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Cobra and Creatrix: the goddesses Wadjet and Neith and their role in Ancient Egyptian life
2x Sunday Afternoons, 11th & 18th June
Times: 2-5pm (UK Times) to join live.
Please note: We love to see you for the live lectures, but if you have to miss one, don't worry, you can of course catch up (or watch again) at your leisure via the recordings. You will have access to the recorded lectures for a whole month after the last live lecture. Recordings will be available until 18th July.
This short course will focus on the two Egyptian goddesses Wadjet, the cobra goddess of Lower Egypt and Neith, the creator goddess of Sais, also in the Delta. The course will look at the origins of each goddess and the development of their cults and roles through the long era of Egyptian history. The cult temples and material culture associated with each goddess will be investigated in order to understand how the two goddess complemented and supported the religious system. The discussion will use archaeological evidence from cult temples and shrines such as those at Bouto, Imet and Sais and written material and texts in temples such as that at Esna. There will also be a focus on the goddesses and their role in funerary material such as in tombs and funerary complexes at Saqqara and Thebes. Material culture from excavations and museum collections all over the world will be investigated. The role of the goddesses in the political system, the economic importance of their cults and their theological significance in the Egyptian system will all be explored. The response of the ordinary people to these two dangerous beings will also be explored using pottery figures and faience amulets in order to understand how the dangers of everyday life could be navigated and, sometimes, controlled.
Although the first afternoon will focus on Wadjet and the second on Neith, the discussion will combine aspects and elements of the goddesses throughout.
Wadjet was a cobra goddess but was also depicted as a lion-headed female goddess with a sun-disk and cobra on her head. She was the patron goddess of the Delta or Lower Egypt and as such a complementary goddess to Nekhbet the vulture goddess, the patron of Upper Egypt. Wadjet had cult temples at Buto and Imet, among others, but her ‘story’ is not well known and her relationship with other deities such as Nekhbet seems under-developed. The discussion will look at the material from her main cult centres and her origins in the political development of the United Egypt. The material from household cults of cobras will also be discussed in order to understand whether Wadjet was just an invention to emphasise the duality of Egypt, or whether she was THE goddess, whose form was used as a symbol for every female deity.
Neith is often presented as huntress goddess, but her origins may lie in a creature that was not considered appropriate when the Egyptian religious system was more fully developed at the beginning of the Egyptian State. She was always depicted as a woman and was the mother of the crocodile-sun god Sobek-Ra and thus a creatrix goddess. Her cult centre was at Sais, the capital of Egypt in the 26th Dynasty, and renowned throughout the ancient world for its House of Life and medical knowledge. Little remains of the temple at Sais, but some of her ‘mythology’ is preserved in the complementary temple at Esna in Upper Egypt. The information will be used to look at Neith’s role in the complex theological system, her political importance in the Early Dynastic period and her influence in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first millennium BCE when she was compared to Athena.
- if you have a fear of snakes, the presentations and discussions (especially of Wadjet) will include images of real snakes as well as ancient depictions.
Associate Professor Penny Wilson
Penny is Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology in the Dept. Archaeology at Durham University where she has worked for the last 20 years and before then she was Assistant Keeper in the Dept. Antiquities, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. She studied at Liverpool University, where she completed her PhD, now published as ‘A Ptolemaic Lexikon’. She is currently Director of the Delta Survey Project for the Egypt Exploration Society and field director of the Royal City of Sais Project. Her interests include religious life in Ancient Egypt, settlement archaeology and the Late period to Late Antique Nile Delta. Her publications include field reports on the Sais excavations, and Delta survey work as well as ‘Sacred Signs’ an introduction to the role of hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt.
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