The goddesses of Ancient Egypt weren’t just there to complement the gods of Egypt – they held their own significance and could equal if not surpass the importance and power of the gods. While women were subordinate to men in Egyptian society, the goddesses were symbols of the power to be found in women and their importance in society.
The gods existed to help the Egyptians understand the world and their place in it. They represented different aspects of nature to serve as an explanation to the Egyptians as to why things were the way they were.
Isis was the “symbolic mother of kings” and the “protector of children and nursing mothers” (The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, pgs. 120, 123), making her a prevalent goddess in relation to all the pharaohs and mothers. She was also a staple figure in the Book of the Dead and generally appeared behind Osiris and beside her sister, Nephthys.
Nephthys was the sister of Isis, Osiris, and the sister/wife of Set. Her symbols are the hawk, temple, and the sycamore tree and she was associated with the setting sun, twilight, and darkness. Prayers were offered to Nephthys to aid in her in the fight against the serpent Apophis as she and Set defended the Barque of Ra. She was believed to be Isis’ counterpart as the darkness to contrast her light, which explains why they’re always depicted as identical twins.
Bastet was a goddess with the body of a woman and the head of a cat. She is obviously heavily influenced by cats, and her duty to the Egyptians was to “protect the home from evil spirits and disease” (Mark) similar to how a cat keeps diseases out of the house by getting rid of vermin. Her significance grew with the domestication of the house cat.
Hathor, who was the goddess of love, was “variously represented as a cow, a woman with the ears of a cow, or a woman wear a headdress of a wig” (The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, pg. 130). Like Isis, she was considered to be the divine mother of the pharaohs. Besides love, she was the goddess of “joy, sexuality, music, and dance” but also “had a destructive role” (The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, pg. 130). In her destructive role, she was often portrayed in a similar way to Sekhmet, the goddess of destruction.
Sekhmet was a lioness goddess and the “fire-breathing ‘eye of Ra’” (The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, pg. 134) whose job was to destroy her father enemies. To quell her rage and avoid natural disasters that were believed to be caused by Sekhmet, Egyptians offered her beer at the temples.
Tawaret was a household deity which took the form of a hippopotamus and was associated with the protection of women during childbirth.
Renenutet, despite her fierce appearance, was a protector of the king and a fertility goddess, whose responsibilities were securing and protecting the harvest.
Seshsat was the goddess of writing and measurement, whose job was to record the spoils of war, but later on became more associated with the royal jubilee.
- “Characteristics of Egyptian Goddesses.” Goddess-Guide. Accessed on October 10th, 2016. http://www.goddess-guide.com/egyptian-goddesses.html
- The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, edited by Helen Strudwick. New York: Metro Books, 2006.
- Mark, Joshua J. “Bastet.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed on October 10th, 2016. http://www.ancient.eu/Bastet/
- Mark, Joshua J. “Nephthys.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed on October 10th, 2016. http://www.ancient.eu/Nephthys/
- Tyldesley, Joyce. “Isis.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on October 10th, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Isis-Egyptian-goddess
- Trendacosta, Katherine. “10 Lesser Known Egyptian Gods That Are Absolutely Terrifying.” Gizmodo. Accessed on October 10th, 2016. http://io9.gizmodo.com/10-lesser-known-egyptian-gods-that-are-absolutely-terri-1686254637