Hathor, Goddess of Love, Music, Beauty...
by Caroline Seawright
October 3, 2000
Hathor (Ht-hr - House of Horus [the Elder])
She was a goddess of many things, among them she was a:
- Celestial goddess: The Mistress of Heaven
- Goddess of love, music and beauty: the Goddess of Love, Cheerfulness, Music, and Dance,
- Goddess of women, firtility, children and childbirth: The Mother of Mothers, the Celestial Nurse,
- Goddess of destruction and drunkeness: The Vengeful Eye of Ra, the Lady of Drunkeness,
- Goddess of the dead: Lady of the West
She was also known as the Mistress of Life, the Great Wild Cow, the Golden One, the Mistress of Turquoise, Lady of Dendera (her cult centre was located at Dendera), Mistress of Qis, Lady to the Limit (of the Universe), Lady of Punt (perhaps an area in present day Somalia - see Hatshepsut's Expedition to Punt
), the Powerful One, the Mistress of the Desert, Lady of the Southern Sycamore... and many other names, besides.
The reason that she has so many names, one would assume, is because she is an ancient goddess - she seems to have been mentioned as early as the 2nd Dynasty. She may even been associated with the Narmer palette - although the two human faced bovines may also have been a representation of the king.
It is interesting to note, though, that there is not a personal name of the goddess mentioned in the list of names - they are all titles.
Another interesting thing about Hathor is found in one particular Egyptian tale - when the hero of the story was born, the 'Seven Hathors', disguised as seven young women, appeared and announced his fate. They seemed to be linked with not only fortune telling, but to being questioners of the soul on its way to the Land of the West. These goddesses were worshiped in seven cities: Thebes, Heliopolis, Aphroditopolis, Sinai, Momemphis, Herakleopolis, and Keset. They are linked to the Pleiades.
Generally, Hathor is pictured as a woman with cow's horns with the sun between them (Eye of Ra, Golden One), or as a beautiful woman with cow's ears, or a cow wearing the sun disk between her horns, or even as a lioness or a lion-headed woman (destruction and drunkeness). She often is seen carrying a sistrum, an ancient musical instrument (hence a goddess of music). The sycamore was sacred to her (Lady of the Southern Sycamore). She is said to be the mother of the pharaoh, and is often depicted in a nurturing role, suckling the pharaoh when he was a child (hence a goddess of motherhood).
The Eye of Ra
One of the tales of Hathor was how she was originally a goddess of destruction (Hathor-Sekhmet), and how she came to be the goddess of happier things:
Then Ra took on the shape of a man and became the first Pharaoh, ruling over the whole country for thousands and thousands of years, and giving such harvests that for ever afterwards the Egyptians spoke of the good things "which happened in the time of Ra".
But, being in the form of a man, Ra grew old. In time men no longer feared him or obeyed his laws. They laughed at him, saying: "Look at Ra! His bones are like silver, his flesh like gold, his hair is the colour of lapis lazuli!"
Ra was angry when he heard this, and he was more angry still at the evil deeds which men were doing in disobedience to his laws. So he called together the gods whom he had made - Shu and Tefnut and Geb and Nut - and he also summoned Nun. Soon the gods gathered about Ra in his Secret Place, and the goddesses also. But mankind knew nothing of what was happening, and continued to jeer at Ra and to break his commandments. Then Ra spoke to Nun before the assembled gods: "Eldest of the gods, you who made me; and you gods whom I have made: look upon mankind who came into being at a glance of my Eye. See how men plot against me; hear what they say of me; tell me what I should do to them. For I will not destroy mankind until I have heard what you advise."
Then Nun said: "My son Ra, the god greater than he who made him and mightier than those whom he has created, turn your mighty Eye upon them and send destruction upon them in the form of your daughter, the goddess Sekhmet."
Ra answered: "Even now fear is falling upon them and they are fleeing into the desert and hiding themselves in the mountains in terror at the sound of my voice."
"Send against them the glance of your Eye in the form Sekhmet!" cried all the other gods and goddesses, bowing before Ra until their foreheads touched the ground.
So at the terrible glance from the Eye of Ra his daughter Sekhmet came into being, the fiercest of all goddesses. Like a lion she rushed upon her prey, and her chief delight was in slaughter, and her pleasure was in blood. At the bidding of Ra she came into Upper and Lower Egypt to slay those who had scorned and disobeyed him: she killed them among the mountains which lie on either side of the Nile, and down beside the river, and in the burning deserts. All whom she saw she slew, rejoicing in slaughter and the taste of blood.
Presently Ra looked out over the land and saw what Sekhmet had done. Then he called to her, saying: "Come, my daughter, and tell me how you have obeyed my commands."
Sekhmet answered with the terrible voice of a lioness as she tears her prey: "By the life which you have given me, I have indeed done vengeance on mankind, and my heart rejoices."
Now for many nights the Nile ran red with blood, and Sekhmet's feet were red as she went hither and thither through all the land of Egypt slaying and slaying.
Presently Ra looked out over the earth once more, and now his heart was stirred with pity for men, even though they had rebelled against him. But none could stop the cruel goddess Sekhmet, not even Ra himself: she must cease from slaying of her own accord -and Ra saw that this could only come about through cunning.
So he gave his command: "Bring before me swift messengers who will run upon the earth as silently as shadows and with the speed of the storm winds."
When these were brought he said to them: "Go as fast as you can up the Nile to where it flows fiercely over the rocks and among the islands of the First Cataract; go to the isle that is called Elephantine and bring from it a great store of the red ochre which is to be found there."
The messengers sped on their way and returned with the blood-red ochre to Heliopolis, the city of Ra where stand the stone obelisks with points of gold that are like fingers pointing to the sun. It was night when they came to the city, but all day the women of Heliopolis had been brewing beer as Ra bade them.
Ra came to where the beer stood waiting in seven thousand jars, and the gods came with him to see how by his wisdom he would save mankind.
"Mingle the red ochre of Elephantine with the barley-beer," said Ra, and it was done, so that the beer gleamed red in the moonlight like the blood of men.
"Now take it to the place where Sekhmet proposes to slay men when the sun rises," said Ra. And while it was still night the seven thousand jars of beer were taken and poured out over the fields so that the ground was covered to the depth of nine inches -- three times the measure of the palm of a man's hand-with the strong beer, whose other name is "sleep-maker".
When day came Sekhmet the terrible came also, licking her lips at the thought of the men whom she would slay. She found the place flooded and no living creature in sight; but she saw the beer which was the colour of blood, and she thought it was blood indeed -- the blood of those whom she had slain.
Then she laughed with joy, and her laughter was like the roar of a lioness hungry for the kill. Thinking that it was indeed blood, she stooped and drank. Again and yet again she drank, laughing with delight; and the strength of the beer mounted to her brain, so that she could no longer slay.
At last she came reeling back to where Ra was waiting; that day she had not killed even a single man.
Then Ra said: "You come in peace, sweet one." And her name was changed to Hathor, and her nature was changed also to the sweetness of love and the strength of desire. And henceforth Hathor laid low men and women only with the great power of love. But for ever after her priestesses drank in her honour of the beer of Heliopolis coloured with the red ochre of Elephantine when they celebrated her festival each New Year.
Note that in the above tale, the goddess called 'Eye of Ra' was Hathor who became
'Sekhmet', then 'Hathor'. But afterwards, Sekhmet
and Hathor were two seperate deities, both having claim to the title 'Eye of Ra'!
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© Caroline Seawright 2000