Hathor-Sekhmet – Holy Heifer – Lioness – Egyptian Goddess of the Sun, the Moon and the Heavenly Sky

Hathor and Sekhmet are two sides of the same Goddess. Hathor is Her gentle, nurturing and life-giving aspect, while Sekhmet is Her fierce and destructive side.

Hathor, the Holy Heifer, symbolises the entire heavens including the Sun, the Moon and the stars. She is depicted as a cow, which is a symbol of nurture and life and by extension represents civilisation. Hathor reveals Her origins through Her headdress which consists of a solar disc surrounded by two lunar cow horns and the ancient wise serpent symbol, the Uraeus cobra. Hathor’s cow belly is descibed as being full of stars, which connects Her to the Goddess Neit, who is the heavens.

Hathor’s origins lie in southern Upper Egypt. It is speculated that She is about 6,000 years old, as Her image has been found drawn on rocks near Naqada and at the settlement of Girez. Both excavations have been dated to the Predynastic Period of about 4,000 BCE.

Although later Egyptian mythology was similar to Classical Greek mythology in that it had an entire pantheon with goddesses and gods that were very human with family trees and life stories, earlier predynastic beliefs were much more animistic and nature based. With that in mind, Hathor – who wasn’t always called that, but nobody knows Her original name for sure – literally IS the sky, the Moon and the Sun.

Hathor, who Merlin Stone suggests was once one and the same as Neit, Methyer and Meh Urit, is the primordial gentle aspect of the universe. She is the gentle life-giving aspect of our Sun without which there would be no life on Earth. She is also the gentle Moon with Her three phases that are so closely linked to women, water and magic. Hathor’s celestial milk is the nourishing rain that fills the rivers and sustains life. She is all the stars in the sky, although over the years She became particularly associated with the seven stars of the Sothis constellation (Canis Major).

The ancient Egyptians pictorally visualised the sky, the Sun, the Moon and all the stars as being a living cow who sustained Her children with Her nourishing milk, i.e. the rain. Later mythology would associate Hathor solely with the sky while Horus would come to represent the Sun. This is also where Hathor got Her name from. About 3,000 BCE Upper and Lower Egypt were forcibly united into one large country. At the same time the “Shemsu Hor”, the People of Horus arrived. They re-named the Great Cosmic Mother, the Holy Heifer, the Giver and Sustainer of Life, to “Hat Hor” or “House of Horus”. Unfortunately, as said before, nobody knows for sure what Her original name was.

As the Goddess as the Sun Hathor-Sekhmet symbolises both aspects of our beautiful star. While Hathor, the Celestial Cow, represents the gentle spring Sun – note how Taurus, the Bull, is the fixed sign of spring – Her alter ego Sekhmet, the Fiery Lioness, represents the hot burning summer Sun – again, note how Leo, the Lion, is the fixed sign of summer.

Like Hathor, Sekhmet also wears the Sun disk and the Uraeus Serpent as Her headdress. She does not, however, wear the lunar cow horns, as She is solely linked to the Sun.

Sekhmet, the Mighty One, the destructive mid-summer Sun, is hot, fierce and dangerous. She is also called “Nesert”, the Flame, as the dry summer heat is often linked to destructive wild fires.

Although the fierce African sun is potentially life-threatening, in small doses it can be medicinal. All life on the surface of the Earth needs sunlight to thrive, so even in mid-summer the Sun has healing properties. Sekhmet is “the Great One of Healing” and Her priestesses were renowned for their medical expertise.

Returning to gentle Hathor, here is a little more about Her:

Hathor is the Goddess of Song and Dance. The ancient Egyptians believed that it was She who taught humans how to sing and dance the sacred dance of the sistrum rattle with its jingling rhythms. The sistrum was associated with Hathor and treated with great reverence.

Hathor is the Goddess of Happiness, Joy, Love and all Good Things. She was worshipped all across Egypt and beyond, as far north as Byblos in Phoenicia (today’s Lebanon) and as far south as Nubia, northern Sudan.

Hathor is

– Lady of the Stars
– The One Who Shines as Gold
– Mistress of the Desert
– Lady of Heaven
– Sovreign of Imaau [1]

It is said that Hathor is right there when a baby is born. It is She who breathes life into her or his nostrils with Her sacred Ankh. As the Sacred Seven She prophesises each infant’s destiny.

Hathor is the wind and the rain. She quenches our thirst with Her celestial milk. She heals and sustains us with Her gentle life-giving sun’s rays.

Every year the ancient Egyptians celebrated the Feast of Hathor in the third month of the Flooding Season (Inundation) at the end of August. They would party like crazy with sistrum music, dancing, lovemaking and lots of intoxicating red barley beer.

The origin of this can be traced to two stories. The first one is definitely a dynastic story, so is tainted with ideas of manly pride and war. It was a story told by the followers of the Sun god Ra in his main centre of worship Heliopolis. The second story rings much more ancient, as Hathor seems to be still autonomous. It comes from Denderah near the ancient rocks of Naqada, Hathor’s likely place of origin.

Starting with the first story, this tells us a little more about Hathor-Sekhmet and the significance of the red barley beer that was consumed so liberally at Hathor’s Feast Day.

According to legend one day the Sun god Ra turned to Hathor for help and protection. Apparently he’d overheard a group of men on top of a moutain plotting a conspiracy against him. He asked Hathor to “neutralise the threat”, as it were. This is when gentle nurturing Hathor transformed Herself into the fierce lioness Sekhmet. She slayed all of Ra’s enemies, but didn’t stop there. Having got a taste for human blood, She went on a rampage that nearly killed all of humanity. In order to stop Her Ra apparently made up a brew from red ochre and barley beer to trick Sekhmet into thinking this was blood. He poured all 7,000 jugs onto the ground and the Goddess drank and drank and drank until She was so intoxicated She fell asleep and returned to being gentle Hathor.

