Ancient Egyptian creation myths
Mother of Horus
Hathor was one of the most important and complex goddesses of ancient Egypt. A mother goddess who created and maintained all life on earth, Hathor was also worshipped as goddess of the sky, fertility, music, and dance and as the symbolic mother of the pharaoh, or ruler of Egypt. She was said to be the mother of Horus (pronounced HOHR-uhs), the god of the sky. In some versions of the myth, Hathor is created as the daughter of Ra, the sun god.
In addition to being a goddess of the sky, Hathor was often linked with the dead. In this role, she provided food to the dead when they arrived in the underworld , or land of the dead. Anyone who carried her clothing would have a safe journey through the underworld. Many foreign lands around Egypt were considered to be under her protection, especially those from which the Egyptians obtained important resources, such as timber or minerals. In one inscription, she is called the “mistress of turquoise.”
Hathor has also been identified with the warrior goddess of the sun known as Sekhmet (pronounced SEK-met). In addition, she has been linked to the Eye of Horus, a symbol that reflected the mythical battle for the unification of Egypt under Horus. In some versions of the myth, the Eye of Horus was given to him by his mother in place of one of his eyes, which was damaged by his uncle Osiris (pronounced oh-SYE-ris) during their battle for control of Egypt.
One myth from Egyptian mythology , developed much later than other writings about Hathor, concerns her violent actions as the goddess Sekhmet. Sekhmet served at the order of Ra, the sun god, and may have even been created by him. One day, while Egypt was split in two with each half worshipping a different god, Ra ordered Sekhmet to punish all humans who had rebelled against him and instead worshipped another. Sekhmet destroyed Ra's enemies, but her blood-lust was not yet satisfied, and she continued to kill even after her mission was complete. To stop her from killing all of humanity, Ra turned the Nile River red; Sekhmet, thinking the river was blood and crazed with her love of violence, drank it down hungrily. However, Ra had actually transformed the river into alcohol, and when Sekhmet drank it down, she became drunk and stopped her violent rampage.
Hathor in Context
Hathor's role in Egyptian mythology was ever-changing, but she was perhaps most beloved as a goddess of joy, music, love, and happiness. Her festivals included singing, dancing, and drunken ceremonies that undoubtedly helped to cement the popularity of the ruling pharaoh. In addition, Hathor may have emphasized the importance of women satisfying all the various roles they were expected to fulfill, which included caring for their young and loving their husbands. This multifaceted role of Hathor also reflects the ever-changing nature of Egyptian society. Although many gods existed for centuries, as political control of Egypt shifted from region to region, these gods were modified or combined with other gods. Often deities with similar traits were combined, as with Hathor and the cow-goddess Bat. However, gods did not always match up perfectly, and new myths were created to explain the new facet of a deity's nature. This explains how a single god or goddess might have what appear to have several unique personalities or backgrounds.
Hathor's status as a goddess of both birth and death may reflect another aspect of Egyptian culture as well. Egyptians held a strong belief in the afterlife , or a world beyond our own that a person enters after death. The Egyptians saw death in our world as birth into the afterlife. For this reason, the two events were intimately connected, and the goddess who brought life into our world was also an important part of the journey into the next world.
Key Themes and Symbols
The Egyptians associated the goddess Hathor with fertility and sexual love. The ancient Greeks identified Hathor with their own goddess of love, Aphrodite (pronounced af-ro-DYE-tee). Hathor is also associated with water and the beginnings of life, and the rupturing of the amniotic sac just before childbirth may have been seen as a sign from the goddess. Hathor was also believed to symbolize the Milky Way as it was visible in the ancient Egyptian night sky. Hathor was seen as the ultimate caretaker, providing food for both the living and the dead. She is also associated with a sycamore tree, which the Egyptians believed was her body on earth. Egyptians made coffins out of sycamore trees in the hope that Hathor would guide them back to the womb after death.
