Mut, whose name means ‘mother’, is usually depicted either anthropomorphically, wearing a vulture headdress and the double crown of Egypt united – the only Goddess to wear this crown regularly – or as a lioness-headed woman. Although the hieroglyphic sign of the vulture forms her name, she is not a vulture Goddess in the same manner as Nekhbet; rather, the vulture headdress seems to serve primarily, as in the case of other Goddesses who wear it, to signify the maternal quality, which must in Mut’s case, however, be primary. In the Instruction of Papyrus Insinger, the author remarks that “the work of Mut and Hathor is what acts among women,” (Lichtheim, vol. 3, p. 192) expressing his attitude that the contrasting maternal and sexual drives dominate the female psyche. Mut’s consort is Amun, with whom she is the mother of Khonsu. From the time of Hatshepsut onward, Mut is also regarded as the mother of the pharaoh. She almost always bears the epithet weret, or ‘great’, which, interestingly, when combined with mut can be read as ‘grandmother’. Mut is said to be “the mother who became a daughter,” or “the daughter-mother who made her begetter,” expressing a power of self-creation similar to that expressed for Amun by the epithet kamutef, ‘bull of his mother’, meaning one who is his own father. Related to this aspect of Mut may be depictions of her with an erect penis, indicating her capacity to create herself anew as her own daughter. BD spell 164 is to be said over such an image, specifically an image of Mut “having three faces – one like the face of Pakhet,” that is, the face of a lioness, “wearing twin plumes, another like a human face wearing the White Crown and the Red Crown,” – Mut’s normal aspect – “another like a vulture’s face wearing twin plumes – and a phallus and wings, with a lion’s claws.” This image of Mut is to be flanked by a pair of dwarfs, each of whom has the faces of a human and a hawk, an erect penis and brandishes a flail in his upraised arm, these two elements echoing the iconography of Min and of Amun-Kamutef. Mut’s cyclical aspect is linked to the cyclicality of the lunar God Khonsu, who is each month “conceived the day of the new moon … brought into the world on the second day of the month, [and] becomes an old man after the fifteenth day,” (La Lune, p. 43). Hence Mut is said to be “the mother of her father … who brought forth the light anew,” i.e., at the new moon. But if Khonsu is impotent in the waning phase, as a hymn to Khonsu makes clear when it affirms that he is a bull in the waxing phase and an ox, i.e., castrated, in the waning phase (La Lune, ibid.), Mut must supplement the phallus herself. This would be analogous to the act of Isis magically supplying the missing phallus of Osiris in order to conceive Horus. In another phallic connection, PT utterance 205 affirms that the deceased king “has copulated with Mut,” written with a determiner indicating fluids which connects her with a word for semen.

An extraordinary work undertaken in honor of Mut is the so-called “Crossword Hymn”, designed to be read in three directions. In this long hymn, Mut absorbs the attributes of many other Goddesses. Her distinctive character of mother/daughter emerges, however, in passages like these: “His [Amun-Re’s] daughter lives in his sight, she having appeared as his mother, and he being protected because of her,” (19 vertical). The protective function exercised by Mut here is both essentially hers, in common with other deities envisioned as lionesses, wrathful deities who defend life and the cosmic order, and a result of her identification in this hymn with the uraeus, the protective cobra perched upon the brow of Re as his special protection. Characteristic of Mut are the explicit references to her rejuvenation of herself: “Her limbs are rejuvenated … Re of Heliopolis … recognizes her as his daughter,” (20 vertical); “… her name of ‘She who becomes rejuvenated’,” (54 vertical). Particular to Mut as well is the juxtaposition between the hiddenness of her consort (Amun, literally ‘the Hidden’) and her own manifestness: “The lord of eternity sits while she acts by means of her word,” (13 vertical). She is the manifest energy of the sun itself: “The Ennead sees by means of her rays every day,” (44 vertical); “Indeed, she is this light of day, the great one who endures through her name,” i.e. of Mut, ‘mother’ (46 vertical); “the noble sun-disk, who is in the heart, the sole one, whose face is the light,” (54 vertical).

One of Mut’s most important epithets is “Mistress of the Isheru.” The term isheru (or asheru) refers to a crescent-shaped sacred lake in which wrathful Goddesses identified as the Eye of Re and the “Distant” or “Wandering” Goddess make their advent and are appeased by being “cooled” in what was conceived as the watery abyss of the Nūn. While the most famous isheru was Mut’s at Karnak, there were also isheru of Wadjet near Memphis, of Bast at Bubastis, and of Sekhmet at Memphis (te Velde, p. 7).

