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Tefnut was the Egyptian goddess of moisture and water, particularly in the sky and near the Nile.
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Tefnut's name is made up from the roots tef, meaning 'to spit' or 'to be moist' and nu, meaning 'sky' or 'waters'. This not only confirms her status as a goddess of moisture, but also establishes her as a consort and counterpart to her brother, Shu, by also being related to the sky.
She was mostly shown either as a lioness, or as a woman with the head of a lioness. Her status as an Eye of Ra meant that she often wore the sun disk on her head. She also held a sceptre and ankh, symbols of power and life. Sometimes she was shown in a similar position to Ma'at, helping Shu to hold the sky (Nut) up from the earth (Geb). Most other times she simply was shown lying horizontally between them, representing the moisture in the air.
Tefnut, with Shu plays a central part in the creation myths of Heliopolis and Thebes. In both myths she is the female counterpart of Shu, whose important role it was to become the first mother, initiating the sexual cycle of creation and giving birth to Nut and Geb. This automatically made her a goddess of fertility, as were most ancient godforms connected with water. Water was particularly important to Egyptian life, as the country received little rain and survived mostly through the annual inundation. Therefore, Tefnut was seen as at least partially responsible in keeping Egyptians alive.
Initially, Tefnut was the left eye of Ra - the moon. The rain, dew and moisture she governed was primarily associated with the night, as the Egyptian climate was too warm to see rain last in the daytime. Shu's tenuous link to sunlight gave some people more reason to see her as a lunar goddess, by making her Shu's opposite.
However, as Ra became increasingly merged with Atum, Tefnut became a solar goddess. She was now a daughter of Ra and thus an Eye of Ra with the form of a fiery lioness. She also became associated with the uraeus, an image of a snake curling around the sun disk which often symbolised Ra. Eventually, Tefnut could even represent the opposite of moisture, threatening Egypt with dryness and heat.
Tefnut is central in the Ennead creation myth of Heliopolis, and plays a similar role in the creation myth of Thebes. In Memphis she was called the "Tongue of Ptah", who helped the creator god carry out his will.
One of the most famous myths involving Tefnut, aside from the Ennead creation story, is where she argues with her father, Atum-Ra. Tefnut angrily runs to Nubia, taking all of Egypt's moisture with her. Egypt suffered a severe drought while Tefnut, as a lioness, killed anyone who came near her in Nubia. Ra missed Tefnut and despaired in the chaos Egypt had fallen into without water, and so sent Shu and Thoth to retrieve her. Thoth disguised himself and persuaded her to return, whereupon she blessed each city with the inundation and returned to her father as his Eye. This myth underlines Tefnut's importance to life in the Egyptian mind, as well as going some way to explaining Tefnut's role as an Eye of Ra and in the inundation.
Tefnut and Shu, unlike most other prominent Egyptian deities, does not seem to have any centre of worship, or any known temples dedicated to either of them, together or separately. Iunet had a district named "The House of Tefnut". She is only known to have been worshipped as part of the early Ennead worship at Iunu, which later gave the Ennead cult status as the town grew into sprawling city the Greeks called Heliopolis.
Akenaten and his wife Nefertiti were said to have initially tried to depict themselves as Shu and Tefnut on earth. This did not appear to be widely accepted by Egyptians, which some historians speculate led to Akenaten's pushing forward of a more monotheistic worship of Aten, the sun disk.
- Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Tefnut (http://www.egyptianmyths.net/tefnut.htm)
- Crystalinks.com: Tefnut (http://www.crystalinks.com/tefnut.html)
- Tour Egypt: Tefnut (http://www.touregypt.net/godsofegypt/tefnut.htm)
- Wikipedia: Tefnut (2005) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tefnut)