Her name and figure come from pre-dynastic times and survived to the end, relating to words for yarn and the name of the workroom, hall or house where weaving was done. Fiber technology in Africa goes back to Paleolithic times and reached a zenith in Egypt, in ship-building and sailing, and in every field of activity and in every aspect of their daily lives. “String-stretching” was the predecessor of surveying, used to re-establish boundaries lost annually by the inundation of the Nile. String was used to measure out the foundations of sacred buildings, tombs, palaces and homes and to create the clean lines and measured proportions of their wall paintings and carvings. The Pyramids were measured out by string and the stone blocks were dragged into place with handmade rope.
Weaving was practiced from earliest times in many cultures. Three thousand year-old knitted woolen baby socks have been found in Egypt. Romans declared that Egypt produced the finest linen, strong yet so sheer as to be transparent, woven by hand. Neith was called upon for guidance while making the magic knots in amulets. She was associated also with the powers who prepare and weave the threads of individual fate. Her shrines stood in every town.
Neith is associated with the Red Crown, which symbolizes mastery of physical skills. Ancient petroglyphs of Saharan women, carrying bows and crossed arrows, and running with fine, long legs can be seen in deep places in Africa. The image of the independent, strong woman remains vital in African cultures, even those in elsewhere than Africa. This spirit of the desert-bred huntress survived in Egypt as Neith, wearing the Red Crown of the North and holding her bow and arrows. The symbol of arrows crossed upon a shield represented her everywhere in the empire.
Just as the huntress of the pre-dynastic time became the civilized housekeeper of the First Dynasty onward, Neith transformed her skill at fiber technology from stringing bows to the needs of the household. Making a bowstring requires knowledge of fiber technology in general as well as experience with the tools, materials and material sources. You must know which plants or animal products to choose, as well as when and how to harvest and prepare them. This knowledge is easily adapted to the demands of weaving and knitting as well as net- and rope-making. Women who were skilled in the one were also skilled in the other. Stringing a bow and stringing a loom differ only in degree. Both can be applied toward getting you something you can wear.
The festivals, rituals and ceremonies in which Neith is featured demonstrate the Egyptian’s reverence for these vital tasks. The production and maintenance of lamp wicks was another responsibility of her devotees. Festivals of lights are associated with her. The ritual of lighting lamps was dedicated to her. Oil lamps are older than villages, as old as art itself. There are stone and clay bowl-lamps with animal-fat and plant-fiber wicks found at the sites of the great cave painting cathedrals dating back 30,000 years. This ancient duty of Neith carries the continuity of the cultural strata underlying dynastic Egypt from the Paleolithic to modern times.
The role of Neith is not the same as Hathor’s role in motherhood, nor even that of Lady of The House in her estate-management responsibilities. Neith provided the equally necessary role model for unattached maidens and women without children, women who have time, energy, skills and intelligence to offer. The social equality and personal freedom which the Egyptian woman enjoyed was reflected in the sincerity with which she devoted her energies to her family and friends, and to her duties to community and nation.
Neith is with us still today. Modern fiber technology has gone so far beyond sinew, hemp and flax as to seem utterly unrelated to them. Our technological marvels, however, are as strung together with fibers and cables now as when the Pyramids were built. We do not use these fibers and cables for sheer brute strength (except, perhaps, in bridges and parachutes.) We use fibers to communicate and to link us together into a single society. Every time you make a phone call to, every time you use the Internet, you are relying upon the skills, technology and experience that began with Neith‘s patient handiwork in ancient gardens and fields.