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The Mother Deity Aset: Who is She?

By Asantewaa Oppong Wadie, Ed.D. and Angela C. Davis 


Presented by Omni-U Virtual University



“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home…”[1]


These words may not only capture the feelings of a people physically removed from their home and wrenched apart from family, but it might also, more importantly, hint at the spiritual emptiness experienced when a traditionally matrilineal people[2] are forced to reckon with a violent patriarchal [3]religious culture.


 The Mother Deity, Aset, is among the oldest and most powerful of the African Woman Deities.  The massiveness of Her scope and influence as well as the intensity of Her concern for the well-being of humanity, leaves little room for wonder  why African people have been so devoted to Her, and would naturally long for Her during their captivity.


This essay introduces the Deity Aset and answers the question  of who she is.


I Aset am that which was, and is, and will ever be, and no mortal man has lifted the veil which covers me.”


The words above were probably originally written at a temple devoted to Aset at the site of Sais [Egypt]. We understand the lifting of the veil to mean enlightenment and understanding. 


Aset is a divinity that defies categorization. We agree with the statement that no one can fully understand Her. She is so much more than the concepts with which we relate to Her: mother, grandmother, sister, daughter,

and wife. 


Rather than presenting a comprehensive look at Aset, we are narrowing our presentation to the question who is Aset?


Humans create the deities that they require. Aset emerged very early in the imagination of our African ancestors. She is a Deity manifest as mother.  She was depicted, pre-dynastically, bare breasted and with horns.


Aset encompassed, or became associated with, other Divinities such as: Neith, Mut, and Sekhmet. We also see Her presence in later divinities such as Mami Wata.


The narratives referencing Aset date back to antiquity. The oldest source where we can find Aset is in what Egyptologists call the Pyramid Texts.


According to Steven Quirk, author of Ancient Egyptian Religion, “[Aset] first appears… in the Pyramid Texts inscribed on the wall for the pyramid of King Unas who ruled c. 2400 BCE.”

The story of Her divine lineage begins with Atum who brings forth Shu and Tefnut and from this divine pair comes Geb and Nut the parents of Aset, Wosir, Seth and Nebet hwt.


In the story of Horus and Set, Aset is the principal player who establishes the protocol for kingship. The earliest attestation of resurrection and the afterlife are also portrayed in ancient texts where Aset, the Mistress of Magic, utters the sacred words that temporarily resurrect Her husband, Wosir; after which  he   will go on to become the ruler of the Afterlife. This makes Aset one of the first documented teachers of death, resurrection, and the afterlife. In addition, Her story makes us aware that order will ultimately triumph over chaos, even if chaos momentarily seems insurmountable.


Later called Isis by the Greeks, Aset is known by many names and titles. Among them is Mother of God. In Greek the term Theotokos means “Mother of God.” The Council of Ephesus in 432 CE decreed Mary, mother of Jesus as Theotokos. Early church elders gave Mary a title that was formerly only associated with Aset.  Some of Aset’s other titles included: With the Beautiful Throne, Thrice Great Goddess, and Queen of Heaven. These titles were also given to the Virgin Mary by the church.


According to the authors of “Black Women in Antiquity:”


“So appealing was the goddess that 3000 years after her name appeared in Egypt, people honored her all over Europe…”


The worship of Aset is the first international religion- effortlessly crossing ethnic and language barriers. As far away as Asia and Latin America, we find vestiges of Her image and worship. It is important to bear in mind that as far as we know, the school of Aset had no missionaries and no evangelists. People followed the teachings of Aset because She appealed to their humanity and comforted them. Her liturgy, rites, songs, incantations, and symbols can still be found all around the world.


It is unfortunate that the African contact with the warmongering nature of Europeans has led to a diminished or distorted understanding of who Aset is.  However, we take great comfort in the fact that the sun seems to be rising again on the idea of a “Mother Deity.” There is a visible and palpable current of Black people attempting to search for their authentic selves - their true Mother. She is also searching and waiting for us. Poetically speaking, Aset is calling out to us to return to Her Divine embrace.


Blognotes:

[1] “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child“ by Harry Thacker Burleigh


[2] a system of kinship in which ancestral descent is traced through  the maternal (mother) lines rather than the paternal lines.


[3] a kinship system in which ancestral descent is traced through paternal lines,ie., men or male relatives.


Recommended Viewing:

“Once Upon a Way-back Time, Part 2” “Featuring: Tejumola "Teju" Ologboni; Gwendolyn Hillary; Andrea Fain; D. Kucha Brownlee;Baba Tony Brown, Ancestor Oscar Brown, Jr.; Judith Heineman; Ancestor Ellen Samuels; and Marjorie Stroud.



“Queen of Kings: Empress Menen Asfaw” Featuring: Dr. Asantewaa Oppong Wadie and Kwadwo Oppong Wadie, Ph.D. 



Recommended Reading:

Ra Un Nefer Amen I. Metu Neter


 Recommended Listening: 

“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,“ Sung by Odetta


Please come join us for Empress Menen day 2024 on April 20th at Charles Hayes center, 4859 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL.60615

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