A fragmentary demotic text seems to be the remains of a major priestly text concerning the cult of Mut (Jasnow & Smith, 2010/11; 2015). Known presently simply as “the Mut Text”, it refers several times to the “Appeasing the Heart of Mut Ritual” and appears to have contained at least 21 chapters. Though very fragmentary, it clearly concerns rites directed toward Mut as the “Distant Goddess”—note the reference to “he who found the distant one”, who would “pacify her rages” (Jasnow & Smith 2010/11 p. 18, l. 10), as well as to a “day of seeking her” (ibid., p. 19, l. 17 & p. 40, n. 40)—whose advent is celebrated with orgiastic celebrations which have apparently become controversial, so that the author of the text is concerned to defend them against critics: a frequent refrain is that those who have called the author evil, Mut herself shall call evil. The text depicts Mut as the object of loving devotion who in turn communicates by direct theophany with her devotees and acts directly on their behalf. They think of her as their mother, and she is fiercely protective, the text comparing her to a panther and speaking of her “fiery blast”. There are references to the Isheru, and to the birth of a young God, perhaps Harpre, but also a clear reference to the birth of a daughter, at the head of what would have been the 21st chapter: “Re said to her, ‘A daughter will be born’ […]” (frag. 6, x+4). This daughter could perhaps be Mut herself, as another fragment reads “[…] Mut, foremost one, daughter, saying ‘Is Re […]” (frag. 12, x+4). The joyous celebrations mentioned in the text involve worshipers adorning themselves with special clothing, jewelry, cosmetics and perfumes and engaging in feasting (while certain dietary restrictions seem to be indicated at other times), drunkenness, music, dancing and sexual activity as a specific form of devotion to their Goddess: “Drink truly. Eat truly. Sing … […] Don clothing, anoint (yourself), adorn the eyes, and enjoy sexual bliss. Those who have proclaimed Mut to you, those who have proclaimed to you the [goddess(?) say: ‘She will not(?)] let you be distant from drunkenness on any day. She will not allow you to be lacking in any [manner(?) … You will spend] a lifetime, all your limbs being healthy,” (Jasnow & Smith, 2010/11, p. 18, ll. 3-6). A degree of exclusivity is suggested in this devotion by the lines, “while (or since) I am entrusted [to] Mut. [I will say to the] people(?): ‘I will not enter the house [of another god(?) except for Mut …,” (ibid., p. 18, l. 12). Mut is presented at least once in this text in the elaborate conjunct form of “Mut-Sekhmet-Bastet-Wadjet-Smithis, the lady of Asheru,” (ibid., p. 18, ll. 8-9). There are references to Thoth and to Shu, as would be appropriate in the context of the Distant Goddess myth, and to the Ḥeḥu-Gods, perhaps suggesting a version of the myth recounted in the Book of the Celestial Cow. Amun is mentioned, and there is also an apparent reference to Ikheses, a God popular in the Faiyum and depicted as a crocodile.

Jasnow, Richard and Mark Smith. 2010/11. “‘As for Those Who have Called me Evil, Mut will Call them Evil’: Orgiastic Cultic Behaviour and its Critics in Ancient Egypt (PSI Inv. [provv.] D 114a+PSI Inv. 3056 verso).” Enchoria 32: 9-53.
——2015. “New Fragments of the Demotic Mut Text in Copenhagen and Florence.” In R. Jasnow and K. Cooney (eds.), Joyful in Thebes: Egyptological Studies in Honor of Betsy M. Bryan (Atlanta: Lockwood Press, 2015): 238−82.
te Velde, Herman. 1979-80. “Towards a Minimal Definition of the Goddess Mut.” Jaarbericht Ex Oriente Lux 26: 3-9.

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4 Responses to “Mūt”

  1. NC said

    After being a bit curious about the part where you said “may be depictions of her with an erect penis”, I looked into it a bit more it and it seems that they only associated Mut with a penis in one instance, when they combined her with two other deities to form a goddess called: “Mut-Isis-Nekhbet”. You had me a bit confused before, since you didn’t point that out!
    I’m kind of having a hard time finding good information on Egyptian deities, since most of the internet is full of personal interpretation of those deities, while I just want hard facts.

    • henadology said

      I refer in the entry to BD spell 164: “To be said over Mut having three faces—one like the face of Pakhet wearing twin plumes, another like a human face wearing the white crown and the red crown, another like a vulture’s face wearing twin plumes—and a phallus and wings, with a lion’s claws,” (trans. T. G. Allen).

      • NC said

        Pakhet is Sekhmet-Bastet, from which Mut-Sekhmet-Bastet had also received a phallus. As only later when they added extra associations (from three), did they add a phallus. In other words: none of the names mentioned solo was there ever one added. There is no Isis solo with a phallus for example, though Isis with two other associations (Mut-Isis-Nekhbet) had one added.
        Overall, I’m just digging through Egyptian deities attempting to understand some of how they were originally supposed to be (example: Bast as a lion, instead of a cat. Bast and not Bastet).
        I’m done here though, so I won’t bother you anymore 🙂
        And of course everyone is welcome to interpret things however they like.

  2. […] As I was discussing the Bull of His Mother with TTR, they mentioned that Mut could also prove useful. “Mut is said to be “the mother who became a daughter,” or “the daughter-mother who made her begetter,” expressing a power of self-creation similar to that expressed for Amun by the epithet kamutef, ‘bull of his mother’, meaning one who is his own father.” (Link.) […]

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