Nut, Sky Goddess, Mother of the Gods
By Caroline Seawright
To the ancient Egyptians Nut (Nuit) was the personification of the sky (originally she was a goddess of just the sky at day, where the clouds formed) and the heavens. She was believed to be the daughter of the gods Shu and Tefnut, the granddaughter of the sun god Ra. Her husband was also her brother, Geb. She was thought to be the mother of five children on the five extra days of the Egyptian calendar, won by Thoth - Osiris who was born on the first day, Horus the Elder on the second, Set on the third, Isis on the fourth, and Nephthys the last born on the fifth day. The days on which these deities were born were known as the 'five epagomenal days of the year', and they were celebrated all over Egypt:
Osiris - an unlucky day
Horus the Elder - neither lucky nor unlucky
Seth - an unlucky day
Isis - a lucky day, "A Beautiful Festival of Heaven and Earth."
Nephthys - an unlucky day
She was shown in Egyptian artwork as a dark, star-covered naked woman, holding her body up in an arch, facing downwards. Her arms and legs were imagined to be the pillars of the sky, and hands and feet were thought to touch the four cardinal points at the horizon. Far underneath her lay the earth god, Geb, sometimes ithphallyic, looking up at his sister-wife. She was also described as a cow goddess, taking on some of the attributes of Hathor. Geb was described as the "Bull of Nut" in the Pyramid Texts. As a great, solar cow, she was thought to have carried Ra up into the heavens on her back, after he retired from his rule on the earth. At other times, she was just portrait as a woman wearing her sign - the particular design of an Egyptian pot on her head.
In one myth Nut gives birth to the Sun-god daily and he passes over her body until he reaches her mouth at sunset. He then passed into her mouth and through her body and is reborn the next morning. Another myth described the sun as sailing up her legs and back in the Atet (Matet) boat until noon, when he entered the Sektet boat and continued his travels until sunset.
As a goddess who gave birth to the son each day, she became connected with the underworld, resurrection and the tomb. She was seen as a friend to the dead, as a mother-like protector to those who journeyed through the land of the dead. She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the dead until he or she, like Ra, could be reborn in their new life.
In the Book of the Dead, Nut was seen as a mother-figure to the sun god Ra, who at sunrise was known as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle (at noon he was Ra at his full strength, and at sunset he was known as Tem (Temu, Atem) who was old and weakening):
Homage to thee, O thou who hast come as Khepera, Khepera the creator of the gods, Thou art seated on thy throne, thou risest up in the sky, illumining thy mother [Nut], thou art seated on thy throne as the king of the gods. [Thy] mother Nut stretcheth out her hands, and performeth an act of homage to thee....
The Company of the Gods rejoice at thy rising, the earth is glad when it beholdeth thy rays; the people who have been long dead come forth with cries of joy to behold thy beauties every day. Thou goest forth each day over heaven and earth, and thou art made strong each day by thy mother Nut....
Homage to thee, O thou who art Ra when thou risest, and who art Tem when thou settest in beauty. Thou risest and thou shinest on the back of thy mother [Nut], O thou who art crowned the king of the gods! Nut welcometh thee, and payeth homage unto thee, and Maat, the everlasting and never-changing goddess, embraceth thee at noon and at eve....
The gods rejoice greatly when they see my beautiful appearances from the body of the goddess Nut, and when the goddess Nut bringeth me forth.
She was also called on to help the deceased in one of the spells of the Book of the Dead
THE CHAPTER OF SNUFFING THE AIR, AND OF HAVING POWER OVER THE WATER IN KHERT-NETER. The Osiris Ani saith:- Hail, thou Sycamore tree of the goddess Nut! Give me of the [water and of the] air which is in thee. I embrace that throne which is in Unu, and I keep guard over the Egg of Nekek-ur. It flourisheth, and I flourish; it liveth, and I live; it snuffeth the air, and I snuff the air, I the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, in [peace].
There were many festivals to Nut through the year, including the 'Festival of Nut and Ra' and the 'Feast of Nut'. But, despite being a protector of the dead, she was a personification of the sky - a cosmic deity - and no temples or specific cult centers are linked to her.