourt in wood or wicker-wood in front of the rocks.

-- Wells, R.A. 1985, 'Sothis and the Satet Temple on Elephantine: A Direct Connection', Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, vol. 12, p. 255

Khnum, Satet and Anqet on the Famine Stela at Setet Island (Sehel Island)
Image © Ma'at Productions
The temple was then built and rebuilt through the Dynastic period, with Hatshepsut rebuilding the temple at a height of 2m above the original three boulders. Final construction was done during the Ptolemaic period, with a completely new temple being constructed above the boulders.

Satet was a goddess of protection, an archer goddess of the extreme south of Egypt. She was linked to the waters of the Nile, and became a guardian of the cataracts and over the inundation itself. She had the power to purify the deceased and to help with their rebirth in the afterlife, which was a connection to her powers of a goddess of fertility. She was a goddess who helped provide life to both the land and the people of Egypt.


A special thank you to Ma'at Productions for use of their images. These images are © Ma'at Productions (2002). Reproduced with permission.


Further Information about Satet


Video of Satet

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


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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