Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jeudi: Great Spirits

Yesterday, December 8th, was equivalent to the date set aside in the Ancient Egyptian calendar for one of the many festivals of their goddess Neith. As with most of the pantheon of Ancient Egypt, Neith’s attributes built up over time, layer by layer, until by the New Kingdom she was recognizable to the Greeks as a distant cousin of their own Athena.

Originally, Neith was probably a foreign goddess brought to Egypt through trade or war. Patricia Monaghan, who literally wrote the book on the world’s goddesses, says in her Book of Goddesses and Heroines that Neith was the ancient “… essence of the tribal community perceived in its totems, two crossed arrows and a mottled animal skin.” These symbols, with the skin in the shape of a shield, almost always appeared in depictions of Neith up until the Amarna period.

Neith was worshipped as a creator of crafts and protector of property. She is a warlike goddess who will stand up to her worshipper’s enemies with shield and spear, but she is also the inventor of weaving who strung her loom and wove the world. By the late Middle Kingdom, Neith is called the mother of Ra and in this guise is given the form of a cow. Her priests and priestesses were doctors and wise women that Egyptians looked to for treatment in time of illness and help in childbirth.

At the height of her power, she was depicted wearing the combined red and white crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt and hailed as the Lady of the Throne. Her festival city was Sais, where bonfires and oil lamps were kept burning night and day to please the Lady of Light, a name that was probably related to her motherhood of Ra.

When the famous Greek historian Plutarch made his tour of Egypt, he wrote of the inscription on Neith’s temple which read:

I am all that has been, that is, that will be, and no mortal will be able to lift my veil.
Isis would assume a similar mantra as her worship spread around the Mediterranean and from there it would pass on to male deities of modern acquaintance. I bet you can think of some of them right now.

So today, before the sunset, raise a belated glass of your chosen beverage to Neith, the warrior mother who wove the world, then pour a little on the ground as an offering. Because all our ancestors are sacred.

Header: Sculpture of Neith c 600 BCE, currently in the Louvre, Paris


Timmy! said...

Interesting. Especially the part about the inscription on her temple. I wish I had read this before sunset, but I'll raise my glass to Neith tonight anyway, Pauline.

"Because all our ancestors are sacred." How very true.

You should show this one to Mairin too, if you haven't already. I think she would enjoy it.

Pauline said...

I like to find the similarities between dieties in all times and places. To me, it illustrates the fact that nothing is new or only, and that the one constant under the sun is change.

And you're right, our young Egyptologist would probably enjoy this one...