Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The rainbow serpent

Posted by Fredsvenn on June 13, 2015

Rainbow Serpent

Serpent (symbolism)

Rainbows in culture

Australian Aboriginal mythology: Rainbow Serpent

Rainbow Serpent Festival

Professor Simon Davies – Professor Emeritus of Enlightenment Studies

The Voltaire Foundation

Origins and dispersal of our first mythologies

Origins of the World’s Mythologies

Globalization of mythology

How did our legends really begin?

JFR Review for The Origins of the World’s Mythologies

The Rainbow Serpent is often portrayed as creator deity, producing the human race and sustaining them with rain, waterways and fertile lands. This deity can mostly be found in the regions of Africa, Asia, and Australia. It is always identified with the shape of a rainbow, making it one of the earliest depictions of sky deity.

This Rainbow Serpent is traditionally associated with ceremonies to do with fertility and abundance, as well as the organisation of the community and the keeping of peace. It is depicted as both male and female, and many meandering rivers are said to have been carved out by its body as it slithered across the Earth. Piles of rocks are also said to be the deity’s droppings, and as such, have been designated as sacred places by many tribes.

What makes the Rainbow Serpent so remarkable is that it is likely one of the oldest beings to emerge in world mythology. It continues to be a figure of worship in many surviving tribes today, and images of the great snake can be found in the rock art of Australia, dating back as far as 8000 BCE to 40,000 BCE.

The rainbow serpent has been associated with the Milky Way, which the Egyptian Nut or Neuth (also spelled Nuit or Newet), the goddess of the sky in the Ennead of ancient Egyptian religion, is also associated with. Nut was seen as a star-covered nude woman arching over the earth, or as a cow. However, it is likely the origins of the rainbow snake go back a lot further than this.

The similarities between the Australian and Sub-Saharan rainbow serpent are striking, but nothing in recent history connects these two continents. Australia was discovered by westerners in the 1600’s. Prior to this, the aborigine had lived undisturbed in Australia for nearly 45,000 years, with no connection to the African people.

So how did two, identical beings, originate at opposite ends of the globe, separated by thousands of miles, and tens of thousands of years? The answer lies in prehistory.

The aboriginal people of Australia are directly linked with humanities first migration out of Africa. This great exodus took place 100,000 years ago, and there are a few surviving tribes today whose customs and traditions are directly linked to the ancestors of this pioneering race.

They have been several waves of migrations since, but none of their descendants tell the story of the rainbow snake. The few remaining tribes that remember this legendary deity are the indigenous people of Australia, the Papuan people (New Guinea), the Sentinelese people (Andaman Islands, India) and most sub-Saharan tribes (Africa). It can also be found in Chinese mythology, and Scandinavian folklore.

It is believed the geographical isolation of these people has helped to preserve their mythology, which dates back far into the Stone Age. By studying the myths and traditions of all these people, it becomes clear they are all connected by the same roots. Based on the people who have maintained the legends about this ancient serpent, it seems likely the Rainbow Snake originated in Africa, at least 1000,000 years ago, and could well date back even further than that.

Today this deity is known by many names: Oshumare (Yoruba, W.Africa), Aido Hwedo (Dahomey, W. Africa), Da (Fon People, W. Africa), Hong (Zhou Dynasty, China), Ngalyod (N. Australia), Borlung (N.W. Australia), Wagyl (S.W. Australia), and Degei (Fiji).

Aido Hwedo by Alector Fencer
Hong by Monica Sky
Boamie: Stone Age ancestor
Creation Myths
Sumerian

In Mesopotamian Religion (Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Babylonian), Tiamat is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation, depicted as a woman, she represents both the beauty of the feminine, depicted as the glistening one. She is a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with Abzû (the god of fresh water) to produce younger gods.

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a “Sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.

The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a culture hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon. Chaoskampf motifs in other mythologies linked directly or indirectly to the Tiamat myth include the Hittite Illuyanka myth, and in Greek tradition Apollo’s killing of the Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle.

According to some analyses there are two parts to the Tiamat myth, the first in which Tiamat is creator goddess, through a “sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.

In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Apsu, later makes war upon them and is killed. When she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, she is then slain by Enki’s son, the storm-god Marduk. The heavens and the earth are formed from her divided body.

In the Enûma Elish her physical description includes a tail, a thigh, “lower parts” (which shake together), a belly, an udder, ribs, a neck, a head, a skull, eyes, nostrils, a mouth, and lips. She has insides (possibly “entrails”), a heart, arteries, and blood.

