Egyptian Symbols: Menat

The menat is a heavily beaded necklace characterized by a crescent front, heavy collar and a counterweight at the back (to keep it in place) used mainly by the members of the elite in ancient Egypt. It is usually used as a ceremonial instrument, like the sistrum, associated with the goddess Hathor whose priestess and often seen holding the emblem. It may also be seen worn by queens and ladies in waiting who perform the functions of the priestesses. It is mostly used as a percussion instrument. The more familiar hieroglyph of the menat necklace is a newer version used during in the New Kingdom. The menat may also be known as the menit or menet.

The earliest representation of the menat appeared during the Sixth Dynasty and had been linked to the cow goddess, Hathor and her son, Ihy ever since. Hathor, with her epithet as the Great Menhit, used this necklace as a medium of transmitting her power. In most images, the goddess is seen offering the menat to the king (believed to be Horus) through the queen as one of her high priestesses. In fact, on the shrine of Tutankhamun, Ankhesenamon, his wife officiating as high priestess, was depicted offering the pharaoh the menat necklace. In this aspect, the necklace is associated with several concepts including potency, fertility, life, birth and renewal. During the festival of Hathor, her priestesses will shake in menat and sistrum in each household symbolizing favors of health and life.

In one story known as the Adventures of Sinuhe, the hero by the title’s name returns to Egypt after years of barbaric exploits in the lands of Asia. In order to be reborn into the Egyptian way of life, he is offered the menat necklace and the sistrum by the priestesses of Hathor upon her reception on the courts of the pharaoh.

The influence of Hathor extends further to the menat when it is used in amulets in mortuary settings especially during the New Kingdom. This time, the goddess serves as the goddess of the western necropolis performing the funerary functions associated with the rebirth and afterlife.

As the divine cow, Hathor is seen wearing the menat necklace. In the later years, other goddesses like Isis and Nut in their bovine forms are seen with the necklace attached to their necks.