Great One, Lady of Heaven, Mistress of the Horizon,
Protect this mother.
Lady of the Birth House, She who is Great, Mistress of Pure Water,
Protect this child.
She Who Removes Water, Cosmic Protector, Goddess of the People,
Guide them safely through this transformation where one becomes two.
When non-Kemetics think of the netjeru (as I assume they do from time to time), it is probably safe to say that Taweret is not usually on the list of Names that pop up. This is interesting to me – a once widely venerated goddess, a goddess for whom evidence of worship can be found among ruins of the homes of the common people is now just another line of hieroglyphs on a wall or a hippo-headed icon for most. And yet, should anyone new to the idea of Kemeticism decide to approach one of the netjeru and not know whom to choose, I would most likely suggest Taweret because of her link to the community rather than to the priesthood.
(Likewise, Bes has the same approachability in my opinion, but he’s a topic for another post. Perhaps for next year’s B, if my brain lets me wait that long.)
So, who exactly is Taweret? Well, here she is in blue:
(If you go to peruse the collection of the British Museum and do a search on Taweret, there’s a gorgeous figure of her carved from hematite. I actually wanted to link that image here, but they have some interesting ideas about fair use of images. I must remember to take a photo if I ever get there again.)
As you can see, Taweret is presented with the head and body of a hippopotamus, but her limbs are closer to those of a feline. Her large breasts are human and her back, while we cannot see it, is that of a Nile crocodile. She holds or carries the sa amulet, symbol of protection.
(I’ll stop here for a moment and digress on sa because I found my useful source! Sa is thought to be based on either a rolled up herdsman’s shelter or the papyrus life-preserver used by Nile boatmen. It was widely used in jewelry as a protective symbol, and often doubled or trebled to increase its power. Initial use of sa included a variety joined at the bottom, but by the Middle Kingdom it was mostly seen in a separated form – interestingly enough an exact opposite transition of the ankh, which started with a divided bottom.)
Taweret is an Eye Goddess (being a fierce protector, not unlike mother hippopotami with their young), and has associations with creator goddesses Nut, Mehet-Weret, and Hetharu. Her many epithets (some of which are in the prayer at the beginning of this post) show the scope of her oversight and power: She Who is Great and Great One derive specifically from her Name; Lady of Heaven, Mistress of the Horizon and Cosmic One are related to the hippopotamus constellation in the Northern Hemisphere which could almost always be seen in the night sky, thereby making her available to all who needed to call upon her for aid. As the Lady of the Birth House, and She Who Removes Water, Taweret guides and protects women in childbirth (breaking their bag of water) and their newborn infants, and there’s at least one mention of Aset saying to her son that he was “…protected by a sow and a dwarf…” as an infant (‘reret‘ means ‘sow’). Finally, Mistress of Pure Water relates to her role as purifier and nourisher of the dead, as the waters of the Nile purify and nourish the land during the season of Inundation.
Taweret’s image has been found on numerous amulets, and wands (like this one), and household figures, invoking her protection against the enemies of ma’at. The fact that we know she was worshiped by Jane and Joe Hotep backs up what I’ve experienced with her – she is approachable and willing to aid without the supplicant standing on too much ceremony and formal ritual, and fiercely protective of those whom she guards. This makes her an excellent netjeret to approach for those starting out in Kemetic practice as she appears to find the occasional error or flub more amusing than offensive (in my experience, anyway).
I do not routinely worship Taweret in my current practice, although that is changing as I explore her connections with Nut as part of my work this year. In the past, I’ve prayed to her for protection of those in childbirth, and to guard my household (along with Sekhmet) when I travel. I suspect I will be adding some devotional time and offerings of cool water…and, of course, more, if I am asked to do so.
- Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Mythology – A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt
- Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art – A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture
- Lesko, Barbara S. The Great Goddesses of Egypt