Category Archives: Apotropaic
Credit – Spiderbrick 2099
Etymology: “Great One”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Taueret, Tauret, Taurt, Apet, Ipet, Ipy, Opet, Reret, Rertrertu, Thoueris (Greek), Thoeris (Greek), Toeris (Greek), Ta-uret (Greek)
Other Names and Epithets: “Lady of Heaven,” Nebetakhet “The Mistress of the Horizon,” “She Who Removes Water,” “Mistress of Pure Water,” “The One Who is in the Waters of Nun,” and “Lady of the Birth House”
In ancient Egypt or Khemet, Taweret is the hippopotamus goddess of fertility, protection, and childbirth. She was a rather popular goddess whose image could be found in homes on beds and pillows rather than in any formal temple. Because of her fearsome chimeric appearance, some sources and translations will refer to Taweret as a demon.
Color: Blue, Green
Gemstones: (Hippopotamus) Ivory, Turquoise
Patron of: Child, Mothers
Sphere of Influence: Childbirth, Fertility, Motherhood, Pregnancy, Protection
Symbols: Ivory Dagger, Sa symbol, Wand
Taweret is shown in Egyptian art as being a chimeric deity having the head and body of a hippopotamus, the arms and legs of a lion, a crocodile’s tail and human breasts, and swollen belly of someone pregnant. She wears a flat, cylindrical headdress called a modius that sits on top of her hair or wig. These chimeric aspects show Taweret being both a fertility goddess and a protective deity and how nature can be bountiful while dangerous at the same time if not properly respected. The images where Taweret is shown with a crocodile on her back represent her connection to Sobek.
Later images show Taweret with the sun disc that’s associated with the goddesses Hathor and Isis. Taweret is often shown holding a Sa amulet, a symbol for protection and it wasn’t just protective amulets, as a household deity, Taweret’s image could be found on a wide variety of objects. Household furniture from chairs to stools and headrests. Vessels holding liquid were made with Taweret’s image with openings on the nipples, thought to purify any liquid being poured out. These vessels were very popular during the New Kingdom era. Towards the Middle Kingdom era, apotropaic objects such as wands and knives would bear Taweret’s image during both funerary rituals and pregnancy and birthing rituals. These objects have been shown in tomb paintings.
What’s In A Name
Taweret’s name means either “She who is great” or “Great One” and is the type of name or epitaph given to a potentially dangerous deity or entity so as not to provoke their wrath.
Taweret is a domestic deity in that she usually didn’t have any temples dedicated to her. Instead, you could find images of her in people’s homes on beds and pillows.
However, statues of hippopotamus goddesses can be found in tombs and temples to help the deceased be successfully reborn into the afterlife. Plus, during the time of the Middle Kingdome between 2,055 and 1,650 B.C.E., Taweret became more prominent with her image appearing on more apotropaic objects, the most common being a “wand” or “knife” carved from hippopotamus ivory used in rituals for the birth and protection of infants. These same images would also appear on children’s feeding cups.
Interestingly enough, during the Middle Kingdom era, Taweret would also become a funerary deity and hippopotami images would appear alongside the marsh flora décor in tombs and temples. This imagery connects Taweret as a goddess of rebirth into the afterlife, not just earthly births.
During the New Kingdom (1,550 to 1,069 B.C.E.), Taweret along with other household deities would become even more prominent. Taweret’s image would appear on a number of household items. Despite the ruling of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten to alter Egypt from polytheism to henotheistic religion and a focus on the sun disc, Aten banned the worship of many deities, Taweret persisted due to her influence on daily life and her connection as a funerary deity.
During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods between 332 B.C.E. and 390 C.E., Taweret continued to have the main role in day-to-day Egyptian life. Either during the Late Period 664 B.C.E. to 332 B.C.E., a temple was built for Ipet, a similar hippopotamus goddess in Karnak. This temple was believed to be the place of the sun god, Amun-Re’s daily birth, and several goddesses like Taweret were connected to him as a divine mother.
Crete – In the Minoan religion of ancient Crete, Taweret is known as the Minoan Genius. All thanks to contact and trade of ideas with Levant who in turn, got them from Egypt. Taweret’s image continued to be used on protective amulets, though in a more Minoan style, and would find their way even to mainland Greece.
Levant – Taweret was adopted into Levantine religions, taking a maternal goddess role in their pantheon.
Nubia – Taweret even found favor with the Nubian empire and became part of their pantheon during the lat Middle Kingdom era in Egypt. Evidence has been found of Taweret appearing in royal rituals in Kerma, the capital of Nubia.
Parentage & Family
Given how fluid Egyptian myths can be, who’s related to who can vary by era.
Taweret has been paired up with a few different gods.
Aha – Or Bes, the dwarf god, Taweret is sometimes paired with him.
Apep – An Egyptian snake god of chaos who is sometimes paired with Taweret.
Seth – Or Set, according to Plutarch, is Taweret’s spouse.
Sobek – The crocodile god of chaos, Taweret is paired with him.
In Thebes, Taweret is regarded as the mother of Osiris and thus linked to the sky goddess Nut. Taweret is to have given birth to Osiris in Karnak.