Tiamat is usually described as a sea serpent or dragon, however assyriologist Alexander Heidel disagreed with this identification and argued that “dragon form can not be imputed to Tiamat with certainty”.

Other scholars have disregarded Heidel’s argument Joseph Fontenrose in particular found it “not convincing” and concluded that “there is reason to believe that Tiamat was sometimes, not necessarily always, conceived as a dragoness”.

While the Enûma Elish does not specifically state that Tiamat is a dragon, only that she gave birth to dragons and serpents among a more general list of monsters including scorpion men and merpeople, other sources containing the same myth do refer to her as a dragon.

Tiamat was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.

In the myth recorded on cuneiform tablets, the deity Enki (later Ea) believed correctly that Apsu, upset with the chaos they created, was planning to murder the younger deities; and so captured him, holding him prisoner beneath his temple the E-Abzu. This angered Kingu, their son, who reported the event to Tiamat, whereupon she fashioned eleven monsters to battle the deities in order to avenge Apsu’s death.

Tiamat possessed the Tablets of Destiny and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.

Slicing Tiamat in half, he made from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth. Her weeping eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates, her tail became the Milky Way. With the approval of the elder deities, he took from Kingu the Tablets of Destiny, installing himself as the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Kingu was captured and later was slain: his red blood mixed with the red clay of the Earth would make the body of humankind, created to act as the servant of the younger Igigi deities.

Abzu (or Apsû) fathered upon Tiamat the elder deities Lahmu and Lahamu (masc. the “hairy”), a title given to the gatekeepers at Enki’s Abzu/E’engurra-temple in Eridu. Laḫmu, Lakhmu, Lache, Lumasi, or Assyro-Akkadian Lammasu is a deity from Akkadian mythology that represents the zodiac, parent stars, or constellations.

Lahamu is sometimes seen as a serpent, and sometimes as a woman with a red sash and six curls on her head. It is suggested that the pair were represented by the silt of the sea-bed, but more accurately are known to be the representations of the zodiac, parent-stars, or constellations.

Lahmu, meaning parent star or constellation, is the name of a protective and beneficent deity, the first-born son of Abzu and Tiamat. Laḫmu is depicted as a bearded man with a red sash-usually with three strands- and four to six curls on his head and they are also depicted as monsters, which each encompasses a specific constellation. He is often associated with the Kusarikku or “Bull-Man.”

In Sumerian times Laḫmu may have meant “the muddy one”. Lahmu guarded the gates of the Abzu temple of Enki at Eridu. He and his sister Laḫamu are primordial deities in the Babylonian Epic of Creation Enuma Elis and Lahmu may be related to or identical with “Lahamu”, one of Tiamat’s creatures in that epic.

Lahmu and his sister Laḫamu are the parents of the ‘ends’ of the heavens (Anshar, from an = heaven, shár = horizon, end) and the earth (Kishar); Kishar is the female principle, sister and wife of Anshar, the male principle. Kishar may represent the earth as a counterpart to Anshar, the sky, and can be seen as an earth mother goddess. Her name also means “Whole Earth”, while Anshur means “whole heaven”.

Anshar and Kishar were considered to meet at the horizon, becoming, thereby, the parents of Anu (Heaven), the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and Ki, who birthed the gods of the Mesopotamian Pantheon.

If this name /Anšar/ is derived from */Anśar/, then it may be related to the Egyptian hieroglyphic /NṬR/ (“god”), since hieroglyphic Egyptian /Ṭ/ may be etymological */Ś/.

Ki is the sign for “earth”, also read as GI, GUNNI (=KI.NE) “hearth”, KARAŠ (=KI.KAL.BAD) “encampment, army”, KISLAḪ (=KI.UD) “threshing floor” or steath, and SUR7 (=KI.GAG), in Akkadian orthography, it functions as a determiner for toponyms and has the syllabic values gi, ge, qi, and qe.

Anu existed in Sumerian cosmogony as a dome that covered the flat earth; Outside of this dome was the primordial body of water known as Tiamat (not to be confused with the subterranean Abzu).

Kishar appears only once in Enuma Elish, in the opening lines of the epic, and then disappears from the remainder of the story. She appears only occasionally in other first millennium BCE texts, where she can be equated with the goddess Antu.

In Akkadian mythology, Antu or Antum (add the name in cuneiform please an=𒀭 shar=?) is a Babylonian goddess. She was the first consort of Anu, and the pair was the parents of the Anunnaki, the most prominent of these deities being Enlil, god of the air, and the Utukki.

