Nut: The Egyptian Sky Goddess

Nut (Nwt), the Egyptian sky goddess, is often pictured stretched over the world as she forms the heavens above. Each morning she gives birth to the sun, depicted below as a red disk that travels along the length of her body until it is swallowed whole each evening. The sun then travels through her body, a journey through the Egyptian underworld, until he is born again the following morning.

Nut 2

Nut is also often pictured hovering over her brother, husband and lover Geb, who forms the land beneath her. They are born from a union between the primal god Shu who symbolizes the wind and air, and the goddess of moisture Tefnut. The love between Nut and Geb is so deep that their father Shu is forced to hold them apart, otherwise nothing would form or grow.

Nut 1
(Image from the Greenfield papyrus located in the British Museum)

Nut is also the mother to the living gods, lives that were almost not to be. Ra, the sun god, became enraged and jealous when he heard of her pregnancy. Worrying that her children would usurp his monopolized power, Ra cursed Nut disallowing her to give birth on any day of the year. Desperate, Nut turned to Thoth, the god of wisdom, and asked for his advice. Thoth decided to help Nut and challenged the moon to a game, a game in which he beat the moon over and over.

Each time Thoth won a round he would take a tiny bit of moonlight as his winnings, until he had saved enough to fashion 5 new days. As these days weren’t technically days of the year, Nut was able to give birth to her five children: Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis and Nepthys.

The basis of this mythology is reflected in the traditional Egyptian calendar, which is made up of 3 seasons, each broken up into 4 months of 30 days each, resulting in a 360 day standard monthly calendar. In addition, there are 5 intercalated days which form their own sacred month. These are known as the five Epagomenal days, days on which each of the birthdays of the five gods are honored.

While Ra would remain a significant god for the Egyptians, it is the complex relations of his siblings that would form the backbone of one of the greatest love, birth-death-rebirth and revenge myths ever told…

But that’s a tale for Epagomenal days yet to come.

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