A Project By Starlight
In Egyptian mythology, Hathor (Egyptian for House of Horus) was originally a personification of the Milky Way, which was seen as the milk that flowed from the udders of a heavenly cow.
Hathor was an ancient goddess, worshipped as a cow-deity from at least 2700 BC, during the 2nd dynasty, and possibly even by the Scorpion King.
The name Hathor refers to the encirclement by her, in the form of the Milky Way, of the night sky and consequently of the god of the sky, Horus.
She was originally seen as the daughter of Ra, the creator whose own cosmic birth was formalised as the Ogdoad cosmogeny.An alternate name for her, which persisted for 3,000 years, was Mehturt (also spelt Mehurt, Mehet-Weret, and Mehet-uret), meaning great flood, a direct reference to her being the milky way.
The Milky Way was seen as a waterway in the heavens, sailed upon by both the sun god and the king, leading the Egyptians to describe it as The Nile in the Sky.
Due to this, and the name mehturt, she was identified as responsible for the yearly inundation of the Nile.
Another consequence of this name is that she was seen as a herald of imminent birth, as when the amniotic sac breaks and floods its waters, it is a medical indicator that the child is due to be born extremely soon.
Hathor was also favored as a protector in desert regions.
Some Egyptologists associate Hathor with artificial light as evidenced by what has been purported to be a representation of an electric lamp in a temple dedicated to her worship. Though other scholars believe the representation to be that of a lotus flower, spawning a snake within.
Goddess of Motherhood
As a provider of milk, and due to cows careful tending of their calves, the cow was a universal symbol of motherhood, and so Hathor became goddess of motherhood, gaining titles such as 'The Great Cow Who Protects Her Child' and 'Mistress of the Sanctuary of Women.'
Because of the aspect of motherhood, her priests were oracles, predicting the fate of the newborn, and midwives delivering them.
As a mother, since she enclosed the sky, she was seen as the mother of Horus.
Symbolically she became the divine mother of the pharaoh, who was identified as Horus.
Since Horus's wife was
As Horus was also said to be the son of Ra, Hathor was identified as Ra's wife (Ra created her in a non-sexual manner), gaining the title Mistress of Heaven. Having been identified as Ra's wife, it was said she arose from Ra's tears, and thus was identified as the Eye of Ra.
In art, Hathor was often depicted as a golden cow (sometimes covered in stars), with the titles Cow of Gold, and The one who shines like gold, or as a woman with the ears of a cow and a headdress of horns holding the sun-disc, which represented Ra.
Also, Hathor was sometimes identified as a hippopotamus, which the Egyptians also considered quite motherly creatures, and sometimes as an aquatic form of the cow.
In her position as divine mother to the pharaoh, Hathor was sometimes depicted as a cow standing in a boat (representing the boat of Ra with which he, as the sun, crosses through the sky), surrounded by tall papyrus reeds (as were common in the Nile delta), with the pharaoh often pictured as a calf standing next to her.
As divine mother, she was also represented with, or as, an uraeus, a stylised cobra, which symbolised royal power.
Sometimes, the local depictions of Hathor, with their slight variations on emphasising certain features, were treated separately, and seven of them, any seven, which was perceived as a mystical number (it divides the lunar month into 4 equal parts, and was the number of known planets at the time), named by their different titles, were considered special if gathered together.
These Seven Hathors, in Hathor's context as a mother, were said to dress in disguise as young women, and attend the birth of a child, and then one by one announce aspects of his fate. In later centuries, this 7-fold aspect of Hathor was identified as the Pleiades.
The cow's large eyes with long lashes and generally quiet demeanor were often considered to suggest a gentle aspect of feminine beauty. There are still cultures in the world where to say that a girl is as pretty as a heifer is a great compliment, rather than taking you cow as an insult. And so Hathor rapidly became a goddess of beauty, and fertility, thus also a patron goddess for lovers.
A tale grew up around this in which Ra is described as having been upset over Horus' victory over Set (representing the conquest in 3000BC of Lower Egypt by Upper Egypt), and went off to be alone, and so Hathor went to him and started to dance and stripped naked, showing him her genitals, which cheered him up, so he returned.
(This has made certain readers believe that the sun god was extremley perverted, which may be true). The tale is thought also to describe a solar eclipse, as it depicts Ra, the sun, going away to sulk, and then returning when cheered up.
In her position as a female fertility goddess, who readily strips naked, she was often depicted in red, the color of passion, though her sacred color is turquoise, and so gained the titles Lady of the scarlet-colored garment, and Lady of [sexual] offerings (Nebet Hetepet in Egyptian).
