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Heqet: Egyptian Frog Goddess

Depiction of Heqet

Goddess Heket, also known as Hekat and Heqet, is the Egyptian goddess of fertility and grain germination.

She is commonly associated with pregnancy and childbirth. The meaning behind her name is vague, but sources believe that it is derived from the word “heqa,” which means “ruler” or “scepter.”

Often portrayed as a woman with the head of a frog and with knives in her hand, Heqet is believed to be the symbol of fertility and abundance. 

This is because in Egypt, when the River Nile floods, frogs appear out of nowhere; almost as if by magic, or so it is believed.

Since the ancient Egyptians do not have a term for midwives who help with childbirth, the priestesses are referred to as “the servants of Heqet.”

Who is Goddess Heqet?

Heqet depicted on a board.
Mistrfanda14 / CC BY-SA

An old goddess, Heqet, is one of the earlier cult statues that has been identified from the late Predynastic periods.

In the late Ptolemaic Period, temples were built and dedicated to her at Gesy in Upper Egypt. Heqet is known to be the daughter of Ra, the god of the sun, and the most important god in Egyptian history. 

Heqet is also known to be the consort of Khnum, the potter god, and the god of creation.

His role in Egyptian mythology was to sculpt and create the human body using the mud of the River Nile.

Khnum’s responsibility lies in the formation of the human body while Heqet is responsible for breathing a Ka into an inanimate being, after which the child is placed in the mother’s womb.

The god Khnum, accompanied by Heqet, moulds Ihy in a relief from the mammisi (birth temple) at Dendera Temple complex.
Roland Unger / CC BY-SA

She has the power to bring body and spirit into the being. Together, Khnum and Heqet are responsible for the formation, creation, and birth of every living being in the Egyptian universe.

There is a famous portrayal that can be found in Egypt. It includes an image of Khnum working his wheels and forming a new child while Heqet kneels before him wielding her knives, getting ready to breathe life into the child. 

Heqet: A Midwife and Psychopomp

Statue of Heqet, the Frog Goddess
Daderot / CC0

Within Egyptian Mythology, Heqet is famous as a midwife and a guide for the death also called a psychopomp. 

In the tale of the Triplets, Heqet is depicted as a midwife. Here, Heqet, Isis, and Meskhenet are sent by Ra to the birthing chamber of the royal mother, Ruddedet.

They are given the task to help her in giving birth to the triplets that were destined to be Pharaohs.

Disguised as dancing girls, the goddesses stepped foot in the palace. Heqet quickens the birth of the twins while Isis gives them names, and Meskhenet predicts their future.

In this tale, Heqet is portrayed with ivory wands as a knife welding frog. These wands look like boomerang-shaped items, not modern-day knives.

They are used as throwing sticks instead of cutting. The ivory wands are believed to be used in rituals to draw protective energy during difficult or dangerous times.

They are also associated with the liminal time of childbirth when the child and mother are both vulnerable to negative forces. 

It was common for pregnant women to wear amulets with portrayed of goddess Heqet for protection.

During the Middle Kingdom, ivory knives and clappers were also inscribed with the goddess’s name so that women could ward off evil when they gave birth.

Heqet: The Resurrectionist

Anthropomorphic depiction of Heqet in the temple relief of Ramesses II in Abydos.
Olaf Tausch derivative work: JMCC1 / CC BY

Frogs have a magical connection to the spiritual world of Egyptians. Spontaneously generated by the mud left behind after the River Nile floods, the hieroglyphs of the tadpole also symbolize the number 100,000.

This is associated with abundance and birth. However, the hieroglyph of the tadpole is used alongside the phrase “Ankh Wajet Seneb.”

This stands for “the repeating of life,” a concept of rebirth and the afterlife.

In the myth of Osiris, Heqet stood at the edge of his coffin and breathed life into the King so that he could raise from the dead.

Acting as the divine midwife at his rebirth, Heqet allowed the King to go back to being the King of the Underworld.

Frog-shaped amulets were passed at the burial ceremony in the hope that Heqet would help with their rebirth into the afterlife.

Just as Khnum created the physical body, Heqet helps souls enter it. Just as the rebirth of a physical body, Heqet’s knives are used to severe the binding cords.

When death arrives, Heqet cuts the bindings that life places on the soul and stands guard to guide the body into the afterlife. 

Heqet’s cult was active during the Early Dynastic period, and her name was taken as his own by the Second Dynasty prince, Nisu-Heqet.

Goddess Heqet was an important deity in Egyptian life, especially for Egyptian women, including queens, commoners, midwives, mothers, and pregnant women. 

References:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325783835_Godess_Hekat_Frog_Diety_in_Ancient_Egypt
  2. https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/heqet/#:~:text=Heqet%20(Heqat%2C%20Heket)%20was,the%20head%20of%20a%20frog.&text=Heqet%20holds%20an%20ankh%20(symbolising,infant%20Hatshepsut%20and%20her%20ka
  3. http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/heqet.htm

Header image courtesy: Olaf Tausch derivative work: JMCC1 / CC BY

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The Editors of Give Me History, "Heqet: Egyptian Frog Goddess," Give Me History, September 15, 2020, https://givemehistory.com/heqet-egyptian-frog-goddess.

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