Sekhmet / Hathor Duality in Egyptian Myth

Feb 2019
856
Pennsylvania, US
Sekhmet and Hathor seem to be presented as the same deity - one a goddess of love and fertility and one a goddess of plague and vengeance. In some myths they seem to seamlessly "switch" into one another. Ex: Sekhmet is made drunk on beer colored to look like blood and falls asleep - in some versions she awakes as Hathor. I've been told that this is a sort of duality that is present in many Egyptian myths - but I haven't really found where.

I have to wonder, though, if this duality was present here because of a cultural shift, and the attributes of Sekhmet evolved into a softer, kinder goddess: Hathor (who later would have many of her attributes shifted to Isis, much like how Sekhmet had her characteristics shifted to Mut).

Does anyone know if this is more about duality - or more about how mythos evolved (leaving some loose ends that need tying up)?

Was Sekhmet-Hathor two sides of a coin (like multiple personality disorder /dissociative identity disorder, as they prefer to call it now) - or one deity with a range of character traits clustered at the poles of good and bad? Or was it something entirely different?
 
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antocya

Ad Honorem
May 2012
5,778
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Egyptian mythology can be confusing because they had different cult centers with their own alternative versions of the myths and the gods.

Sekhmet is sometimes linked to Mut, and Mut was a Theban goddess. Sekhmet was the consort of Ptah in Memphis.

But then, she’s often associated with Hathor, like you mentioned and Hathor is sometimes considered the consort of Horus. Then, sometimes Hathor is referred to as the mother of Horus. This isn’t so strange if you consider the mother/consort archetype in ancient mythology, but then, isn’t Isis widely known as the mother of Horus, not Hathor?

The priests of Sekhmet were known for their magic healing powers. It’s interesting, as you mentioned, she’s associated with plague but she’s also associated with healing. Maybe it’s part of her dual nature or the idea of warding off sickness by appealing to its powers.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,057
Italy, Lago Maggiore
As said, the context changed according to the local perspective of the religious center we consider. At Mennefer [Memphis], Sekhmet was the wife of Ptah and the healer was Nefertum, not exactly Sekhmet herself [at divine level, we can say]. She was a healer for her friends and worshippers [not rarely her priests acted also as physicians].

The terrible reputation of the feral Goddess was also represented by her nickname ... Nsrt ["nesert", flame / burst of flame].

She had also a great role in Egyptian mythology: she protected Ma'at [the Order]. There was who said that she loved Ma'at hating the evil. Let's remind that in Egyptian conceptions of deities an Evil God [or Goddess] wasn't. Not a few deities presented good and evil aspects as well [usually you hear that Set was the God of Evil. It's not correct].

Anyway from a center to an other things changed: when the court passed from Memphis to Thebes Sekhmet "influenced" Mut [they begun to depict her as a lion]. This new "relation" became evident with Amenhotep III who put not a few statues of Sekhmet into the precinct of Mut in Thebes.

Regarding the appearance of Sekhmet on Earth, it was Ra to send her to punish mankind. The curiosity is that Ra realized that she was exaggerating and he had to think to a way to stop her. He obtained the aid of Tnnt, the deity of beer ... she created a very good red beer. When Sekhmet [looking for more blood] saw that red beer she thought it was blood and she bung to drink it. Once drunk she fell asleep ... to weak up as Hathor.

So at the base of the duality there a typical ingredient of the Egyptian mythology: night. They often imagined journeys and transformation during the night. Ancient Dendera was the main place of worshipping of Hathor [and the place where, according to the myth, Sekhmet got drunk ...].
 
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Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
3,047
Crows nest
At the creation of Sekhmet I think it can be said that a duality existed, but only for a very short time while the rebellion was dealt with. After that Hathor and Sekhmet exist as separate goddesses, though are both essentially manifestations of Ra and are bound up in an illogical circular paradox, which was fine for ancient Egyptians, but for us to understand this we need to be able to hold, and believe in multiple contradictory ideas at the same time.

So apart from the creation of Sekhmet there was no "bad cop good cop" thing occurring, even though it often appears so. Dualities in Egypt are usually in the form of having a male and female form of a god, such as Ra and Raet, Amun and Amunet. Hathor and Sekhmet are, while being part of Ra, and having other attributes, just themselves with no male counterparts. Hathor as a name stands alone as the House of Horus , and involves complications such as Hathor being a sky god and mother/grandmother/greatgrandmother and wife of Horus. Sekhmet is the female version of the word power, or powerful, but the root word, sekhem, does not give itself to a male eye of Ra god. Power here being the heat of the Sun channeled through the eye of Ra, which is at the same time wielded by Sekhmet, and other "eye" goddesses, via the uraeus, and is also them in that they are the heat as well as the "delivery device". The Egyptians in a way foresaw the discovery of solar flares, but envisaged them as burning rays emitting from the uraeus worn by a goddess on Earth, not as emanating from the Solar disc itself. These "eye goddesses" of course go hand in hand with the Aten, but that's an aspect not normally explored.

