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In Egyptian mythology, the great goddess Nut was one of the primeval deities. She had a strong influence, and people worshipped her throughout ancient Egypt. Her offspring would impact the culture for centuries. Let’s take a closer look at her myth.
Who Was Nut?
According to the Heliopolitan creation myth, Nut was the daughter of Shu, the god of the air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. At the beginning of her story, she was the goddess of the night-time sky, but later, she became the goddess of the sky in general. She was the sister of Geb, the god of the earth, and together they formed the world as we know it.
In some accounts, Nut was also the goddess of astronomy, of mothers, stars, and the universe. She was one of the Ennead, once the nine most important gods of Ancient Egypt. They were the gods of Heliopolis, the birthplace of all deities, and the city where the creation allegedly took place.
In most of her depictions, Nut appeared as a nude woman arched over Geb. Since Geb represented the earth and Nut the sky, together they formed the world. Sometimes the god of air, Shu, was shown supporting Nut. In some cases, she also appeared as a cow since that was the form she took when she carried the sun. The hieroglyph of her name is a waterpot, so several portrayals show her sitting with a water pot in her hands or on her head.
The Myth of Nut and Geb
According to the Heliopolitan myth, were born tightly embracing. Nut and Geb fell in love and because of their tight embrace, there was no place for creation between the two of them. Because of that, their father Shu had to separate the two of them. By doing this, he created the sky, the earth, and the air in the middle of them.
Most depictions of Nut, Geb and Shu show Nut arched over Geb, forming the sky. Geb reclines below, forming the earth, while Shu stands in the middle, separating the two with his hands, symbolizing air.
From the marriage of Nut and Geb, four children were said to have been born – Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys. All of these gods, to which we should add the creator god Atum, formed the so-called Heliopolitan Ennead.
Another creation myth tells of the creator god Ra being afraid of Nut’s children taking over his throne, as an omen had informed him. As a result, when he discovered she was pregnant, Ra forbade Nut from having children within the 360 days of the year. In ancient Egypt’s calendar, the year had twelve months of 30 days each.
Nut sought the help of Thoth, the god of wisdom. According to some authors, Thoth was secretly in love with Nut, and so he did not hesitate to help her. Thoth started playing dice with Khonsu, the god of the moon. Every time the moon lost, he had to give some of his moonlight to Thoth. In this way, the god of wisdom was able to create five extra days so that Nut could give birth to her children.
In other versions of the story, Ra commanded Shu to separate Nut and Geb because he feared the power her children would have. Ra did not accept her children and rejected them from the very beginning. However, they would become part of the Ennead and influence Egyptian culture for centuries.
Nut’s Role in Ancient Egypt
As the goddess of the sky, Nut had different roles in Ancient Egypt. She formed an arch over Geb, and her finger and toes touched the four cardinal points of the world. In her depictions over Geb, she appears with a body full of stars, signifying the night sky.
As the great sky goddess, thunder was supposed to be her laughter, and her tears were the rain. She was the sky both during the day and the night, but after the night she would swallow every celestial body and had them emerge again after the day.
1. Nut and Ra
In the myths, Ra, the sun god and the personification of the sun, traveled across Nut’s body during the day, which signified the sun’s journey across the sky at daytime. At the end of his daily duty, Nut swallowed the sun and he/it would travel through her body only to be reborn the next day. That way, the journey began all over again. In this sense, Nut was responsible for the division of the day and night. She also controlled the regular transit of the sun across the sky. In some sources, she appears as the mother of Ra due to this process.
2. Nut and Rebirth
According to some sources, Nut was also responsible for the rebirth of Osiris after his brother, Set, killed him. Osiris was the rightful ruler of Egypt since he was the firstborn of Geb and Nut. However, Set usurped the throne and killed and mutilated his brother in the process.
3. Nut and the Dead
Nut also had associations with death. In some of her depictions, the authors show her in a coffin to represent her protection over the dead. She was the protectress of the souls until their rebirth in the Afterlife. In Ancient Egypt, people painted her figure inside the lid of sarcophagi, so that she could accompany the deceased in their journey.
Nut had to do with many of the affairs of Ancient Egypt. As the protectress of the dead, she was an ever-present figure in the funeral rites. She appeared in the sarcophagi paintings with protective wings or with a ladder; her ladder symbol appeared in the tombs too. These depictions represented the journey of the souls to rise to the afterlife.
As the goddess of the sky, Egyptian culture owed Nut the day and the night. Ra was one of the mightiest gods of Egypt, and yet he traveled across Nut to fulfill his role. She also had to do with the cosmogony and the beginning of the universe.
One of Nut’s names was she who bore the gods for she bore the second line of Egyptian gods. This title could also refer to Ra’s daily birth from Nut in the mornings. Due to the resurrection of Osiris, people referred to Nut as she who holds a thousand souls. This was also due to her connection with the deceased.
In the myth of her giving birth to her children, Nut changed how the calendar worked. It might be thanks to Nut that we have the division of the year as we know it today. The extra days she needed to give birth changed the Egyptian calendar, and were considered festive days at the end of the year.
Nut is the offspring of Shu and Tefnut, primordial gods of Egypt.
Nut’s consort is her brother, Geb.
Nut’s children are Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys.
Nut’s symbols include the sky, stars and cows.
The maqet refers to Nut’s sacred ladder, which Osiris used to enter the skies.
Nut represents the sky and the celestial bodies.
Nut was the barrier between creation and chaos and day and night. Together with Geb, she formed the world.
Nut was one of the primeval deities of Egyptian mythology, making her a central figure in this culture. Her associations with death made her a big part of traditions and rites; it also widened her worship in Egypt. Nut was responsible for the stars, the transit, and the rebirth of the sun. Without Nut, the world would have been a completely different place.