Bes – Birth Story, Powers, Abilities, Symbols & Meaning
Highly praised with appellations such as the “Dwarf god”, ancient Egyptian god Bes was primarily associated with fertility, childbirth, sexuality, and war. Usually depicted with the Egyptian royal beard and gargantuan ears, Bes was very popular in the Egyptian pantheon because of the belief that he protected the most vulnerable in the society – i.e. pregnant women, infants, and children.
The land of ancient Egypt also believed that the fertility god Bes had the ability to ward off evil spirit and demonic forces that sought to do harm in the home. It is for this reason painting and portraits of Bes appeared on items in the homes of ancient Egyptians, including children’s cribs, mirrors, jars, bed headrests, bracelets, cutlery, and furniture, among others.
Fast Facts about Bes
God of: fertility, protection, children, pregnant women, dancing and music
Major worship places: in the homes of Egyptians
Symbols: Monkey, jars,
Epithets: “Supporter of everything good and hater of everything evil”, “the fighter”, “Lord of Punt”, “Coming from the Divine”.
Also known as: Bisu, Aha
To this day, scholars are yet to unravel any detailed origin story of the Egyptian god Bes. What we do know, however, is that Bes was a very important Egyptian deity.
Ancient Egyptians were on constant watch for evil spirits and bad magic that could do them or their family members harm. This was exactly why deities like Bes rose to lofty prominence, as he is one of the few gods that had the ability to keep evil spirits at bay.
Bes and Heka
Both Bes and Heka (the primordial and omnipresent god of medicine and magic) were often invoked when mothers sang the Magical Lullaby to their infant children. The lullaby was said to contain not just protective charms but also charms that could soothe the child. Those bedtime songs were intended to give pleasant dreams to the child. They also kept the child safe and healthy during the night.
Being a protective deity, Bes came to be associated with many Egyptian gods and goddesses. Examples of those deities include Amun, Min, Horus, Reshef, Ra, and Hathor (also known as the Distant Goddess).
According to some modern scholars, Bes was associated with minor Egyptian deities such as Segeb, Tetetenu, Ihty, Aha, and Amam, among others.
He was associated with the goddess Beset, who by the way was seen as Bes’ feminine aspect. In some accounts, Beset is revered as the mother of the falcon-headed god Horus.
How Bes entertained Hathor upon her return
According to the myth, it so happened that the Egyptian goddess Hathor (daughter of Ra) left Egypt and headed into a distant place. In her absence the land of Egypt began to suffer. Therefore the Sun god Ra dispatched Thoth to bring Hathor back. Upon Hathor’s return, Bes transformed into a monkey to entertain Hathor. Thus his efforts paid off in making the goddess feel at home.
In an actual sense, Bes is a demon, however, a good demon for that matter. Bes in the Egyptian pantheon is revered for being an enforcer of law and order (Ma’at), as well defending and protecting the righteous.
Bes was believed to be a powerful warrior with apt fighting skills. Those abilities of his came very handy when he fought against bad demons and evil spirits.
On the flip side, Egyptians believed that Bes did have a soft side that allowed him to be the god of laughter and humor. It stands to reason that Bes needed this particular trait since he was the protector of children. Mothers of babies that were restless would call upon Bes to intervene by whispering amusing words, songs, or sounds into the ear of the baby.
So whenever, a child laughed or giggled, the Egyptians believed that Bes was the one causing that excitement.
Bes was also associated with toilet training of young children. An even more important role of him had to do with whipping up confidence, bravery and truthfulness in the hearts and minds of young children.
Bes, the Dwarf god
Typical of many ancient Egyptian gods, Bes too had a multi-faceted personality. In some images and depictions, he was shown as a dwarf. What is even more interesting is the fact that he was depicted very ugly and scowling in some cases.
It must be noted that his unpleasing appearance did not in any way change his attitude towards Egyptians. The people believed that Bes was a very benevolent and protective deity.
Major epithets given to Bes
In addition to being the Dwarf God, he was known by a number of epithets such as: “Supporter of everything good and hater of everything evil” and “the Fighter”. The latter epithet reinforces his role as a war god. Be not be deceived by his charming personality and playful face; Bes was indeed a powerful deity who could strangle with his bare hands wild animals like leopards, lions and snakes.
Egyptians believed that he had no mercy on evil doers and plotters. His protection was available for everyone to take, including gods, pharaohs, and the average Egyptian.