And at the back of the class little Jonny puts his hand to say, "But Miss, isn't Isis the mother of Horus", to which Miss replies, "Stop asking awkward questions you naughty boy".....
 
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Feb 2019
856
Pennsylvania, US
But then, she’s often associated with Hathor, like you mentioned and Hathor is sometimes considered the consort of Horus. Then, sometimes Hathor is referred to as the mother of Horus. This isn’t so strange if you consider the mother/consort archetype in ancient mythology, but then, isn’t Isis widely known as the mother of Horus, not Hathor?
Maybe this "mother-swapping" happened when other aspects of Hathor were later imbued to Isis?

The priests of Sekhmet were known for their magic healing powers. It’s interesting, as you mentioned, she’s associated with plague but she’s also associated with healing. Maybe it’s part of her dual nature or the idea of warding off sickness by appealing to its powers.
This is such an interesting concept you brought out - sickness and healing.
 
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Feb 2019
856
Pennsylvania, US
So at the base of the duality there a typical ingredient of the Egyptian mythology: night. They often imagined journeys and transformation during the night. Ancient Dendera was the main place of worshipping of Hathor [and the place where, according to the myth, Sekhmet got drunk ...].
Okay - this makes sense... this links up with a lot of the other concepts in Egyptian mythology (the Ba leaving the body at night and returning in the morning, etc). This is all very interesting!
 
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Feb 2019
856
Pennsylvania, US
At the creation of Sekhmet I think it can be said that a duality existed, but only for a very short time while the rebellion was dealt with. After that Hathor and Sekhmet exist as separate goddesses, though are both essentially manifestations of Ra and are bound up in an illogical circular paradox, which was fine for ancient Egyptians, but for us to understand this we need to be able to hold, and believe in multiple contradictory ideas at the same time.

So apart from the creation of Sekhmet there was no "bad cop good cop" thing occurring, even though it often appears so. Dualities in Egypt are usually in the form of having a male and female form of a god, such as Ra and Raet, Amun and Amunet. Hathor and Sekhmet are, while being part of Ra, and having other attributes, just themselves with no male counterparts. Hathor as a name stands alone as the House of Horus , and involves complications such as Hathor being a sky god and mother/grandmother/greatgrandmother and wife of Horus. Sekhmet is the female version of the word power, or powerful, but the root word, sekhem, does not give itself to a male eye of Ra god. Power here being the heat of the Sun channeled through the eye of Ra, which is at the same time wielded by Sekhmet, and other "eye" goddesses, via the uraeus, and is also them in that they are the heat as well as the "delivery device". The Egyptians in a way foresaw the discovery of solar flares, but envisaged them as burning rays emitting from the uraeus worn by a goddess on Earth, not as emanating from the Solar disc itself. These "eye goddesses" of course go hand in hand with the Aten, but that's an aspect not normally explored.
It's interesting how many "Eye of Ra" goddesses there were - initially I thought there were four, but it seems like there were many. There is this concept of the Eye of Ra being almost beyond the power of Ra (needing to be brought to heel, with drunkenness in Sekhmet's case)... it almost feels like they were wanting to separate the life-giving, good aspects of Ra (the sun) from this destructive, withering aspect.

And at the back of the class little Jonny puts his hand to say, "But Miss, isn't Isis the mother of Horus", to which Miss replies, "Stop asking awkward questions you naughty boy".....
:lol:

(I could delve into some crazy, psychology sidetrack here, tying the whole mother/wife concept into a neat modernized package, but in the end, it can often feel rather... wrong. The ancient Egyptians were living out/'mytho-sizing' a sort of Freudian thought life. LOL.)
 
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Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
3,047
Crows nest
It's interesting how many "Eye of Ra" goddesses there were - initially I thought there were four, but it seems like there were many. There is this concept of the Eye of Ra being almost beyond the power of Ra (needing to be brought to heel, with drunkenness in Sekhmet's case)... it almost feels like they were wanting to separate the life-giving, good aspects of Ra (the sun) from this destructive, withering aspect.



:lol:

(I could delve into some crazy, psychology sidetrack here, tying the whole mother/wife concept into a neat modernized package, but in the end, it can often feel rather... wrong. The ancient Egyptians were living out/'mytho-sizing' a sort of Freudian thought life. LOL.)
I would agree that it looks like they wanted to separate Ra from the bad things, even though he ordered it, and then put in a further level of separation by giving Hathor an "evil twin" to take the blame. It really is all very Freudian, and I have said before that they were the inventors of psychology.
 
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