The ancient Egyptians worshipped the Egyptian goddess Anuket as the personification of the Nile River. People referred to her as the “Nourisher of the Fields”. Moreover, they also saw her as the deity who would protect women during childbirth.
Most importantly, the ancients viewed her as the protector of the lower cataracts of the Nile River. Cataracts are shallow lengths of the river that lie between Khartoum and Aswan.
Here several small stones break the surface of the water. Whitewater often punctuates these stretches of water, whereas other lengths have a smooth but shallow water flow.
Etymology and Iconography
During the ancient Egyptian time, people called the goddess Anuket, Anaka or Anqet. Her name translates to “Clasper” or “Embracer”.
Historians suggest that this could have referred to the embrace of waters of the inundation. Later on, the Greeks converted her name to Anoukis and spelt it as Anukis.
The Interpretation Greaeca considered her equivalent to Hestia or Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth, home and family. Moreover, some past imagery depicts her suckling the pharaoh during the New Kingdom. Later, people also viewed her as the goddess of lust.
Elephantine Triad of Anuket
Like her mother, Satet, people also considered Anuket as the goddess of the hunt of animals. According to legends, Anuket was a part of the Elephantine Triad.
This triad consisted of Khnum, the ram-headed god of fertility, Satet, the war goddess of the Nile inundation and their daughter Anuket, the goddess of cataracts.
Elephantine exists at Aswan, which stands at the border between Egypt and Nubia in Upper Egypt. It served as the cult centre for the gods mentioned above. The other Nile contracts are present in Nubia (present-day Sudan).
When the river Nile flooded, the water would enter Egypt after passing through Elephantine. History says that Anuket’s father, Khnum, guarded and controlled the river’s water. By the 18th century, this place became the cult centre for the three gods.
This triad protected Elephantine, the state’s capital, for several years. It also served as the military stronghold of the ancient Egyptian empire for many years.
Elephantine also fulfilled the purpose of being the centre of trade and commerce with the Nubians. Inscriptions show that a shrine or altar was dedicated to her by the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Sobekhotep III. Much later, during the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep II dedicated a chapel to the goddess. A temple dedicated to Anuket stands on the Island of Seheil.
Trading with Nubia probably contributed to the city’s name, Elephantine, since people from the ancient civilisation participated in a brisk trade of ivory on this island.
Imagery of Anuket
Images symbolise Anuket as a gazelle with a headdress made of tall ostrich feathers. The hieroglyphics used for her name translate to the letter A, water, feminine and seated goddess. Hence, she earned “Lady of the Gazelle” and “Mistress of Nubia”.
One could immediately recognise Anuket due to the striking headdress she wore. The inscriptions also depict her holding a spectre and the ankh symbol.
The distinctive and unusual headdress contained tall ostrich feathers. History connects Anuket closely with Nubia with titles such as “Mistress of Nubia”.
Historians called the crown base for her headdress as modius and used it for the wreath of both male and female gods. The symbol of Anuket, the gazelle, was also related to her mother, Satet.
Images depicted Satet as the antelope. One could find both the antelope and gazelle grazing on the banks of the river Nile.
The Water Goddess Anuket
The Nile cataracts can be pretty treacherous to conquer. Hence, it is of no surprise that traders and sailors worshipped the goddess Anuket. They left inscriptions on the rocks as a form of ardent prayer to Anuket.
The sailor did this to gain the favour of the deity, who would, in turn, provide them safe passage along the dangerous waters to Nubia. They did the same to ensure a safe return to Egypt when travelling through the cataract.
Different Associations of Anuket
Myths and ancient lores specifically connect Anuket with Setet Island and Elephantine. People considered her the goddess of everything located south of the Egyptian border.
Moreover, some places depict both Anuket and Satet as Khnum wives because of the merging of Khnum with Amun in Southern Nubia,
Initially, Lores showcases her as the daughter of Ra. However, with time the stories changed, and Anuket’s association with Satet became more firm.
When looking into the past, we can find that ancient Egyptian history termed Satet and Anuket the “Eye of Ra”. Also, ancient Egyptians called Sekhmet, Bast and Hathor by the same name.
Legends also link the mother-daughter with the royal cobra on the god’s crown (Ureas). It was only in the era of the New Kingdom that inscriptions placed Anuket in the Elephantine triad.
Along with her supposed father and mother, she protected the source of life for all Egyptians.
Later on, people identified Anuket with Nephthys at the temple “Per-Mer”. It happened due to Satet’s link with the goddess Isis and Khnum’s connection with Osiris. Hence, both Satet and Anuket are closely related to Isis.
The Festival of Anuket
People divided the ancient Egyptian calendar into three seasons. Historically, the ancients called Shemu (February-May) the beginning of the harvest season.
During this time, people celebrated the Festival of Anuket by carrying out magnificent river processions across the Nile River.
Moreover, this festival also honoured Khnum and Satet as the protectors of the Nile. People removed the statues of the gods and piously placed them on beautiful ceremonial barques. They carried barques on the shoulders of the priests to the bigger riverboats.
The massive processions had people of all kinds, including commoners, soldiers, priests, musicians and dancers.
The festival was a loud and joyful celebration where people ended up with feasts. The people also honoured Anuket by throwing gold and jewellery into the Nile River.
Ancient Egyptians owed their lives to the harvest brought along due to the lush Nile River. Hence, the gods and goddesses associated with the Nile held a unique position in the people’s hearts.
They considered Anuket a protective deity who would look after their journeys across the water. Anuket was not only a protector but also a goddess of fertility and harvest. Egyptians celebrated her with glorious processions that had many pomp and show.