Egyptian Goddess Neith

Article by Denton Walter.
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I am the things that are, that will be, and have been. No one has ever laid open the garment by which I am concealed. The fruit which I brought forth was the sun.” (1)

Thus, in a brief but to the point statement carved on a temple in the Western Nile Delta city of Sais, did the Egyptian goddess Neith establish herself as pretty much everything in the world, the beginning, middle and end of everything in the Universe for that matter, the supreme creator of all things, though not perhaps her modesty. She was worshiped from very early days, her cult certainly already well established in the Delta around Sais, of which she was the patron goddess, by the time of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, which is thought to have occurred during the early Bronze Age, c. 3100 BC, creating the First Dynastic Period. The great British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, 1853-1942, noted that her symbols were depicted in the Predynastic Period (Diopolis Parva, 1901), citing a representation of a boat that displayed her distinctive crossed arrows standard which dated from that era, an artefact that is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.(1)

Neith was a major deity, goddess of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, and seen as a special protector of women and marriage, even from the earliest times Egyptian girls given her name as a mark of honor, clearly establishing her status. The first recorded queen of Egypt was named in her honor, Neith-Hotep,(1) a woman who, some evidence suggests, also ruled as pharaoh at some point not long after the unification, which if true would make her the earliest female ruler in history. Meryt-Neith, (2) thought to be the great-granddaughter of Pharaoh Namer, the ruler who unified the two kingdoms to create the First Dynastic Period, her name meaning ‘Beloved of Neith’, may also have ruled as pharaoh around 2950 BC, and is the earliest recorded queen regent in history. The principal wife of Pharaoh Pepi II Neferkare, c. 2278 - c. 2184 BC, one of the most prominent queens of the Old Kingdom, was named Neith. (3)  Her name in fact represents some 40% of early dynastic names, giving proof of her status.

According to Egyptian mythology she was the eldest of all the gods, predating creation, said to have been ‘Born the first, in the time when as yet there had been no birth’ (St. Clair, Creation Records, 176), (1) coming into the world by pretty much creating herself and then the Universe, a mythological religious ‘Big Bang’ if you like, and was the birth-mother of the sun-god Ra. She was depicted together with Selket as holding up the arch of the sky, and controlled the movement of the sun.  She held great power among the gods, seen as wise and one to whom the other gods came for advice, as is well demonstrated in the story of the time she was asked by them, being the eldest, to decide whether Seth or Horus should rule. She chose Horus, but warned that if her decision wasn’t followed she would be angry and ‘cause the sky to crash to earth.’(1)  Her decision was not challenged, which sounds like that was a very good idea, given her rather clearly expressed desire for unwavering obedience.

She was a goddess of war and hunting, symbolised by the crossed arrows and shield with which she was depicted, patron of the army and of hunters, and warriors prayed to her before battle, since victory was considered to be impossible without her aid. She is also shown holding theWas sceptre, a stylized animal head on a long thin rod which forked at the end, a symbol of power of both gods and kings as well as responsibility for the safety and well-being of the dead. In the latter context she, as war goddess, also became a protector of the dead, shooting her arrows at those who would dare to defile the dead, or take the form of a Uraeus snake to drive away intruders. She wasn’t on the job it seems, must have been on a nectar break perhaps, in 1922 as Tutankhamun’s tomb was very much defiled when its seals were broken and the dead pharaoh left unprotected as Howard Carter and George Edward Stanhope Molyeneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, or just simply Lord Carnarvon, entered to make the greatest ever discovery of an Egyptian royal tomb. I’d say King Tut had a few words with Neith after that intrusion.

She was seen also as a goddess of weaving and creation, said to reweave the world each day on her loom, and that anything she conceived in her heart she conceived also with her body, including thirty other deities, one of her titles being ‘The Great Cow who gave birth to Ra.’ (1) Since she apparently had no husband, or even a boyfriend that we know of, in view of her creative abilities she was often referred to as the ‘Virgin Mother Goddess. (1)  It seems more than possible that the spread of Christianity in Egypt many centuries later was greatly assisted by the virgin mother status of Mary, something that bore a similarity to both Neith and Isis, the Mother of Christ having much the same mythology about her as to conceiving without male assistance, though on a considerably smaller scale, since she only did it once. But Egyptians would have been able to relate to her somewhat more easily as a result, as pagans did in other lands when the early church rather cleverly used the same dates of festivals and sometimes even the same practices associated with the ‘old gods’ to help with the acceptance of the new one.