Amun-Re in Ptolemaic traditions and accounts when he becomes the supreme god instead of Ra. Under this mythic tradition, numerous maternal goddesses were seen as Amun-Re’s divine mother. They were all just different names for the same Divine Mother.
The Egyptians were very fluid in their theology and how the gods were depicted. Different deities were known to merge for a specific reason or to emerge and split away, becoming their own entity. Given the thousands of years, the Egyptian Dynasties lasted, it’s not surprising in many ways for the myths to be fluid and change with the times. It was no problem for the Egyptians who saw such myths as complimentary and not contradictory.
At different points in the continuing development of Egyptian mythology, Taweret has had her roles become associated with other goddesses or have roles added. For the ancient Egyptians, they often saw their deities as just being different aspects of the same Goddess. Taweret goes from not just a goddess who protects children and the birth process but one who protects and purifies those moving to the afterlife. Which, makes sense, death being a form of rebirth to the next life and what comes after.
Other examples of this are the goddess of Isis, Hathor, and Mut all having protective roles and aspects that would later be absorbed by Taweret.
Egyptian Astronomy – The Mistress of the Horizon
Taweret’s image is often used to represent a northern constellation in the zodiacs where she is known as Nebetakhet (“The Mistress of the Horizon”). This same image can be found in many astronomical tomb paintings, even the Theban tombs of Tharwas, Senemut tomb, and the Pharoah Seti I in the Valley of the Kings. In this aspect, Taweret is thought to keep the heavens free of evil preventing those not worthy from passing by.
We see the image of the astral Taweret again, almost exclusively on the Sethian foreleg of a bull. This image later comes to represent the never-setting circumpolar constellations of Ursa Major and Draco and has associations with the Egyptian god of Chaos, Seth. The seven stars that line down Taweret’s form are from Ursa Minor.
In the Book of Day & Night, a mythological text dating from the Twentieth Dynasty (1186-1069 B.C.E.), it’s commented that this foreleg of Seth’s in the northern sky is tied down to two mooring posts of flint by gold chains. Isis in the form of a hippopotamus guards these posts.
This specific example of mentioning Isis and not Taweret is part of the fluidity of Egyptian cosmology and beliefs where the aspects of one goddess could be absorbed by another or split off for other deities.
The cosmic, astral imagery for Taweret is even found in later Ptolemaic and Roman eras such as the Book of Faiyum where Taweret is shown in her usual image with a crocodile on her back and a small upright crocodile in her right hand. Another section of Faiyum papyrus shows her near Lake Moeris. The Faiyum shows the solar journey that the sun god Ra takes with Lake Moeris being where the sun god is believed to descend during his nightly journey to the underworld of Amduat.
Taweret is represented in connection with Lake Moeris as a well-known constellation where she is a protective divine mother to Sobek-Re during his daily, solar journeys. In this respect, Taweret is like Neith the primary divine mother to Sobek. This aspect of Taweret is known as “Neith the Great, who protects her son.”
Protector of Pregnancy & Motherhood
This is perhaps Taweret’s best-known role as a goddess of protection. Her role and domain is over pregnancy and childbirth to ensure safe and healthy births. Magic by way of charms, amulets, and the use of special apotropaic wands and ivory-handled knives to ward off evil. 75% of all apotropaic wands have been found with Taweret’s image on them. Practitioners using these would draw a circle on the ground around the sleeping, expectant mother.
As a protective goddess of childbirth, Taweret would often be shown with the dwarf god, Bes who also has a similar protection role.
It should go without saying that pregnancy and childbirth were and still can be a dangerous time. Advanced as Egyptian medical knowledge was, they weren’t above invoking Taweret’s aid and help to ensure a successful birth with incantations that hoped and prayed for a son to carry on a patriarchal line for the household.
Metternich Stela – In this later myth, Isis tells Horus that he was raised by a “sow and a dwarf.” The sow refers to a female hippopotamus and thus Taweret while the dwarf is a reference to Bes.
The Death Of Osiris – Plutarch says that Taweret is a concubine of Set who changed her ways to become a follower of Horus and his order of law. This links Taweret to Isis as the goddess kept Set on a chain to control his forces of chaos. One version of this myth has Taweret holding Set down while Horus slays him.
Motherhood – Later myths quickly connect Taweret as a divine mother, namely the one who fiercely protects her children, much like lions and hippopotamuses are known to.
Pregnancy – Modern folk magic in Egypt still sees women who desire to become pregnant going to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to rub the belly of Taweret’s statue. To the point that a glass vitrine now shields the statue from the constant rubbing and wear. That doesn’t stop women from going to visit the statue in efforts and hopes of becoming pregnant.
The Sa symbol is the hieroglyph for protection and with Taweret, this protective amulet is used during pregnancy and childbirth to ensure the baby’s health and safety. Pregnant women frequently wore these Sa amulets or those with Taweret’s image on them.
Plutarch’s Notes – Plutarch mentions in his writings that in the central myth of Isis and Osiris, Taweret is a concubine to Seth, the god of chaos and murderer of Osiris. Taweret rebels against Seth in order to join Horus and his forces of order.
