Renenutet (Rennut, Renenet, Thermouthis, Thermuthis, Hermouthis)
Symbols: cobra, cloth
Cult center: Faiyum, Dja, Thebes
Renenutet was a protective snake-goddess whose role evolved in unexpected ways over time. Originally, she guarded the king and later the farmers' harvests. She was depicted as a raised cobra with the sun disk and horns on her head, or two tall feathers and the solar disk. Alternately, Renenutet was shown as a woman with a snake's head, sometimes nursing her son Nepri.
While it may seem odd to modern people to personify a protective deity as a poisoness snake, the ancient Egyptians saw it in a different way. By appealing to a dangerous animal, the snake used its powers for the benefit of the people. Plus, the Egyptians undoubtedly noticed that beneficial snakes ate rats, birds and other vermin that threatened their crops in the field and in the grainaries.
During the Old Kingdom, Renenutet was the guardian of the king on earth and in the afterlife as the uraeus. She spit fire on his enemies from her perch on his brow. In the Pyramid Texts, she was said to nourish the ka of the pharoah. Renenutet was also a protector of the king's linen robe, and later the linen bandages that wrapped mummies. Later, she became associated with Buto, who became the premier uraeus cobra.
As time passed, Renenutet assumed the role of guarding the harvest. Farmers especially revered her, and shrines to her were placed in granaries. Her son, Nepri, was the personification of corn. Nepri was associated with Osiris, as Osiris was also a god of vegetation who brought the knowledge of farming to Egypt.
A festival to Renenutet were celebrated during the last month of the winter/spring season (Peret) when crops were planted. Another celebration was held in her honor in the first month of the spring/summer season (Shemu) when the plants began to ripen.
Due to her importance to the common people in protecting their livelihoods, Renenutet evolved once again into a household deity who protected children. She was a provider and nourisher of infants, including giving newborns their name, determining their destiny and how long they would live. Her loving care of her son Nepri paralleled the mother/son relationship of Isis and Horus, and at times Renenutet was said to be Horus's mother.
Like Isis, Renenutet's cult survived the rise of Christianity. During the Ptolemaic period, she was renamed Thermuthis by the Greeks. Greco-Roman terracottas of that time show Thermuthis as a form of Iss with a snake's head on a woman's body. Interestingly enough, according to the 1st century historian Josephus, Thermuthis is the name of Moses' Egyptian foster mother. Although the Bible simply calls her the "daughter of Pharoah."