Egyptian wall paintings typically show Hathor as a woman bearing the disk of the sun above her head, representing her role as the divine eye of the sun god Ra. Other paintings show her as a cow or a woman with a cow's head or horns. Some statues show her as a cow suckling the pharaoh with the milk of life.
Hathor in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Throughout the history of ancient Egypt, Hathor's popularity continued to grow. She was the subject of many paintings and sculptures, and was eventually recognized as the most popular god in the entire Egyptian pantheon, with more festivals held in her honor than any other. In modern times, Hathor has appeared as a character on the science fiction television series Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007).
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Cows were an important part of ancient Egyptian agriculture and diet, which explains their association with Hathor, who was seen as a provider and nourisher. Think about the different products that humans get from cows, even today. Do you think the cow could be accurately described as the ultimate nourisher and provider in modern cultures as well? Why or why not?
HATHOR was an ancient Egyptian mother-goddess figure whose cult center was at Dendera in Upper Egypt. Represented as partially or totally bovine, Hathor the Great was probably an assimilation of several goddesses with similar attributes.
In the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts (c. 2475 bce for the earliest copy) Hathor, whose name means "house of Horus," personified the entire Heliopolitan ennead, or family of gods, which provided the principal genealogy of the Horus-king of Egypt. These nine gods began with Atum and proceeded through three more generations to Osiris and Isis, the parents of Horus. With Hathor personifying this whole group of gods, Horus became her son and the son of her spouse, Re, the sun god, who had come to the fore by the fifth dynasty.
Hathor also figured prominently in the royal imagery, particularly in the New Kingdom, when she was frequently depicted as the cow suckling a young pharaoh, and often had shrines or chapels dedicated to her. Her great temple at Dendera, erected in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, is unique in several respects, including its many subterranean passages and the so-called zodiacal ceiling of its roof's kiosk.
Another small cult temple of Hathor was founded by Ptolemy IV at Deir al-Madīnah, where many earlier tombs show the "lady of the west," a cow coming from the Theban mountain known as the Qurn. Thus as early as the New Kingdom she was associated with the necropolis of that area. "Hathor of the sycamore" is a frequent epithet, and a temple is known as far away as Sinai. There are several references in literary and medico-magical texts to the assistance rendered at birth by the seven Hathors and also to the fates they ordain for the newborn. Hathor "the golden one" was known in love poetry as goddess of love and patroness of lovers.
The sistrum is a musical instrument commonly associated with the worship of Hathor, and her son Ihy was a musician deity. Priestesses of Hathor are known from all periods, although in the later periods there was a tendency to assimilate Hathor and Isis.
Allam, Shafik. Beiträge zum Hathorkult (bis zum Ende des Mittleren Reiches). Münchner ägyptologische Studien, vol. 4. Berlin, 1963.
Bleeker, C. Jouco. Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion. Leiden, 1973. Issued as a supplement by the periodical Numen.
Leonard H. Lesko (1987)
Hathor was one of the most important and complex goddesses of ancient Egypt. A mother goddess who created and maintained all life on earth, Hathor was also worshiped as goddess of the sky, fertility, music, and dance and as the symbolic mother of the pharaoh, or ruler. The Egyptians associated the goddess with sexual love, and her festivals included singing, dancing, and drunken ceremonies. The ancient Greeks identified Hathor with their own goddess of love, Aphrodite.
cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god
underworld land of the dead
Hathor was linked with the cult of the dead as well. In this role, she provided food to the dead when they arrived in the underworld. Anyone who carried her clothing would have a safe journey through the underworld. Many foreign lands around Egypt were considered to be under her protection, especially those from which the Egyptians obtained important resources, such as timber or minerals. In one inscription, she is called the "mistress of turquoise." Hathor is usually portrayed as a cow or a woman with a cow's head or horns. Some statues show her as a cow suckling the pharaoh with the milk of life.
See also Egyptian Mythology; Venus .