Neith: The Goddess Who Created the World

We’re thrilled to have expert Egyptologist, Dr. Edward Scrivens, of The Egypt Exploration Society, joining us on our 14-day Tour, Queens and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, exploring ancient Egypt through the eyes of the women who had power and influence. 

For this first blog by Dr Scrivens, it seems right to start at the beginning. The very beginning. This is the story of Neith, the ancient Egyptian goddess who single-handedly created the universe.

Creation Myths in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt had many creation myths. Various accounts emerged over the life of this amazing civilization, a result of a long history – over three thousand years! Egyptian mythology had a practical function: to give power to rituals. Myths were created by combining and re-combining different symbolic and narrative elements to give background to a particular rite and the effect it was intended to have, for example telling a story about how the goddess Isis drove out poison from her son Horus to empower a spell for curing a venomous bite.

Male Deities

Many creation myths featured male deities as the ones responsible for bringing the world into being. The so-called ‘Heliopolitan account’ tells of how the sun god Atum brought the other gods and the physical universe into being from his own body. The ‘Memphite account’ credits the god Ptah with conceiving the phenomena of the world in his heart then speaking them into being.

These male-led narratives could include feminine elements; Atum’s hand was personified as a goddess, and the ‘Hermopolitan account’ described how the creator hatched from an egg produced by the union of four god-goddess pairings. Nevertheless, goddesses were cast as the supporting act rather than the main protagonists. A rare exception to this was the goddess Neith.


Neith is an extremely ancient goddess with connections to war, hunting, the primordial waters, and the creative art of weaving. Her name (perhaps meaning ‘The Terrifying One’) appears on material from the very earliest days of the Egyptian state, such as a grave goods tag discovered in the 1st Dynasty royal cemetery at Abydos in Upper Egypt. She seems to have been one of the most important deities to the earliest kings and queens, with many having names that honoured the goddess. One such figure, the powerful queen Meritneith, is featured on the Queens and Goddesses tour. While other deities rose to prominence over the millennia of Egyptian history, Neith remained a mighty force within the Egyptian pantheon, her worship stretching from the beginnings of pharaonic Egypt to its end.

Neith’s Creation Myth

Neith’s creation myth is known from inscriptions in the Graeco-Roman temple of Esna. It begins in the dark, boundless waters that preceded creation, which the Egyptians called the Nun. Neith emerged from the Nun in the form of the cow goddess Mehet-Weret, whose name means ‘The Great Flood’; Neith is the very embodiment of the life-giving waters of creation. She then took the form of a Nile Perch, fish that were sacred at Esna and (in this period) were mummified and presented as offerings to Neith. While in her fishy form, Neith illuminates her eyes, allowing her to see in the primordial darkness and bringing light into the universe for the first time.

Next, Neith caused the mound of creation to rise from the waters of the Nun. She did this through the power of her speech. The primeval hill rose in two locations simultaneously: at Esna, and at Neith’s northern cult centre of Sais. She continued to conceive of things in her heart and bring them into being by speaking their names, creating various sacred locations around Egypt, and a retinue of thirty deities who accompanied her on the mound of creation.

She created the sun god Ra by announcing his birth and describing his role in the cosmos. An egg emerged from Neith’s body and hatched to reveal Ra. The two embraced, Ra weeping with joy, and his tears became humanity while his spittle became the other gods.

Finally, Neith invited Ra to come north with her to her primary residence at Sais. He agreed, and once again taking the form of a cow, Neith swam to Sais carrying Ra between her horns, an image recalling the many depictions of Egyptian cow goddesses whose horns enclose a sun disk. Four months later they finally arrived at Sais, an occasion that would be evermore marked by a festival in which celebrants carried torches, just as Neith had carried the sun god.

Is this the first time we’ve seen Neith?

This colourful myth presents Neith as the creator of the world, though it was specfic to the temple of Esna and written in the later periods of Egyptian history.  There are also stories of Neith’s creative role in earlier periods, for example in the New Kingdom tale known as The Contendings of Horus and Seth. Here a tribunal of gods is deciding whether to award the throne of the murdered god Osiris to his son, Horus, or Osiris’ brother (and murderer) Seth. The gods write a letter to Neith asking her advice, which itself indicates an exalted position. She responds by instructing them to award Osiris’ office to Horus and warns them not to commit such a blatant injustice as to favour Seth, lest she ‘become so furious that the sky touches the ground’. What she’s threatening is the reversal of creation. For this threat to carry weight, we can assume that Neith was believed to be able to do such a thing, suggesting her links with creation go back further than the Graeco-Roman period.

A force to be reckoned with

From the early years of a united Egypt through to the final chapters of pharaonic history, the goddess Neith was a force to be reckoned with. While her prominence on the national stage may have varied over time, she never lost her status as one of Egypt’s most powerful goddesses, a figure to whom the world’s very existence could be attributed.

Join us

Join us in encountering her, and other feminine powers who ruled the Nile, on the Queens and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt tour.

We’ve carefully planned this trip to uncover more of the wonders Egypt has to offer and it will be an unforgettable experience.

If you’re interested, and would like to chat with us just get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!