Mothers, Children, Ferocious Dwarves, and Other Protectors


Many of the images of divine beings seen in "Gender and Religion" are protective in some way, helping to insure the safety, status, or afterlife of the person who wore, owned, dedicated, or even saw the image. As in most premodern societies, life in ancient Egypt was a precarious endeavor for everyone: life spans were short, mortality rates in childbirth and infancy were high, and the natural environment bore frequent threats of flood, famine, and dangerous animals. To counteract these dangers, the ancient Egyptians developed strategies involving protective images, amulets, and the use of magic. Many of these strategies involved the invocation of female deities who were known for protective powers; goddesses such as Isis and Hathor were specialists in specific protective functions. Women and their children were especially at risk at certain points of life, and their protection was seen as a particular priority. Given the state of Egyptian medical knowledge, childbirth was a time of special danger for both mother and newborn, while children remained vulnerable to disease and their environment as they grew up. A whole complex of protective strategies involving specialized goddesses and gods developed to ensure the safety of women and children. Protection was a gendered activity in Egyptian thought, specific in terms of both protective deities and protected entities.

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