Taweret in Egyptian Mythology
Taweret, the Egyptian goddess of childhood, featured in the stories, myths and legends in Egyptian Mythology. Taweret was believed to suckle, nurse and protected pregnant mothers and newborn infants. Taweret was associated with the hippopotamus, lion and crocodile the most feared animals known to the ancient Egyptians. Her protective role was a strictly female domain as these mothers were believed to be fiercely protective of their young. In the underworld, she carried the deceased toward a new afterlife.
The Role of Taweret
The roles of Taweret were as follows:
- Goddess of female fertility
- Protector of working women
- Household goddess, revered in the home especially during times of crisis
- Goddess of pregnancy and childbirth - her swollen belly was seen as a sign of pregnancy
- The wet nurse of the pharaoh.
- In the Book of the Dead Taweret, the 'Lady of Magical Protection', was seen as a goddess who guided the dead into the afterlife.
- As the "Lady of Magical Protection" her name was invoked in the prayers for women who wanted a child and in those seeking protection for their young children
The Symbols of Taweret
The symbols of Taweret include the hippo, the 'Sa' Symbol representing protection, a short cylindrical headdress topped by two cow horns and the solar disk of Hathor. She was associated with the so called "magic wand" or "magic knives" used during labour to ward off evil.
The Sa Symbol
Taweret linked with Bes, Hapi and Ammit
She was often depicted in the company of the dwarf god Bes and was frequently described as the wife of Bes. The god Bes had a similar protective function and was also closely linked to childbirth. A commemorative inscription on an ancient stela details that Horus (the son of Isis) had "a sow and a dwarf" as the protectors of his infant body. Due to similarities in appearance Taweret was mistakenly identified as Ammit, the 'Devourer of the Dead', who was also depicted in the combined forms of a crocodile, lion and hippo. The full breasts and belly on composite figures of Taweret are also linked with the Nile inundation god Hapi as the Egyptian god of fertility.
Taweret and the Hippopotamus goddesses
Taweret was only one of several goddesses who took the form of a hippopotamus. During the period of the Old Kingdom period she was also identified with the names Opet (aka Ipet, Ipy and Apet) and Reret, so much so, that all of these hippopotamus goddesses became interchangeable with Taweret. All of these hippopotamus goddesses were associated with fertility, pregnancy and protection, and they were often difficult to distinguish from each other, not only in their form but also in their characteristics.
Taweret as Reret
The name 'Reret' is a shortened form of the name Taweret. Reret was also often depicted bearing a crocodile on her back. Although she is always depicted as a hippopotamus, the name 'Reret' means ‘the Sow’ because the ancient Egyptians saw the hippo as a water pig. Possibly the first of the hippo goddesses, she was initially viewed as a dangerous and potentially malignant force. She was associated with the northern sky as 'Nebetakhet', the "Mistress of the Horizon". She represented the stars of Ursa Minor and Draco (the little dipper formed her back) who guarded the dangerous northern sky that was associated with both of the evil gods of Egyptian mythology - Apep and Set. According to one myth, she was the consort of Apep who only appeared during the night. She was represented all that was evil during the day. This all changed when Reret was transformed into Taweret and became a mother goddess and a patron of childbirth and the wet nurse of the pharaoh.
Taweret wearing the Cow Horns Crown
She was sometimes equated with Hathor Mehet-Weret, the cow goddess who represented the fertile aspect of the primeval waters. The picture of the following relief shows Taweret wearing the cow horns crown usually associated with the cow goddesses Isis and Hathor, consisting of head horns in which a sun disk is set.
Picture of Taweret and Meretseger
Taweret as Opet the Hippopotamus goddess (aka Ipy, Ipet and Apet)
Taweret, as Opet, was also referred to by the names of Ipet, Ipy and Apet. In the Pyramid Texts, the reborn king is said to be nourished by the sweet milk of Opet. The Opet temple, dedicated to the goddess, is located in the Amun temple complex at Karnak (Thebes) and was originally built by Nectanebo I (380 BCE to 362 BCE) dated to the Late Period and Ptolemaic era however, it was the cult of Taweret that gained particular importance over time. Like Taweret the goddess Opet was a benign Ancient Egyptian goddess who of a hippopotamus as well as that of a crocodile with the tail on her back, with either human arms) or the legs and paws of a lion. She was also depicted with an enlarged belly like that of a pregnant woman.
The Temple of Opet
The Temple of Opet at the Thebes cult center contained a hall with two Hathor-headed columns which led to the main sanctuary housing the divine statue of Opet. A number of crypts ran down from the temple including a "tomb of Osiris" and a "birth chamber" providing access to a cult statue of Osiris - she was referred to as the mother of Osiris. This Osiris shrine was located directly across from a door in the Khonsu Temple, suggesting a close link between the temples. Khonsu was often depicted as a child with the symbol of childhood (a sidelock of hair) and revered as a protector of children against dangerous animals and represented standing on crocodiles.
Taweret the dominant Hippopotamus goddess
Many of the gods of the ancient Egyptians were subsumed (meaning absorbed) into new deities. The practice of creating new deities, by combining them with the attributes of old gods, is called 'syncretism'. No doubt that this was the case with Opet, Reret and Taweret.