Magical Container in the Shape of a Hippopotamus Deity

Second Intermediate Period–early Dynasty 18

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 116

The hybrid hippopotamus goddess that is known as Taweret or Ipet functions here as magical jar. As usual she stands upright and is shown as a fusion of a hippopotamus, lion, crocodile, and human. The cavity inside the figure was accessible through a small rounded lid at the very top. Three openings that are situated between her teeth, at the back of her head, and at the lid might have functioned to insert a wire that depicted a tongue or snake protruding from her mouth. At the same time this wire could have secured the lid. On the underside of the base is a design that shows convoluted coils and that is known from seals. Intertwined coils, loops, and knots were all magically powerful objects that were connected to protection and the creation of life. The hippopotamus goddess protected women in childbirth and it is possible that a small magic papyrus, maybe a spell for mother and child, was stored in this jar. The container might additionally have been used as part of a magical act when the spell was recited, evoking the protective goddess that is represented here and possibly using the jar’s underside to press its magically powerful design onto the pregnant woman or infant.

Magical Container in the Shape of a Hippopotamus Deity, Glazed steatite

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