According to legends, heaven and earth were once inseparable until Enlil was born; Enlil cleaved heaven and earth in two. An carried away heaven. Ki, in company with Enlil, took the earth.

Some authorities question whether Ki was regarded as a deity since there is no evidence of a cult and the name appears only in a limited number of Sumerian creation texts. Samuel Noah Kramer identifies Ki with the Sumerian mother goddess Ninhursag and claims that they were originally the same figure.

She later developed into the Babylonian and Akkadian goddess Antu, consort of the god Anu (from Sumerian An). Antu was a dominant feature of the Babylonian akit festival until as recently as 200 BC, her later pre-eminence possibly attributable to identification with the Greek goddess Hera. Antu was replaced as consort by Ishtar or Inanna, who may also be a daughter of Anu and Antu. She is similar to Anat.

Uraš or Urash, in Sumerian mythology is a goddess of earth, and one of the consorts of the sky god Anu. She is the mother of the goddess Ninsun and a grandmother of the hero Gilgamesh. However, Uras may only have been another name for Antu, Anu’s wife. The name Uras even became applied to Anu himself, and acquired the meaning “heaven”. Ninurta also was apparently called Uras in later time.

Ninurta was a Sumerian and the Akkadian god of hunting and war. He was worshipped in Babylonia and Assyria and in Lagash he was identified with the city god Ningirsu. In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity.

A number of scholars have suggested that either the god Ninurta or the Assyrian king bearing his name (Tukulti-Ninurta I) was the inspiration for the Biblical character Nimrod.

In Nippur, Ninurta was worshiped as part of a triad of deities including his father, Enlil and his mother, Ninlil. In variant mythology, his mother is said to be the harvest goddess Ninhursag. The consort of Ninurta was Ugallu in Nippur and Bau when he was called Ningirsu.

Ninurta often appears holding a bow and arrow, a sickle sword, or a mace named Sharur: Sharur is capable of speech in the Sumerian legend “Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and can take the form of a winged lion and may represent an archetype for the later Shedu.

In another legend, Ninurta battles a birdlike monster called Imdugud (Akkadian: Anzû); a Babylonian version relates how the monster Anzû steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil. The Tablets of Destiny were believed to contain the details of fate and the future.

Ninurta slays each of the monsters later known as the “Slain Heroes” (the Warrior Dragon, the Palm Tree King, Lord Saman-ana, the Bison-beast, the Mermaid, the Seven-headed Snake, the Six-headed Wild Ram), and despoils them of valuable items such as Gypsum, Strong Copper, and the Magilum boat. Eventually, Anzû is killed by Ninurta who delivers the Tablet of Destiny to his father, Enlil.

There are a lot of parallels with both and the story of Marduk (son of Enki) who slew Abzu (or Apsu), and delivered the Tablets of Destiny from Kingu to his father, Enki.

The cult of Ninurta can be traced back to the oldest period of Sumerian history. In the inscriptions found at Lagash he appears under his name Ningirsu, “the lord of Girsu”, Girsu being the name of a city where he was considered the patron deity.

Ninurta appears in a double capacity in the epithets bestowed on him, and in the hymns and incantations addressed to him. On the one hand he is a farmer and a healing god who releases humans from sickness and the power of demons; on the other he is the god of the South Wind as the son of Enlil, displacing his mother Ninlil who was earlier held to be the goddess of the South Wind. Enlil’s brother, Enki, was portrayed as Ninurta’s mentor from whom Ninurta was entrusted several powerful Mes, including the Deluge.

He remained popular under the Assyrians: two kings of Assyria bore the name Tukulti-Ninurta. Ashurnasirpal II (883—859 BCE) built him a temple in the then capital city of Kalhu (the Biblical Calah, now Nimrud). In Assyria, Ninurta was worshipped alongside the gods Aššur and Mulissu.

In the late neo-Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused Ninurta’s character with that of Nergal, the plague god. The two gods were often invoked together, and spoken of as if they were one divinity.

Once, the gods held a banquet that Ereshkigal, the goddess of Irkalla, the land of the dead or underworld, as queen of the Netherworld cannot come up to attend. They invite her to send a messenger and she sends Namtar (or Namtaru, or Namtara; meaning destiny or fate), a hellish minor deity in Mesopotamian mythology, god of death, and minister and messenger of An, Ereshkigal, and Nerga.

