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Nut – Egyptian Sky Goddess

Nut – Egyptian Sky Goddess

Religion for the ancient Egyptians mined a rich seam of belief. They worshipped over 8,700 gods and goddesses with each playing an integral role in maintaining balance and harmony across the dual kingdoms. Despite the extensiveness of the Egyptian panoply of gods and goddesses, few are as important as Nut, for she was the eternal goddess of the daytime sky and the place where the world’s clouds were created. Over time, Nut evolved into the personification of the entire sky and the heavens.

Nut, Neuth, Newet, Nwt or Nuit personified the heavens wheeling high above and the vastness of the heavenly vault. These were the origins of today’s English words night, nocturnal and equinox.

Facts About Nut

  • Nut was the ancient Egyptian daylight sky goddess who reigned the formation point of the world’s clouds
  • Wife of Geb god of the earth, mother of Osiris, Horus the Elder, Nepththys, Isis and Set
  • Over time, Nut came to personify the sky and the heavens for the ancient Egyptians
  • Shu, the god of the upper atmosphere and the air was Nut’s father, while Tefnut goddess of the lower atmosphere and moisture was her mother
  • Part of the Ennead, the nine gods comprising an ancient creation myth
  • In tomb art, Nut is shown as nude blue-skinned woman covered in stars crouched in an arched pose protecting the earth

The Ennead And Family Lineage

A member of the Ennead, Nut was part of a coterie of nine primordial gods worshipped at Heliopolis who formed one of ancient Egypt’s oldest creation myths. Atum the sun god together with his children Tefnut and Shu their own children Nut and Geb and their children Osiris, Seth Nephthys and Isis, comprised the nine deities.

Nut’s father was Shu, god of the air while her mother was Tefnut goddess of moisture. Atum or Ra Egypt’s creator god was thought to have been her grandfather. In the ancient Egyptian cosmos, Nut was also her brother Geb the god of the earth’s wife. Together they shared several children.

Star Woman

In numerous temple, tomb and monument inscriptions Nut was depicted as a star-covered nude woman with midnight-blue or blackish skin arching protectively on all fours over the earth with her fingers and toes touching the horizon.

In these images, Nut is poised over her husband Geb, representing the earth beneath the sky. The ancient Egyptians believed that Nut and Geb met at night as the goddess left the sky plunging the earth into darkness. During wild storms, Nut draws nearer to Geb triggering wild weather. Shu their father at the command of Ra the Egyptian sun god divided them from their timeless caress. Were Shu were to be more lenient with the pair, the cosmos’ boundless order would be riven, plunging Egypt into ungovernable chaos.

The ancient Egyptians interpreted Nut’s four limbs as representing north, south, east and west, the cardinal points on the compass. Nut was also thought to devour Ra the sun god, each day at sunset, only to give birth the next day to him at sunrise. Her connection to Ra was codified in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, where Nut is referred to as the sun god’s mother figure.

Evolving Symbolism

As Egypt’s Mother Night, Nut is depicted as the moon, a mystical representation capturing the divinely feminine body. Here, she is shown as two crossed arrows silhouetted on a leopard skin, linking Nut with the sacred sycamore tree, the air and rainbows.

Nut was also represented as a sow ready to suckle her litter of piglets shown as glittering stars. Every morning, Nut swallows her piglets to make way for the sun. Less frequently, Nut is shown as a woman balancing a pot representing the sky deftly on her head. Another story tells how Nut is the mother whose laughter created thunder while her tears formed the rain.

Some surviving records represent Nut as a cow goddess and mother of all creation known to the ancient Egyptians as the Great Kau. Her celestial udders paved the way for the Milky Way while in her luminous eyes swam the sun and the moon. This manifestation saw Nut absorbed some of the attributes of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. As a primordial solar cow, Nut transported Ra the mighty sun god, when he retreated from his tasks as the celestial king of all earth.

Mother Protector

As the mother birthing Ra each morning, Nut and the land of the dead gradually became associated forging a link with the Egyptian concepts of the eternal tomb eventual resurrection. As a friend of the deceased, Nut adopted a mother-protector role during the soul’s voyage through the underworld. Egyptologist frequently discovered her image painted inside the lids of sarcophagus and coffins. There, Nut protected its inhabitant until it was time for the deceased to be reborn.

A ladder was Nuts sacred symbol. Osiris climbed this ladder or maqet to emerge into his mother Nut’s home and gain access to the kingdom of the skies. This ladder was another frequently encountered symbol in ancient Egyptian tombs where it provided protection for the dead and invoked the assistance of Anubis Egypt’s god of the dead.

Thanks to Ra’s anger over Nut and Geb’s incestuous romance, he levelled a curse on Nut ensuring she could not give birth on any day in the year. Despite this curse, Nut was the mother to five children, each born with the help of Thoth the god of wisdom who included those five extra days in Egypt’s calendar. On the first extra day, Osiris entered the world, Horus the Elder was born on day two, Seth on the third day, Isis on the fourth day, and Nephthys on the fifth. These formed the five epagomenal days of the year and were celebrated throughout all of Egypt.

Nut’s range of duties earned her epithets such as “Mistress of All,” “She Who Protects,” “Coverer of the Sky,” “She Who Holds a Thousand Souls,” and “She Who Bore the Gods.”

Despite Nut’s prominence and important duties, her acolytes did not dedicate any temples in her name, as Nut is the embodiment of the sky. However, many festivals here held in her honour during the year including the “Feast of Nut” and the “Festival of Nut and Ra.” Throughout the long spread of ancient Egyptian history, Nut remained one of the most revered and well loved of all Egyptian deities.

Reflecting On The Past

Few deities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods proved to be as popular, durable or integral to the Egyptian belief system as Nut, who embodied the vast Egyptian sky.

Header image courtesy: Jonathunder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons