Tag Archives: Nut

In Ancient Egypt Isis and Nephthys became Midwifes of Nut.


The most evident proof of the importance in Ancient Egypt of Isis and Nephthys in a rebirth process is in the Books of the Day and Night, which describe the journey of the sun god through the sky.

Nut swallowing the sun disk. Book of the Day. Tomb of Ramses V-VI. Ancient Egypt. Thebanmapingproject

Nut swallowing the sun disk. Book of the Day. Tomb of Ramses V-VI. Photo: Thebanmapingproject

According to the thought of Ancient Egypt, especially during the New Kingdom, Nut was the goddess of the sky, so the sun made a journey through the goddess’ body.

The dusk happened because Nut swallowed the solar disk and during the night he traveled all over the Nut’s belly. The morning after, the sunrise meant that Nut was giving birth the solar disk. That is the iconography that the artist of Ancient Egypt depicted on the ceilings of tombs from XX Dynasty.

But Nut was also Osiris’ mother and the resurrection of the dead in Ancient Egypt happened because the corpse was assimilated to Osiris, so the new-born was Osiris, son of Nut, who was assisted by Isis and Nephthys.

Isis and Nephthys receiving the solar disk. Book of the Night. Tomb of Ramses IX. Ancient Egypt. Thebanmappingproject

Isis and Nephthys receiving the solar disk. Book of the Night. Tomb of Ramses IX.Photo: Thebanmappingproject

Taking that into consideration, it make sense that the priests of XX Dynasty included the figures of Isis and Nephthys in the sun disk rebirth. As a consequence the artists of Ancient Egypt had to create a new iconography with the union of the sun rebirth and the Osirian tradition of the two divine mourners.

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Nut places the two mourners in some coffins of the XII Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt Isis was usually located at the feet extreme of the mummy, while Nephtys were located at the head extreme of it. Although it seems to have a logic based on a mythic legend, we find that this was not the rule all over the Egyptian history.

In previous posts we have seen how during the XI and XIII Dynasties Egyptian coffins show Isis at the head end and Nephtys at the feet end.

However, some coffins dating back on the XII Dynasty (the core Middle Kingdom), show that in that period of the Egyptian history Egyptians started thinking of Nephtys at the head end of the box and Isis at the feet end of it.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

For instance, in the coffin of Senbi from Meir in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the inscription shows that the place of Nephtys was the head extreme of the coffin.

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty.

Another example is the coffin of lady Senbi from Asyut in the Altes Museum of Berlin, which also shows the head extreme of the box as the place for Nephtys. So, in both cases Isis would be standing at the feet end.

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Nephtys at the Head. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. According to the hieroglyphs, Nephtys is at the head end. XII Dynasty. Egyptian Museum in Berlin: Photo: www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com

There are some other coffins, whose information is still much more complete. Not only they indicate the place for each goddess, but also inform us about who decided that.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

The coffin of Sopi, an intendant under the reigns of Sesostris II and III, from el-Bersha and now in the Louvre Museum, has a very rich decoration inside and a more austere one outside. Anyway, in both cases, the inner and outer decorative/textual pattern sends the same information: Isis is at the feet of the mummy. That happens because, according to the inscription,  “Nut has placed Isis at the feet of the corpse.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The same case we find in the coffin of the army commander Sepi, also from el-Bersha and in the British Museum. Outside of both extremes the hieroglyphs read how Nut has placed Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

And also in the inner head end of this coffin, we read how the dead is there in front of Nephtys.

 

In these two cases, Isis stands at the feet of the dead and Nephtys at the head, following a decision of the goddess Nut.

Could we conclude something?

Not at all!

Next week we will see that nothing was stablished about this subject in the XII Dynasty.

Some other gods will also decide about tyhe location of Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the mummy.

Nut with disheveled hair in the Coffin of Nefer-Renepet


Recently Branislav Andelkovic and Jonathan P. Elias published an article about the wooden coffin of Nefer-renepet from Akhmin  donated by E. Brummer to the Museum of Belgrade (Ernest Brummer and the Coffin of Nefer-Renepet from Akhmin, Issues in Ethnology and Anthropoly, n.s., Vol. 8, Is. 2, 2013, pp 565-584) http://www.anthroserbia.org/Content/PDF/Articles/60b0534bab3c41509c430f29feea8df3.pdf

Coffin of Nefer-Renepet. XXX Dynasty. Museum of Belgrade. Photo: www.anthroserbia.org

Coffin of Nefer-Renepet. XXX Dynasty. Museum of Belgrade. Photo: http://www.anthroserbia.org

This Egyptian coffin had been dated somewhere between the XXII and the XXV Dynasties. The authors show thanks to the decoration and the writings that the coffin of Nefer-Renepet might belong to the XXX Dynasty. Interesting for us is the image of Nut into the cover, with her rising arms and her standing up hair. This image was one of basis for dating the coffin so late in the history of Ancient Egypt, so the authors related it to many other image of Nut in that way at that period.

He point for us is that the authors reefer to  Brunner and Pitsch (1984), who linked this late image of Nut to the spells 638 and 1607 of the Pyramid Texts: ”Thy mother Nut has spread herself over thee, in her name of “She of Št-p.t“. According to them, this image of Nut has a protective meaning, the goddess would protect the deceased during the hours of the night and the day.

We do not deny that this was a part of the function of Nut forwards the dead. However, as long as we have seen in our research, the image of Nut with disheveled hair inside the cover of the coffin was directly related to spell 2171 of Pyramid Texts, which in a very precise way describes this image of Nut:” Nut has given her arms to thee, N., she of the long hair, she of the hanging breasts”. In fact, the spell describes perfectly the image of Nut in the coffin of Hornedjitef from the Ptolemaic Period (under the reign of Ptolemy III).

Coffin of Hornedjitef from Ptolemaic Period.

Coffin of Hornedjitef. Ptolemaic Period. British Museum. Photo: http://www.britishmuseum.org

This iconography of Nut bended forwards and with her hair falling down and appeared also lately in the history of Ancient Egypt in the outer part of some coffins or even in some stelae.

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

The Egyptian goddess had the two roles, on one hand she was the protective sky over the dead, but on the other hand Nut was the mother, who bends her body, whose hair falls down and who gives her breast to the deceased. Inside the coffin this image was the symbol of maternity and the coffin became the womb, so it granted the rebirth of the corpse.

It is also interesting to notice the orientation of the image of Nut inside the cover of these coffins; her face would coincide with the mummy’s face, while we can see the cavity for the feet. His position would recreate the birth, the first part of the body going out from the womb is the head, so the deceased is not facing the goddess, but Nut is receiving her new born baby.

Hair is Maternity in Ancient Egypt.


The nwn gesture has also a positive reading, because the hair sm3 has also a double value in Egyptian thinking. The hair sm3 is an element full of life force, which has to be delivered to the deceased for making easier the final resurrection.

To give the hair sm3 (rdi sm3) is a gesture that can be linked to the act of nursing; the mother’s milk is the first food, in the Egyptian funerary ambit the dead one in his rebirth is like a baby, so giving the hair sm3 contributes to this idea of the mummy as a new-born baby.

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith from Saqqara. Nut with raised arms and hair standing on end. Ptolemaic Period. Rijksmuseum of Leiden. Photo: www.rmo.nl

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith from Saqqara. Nut with raised arms and hair standing on end. Ptolemaic Period. Rijksmuseum of Leiden. Photo: http://www.rmo.nl

When the mourner makes the nwn gesture of throwing the hair onwards over her face she turns into the deceased’s mother, from whose belly he will be born. The mummy, assimilated to Osiris, is the Nut’s son and this goddess makes the nwn gesture inside the coffin, where happens the regeneration process. Nut bended and with her hair extended forwards gives birth her son Osiris, i. e. the dead one. For that reason we can find inside many coffin covers an image of Nut with raised arms and hair standing on end; it is the way the artist could represent her in that surface; but in reality she was bended forwards making the nwn gesture.

Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt. First Summary.


Hair and mourning women. Summary

According to what we have seen in the category « Hair and Mourning Women » we can mention some main ideas:

  • Mourners in Ancient Egypt made two gestures: Nwn: to cover their faces with their hair sm3 (in some cases is Snw) and nwn m: to pull their front lock of hair swt. Both are a way of showing despair and sadness.

    Mourning woman of Minnakht's tomb. www.1st-art-gallery.com

    Mourning woman of Minnakht’s tomb. http://www.1st-art-gallery.com

  • The hair over the face symbolized the darkness of the death into which the dead is sunk; it remembered the chaos in the primeval state of creation, so the Nwn gesture symbolized the Nun, the primeval waters.
  • Egyptians assimilated the hair sm3 to vital elements as breath, vegetation and water. So, to give the hair sm3 with the nwn gesture was a propitiatory practice, the hair became an instrument for sending vital energy to the deceased.
  • The heir was an important figure for the deceased’s resurrection in Ancient Egypt belief. As in the Osirian myth, Horus was the avenger who restored the cosmic order. For that reason the dead had to get again his virility. The nwn gesture in funerals could be a way of symbolizing the mythical copulation through which Osiris recovered his virility and Isis could conceive Horus.

    Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

    Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

  • The deceased, as Osiris and as a reborn, became Nut’s son. This goddess also made in the mythic sphere the nwn gesture. In funerary ceremony, the nwn gesture that the mourners made with the hair would remember the posture of Nut, as sky goddess, when bearing Osiris.