Namtar was the son of Enlil anid Ereshkigal; he was born before his father raped the goddess Ninlil. Namtar was considered responsible for diseases and pests. Namtar was regarded as the beloved son of Bêl/Enlil, and was married to the underworld goddess Hušbišag.

Namtar is treated well by all but disrespected by Nergal. As a result of this, Nergal is banished to the kingdom controlled by the goddess. Versions vary at this point, but all of them result in him becoming her husband. In later tradition, Nergal is said to have been the victor, taking her as wife and ruling the land himself.

It is theorized that the story of Inanna’s descent is told to illustrate the possibility of an escape from the netherworld, while the Nergal myth is intended to reconcile the existence of two rulers of the netherworld: a goddess and a god. The addition of Nergal represents the harmonizing tendency to unite Ereshkigal as the queen of the netherworld with the god who, as god of war and of pestilence, brings death to the living and thus becomes the one who presides over the dead.

In the astral-theological system Ninurta was associated with the planet Saturn, or perhaps as offspring or an aspect of Saturn. In his capacity as a farmer-god, there are similarities between Ninurta and the Greek Titan Kronos, whom the Romans in turn identified with their Titan Saturn.

In Sumerian mythology, Nammu (also Namma, spelled ideographically NAMMA = ENGUR) was a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology.

Nammu was the Goddess Sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.

Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. An indication of her continued relevance may be found in the theophoric name of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur.

According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.

The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil requested from Nammu the creation of humans. And Nammu told him that with the help of Enki (her son) she can create humans in the image of gods. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.

Egyptian

Iusaset (“the great one who comes forth”) or Iusaas is the name of a primal goddess in Ancient Egyptian religion. Many alternative spellings of her name include Iusaaset, Juesaes, Ausaas, and Jusas, as well as in Greek Saosis.

She also is described as “the grandmother of all of the deities”. This allusion is without any reference to a grandfather, so there might have been a very early, but now lost, myth with parthenogenesis as the means of the birth of the deities from the region where her cult arose near the delta of the Nile.

In Ancient Egyptian art, Iusaaset appears as a woman wearing the horned vulture crown with the uraeus and the solar disk in it, and she carries an ankh, the symbol of life, in one hand and a scepter in the other.

The Egyptian vulture, most sacred to the ancient Egyptians and symbolizing Nekhbet, one of the Two Ladies protecting Egypt, was thought to reproduce though parthenogenesis also. This association might be the basis for the similar view about the motherhood of Iusaaset. The vultures also were considered extremely good mothers. The horns, the uraeus, and the solar disk make a religious connection to Bat and Hathor.

Because of Iusaaset’s link to the vulture and uraeus, it can be assumed that she links together both upper and lower Egypt, much like the goddess Mut who she is also associated with.

Although her origins are unclear, Iusaaset seems to be attested quite early in the Egyptian pantheon, being associated with creation and the creation of the deities. Many myths relate that she was seen as the mother of the first deities and the grandmother of the following deities, having watched over the birth of the ones that were her grandchildren. She remains as a primary deity in the pantheon throughout all eras of the culture, even through the Persian, Hyksos, Greek, and Roman occupations, and regardless of changes in the specific myths.

Iusaaset was associated with the acacia tree, considered the tree of life, and thus with the oldest one known being situated just north of Heliopolis and, thereby, which became identified as the birthplace of the deities. Iusaaset was said to own this tree. The acacia tree was renowned for its strength, hardiness, medical properties, and edibility. Many useful applications gave it a central importance in the culture.

One belief held that Iusaaset and Atum (Ra) were the parents of Shu and Tefnut, the first deities. In this myth she often was described as his shadow, sister, or wife. Later other goddesses also became associated with Atum and one variant even relates that he gave birth to the deities, although that variant seems to have been rejected by many cultural and religious centers.

During the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed that Atum lifted the dead pharaoh’s soul from the tomb to the starry heavens. By the time of the New Kingdom, the Atum myth had merged in the Egyptian pantheon with that of Ra, who later was described as a creator and a solar deity as his cult arose. Their two identities were joined into Atum-Ra.

After they were combined, Ra was seen as the whole sun and Atum came to be seen as the sun when it sets in the west (depicted as an old man leaning on his staff), while Khepri was seen as the sun when it was rising. At these later times Iusaaset sometimes is described as the eye of Ra.

Atum, sometimes rendered as Atem or Tem, is an important deity in Egyptian mythology. Atum’s cult centered on the city of Heliopolis (Egyptian: Annu).

