Egyptian mythology is rich in symbolism and has a nearly endless line of gods and goddesses who populated the hearts and minds of ancient Egyptians for more than 3,000 years. Women held a particularly high status in mythology and were powerful symbols that guided the culture and religion of the time. Often, Egyptian goddesses held superior positions over male gods and were granted great power and influence. The duality of the female character in Egyptian mythology is interesting: many Egyptian goddesses were givers of life and encompassed the nurturing aspects of the female, while others were fierce warriors and defenders. Some Egyptian goddesses encompassed both aspects during the evolution that many of the goddesses underwent over centuries of worship.
Hathor, also known as Hwt-Hr, was considered a cow deity from approximately 2700 BCE. The cow is known throughout Egyptian mythology as a symbol of motherhood and fertility. She gives live-sustaining milk to mankind, much as the Egyptians believed Hathor did. Hathor is one of the primary Egyptian goddesses, and the Milky Way was personified by her, because it was often perceived as the milk emanating from a heavenly cow.
Later, Hathor became known as Mehturt, which translates to great flood. Water, another symbol of life and fertility, is important in Egyptian mythology. It was believed that Mehturt oversaw the annual changing of the Nile River, which was compared to the breaking of the amniotic sac during birth.
Nut was another important Egyptian goddess. Her name translates to night sky, and she was the goddess of the night sky, which included all of the celestial bodies. She aided in resurrection and rebirth and protected the earth from the cosmos. Another Egyptian goddess, Tefnut, was a goddess of fertility and water. Her name means moist waters.
Isis is perhaps one of the most well known of the Egyptian goddesses. She was the object of cult worship that reached far outside of Egypt, into Rome, Greece, Iraq and even England. She was the symbolic wife and mother of all, a deified queen. The cult worship of Isis continued until the sixth century.
Nephthys was a goddess of the air and sky. She was also considered the protector of a house. She was often depicted as a hawk, with outspread, protective wings. Eventually, she evolved into a vulture and was associated with decay and death. Out of this, she was associated with mourning, and those mourning the death of loved ones turned to her for comfort.
Neith was another of the Egyptian goddesses who represented protection. She was the goddess of hunting and war. She was said to make weapons and to protect the bodies of warriors.
Eventually, Neith's warlike identity gave way to a more peaceful one, and she became the goddess of weaving. Still, while portrayed as a weaver, she is shown holding weapons. She was also considered the protector of women and the womanly arts, as well as of marriage.
Sekhmet was the goddess of war for Upper Egypt. She avenged wrongs, ruled over menstruation and protected the pharaoh. She was another Egyptian goddess portrayed as a fierce protector, a violent adversary.
Bast protected Lower Egypt and was known as the “devourer.” She was often depicted as a lion and protected the pharaoh. At one point, she was the goddess of the sun, and later, the goddess of the moon.
Bast eventually evolved into being associated with cats and was often depicted as one. Egyptians deified cats and considered them to be excellent mothers and protectors. Mummified remains of thousands of Egyptian cats are proof that the animals were elevated to a high status. Bast was perhaps one of the most influential of the Egyptian goddesses, and her iconography is found throughout modern popular culture.
Although there were many other minor Egyptian goddesses and gods, most of the deities shared common attributes. They were either givers of life or fierce warriors or protectors. They all evolved over time to serve the current needs of their worshipers, and many of them remain powerful influences over cultures around the world, in both religion and mythology.