In ancient Nubia, the name Anuket, in Greek Anukis, stood for the patron deity of the Nile River. This deity is normally depicted as a beautiful woman wearing a crown of reeds and ostrich feathers in the company of a gazelle.
Like many of the deities who found their way into the Egyptian pantheon from the South, the goddess Anuket was conceived of as a Nubian deity who was adopted by the Egyptians as one of the most important of the deities associated with the Nile River. For many ancient Egyptians, the Nile River seemed to originate at the sixth cataract (inaccurately called the first cataract) because of the vast cauldron of water that swirled around the huge stones in the river. There was a magnificent drop in the river as it made its way downstream from Upper Egypt, and the water appeared to boil in rushing waves and speedy rapids that churned out of the complex of rocks. Other ancient Egyptians knew that the river came from much farther south and that the name of the deity most responsible for it had to be Nubian.
Thus, Anuket took the form of being one of the triad of deities at the great temple of Elephantine. Alongside Khnum, or Khenemu, and Sati, Anuket oversaw the fertility of the lands next to the Nile. Indeed, Anuket was worshipped as the great nour-isher of the farms and fields because of the annual inundation of the Nile that deposited the heavy layer of black silt from Upper Egypt and Nubia on the land. The meaning of Anuket is “embrace,” and in many instances one can see that the idea of silt being deposited on the banks of the river was like an embrace of a much-admired friend and benefactor. The people worshipped Anuket as the great giver of the fertile soil because in her natural form as the inundation she surrounded the river and the source of the people's nourishment.
The main temple of Anuket was in Sahal in Nubia, although she had been worshipped for thousands of years throughout lower Nubia. The temple at Elephantine was important as the most significant temple for Anuket in ancient Egypt. Yet one does read that at the temple of Philae dedicated to Auset (Isis) Anuket was associated with Nebhet and Neith. This is to be understood in the sense that, depending on the nome or region, the people were able to substitute the names of the gods for each other. Thus, it was not uncommon to find that Khnum was seen as a form of Ausar and Sati and Anuket related to Auset and Nebhet.
Clearly, Anuket and Auset may be conflated as when Anuket wears the disk and horned headdress associated with Auset and is called in the temple texts “the lady of heaven, mistress of all the gods, giver of life and power, and granter of all health and joy of the heart.” Thus, this Nubian goddess is the great cosmic embracer of all lands and people affected by the inundation. She represents the comforting waters of the Nile as a mother's arms are the comforters of a child.



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Further Reading

  • Armour, R. (2004). Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: American University Press.
  • Asante, M. K. (2000). Egyptian Philosophers. Chicago: African American Images.
  • Hornung, E. (1996). Conception of God in Ancient Egypt. The One and the Many. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.