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Mesenet, Meskhent, Meshkent


She appears on birth bricks found all over the country and seems to have been a highly respected deity, no temples of veneration have been found. Her name means "birthing place" and she was generally depicted as a birthing brick with a human head, or as a woman wearing the headdress of a young cow's uterus. She was affiliated with the goddess Hathor, another goddess who was often depicted on the birthing bricks and was closely associated with childbirth. As a goddess of childbirth, she also created each child's Ka, a part of their soul, which she breathed into them at the moment of birth. She was considered to be a divine midwife and protector of the birthing house. Since she was responsible for creating the Ka, she was associated with fate. She sometimes was said to be paired with Shai, who became a god of destiny. In ancient Egypt, women delivered babies while squatting on a pair of bricks, known as birth bricks, and Meskhenet was the goddess associated with this form of delivery. In art, she sometimes was depicted as a brick with a woman's head, wearing a young cow's uterus upon it. Child mortality was high in the ancient world, and the Egyptians were very family orientated people. The birth of a child was a time of great celebration but also an apprehensive time for the parents. As a result they called on the assistance of a great number of gods including Meskhenet. She was worshipped from the earliest of times by Egyptians.

In addition to ensuring the safe delivery of a child from the womb, Meskhenet takes a decision on its destiny at the time of birth. In the "Westcar Papyrus" the goddess helps at the birth of the future first three kings of the 5th Dynasty. On the arrival of Userkaf, Sahure and Neferirkare into the arms of Isis, she approaches each child and assures it of kingship. Similarly she is the force of destiny that assigns to a scribe promotion among the administrators of Egypt.


A hymn in the temple of Esna refers to four "Meskhenets" at the side of the creator god Khnum, whose purpose is to repel evil by their incantations.

It is said that Meskhenet was present at the birth of triplets, and foretold in their fates, that they would each be pharaohs - the triplets in question were Sahure, Userkaf, and Neferirkare Kakai, who were the first pharaohs in the fifth dynasty despite the fact that Userkaf was not the sibling of the other two, but their father.

Meskhenet also was believed to be the earliest wife of Andjety the god of rebirth in the underworld. Andjety appears to have been worshipped since pre-dynastic times at Andjet, and is thought by most Egyptologists to be the god who eventually became Osiris. Some say that her presence near the scales in the hall of the Two Truths, where the dead person's heart is examined and weighed to determine worthiness for the Egyptian paradise, is there to assist at a symbolic rebirth in the Afterlife. Meskhenet's symbol was composed of two loops at the top of a vertical stroke thought to represent the uterus of a young cow.



  ŠThe Trustee of the British Museum  





From Thebes, Egypt
19th Dynasty, around 1275 BC

The judgement of the dead in the presence of Osiris

This scene from the Book of the Dead of Any reads from left to right. At the left, Any and his wife enter the judgment area. In the centre are the scales used for weighing the heart, attended by Anubis, the god of embalming. The process is also observed by Any's "ba" spirit (the human-headed bird), two birth-goddesses and a male figure representing his destiny.

Any's heart, represented as the hieroglyph for 'heart' (a mammal heart), sits on the left pan of the scales. It is being weighed against a feather, the symbol of Maat, the principle of order, which in this context means 'what is right'. The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the seat of the emotions, the intellect and the character, and thus represented the good or bad aspects of a person's life. If the heart did not balance out with the feather, then the deceased were condemned to non-existence, and was consumed by the ferocious 'devourer', the strange beast, part-crocodile, part-lion, and part-hippopotamus, shown at the right of this scene.

However, a papyrus devoted to ensuring the continued existence of the deceased is not likely to depict this happening. Once the judgment is completed, the deceased was declared 'true of voice' or 'justified', a standard epithet applied to dead individuals in their texts. The whole process is recorded by the ibis-headed deity Thoth. At the top twelve deities supervise the judgment.


Hatshepsut recorded the attendance of a number of gods at her birth on the walls of her mortuary temple at Deir-el-Bahari including Khnum, Isis , Nephthys, Bes, Taweret and Meskhenet. In the tale of Raddjedet and her triplets (also known as Khufu and the magician), the birth was attended by Khnum, Isis and Nephthys but it was Meskhenet who proclaimed that each child would become pharaoh. Thus, Meskhenet was not simply a midwife. She was also a goddess of fate who could determine a person's destiny. This connects her with Shai the god of destiny. He determines the length of a person's life and indeed the two are often depicted together along with Renenutet the Egyptian cobra goddess. Some people believe she gave the child his or her secret name.

She also had the power to protect newborn babies and their mothers. Hatshepsut also claimed that Meskhenet promised to protect her "like Ra". Meskhenet also appears in the Halls of Ma'at with Shai and Renenutet, where she was thought to testify to the character of the deceased. This suggests that she offered her protection from birth to death and beyond and that she could also assist in the deceased's symbolic rebirth in the Afterlife. Inscriptions in the temple of Khnum at Esna refer to "four Meskhenets" who accompanied Khnum and used magic to drive away evil spirits.




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