Sometimes her fertility aspect was depicted symbolically as a field of reeds. Her position as one of beauty lead to her being depicted in portrait, which was highly unusual by Egyptian artistic conventions, indeed, only she and Bes were ever depicted in this manner.
Her beauty also lead to her being symbolically depicted by mirrors. Hathor's image was also often used to form the capitals of columns in Egyptian architecture.
Eventually, Hathor's identity as a cow-goddess of fertility, meant that her Hathor became identified with another ancient cow-goddess of fertility, Bata. It still remains an unanswered question amongst Egyptologists as to why Bata survived as an independent goddess for so long. Bata was, in some respects, connected to the Ba, an aspect of the soul, and so Hathor gained an association with the afterlife. It was said that, with her motherly character, she greeted the souls of the dead in the underworld, and proffered them with refreshments of food, and of drink. She was also sometimes described as mistress of the acropolis.
The assimilation of Bata, who was associated with the sistrum, a musical instrument, brought with it an association with music. In this form, Hathor's cult became centred in Dendera and was led by priests who were also dancers, singers, and other entertainers. Hathor's temple at Dendera contains an image, that has come to be known as the Dendera Light, which some have controversially claimed may be a depiction of an electric lamp. Hathor also became associated with the menat, the turquoise musical necklace often worn by women.
The protector and sponsor of dancers, Hathor was associated with percussive music, in particular the sistrum. Her traditional votive offering was two mirrors, the better with which to see both her beauty and your own.
Hathor's image, specifically her head, was traditionally used to decorate sistrums and mirrors. Thus when gazing at one's own reflection in the mirror, you would see Hathor looking back, from underneath one's own face, serving as foundation and support, perhaps as role model and goal. This imagery was standard and ubiquitous, it also commonly decorates architectural columns, however one is forced to ask, how would one know it was Hathor? Usually by the cow ears but even more consistently by the hair-do.
Hathor's hair is dressed in so characteristic a fashion that the style now bears her name: archaeologists have dubbed it the "Hathor hair-do." This style is utterly distinctive and perhaps surprisingly modern to our eyes. It is not the heavily bejeweled, elaborately braided hair so commonly depicted in other ancient Egyptian imagery. Rather it is simplicity in the extreme: a simple flip, often parted down the middle.
The 'do wouldn't have looked at all out of place on a French or English mod girl pop singer of the early to mid '60's- a Marianne Faithfull perhaps or Francoise Hardy. It is a simple hairstyle, a hairstyle one can conceivably maintain by oneself, without extensive wigs, servants or leisure time. It is very much an equalizing hairstyle. Ironically, then, it is a hairstyle most commonly seen in the depiction of deities, especially beautiful love goddesses, perhaps demonstrating the intensity of their self-confidence.
While other ancient Egyptian hairstyles are instantly recognizable even today as solely Egyptian, the Hathor hair-do seems to have set an international style, in particular traveling all over the Middle East. Other goddesses are depicted wearing this style, in fact it seems to have become the goddess hairstyle, favored by all the most fashionable deities.
Spiral Hair at bottom - Sacred Geometry - Golden Ratio
A hymn to Hathor says:
Thou art the Mistress of Jubilation, the Queen of the Dance, the Mistress of Music, the Queen of the Harp Playing, the Lady of the Choral Dance, the Queen of Wreath Weaving, the Mistress of Inebriety Without End.
Essentially, Hathor had become a goddess of Joy, and so she was deeply loved by the general population, and truly revered by women, who aspired to embody her multifaceted role as wife, mother, and lover.
In this capacity, she gained the titles of Lady of the House of Jubilation, and The One Who Fills the Sanctuary with Joy. The worship of Hathor was so popular that more festivals were dedicated to her honour that any other Egyptian deity, and more children were named after this goddess than any other. Even Hathor's priesthood was unusual, in that both men, and women, became her priests.
The Middle Kingdom was founded when Upper
Egypt's Pharaoh, Mentuhotep II, took control over
A tale, from the perspective of Lower Egypt, developed around this.In the tale, Ra (representing the Pharaoh of Upper Egypt) was no longer respected by the people (of Lower Egypt) and they ceased to obey his authority, which made him so angry that he sent out Sekhmet (war goddess of Upper Egypt) to destroy them, but Sekhmet was so bloodthirsty that she could not be stopped. Ra pours blood-coloured beer on the ground, tricking Sekhmet, who thinks it to be blood, into drinking it, which makes her stop the slaughter, and become loving, and kind.
