Pregnancy and childbirth carried great risks for mothers and their children, so women looked to the deities for assistance and protection. Ancient Egyptians believed that various evil spirits were a threat to pregnant women and newborn infants, and the spirits needed to be warded off. They countered these threats with magic, using spells and invoking the deities. There were several goddesses associated with fertility, pregnancy and childbirth in ancient Egypt.

Taweret

Taweret was a goddess and demoness of birth, rebirth and the northern sky. She was known as the Great Female -- protector of maternity and childbirth. Taweret was depicted as a pregnant hippopotamus with human breasts, the paws and mane of a lion and the tail of a crocodile. Sometimes Taweret was depicted with a crocodile on her back. All of these creatures associated with Tawaret are known for their fierce protection of their offspring. Taweret was also regarded as a demoness because the animals depicted in her appearance were all man-killers.

Worship and Amulets

Although there are no temples dedicated to Taweret, there are amulets and domestic items, such as cosmetic boxes, that bear her image. The goddess was venerated by the common people, and worshiped at the household altar, which was appropriate, since she was a household deity. Expectant mothers kept amulets of Taweret because of their protective powers. Jewelry often depicted an image of the goddess.

The Opet - Taweret Connection

Opet was an ancient Egyptian deity of protection. She also appeared in the form of a hippopotamus and was referred to as the "mistress of magical protection." She was identified with the goddess Taweret, also known as "the Great One." The Opet became assimilated into Taweret and the two became identified as one. Opet was only one of several goddesses that could take the form of a hippopotamus. She was considered a personification of the city, Thebes.

Other Goddesses

There were several goddesses linked with fertility and childbirth in ancient Egypt. The goddess Isis was the embodiment of motherhood and was referred to as the "great mother." She was often invoked in magical spells to protect children. Hathor was a goddess of fertility, childbirth and female sexuality. However, only the goddess Taweret or Opet was depicted as being pregnant in physical representations.