Neith Weaver of the Cosmos


Neith, Weaver of the Cosmos
Weaving in Ancient Egypt

Notes for a Presentation Given by Linda Iles

Fellowship of Isis Convocation
Isis Oasis, Geyserville, California
October 5 - 8, 2007
10:00 am, Saturday

Part I. Weaving the History of Neith
Neith and the Libyan Berbers

Ancient Civilization in the sub Sahara of North Africa


The origins of ancient Egypt are shrouded in mystery. Their culture and religious writings seemed to spring up overnight, which has long puzzled archaeologists. New findings are changing their view of the development of human society in north Africa. They have found an ancient civilization which predates the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. A civilization which was until very recently, entirely unknown.

The evidence has gradually been uncovered over the past fifty years. This culture once spanned the northern Sahara region of Africa, concentrated in the central area. It was widespread and highly developed. Few people have heard of it – but findings are indicating that this central Saharan people may have been a source of origin for at least part of the culture, rituals and deities of the ancient Egyptians.

There is an abundance of rock art found all over the central Sahara from Libya to Egypt to Mali. The rock art depicts elephants, crocodiles, dogs, hippos and rhinos - animals who do not live in the desert. Scenes of hunting and rituals are shown, with men wearing animal masks. There are representations in rock art of dog-headed human figures which resemble Anubis, and a type of stamped pottery decoration later found in the southern Nile valley.

This ancient art provided clues to the activity this region once enjoyed. It piqued the curiosity of archaeologists, who eventually came to dig.

The society was nomadic. It consisted of groups of animal herders who traveled all over the region. They appear to have had a culture that was uniform throughout north Africa. Even though their culture reached its peak 6,000 years ago, these people have left behind evidence which indicates a fairly complex world view.

A complete mummy has been found from this culture that is 5,500 years old, dating to about 3500 BCE which pre-dates the earliest known comparable findings in ancient Egypt. It is the body of a small boy, whose remains were preserved through a very sophisticated technique which could only have been accomplished as the result of a long tradition of mummification. The body was found in the central Sahara in a place called Uan Muhuggiag. This discovery challenges the previously held position of the ancient Egyptians as the first in north Africa to mummify their dead. A sophisticated art of mummification was not practiced in ancient Egypt until the time of the Old Kingdom, 2686- 2134 BCE.


NOTE: (Discovered in 1958 by Professor Fabrizio Mori. The mummy displays a highly sophisticated mummification technique, and at around 5,500 years old. Although the Italian team from the university of Rome “La Sapienza”, has since discovered other mummified tissue, they have not yet discovered another complete mummy in the region. Investigations in the area continue under the direction of Dr Savino di Lernia and Professor Mario Liverani.)


The Sahara desert was alive and green at that time, with trees, grasses and abundant water. It was a lush savannah landscape, but gradually the area became desiccated. Drought came to the once fertile Sahara and brought this ancient society to an end. The necessity for adequate water forced these people to break apart into smaller groups and disperse, taking their culture to other parts of Africa. For those who traveled east, the fertile Nile valley was an obvious destination. Around 6000 years ago people from this shattered civilization arrived in the Nile Valley adding their cosmology, deities and rituals into what was to later become the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Today archeological teams from Italy and the United Kingdom are using the latest satellite technology to clarify our picture of human culture in the central Sahara. Satellite pictures lead to the discovery of another lost Libyan civilization which thrived from 1500 BCE -500 AD, that of the Garamantes in the Fezzan region.

NOTE: (Professor Mauro Cremaschi of CIRSA (University of Milan and University of Rome “La Sapienza”) heads the Italian Climatology team which focuses on the Acacus area of Libya. Dr Kevin White (Reading University) heads an English team focusing on the nearby Fezzan region. The Fezzan project, headed by Professor David Mattingly (University of Leicester) focuses on the Garamantes civilisation.)

The peoples of both these civilizations are known as Berbers, sometimes Libyan/Berbers. Genetic evidence indicates that most North Africans whether they consider themselves Berber or Arab are predominantly of Berber origin. Populations ancestral to the Berbers have been in the area since the Upper Paleolithic era, when they expanded west from an eastern origin, along the southern rim of the Mediterranean Sea, beginning 50,000 years ago. The language of the Ancient Egyptians is an Afro-Asiatic language most closely related to Berber and Semitic and Beja.

NOTE: (The language survived until the 5th century AD in the form of Demotic and until the late 17th century AD in the form of Coptic. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3200 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known.)