He is usually depicted as a man wearing either the royal head-cloth or the dual white and red crown of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, reinforcing his connection with kingship. Sometimes he also is shown as a serpent, the form he returns to at the end of the creative cycle, and also occasionally as a mongoose, lion, bull, lizard, or ape.

Atum’s name is thought to be derived from the word tem which means to complete or finish. Thus he has been interpreted as being the ‘complete one’ and also the finisher of the world, which he returns to watery chaos at the end of the creative cycle. As creator he was seen as the underlying substance of the world, the deities and all things being made of his flesh or alternatively being his ka.

Atum is one of the most important and frequently mentioned deities from earliest times, as evidenced by his prominence in the Pyramid Texts, where he is portrayed as both a creator and father to the king.

Atum was a self-created deity, the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that existed before creation. A product of the energy and matter contained in this chaos, he created his children—the first deities, out of loneliness.

He produced from his own sneeze, or in some accounts, semen, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. The brother and sister, curious about the primeval waters that surrounded them, went to explore the waters and disappeared into the darkness. Unable to bear his loss, Atum sent a fiery messenger, the Eye of Ra, to find his children. The tears of joy he shed on their return were the first human beings.

In the Heliopolitan creation myth, Atum was considered to be the first god, having created himself, sitting on a mound (benben) (or identified with the mound itself), from the primordial waters (Nu). Early myths state that Atum created the god Shu and goddess Tefnut by spitting them out of his mouth.

To explain how Atum did this, the myth uses the metaphor of masturbation, with the hand he used in this act representing the female principle inherent within him. Other interpretations state that he has made union with his shadow.

In the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed that Atum lifted the dead king’s soul from his pyramid to the starry heavens. He was also a solar deity, associated with the primary sun god Ra. Atum was linked specifically with the evening sun, while Ra or the closely linked god Khepri were connected with the sun at morning and midday.

In the Book of the Dead, which was still current in the Graeco-Roman period, the sun god Atum is said to have ascended from chaos-waters with the appearance of a snake, the animal renewing itself every morning.

Atum is the god of pre-existence and post-existence. In the binary solar cycle, the serpentine Atum is contrasted with the ram-headed scarab Khepri—the young sun god, whose name is derived from the Egyptian hpr “to come into existence”. Khepri-Atum encompassed sunrise and sunset, thus reflecting the entire solar cycle.

Shu (meaning “emptiness” and “he who rises up”) was one of the primordial Egyptian gods, a personification of air, one of the Ennead of Heliopolis. The Greeks associated Shu with Atlas, the primordial Titan who held up the celestial spheres, as they are both depicted holding the sky. He carries an ankh, the symbol of life.

He was created by Atum, his father and Iusaaset, his mother in the city of Heliopolis. With his twin sister Tefnut (moisture), he was the father of Nut and Geb. His daughter, Nut, was the sky goddess whom he held over the Earth (Geb), separating the two. The Egyptians believed that if Shu didn’t hold his son and daughter (the god of the earth and the goddess of the sky) apart there would be no way life could be created.

As the air, Shu was considered to be cooling, and thus calming, influence, and pacifier. Due to the association with air, calm, and thus Ma’at (truth, justice and order), Shu was portrayed in art as wearing an ostrich feather.

Shu was seen with between one and four feathers. The ostrich feather was symbolic of light and emptiness. Fog and clouds were also Shu’s elements and they were often called his bones. Because of his position between the sky and earth, he was also known as the wind.

In a much later myth, representing the terrible weather disaster at the end of the Old Kingdom, it was said that Tefnut and Shu once argued, and Tefnut left Egypt for Nubia (which was always more temperate). It was said that Shu quickly decided that he missed her, but she changed into a cat that destroyed any man or god that approached. Thoth, disguised, eventually succeeded in convincing her to return.

The air god Shu separated the sky goddess Nut from the earth god, Geb. This treatment symbolized duality, the separation of the world into opposites: above and below, light and dark, good and evil. Shu is mostly represented by a man. Only in his function as a fighter and defender as the sun god does he sometimes receive a lion’s head.

In Egyptian mythology, Shu arrived as breath from the nose of the original god, Atum-Ra, together with his sister and wife, Tefnut, the moist air. The first pair of cosmic elements then created the sky goddess, Nut, and the earth god, Geb, who in turn created the deities Isis, Osiris, Nephthys and Set. Shu’s grandchildren are Osiris, Horus, Isis, Set and Nephthys. His great-grandson is Anubis.

