Neith

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For other uses, see Neith (disambiguation).
Neith
Goddess of war, hunting, weaving and wisdom
Neith.svg
The Egyptian goddess Neith bearing her war goddess symbols, the crossed arrows and shield on her head, the ankh and the was staff. She sometimes wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.
Name in hieroglyphs
n
t
R25 B1
Major cult center Sais
Symbol the bow, the shield, the crossed arrows
Consort Khnum or Set
Offspring Sobek

Neith (/nθ/ or /nθ/; also spelled Nit, Net, or 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[edit]

Neith was a goddess of war and of hunting and had as her symbol, two arrows crossed 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 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 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 Seth.

Attributes[edit]

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 honor. 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[edit]

Egyptian war goddess Neith wearing the Deshret crown of northern (lower) Egypt, which bears the cobra of Wadjet

In some creation myths, she was 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 the 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 AD) 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]

It was said that Neith 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.

Syncretic relationships[edit]

Louvre Statuette of Neith

The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) 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. Parthenogenesis 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]

See also[edit]

People named after Neith:

References[edit]

  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 0-8061-3202-7. 
  5. ^ Proclus (1820). The Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato, in Five Books. trans. Thomas Taylor. A.J. Valpy. p. 82. 
  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

Further reading[edit]

  • el-Sayed, Ramadan (1982). La déesse Neith de Saïs. Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale.