Statuette of Taweret dedicated by Parahotep

The goddess Taweret is depicted with pendulous breasts and swollen belly, which recalls the image of a pregnant woman. The goddess usually wears a female wig that can be topped with a feathered headdress, a modius (a cylinder-shaped headdress with a flat end), or with horns and a sun disc.

Another recurring element is the open mouth, with the lips showing a row of pointed teeth, perhaps to emphasize its protective function. The most common symbols that belong to her are the symbol “sa”, that means protection, and the”ankh”, symbol of life. It can also be associated with a torch, whose flames were meant to disperse darkness and evil forces.

Statuette of Taweret dedicated by the draughtsman Parahotep
Statuette of Taweret dedicated by the draughtsman Parahotep

The goddess Taweret – whose name literally means “the Great One” – has the head and body of a hippopotamus, the tail and back of a crocodile, and the feet of a lion, all animals known for the aggressiveness when protecting their young. Since this deity was venerated in domestic settings, there are no temples or colossal statues dedicated to her. Small clay or wood statuettes were usually placed in homes to protect newborn infants or to promote fertility.

Most Egyptian deities had an official cult, while others were worshipped at an individual or household level. For example, the hippopotamus goddess Taweret, and the dwarf god Bes, were protectors of the family and maternity, so theirs was more of a household cult. Their terrifying appearence had an apotropaic function, serving as a means to ward off evil spirits.

New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, ca. 1292-1189 BC. Wood and paint, from Deir el-Medina. Now in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. Cat. 526