Egypt: Gods - Nut


The goddess Nut was the daughter of Shu and Tefnut, and the wife of Seb, the Earth-god, and the mother of Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys, she was the personifaction of the heavens and the sky, and of the region wherein the clouds formed, and in fact of every portion of the reign in which the sun rose, and travelled from east to west. As a goddess of the late historical period in Egypt Nut seems to have absorbed the attributes of a number of goddesses who possessed attributes somewhat simular to those of herself, and the identies of several old nature goddesses were merged in her. In the Pyramid Texts {e.g., Unas, line 452 Nut appears as the regular female counterpart of Seb, who is described as the "Bull of Nut" i.e., he was either the father, or husband, or son, of the goddess ; her name is sometimes written without, the determinative for sky, e.g., in Pepi I, line 242, where it is said, "Nut hath brought forth her daughter Venus," Properly speaking, Nut, is the personifaction of the Fay-sky, i.e., of the sky which rests upon the two mountains of Bakhau and manu, that is, the Mountain of Sinset, but the Pyramid Texts prove that the Night-sky, and it seems as if this goddess and her male counterpart were entirely different beings from Seb and Nut, and had different names. In the text of Unas {line 557 we find mentioned the two gods Nau and Naut, who are, however, regarded as one god and there mentioned addressed accordingly. Thus it is said, "thy cake is to "thee, Nau and Naut, even as one who uniteth the gods and who "maketh the gods to refresh themselves beneath their shadow." In this passage {teta, line 218 we read of the "star Nekhekh in the Night-sky " on the other hand too much stress must not be laid upon the derterminative, because in the word, which seems to mean the "firmament strewn with the stars," the determinative is that of the Day-sky.

At a very early period, however, the difference between the Day-sky and the Night-sky was forgotten, at least in speaking , and it is chiefly from good funeral texts that we learn that a distinction between them was made in writing. In the Papyrus of Ani are several examples of the name Nut written, or, and the latter form is several times found in the Papyrus of Nu, which dates from the first half of the period of the XVIIIth Dynasty ; whenever one or other of these forms is found in good papyri it is the Night-sky which is referred to in the text. We have already seen in the paragraphs on the god Nu that he had a female counterpart called Nut, who represented the great watery abyss out of which all things came, and who formed the celestial Nile whereon the Sun sailed in his boats ; this watery path was divided into two parts, that whereon the Sun sailed by day, and that over which he passed during the night, The goddess Nut, whom the texts describe as the wife of Seb, is for all practical purpose the same being as Nut, the wife of Nu ; this fact is proved by her titles, which are, "Nut, the mighty one, the great lady, the daughter of Ra" ; Nut the lady of the heaven the mistress of earth gods" "nut, the great lady, who gave birth "to the gods" ; "Nut, who gave birth to the gods, the lady of "heaven, the mistress of the Two Lands." The shrines of the goddess were not very numerous, but there was a Per-Nut, in Memphis, and a Het-Nut, in the Delta, and three portions of the temple territory in Dendera were called respectively Ant-en-Nut, Per-mest-en-Nut, and Per-netch-Nut-ma-Shu, and. The goddess is usually represented in the form of a women who bears upon her hand a vase of water, which has the phonetic value Nu, and which indicates both her name and her nature; she sometimes wears on her head the horns and disk of the goddess Hathor, and holds in her hands a papyrus sceptre and the symbol of "life." She once appears in the form of the amulet of the buckle, from the top of which projects her head, and she is provided with human arms, hands and feet ; sometimes she appears in the form which is usually identified as that of Hathor, that is a women standing in a sycamore tree and pouring out water from a vase, for the souls of the dead who come to her. The sycamore tree of Nut," is mentioned in Chapter lix. of the Book of the Dead, and the vignette we see the goddess standing in it.

On a mummy-case at Turin the goddess appears in the form of a woman standing on the emblem of gold. Above her head is the solar disk with uraei, and she is accompanied by the symbols of Ne-khebet, Uatghet, and Hathor as goddess of the West ; by her feet stands two snake-headed goddess of the sky, each of whom wears the feather on her head. The goddess herself wears the vulture crown with the uraei, and above are the uraei of the South and North and the hawk of Horus wearing the white crown. Below her is the sycamore tree, her emblem, and in it sits the great cat of Ra who is cutting off the head of Apep, the god of darkness and evil. In the form in which she appears in this picture Nut has absorbed the attributes of all the great mother of the gods and the world.

On coffins and in many papri we find her depicated in the form of a woman whose body is bent round in such a way as to form a semi-circle; in this attitude she represents the sky or heaven, and her legs and arms represent the four pillars on which the sky was supposed to rest and mark the position of the cardinal points. She is supposed to have lifted her up from the embrace of Seb, and at last-named god is seen lying on the ground, with one hand raised to heaven and the other touching the earth. On each side of Shu is a hawk ; one represents the rising and the other the setting sun. According to one myth Nut gave birth to her son the Sun-god daily, and passing over her body he arrived at her mouth, into which he disappeared, and passing through her body he was re-born, the following morning. Another myth declared that the sun sailed up the legs and over the back of the goddess in Atet, or Matet Boat until noon, when he entered the Sket boat and continued his journey until sunset. In accompanying picture we see Ra in his boat with Shu and Tefnut {? sailing up through the watery abyss behind the legs of Nut, in the Atet Boat, and sailing down the arms of the goddess in the Seket Boat into the Tuat or Underworld ; the whole of the body and limbs of the goddess are bespangled with stars. In another remarkable picture we see a second body of a woman, which is bent round in such a way to form a semi-circle. Within that of Nut, and within this second body of a man which is bent round in such a way as to form an almost complete circle. Some explain this scene by saying that the outer body of a woman is the heaven over which Ra travels, and that the inner body is the heaven over which the Moon makes her way at night, while the male body within them is the almost circular valley of the Tuat ; others, however, say that the two women are merely personifications of the Day and nIght skies, and the view is, no doubt, the correct one. The raising up of Nut from the embrace of Seb represented the first act of creation, and the great creative power which brought it about having separated the earth from the waters which were above it, and set the sun between the earth and the sky, was now able to make the gods, and human beings, animals etc. The Egyptians were very fond of representations of this scene, and they had many variants of it, as may be seen from the collection of reproductions given by Lanzone. In some cases of those we find Shu holding up the boat of Ra placed side by side on her back, the god in one boat being Khepera, and the god in the other being Osiris. Shu is sometimes accompanied by Thoth, and sometimes by Khnemu ; in one instance Seb has a serpant's head, and in another the goose, which is his symbol, is seen standing near his feet with its beak open in the act of cackling. The Egyptian artists were not always consistent in some of their details of the scene, for at one time the region wherein is the head of Nut is described as the east, and at another to the west. Finally, the goddess appears holding up in her hands a tablet, on which stands a youthful figure who is probably intended to represent Harpocrates, or one of the many Horus gods ; in this example she is regarded as the Sky-mother who has produced her son, the Sun-god. According to another myth Nut was transformed into a huge cow, the legs of which her body was supported by Shu, as the body of Nut when in the form of a women was borne up by this god.

From a large number of passages found in this text of all periods we learn, from first to last, Nut was always regarded as a friend and protector of the dead, and the deceased appealed to her for food, help, and protection just as a son appeals to his mother. In the text of Teta {line 175, it is said to the deceased, "Nut hath set thee as a god to Set in thy name of 'god,' and thy "mother Nut hath spread herself out over thee in her name of "Coverer of the sky," and in line 268 we have, "Nephthys hath united again for thee "thy members in her name of Sesheta, the lady "pf the buildings through which thou hast passed, and thy mother "Nut in her Qersut, hath granted that she "shall embrace thee in her name Qersu, and that she "shall introduce thee in her name of 'Door.'" In the text of Pepi I. {line 256 it is said, "Pepi hath come forth from Pe with "the spirits of Pe, and he is arrayed in the apparel of Horus, and "in the dress of Thoth, and Isis is before him and Nephthys is "behind him ; Ap-uat hath opened unto him a way, and Shu "lifteth him up, and the souls of Annu make him ascend the steps and set him before Nut who stretcheth out her hand to "him." In the Book of the Dead are several allusions to Nut and to the meat and drink which provides for the deceased, and a chapter {lix. is found which was specially composed to enable him to "snuff the air, and to have dominion over the waters in the "Underworld." The texts reads :------ "Hail, thou sycramore of the "goddess Nut! Grant thou to me of the water and of the air "which dwelleth in thee. I embrace the throne which is in Unnu "{Hermipolis, and I watch and guard the egg of the Great "Cackler. It groweth, I grow it liveth, I live ; it snuffeth the air, I snuff the air." To make sure that the recital of these words should have the proper result they were accompanied by a vignette, in which the goddess is seen standing in a tree, out of which she reaches to the deceased with one hand a table covered with bread and other articles of food ; with the other she sprinkles water upon him from a libation vase as he kneels at the foot of a tree.

The sycamore of Nut is situated at Heliopolis, and is often mentioned in mythological texts. According to the Book of the Dead {cix.4 there were two turquoise-coloured sycamores at Heliopolis, and the Sun-god passed out between them each morning when he began his journey across the sky, and "strode forward "over the supports of Shu {i.e., the four pillars, which bore "up the sky towards the gate of the East through which Ra "rose." The sycamore of Nut was probably one of these, however, Apep, the personifaction of darkness and evil, was slain at its foot by the Great Cat Ra, and the branches of this tree became a place of refuge for weary souls during the fiery heats of summer noonday. Here they were refreshed with food whereon the goddess herself lived, and here they participated in the life of the divine beings who were her offspring and associates. Since the mythological tree of Nut stood at Heliopolis and was a sycamore tree under which tradition asserts that Virgin Mary sat and rested during her flight to Egypt, and there seems to be little doubt that many of the details about her wanderings in the Delta, which are recorded in the details about her wanderings of a similar class, are borrowed from the old mythology of Egypt. Associated with the sycamore of Nut were the plants among which the Great Cackler Seb laid the Egg of the Sun, and these may well be identified with the famous balsan trees, from which was expressed the oil which was so highly prized by the Christians of Egypt and Abyssina, and which was used by them in their ceremony of baptism ; these trees were always watered with water drawn from the famous "Ain Shems {a name really meaning the Eye of the Sun", i.e.,the well of water which is fed by a spring in the immediate neighborhood, and is commomly called the Fountain of the Sun." We may note in passing another legend, which was popular among the Copts, to effect that the Virgin Mary once hid herself and her Son from the enemies in the trunk of the sycamore at Heliopolis, and that is based upon an ancient Egyptian myth recorded by Plutarch which declared that Isis hid the body of Osiris in a tree trunk.

In the later times of Egyptian history the priests of Dendera asserted that the home of Nut was in the city, and in an inscription on their temple they recorded that it was the birthplace of Isis, and that it contained the birth-chamber, wherein Nut brought forth the goddess in the form of a dark-skinned child, whom she called "Khnemet-ankhet, the lady of love, on the fourth of the five epagomenal days. When Nut saw her child, she explained, "As {i.e., behold, I have become thy mother," and this was the orign of the name Ast, or Isis. In Thebes Nut was identified with Isis, the god-mother, the lady of Dendera, the dweller in Ant, the goddess Nubt, who was born in Per-Nubt, and gave birth to her brother Osiris in Thebes, and her son Horus {the Elder in Qesquest and to her sister Nephthys in Het-Seshesh, and in the same city she was regarded as a form of the goddess Apet, or Api, i.e., the hippopotamus goddess Ta-urt, and also of the local city goddess Apet, and also she also became a form of Hathor. The identifaction of Nut with Api the hippopotamus goddess is very ancient, for the text of Unas {line 487 ff. we read, "Come Shu, come Shu, come Shu, for"Unas is born on the thighs of Isis, and he hath sunk down "on the thighs of Nephthys, having been brought fourth. O "Temu, thou father of Unas, grant that Unas himself may be "set among the number of the gods who are perfect, and "have understanding, and are indestructible ; O Api, mother of Unas, give thou thy breast to this Unas in order that he "may convey it to his mouth, and that he may suck milk there-"from." Another form of Nut was Heqet, a goddess who was, strictly, the female counterpart of Sebek-Ra of Kom Ombo.

As the children of Nut were not all brought forth in one place so they were not all born on the same day ; her five children, i.e., Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys, were born on the five epagomenal days of the year, or as they are called in Egyptian, "the five days of the year. On the first , the birth of Osiris, on the second, was born Heru-ur, on the third was born Set, on the fourth was born Isis, and on the fifth was born Nephthys. The first, third, and fifth of the epagomenal days were unlucky, the second is not described as either lucky or unlucky, but the fourth is said to be a "beautiful festival of heaven and earth," The part which Nut played in the Egyptian Underworld was a very prominent one, and from numerous passages in the Book of the Dead we can see that without her favour life would be imposible for those who have left the world, and have begun their journey throughout the Tuat. The care and protection which Nut exibited towards her son Osiris caused her to be regarded as a tender and pitiful mother, and every pious Egyptian prayed that she might do for him even as she had done for Osiris, and hoped that through her he might shine in heaven like the star Sept{Sothis when it shines in the sky just before sunrise.

The favor of Nut gave the deceased the power to rise in a renewed body, even as Ra rose from the Egg which was produced by Seb and Nut, and it enabled him to journey with the sun-god each day from sunrise, and to pass through the dreary habitations of the Tuat in safety. So far back as the time of Men-kau-Ra {Mycerinus the Egyptians delighted to inscribe on the cover of the coffins of their head a portion of the following extract :------ Spreadeth herself thy mother Nut over thee in her name of coverer of heaven, she maketh thee to be as a god without thine enemy in thy name of god, she withdraweth thee from thing every evil in her name of Defender from every evil, great lady and from Ura whom she hath brought forth;" and whenever it was possible they painted on them figures of the goddess, who was represented with her protecting wings stretched out over the deceased, and with the emblems of celestial water and air in her hands. They believed that the dead were safely under the protection of the goddess when a picture of her was painted on the cover of the coffin above them, and they rarely forgot to suggest her presence in one form or the other.

The following passages from the text of Pepi I. {line 100 ff. illustrate other aspects of the goddess:---- "Hail, Nut, in whose "head appear the two eyes {i.e., Sun and Moon, thou hast taken possesion of Horus and art his Urt-hekau {i.e., Sky of Heliopolis, decree thou that this Pepi shall live, and that he may not perish. O Nut, who hast risen as a queen that thou mayest take possession of the gods and their doubles, and their flesh and their divine food, and of everything whatsoever which they have, grant thou that he may be without opposition, and that he may live, and let thy life, O Nut, be the life of Pepi. Thy mother cometh to thee and thou movest not. The Great Protectress cometh to thee and thou movest not, but as soon as she bestowed her protection upon thee thou dost move, for she hath given thee thy head, she hath brought thee thy bones, she hath collected thy flesh, she hath brought to thee thy bines, she hath brought thee thy heart in thy body, thou livest according to thy precepts, thou speakest to those who are before thee, thou protectest thy children from grief, thou purifiest thyself with the purifications of all gods, and they come to thee with their doubles."