Egyptian Gods: Meskhenet
Meskhenet is the ancient Egyptian goddess of childbirth. She is also the creator of Ka, a part of the soul of man to which Meskhenet will breathe into each person at the moment of his or her birth. She is one of the very few deities that have been worshipped since the earliest of times in Egypt. She is depicted as woman with a brick for a head or a brick with the head of a woman protruding from it. A tile ending with a woman’s head known in the “Book of the Dead” as cubit-with-head may also represent her. Most often, she is seen with her symbolic headdress – two loops on top of a vertical stroke that resembled that of a cow’s uterus. Her name may also be spelled as Mesenet, Meskhent or Meshkent all of which mean, “Birthing Place”.
Ancient Egyptians were believed to be very family oriented. However, since infant mortality in those times was been high, the coming of a baby presented both a reason for jubilation and fear for parents. They called upon and worshipped several deities including Meskhenet to facilitate a smooth childbirth. In this aspect, Meskhenet was a divine midwife. Women squatted on a pair of bricks known as birthing bricks to deliver a baby. These bricks were believed to be representation of the goddess. This sealed her association with other goddesses of childbirth, Hathor and Tawaret.
As the creator of the Ka, she was a goddess of fate connecting her with Shai, the god of destiny who would determine the length of life of a person, and Renenutet, the goddess who will give children their true names. In fact, in the story of Radjeddet and her triplets found in the papyrus of Wescar, she assisted in their birth and foretold their destiny as future pharaohs. In the fifth dynasty, the triplets Sahure, Userkaf, and Neferirkare Kakai were the first pharaohs. In this aspect, she also became the patron and protector of newborn babies and mothers. In fact, in one of the stories in the tomb of Hatshepsut, she said that Meskhenet promised to protect her like Ra.
She also plays a significant role in the Hall of Judgment. Together with Shai and Renenutet, Meskhenet stayed near the scale where the hearts of the people will be weighed against the feather of Ma’at. She is believed to testify on the character of the deceased while living. After the judgment, she assists in the rebirth of the soul as he enters the kingdom of Aaru for eternal life. In this duty, she resembles a goddess of rebirth. This also signifies that she is a protective deity from birth to death.
As a goddess of rebirth, she is the first wife and consort of Andjety, the god of rebirth in the Underworld – a role eventually assimilated by Osiris.
Despite her many roles, there is no specific evidence to the cult following of Meskhenet in Egypt. No temples were made in her honor and she was not associated with any region or city. However, proof of her importance as a deity is apparent in the songs and hymns dedicated to her. She also appears on birthing bricks found all over the country.