Bes – Egyptian God of Fertility and Childbirth

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In Egyptian mythology, Bes was the god of fertility and childbirth. He protected households, mothers and children from disease and evil spirits. In later myths, Bes came to represent positive energy and goodness. Let’s take a look at the god of fertility and his role in Egyptian mythology.

Origins of Bes

Historians have been unable to trace the exact roots of Bes, but some say the god may have originated in Nubia, Libya, or Syria. Others dispute this theory and deduce that Bes was derived from other Egyptian gods of fertility. Bes’ female counterpart was Beset, and she had the task of keeping away ghosts, demons and spirits.  

Characteristics of Bes

In early Egyptian mythology, Bes was portrayed as a powerful and mighty lion. After the Third Intermediate period, however, he took on a more human form, with large ears, long hair and a beard. He held a rattle, a serpent, or a sword in his arms to symbolize defence and protection.

After Bes began to be worshipped by the Persians, he was depicted in Persian attire and headdress.

Bes as a God of Fertility

Bes aided the Egyptian goddess of childbirth, Taweret, by protecting and guarding new-borns from evil spirits. He also helped Tarawet by opening up the mother’s womb and preparing her for childbirth.

Across Egypt, there were birth chambers known as Bes’ abode, that treated fertility issues. Egyptian women would often visit the chamber if they had difficulties in giving birth. These chambers would be decorated with nude images of Bes and Beset to simulate sexual energy and fertility in the women.

Some of these chambers were present within temple premises, as fertility and birth were considered to be spiritual activities.

Bes as a Guardian and Protector of Children

Bes was often invoked in children’s lullabies to help protect them from evil spirits and nightmares. An image of Bes would be drawn on babies’ hands, to safeguard them from fear and negative energy. Bes also entertained and provided comic-relief to little children.

Bes guided young boys in becoming merchant priests. The job of a merchant priest was to regulate and protect temple goods.  Merchant priests often had the same body type as Bes and were thought to be a manifestation of the god himself.

Bes encouraged young girls and supported them in their domestic tasks and everyday chores.

Bes as a God of Protection

In Egyptian culture, Bes was worshipped as a god of protection. His statue was placed outside homes to thwart snakes and evil spirits.

Since Bes was closely integrated with the daily lives of people, his image was carved into objects such as furniture, beds, jars, amulets, chairs and mirrors.

As a god of safety and protection, soldiers etched images of Bes onto their shields and goblets.

Bes and Merrymaking

Bes was undoubtedly a fierce warrior, but this aspect of him was balanced by his joyous and cheerful nature. He was also a god of pleasure and merrymaking. During the New Kingdom, tattoos of Bes could be found on dancers, musicians and servant girls. There were also Bes masks and costumes that were used by professional performers, or given out for rent.

Bes and Hathor

In his feminine aspect, Bes was often depicted as Ra’s daughter, Hathor.  Hathor was notorious for her anger, and she often ran away with the Eye of Ra, to Nubia. When Bes didn’t take on the form of Hathor, he transformed into a monkey and entertained the goddess on her way back to Egypt.  

Symbolic Meanings of Bes

  • In Egyptian mythology, Bes symbolized fertility and childbirth. He was a close associate of Tawaret, the chief deity of childbirth.
  • Bes was a powerful symbol of good over evil. This is seen in the fact that he guarded babies and children from evil spirits and guided them on their paths in life.
  • Bes was an emblem of protection, as he guarded households and women from snakes and demons.
  • As a god of pleasure and merrymaking, Bes symbolized the cheery and carefree aspects of Egyptian culture.

Bes in Popular Culture

Bes appears in the comic series The Sandman: Season of Mists, by Neil Gaiman. He’s also a minor character in the fantasy series The Kane Chronicles. Bes appears in the video game Realm of the Mad God,  as a boss of an Egyptian themed dungeon.

In Brief

In Egyptian mythology, Bes was one of the most popular deities worshipped by the rich and poor alike. He was the most commonly found household god, and his image could easily be found in day-to-day objects and ornaments.