Locks, Plaits and Ringlets. Summary

The main ideas of the second category are:

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

  • The deceased was welcome to the Hereafter by Hathor, lunar goddess whose face is flanked by the two ringlets wprty. When she received the dead one these two ringlets opened and let see her face; that symbolized to see the light of the full moon in the night sky and it was the culmination of the lunar resurrection for the deceased, in the same way the full moon in the Osiris myth meant the resurrection of the god.
  • Egyptians identified the plaits Hnskt with lunar elements as horns (an image of the crescent) and snakes (which regenerates regularly), and also helped in that lunar resurrection.

    The god Khonsu with side lock. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

    The god Khonsu with side lock. Relief from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

  • The lock of hair s3mt seems to be also identified with the first moments of life and the childhood of the moon (it would be the side lock of children), so it was as well an element for contributing to the lunar resurrection of the dead. It also seems to have a negative aspect, since it was maybe identified with the evil which threats the dead one and which suffers an ablation for allowing the deceased to get back to life.

Hair and Snake as Symbols of Rebirth in Ancient Egypt.


The connection between the hnskt plait and the snake shows again a relationship of two vital elements. All during this work we have seen how the hair was considered in ancient Egyptian as a generating life element. Egyptians also attributed vital energy to snakes, since in mythology this animal was one of the first manifestations of live. On the other hand it is interesting to notice that this is a lunar animal par excellence[1].

According to R. Briffault, “the snake and the moon are interchangeable” in many cultures because both are immortal; they are in constant renovation and that is why the snake is considered a representation of the moon[2]. The serpent shed its skin periodically, it transforms, but it does not perish, it renews itself as the moon does. But also snakes appear and disappear easily; they hide under the ground, the “underworld”, where shed the skin and regenerate themselves. In Book of the Amduat, the snake is one of the symbols of death and rebirth[3] and Re, in the twelfth hour, rejuvenates in a snake’s belly[4].

Twelfth Hour of Amduat, where Re goes out as Khepri from the snake . Painting from the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.cefb.it

Twelfth Hour of Amduat, when Re goes out as Khepri from the snake . Painting from the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.cefb.it

What about women? They are also “closely associated with the snake, in the same way they are related to the moon”[5]. Serpents have as well a deep fecundity symbolism. Some scholars think that the snake has at the same time a feminine side (lunar) and a masculine one, since its shape and its movements suggest the virility of the penis[6]. So, snakes combine the two principles masculine and feminine needed for the creation. Anyway, in Ancient Egypt the phallic condition of the snake does not seem to be too emphasized[7].

Lastly, the snake is a death’s keeper and, according to Egyptian religious texts, it protects the dead[8]; since it lives in the underworld, it dwells close to the deceased’s spirits and knows the secret of the death. Serpent has a very positive role in the myth of the hero who defeats the death[9]. In fact, according to M. Eliade, « Great goddesses have usually a snake as attribute, they maintain this way their lunar nature, and these goddesses are at the same time funerary divinities. The snake is so, a funerary animal and a symbol of regeneration » [10]. For that reason, we can find in some versions of the Egyptian myth that in the creation of the world, the primitive god is in the Nun as a serpent, where he comes back again also in shape of snake[11].

We can see clearly in chapter 219 of the Coffin Texts the connection between the snake and the resurrection, since to go out from the egg with the plaits hnkswt and the snakes is a synonym of rebirth. The dead one is reborn from the place where the life germinates and goes out from it with its vital power (snakes and/or plaits of hair hnkswt), a very similar image we can have in mind just thinking of Osiris going out from the womb of his mother Nut with the uraeus [12]. If hnkst is a parallel of hnskt and this one is the lock of plaits falling at the back of mourners, again we find these women and their hair in a resurrection act.


[1] All animals that appear and disappear in a cyclic way (snails, reptiles, bears…) are considered as lunar creatures (J.E. Cirlot, 1991, p. 285).

[2] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 314.

[3] W.B. Kristensen, 1992, p. 21.

[4] V, 648.

[5] R. Briffault, 1974, p. 316.

[6] G. Durand, 1979, p.303.

[7] V, 650.

[8] Pyr. 226-224, 276-299, 375-401, 727-733; CT 160, 369, 372, 375, 378, 381, 423, 434-436, 586, 686, 717, 885; LdM,  33-35, 37, 39.

[9] G. Durand, 1979, p.305.

[10] M. Eliade, 1970, p.150.

[11] LdM, 175.

[12] A. Mariette, 1875, II, 152-153, 3; Ph. Derchain, 1963, p. 22.

Hair and Maternity in Ancient Egypt.


We already read in Old Kingdom how Isis and Nephtys were considered the responsible ones of the dead resurrection: “Ounas goes up through the two thighs of Isis. Ounas rises through the two thighs of Nepthys” [1]. Both goddesses were the two women who conceived and who gave birth to the Pharaoh, this one rose to heaven after his night travel (death). In the funerary context, the dead Osiris had to be reborn as the son of Geb and Nut: “he is the first-born of Geb, the first-born son of Nut, the one who gone out from the womb with the ureus…”[2]. Also, the resurrection of the deceased had a lunar nature and there is another explanation of the lunar cycle, in which the star was born from the womb of the sky goddess Nut and was then swallowed by her at the end of the cycle[3]. Taking into consideration these three points, we could consider that the two women representing Isis and Nephtys in the symbolic sphere engendered the newborn (the dead) and in somehow made also the role of mothers of the deceased. For that reason we read in the Pyramid Texts “Isis has conceived him and Nephtys has nursed him” [4]. From the Old Kingdom there was a relationship between the goddess Nut and the hair: « Nut gives you her two arms, she with the long hair, whose breasts are suspended »[5]. Nut-nwn  Also in the Middle and the New Kingdoms we read: “…this N. goes up to Busiris for seeing Osiris… Nut shakes her hair when she sees me…[6] So, from those quotes we could imagine the goddess Nut making the nwn gesture of shaking hair onwards. The following step was to search on the multiples images in Ancient Egyptian art of Nut and to see if that could have an iconographical basis. The best example is the funerary stele of the Lady Taperet from XXII Dynasty. It is a small wooden stele with painted decoration in both sides with Taperet praying Ra and Atum. On both sides the upper part is decorated with the body of Nut as the vault of heaven, interesting is the scene with Atum where Nut is the firmament and her hair is falling onwards.

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.nybooks.com

Funerary stele of Lady Taperet with an image of Nut in nwn gesture. XXII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: http://www.nybooks.com

This image of Nut and the fact that she is the mother of Osiris in the Ancient Egyptian cosmogony lead us to the conclusion that passages from Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and  Book of the Dead allude to the birth of the dead. Nut, bended and with her face looking at her pubis sees how his son (the dead) is coming to life. For that reason it is said that Nut shakes her hair when she sees Osiris; in that moment she is making the nwn gesture. This posture has then a very strong symbolic meaning: it is an image of maternity and very close to the rebirth of Osiris as a newborn/resurrected. There is also similar example in a coffin of Uresh-Unefer from the Late Period. We see in it a relief with late version of the same scene with Nut onwards and with a suspended lock of hair. Thinking about coffin as the receptacle of the mummy we need to look on how could be Nut represented on it.

Relief on the coffin of Uresh-Nefer. Late Period. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: www.egiptologia.net

Relief on the coffin of Uresh-Nefer. Late Period. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: http://www.egiptologia.net

There are many examples of coffins from the Late Period with representations of Nut on the internal side of the cover. In them the goddess is frontally extended all over the surface with hair standing up. In this case we are facing just a different perspective of the same posture. Nut in the cover would be making also the nwn gesture of shaking the hair onwards. The goddess as the sky vault swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun; also many times Nut is the night sky, so she swallows the evening sun and gives birth the full moon.

Coffin of Khenstefnakht from the Late Period. Inside the cover, the goddess Nut with her hair standing up. She swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun. Musée Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire (Brussels). Photo: www.vroma.org

Coffin of Khenstefnakht from the Late Period. Inside the cover, the goddess Nut with her hair standing up. She swallows the evening sun and gives birth the morning sun. Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire (Brussels). Photo: http://www.vroma.org

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith. Nut in black is an image of the night sky vault. The goddess with her mane standing up is swallowing the evening sun and giving birth the full moon. Rijsmuseum. Photo: www.rmo.nl

Internal side of the cover of the Coffin of Peftjauneith. Nut in black is an image of the night sky vault. The goddess with her mane standing up is swallowing the evening sun and giving birth the full moon. Rijsmuseum. Photo: http://www.rmo.nl

Inside the coffin takes place the conception and rebirth of the dead, Nut bended, with the hair onwards, will give birth his son Osiris and will put her arms around him: “…Geb is there protecting you; he is your father, you have been put on the world by him; the arms of Nut are around you, she has brought you to life, she brings your beauty…[7].


[1] Pyr., 379c y  996c.
[2] Mariette, 1875, 152-153, 3; Derchain, 1963, p. 22.
[3] Derchain, 1962, p. 27.
[4] Pyr. 1154.
[5] Pyr.2171 a.
[6] CT I, 312 y LdM, 78.
[7]CT I, 60. Translated by Barguet, 1986, p. 198).