Anuket, 2017. Digital art in the style of an Art Deco poster.
Anuket is an ancient Egyptian Goddess of the cataracts or rapids on the Nile River in the region of Abu Island (called Elephantine Island in classical and modern times) in the south of Egypt, near the traditional border with Nubia. The cataracts there, the first of several stretches of rapids along the Nile, formed a barrier to boat travel that was very treacherous or even impassable except in seasons of high flood. She is the sister or daughter to Satet, another Nile Goddess of the area of the First Cataract, and the two of them plus Khnum, a local Ram-God, made up the Elephantine Triad from Middle Kingdom times (c. 2040-1640 BCE). Anuket is associated with the gazelle, as Satet is with the antelope, and both animals were linked with water in the Egyptian mind, perhaps because antelope and gazelles are often found near rivers or watering holes.
Anuket's name means "She Who Clasps" or "She Who Embraces" (which I suppose could also be interpreted as "She Who Hugs"), and may refer to the steep and enclosing banks of the Nile at the First Cataract, which hold the river as in the arms of the Goddess. Alternately, Her name may refer to the annual inundation of the Nile, whose floodwaters overflowed into the fields along the banks (though not in Her immediate neighborhood, as the banks are just too steep!), since these waters were said to "embrace" the fields in some ancient sources. Her name does have some darker connotations however, for it can also mean "She Who Strangles"; this may indicate a dual nature to the Goddess, like that of Hathor (who in some tales goes on a murder spree much like Sekhmet), and in fact Anuket was associated with Hathor in Thebes.
The worship of Anuket was known from at least Old Kingdom times, and may be of Nubian origin. She was strongly associated with that land and was known to have been worshipped there. Though the First Cataract traditionally marked the border between Egypt and Nubia, in Predynastic times (when a surprising amount of Egyptian religion and worship was established) the border had not yet been pushed that far south. So, if Anuket's worship at the First Cataract dates back to Predynastic times (and I suspect it might, though I can't prove it, because that particular landmark and location is so striking, and She is so strongly associated with it), then She is by definition of Nubian origin.
In Old Kingdom times Anuket was thought of as the daughter of Re, the Sun-God, though by Middle Kingdom times, as mentioned above, She had been incorporated into a triad with Satet and Khnum. She seems to have been at first considered a lesser wife of Khnum, after Satet, but in New Kingdom times was thought of as the daughter of Satet and Khnum.
Anuket has aspects of a huntress Goddess, much like Satet, perhaps because both were associated with varieties of antelope, a prime game animal in the area. She can be depicted as a woman with the head of a gazelle, or, less often, as the animal itself. Usually, however, She is depicted as fully human, as a woman in a sheath-dress wearing a flat-topped crown ringed with tall feathers (this headdress is thought by some to be proof of a Nubian origin). Her headdress sometimes bears a uraeus, the cobra of Lower Egypt, which oddly enough is the downstream or northern part of Egypt, though perhaps in Her case it is simply a royal association rather than a geographical one. She usually carries a papyrus sceptre, symbolic of strength and renewal, and an ankh, the symbol of life, both of which are appropriate to a water Goddess.
She was equated by the Greeks with their Hestia, a fire and hearth Goddess who was an avowed virgin. This is a little strange, especially since Anuket is very much a water Goddess, but also because Anuket's name of "Embracer" carries with it the connotations of a motherly embrace, and She was invoked as a maternal Goddess who protected the King; in fact in some texts She bears the title "Mother of the King". Perhaps because She was in late times the daughter figure in the triad with Khnum and Satet She was identified with Hestia, or perhaps Her huntress abilities reminded the Greeks of their fellow virgin-Goddess Artemis (who was Herself identified with the lioness Goddess Pakhet).
Anuket 's main cult center was at Abu Island near Aswan, where She was worshipped alongside Khnum and Satet. She also had Her own temple on the island of Setet (modern Sehel) , which is about 2 miles upstream of Abu to the south. She was worshipped through much of Lower Nubia (the northernmost part of Nubia on the border with Egypt) and is depicted on the temple to Amon-Re at Beit el-Wali in Nubia, about 38 miles south of Abu, built by Ramesses II (1290-1224 BCE). The original cult statue of Amon-Re has been destroyed (probably when the temple was used as a church—the name Beit el-Wali in Arabic means "House of the Holy Man" and a hermit may have lived there once upon a time—though surprisingly enough the paintings inside were left alone and are in good condition today) but there is still a statue of the king with Anuket and Khnum. In one relief at this temple, Anuket is depicted suckling the king, an act of protection and acceptance in Egyptian religious thought. Anuket was also depicted in a Ptolemaic temple in el-Dakka, Nubia; both these temples were dismantled and rebuilt on higher ground before the Aswan High Dam was completed in 1971 and the new Lake Nassar flooded the area.
Abu or Elephantine Island was the capital city of the first Upper Egyptian Nome (a Greek word meaning "province" or "administrative region") and was home to a very ancient settlement dating from the early Dynastic period (3100-2686 BCE), which included a temple built among the rocks of the cataract. Because space was limited, several temples were built there, one on top of the other, leaving a clear progression of building levels (an archaeologist's dream). The earliest shrine there was a niche in the rocks that probably housed the cult-statue; the exact Deity worshipped there at that time is unknown, but as many of the early votive offerings found there were figures of children, implying wishes for an easy childbirth, I'd guess the Deity there was one of the Goddesses rather than a God, (my hunch is Satet, as She is more strongly associated with childbirth) as She was also worshipped at that spot in later times and Egyptian religion is generally uncannily stable.
Elephantine Island gets its classical name from the trade in ivory that passed through the region, as it was a gateway to Nubia; and both trade and royal expeditions were commonly launched from there. Anuket, with Satet and Khnum, were invoked by these travellers as protective guardians on their sometimes dangerous trips, and on the island of Sehel, which was consecrated to Her, more than 200 inscriptions to the three are found, some asking for a safe journey into Nubia, others giving thanks for a safe return.
Anuket is very closely linked with Satet, and it may be that they are sister Goddesses, or two aspects of the same Goddess, as They are both protective Goddesses of the Cataracts and the Nile in the region of Abu Island. The Elephantine triad of Khnum, Satet and Anuket was in late times paralleled with that of Osiris, Isis and Nephthys; as Isis and Nephthys are sister Goddesses, and are often depicted equally in their roles supporting or mourning for Osiris (though Isis otherwise is more well known), perhaps this indicates a similar equal relationship between Anuket and Satet.
Also spelled: Anket, Anquet, Anqet, Anjet. Anukis is the Greek version of Her name.
Epithets: Mother of the King, Lady of Elephantine, Lady of Life, Lady of the Cataracts, Lady of Heaven, Mistress of the Gods, Mistress of Nubia, Lady of Setet