The form that Sekhmet had become by the end of the tale was identical in character to Hathor, and so a cult arose, at the start of the Middle Kingdom, which dualistically identified Sekhmet with Hathor, making them one goddess, Sekhmet-Hathor, with two sides.
Consequently, Hathor, as Sekhmet-Hathor, was sometimes depicted as a lioness.
Sometimes this joint name was corrupted to Sekhathor (also spelt Sechat-Hor, Sekhat-Heru), meaning (one who) remembers Horus (the uncorrupted form would mean (the) powerful house of Horus.
However, the two goddesses were so different, indeed almost diametrically opposed, that the identification did not last.
Wife of Thoth
Thoth and Hathor depicted as primal deities
When Horus was identified as Ra, under the
name Ra-Herakhty, Hathor's position became unclear, since she had been the wife
of Ra, but mother of Horus, whose wife was
In areas where the cult of Thoth was strong, Thoth was identified as the creator, leading to it being said that Thoth was the father of Ra-Herakhty, thus Hathor, as the mother of Ra-Herakhty, was in this version referred to as Thoth's wife. Since Ra-Herakhty was, in this version of the Ogdoad cosmogeny, depicted as a young child, often referred to as Neferhor, when considered the wife of Thoth, Hathor was often depicted as a female nursing a child.
Since Thoth's wife had earlier been considered to be Seshat, Hathor began to be attributed with many of Seshat's features. Since Seshat was associated with records, and with acting as witness at the judgement of souls, these aspects became attributed to Hathor, which, together with her position as goddess of all that was good, lead to her being described as the (one who) expels evil, which in Egyptian is Nechmetawaj also spelt Nehmet-awai, and Nehmetawy). Nechmetawaj can also be understood to mean (one who) recovers stolen goods, and so, in this form, she became goddess of stolen goods.
Outside the Thoth cult, it was considered important to retain the position of Ra-Herakhty (i.e. Ra) as self-created (via only the primal forces of the Ogdoad). Consequently, Hathor could not be identified as Ra-Herakhty's mother.
Hathor's role in the process of death, that of welcoming the newly dead with food and drink, lead, in such circumstances, to her being identified as a jolly wife for Nehebkau, the guardian of the entrance to the underworld, and binder of the Ka. Nethertheless, in this form, she retained the name of Nechmetawaj, since her aspect as a returner of stolen goods was important to society, and so considered worth noting.
When the Ennead and the Ogdoad were combined, when Ra and Atum were identified as one another, Hathor, as the daughter of the combined Atum-Ra, was sometimes confused with Tefnut. Consequently, the tale, a metaphor for an historic drought, in which Tefnut had fled Egypt after an argument with her husband (Shu), but is persuaded to return, became occasionally transformed into one in which Hathor had an argument with Ra, and fled, later returning.
The aspect of the story in which Tefnut turned into a cat and attacked those who went near, neatly fitted with the tale in which Hathor was said to have been Sekhmet, contributing to the frequency with which the tale occurred featuring Hathor rather than Tefnut.
Beliefs about Ra himself had been hovering
around the identification of him, a sun god, with Horus, who by this time was
also a sun god, in the combined form Ra-Herakhty, and so for some time,
Consequently, Hathor became identified with
In this form, which, technically, is really Isis, Hathor's mother was consequently Nuit, and she was sometimes even described as being the wife of Horus, leading to a level of confusion, in which Horus, as Hathor's son, was also his own father.
This form of Horus was known as Horus-Bedhety, referring to Bedhet, where the view was most commonly held, or as Ihy, referring to his aspect as a sistrum player, since he was the son of Hathor, who was by now associated with the sistrum. When Horus assimilated with Anhur, to become Arsnuphis, so Hathor was occasionally Anhur's mother as well.
Nethertheless, when Ra subsequently assimilated Amun, into Amun-Ra, it was sometimes said that Hathor, as a cow, was married to Sobek, or rather to a generic crocodile-god, since Sobek had become thought of as merely a manifestation of Amun.
Shortly afterwards, Hathor became fully
Hathor Outside the
Hathor was worshipped in Canaan in the 11th century BC, which at that time was ruled by Egypt, at her holy city of Hazor, which the Old Testament claims was destroyed by Joshua (Joshua 11:13, 21).
