Holy Hippopotami! It’s Lady Taweret!
Taweret is the Egyptian Hippopotamus Goddess of childbirth. Her name means “Great Female,” and She’s otherwise known as Taurt, Reret, Apet or Thoueris. According to some accounts, She was originally the female counterpart of
Apophis; but for reasons unknown, She became a Goddess and a defender of Ma’at. Now – along with Her trusty sidekick, the benevolent demon Bes – Taweret protects those who are giving birth and those who are being born from any qliphoth that might wish to harm them. As frightening as these entities are, they’re frightened of Taweret, and for good reason. Her sacred animal is one of the deadliest creatures on Earth, and She’s the only other Deity who’s powerful enough to wield the power of Khepesh – the Iron of Seth – aside from Typhon Himself. This most noble and dark Goddess also rules the constellation Draco, and while I’ve never directly met Her myself, I can’t help but admire Her from afar.
Hippos are Typhonian animals, which means there’s a very strong connection between Taweret and Seth. While male hippos were feared, females were celebrated for their ferocity in protecting their young. Egyptian midwives tried to channel this ferocity by invoking Taweret for help in protecting human children and pregnant mothers. Hippopotamus totems were kept nearby to bring Taweret’s strength to women who were in labor, and things are not as different today as one might expect. Some midwives continue to keep hippo statuettes with them, even if they don’t actively believe in Taweret’s existence. In fact, one of my spirit sisters kept a hippo statue close by while she was giving birth to her daughter in 2012. Despite Taweret’s “demonic” appearance, it’s comforting to know She’s there to defend our children during and after the process of birth.
Curiously, Taweret never had any temples or priesthoods of Her own; Hers was a purely folk tradition that was practiced only by peasants in the privacy of their own homes. This is ironic, given that Taweret is also linked to one of the largest and most important constellations in the northern sky. The Egyptians viewed Draco not as a dragon but as a female bipedal hippopotamus with a crocodile on Her back. In art, this hippopotamus was shown with sagging breasts that are heavy with milk. She holds a chain by which Khepesh (i.e., the Big Dipper) is tethered to Polaris, the North Star. Taweret is said to keep Khepesh restrained to prevent the Red Lord from completely destroying the universe whenever He becomes too angry, and She’s helped in this regard by the Four Sons of Horus (Duamutef, Hapi, Imsety and Qebshenuf).
The Great Female was eventually recast as an alternate form of Isis, but I personally think this idea is complete baloney. For one thing, Taweret has nothing to do with the Sirius Current, which belongs to Isis; Her divinity flows entirely from Draco and is therefore much darker (but no less benign) in tone. For another, the cult of Isis was notorious for absorbing virtually every other Goddess religion it encountered in Late Antiquity, including the cults of Aphrodite and Diana (who aren’t identical to Isis by any means). Like Seth-Typhon, Taweret is a “monstrous” Divinity who was born of chaos and who exhibits chaotic traits, but who uses Her chaos to defend the cosmic order (rather than subverting it). She also resembles Big Red in that She seems to have cared more for the “little people” who didn’t benefit from Pharaonic privilege.
Taweret and Seth-Typhon
Many Goddesses are portrayed as beautiful, slender-bodied women, but Taweret has always had an image that’s somewhat intimidating. She’s rotund, She has massive thighs and sagging breasts, and Her mouth is filled with razor sharp teeth. In some cases, She’s shown with the paws of a lion and the tail of a crocodile, which were two of the other most frightening animals in Egypt. Some posit that Taweret may even be related to Ammut, the female demon who devours wicked souls at the Last Judgment (and who similarly combines the characteristics of a crocodile, a hippopotamus and a lion). Taweret is certainly not the sort of “glamour girl” one usually finds in an issue of Penthouse Magazine, and that’s one of the things I love about Her. In my opinion, She’s linked to what Barbara Creed calls “the Monstrous-Feminine,” which is whatever a culture thinks is most repulsive and horrifying about women. More to the point, She represents the Monstrous-Feminine as something that’s actually both divine and beautiful in its own mysterious way.
By the time Plutarch came along (circa 46 – 120 C.E.) to offer his version of events, Taweret’s story had changed so that She was a concubine of Seth who abandoned Him after the murder of Osiris. This change was probably the result of Seth’s demonization in Late Antiquity, when He was conflated with
Apophis for political reasons (i.e., the fall of Egypt to foreign rule). My own theory is that Taweret is still one of Typhon’s lovers (and that She’s the kind of Lady who’s not afraid to smack a man with His own detachable iron penis whenever He gets too rowdy). Since (1) Seth’s a God who almost became a monster but was later redeemed and (2) Taweret’s a monster who became a Goddess and was similarly redeemed, there’s something truly poetic about the idea of Them being a couple. In the same way that Seth and Ishtar can bond over Their mutual frustration with dying-and-rising fertility Gods, Seth and Taweret can bond over Their ability to overcome Their monstrous impulses for the good of Ma’at. (In fact, I wonder if it wasn’t Taweret’s attraction to Seth that wooed Her away from Apophis in the first place.)
In the LV-426 Tradition, Draco and the Big and Little Dippers are all considered to represent the “center” of heaven. Being circumpolar, they never descend beneath the horizon and are therefore called “the Imperishable Ones.” Unlike the Moon and the thirteen Zodiacal constellations, they can be seen on any night at any time of year (in the northern hemisphere, at least). Since they’re located above the Zodiac, their associated Deities rank higher for us than those of the Zodiac and the planets. Deities like Isis and Osiris are seen as being less powerful (though no less important) because Their astrological counterparts (i.e., Sirius and Orion) are beneath the Zodiac. This leads us to think that Taweret may very well be the most powerful of all personal Goddesses. I would posit that She’s second only to Nut, the impersonal Mother of the Gods (who is the vast infinity of outer space). Naturally, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me – and in an orthopraxic faith, the issue of “correct theology” really doesn’t matter – but that’s just how I see it.
In his writings, the Typhonian Thelemite Kenneth Grant proposed that “Typhon” is actually “the Mother” or “feminine aspect” of Seth, which Grant further associated with Draco. In my opinion, this is a somewhat garbled understanding of the situation that came from reading too much Gerald Massey (i.e., an English poet who drew some seriously flawed conclusions about Egyptology in the early 1900s). Again, “correct theology” isn’t really an issue for people in this line of spirituality, but for what it’s worth, I think the entity Grant identified as “Typhon” is actually Taweret.
The Center of Heaven (Click to Enlarge)