Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Associated with: Ancient Egyptian mythology
Also known as: Tefenet, Tefnet
Earliest recorded mention: c. 2400-2300 BCE
Major texts: Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Book of the Dead, etc.

"I united myself to my shadow, and I sent forth Shu and Tefnut out from myself; thus from being one god I became three"
The Egyptian Book of the Dead

The name Tefnut is a best guess, as the goddess's name is transliterated TFNT, with no indication of how it was was pronounced. It means "she of moisture," and Tefnut was the goddess of rain, among other things. Born of Amun, the creator (also called Aten and Ra), she was the twin sister and the wife of Shu, the god of air, and the mother of Nut (the sky) and Geb (the earth).

It's hard to imagine how important the rain must have been in ancient Egypt, but the fact that the rain goddess was one of the first three gives us some idea. Tefnut is always shown with a scepter, the symbol of power, and an ankh, the symbol of life. She wears the sun disk as a headdress and her head is a lion's, reminding us of how powerful the rain can be. Even during the time when Akhnaten tried to convert Egypt to the worship of the single god Aten, Akhnaten and his wife, Nefertiti, were sometimes depicted as Shu and Tefnut.

An ancient legend tells the story of a time when Tefnut and her father, Amun-Ra, had a serious argument, and Tefnut left Egypt for a distant land. In her absence, Egypt suffered drought; the crops failed and the people starved. Amun-Ra repented, and sent Thoth (god of medicine, magic and the underworld) and Shu to get her back. When Tefnut returned, the lands were flooded, and the people rejoiced.

It's raining today. It rained some yesterday and it's supposed to rain more tomorrow. We don't rejoice over floods any more, but I'd rather have rain than drought.

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