Egyptian Gods: Anuket

Anuket is an Ancient Egyptian goddess of the Nile River especially in the southern area of the Elephantine Island (starting point of the Nile’s journey towards Egypt) and its associated inundation. The two tributaries of the river in that region are believed to be her outstretched arms. Her name means “the embracer” because the Nile nourishes the fields through its floods byway of rich silt deposits. She comes by different titles including “Lady of Embracing” or “She Who Embraces”, “Nourisher of the Fields”, “Giver of Life”, “Lady of the Sky”, “Princess of the Gods” and “She Who Shoots Forth” (because of the flooding). She has darker title as “She Who Strangles” showing her dual nature and partly due to her association to Hathor in Thebes. She is known by other names including Anket, Anukis, and Anqet.

The Greeks equated her to the goddess Hestia for being an avowed virgin and to Artemis for her hunting skills.

Anuket is believed to be the daughter of the Satis, a southern goddess of fertility, of the flooding of the Nile as well as its cataracts and Khnum, the god of the source of Nile. Together, Anuket, Satis, and Khum form the triad protector of the Nile River especially in the southern region near the border of Nubia.

Anuket has the body of a woman with the head of the gazelle, or a woman with a headdress made of ostrich feathers or sometimes simply just a gazelle. Because of this, she is associated with swift moving things like arrows and gazelles because of the river’s flow. In this form, she is seen holding a papyrus scepter and the symbol of ankh, the symbol of life (perhaps due to her being a water goddess). Her headdress is often seen with the uraeus, the cobra of Lower Egypt.

The start of the annual flooding of the Nile signified the commencement of the Festival of Anuket held in several parts of Egypt. People threw coins, jewelry, gold and other precious gifts to honor her and to thank her life-giving waters and for a year of bountiful harvest in the fertile agricultural lands. Eating of certain fish meat, which was considered a taboo throughout the whole year due to the sanctity of the fishes, was allowed during this period.

By the time of the Ptolemaic era, her title “the Embracer” and her fertility duties, led to her installation as the goddess of lust. This started her association with the cowrie shells that resembled the female organ of copulation. In the New Kingdom, she was depicted as suckling the pharaoh.

Originally, many believed she was the daughter of the sun god, Ra, However, her ancient association with Satis prevailed leading to the subsequent change in parentage. Later, she became closely associated to the goddess Nephthys because of her parentage’s association with Isis and Osiris.

She is worshipped more predominantly in Nubia (now part of Sudan) with her temple and cult following based in Elephantine (Abu Island in the past).