Origins of Neith Attributed to the Libyan Berbers

The Berbers of Libya today are nomadic and fiercely independent. They live a completely separate life from the rest of the Libyan population. The Berbers are matriarchal and are known to have had fierce women leaders. History records that the first Arab invasion into their territory in 700 AD was fiercely resisted under the leadership of a female warrior and queen named Kahina. She and her warriors succeeded in driving the Arabs back.

The Berber people known as the Tuareg live in the Sahara near the Hoggar mountains. Their culture like that of other Berbers is matriarchal. The women of the Tuareg have a strong voice in their political affairs. The Tuareg people maintain that their ancestress was a woman and that they were once ruled by women. These queens were called Tamenokalt. According to their traditions their female ancestress possessed many characteristics of an Amazon queen. Her name was Tin Hinan.

The tomb of Tin Hinan exists, and has been examined by archeologists. It is located in Abalessa, the ancient capital of the Hoggar region inhabited by the Tuareg. The Tuaregs say that Tin Hinan came in the company of her maid-servant Takamat from Tafilalet in South Morocco to the Hoggar region. There she became the first Queen of the Tuaregs and her fame was so great, that even today the Tuaregs call her “Mother of Us All.”

Her sepulcher has long been a place of pilgrimage and worship, the Tuareg practiced dream incubation and slept in her tomb in order to find healing. The body of Tin Hinan was found when the grave was excavated by archaeologists in 1925 - 1926. She was lying on a finely carved wooden bed and was covered by jewels. She had seven silver bracelets on her right forearm and on her left forearm seven gold bracelets. Even though the Tuareg knew her tomb and body contained great wealth, it was never plundered. This proves the loyalty and love shown to her by her people.

The Goddess Neith is believed to have originated with the Libyan/Berber people of North Africa. In the pre-dynastic period of Egyptian history, She is represented as a Goddess of war and the hunt. There is a famous inscription which reads Neith of Tjehenoe  (“N.t Thnw,”) at the 5th dynasty sun temple of Niusserre. Tjehenoe was a name used by ancient Egyptians for Libya.She arose in the north western area of the Delta. Her sacred city of Sais is located in Nome 5, in the northern delta area of Lower Egypt. The Egyptologist Wm. Flinders Petrie pointed out that in the pre-dynastic era, there was an area called Nome 3, located in the western delta region which was referred to as Libya by the Greeks. Sometime in the New Kingdom it was named Ament. This clarifies the statement made by the Egyptian priests to Solon when they were relating their history of Atlantis and said that the lost continent was even larger than their “Nome Three named Libya.”

Neith may correspond to a Goddess whose people, the Phoenicians, were originally of Berber ancestry, the Goddess Tanit of Carthage. The name “Ta-Nit” in ancient Egyptian translates as “Land of Neith.” The associations of Neith with Tanit have been well documented. However, there is another Goddess of the Libyan Berbers, who also shares many interesting attributes with Neith. She is the Goddess Ngame of the Akan of Ghana.

The Libyan Berbers and the Akan

According to their oral tradition, the people who founded the great Akan States in Ghana formerly lived along the Niger Bend roughly near Timbuktu. They fought and lost against invading Moslems and were forced to move further south. The Akan say that their ancestors lived once in the “White Desert” or Sarem, which they also refer to as ‘the country of the sand’, which we call the Sahara.

They have within their oral traditions a place name, variously it is represented as Djadu, Djadom or Diadom, which has been identified by modern researchers as the Oasis of Djado situated in the Eastern Sahara. The modern day Tuaregs of Ayir, Fezzan and Tebu call this place Agwas, Gua and Braun, respectively. All three of these names, are names of tribes of peoples found among the Akan. Can this be a coincidence?

The ancestors of the Akan were of Eastern Libyan Berber stock, and known as the Garamantes or Moors in Europe. Their Akan descendents have preserved customs and traditions from their Berber ancestry. Reseachers who have studied the Akan believe their culture is essentially pre-Arab North African in character, and that the claim of the Akan, that their ancestors had been of a white race and originally came from the Sahara, is likely to be true.


Part II. Neith and Ngame The Divine Archers

Creatresses of Life, Mother Goddesses and Queens
Ngame Supreme Moon Mother Goddess of the Akan


The Akan believe that in the beginning a Mother Goddess, visible as the moon, gave birth to the universe. Her name is Ngame, which means “shining one,” “splendor” or “brightness.” She is the Mother of the Sun.

Ngame is a Lunar Creator Goddess who, as the “Ever Ready Shooter,” shot arrows infused with her kra or life force into the blood-streams of men and beasts and into plants, everything living upon the earth is infused with the kra of Ngame’s arrows. As “Ever Ready Shooter,” Ngame is named“Atoapoma”.

Neith as the Divine Creatress

Neith was described as sending “sparks” into the waters of Nun to create life from the inertness of the primordial waters. She is described as the Mother of the sun god Ra. Neith, shown in the form of a cow, often with a line of stars across her back, is the celestial cow in the Ogdoad creation myths of Hermopolis. We know that the cow was a symbol of Motherhood in ancient Egypt. Neith as the starry cow was named ‘Mehetweret’ (MHt wr.t), and was in this form, the “Mother of Ra,” and described as the “Great Cow Who gave Birth to Ra” and the “Cow of Heaven.”

Keys to Neith’s mode of creation may be present in the Egyptian language itself. The Egyptian word for ‘rays,’ as related to the rays of the moon, is stwt. The verb which derives from this term can also mean ‘to shoot’ particularly in the sense of a bow and arrow.

NOTE: (The ancient Egyptian “stwt” - according to Raymond O. Faulkner’s “A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian” ‘stwt’ means ‘rays’ as in rays of the sun or moon or rays of light. The same hieroglyphs that form the root of ‘stwt’ are used in ‘arrow’ and ‘dart’, and the words ‘target’ and ‘shooting’. These are all listed on pages 252 - 253 of Faulkner’s dictionary. His hand drawn hieroglyphs along side the definitions, illustrate their conceptual and linguistic relationship.)

Water as the Creative Element

Among the Akan, one of the first duties of a Queenmother was to plant a fig tree, the gya dua kra, or ‘fire tree’ so called because of the red flesh of the fig, reminiscent of the fire of the kra or life giving essence of Ngame. This tree became a sacred place.

Fire was the creative element personified in the spirit realm of Ngame, but on earth it was water. In times of drought the Queenmother, surrounded by young girls of her own house, would propitiate Ngame by pouring the last remaining rain water into a clay pot which she poured at the site of the fire tree as a libation. These rituals were for women only. Women were seen as the vessels of life and of life giving water through the breaking of their water during child-birth. This provided a deep connection to the life giving and creative force of water as viewed by the Akan.

The name of Neith may be linked to a word for water - nt  . She was the personification of the primordial waters of creation in the Ogdoad mythology. Neith as Mehetweret walked out from the waters of Nun carrying Ra as a sun disc between Her two horns. As Mehetweret she is titled “The Great Flood,” “The One Who Belongs to the Floods,” and “Cow Goddess of the Great Flood.” She personifies the primeval waters and the force of creation that sprang from those waters. There is a famous bed formed by two cows with sun discs carried in their horns, found in the tomb of Tutankamun. The cows are depictions of Neith as Mehetweret.

Neith appeared as the celestial cow of the primeval waters in the Ogdoad creation myths of Hermopolis. Mehetweret comes to us from the same area of Lower Egypt as Neith. In later periods, when members of the ancient Egyptian priesthood did not know how to read hieroglyphs, and positions in the priesthood were bought and sold instead of being passed down to those who were learned in the traditions and mysteries, there arose a confusion, and Hathor’s form as the Celestial Cow became confused with that of Mehetweret. She is referred to in the Pyramid and Coffin Texts.

NOTE: (Both Ngame and Neith gave birth through parthogenesis - meaning without the aid of a partner or spouse.)


The Sky Goddess
Opener of the Sun’s Paths

Ngame created the skies and opened the ways for the sun’s path across the sky. Because the Sun had been brought forth by Ngame, the Sun was titled “Son of the Moon.” The sun was ‘re-born’ at dawn every day through the power and protection of Ngame. (Graves, “Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology”)

A symbol of Ngame is a diagonal cross, like the letter ‘X.’ The Ghanian scholar and statesman J. B. Danquah wrote: “The crux decussata or Female Cross (Mberam) (X), in several of it’s forms, is shown as ‘the symbol for Ngame as the creator of the revolving universe’” and that the four points of this cross defined the sun’s position points at the equinoxes and solstices.

From pre-dynastic and early dynasty periods, Neith was referred to as “Opener of the Ways.” As a Sky Goddess She was responsible for opening the cosmic pathways. Neith presides over the unseen sky that exists below the horizon, as opposed to Nut who is the manifested night sky and Hathor, the manifested sky of the day, Wepwawet (wp wA.wt) in ancient Egyptian.

