She is the goddess that embodies the night sky and watches over the dead. The goddess Nut spreads her wings over the earth to push back the terrible forces of chaos. She is the daughter of Shu god of the air and Tefnut the goddess of moisture.
Nut is depicted by the Egyptians as a nude woman that stretches her legs and arms over the earth. The goddess is covered in stars and is sometimes seen with red dots across her body. This may be a reference to the path of the sun across the sky. Her image was both that of a mother and a protector. Nut was given a sacred symbol of a ladder.
The ladder, or maqet, was used to reference her based on the story of Osiris. Osiris, the god of life and death, was hiding from Set, who is the god of war and chaos. Osiris entered the sky by ladder to find protection from his mother. Nut is also painted with a water pot on her head, as a sow, cow or a sycamore tree. The symbols may be related to her role as a mother, with the pot representing a womb. The Egyptians had given her the role of protector of the dead as well as the mother of the gods.
The story of Nut begins with her being joined with Geb. Geb is her husband and god of the earth. As the sky, Nut lays over him to hold back the chaos beyond. Nut is later pregnant and Ra the sun god becomes furious with her. Ra is a jealous god and sees any new born gods as a threat. Ra tells Nut that she is forbidden from giving birth on any day of the year. She is saddened by this news and Thoth, the god of writing, offers to help her find a way to have her children.
At the time, Egyptians considered there to be 360 days in the year. Thoth plays a game against the moon god Khonsu. If Thoth wins, he is to gain some of the moons light. Finally, Thoth wins enough light for five days. Each day marks the birth of a different god: Osiris-god of life and death, Set-god of war and chaos, Isis-goddess of magic, Nephthys-goddess of death and the night, and the elder Horus-god of kings and the sky. Ra became enraged at Thoth and Nut’s trickery to disobey him. He punished Nut by permanently separating her from her husband Geb. Nut can never again be with Geb, but still remains proud of her five children.
Nut was one of the primary goddesses in ancient Egypt. However, she was never worshiped or honored with her own temple. In Egyptian mythology, rankings for gods and goddess were created. This hierarchy of deities contained categories called pesedjets. The highest of the pesedjets was the Ennead, which Nut was a part of. The nine gods of the Ennead were the elite of the gods. The Ennead of Heliopolis shows Nut, her parents and their children as part of this pesedjet. Heliopolis was later renamed by the Greeks because of the association with Ra. The remnants of the city still exist today on the edge of Cairo.
Although Nut did not have her own temple, she was still a common presence. Her image was painted inside a sarcophagus to watch over the dead. The ladder symbol for Nut was painted on tomb walls for protection from the goddess. The Egyptians believed that the dead could call upon Osiris to help them in the afterlife by including these symbols.
The goddess Nut was responsible for the cycles of day and night. She would attempt to get closer to her husband Geb causing it to grow dark. At this time, she is said to be pregnant. Some myths say that this is because Nut joins with Geb at night. Other myths describe Nut swallowing the stars, moon, and sun. Once swallowed, she later gives birth to them at either dawn or dusk. This explains depictions of the goddess with red dots across her body. They symbolize the journey of heavenly bodies that will later be reborn.
The book of Nut fittingly shows cycles of heavenly bodies. The book discusses aspects of astrology according to Egyptian beliefs. One such belief was that Nut laid her body over the world, and her two arms and legs touched one of the four cardinal directions. Her outstretched body would give birth to the sun each day and continue to protect the people from the violent chaos that remained beyond her body.