The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the people of Sais later came to associate Neith with the Greek goddess Athena, since she too had a connection to both war and weaving, and Plato also mentions it in his Timæus. (Athena being thought to have woven all the world and everything that existed into being on her presumably rather prodigious loom.) Herodotus also told how an important annual open-air festival was held in her honour, the ‘Feast of Lamps’, when people would light lamps all night for the duration of the festival. (1)  This was one of the most important festivals in Egypt, not just in Sais where I suppose it must have been the highlight of the religious year, but also right across the whole country, all Egypt lighting up in honour of the great goddess.

Devotion to her continued throughout the entire history of Egypt, right down to the Greco-Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty, who ruled Egypt at the time of the Roman occupation. Some of her titles included: ‘Warrior Goddess’; ‘Mother Goddess’; ‘Creator Goddess’, ‘Goddess of Funerals’ and ‘Goddess of Lower Egypt’. (4)

Sadly nothing now remains of her great temple at Sais, the modern town of Sa el-Hagar, save for a few rubbish heaps, and much of the site is covered by the town itself. The temple was largely destroyed in the 14th century AD, with parts of it taken to Cairo and Rosetta, and by the 19thcentury little remained other than some traces of the temple and the wall that had surrounded it, though even that has now vanished into history. The massive mudbrick walls that had protected the temple were pulled down and used by farmers as fertiliser of all things.

There was a medical school attached to her temple, not an uncommon thing in Egypt, with many female students attending it, and also a women’s medical faculty, principally for obstetrics and gynaecology, and an inscription that survived recounts a woman’s studies there, in which she states that she ‘..studied at the woman’s school at Sais, where the female mothers have taught me how to cure diseases.’ (5) 

The goddess even has her own asteroid, one of those millions of pieces of rocky space debris that form the ‘Asteroid Belt’ in our Solar System,lying roughly mid-way between Mars and Jupiter. Its asteroid number 1122 Neith, designated 1928 SB and over 7 miles in diameter, discovered by the Belgian astronomer Eugéne Delporte on September 17th 1928 at the Royal Observatory of Belgium and named for the Egyptian goddess. Asteroids are given names as well as numbers, and whoever discovers one can put forward a name for it, under guidelines from the International Astronomical Union.

We shall end on a rather interesting archaeological note. The famous ‘Rosetta Stone’, a stele made of black granodiorite, with its inscription duplicated in Hieroglyphic, Demotic and Ancient Greek script, is thought to have been most likely originally displayed in the temple of Neith at Sais, and removed to nearby Rashid (Rosetta) when the temple was destroyed. That makes sense, given the short distance between the two. On July 15th 1799 French soldiers of Napoleon’s expeditionary army were strengthening the defences of Fort Julien, near Rashid, when they came across it and noticed the inscriptions, which they realised were important. How right they were, since the stone became a vital part of the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs, especially in the pioneering work done by Jean-François Champollion in Paris during the 1820’s. (6)

 

References:

 1   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neith

Neith - Wikipedia

en.wikipedia.org

Neith (/ n eɪ θ / or / n iː θ /; also spelled Nit, Net, or Neit) is an early goddess in the Egyptian pantheon, said to be the first and the prime creator.She is the patron deity of Sais, where her cult was centered in the Western Nile Delta of northern Egypt and attested as early as the First Dynasty.


. This page was last edited on 12 March 2018, at 19:38.

2     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneith.  

Merneith - Wikipedia

en.wikipedia.org

Merneith (also written Meritneith and Meryt-Neith) was a consort and a regent of Ancient Egypt during the first dynasty.She may have been a ruler of Egypt in her own right, based on several official records – if this was the case, she may have been the first female pharaoh and the earliest queen regnant in recorded history.


This page was last edited on 22 November 2017, at 00:53.

3     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neith-(wife-of-Pepi-II)  This page was last edited on 24 June 2017, at 19:30      

4     https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neith.   This page was last changed

Neith - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

simple.wikipedia.org

Neith was one of the earliest goddesses of ancient Egypt.She was the patroness of the city Sais in the River Nile Delta. Several Egyptian queens of the first Dynasty were named after her.


on 29 March 2014, at 14:43.   

5     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sais-Egypt. This page was last edited on 31 January 2018, at 15:01.

6    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta-Stone.   This page was last edited on 2 April 2018, at 14:35.

(All the above accessed on April 3rd 2018)