The Egyptian Sky Goddess Nut: Myth and Symbolism

In the pantheon of ancient Egyptian deities, few are as visually striking and rich in symbolism as Nut, the goddess of the sky. This towering figure of myth is often depicted in Egyptian art as a woman arched protectively over the earth, her body adorned with stars.

Nut’s mythology is woven into the very fabric of ancient Egyptian cultural and spiritual life, embodying not only the sky itself but also concepts of creation, rebirth, and the afterlife.

Geb and Nut the egyptian sky goddess
Geb and Nut. E. A. Wallis Budge (1857-1937), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Myth of Nut

The Egyptian sky goddess Nut is one of the oldest deities in Egyptian mythology, with references to her dating back as early as the Old Kingdom. She was recognized as the daughter of Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture and rainfall.

Nut is also the sister and wife of Geb, the earth god, making her an integral part of the Heliopolitan creation myth.

Her story is one of cosmic significance. Each morning, Nut gives birth to the sun god Ra, who travels across her body throughout the day before being swallowed at sunset.

During the night, Ra travels through the underworld, and come dawn, is reborn again from Nut’s womb.

This cyclical event is not just a depiction of day and night but also symbolizes the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

A 3000 year-old vignette from the Djedkhonsuiefankh funerary papyrus on display in the Cairo Egyptian Museum.
A 3000 year-old vignette from the Djedkhonsuiefankh funerary papyrus on display in the Cairo Egyptian Museum. SenemmTSR, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Symbolism of the Egyptian Goddess Nut

Within the intricate tapestry of Egyptian mythology, the role of Shu, the god of air and father to Nut, is pivotal. According to the Heliopolitan creation story, it was Shu who separated Nut, the sky, from her twin brother and husband Geb, the earth.

This act of separation by Shu was more than a mere physical division; it was symbolic of the establishment of the cosmos’ law and order.

Shu is often depicted in Egyptian art as a man supporting Nut in an arched position over Geb, emphasizing his role in creating space for life to exist.

By lifting Nut into the heavens, Shu allowed for the cycle of the day and the rhythm of night to commence. His action brought structure to the once undifferentiated chaos, creating room for the interplay of natural forces that would govern all of existence.

shu egyptian god
Shu holding up the sky. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nut, positioned between the heavens and the earth, became the medium through which these cosmic cycles could manifest.

Her body, adorned with celestial bodies like the sun, moon, and stars, portrayed the heavens in motion – the moon waxing and waning, the sun rising and setting, and the stars marking the seasons and the passage of time.

Each was a reminder of the precision and regularity of the universe, embodying the idea that life, death, and rebirth were all part of an unending cycle overseen by the divine.

The symbolism here is rich and multi-layered. Nut’s expansive presence across the sky signified protection, not just from the physical elements, but also from the metaphysical threats of chaos and disorder.

The Egyptians saw their world as one of balance and ma’at (harmony), which the outstretched form of Nut helped maintain. Through her, the daily renewal of life was ensured, and the transition of souls to the afterlife was safeguarded.

Moreover, the imagery of Nut and Shu demonstrates the interconnectedness of all things: the earth cannot exist without the sky, the dead cannot pass on without the living, and time itself is reliant on the motion of celestial bodies.

In this way, Nut, supported by Shu, becomes a symbol not just of the sky, but of the underlying unity that binds all aspects of creation together.

Relief in the Hathor temple at Dendera representing the Ogdoad: Top right: Nu and Nut; top left: Hehu and Hehut; bottom right: Kek and Keket, the egyptian god and goddess of darkness; bottom left: "Ni and Nit" (for Qerh and Qerhet).
Relief in the Hathor temple at Dendera representing the Ogdoad: Top right: Nu and Nut; top left: Hehu and Hehut; bottom right: Kek and Keket; bottom left: “Ni and Nit” (for Qerh and Qerhet). Dendera_Deckenrelief_02.JPG: Olaf Tauschderivative work: JMCC1 (talk)photographe/égyptologue, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Protector of the Dead

The Egyptian sky goddess Nut was also intimately associated with the afterlife. She was believed to shelter and rejuvenate the souls of the dead within her star-spangled body, offering them the possibility of rebirth.

The stars were thought to be the souls of the dead or, in some interpretations, droplets of milk from Nut’s udders. This reinforced her role as a nurturer and caretaker, with the Milky Way itself serving as a representation of her nourishing abundance.

The ceilings of many tombs in the Valley of the Kings were adorned with images of Nut, intended to ensure the protection of the deceased’s soul.

A Celestial Mother

As the mother of Ra and the one through whom he is reborn every day, Nut was considered the ultimate mother figure.

This maternal aspect made her an important deity in matters of life and fertility. The comfort and care she provided to the sun god each night were extended, metaphorically, to the people of Egypt as well.

Egyptian Goddess Nut
Egyptian Goddess Nut. -alice-, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nut in Art and Architecture

In Egyptian art, Nut is often depicted in one of two ways: either as a woman bending over the earth with her hands and feet touching the ground, representing her embodiment of the sky, or as a cow whose body is similarly decorated with stars.

Temples and tombs frequently featured her image on their ceilings, reinforcing her role as the protector of both the living and the dead.

Moreover, texts like the Book of the Dead often contain hymns and prayers dedicated to Nut, emphasizing her importance in the journey of the soul after death.

The coffin texts, spells inscribed on the insides of coffins, often invoked Nut’s protection, ensuring the deceased’s safe passage into the afterlife.


In essence, Nut’s stretched form across the sky is a powerful representation of the constant protective vigilance of the gods over the created world. Her nightly embrace of the sun, ensuring its return every morning, and her cradling of the dead to rebirth in the afterlife reflect a worldview where continuity and regeneration are fundamental.

The representation of the Egyptian goddess Nut as the sky and its celestial bodies offered comfort and assurance to the people of Egypt, who saw in her the cyclical nature of existence. The roles of Nut and Shu were fundamental to the mythological framework of ancient Egypt, epitomizing the eternal balance between earth and sky, life and death, and order and chaos.

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