Taweret – Origin, Amulet, Symbol, & Facts
Taweret was the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility, childbirth and protector of the home, particularly women and children. There are lots of stories and myths surrounding the Egyptian goddess Taweret. Here is a quick look at the origin, family, symbols and attributes, and worship of Taweret.
Hippopotamus goddesses were worshiped quite often in the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 – c. 2134 B.C.E). The Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom makes mention of the goddess Ipet and other hippopotamus deities. Those deities were revered as the divine mothers of the pharaoh, suckling the pharaoh with divine milk. It is most likely that Taweret originated from those hippopotamus goddesses of the Old Kingdom era.
Some scholars have claimed that the goddess Taweret made her big splash around the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 – c. 1640 B.C.E). She absorbed the functions of those hippopotamus goddesses. Gradually she also moved from being predominantly worshipped as a deity that suckled the pharaohs to one that featured in the homes of Egyptians. In that era, she often appeared on ritual objects and amulets.
By the New Kingdom (c. 1552 – c. 1070 B.C.E), the worship of Taweret had become prominent and widespread across Egypt. For example, the famed Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut believed that the goddess Taweret facilitated her birth.
Taweret Meaning and Epithets
The goddess Taweret in Egyptian religion means “she who is great” or “The Great One”. Owing to her association with many hippopotamus goddesses, she has sometimes been called Ipet (“harem”), Hedjet (“the White One”) or Reret (“the sow”). All those deities were revered as protectors of the home.
Common epithets of Taweret include: Lady of Heaven; the Lady of Magical Protection; The Great One; Mistress of the Horizon; Mistress of Pure Water; and Lady of the Birth House.
Birth and family
In one account, Sobek – the crocodile-headed god of the Nile – is regarded as the husband of Taweret. Both deities have strong links to the Nile River; besides, Taweret herself is said to have some features of a crocodile.
According to the author and Platonist philosopher Plutarch (c. 46 CE – 119 CE), Taweret was the concubine of Set (Seth), the god of chaos and destruction. Set being a malevolent goddess, Taweret helped Horus in his fight against Set (Seth). Taweret is also credited with watering down Set’s evil acts, keeping the god of chaos and destruction at bay.
She is often associated with the goddess Bes (or Bastet), the Egyptian cat goddess of the home, childbirth and fertility. Due to the striking similarities between the roles of those two goddesses, many have claimed that they were partners.
In Thebes for example, Taweret was seen as the mother of Osiris. She and Amen gave birth to Osiris in an effort to ensure the continuation of life. Taweret was also linked to the goddess Nut, the sky goddess of mothers and astronomy.
The temple at Karnak was believed to witness the birth of the sun god Amun-Re every morning. And the deities that were associated with this birth were usually the hippopotamus goddesses. This made Taweret a solar mother.
Attributes and Depictions
The first noticeable physical feature of Taweret is that she is a bipedal female hippopotamus. The next physical attribute is her pendulous female breasts. That feature of hers symbolizes her rejuvenation abilities. Other goddesses of nourishments such as the goddess Hapi – a Nile goddess – share this feature.
With regard to her physical features, Taweret was depicted with a headdress; and on top of the headdress, were horns and a solar disk.
This Egyptian goddess is depicted with the features of several animals, including a crocodile, a lion, and a hippo. Taweret’s is often shown as a pregnant hippopotamus standing in an upright position on her hind legs.
By virtue of her connection with fertility and childbirth, she is shown with large breasts. Her head and body are that of a hippo; however, her paws are that of a lion. Many depictions of her also show a crocodile on her back.
The sa hieroglyph that she carries in her hands is a symbol of protection. The ankh in her other hand symbolizes life. Other important symbols of hers are lion, hippo, and crocodile. In ancient Egypt, hippos symbolized rebirth and renewal.
Taweret was also known to have a magical wand or knife (also known as an apotropaic wand). The knife was made out of hippopotamus ivory in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055-1650). They were usually used during childbirth.
Worship of Taweret
Her worship came to prominence beginning around the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BCE), when she was revered as a household goddess. It was quite common for the goddess’ image to be found in shrines at home.
She was also worshiped as a funerary goddess, playing an important role in the rebirth process in the afterlife. For her role in giving aid and nourishing the souls of dead, she earned the epithet “Mistress of Pure Water”
The worship of Taweret continued into the latter part of the 4th century CE, spanning the Ptolemaic and Roman periods – from c. 332 BCE to 390 CE.
