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THE TEMPLE OF TAWARET

 

Hippopotamus-goddess, protectress of women in child-birth.

Her name means "the great one", rendered into Greek as Thoueris. According to Plutarch, Tawaret was the concubine of the god Seth but deserted him for Horus' side in the dispute over the Egyptian throne. This episode perhaps reflected the differentiation between the beneficent Tawaret and the male hippopotamus as a manifestation of Seth, a destructive force for boats on the Nile,a nd in the cornfields adjoining the habitat of the Nile marshes.

Her iconography is composite : the head of a hippopotamus, the legs and arms of a lion, the tail of a crocodile and human breasts. This ferocious appearance deters malevolent forces from harming women at the time of labour and childbirth. Tawaret often rests one arm of the 'sa'-amulet which indicates  "protection".

Her well-disposed nature made Tawaret a great favourite with ordinary Egyptians. Charms of glazed composition in the shape of the goddess, with suspension loops, were manufactured on a large scale to be worn by pregnant women. In these figurines her association with childbirth is emphasised by the goddess's own fulsome belly. Vases moulded into the form of the goddess had a perforation at one of her nipples so that milk, magically endowed by being in the effigy of Tawaret, could be poured out to accompany a spell. In magical texts the goddess can be referred to as the "reret" or "sow", benign and protective towards the child Horus, and so invoked on behalf of children poisoned by scorpion stings.

Her antecedents can be traced back to the Pyramid Era in the form of Ipy. Her popularity throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms is not restricted to commoners : she is shown in graffiti on pylon VII of Karnak Temple at Thebes, an area from which the general populace were excluded. There are also fine statues dedicated to her by high officials such as Pabes, high Steward of Nitokris, Divine Adoratrice of Amun (dynasty XXVI).

Tawaret becomes a cosmic goddess in her title "mistress of the horizon" which emphasises her as the pharaonic constellation of the Hippopotamus, placed by the Egyptians in the northern hemisphere of the sky. An excellent painting of the goddess in this astronomical role is on the ceiling of the sarcophagus chamber in the tomb of Seti I (dynasty XIX) in the Valley of the Kings