The Story of Bes

“There is a unique and universal magic to ancient Egypt. Something about it resonates with the young as well as the mature, and that fascination cuts across all national and cultural boundaries.<

   John Anthony West,
   from the Foreword to The Story of Bes

Living My Bes Life Blog

Dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the ancients and encouraging a lifetime of wonder Read More

Egyptian
Bes Facts

Easily recognized by his gnome-like stature, curly beard, feathered crown and perpetually protruding tongue, Bes was a unique and popular member of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Unlike the more familiar gods who were always featured in iconic picture-perfect profile, the undersized and over-stuffed Bes was usually depicted in a full frontal position

Celebrated as the full-service protector god who served as the champion of everything good and the protector against anything bad, Bes had a long and impressive list of deity duties, including:

Protector of Women.
Bes was especially important during pregnancy and childbirth when the ancients believed mother and child were most at risk from evil and destructive forces. Images of Bes were often depicted on the walls of birthing chambers, and on the semi-circular magical (apotropaic) wands of protection and the grotesque masks utilized as defensive magic on behalf of the mother and child during the birthing rituals. Bes can still be seen standing guard atop of each of the stone columns surrounding the ancient birthing chambers at Dendara and Edfu.

Bes on Birthing Chamber column

Protector and Entertainer of Children.
To showcase Bes’s power over all manner of misfortune, the Metternich Stela and other such carvings (referred to as “Cippi of Horus," depict young Horus clutching snakes and scorpions while trampling a crocodile under Bes’s protective gaze. Although known as a fierce fighter and protector, Bes also enjoyed a happy and jovial side and was thought to entertain children by singing and dancing. In fact, the ancients believed that if a baby smiled for no apparent reason, it was because Bes was making silly faces or tickling him. One of the earliest known trickster deities, Bes made good use of his playful side.

Protector of Children

Guardian against Nightmares and
Dangerous Animals of the Night.

As a protective deity, Bes was especially adept at vanquishing poisonous snakes and dangerous animals of the night, which explains why decorative likenesses of Bes were routinely carved into ancient Egyptian beds, including the one used by young King Tut. It was also common practice for a mother to draw a stylized likeness of Bes on the left palm of her child before bedtime, and then gently wrap the hand in dark cloth that had been blessed by Isis. This ritual was thought to invite Bes into the child’s dreams for the purpose of warding off inauspicious dreams and nightmares (referred to as “night hags," and to protect the sleeping child during the precarious hours of the night.

Bes with mouth open

Patron of Warriors, Hunters and Travelers.
Expanding his role as the Protector of Children, Bes also served as the champion of all under his protection. His fierce face, complete with the ever-taunting tongue, was featured on the shields, chariots and other battle regalia of the ancient Egyptians, and subsequently, the Romans. Soldiers were known to drink beer from Bes-shaped mugs as a deterrent to injury in battle. Moreover, evidence is mounting that Bes was brought to the New World (South America) by the Phoenicians, many centuries before Columbus was born.

Bes as a Warrior protector

Patron of Joy, Music, Dancing and Merrymaking.
In sharp contrast to his fierce protective aspects, the impish Bes was also associated with entertainment, laughter and happiness. This is due to the ancient’s belief in duality; balance in all things. Because of his comical character, it has been theorized that Bes may have been the most likely inspiration for the diminutive Court Jesters who entertained the royals in medieval times. Frequently depicted playing a harp, flute or tambourine while singing and dancing, we do know that Bes Festivals were very popular among the ancient Egyptians, and that these events generated a wildly joyful temperament through music and general merrymaking.

Bes Playing a Harp

Guardian of Families and Keeper of Domestic Happiness.
Unlike the official 42 state gods who could only be approached through the temple priests, Bes was considered a household deity available to everyone. Subcategories of this particular deity-duty included his role as a fertility god. In fact, archaeologists have recently discovered a Bes Chamber (also known as an “incubation chamber") in Saqqara. Women having difficulty becoming pregnant would visit the chamber, perhaps spending the night, in the hope Bes would increase their chances of conception. Bes even had his own oracle in the funerary temple of Seti I at Abydos where questions were submitted to him regarding various domestic concerns. As the patron of fashion (who can forget his stylish leopard skin wrap, rakishly belted with a live snake?) and cosmetics, Bes was often depicted on cosmetic jars and mirrors. Bes also served a welcome role as the encourager of toilet training.

Stylish Bes

God of Good Fortune, Luck and Probability.
The original lucky charm, it was believed that the diminutive Bes brought good luck and prosperity - but only to those who deserved it; an image which was later adapted by the Irish as the illusive Leprechaun. Even today, Bes plays a continuing cameo comic-book role in the Marvel Universe as the god of luck and probability where his superpowers include superhuman strength, longevity and resistance to harm as well as the ability to create good luck and bend probability to his advantage.

Bes Pendant

God of Commerce.
As the god of commerce, Bes was charged with the important duty of presiding over and protecting the Merchant Priesthood of ancient Egypt. The Merchant Priests were responsible for assuring abundance by carefully monitoring the flow of goods throughout the land. Aside from the actual physical flow of the material commodities, the ancients also believed these goods were imbued with spiritual powers that helped to maintain the necessary balance of energy. Because of the dwarf-like body of their ancient protector Bes, a short and portly body-type was often seen as a sign that an individual was destined to become a member of the Merchant Priesthood.

God of Commerce

Guardian of the Vineyards.
The only known temple in all of Egypt dedicated solely to Bes was found near the ancient vineyards of the Baharia Oasis, where Bes served as the protector of the grapes and dates used in making wine, their most important commodity. The ancients also entrusted Bes with the critical task of protecting the integrity of the finished product. That is why the ancient Egyptians stored their wine in Bes-shaped jugs. In his role as one of the original nature spirits, Bes was probably the inspiration for the Celtic Green Man who was also depicted in full-face with a familiar lolling tongue.

Bes as a wine pitcher

Guardian Against All Manner of Misfortune.
Coupled with his odd facial features (wide eyes bulging from under raised and bushy eyebrows, a flattened nose with wide nostrils, and full bushy beard), Bes’s perpetually protruding tongue was a sign of challenge meant to repulse and frighten away all evil spirits and evil-doers. Bes most likely served as the inspiration for the lolling-tongued gargoyles who continue to protect the cathedrals of Europe, as well as the portals, gates and home entrances throughout the Mediterranean.

Bes Block

The world has long embraced this pint-sized superhero of old, and continues to pay homage to Bes in books, classroom projects, doctoral dissertations, protective jewelry, original art work (visit dawndesigns.com), Bes Quest tours to his ancient homeland (think of Bes as Egypt’s version of Mickey Mouse, welcoming all visitors to the original Magic Kingdom), and perhaps even an animated feature film. One of the world’s first action heroes, Bes remains the tiny “go-to-god" who just keeps on going

 Winged Bes Figurine
Egyptian Wings Motif
The Story of Bes Modern Day The Falcon in the Nest
Bes Publications

Return to a bygone age when the world was filled with magic and ruled by immortals. Learn the mythology of ancient Egypt from of its own: Bes, the go-to little god whose long list of deity duties included: ‘Protector of Children,and ‘Patron of Joy, Music and Merry-making

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Bes Quest Tours

The oldest and most celebrated tourist attraction of all time, home to magnificent stone monuments built to last for eternity -- Egypt begs to be explored. Think of Bes as Egypt’s own ‘Mickey Mouse,welcoming all to the world’s original ‘Magic Kingdom>/p> Read More

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