Category Archives: Egypt

Reliable and Readable Scholarship on Ancient Egypt: A bibliography

Re-Osiris

This bibliography was posted this week at Return to Mago

“I have compiled a list of six well-sourced books written by women that I believe will help Witches, Pagans, and Goddessians in their quest to understand ancient Egyptian thought….”

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Crocs with Style

"Goddess, I'm beautiful!" Nile crocodile photo by Stuart Burns.

“Goddess, I’m beautiful!” Nile crocodile photo by Stuart Burns.

From my forthcoming book:

The crocodile is an appropriate mother deity not only for her position as apex predator (and thus ruler) of the Nile, but for her maternal instincts. Crocodiles are more like their bird cousins than other reptiles in taking responsibility for their young. Mothers do not feed while they are nesting, and they guard their eggs continually except for brief periods when temperatures rise so high that they must enter the water to cool off. Nile crocodiles prefer colonial nesting, although predation by humans discourages this behavior. Eggs are buried in sand, and babies squeak as they are hatching. As soon as the mother hears the squeaks, she uncovers the eggs and carries the babies in her mouth to the water. During their first months of life, juveniles seek out and receive protection from adults, usually but not necessarily the mother.

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The Myriads of Wenut

haretext

If you’re wondering who Wenut is (and most people are), this is the name of the Egyptian hare goddess.

The Egyptians had a hare goddess?

Yes, her name is also spelled Wenet, if that clarifies things for you.

Wenut is considered an obscure goddess, and she gets little or no mention in my library of books on ancient Egypt, not even the books on animals or goddesses. Yet I have seen a fair number of leporids in Egyptian art, usually presented without explication. In some cases I am not sure that I’m really looking at a hare, because the desert foxes also have long ears, and the Jungle Cat is sometimes drawn with exaggerated ears to distinguish it from the Libyan Wildcat. Yet Egyptian drawing conventions are so standardized that I’m confident that most of these long-eared creatures are hares.

Hare funerary offering. 1500 BCE.

Hare funerary offering. 1500 BCE.

One explanation for the ubiquity of the hare is that it is the hieroglyph for a common verb or sound. For example, Hilary Wilson in Understanding Hieroglyphs writes that the symbol for the hare corresponds to the sound wen and is the verb for “being.” To me this explanation begs the question. Why would the hare correspond to a common verb if it were unimportant?

Furthermore, one of the provinces in northern Egypt was called Hare, and the city of Hermopolis within this province had a hare as its emblem. Hermopolis had the main temple to Wenut.

The litmus test for whether an animal (or anything else) had religious importance in Egypt is its presence in funerary materials, and here, too, the hare does not disappoint. Hares appear as votive offerings, and are mentioned in funerary texts as well as illustrations accompanying those texts. Spell 17 of The Book of the Dead says the “Swallower of Myriads” lives in the Lake of Wenut. There are other references to Wenut in the Book of the Dead and the Coffin Texts. Wenut is not prominent in funerary literature, to be sure, but neither is she trivial.

Cape Hare

Cape Hare

Meditating on Wenut, whose name means “the swift one,” is a reflection on the meaning of obscurity, for hares with their genius for camouflage have a tendency to hide in plain sight. Understanding Egyptian mysteries requires extraordinary perspicacity, because what is important is not so much hidden as overlooked.

March is a March Hare
Online Webinar
Monday, March 9, 2015
7:00 Eastern Time (Daylight Savings)
Cost $25
Webinar will be recorded

Register Here

Sources

Dunn, Jimmy. “El-Ashmuneim (Ancient Hermopolis)” in Tour Egypt. http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/hermopolis.htm

Germond, Philippe. An Egyptian Bestiary: Animals in Life and Religion in the Land of the Pharaohs. Barbara Mellor, trans. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

Houlihan, Patrick F. The Animal World of the Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Iles, Linda. “Wenet the Swift One” in Mirror of Isis vol. 5, Samhain 2010. http://mirrorofisis.freeyellow.com/id599.html

Bronze hare weight, Late Period.

Bronze hare weight, Late Period.

Goulet Jr., Ogden, et al, trans. The Egyptian Book of the Dead rev. ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015.

Lesko, Barbara. The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Wilson, Hilary. Understanding Hierogyphs: A Complete Introductory Guide. London: Brockhampton Press, 1993.

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Sun through the Zodiac

Nut as sky goddess. Note the red sun disks on her body and at her mouth and vulva.

Nut as sky goddess. Note the red sun disks on her body and at her mouth and vulva.


Happy Solstice everyone! This Sunday-Monday marks the time when, from our perspective, the sun is at its southernmost arc on the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere or its northernmost arc in the Southern Hemisphere.

Barbara Lesko in The Great Goddesses of Egypt shares this interesting perspective on the Winter Solstice:

A professional astronomer has recently published maps of the pre-dawn Egyptian sky as it would have appeared in the predynastic period on the morning of the winter solstice. The Milky Way exhibits an amazing likeness to the outsretched figure of the goddess Nut, with her feet on one horizon and her hands touching the other. The sun would have appeared in the winter solstice in the correct area of the figure’s anatomy to suggest to observers that it was being born by Nut. Nine months earlier, at the spring quinox, the sun began to rise an hour and a quarter after sunset in such a position that it appeared to fall into Nut’s mouth, which would have easily suggested the idea that the great female in the sky was swallowing the sun, only to bear him nine months later during the last days of what is now December.

Could this explain why the birth of the Sun King is celebrated at this time?

Here is another scientific explanation of sun movements and weather patterns.

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The Other Side of the Veil

Here is my interpretation of an ancient Egyptian poem from around 2000 B.C.E. The more literal translation comes from Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David.

The Goddess Maat

The Goddess Maat

Death is before me today
As a sick man recovering
returns to the out-of-doors

Death is before me today
As the myrhh-laden breeze
puffs the sails of ships along the river

Death is before me today
As the fragrance of lotus flowers
wafts over to the shore of drunkenness

Death is before me today
As a well-trodden path
leads a man home from war

Death is before me today
As a clearing sky
shows a man what he has forgotten

Death is before me today
As a man in captivity
pines for home

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Magical History of the Cat

Pregnant Lioness. Photo Robin Alasdair and Frederick Hutton.

Pregnant Lioness. Photo Robin Alasdair and Frederick Hutton.


Folk beliefs about the domestic cat have their roots in Egyptian lion worship. The famous cat goddess Bast was originally a lion goddess.

Registration is now open for the November 10 webinar “Magical History of the Cat.” The webinar will be happening at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. If you can’t make it then you can stream the webinar later, but you do have to register ahead of time.

I’ve made a website about the webinar that gives more information.

I will be at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saratoga, New York on Sunday October 19th from 4:00 to 6:00 signing books.

Note to my regular readers: I have several more posts about postmodernism, but I’m currently backed up with material, so I’ll be posting the next one sometime next month. Posting postmodernism sounds like a postmodern poem, but I won’t be writing it.

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