(Renenet, Ernutet, Hermouthis, Thermouthis; also sometimes ‘Terenuthis’, although this is properly the Hellenized form of the name of her cult center) Goddess of the harvest and of destiny, divine protector and wetnurse, Renenutet is depicted either as a cobra, or as a cobra-headed woman, or as a cobra with a woman’s head, or as a woman with the lower body of a cobra. Renenutet is often depicted nursing her son Nepry, the God of grain, or the pharaoh, who identifies himself with Nepry in the festival celebrating his birth in the ninth month of the Egyptian calendar. The eighth month of the Egyptian calendar, Pharmuthi, in fact bears the name of Renenutet. Renenutet’s name comes from a word meaning a nurse, one who rears a child, the verb rnn meaning also to take upon one’s lap or fondle, as well as to exult or praise, this too being a kind of ‘nourishment’. Renenutet’s most common consort is Sobek.
In PT utterance 256 (similar to CT spell 575), the deceased king affirms, “I have succeeded to Geb, I have succeeded to Atum, I am on the throne of Horus the first-born, and his Eye is my strength, I am protected from what was done against him, the flaming blast of my uraeus is that of Renenutet who is upon me.” The uraeus is the fire-spitting cobra who defends the king as the legitimate representative of solar sovereignty on earth. Renenutet is naturally associated with the uraeus because she too is depicted as a cobra, but she is not simply – and hence redundantly – identical to the uraeus here; rather, she combines the role of the uraeus, which is pre-eminently the defender of Re, with the defense of Horus, through an association with the Eye of Horus which was wounded and healed. The Eye of Horus represents any material seen as a divine boon to humans or, conversely, as an offering by humans to the Gods. As Goddess of the harvest, Renenutet is naturally closely connected to virtually all such substances. A passage from the Hearst Papyrus (P. Hearst xiv, 4-7) identifies Renenutet and the Eye of Horus: “Hail to thee, O Eye of Horus, Renenutet upon Hedj-hotep, thou to whom Re has given glory before the Ennead,” i.e. the totality of the Gods, referred to by the ideal number nine. Hedj-hotep is the God of weaving, and thus the reference here is to flax as the matter of clothing, or for the bandages which form the protective ‘clothing’ of the mummy. Similarly, PT utterance 622 states, in offering a garment to “Osiris the King,” that is, the deceased king as Osiris, “I have clad you in the Eye of Horus, this Renenutet garment of which the Gods are afraid, so that the Gods may fear you just as they fear the Eye of Horus.” The awe or fear generated by the Eye of Horus is the power of the offering, for the Eye of Horus represents offerings to the Gods in general, the efficacy of which is unfailingly respected (‘feared’) by them. Renenutet was also apparently associated with the development of an infant in the womb, an association which enriches the symbolism of a ‘Renenutet garment’. Thus she is sometimes juxtaposed with Heqet and Meskhenet as a reproductive trinity, Heqet being responsible for the initial conception, Renenutet for the growth, and Meskhenet for the delivery (as in Hatshepsut’s Speos Artemidos inscription, Goedicke 70f). The Renenutet garment is the garment of one’s destiny, woven as one grows, Renenutet representing one’s luck or prosperity which ‘nourishes’ one all through life.
A similar concept is expressed, albeit in much different form, by the identification of the deceased in CT spell 762 with “Nehebkau, son of Geb, born of your mother Renenutet; you are indeed the ka of every God … Horus has greeted you, for he recognizes you as the ka of all the Gods.” The relationship of Renenutet to Nehebkau is not a matter of myth so much as of the concept of the ka, with its concrete sense of sustenance as well as its abstract sense of essence. Renenutet is the harvest not just of the literal crops, but embodies fulfillment more generally. This provides further depth for her associations in the afterlife literature with Horus, who fulfills the promise of his father, and with the linen which forms the final garment, the wrappings for the mummy (see especially CT spells 779 and 862), these symbolizing at once the solicitude of Horus for his father and the material force of resurrection as embodied in an agricultural product. A special bond between Renenutet and Horus is affirmed by BD spell 170, which calls Renenutet “she who conceived Horus to Atum before the Ennead,” that is, before the emergence of the manifold of the Gods who administer the cosmos. This same spell calls out to the deceased with the words, “Thy Renenutet lifts thee,” the use of ‘thy’ here echoing a usage found in other contexts where it means one’s destiny. Hence the ‘Satire of the Trades’, a text exhorting young people to train as scribes, states that “A scribe’s Renenutet is on his shoulder on the day he is born” (Lichtheim vol. 1, 191). This derives its sense, again, from Renenutet’s link to the harvest, for this is destiny in the sense of that which is provided for one’s future, literally one’s future sustenance, for as the text goes on to say, “no scribe is short of food and of riches from the palace” (ibid.). This juxtaposition of sustenance and futurity in order to generate the concept of destiny is, in turn, very close to the process by which the complex concept of the ka seems to have developed.
The offspring of Renenutet and Sobek is identified in Greek as Anchoes, a name which seems to derive from the Egyptian Ankhy, ‘the Living’. No God of this name is attested, however; a Greek hymn to Renenutet – fused with Isis as ‘Isis-Hermouthis’ – states that “Anchoes your Son, who inhabits the height of heaven, is the rising Sun who shows forth his light,” (Vanderlip p. 36).
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Goedicke, Hans. 2004. The Speos Artemidos Inscription of Hatshepsut and Related Discussions. Oakville, CT: HALGO, Inc.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Vanderlip, Vera F. 1972. The Four Greek Hymns of Isidorus and the Cult of Isis. Toronto: A. M. Hakkert.