Tefnut is the goddess of rain, dew, and water. With the face of a lioness and sun disc on her head, Tefnut is often portrayed as a woman. She is commonly associated as the lunar goddess of humidity as well.
Atum-Ra created Tefnut and her brother, Shu. He would become the god of light and air. She filled the role of his consort. Tefnut is the mother of Geb and Nut. She has many grandchildren including Osiris, Nephthys, Set, and Isis. “She of moisture” is a loose translation of Tefnut. There are many variations of her name including Tefnuit, Tefnet, Tefenet, or Tefnwt. She has always been associated with the words “spit” or “moist.”
The most common images portray her as a woman with a lioness head. Some other depictions show her as completely human. In any form, she always wears a solar disc that is surrounded by cobras and the Uraeus. The disc is prominently located on her head. She holds an ankh (breath of life) and the scepter (power) in her hands. In some legends, she can take the form of a cobra.
She was originally known as the lunar “Eye of Ra.” This designation linked her to rain, moisture, dew, and the moon. In later years, she also was the solar “Eye of Ra” and connected her to the lack of moisture. Tefnut held the titles of “Lady of the Flames” and “Uraeus on the Head of All the Gods.” She gained this title as the protector of the sun god. Isis, Bast, Hathor, Mut, Wadjet, Nekhbet, and Sekhmet also shared that role with her. Most gods were dual in nature. Tefnut was the only Ennead deity to be strictly female. Many worshipers consider her to be the mother of all creation.
Centers in Leontopolis and Hermopolis revered her with cults. Along with Shu, the twins were worshipped as the flamingo children of the king of Lower Egypt. These representations signified both the moon and the sun. She was considered a cosmic deity with no ties to Earth. Some scholars do believe that a few temples were built. These religious sites could only be accessed by the pharaoh and Tefnut’s priestesses. All who entered the temple were purified in a stone pool. There are no temples dedicated to this goddess that have survived.
Legend of Tefnut
Her father, Atum, came out of the waters of Nun. Shu and Tefnut were created when Atum spit them out. Tefnut has been associated with another goddess named Tefen. They were involved in weighing the heart of Ma’at. Tefen has disappeared from most ancient texts, but she still remains connected to Ma’at. Tefnut helped hold Nut (the sky) over Geb (the earth). She is the “Tongue of Ptah” in Memphis and helped him to create life. The city of Denderah was once known as “The House of Tefnut.” She is worshiped in her lioness form in the city.
Tefnut is tied to many creation stories. In one story, Tefnut was lost in the world of Nun. Her father was distraught over her absence. He sent out his eye in an effort to locate her. Once she was located, Atum cried and shed the tears that created the first humans.
Tefnut was also known to argue with her father. After one fight, she left Egypt and fled to the Nubian Desert. She took away all the rain and moisture from the land. Her actions left Egypt unable to grow crops. While she was in Nubia, she transformed into a lioness. Her lioness form killed everyone in her presence. Atum sent Shu and a baboon named Thoth to find her. Once they located her, they tricked her into drinking a red colored liquid. This liquid calmed her down and returned her to a human form. When she came back to her native land, she brought moisture and rain to the area. The Nile was said to flow again with the water coming out of her body. Cities and towns throughout the country celebrated her return with great feasts, music, dancers, and animal performers.
During the time of Akhenaten, many of the old gods were dismissed or rejected. Shu and Tefnut did remain in favor of the new pharaoh. Akhenaten and his sister, Nefertiti, are often depicted as the twin lion gods.