The Enigma of Nut, Sky-goddess of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian cosmos: goddess Nut (sky) with Qeb (earth) reclining. Shu, standing, representing air with ram-headed god on either side. From Greenfield Papyrus (funerary papyrus of the Princess Nesitanebtashru) 970 BC

In the West, we are used to male deities ruling the heavens.

We have grown so accustomed to this way of comprehending myth that we associate everything to do with the sky, including stars, rulerships, astrological lore, etc., with a male-centered agonism placing Ouranos and his battle with his son Kronos, at the center of astrology’s founding myth.

We even think Ouranos, reconfigured as Uranus, “rules” astrology, that’s how intricately connected with astrology this myth has become.

The realm of air has come to symbolise intellect, in the hierarchical tradition of placing that which is above (the heavens, obviously) over that which lies below (earth). We all “know” which is “better”—air functions of rationality and logic, and all that is associated with supposedly typical “male” functioning—are valued more highly over the body and the instinctive, which we have long learned to relegate to the “female”.

Existing in fascinating contradistinction with male-centered Greek and Roman myths of the rulership of the skies is the feminine energy personified by Nut, protector of the heavens for the Ancient Egyptians.

Nut was born from the union between her father, god of air Shu, and her mother, goddess of moisture or dew, Tefenet. In the picture above, you see Shu placing Nut above her brother, Qeb/Geb, who lies beneath her, representing the earth and all humans it is Nut’s role to protect.

This role of protector is not how we think of the male air/sky deities in Greek mythology. We think of them more as adversaries, those which humans spar with, rather than those who will take care of us.

You can’t honestly see Uranus as a protective influence, can you? No. His role is to inspire, or shock, or revolutionize—these are not comforting thoughts, and most astrologers pretty much dread a Uranus transit, unless they like the idea of radical shifts in consciousness and unexpected change that could take almost any form.

Nut’s role inverts Western logic. Does Nut seem dominant to you, since she is above her brother, and he is below? Does it seem as though a female figure ‘should’ be the one who protects the earth, that the earth always represents a womb-image, or is that what we’ve been taught to think?

Interestingly, for the Egyptians, Nut’s role was primordial. It mattered tremendously to them that a beneficent being hovered over them (as opposed to lying under them), ready to protect the soul as it ascended to heaven.

For the Egyptians, their body might lie interred in the ground, mummified or preserved, but it was the soul that truly mattered, and one’s soul ascended to the stars; it was not trapped on earth. Therefore, the stars, the heavens, and all that existed above, was of greatest importance.

For the Egyptians, the stars were seen as eternal, so Nut’s body, portrayed as the star-filled sky, symbolised eternal life. Her body formed the protective barrier fending off the forces of Chaos, so she made it possible for the Cosmos to maintain its unity.

Imagine Ouranos performing this role… you really can’t, can you? We don’t see the Greek sky god as being capable or interested in taking care of humans. Perhaps he was the first truly narcissistic Greek god?

Important to the desire feminists have had to appropriate Nut’s story and sell it as a parable of female power, never forget that it is her father who places her into the night sky, thereby granting her the role of humankind’s protector.

It is an unfortunate truth that not every goddess has self-generating powers. To be truly powerful, it can be argued that an entity should function autonomously, but Nut is a construct of her father, Shu, god of the air.

Without him, she would not have the power she does have, much like Athena’s reliance on her father Zeus for her powers. Although Ancient Egyptians existed in less politically restrictive societies for women, it’s wise not to forget that being a goddess did not necessarily mean you were independent of male influence.

Be that as it may, Nut is highly unusual in the mythological pantheon, in her role as sky-goddess who is also protector. Ultimately, I think what we have done is create a false construct, in that we have learned to associate the sky with all that is masculine.

Nut challenges that belief, leaving us to wonder why we do these things—why we persist in associating a symbol with a gender, and why it matters so much if the gendered prejudices we have do not hold up when they are analysed?