The Sinai Tablets show that the Hebrew workers in the mines of Sinai about 1500 BC worshipped Hathor, whom they identified with the goddess Astarte.
Some theories state that the golden calf mentioned in the bible was meant to be a statue of the goddess Hathor (Exodus 32:4-32:6.), although it is more likely to be a representation of the 2 golden calves set up by Rehoboam, an enemy of the levite priesthood, which marked the borders of his kingdom.
The Greeks also loved Hathor and equated her with their own goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite.
Some ancient texts refer to a serpent of light residing in the heavens. This is believed to have been inspired by the Milky Way (a similar allusion to the ouroboros).
In general, the Egyptian gods and Egyptian
religion did not travel. The ancient Egyptians were insular, not overly
interested in importing or exporting deities. Eventually Isis would become the
great exception, with temples in
She was also adored as far afield as what is
Hathor was associated with turquoise, malachite and the metals gold and copper. [alchemy of consciousness]
Her demeanor glows with consistent confidence and sunny, good health. Hers is a warm, sensual beauty not aloof or remote. Although she ruled the perfumer's trade in general, Hathor was especially connected with the fragrance of myrrh, which was exceedingly precious to the ancient Egyptians and which on a spiritual level embodied the finest qualities of the feminine.
Technically, we have no way of actually knowing where this hair-do originated or with whom. However, Hathor's influence remains so consistent that no matter where an ancient goddess plaque is dug up, if she's wearing that flip, she is automatically described as wearing the Hathor hair do. What the goddesses who wear this style have in common with Hathor beyond celestial beauty is a willingness to boldly battle on behalf of justice, their families and followers.
Ishtar, Anat and Hathor: these images of beauty are not passive or vain but action-oriented brave women, perhaps so confident of their inherent beauty that elaborate adornment becomes only necessary for their own pleasure, not as a needed demonstration.
Hathor took on an uncharacteristically
destructive aspect in the legend of the Eye of Ra. According to this legend, Ra
sent the Eye of Ra in the form of Hathor to destroy humanity, believing that
they were plotting aganist him. However, Re changed his mind and flooded the
fields with beer, dyed red to look like blood. Hathor stopped to drink the
beer, and, having become intoxicated, never carried out her deadly mission.
Therefore as a fertility goddess and a goddess of moisture, Hathor was
associated with the inundation of the
In the legend of Ra and Hathor she is called the Eye of Ra.
The sun disc reresents the creational light - the word Re - Ra - meaning ray of light.
Her image could also be used to form the
capitals of columns in Egyptian architecture. Her principal sanctuary was at
Dendera, where her cult had its early focus, and where it may have had its
origin. At Dendera, she was particularly worshipped in her role as a goddess of
fertility, of women, and of childbirth. At
FUNERARY PRAYER TO HETHERT (HATHOR)
IN HER ASPECT OF LADY OF THE WEST
Composed by Senut for
Hethert, Lady of the Beautiful West,
Receive [name] in the Field of Reeds.*
Comfort [him/her] with Your turquoise tears,
Renew [him/her] in Your golden arms,
May [s/he] live a million years
In the radiance of Your love.
*The Field of Reeds is the entrance to the Duat, or Otherworld, that precedes the Beautiful West where the Akhu (ancestors) reside. Hethert is sometimes pictured in her Solar Cow
form emerging from the Field of Reeds with tears streaming down Her face in sympathy for the dead.
Invocation of Hathor
By Frater Osiris 1999
Hear me, Hathor, for I am True of Voice!
Come forth to dwell in thine image so that I may adore and converse with thee!
O great and beautiful Goddess Hathor! Thee, thee I invoke!
O mighty Mother! Thee, thee I invoke!
O cow-headed Goddess Hathor, who cradles the sun between her horns! Thee, thee I invoke!
O Lady of the Sistrum! Thee, thee I invoke!
O Goddess of sexual love, who brings men and women together in the ecstasy of union!
Thee, thee I invoke!
O Goddess of fertility, the bringer forth of life! Thee, thee I invoke!
O Golden One, who radiates the warmth of the sun! Thee, thee I invoke!
O Flame of Gold, who bestows joy and pleasure to all who walk under your rays! Thee, thee I invoke!
Prayer to Hathor
Prayer to Hathor
Mother of Rebirth hear my prayer
Renew in me a fresh spirit
Give me a clean heart.
Help me to nurture others.
Give me the strength to help others.
Goddess of sexual love
Lead me to my mate.
Fill my life with wonder and grace.
Mother of Rebirth hear my prayer
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