Auset is the venerated ancient Kemetic [Kemet is native name of Ancient Egypt, meaning Black Land] daughter of Geb (god of earth) and Nut (god of the heavens). In addition, she is the mother of Heru and husband of Ausar.
In the Theology of On (Heliopolis), she is part of the Pesedjet, the collective company or “family” of nine gods in the On cosmogony, which included Ra, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Ausar, Her-wer, Set, and Nebt-het.
Powers of Auset and her role in Egyptian religion
Auset represented the female productive forces in nature. Kemetians recognized her as a moon goddess and a mystic goddess of the supernatural associated with the tyet, a symbol of magic in Kemet.
Kemetians / Ancient Egyptians often showed her in the form of a throne, which represents the seat and transmission of power for the per-aa (pharaoh).
From the beginning, Auset turned a kind eye on the people of earth, teaching women to grind corn, spin flax, weave cloth, and tame men sufficiently to live with them. The goddess herself lived with her brother, Ausar, god of Nile waters and the vegetation that springs up when the river floods.
In addition, Kemetians saw her as a healer and protector of marriage and the symbolic mother and protector of the per-aa. She also protected the deceased, providing them with nourishment for their journey in the Tuat [Realm of the Dead].
Likewise, she was the guardian of the Canopic jars [containers used by Egyptians to internal organs of deceased people], particularly the jar known as Imsety, which contained the liver of the deceased.
Some early legends portrayed Auset as the wife of Ra, but later represented her as the devoted wife and partner of Ausar, whom she helped to govern Kemet.
Auset resurrects her husband, Ausar
Alas for Auset, her beloved was killed by their evil brother, Set. The mourning goddess cut off her hair and tore her robes to shreds, wailing in grief. Then she set forth to locate her brother’s body.
Eventually Auset arrived in Phoenicia, where Queen Astarte, pitying but not recognizing the pathetic goddess, hired her as nursemaid to her infant prince. Auset took good care of the child, placing him like a log in the palace fire, where the terrified mother found him smoldering.
She grabbed the child from the fire, thus undoing the magic of immortality that Auset had been working on the child. (A similar story was told of the mourning Demeter.)
Auset was called on to explain her action, and thus the goddess’ identity was revealed and her search explained. And then Astarte had her own revelation: that the fragrant tamarisk tree in the palace contained the body of the lost Ausar.
Auset carried the tree-sheltered corpse back to Egypt for burial. But the evil Set was not to be thwarted; he found the body, stole it, and dismembered it. Isis’ search began anew. And this time her goal was not a single corpse, but a dozen pieces to be found and reassembled.
The goddess did find the arms and legs and head and torso of her beloved, but she could not find his phallus and substituted it with a piece of shaped gold.
Then Auset invented the rites of embalming for which the Egyptians are famous, and she applied them with magical words to the body of Ausar. The god rose, as alive as the corn after spring floods in Egypt.
Auset magically conceived a child through the golden phallus of the revived Ausar, and that child was the sun god Heru.
She hid, raised, and protected the child, who would eventually avenge his father by waging war on his uncle Set and defeating him with the aid of his mother.
How Ancient Egyptians venerated Auset
Kemetians depicted Auset on coffins and tomb walls along with her sister with wings outstretched symbolizing a protective embrace; likewise, they showed her in a winged form with her protective arms around Ausar.
Sometimes they depicted her as a mother nursing her child Heru or both harkening to her legendary role as protector and redeemer.
Kemetians transferred this protective image into the new kingdom when Kemetians portrayed her as protector of the per-aa (pharaoh). Finally, Africans represented her as a kite hovering above Ausar creating a breeze of air for Ausar to breathe.
Auset’s epithets reveal the Kemetians, reverence for her even more:
- “one who gives birth to the heaven and earth,”
- “one who seeks justice for the poor and vulnerable,”
- “one who seeks shelter for the weak,”
- “queen of heaven,”
- “mother of the Gods,”
- “one who is all,”
- “The brilliant one in the sky,”
- “the great leady of magic,”
- “Mistress of the House of Life,”
- “One who knows how to make right use of the heart,”
- “Light giver of Heaven,”
- “Lady of the Words of power,”
- “Moon shining Over the Sea.”
