Nit (Neith), Goddess of Weaving, War, Hunting and the Red Crown,
Creator Deity, Mother of Ra
by Caroline Seawright ( )
Nit (Net, Neit, Neith) was the predynastic goddess of war and weaving, the goddess of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt and the patron goddess of Zau (Sau, Sai, Sais) in the Delta. In later times she was also thought to have been an androgynous demiurge - a creation deity - who had both male and female attributes. The Egyptians believed her to be an ancient and wise goddess, to whom the other gods came if they could not resolve their own disputes.
Generally depicted as a woman, Nit was shown either wearing her emblem - either a shield crossed with two arrows, or a weaving shuttle - or the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. Nit was probably linked with the crown of Lower Egypt due to the similarities between her name, and the name of the crown - nt . Similarly, her name was linked to the root of the word for 'weave' - ntt (which is also the root for the word 'being'). She was also often shown carrying a bow and arrows, linking her to hunting and warfare, or a sceptre and sceptre and the ankh sign of life. She was also shown in the form of a cow, though this was very rare.
In late dynastic times there is no doubt that Nit was regarded as nothing but a form of Hathor, but at an earlier period she was certainly a personification of a form of the great, inert, primeval watery mass out of which sprang the sun god Ra...
-- The Gods of the Egyptians, E. A. Wallis Budge
As the mother of Ra, the Egyptians believed her to be connected with the god of the watery primeval void, Nun. (Her name might have also been linked to a word for water - nt - thus providing the connection between the goddess and the primeval waters.) Because the sun god arose from the primeval waters, and with Nit being these waters, she was thought to be the mother of the sun, and mother of the gods. She was called 'Nit, the Cow Who Gave Birth to Ra' as one of her titles. The evil serpent Apep, enemy of Ra, was believed to have been created when Nit spat into the waters of Nun, her spittle turning into the giant snake. As a creatrix, though, her name was written using the hieroglyph of an ejaculating phallus - - a strong link to the male creative force a hint as to her part in the creation of the universe.
According to the Iunyt (Esna) cosmology the goddess emerged from the primeval waters to create the world. She then followed the flow of the Nile northward to found Zau in company with the subsequently venerated lates-fish. There are much earlier references to Nit's association with the primordial flood-waters and to her demiurge: Amenhotep II (Dynasty XVIII) in one inscription is the pharaoh 'whose being Nit moulded'; the papyrus (Dynasty XX) giving the account of the struggle between Horus and Set mentions Nit 'who illuminated the first face' and in the sixth century BC the goddess is said to have invented birth.
-- A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, George Hart
There is confusion as to the Emblem of Nit - originally it was of a shield and two crossed arrows. This was her symbol from the earliest times, and she was no doubt a goddess of hunting and war since predynastic times. The symbol of her town, Zau, used this emblem from early times, and was used in the name of the nome of which her city was the capital. The earliest use of this Emblem was used in the name of queen Nithotep, 'Nit is Pleased', who seems to have been the wife of Aha "Fighter" Menes of the 1st Dynasty. Another early dynastic queen, Mernit, 'Beloved of Nit', served as regent around the time of king Den.
Her most ancient symbol is the shield with crossed arrows, which occurs in the early dynastic period... This warlike emblem is reflected in her titles 'Mistress of the Bow... Ruler of Arrows'.
-- A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, George Hart
The later form of the Emblem is what some people believe to be a weaving shuttle. It is possible that the symbols were confused by the Egyptians themselves, and so she became a goddess of weaving and other domestic arts. It was claimed, in one version of her tale, that she created the world by weaving it with her shuttle.
She was linked to with a number of goddesses including Isis, Bast, Wadjet, Nekhbet, Mut and Sekhmet. As a cow, she was linked to both Nut and Hathor. She was also linked to Tatet, the goddess who dressed the dead, and was thus linked to preservation of the dead. This was probably due to being a weaver goddess - she was believed to make the bandages for the deceased.
She might have also been linked to Anubis and Wepwawet (Upuaut), because one of her earliest titles was also 'Opener of the Ways'. She was also one of the four goddesses - herself, Isis, Nephthys and Serqet - who watched over the deceased as well as each goddess protecting one of the four sons of Horus. Nit watched over the east side of the sarcophagus and looked after the jackal-headed Duamutef who guarded the stomach of the dead. Also, during the earliest times, weapons were placed around the grave to protect the dead, and so her nature of a warrior-goddess might have been a direct link to her becoming a mortuary goddess.
Her son, other than the sun god Ra, was believed to be Sobek, the crocodile god. She was regarded as his mother from early times - the two were mentioned as mother and son in the pyramid of Unas - and one of her titles was 'Nurse of Crocodiles'. She was also regarded, during the Old Kingdom, as the wife of Set, though by later times this relationship was dropped and she became the wife of Sobek instead. In Upper Egypt she was married to the inundation god, Khnum, instead.
"Give the office of Osiris to his son Horus! Do not go on committing these great wrongs, which are not in place, or I will get angry and the sky will topple to the ground. But also tell the Lord of All, the Bull who lives in Iunu (On, Heliopolis), to double Set's property. Give him Anat and Astarte, your two daughters, and put Horus in the place of his father."
-- Nit Addressing the Gods, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, RT Rundle Clark
By Greek times there was a great annual festival in honour of Isis-Nit. Part of the festival, recorded by Herodotus, said that the people lit their houses with lamps and torches that were fuelled by oil mixed with salt. The lamps and torches were kept burning until the morning, while the people themselves feasted.
A protectress of Osiris, the pharaoh and the dead, she guarded the coffin and one of the canopic jars along with a son of Horus. She wove the linen bandages for the dead, protecting the body from decomposition. Linked to royalty since the 1st Dynasty, she was a guardian of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt itself. She used her arrows to put evil spirits to sleep, and thus was a goddess of the chase and of warfare. She was thought to be the water from which Ra was born, becoming the mother of Ra and thus of the gods themselves. Eventually she became the creatrix, the great creator, who was neither male nor female, but a combination of both. Despite the attempt at Iunyt to give her northern origins, where she was the wife of Khnum, she was a goddess of the delta and of Upper Egypt itself. She was 'Everything that has been, that which is, and everything that will be', the female creator god of Egypt.