Nut, in Egyptian religion, a goddess of the sky, vault of the heavens, often depicted as a woman arched over the Earth god Geb. Most cultures of regions with rain personify the sky as masculine, the rain being the seed that fructifies Mother Earth. In Egypt, however, rain plays no role in fertility; all the good water is on the Earth (from the Nile River).
Nut (Ancient Egyptian: Nwt), also known by various other transcriptions, is the goddess of the sky, stars, cosmos, mothers, astronomy, and the universe in the ancient Egyptian religion. Egyptian religion is unique in the genders of its deities of Earth and Sky. Nut swallowed the Sun in the evening as the sky goddess and gave birth to it again in the morning. She was seen as a star-covered nude woman arching over the Earth or as a cow. She was depicted wearing the water-pot sign (nw) that identifies her.
The pronunciation of ancient Egyptian is uncertain because vowels were long omitted from its writing. However, her name often includes the unpronounced determinative hieroglyph for “sky”. Her name Nwt, also meaning “Sky”, is usually transcribed as “Nut”, and times appear in older sources such as Nusuch, such Nut, Nent, and Nuit.
She also appears in the hieroglyphic record by several epithets, not all of which are understood.
Goddess of the Sky
Goddess Nut is the daughter of Shu and Tefnut. Her brother and husband are Geb. She had four children–Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys–added Horus in a Graeco-Egyptian version of the myth of Nut and Geb. In addition, Goddess Nut is one of the oldest deities in the Egyptian pantheon. Her origin roots in the creation story of Heliopolis. She was originally the goddess of the nighttime sky but eventually became referred to as simply the sky goddess. Her headdress was the hieroglyphic of part of her name, a pot, which may also symbolize the uterus. Mostly depicted in nude human form, Nut was also sometimes shown in a cow whose great body formed the sky and heavens, a sycamore tree, or as a giant sow, suckling many piglets (representing the stars).
Nut’s sacred symbol was the ladder used by Osiris to enter her heavenly skies. This ladder symbol was called Maqet and was placed in tombs to protect the deceased and invoke the aid of the deity of the dead. In direct contrast to most other mythologies, which usually develop a sky father associated with an Earth mother (or Mother Nature), she personified the Sky and the Earth. Nut and her brother, Geb, may be considered enigmas in the world of mythology.
Nut appears in the creation myth of Heliopolis, which involves several goddesses who play essential roles: Tefnut (Tefenet) is a personification of moisture, who mated with Shu (Air) and then gave birth to the sky as the goddess Nut, who mated with her brother Earth, as Geb. From the union of Geb and Nut came, among others, the most popular of Egyptian goddesses, Isis, the mother of Horus, whose story is central to that of her brother-husband, the resurrection god Osiris. Set killed his brother Osiris and scattered the body over the Earth in 14 pieces. However, Isis gathers his parts up and puts them back together.
The myth of Nut and Ra
Ra, the sun god, was the second to rule the world, according to the reign of the gods. He decreed, “Nut shall not give birth any day of the year.” At that time, the year was only 360 days. Nut spoke to Thoth, god of wisdom, and he had a plan. Nut gambled with Khonsu, god of the Moon, whose light rivalled Ra‘s. Every time Khonsu lost, he gave Nut some of his moonlight. Khonsu lost so many times that Nut had enough moonlight to make five extra days.
Goddess Nut could have her children since these days were not part of the year. She had five children: Osiris, later ruler of the gods and then the god of the dead; Horus the Elder, god of war; Set, god of evil and the desert; Isis, goddess of magic; and Nephthys, goddess of water. When Ra found out, he was furious. He separated Nut from her husband Geb for eternity. Her father, Shu, was given the job to keep them apart. Nevertheless, Nut did not regret her decision.
Some of the titles of Nut
- Coverer of the Sky: Nut was said to be covered in stars touching the different points of her body.
- She Who Protects: Among her jobs was to envelop and protect Ra, the sun god.
- Mistress of All or “She who Bore the Gods”: Originally, Nut lies on top of Geb (Earth) and continually has intercourse. During this time, she birthed four children: Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. Plutarch mentions a fifth child named Arueris. He was the Egyptian counterpart to the Greek god Apollo, who was made syncretic with Horus in the Hellenistic era as ‘Horus, the Elder’. Rulers dedicated the Ptolemaic temple of Edfu to Horus, the Elder, and there he is called the son of Nut and Geb, brother of Osiris, and the eldest son of Geb.
- She Who Holds a Thousand Souls: Because of her role in the re-birthing of Ra every morning and in her son Osiris’ resurrection, Nut became an essential god in many of the myths about the afterlife.
Nut was the goddess of the sky and all heavenly bodies, a symbol of protecting the dead when they enter the afterlife. According to the Egyptians, the heavenly bodies—such as the Sun and Moon—would cross her body during the day. Then, they would be swallowed at dusk, pass through her belly during the night, and be reborn at dawn.
Goddess Nut is also the barrier separating the forces of chaos from the ordered cosmos in the world. Ancient Egyptians pictured her as a woman, arched on her toes and fingertips over the Earth; her body portrayed as a star-filled sky. Nut’s fingers and toes touched the four cardinal points or directions of north, south, east, and west.
Because of her role in saving Osiris, Egyptians saw Nut as a friend and protector of the dead, who appealed to her as a child demands from its mother:
O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.
Ancient Egyptians thought that Nut drew the dead into her star-filled sky and refreshed them with food and wine:
I am Nut, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil.
She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the deceased. The vaults of tombs were often painted dark blue with many stars as a representation of Nut. The Book of the Dead says:
Hail, thou Sycamore Tree of the Goddess Nut! Give me of the water and of the air which is in thee. I embrace that throne which is in Unu, and I keep guard over the Egg of Nekek-ur. It flourisheth, and I flourish; it liveth, and I live; it snuffeth the air, and I snuff the air, I the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, in peace.
Book of Nut
The Book of Nut is a modern title, known in ancient times as The Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars. This book is an essential collection of ancient Egyptian astronomical texts, perhaps the earliest of several such texts, back at least 2,000 BC. Being the sky goddess, Nut plays a significant role in the Book of Nut. The book covers the cycles of the stars and the planets and the timekeeping. The text also tells about other sky and Earth deities, such as the star deities and the decan deities.