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Neith

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Neith
Neith.svg
Goddess of creation, hunting and the dead
Name in hieroglyphs
n
t
R25B1
Major cult center Sais
Symbol the bow, the shield, the crossed arrows
Consort Nun

In Egyptian mythology, Neith (also known as Nit, Net, and Neit) was an early goddess in the Egyptian pantheon. She was the patron deity of Sais, where her cult was centered in the Western Nile Delta of Egypt and attested as early as the First Dynasty.[1] The ancient Egyptian name of this city was Zau.

Neith also was one of the three tutelary deities of the ancient Egyptian southern city of Ta-senet or Iunyt now known as Esna (Arabic: إسنا), Greek: Λατόπολις (Latopolis), or πόλις Λάτων (Polis Laton), or Λάττων (Laton); Latin: Lato), which is located on the west bank of the River Nile, some 55 km south of Luxor, in the modern Qena Governorate.

Name and symbolism

Neith was a goddess of war and of hunting and had as her symbol, two crossed arrows over a shield. Her symbol also identified the city of Sais.[2] This symbol was displayed on top of her head in Egyptian art. In her form as a goddess of war, she was said to make the weapons of warriors and to guard their bodies when they died.

Her name also may be interpreted as meaning water. In time, this meaning led to her being considered as the personification of the primordial waters of creation. She is identified as a great mother goddess in this role as a creator.

Neith's symbol and part of her hieroglyph also bore a resemblance to a loom, and so later in the history of Egyptian myths, she also became goddess of weaving, and gained this version of her name, Neith, which means weaver. At this time her role as a creator changed from being water-based to that of the deity who wove all of the world and existence into being on her loom.

In art, Neith sometimes appears as a woman with a weavers’ shuttle atop her head, holding a bow and arrows in her hands. At other times she is depicted as a woman with the head of a lioness, as a snake, or as a cow.

Sometimes Neith was pictured as a woman nursing a baby crocodile, and she was titled "Nurse of Crocodiles". As the personification of the concept of the primordial waters of creation in the Ogdoad theology, she had no gender. As mother of Ra, she was sometimes described as the "Great Cow who gave birth to Ra".

Neith was considered to be a goddess of wisdom and was appealed to as an arbiter in the dispute between Horus and Set.

Attributes

As a goddess of weaving and the domestic arts she was a protector of women and a guardian of marriage, so royal women often named themselves after Neith, in her honour. Since she also was goddess of war, and thus had an additional association with death, it was said that she wove the bandages and shrouds worn by the mummified dead as a gift to them, and thus she began to be viewed as a protector of one of the Four sons of Horus, specifically, of Duamutef, the deification of the canopic jar storing the stomach, since the abdomen (often mistakenly associated as the stomach) was the most vulnerable portion of the body and a prime target during battle. It was said that she shot arrows at any evil spirits who attacked the canopic jar she protected.

Mythology

In the late pantheon of the Ogdoad myths, she became identified as the mother of Ra and Apep. When she was identified as a water goddess, she was also viewed as the mother of Sobek, the crocodile.[3] It was this association with water, i.e. the Nile, that led to her sometimes being considered the wife of Khnum, and associated with the source of the River Nile. She was associated with the Nile perch as well as the goddess of the triad in that cult center.

As the goddess of creation and weaving, she was said to reweave the world on her loom daily. An interior wall of her temple at Esna records an account of creation in which Neith brings forth from the primeval waters of the Nun the first land ex nihilo. All that she conceived in her heart comes into being including the thirty gods. Having no known husband she has been described as "Virgin Mother Goddess":

Unique Goddess, mysterious and great who came to be in the beginning and caused everything to come to be . . . the divine mother of Re, who shines on the horizon . . .[4]

Proclus (412–485 CE) wrote that the adyton of the temple of Neith in Sais (of which nothing now remains) carried the following inscription:

I am the things that are, that will be, and that have been. No one has ever laid open the garment by which I am concealed. The fruit which I brought forth was the sun.[5]

In much later times, her association with war and death, led to her being identified with Nephthys (and Anouke or Ankt). Nephthys became part of the Ennead pantheon, and thus considered a wife of Set. Despite this, it was said that she interceded in the kingly war between Horus and Set, over the Egyptian throne, recommending that Horus rule.

A great festival, called the Feast of Lamps, was held annually in her honor and, according to Herodotus, her devotees burned a multitude of lights in the open air all night during the celebration.

There also is evidence of a resurrection cult involving a woman dying and being brought back to life that was connected with Neith.

Syncretic relationships

It is thought that Neith may correspond to the goddess Tanit, worshipped in north Africa by the early Berber culture (existing from the beginnings of written records) and through the first Punic culture originating from the founding of Carthage by Dido.

Ta-nit, meaning in Egyptian the land of Nit, also was a sky-dwelling goddess of war, a virginal mother goddess and nurse, and, less specifically, a symbol of fertility. Her symbol is remarkably similar to the Egyptian ankh and her shrine, excavated at Sarepta in southern Phoenicia, revealed an inscription that related her securely to the Phoenician goddess Astarte (Ishtar). Several of the major Greek goddesses also were identified with Tanit by the syncretic, interpretatio graeca, which recognized as Greek deities in foreign guise the deities of most of the surrounding non-Hellene cultures.

A Hellenistic royal family ruled over Egypt for three centuries, a period called the Ptolemaic dynasty until the Roman conquest in 30 BCE Ankt, a goddess from Asia Minor was worshiped by immigrants to ancient Egypt. This war goddess was shown wearing a curved and feathered crown and carrying a spear, or bow and arrows. Within Egypt, she was later assimilated and identified as Neith, who by that time had developed her aspects as a war goddess.

The Greek historian, Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE), noted that the Egyptian citizens of Sais in Egypt worshipped Neith and that they identified her with Athena. The Timaeus, a Socratic dialogue written by Plato, mirrors that identification with Athena, possibly as a result of the identification of both goddesses with war and weaving.[6]

E. A. Wallis Budge argued that the spread of Christianity in Egypt was influenced by the likeness of attributes between the Mother of Christ and goddesses such as Isis and Neith. Partheno-genesis was associated with Neith long before the birth of Christ and other properties belonging to her and Isis were transferred to the Mother of Christ by way of the apocryphal gospels as a mark of honour.[7]

References

  1. Shaw & Nicholson, op, cit., p.250
  2. The Way to Eternity: Egyptian Myth, F. Fleming & A. Lothian, p. 62.
  3. Fleming & Lothian, op. cit.
  4. Lesko, Barbara S. (1999). The Great Goddesses of Egypt. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 60–63. ISBN 080613202. 
  5. Proclus (1820). The Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato, in Five Books. trans. Thomas Taylor. A.J. Valpy. p. 82. http://books.google.com/books?&pg=PA82&id=Qh9dAAAAMAAJ&ots=0h_azc_OV5#PPA82. 
  6. Timaeus 21e
  7. "The Gods of the Egyptians: Vol 2", E. A. Wallis Budge, p. 220-221, Dover ed 1969, org pub 1904, ISBN 0-486-22056-7
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