Another title of Neith in this role was “Opener of the Sun’s Paths in all Her Stations.” Egyptologists believe this title refers not only to daily risings and settings of the sun, but to key points of the rising and setting sun at various places along the horizon during the year, notably the equinoxes and solstices. These solar gateways existed beyond the boundaries of our world, the brilliant play of color in the sky at dawn and sunset was thought to offer a glimpse of the glory of the sky realm of Neith. It is at these changing points on the horizon that Neith reigns as a form of Sky Goddess, beyond the sky that is seen. This is why Neith says of Herself “I come at dawn and at sunset daily.” And if the Egyptologists are correct, the crossed arrows of Neith could have the same meaning as the ‘female cross’ of Ngame.


Queens on Earth and in Heaven
In Times of Peace and War

Queenmothers of the Akan

The Akan were matriarchal, they were ruled by Queenmothers who were of the royal line, seen as the embodiment of their Moon Goddess Ngame. These women were believed to be infused with the kra of Ngame and as an earthly incarnation of the Goddess. So Ngame has a strong connection to the women of the royal house of the Akan.

 

Neith and the Royal House of Ancient Egypt

In the early dynastic periods in Lower Egypt, there is a preponderance of theophoric names - in which ‘Neith’ appears as an element. Neith’s name occurs in nearly forty percent of early dynastic names - including those of four queens of the First Dynasty. This places special emphasis not only on the importance of Neith in this period, but Her connection to the royal house. Her Red Crown headdress was the Crown of the royal house of Lower Egypt, and this headdress bore a variant of her name, transliterated as both “net” and “nit" One of Her titles is “The One Who belongs to the Red Crown.” The first ruler of a unified Egypt is King Hor-Aha or Narmer. He was a warrior king from Upper Egypt. His Queen was named Neith-Hotep, her name suggests a connection to Lower Egypt. The unification of Egypt may have begun with a military venture that perhaps ended with a diplomatic marriage.

NOTE: ('nt' meaning water; 'ntt' meaning that or that which is or everything which is; 'Nt' meaning Net or Nit (ancient Egyptian form of the name Neith); and 'nt' the name of the Red Crown of Lower Egypt; all come from the same root grouping of hieroglyphic signs, which illustrates their conceptual and linguistic relationship. See Budge, Volume I, p. 399 and Faulkner, pp. 125 and 142. Professor M. Dominique Mallet in his work entitled “La Culte de Neit a Sais” published by E. Leroux, Paris, 1888, observed that the famous quote recorded by Plutarch “I am All That Has Been, That Is, and That Will Be. No mortal has yet been able to lift the veil that covers Me.” is a development of a play upon the ancient Egyptian form of Her name Nt (Net) and the ancient Egyptian words nt or ntt, i.e. a person or thing which is, or which exists, or which has being. The ancient Egyptians were very fond of plays upon words and frequently used them in all forms of their literature, including religious texts. see Mallet, p. 191, text in French. According to the Beinlich word list (listing of Ancient Egyptian words known to Egyptologists announced by Horst Beinlich and Friedhelm Hoffmann in Gottinger Miszellen, 1994) a more correct notation of 'ntt' is 'nt.t'. It is still given the same meanings as Mallet and Faulkner, that and that which is.)

Two other lesser known first dynasty queens bore the name of Neith - Herneith, whose tomb is located in Saqqara (3000 BCE) and Naktneith, who is only known from a stela from the funerary complex of Djer at Umm-el-Qaab.

Queen Mer-Neith whose name means “Beloved of Neith” dates from the First Dynasty. (2950 BCE) Her tomb was discovered at Abydos by Wm. Flinders Petrie in 1900. Her funerary enclosure was so grand that he thought at first he had discovered the burial of a king. She was the very first woman in the history of ancient Egypt recorded as regent. In addition to her tomb at Abydos she was given a funerary monument at Saqqara.