How was Bes depicted?
Basically, the ancient Egyptians depicted Bes as a very comical character. This explains why he was depicted with large ears, long hair, a bow-legged, and a bushy tail. In some cases, he was depicted smiling to reinforce his playful character. Atop his head was sometimes the Atef crown, a symbol of his royalty.
In reference to his love for music and dancing, Bes was depicted holding a rattle while grooving to music.
Regarding his fertility prowess, Bes was shown with enormous genitals.
Often times, he can be seen holding a snake, a sword or a knife. Those somewhat hideous images of Bes at the entrance to a house or a dwelling were placed to scare of evil spirits.
Beginning around the New Kingdom era, he was depicted side-by-side with a pregnant Taweret. Both deities were worshiped for protecting pregnant women and children. Those kinds of images featured prominently in birth Houses (“mammisi”) of temples littered all over ancient Egypt
In the Roman era, he was depicted donning a battle uniform of the Roman legionnaire. The Romans saw him as more of a war deity than how he was perceived in ancient Egypt. He also sometimes wore a lion skin cape or a leopard skin cape.
Why was Bes associated with music?
In an almost patron-like manner, Egyptian god Bes was revered by a number of entertainers and professionals, including musicians, story tellers, and prostitutes. The latter group of people would often tattoo Bes images on their bodies to secure more clients. Musicians, dancers and other forms of entertainers also had tattoos of Bes.
Unlike traditional gods like Isis, Thoth, and Osiris, the god Bes did not have a formal cult center or temple dedicated to him. Bes was in fact a demon – a benevolent and protective demon. His worship was mainly in the homes of Egyptians because he was revered as one of the major gods who protected the home.
Regardless of the above, worship of Bes endured for a very long time, beginning around the Old Kingdom Era, down to the Roman Egyptian Era. Among those periods, the New Kingdom era was the best years for Bes worship as his reverence peaked among ancient Egyptians.
Importance of Bes in ancient Egypt
Women that struggled to conceive were advised to sleep in the temple chamber of Bes for a night or so. Should the mother conceive and give birth later, Bes amulets and charms would then be placed in the child’s crib in order to call upon Bes’ continued protection of the child. Even into the individual’s adult years, the individual would be required to periodically offer prayers and offerings to Bes.
Powers and abilities
Over the course of ancient Egypt’s history, Bes’ role evolved, as it was common among many ancient Egyptian deities. In addition to protecting women and children, Bes became the protector of all Egyptians. He is said to come to the aid of anyone in dire need of help.
He was also important as he could in an instant strike down enemies of the Egyptians. This explains why some ancient Egyptian soldiers took to the habit of painting images of Bes on their weapons. By doing so, the soldiers believed that Bes would walk with them into battle, as well as keep them safe.
More Bes facts
Being a domestic god, Bes was worshiped in the homes of Egyptians at well-decorated shrines with ornaments, vases and water jars. In honor of him, the family would offer food and drinks. In some cases, some special herbs or incense would be lit in order to make the atmosphere more hospitable for the god.
The ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III placed images of Bes in his temple at Malkata.
At the city of Deir el-Medina, Bes and his consort Taweret were very popular as they appeared side by side on many paintings.
Originally, he was the protector of Egyptian rulers and pharaohs; however, he later became the protector of the average “Joe” in ancient Egypt.
There have been some scholars that trace Bes’ origins to ancient Nubia or Libya. If such assertions were true, it would explain how he got the epithet “Lord of Punt”.
Images of Bes were placed at birth houses in order to invite the protection of the god.
Outgoing and jubilant children were said to be in possession of a lot of magic (heka) from Bes. Similarly young children that were good at dancing and singing were said to have similar magic from the god.
His scowling and slightly ugly looks make him appear as an evil god; however, he was far from that. He was truly indeed a very kind, warm-hearted and humorous god.
Bes shrines were also placed close to vineyards so that he could keep the grapes fresh and see to it that the wine produced was of best quality.
Comparable to the protective prowess of deities like Heka and Hathor, the Egyptian god Bes was famed for maintaining the principle of Ma’at (cosmic balance and harmony).
Bes was definitely not the best-looking Egyptian god in the pantheon; however, he was probably the most playful and one of the most kind-hearted gods. His worship went beyond the shores of ancient Egypt into places like Anatolia, Cyprus and Syria, among others.
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