Tefnut (Egyptian: Tefenet) is a goddess of moisture, moist air, dew and rain in Ancient Egyptian religion. She is the sister and consort of the air god Shu and the mother of Geb and Nut.

Literally translating as “That Water”, the name Tefnut has been linked to the verb ‘tfn’ meaning ‘to spit’ and versions of the creation myth say that Ra (or Atum) spat her out and her name was written as a mouth spitting in late texts.

like most Egyptian deities, including her brother, Tefnut has no single ideograph or symbol. Her name in hieroglyphics consists of four single phonogram symbols t-f-n-t. Although the n phonogram is a representation of waves on the surface of water, it was never used as an ideogram or determinative for the word water (mw), or for anything associated with water.

Tefnut is a daughter of the solar god Ra-Atum. Married to her brother, Shu, she is mother of Nut, the sky and Geb, the earth. Tefnut’s grandchildren were Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys, and in some versions, Horus the Elder (Heru Wer). She was also a great grandmother of Horus the Younger. Alongside her father, brother, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild, she is a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis.

There are a number of variants to the myth of the creation of Tefnut and her twin brother Shu. In all versions, Tefnut is the product of parthenogenesis, and all involve some variety of bodily fluid.

In the Heliopolitan creation myth, the solar god Atum masturbates to produce Tefnut and Shu. In some versions of this myth, Atum also swallows his semen, and spits it out to form the twins, or else the spitting of his saliva forms the act of procreation. Both of these versions contain a play on words, the tef sound which forms the first syllable of the name Tefnut also constitutes a word meaning “to spit” or “to expectorate”.

The Coffin Texts contain references to Shu being sneezed out by Atum from his nose, and Tefnut being spat out like saliva. The Bremner-Rind Papyrus and the Memphite Theology describe Atum masturbating into his mouth, before spitting out his semen to form the twins.

Tefnut is a leonine deity, and appears as human with a lioness head when depicted as part of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. The other frequent depiction is as a lioness, but Tefnut can also be depicted as fully human. In her fully or semi anthropomorphic form, she is depicted wearing a wig, topped either with a uraeus serpent, or a uraeus and solar disk, and she is sometimes depicted as a lion headed serpent. Her face is sometimes used in a double headed form with that of her brother Shu on collar counterpoises.

When depicted as a woman with a lion´s head, she can be distinguished from Sekhmet as Sekhmet’s ears are rounded while Tefnut´s are pointed. Tefnut was connected with other leonine goddesses as the Eye of Ra. As a lioness she could display a wrathful aspect and is said to escape to Nubia in a rage from where she is brought back by Thoth. In the earlier Pyramid Texts she is said to produce pure waters from her vagina.

Nut or Neuth (also spelled Nuit or Newet) is the goddess of the sky in the Ennead of ancient Egyptian religion. She was seen as a star-covered nude woman arching over the earth, or as a cow.

Nut is a daughter of Shu and Tefnut. Her husband and brother is Geb. She has five children: Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys and Horus. Her name is translated to mean ‘sky’ and she is considered one of the oldest deities among the Egyptian pantheon, with her origin being found on the creation story of Heliopolis.

She was originally the goddess of the nighttime sky, but eventually became referred to as simply the sky goddess. Her headdress was the hieroglyphic of part of her name, a pot, which may also symbolize the uterus. Mostly depicted in nude human form, Nut was also sometimes depicted in the form of a cow whose great body formed the sky and heavens, a sycamore tree, or as a giant sow, suckling many piglets (representing the stars).

A sacred symbol of Nut was the ladder, used by Osiris to enter her heavenly skies. This ladder-symbol was called maqet and was placed in tombs to protect the deceased, and to invoke the aid of the deity of the dead. Nut and her brother, Geb, may be considered enigmas in the world of mythology. In direct contrast to most other mythologies which usually develop a sky father associated with an Earth mother (or Mother Nature), she personified the sky and he the Earth.

Nut appears in the creation myth of Heliopolis which involves several goddesses who play important roles: Tefnut (Tefenet) is a personification of moisture, who mated with Shu (Air) and then gave birth to Sky as the goddess Nut, who mated with her brother Earth, as Geb.

From the union of Geb and Nut came, among others, the most popular of Egyptian goddesses, Isis, the mother of Horus, whose story is central to that of her brother-husband, the resurrection god Osiris.

Osiris is killed by his brother Seth and scattered over the Earth in 14 pieces which Isis gathers up and puts back together. Osiris then climbs a ladder into his mother Nut for safety and eventually becomes king of the dead.

