Renenutet (also known as Termuthis, Ernutet, Renenet) was a cobra goddess from the Delta area. She was a powerful goddess whose gaze destroyed her enemies. However, the ancient Egyptians had no reason to fear her, as she offered them protection in many areas of their life. Also, she was a goddess of nourishment and the harvest in ancient Egyptian religion. The importance of the crop caused people to make many offerings to Renenutet during harvest time. Initially, her cult was centred on Terenuthis in Monufia Governorate, Egypt.
She was depicted either as a woman, a cobra, or a woman with the head of a cobra wearing a double plumed headdress or the solar disk. Renenutet was also depicted with a lion’s head, like Hathor in her form of the “Eye of Ra”. She became a fearsome fire-breathing cobra who could kill with one gaze in the underworld.
The verbs ‘to fondle, nurse, or rear’ help explain the name Renenutet. This goddess was a ‘nurse’ who cared for the pharaoh from birth to death. Her name may derive from the words “rnn” (to bring up, or nurse) and “wtt” (snake), but others have suggested that “rnnt” can mean “fortune” or “riches”.
A further possibility is that the first syllable is “rn”, translated as “name”. This determination would undoubtedly fit her role in naming children, but those who support this view tend to translate her name as “She who is in the name”, which does not fit the rest of the hieroglyphs. This interpretation brings us to a further possibility. Some sources refer to a separate snake goddess named Renenet, who was a goddess of nursing. They may well be the same, or they could have become merged over time, but it is also possible that the two have become confused by historians.
Renenutet was sometimes considered the wife of Geb (the earth god) and the mother of Nehebkau (the snake god who guarded the entrance to the underworld and protected Ra as he passed through every night). More usually, Renenutet was seen as the mother of Nehebkau, who occasionally was represented as a snake also. When considered the mother of Nehebkau, Renenutet was seen as having a husband, Geb, who represented the Earth.
Still, other traditions held that she was married to Sobek. Sometimes, as the goddess of nourishment, Renenutet was seen as having a husband, Sobek. He was represented as the Nile River, the annual flooding of which deposited the fertile silt that enabled abundant harvests. The temple of Medinet Madi is dedicated to both Sobek and Renenutet. It is a small and decorated building in the Faiyum.
She was the female counterpart of Shai, “destiny”, who represented the positive destiny of the child. Along with this, Renenutet was also the Thermouthis or Hermouthis in Greek. She embodied the fertility of the fields and was the protector of the royal office and power.
She was the mother of Nepri, the personification of corn, who was closely associated with Osiris. However, as an example of perfect motherhood, she was merged with Isis (Osiris’s wife) as Isermithis or Thermouthis.
Goddess of childbirth
To the ancient Egyptians, names were words of great power. As the Goddess of suckling, Renenutet gave each newborn baby a secret name and its mother’s milk. She was given the epithet “She Who Rears” in this role. She also protected children from curses. The child was said to “have Renenutet upon his shoulder from his first day”. In this role, she was linked with Meskhenet, a goddess of childbirth, who oversaw the labour.
Goddess of fate
The ancient Egyptians believed that their image and name must survive for a person to enjoy eternal life. As Renenutet gave each person their name, she was linked with Shai, as a goddess of fate. Ramesses II stated that he was the “Lord of Shai and Creator of Renentet” as an indication of his power to control his destiny.
Renenutet and Shai were often depicted with Thoth and were sometimes named “the hands of Thoth”. In the Litany of Re (New Kingdom), she appears as the “Lady of Justification” in the underworld, associating with the goddess Ma’at.
Goddess of plenty
According to the Pyramid Texts, Renenutet was the goddess of plenty and good fortune. Snakes were often seen in the fields around harvest time, hunting the rodents who would threaten the crop. As a result, Renenutet was considered to protect the harvest and given the epithets “Goddess of the Double Granary”, the “Lady of Fertile Fields”, and the “Lady of Granaries”.
Goddess of inundation
Renenutet was also linked to the coming of the inundation and, by the later period, presided over the eighth month of the ancient Egyptian calendar known to us by the Greek name “Parmutit”.
Renenutet imbued the Pharoah clothing with the power which repelled his enemies. She was seen as the pharaoh’s protector in the netherworld from the early period, with the epithet “Nourishing Snake”. By the New Kingdom, her power extended to the mummification ritual. She infused the mummy wrappings with magical power, and in the Ptolemaic Period, this role was honoured with the epithet “The Lady of the Robes”.
Later, like a snake goddess worshipped over the whole of Lower Egypt, Renenutet was increasingly associated with Wadjet, Lower Egypt’s powerful protector and another snake goddess represented as a cobra. Wadjet was the cobra shown on the crown of the pharaohs. Eventually, Renenutet was identified as an alternate form of Wadjet, whose gaze was said to slaughter enemies.
Amenemhet III and Amenemhet IV dedicated a temple to Renenutet, Sobek, and Horus at Dja (known to the Greeks as Narmouthis or Harmounthis and now called Medinet Madi), which was expanded during the Ptolemaic Period. In this temple, an annual harvest festival was held in her honour, during which a quantity of the best quality produce was dedicated to her, and throughout Egypt, shrines to her were built in areas where wine was brewed.