To the Egyptian mind, this one makes sense, as you’re born into the mortal life, so too do you undergo a similar rebirth into the afterlife with death. Who else will be there, none other than Taweret to act as a sort of psychopomp to purify the soul as you move on.
Taweret’s image would also be placed outside of temples dedicated to other Egyptian gods where it was believed she would protect and keep away harmful, chaotic spirits.
The Eye Of Ra
This story has been found engraved on one of the shrines in Tutankhamun’s tomb and in “The Book of the Heavenly Cow.”
In this story, Hathor, as the Eye of Ra, turns into Sakhmet. How this came about is that Hathor’s father Ra, having grown old, was beginning to fall out of worship. Angry about this, Ra speaks to his daughter who turns into Sakhment and goes out to punish humanity.
As Sakhmet, she was very efficient and nearly wiped out everyone. Realizing that if she continued killing everyone, there would be none left at all to worship the gods, Ra decided that there has been enough killing and told her to stop. Only now she can’t quit, Sekhmet’s become so full of bloodlust.
Seeking the guidance of the ever-wise Thoth, he and Ra get large vats or barrels of beer that have been dyed and colored red to look like blood. In some versions of the story, they flood the land with the blood-red beer, and in others; Thoth has a hallucinogenic like poppies put into the beer.
Regardless of the final version told, Sekhmet on seeing all this beer drinks it up, getting so drunk, she forgets about her reason for coming to the earth, her great blood lust, and forgets all about killing anyone. When Sekhmet returns to Ra, he embraces her and Sekhmet turns back into Taweret. Granted, the other version I have mentioned before sees Sekhmet turn back into Hathor.
With Taweret’s rise and popularity, this version and change of the story is meant to showcase Taweret’s role as a fertility goddess and one of renewal or rejuvenation. This version of the story is why Taweret has the epithet of “Mistress of Pure Water.” By taking the form of a giant hippopotamus that brings the flooding of the Nile River.
Mistress of Pure Water – Fertility Goddess
The above story places Taweret in a position as a goddess of fertility, which makes sense, she is already the goddess responsible for watching over the birth process. Since hippopotami are associated with the Nile River, it’s easy to equate them with the annual flooding that brings much-needed life, rejuvenation, and renewal, especially near Jabal al-Silsila. Just as Tawerret would bring rejuvenation and fertility, she was also associated with the harvest.
Another myth has the god Amun-Re as being born from Taweret as Ipet to ensure the cycle of renewal and regeneration.
Archeological finds have found that hippopotami lived in the Nile River long before the rise of dynastic Egypt around 3,000 B.C.E. Among the Egyptians, male hippopotami were viewed as dark, negative creatures allied with Set, the god of chaos. There would be royal hunting parties that would prove the divine power and might of the pharaoh.
As for female hippopotami, they were seen in a more favorable light as they were seen to represent Taweret. This frightful appearance was to frighten away any negative spirits that would harm a child, especially during labor and childbirth. Given the protective nature of female hippopotami with their young, they were easily adopted as protective symbols. Protective amulets with female hippopotami have been found dating back to between 3,000 to 2,686 B.C.E. up to the Ptolemaic and Roman eras between 332 B.C.E. and 390 C.E.
More Than One Hippo Goddess!?!
Taweret isn’t the only protective hippopotamus goddess. There is also Ipet, Reret, and Hedjet. Some scholars have put forward the idea that all these goddesses are merely different aspects of the same goddess as they’re all protective household goddesses.
We know already that Taweret means “Great One.” Ipet’s name means “the Nurse” and refers to her connection with birth, child rearing, and caretaking. Reret’s name means “the Sow” and it does connect to an erroneous classification of calling hippopotami as water pigs. Hedjet’s name means “the White One” and the meaning for this name isn’t clear. Depending on the source and era, all three goddesses were regarded as different names and aspects of Taweret or she absorbs them.
There is evidence of a hippopotamus goddesses’ cult during the time of the Old Kingdom between 2,686 and 2,181 B.C.E. found on Ancient Egyptian funerary papyrus known as the Pyramid Texts. Ipet is mentioned in Spell 269 of the Pyramid Texts of how the deceased Pharoah will suck on the goddess’ “white, dazzling, sweet milk” when he ascends to the heavens. Maternal goddesses, these hippopotami goddesses protected not just those of royal lineage but those of non-royal lineages as well.
Not To Be Confused With Ammit!
While Taweret and the other hippopotamus goddesses all share similar roles with protection, fertility, and childbirth. There is another hippopotamus goddess, Ammit who should not be confused with Taweret or her fellow hippopotamus goddesses. Why? Because Ammit is the only hippopotamus goddess who is destructive, she is known for eating the souls of the unjust before they go to the afterlife.
Hathor – An Egyptian goddess, it should come as no surprise that at some point in the ever-evolving and changing Egyptian cosmology, that at some point Taweret would be equated with Hathor or share, take over many of the same attributes and even a myth or two while we’re at it.
Mut – A mother goddess in ancient Egypt, married to Amun-Re and often equated with Taweret.
Persephone – A Greek goddess of fertility and the underworld, those attributes seem to be the most like Taweret.