A lot of people have interpreted this to reveal Sekhmet as a Goddess of War. I personally believe this story symbolises the change of the seasons from spring to summer that brings with it the danger of fire as the intensity of the Sun increases to incredible levels, especially in Egypt that is surrounded by desert. While fire is a valuable tool when used with care and respect, it can become a life-threathening danger when left uncontolled. Sekhmet is the wild fire that kills, destoys plants and homes alike. She may also be the fire that was set on purpose or by accident that got out of control, raging across the land. As summer gives way to autumn Sekhmet returns to being gentle Hathor.

Red ochre is usually a symbol of rebirth: Ancient people including Neanderthals used to cover their dead with red ochre as they carefully returned them to the earth, the dark Womb of the Goddess. With that in mind the red barley drink symbolises the regeneration and revitilisation of the Earth after summer’s fierceness and the return of the gentler autumn sun, represented by the Goddess as Hathor.

The second, most likely older, story from southern Egypt centres around Hathor as the life-giving river Nile. Like the first story it is about the changing of the seasons, but here the agricultural seasons from growth (autumn / winter) to dryness (spring) to eventually the flooding of the Nile (summer).

One day Hathor grew very angry and threathened to destroy the entire universe She had previously created. She was going to throw the earth back into the sea and return to Her own primordial serpent form. Before She actually went through with any of it, Hathor transformed Herself into a lioness and went to Nubia just south of Egypt. While She was gone chaos and grief swept across the land, everything dried up and life became difficult for all.

In order to persuade Her to return to Egypt, Her brothers Shu and Thoth also transformed themselves into lions and followed Hathor. They did eventually manage to change their sister’s mind and She went back north with them. As the Goddess returned to Egypt, so did peace and happiness. The Nile swelled and life was beautiful again. The time of Hathor’s return and the swelling of the Nile coincided with the rising of the star Sothis (Sirius to us) at the same time as the morning sun. From then on, the rising of the “Dog Star” on the eastern horizon would mark the new year and the season of the Inundation (Flooding) that followed would be dedicated to Hathor. Her special feast day at the end of August marked the time of the peak floods. Later mythology would associate the annual Nile flooding with Osiris.

Adoration to You, Het-Hert, Mistress of Iunet, the August One in the Sanctuary of the August One.
The One Shining as Gold in the Sanctuary of Gold, the Atenet, eldest child of the Aten.
I adore Your Majesty with Your heart’s desire, I exalt Your Ka to the height of Nut.
I praise Your Manifestation to the limits of the rays of the Aten; I serve Your Majesty in Your shrine.
The Powerful One, the Great One, Mistress of Fear, Great of Terror among the Netjeru.
The Horizon-Dweller, Mistress of Heaven, the Brilliant One who creates the rays of the sun; the Netjeru rise early in the
morning to pay You homage.
Your beautiful face is satisfied by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, beloved of the Great Het-Hert,
Mistress of Iunet, the Eye of Ra.

— From the Temple of Dendera, in S. Cauville: Dendera I

— translated into English by Neferuhethert, c. 1999

NOTES

[1] From Merlin Stone’s “Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood”

[2] Some people talk of Hathor and Sekhmet as being two parts of a Triple Goddess: Bast-Hathor-Sekhmet, whereby Bast is the Maiden, Hathor the Mother and Sekhmet the dark Crone aspect. This is a very valid connection, although I don’t believe it ever existed in ancient Egypt in quite that form. Sekhmet most certainly isn’t a lunar Goddess and Bast is quite a separate Cat Goddess from the Northern Lower Egypt. Saying that, the connection I’m discussing here with Hathor and Sekhmet being two aspects of the same Goddess, may not actually have existed in prehistoric Egypt either, as the “creation” of Sekhmet is linked to the Sun god Ra, who most certainly is a much later dynastic development.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

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  3. Bobbie
    Mar 02, 2015 @ 09:05:08

    Silvestra, thank you so much for this very helpful reading. I especially enjoyed your open-minded and open hearted interpretation of the symbolism of Sekhmet, which I haven’t seen in other readings about Hathor-Sekhmet:

    “A lot of people have interpreted this to reveal Sekhmet as a Goddess of War. I personally believe this story symbolises the change of the seasons from spring to summer that brings with it the danger of fire as the intensity of the Sun increases to incredible levels, especially in Egypt that is surrounded by desert […].”

    Your intelligent interpretation reminded me that with chaos comes order, and with death comes rebirth.

    Continue to Be a gift to humanity and beyond with your generous giving of Light and Love. <3<3<3

    May you receive all the loving energies that you share with others a thousand fold. ^_^ Barbara

    Reply

  4. sekhmet
    Jul 20, 2016 @ 05:42:41

    i am the goddess of evil and i am associated with war you and evil i am the queen of evil my name is sekhmet it is me the great goddess of war

    Reply

  5. Von Simeon
    Aug 13, 2016 @ 17:07:38

    This is the most comprehensive post I’ve found about Sekhmet’s relation to Hathor. I found out recently that my shaman and I are interconnected. She has been projecting Hathor while I’ve been projecting Sekhmet. We’ll definitely delve into that phenomenon further! Thank you for this.

    Reply

  6. Trackback: ICHTHYOS 3 NUN | SYNCPHANY

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