A huge cult developed about Osiris that lasted well into Roman times. Isis was her husband’s queen in the underworld and the theological basis for the role of the queen on earth. It can be said that she was a version of the great goddess Hathor. Like Hathor she not only had death and rebirth associations, but was the protector of children and the goddess of childbirth.

Ra, the sun god, was the second to rule the world, according to the reign of the gods. Ra was a strong ruler but he feared anyone taking his throne. When he discovered that Nut was to have children, he was furious. He decreed, “Nut shall not give birth any day of the year.” At that time, the year was only 360 days.

Nut spoke to Thoth, god of wisdom, and he had a plan. Thoth gambled with Khonsu, god of the moon, whose light rivalled that of Ra’s. Every time Khonsu lost, he had to give Thoth some of his moonlight. Khonsu lost so many times that Thoth had enough moonlight to make five extra days.

Since these days were not part of the year, Nut could have her children. She had five children: Osiris, later ruler of the gods and then god of the dead, Horus the Elder, god of war, Set, god of evil and wastelands, Isis, goddess of magic, and Nephthys, goddess of water. When Ra found out, he was furious. He separated Nut from her husband Geb for eternity. Her father, Shu, was to keep them apart. Nevertheless, Nut did not regret her decision.

Some of the titles of Nut were: Coverer of the Sky (Nut was said to be covered in stars touching the different points of her body), She Who Protects (Among her jobs was to envelop and protect Ra, the sun god), Mistress of All or “She who Bore the Gods” (Originally, Nut was said to be lying on top of Geb (Earth) and continually having intercourse.

During this time she birthed four children: Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. A fifth child named Arueris is mentioned by Plutarch. He was the Egyptian counterpart to the Greek god Apollo, who was made syncretic with Horus in the Hellenistic era as ‘Horus the Elder’. The Ptolemaic temple of Edfu is dedicated to Horus the Elder and there he is called the son of Nut and Geb, brother of Osiris, and the eldest son of Geb), and She Who Holds a Thousand Souls (Because of her role in the re-birthing of Ra every morning and in her son Osiris’s resurrection, Nut became a key god in many of the myths about the afterlife).

Nut was the goddess of the sky and all heavenly bodies, a symbol of protecting the dead when they enter the afterlife. According to the Egyptians, during the day, the heavenly bodies—such as the sun and moon—would make their way across her body. Then, at dusk, they would be swallowed, pass through her belly during the night, and be reborn at dawn.

Nut is also the barrier separating the forces of chaos from the ordered cosmos in the world. She was pictured as a woman arched on her toes and fingertips over the earth; her body portrayed as a star-filled sky. Nut’s fingers and toes were believed to touch the four cardinal points or directions of north, south, east, and west.

Because of her role in saving Osiris, Nut was seen as a friend and protector of the dead, who appealed to her as a child appeals to its mother: “O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.” Nut was thought to draw the dead into her star-filled sky, and refresh them with food and wine: “I am Nut, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil.”

She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the deceased. The vaults of tombs were often painted dark blue with many stars as a representation of Nut. The Book of the Dead says, “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.”

The Book of Nut is a modern title of what was known in ancient times as The Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars. This is an important collection of ancient Egyptian astronomical texts, perhaps the earliest of several other such texts, going back at least to 2,000 BC.

Nut, being the sky goddess, plays the big role in the Book of Nut. The text also tells about various other sky and earth deities, such as the star deities and the decans deities. The cycles of the stars and the planets, and the time keeping are covered in the book.

Geb was the Egyptian god of the Earth and a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis. It was believed in ancient Egypt that Geb’s laughter was earthquakes and that he allowed crops to grow.

The name was pronounced as such from the Greek period onward and was formerly erroneously read as Seb or as Keb. The original Egyptian was perhaps “Gebeb”/”Kebeb”. It was spelled with either initial -g- (all periods), or with -k-point (gj).

The latter initial root consonant occurs once in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts, more often in 21st Dynasty mythological papyri as well as in a text from the Ptolemaic tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el-Gebel or was written with initial hard -k-, as e.g. in a 30th Dynasty papyrus text in the Brooklyn Museum dealing with descriptions of and remedies against snakes.

The oldest representation in a fragmentary relief of the god, was as an anthropomorphic bearded being accompanied by his name, and dating from king Djoser’s reign, 3rd Dynasty, and was found in Heliopolis. In later times he could also be depicted as a ram, a bull or a crocodile (the latter in a vignette of the Book of the Dead of the lady Heryweben in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo).

