Egyptian Gods: Tawaret

Tawaret is the Egyptian goddess of fertility, maternity and childbirth as well as the patron of women and children. She is traditionally believed to be the wife of the demon god Apep. She is often seen as represented by some of the most ferocious yet respected animals in Egypt – she has the head and body of a pregnant hippopotamus, the back of the crocodile and the arms and legs of a lioness. She is seen as a hippopotamus with one arm resting (a symbol of protection) and the other carrying the ankh (the symbol of life) or the ivory knife used to drive away evil spirits. Her name, may also be spelled as Tuat, Taueret, Taurt, Ta-weret, Tawaret, Tuart, and Taueret, and in Greek, Thoeris and Toeri, translates into “she who is great”.

Originally, she was viewed as a maleficent and dangerous deity. Like Bes, she was a considered as a ferocious demon with nurturing and protective qualities. She resides in the northern sky abode of her husband, Apep, thus she is known as the Nebetakhet or the “Mistress of the Horizon” – a group of stars of Ursa Minor and Draco that serves as guardians of the northern sky. In some legend, Apep could only come out during the night, so Tawaret was considered the evil that dwelt during the day.

However, during the Old Kingdom, her role significantly changed from an aggressive force into a protective deity. Like the hippopotamus that represent her, she is protective of her young thus becoming the patron of childbirth. She became the mother goddess who becomes the wet nurse of the pharaoh. Eventually, her nurturing role extended to all households as she helps both the rich and the poor alike.

During childbirth, she is believed to be the deity who wards off evil spirits who intends to harm the baby and the mother. She also became of assistance in matters of pregnancy and sexuality thus forming a link between her and Hathor. In this aspect, she may be seen as a woman wearing her headdress bearing the Sa for protection. Expectant mother often brought with them amulets depicting the goddess to protect them. Her depiction are often motifs to birth beds. She was also associated with magic wands and knives, often made of hippopotamus ivory, which were used to fend off evil especially during labor. Facience vases likened to her shape are used to serve milk in order to add extra potency to the drink.

Her fertility duties focused on the inundation in the area of Gebel el-Silsila. In the Book of the Dead, she is mentioned as the guardian of the mountain paths in the West that led to the Underworld. She also assisted souls into passing safely into the dangerous and frightening land of Osiris especially to the recently deceased.

Her area in the northern sky and her hippopotamus appearance linked her to Set. She is believed to be a concubine of Set who is loyal to Horus. In one of the myths, she helped Isis protect her young child from the attacks of Set by trapping him in the northern sky.

She was also related to Sobek probably because of her crocodile features. In this form, she has a small crocodile on her back. Sometimes, she is the wife of another demon god, Bes, who is linked to childbirth.

She was also known by two other names: Ipet meaning harem and Reret meaning the sow. Her cult achieved significant importance until the Ptolemaic era and Late Period especially in the area of Karnak.