The Goddess and the Lioness: Tefnut

From the Waite-Colman Smith Tarot

Feline imagery can be found throughout the mythic world, often associated with Goddesses.

Babylonian Inanna, Hindu Durga, Egyptian Sekhmet, even the Strength card in the Tarot all use feline imagery:

However, from a mythic (and perhaps historic) standpoint, the oldest of these Lion Goddesses was Tefnut, the mother of the Gods…


First there was Nun, the primordial waters.

Nun, who was mindless, inactive.

Out of those primal waters arose the first mound, the benben.

(if you look at the top of an Egyptian pyramid, you are looking at a representation of the benben)

Here, the self-made God, the first of all Gods, Atum, sat.

Despite his radiance, the Solar deity grew lonely.


Did he sneeze them out?

Did he spit them out?

Were they the result of his masturbation?

Did he copulate with his own shadow, and bring them forth?

All have been put forward in various Egyptian religious texts.

Regardless of their origin, two children came from this union:

Shu, the God of air.

Tefnut, Goddess of moisture, moist air, dew and rain.

Tefnut, with the head of a lioness.

Tefnut, whose name means “that water”.


Tefnut and her brother went exploring the abyss of Nu, vanishing into the darkness.

Like any parent, Atum grew concerned.

Eventually he unleashed his messenger, the Eye of Ra.

Burning through the abyss, it found the two children and brought them safely back to Atum.

And this is where the first humans came from:

Ra was so overjoyed to see his children, that he wept openly.

His tears, landing on the benben, mixed with the first soil, creating the first people.

Making Tefnut and Shu primary players in the human story.

However, their direct progeny would be just as significant for all life on Earth.


Tefnut gave birth to two children, Nut, Goddess of Sky, and Geb, God of Earth.

Nut and Geb proceeded to make love, an act which threatened to destroy everything in between them.

To preserve life itself, Shu stood between his two children, propping Nut into the air, allowing space to exist.

However, not before Nut gave birth, making Tefnut a grandmother.


Tefnut’s grandchildren via Nut and Geb were:

Isis, Osiris, Set and Nepthys.

This means that her great-grandson was Horus (or, by some accounts, Horus the Younger).

Isis and Osiris; still prayed to.

Horus; still worshiped.

Geb and Nut; still venerated.

Who remembered Tefnut?

No one.

So, she left, and took her pure waters with her,

the pure waters that came flowing from her vagina*

* [The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, trans R.O. Faulkner, line 2065 Utt. 685.]


Tefnut traveled to Nubia and assumed her feline countenance.

There, she devoured any being, human or divine, who crossed her path, similar to Hathor/Sekhmet.

There, she hid…

There, she was found by the Ibis headed Thoth.

It was Thoth who calmed her.

Thoth, God of language, knew the right word to appease Tefnut:

“Honorable”, he proclaimed her.

Worthy of honor, indeed…

With that word, Tefnut returned to Egypt.


In mythic circles, the sacred feminine is often reduced to a simple dyad, womb or tomb.

Other times, she is depicted as Maiden, Mother and Crone, the tripartite Goddess.

However, these archetypes focus on the generative – or non-generative – aspects of the feminine.

The lioness imagery provides for a different archetype, something far more powerful than either womb/tomb or Maiden/Mother/Crone.

Thoth used a word for Tefnut, honorable. Here’s another…


Yes, that’s the word.

ishtar gate
From the Ishtar Gate, the Lion of Ishtar, Babylon, 575 BCE.

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