To the Egyptians, the frog was a symbol of life and fertility, since millions of them were born after the annual inundation of the Nile, which brought fertility to the otherwise barren lands. Consequently, in Egyptian mythology, there began to be a frog-goddess, who represented fertility, referred to by Egyptologists as Heqet (also Heqat, Hekit, Heket etc., more rarely Hegit, Heget etc.), written with the determinative frog.
Name and depiction
Her name was probably pronounced more like *Ḥaqā́tat in Middle Egyptian, hence her later Greek counterpart Ἑκάτη (see Hecate). Heqet was usually depicted as a frog, or a woman with a frog's head, or more rarely as a frog on the end of a phallus to explicitly indicate her association with fertility. She was often referred to as the wife of Khnum.
Worship of Heqet
The beginning of her cult dates to the early dynastic period at least. Her name was part of the names of some high-born Second Dynasty individuals buried at Helwan and was mentioned on a stela of Wepemnofret and in the Pyramid Texts. Early frog statuettes are often thought to be depictions of her.
Later, as a fertility goddess, associated explicitly with the last stages of the flooding of the Nile, and so with the germination of corn, she became associated with the final stages of childbirth. This association, which appears to have arisen during the Middle Kingdom, gained her the title She who hastens the birth. Some claim that—even though no ancient Egyptian term for "midwife" is known for certain—midwives often called themselves the Servants of Heqet, and that her priestesses were trained in midwifery. Women often wore amulets of her during childbirth, which depicted Heqet as a frog, sitting in a lotus.
In the myth of Osiris developed, it was said that it was Heqet who breathed life into the new body of Horus at birth, as she was the goddess of the last moments of birth. As the birth of Horus became more intimately associated with the resurrection of Osiris, so Heqet's role became one more closely associated with resurrection. Eventually, this association led to her amulets gaining the phrase I am the resurrection, and consequently the amulets were used by early Christians.
- Armour, op.cit., p.116
- Erman, op.cit. vol. 3, 169.10
- McKechnie, Paul, and Philippe Guillaume. Ptolemy II Philadelphus and His World. Leiden: Brill, 2008. page 133.
- Cotterell, op.cit., p.213
- Wilkinson, Toby, p. 286
- cf. the role of Heqet in the story of The Birth of the Royal Children from the Westcar Papyrus. Lichtheim, op.cit. p.220
- Franklin, op.cit., p.86
- Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003). The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. p. 229
- Shier, Louise A. (1972). The Frog on Lamps from Karanis. Medieval and Middle Eastern Studies (Brill). p. 357.
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- Robert A. Armour, Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt, American Univ. in CairoPress 2001
- Erman, Johann Peter Adolf, and Hermann Grapow, eds. 1926–1953. Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache im Auftrage der deutschen Akademien. 6 vols. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’schen Buchhandlungen. (Reprinted Berlin: Akademie-Verlag GmbH, 1971).
- Arthur Cotterell, The Macmillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of Myths & Legends, Macmillan 1989
- Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge 1999
- Rosalind Franklin, Baby Lore: Superstitions and Old Wives Tales from the World Over Related to Pregnancy, Birth and Babycare, Diggory Press 2005
- M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, 1973