Geb was frequently described mythologically as father of snakes (one of the names for snake was s3-t3 – “son of the earth”). In a Coffin Texts spell Geb was described as father of the snake Nehebkau. In mythology, Geb also often occurs as a primeval divine king of Egypt from whom his son Osiris and his grandson Horus inherited the land after many contendings with the disruptive god Set, brother and killer of Osiris.

Geb could also be regarded as personified fertile earth and barren desert, the latter containing the dead or setting them free from their tombs, metaphorically described as “Geb opening his jaws”, or imprisoning those there not worthy to go to the fertile North-Eastern heavenly Field of Reeds. In the latter case, one of his otherworldly attributes was an ominous jackal-headed stave (called wsr.t) rising from the ground onto which enemies could be bound.

In the Heliopolitan Ennead (a group of nine gods created in the beginning by the one god Atum or Ra), Geb is the husband of Nut, the sky or visible daytime and nightly firmament, the son of the earlier primordial elements Tefnut (moisture) and Shu (’emptiness’), and the father to the four lesser gods of the system – Osiris, Seth, Isis and Nephthys.

In this context, Geb was believed to have originally been engaged with Nut and had to be separated from her by Shu, god of the air. Consequently, in mythological depictions, Geb was shown as a man reclining, sometimes with his phallus still pointed towards Nut.

As time progressed, the deity became more associated with the habitable land of Egypt and also as one of its early rulers. As a chthonic deity he (like Min) became naturally associated with the underworld and with vegetation – barley being said to grow upon his ribs – and was depicted with plants and other green patches on his body.

His association with vegetation, and sometimes with the underworld and royalty brought Geb the occasional interpretation that he was the husband of Renenutet, a minor goddess of the harvest and also mythological caretaker (the meaning of her name is “nursing snake”) of the young king in the shape of a cobra, who herself could also be regarded as the mother of Nehebkau, a primeval snake god associated with the underworld. He is also equated by classical authors as the Greek Titan Cronus.

Some Egyptologists, (specifically Jan Bergman, Terence Duquesne or Richard H. Wilkinson) have stated that Geb was associated with a mythological divine creator goose who had laid a world egg from which the sun and/or the world had sprung. This theory is assumed to be incorrect and to be a result of confusing the divine name “Geb” with that of a Whitefronted Goose (Anser albifrons), also called originally gb(b): “lame one, stumbler”.

This bird-sign is used only as a phonogram in order to spell the name of the god (H.te Velde, in: Lexikon der Aegyptologie II, lemma: Geb). An alternative ancient name for this goose species was trp meaning similarly walk like a drunk, stumbler. The Whitefronted Goose is never found as a cultic symbol or holy bird of Geb.

The mythological creator goose referred to above, was called Ngg wr “Great Honker” and always depicted as a Nilegoose/Foxgoose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) who ornitologically belongs to a separate genus and whose Egyptian name was smn, Coptic smon. A coloured vignet irrefutably depicts a Nile Goose with an opened beak (Ngg wr!) in a context of solar creation on a mythological papyrus dating from the 21st Dynasty.

Similar images of this divine bird are to be found on temple walls (Karnak, Deir el-Bahari), showing a scene of the king standing on a papyrus raft and ritually plucking papyrus for the Theban god Amun-Re-Kamutef. The latter Theban creator god could be embodied in a Nilegoose, but never in a Whitefronted Goose.

In Underworld Books a diacritic goose-sign (most probably denoting then an Anser albifrons) was sometimes depicted on top of the head of a standing anonymous male anthropomorphic deity, pointing to Geb’s identity. Geb himself was never depicted as a Nile Goose, as later was Amun, called on some New Kingdom stelae explicitly:’Amun, the beautiful smn-goose (Nile Goose).

The only clear pictorial confusion between the hieroglyphs of a Whitefronted Goose (in the normal hieroglyphic spelling of the name Geb, often followed by the additional -b-sign) and a Nile Goose in the spelling of the name Geb occurs in the rock cut tomb of the provincial governor Sarenput II (12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom) on the Qubba el-Hawa desert-ridge (opposite Aswan), namely on the left (southern) wall near the open doorway, in the first line of the brightly painted funerary offering formula.

This confusion is to be compared with the frequent hacking out by Ekhnaton’s agents of the sign of the Pintail Duck (meaning ‘son’) in the royal title ‘Son of Re’, especially in Theban temples, where they confused the duck sign with that of a Nilegoose regarded as a form of the then forbidden god Amon.

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