Today was a day for Taweret, and I decided to write about two articles I enjoyed reading some months ago. Taweret is a hard goddess to grasp – She had an enormous cult across households, but such a limited temple cult, and there’s not a lot of research about her. So I sat down with some offerings and an image of Her, and wrote out these notes in my ongoing quest to collect the available research on Her!
Articles for today: The Transformation of Egyptian Taweret into The Minoan Genius (1991); The Arrival of Egyptian Taweret and Bes[et] on Crete (2012). I will be shortening the names to The Transformation (former) and The Arrival (latter).
Both of these articles are written by Judith Weingarten, a scholar I appreciate because, let’s be honest – how many other scholars are writing about Taweret and Bes[et] in Minoan culture, and then posting that work for free online? I’m a big fan of Minoan civilization, so this topic really excites me! I like Weingarten’s writing style, and think her conclusion that Taweret is the source of the Minoan Genius is at the very least worth presenting here, if not including in my own practice. These articles are both free at the above links, so I highly suggest you check them out if you have the time!
[NB: The Arrival mainly gives an excellent purvey of the evidence in the preceding The Transformation; its focus is on the fascinating figure of Beset who is, for brevity’s sake, out of the scope of this post! Also, Weingarten conflates Taweret with Ipy (Opet) and probably also Reret – Taweret subsumes earlier hippo goddesses. I am basically writing this off as a syncretic Taweret-Ipy-Reret for my own hard polytheist purposes.]
Sketches of the early Minoan Genii. Look close to see the leonine heads, ewer jugs, and dorsal tails!
Before I talk about Taweret, let me mention the Minoan Genius. I honestly am not too well-versed in the Minoan Genius and its artifacts, but from what I gather, it is a composite demon/divinity from Crete/Minoan areas that served an apotropaic and perhaps purifying function.
That should sound familiar, if you know anything about Taweret.
The Minoan Genius…creature has often been linked to an ANE griffin, or even other non-Egyptian ANE/Sumerian composite demons. Weingarten, however, proposes that Taweret is the true source of the Minoan Genius, and the evidence is pretty cool. (Sir Arthur Evans first proposed the link, but I haven’t yet gotten his material.)
The Minoan Genius, in its early forms, appears to be hippo-headed or leonine, and has the distended stomach also characteristic of Taweret. And while we generalize Taweret as hippo-headed, I have myself posted Egyptian faience of Her in her lioness form; it is a transformation difficult to place in time but evident in the New Kingdom (The Transformation 8). Interestingly, Weingarten mentions that Taweret’s pendulous breasts and distended stomach, that we associate with childbirth, perhaps should be associated with male fertility (The Transformation 5). Yes, like Hapy.
Taweret gives much of her form to the Minoan Genius, but it does take on distinctly Minoan attributes, particularly the ewer it tends to hold – a sort of jug either for libation or ablution. As Weingarten writes (The Arrival 371), “The early Minoan Genius had Taweret’s plump body, swollen belly, and the remnants of female breasts.” But, within a generation of the lion-headed Taweret’s arrival in Minoan culture, the Genius demon, now normally in leonine form, had slimmed down, started to lose the pendulous breasts, and gained abstracted decoration as the image became removed from the source. There are even some Genii who are thought to be boar- or ass-headed (The Transformation 10).
Minoan Genii from Wikipedia. These are a later version removed from Taweret, but notice the “dorsal” tail with nodules taken from Taweret’s tail, the snout/animal head (this one ass-headed), and the ewers from which they pour the sacred waters.
Still, the Minoans seem to have been aware of Taweret/Ipy’s functions in Kemet, which answers an important question – why Taweret? Today, She is less popular in both archaeology and the polytheist religions, as She never truly gained a prominent cult status. However, She had an impressive domain over domestic life, and it is probably Her ubiquity in homes that let Her spread to Crete, from craftsmen villages like Deir el-Medineh where foreigners would have seen Her (The Transformation 11). Taweret, as the deadly hippo, was also a wildly popular figure on “magical knives” – appearing on 45 of 58 published knives, She featured heavily in protective magic and could be seen holding a knife Herself as well as the more familiar sa (The Tranformation 4). Most importantly to the Minoans, though, were Her lustral waters assocations. Weingarten writes of Taweret’s assocations with the primordial Nun, and Taweret’s most famous epithet seems to be “the pure waters.” It comes as no surprise, then, that the Minoans used Her to create a terrifying figure that simultaneously purified ritual space with lustral waters.
While we’re discussing sacred waters, I want to point out a little snippet, somewhat tangential, in The Transformation, referring to Ipy suckling the dead pharaoh: “The milk itself affords protection: mw bz3w, ‘milk’ contains the root word bz3, attesting in the Middle Kingdom in the sense of ‘to protect’, so the milk is ‘the protecting liquid.’ Protection and nourishment may thus be taken as the hippopotamus demon’s earliest roles” (10). So many life-giving sacred waters!
And one other epithet I haven’t seen before from Faulkner’s Coffin Texts: “I am Many-faced who created thunder, who mounts up to Re and repels the strength of ‘Apep, who splits open the sky and drives away storm, and who nourishes the crews of Re.” This is a Middle Kingdom spell that I need to think upon, but this would have been written around the time the Minoans were taking Taweret-Ipy from Her Egyptian form.
(There are some points I’m not going to cover – for instance, the Minoan Genii that carry livestock for sacrifice, and how that fits with Taweret. These essays have many details and I don’t want to rewrite them in their entirety!)
By the time Weingarten published The Arrival in 2012, it seems her evidence of Taweret as the Minoan Genius had cemented the theory. So Taweret(-Ipy) served as the original basis for the Minoan Genii, apotropaic and purifying demons with lioness heads and intricate dorsal tails and ewers fulls of the primordial waters.
Weingarten’s final paragraph in The Transformation is a wonderful summary of Taweret as a divinity who straddles the line between (unparalleled) netjeri and Netjeru:
The importance of a demon who, on the one side, protects and purifies, nourishes and fructifies, and, one the other, daily destroys the young god’s enemies, suggests a tentative answer to our second question regarding the necessity of the Minoans’ adoption of a composite being. Hybrid in nature (animal and human, hippopotamus and lion, water and land) her monstrousness mirrors her demonic ambivalence: protective and aggressive, benevolent and malevolent, a perfect mediator between the heavens and the earth.