How Auset acquired her powers
In early Kemetic legends, Africans portrayed Auset as a clever and guile trickster as she sets out to learn the hidden name of Ra. Determined to have power over all the gods, which could be acquired through knowledge of his name, she tricked Ra into revealing his hidden name, which grants her a portion of his power.
To acquire such power, Auset needed to know the secret name whereby Ra lived, and as the god refused to impart it to her she determined to destroy him. She made a serpent in the form of a dart, and having worked magic on it, she threw it on the path over which Ra would pass.
Sick and growing weaker, he called for Auset to apply her renowned curative powers to the wound. But the goddess claimed to be powerless to purge the poison unless she knew the god’s secret name, his name of power, his very essence.
Ra demurred and hesitated, growing ever weaker. Finally, in desperation, he was forced to whisper the word to her.
Auset cured him, but Ra had paid the price of giving her eternal power over him. (A similar tale was told of Lilith and Jehovah.)
Furthermore, legend has it that he gave her permission to pass that knowledge on to her son, giving him status and power no other could rival. Henceforth, Kemetians called her “the mistress of the gods who knows Ra by his own name.”
In another story, she tricks Set into incriminating himself before a court of law.
In yet another myth, Auset was hiding from Set in the marshes. As she moved to a town, she asked a rich woman for shelter, but the woman refused to open her house to her. But a poor girl, the daughter of fishermen, invited Auset into her humble home.
The seven scorpions that accompanied Auset, disgusted by the rich woman’s treatment of the goddess, crept under the door and stung the rich woman’s child.
When that woman expressed sorrow for her acts, Auset laid her hands on the child, comforting him, and she gave the child life.
Kemetians mention Auset as early as the pyramid text. Over time, Kemetians assimilated her with several other similar goddesses. For instance, in the early period, her attributes were combined with Het-Heru [Kemetic goddess of the Sky], which explains why her totem is often a cow or why she is displayed with cow horns on her head with a sun disk between them.
In summary, Auset was a devoted wife, a magician, a protectoress, and the ultimate mother. During the Theban era, Kemetians valued her so much that they assimilated her attributes with Mut.
Later, the Romans assimilated her symbolic attributes into the Judeo-Christian mother figure of Mary. Moreover, in that sense, her legend still lives on in the African Christian tradition.
Transformation of Auset into Isis, absorbing other goddesses
The goddess’ name was Au Set (Auzit, Eset), which means “exceeding queen” or simply “spirit” and she was born in the Nile swamps of Egypt, on the first day between the first years of creation.
But the colonizing Greeks [after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt] altered the pronunciation to yield the now-familiar Isis, a name used through the generations as the goddess’ worship spread from the delta of the Nile to the banks of the Rhine.
Like Ishtar (of whom a similar tale of loss and restoration was told), Auset took on the identities of lesser goddesses until she was revered as the universal goddess, the total femininity of whom other goddesses represented only isolated aspects.
She became the Lady of Ten Thousand Names, whose true name was Auset. She grew into Isis Panthea (“Isis the All Goddess”). She was the moon and the mother of the sun; she was mourning wife and tender sister; she was the culture-bringer and health-giver. She was the “throne” and the “Goddess Fifteen”.
She was a form of Hathor (or that goddess a form of her). She was also Meri, goddess of the sea, and Sochit, the “cornfield.”
But she was everlastingly, to her fervent devotees, the blessed goddess who was herself all things and who promised: “You shall live in blessing, you shall live glorious in my protection; and when you have fulfilled your allotted span of life and descend to the underworld, there too you shall see me, as you see me now, shining. And if you show yourself obedient to my divinity…you will know that I alone have permitted you to extend your life beyond the time allocated you by your destiny.”
Auset, who overcame death to bring her lover back to life, could as readily hold off death for her faithful followers, for the all-powerful Isis alone could boast, “I will overcome Fate.”
Scheub, Harold – A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller
Molefi Kete Asante, Ana Mazama – Encyclopedia of African Religion
Knappert, Jan – African mythology : an encyclopedia of myth and legend
Monagha, Patricia – New Book Of Goddesses & Heroines