Taweret was an ancient Egyptian goddess of maternity and childbirth, protector of women and children. She was known as “The Great Female,” a fierce demonic fighter as well as a popular deity who guarded the mother and her newborn child. Tawaret was thought to assist women in labor and scare off demons that might harm the mother or child.
Unlike most of the Egyptian goddesses, she has no human elements, instead she is depicted with the head and body of a hippopotamus standing, the back of a crocodile and the legs of a lioness. All these creatures were renowned for aggressively protecting their young. It was in her role of a protector that she was seen as the Great Female goddess. She was often shown holding the sa or ankh hieroglyph meaning life.
Because hippos inhabit the fertile Nile mud, Egyptians saw them as symbols of rebirth and rejuvenation. Tawaret was also a goddess of fertility and harvests as well as a goddess who helped with female sexuality and pregnancy. In this capacity, she was linked with the goddess Hathor.
Childbirth and early infancy were felt to be particularly threatening to both mother and baby. Magic played the primary role in countering these threats as there were various evil spirits needing to be warned off, and deities invoked to protect the vulnerable. There were magic wards used to chase of the evil spirits and the wands were usually made of hippopotamus ivory, enlisting the support of that huge fearsome, yet protective, beast.
In The Book of the Dead, Taweret was seen one of the goddesses who guided the dead into the afterlife. As with her double nature of protector and guardian, she was also a guard to the mountains of the west where the deceased entered the land of the dead. Many of the deities relating to birth also appear in the underworld to help with the rebirth of the souls into their life after death.
Tawaret was thought to be the wife of a few gods including Bes and Sobek. Because of her physical characteristics she was very often linked to the crocodile god Sobek. Taweret is seen at times with a crocodile on her back, which represents Sobek either as her son or as her consort.
In the ancient Egyptian astronomical diagrams there is one figure which is always larger than all the rest, and most frequently found at the center of what appears to be a horizontal parade of figures. This is Taweret and she was linked to the northern sky. She was thought to keep the northern sky – a place of darkness and cold – free from evil. She was shown to represent the never-setting circumpolar stars of Ursa Minor and Draco. The seven stars lined down her back are the stars of the Little Dipper – and thus the Great Female is the center of Egyptian astronomy.