Neith was one of the four Goddesses mentioned in the Pyramid Texts who protected the royal throne. “Fetch me to your side, so that I may kindle a light for you and that I may protect you, even as Nu protected these four goddesses on the day when they protected the throne, namely Isis, Nephthys, Neith and Selket-hetu.” (Utterance 362, section 606)

She is one of the Goddesses present to witness the crowning of the Ascended King in the Pyramid Texts: “I appear as King … I have assumed the White Crown and the Green Crown … My mother is Isis, my nurse is Nephthys … Neith is behind me, and Selket is before me.” (Utterance 555, section 1375)

Akan Queenmothers as War Leaders

The Akan Queenmother was once the supreme war-leader. She most likely accompanied her warriors into battle. A famous historic example is that of Amoanimaa, Queenmother of the Amakum clan of the Akan of the Kumasi region. In 1660 she dressed like a man, with a belt full of knives and fought the Queenmother of a neighboring state for the possession of a golden mortar. In 1900 the Queenmother of the Ejisu, whose name was Yaa Asantewaa, roused the whole Asante nation to rebel against the British, and the war was subsequently named after her.

Even as late as this date, women who were past the age of child-bearing fought ferociously in the advance guard, armed with guns and urging the men to charge against the enemy. They were buried with full military honors by their people.

Warlike Nature of Neith

Neith taught warriors how to make weapons, and She guarded their bodies when they died. She instructed hunters and blessed their hunt. As Divine Protectress of the Royal House She is shown as a royal uraeus, with the fire and fury of the sun, not unlike the Eye Goddesses of ancient Egypt, Hathor, Bast, Sekhmet and Tefnut.

Even though Neith was ‘warlike’ and ‘fierce,’ She became so in the cause of protecting the established order. And She was deemed powerful enough to offset the negative aspects of such gods as her son Sobek and the god Set.

Neith is the mother of Sobek, the crocodile god, a fierce deity who personified the destructive power of water. One of his titles was “Rager.” In the Pyramid Texts we find the following passage: “I appear as Sobk son of Neith, I eat with my mouth … I am the owner of seed who takes women from their husbands whenever he wishes, according to his desire.” At first glance this text may appear to have an erotic tone. But the ancient Egyptians were very fond of puns, they loved to employ double meanings in their literature. In those times, as is still true in rural areas today, the people had to obtain their drinking water directly from the Nile. This was the job of women and it could prove dangerous if they didn’t spot a lurking crocodile in time. (Utterance 317, section 510)

“The Archaic Set was a Moon-god; and so violent in character that he is said to have been born by bursting through his mother’s side. (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris) As a sky-Fertility-god, he was also the shadow that darkened the moon; meteorites symbolized his destructive power In the Pyramid Texts, Neith’s name is coupled with Set’s, as though she were his wife." (The Akan of Ghana, Eva L. R. Meyerowitz) 

We know that sometimes Deities were paired in the religious texts to effect a balanced manifestation of power: “Content are Shu and Tefenet; Content are Geb and Nut; Content are Osiris and Isis; Content are Set and Neith …” (Pyramid Text Utterance 577, section 1521, Faulkner)

The Role of Leader and Decision Maker

The Queenmother of the Akan was assisted in her reign by a council of head-women from other clans and sub-clans. The council could only suggest - for the word of the Queenmother, as living representative of the Goddess Ngame, was final.

The Deities of ancient Egypt looked to Neith for counsel. In “The Contendings of Horus and Set” She backed the claim of Horus as rightful heir to the throne. She proved herself a no nonsense type of Goddess, for she told the assembled Deities that if they didn’t uphold her decision “I will cause the sky to crash to the earth.”  There is more than one version of this story. In some Neith instructs Ra in his decision, in some Thoth goes to Neith directly.

I firmly believe now, that the references to Neith coming from Libya are absolutely correct. The social structure of the Libyan Berbers and the Akan people, coupled with comparisions between Neith and Tanit as published by Eva Meyerowitz and those of Neith and Ngame which I have researched and present here, provide convincing evidence of Her Libyan origin and helps to consolidate the various attributes of Neith into a cohesive context - woven into a continous whole.

Sources

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Note:

Besides the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, weaving shuttle, bow and arrows, the large “Click Beetle”(Agrypnus notodonta LATR) common to the Nile Valley, is associated with Neith. Along with other members of this insect family (Elateridae), this beetle possesses luminous features - in other words part of it shine in the dark.

This beetle is referenced to Neith in her role as “Opener of the Ways” (wp wA.wt) and may be the basis of the “Festival of Lights” or “Festival of Lamps” associated with Her, mentioned in late Greek sources. The reproductive cycle of this beetle, includes burial of its larvae within the earth, which later emerge as fully developed adults - another feature with may help to identify it with the creation and funeral aspects of this goddess. Neith’s role as “Opener of the Ways” dates from the predynastic and early dynasty periods, as a psychopomp in cosmic and underworld pathways.

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