Did you know: worshippers of Taweret were also present among a number of tribes in Crete, Nubia, and the Levant? Her worship reached those places due to the political and economic ties ancient Egypt had with those people back then.
Taweret’s role and importance in Egyptian mythology
The animal features attributed to Taweret tell people that she is not a goddess to be trifled with, and that she is a fierce deity. When it came to protecting the mother and her newborn child, it was believed that Taweret acted in a fashion similar to how those animals behaved when the lives of their young were threatened. The ancient Egyptians believed that all children in the land were under the protection of Taweret.
A household and child rearing deity, the goddess Taweret’s was very prolific with the use of magic. The Egyptians believed that she possessed a magical wand (or a knife) that enabled her perform her duty in the Egyptian pantheon.
Another function of hers came in the form of assisting women in labor. The Egyptians called on her to protect the woman as well as destroy any maleficent spirit that might harm the mother or even the fetus.
Taweret was the goddess of fertility; therefore, whenever her name was called, the Egyptians desired that she renews the land. Her role as the patroness of rebirth goes beyond the birth of child. She was seen as an inhabitant of the Nile; hence she had the ability to cause crops to grow again.
Amulet of Taweret
Wearing of protective amulets is reasoned to have started around the Predynastic period (c. 3000 – 2686). It was believed that by wearing the amulets of Taweret, they could tap into the protective powers of Taweret. Those amulets were worn by women and children in particular.
The amulets were very popular, and they even made their way to cities like Akenaten (Amarna) – the so-called henotheistic city of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten. Regardless of Akhenaten’s tireless effort to convert his people into worshiping a single overarching god called Aten, , deities like Taweret continued to be called upon for protection.
It was also not uncommon for protective images of Taweret to be plastered all over women’s products such as pomade, makeups and jewelry. Wearing those items shielded the user from evil forces. Images of her that featured prominently on vessels were believed to protect the contents of the vessel.
Taweret and the Eye of Ra
After the Eye of Ra (most likely a reference to one of Ra’s daughters) got furious at sun god Ra, she left the land of Egypt, vowing never to return. Saddened by the departure of his eye, Ra sends the god Thoth to convince the Eye of Ra to come back.
Thoth is successful and the Eye of Ra returns to Egypt as a hippopotamus goddess. Her return causes the Nile River to flood its banks, which in turn, enriches the land of Egypt. Many people believed that the hippopotamus goddess was Taweret. For her ability to rejuvenate an ailing land, she came to be called “Mistress of Pure Water”.
In the Book of the Faiyum, Taweret serves as the protector of Sobek-Re, who made his journey through the underworld (Amduat) every night. Sobek-Re was revered as one of the patron gods of the city of Faiyum. In this role, she is seen as the “Neith the Great”.
Other interesting facts about Taweret and her worship
- Owing to the ferocious nature of hippopotamuses, the people of Egypt both feared and venerated the animal. The male hippopotamus are generally more violent than the female ones. Taweret was seen as the female hippopotamus while Set, the god of chaos and destruction, was seen as the male hippopotamus.
- In the Early Dynastic Period, some Egyptian pharaohs hunted the male hippopotami in order to show their dominion over all of everything.
- For an ancient Egyptian, pregnancy and childbirth was quite a risky endeavor. Considering the fact that they lacked advanced knowledge in medicine, every bit of help from a divine being came in very handy. This explains why the ancient Egyptians resorted to worshiping the goddess Taweret, a deity who could use her magic to help the pregnant woman have a safe delivery.
- She was commonly linked to the northern sky and known as Nebetakhet – the Mistress of the Horizon. Taweret held the northern sky (a place of darkness, rain and cold) in place and protected it from evil. As a result, she was often revered by astronomers in ancient Egypt.
- Many royals and nobles of the New Kingdom were buried in tombs with decorations of the goddess Taweret. Notable examples of such tombs are the ones of Senenmut (Hatshepsut’s advisor) and Seti I. In Seti I’s tomb, which is located in the Valley of the Kings, paintings of Taweret appear on the ceiling.
- Her role as the goddess of birth also extended to rebirth – i.e. being reborn in the afterlife. Known as the Lady of Magical Protection, Taweret offered her help to the dead as they journeyed to the afterlife. The goddess stood guard at the mountains of the west – an entrance to the land of the dead. This reinforces her role as a guardian. This also explains why hippopotamus paintings were made in temples and tombs, particularly in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055 – 1650 BCE).
- Taweret is sometimes confused with a fellow hippopotamus goddess known as Ammit. Unlike Ammit who devours wicked people in the afterlife, Taweret was considered a very benevolent goddess.