Hathor was so widely loved that she was present everywhere Egyptians were found.
Barbara S. Lesko – The Great Goddesses of Egypt p97
I regard myself as a Kemetic Rationalist – but, more precisely, I am a devotee of Hat-hor.
Hat-hor was a popular goddess worshipped, in ancient times, by both sexes. While that is so, she seems to have been especially popular with women. Amongst the votive objects they left at her shrines are beautiful pieces of decorative fabric. In ancient times, as now, the production of decorative fabrics was more associated with women than men. Beyond this, Geraldine Pinch observes:
Some of the textiles from Deir el-Bahri apparently show groups of unrelated women. The high proportion of female donors on stelae [stone slabs similar in appearance to modern grave stones – PFJ]… has been emphasised… Two of the intermediary texts at Deir el-Bahri are addressed chiefly to women, as is a text on a similar statue from the temple of Mehyt at Thinis. It could be argued that the women shown on the stelae and textiles are all priestesses of Hathor, but while appeals to the living inscribed on temple statues often specifically address priests, the intermediary texts at Deir el-Bahri refer not to priestesses but to ‘young girls’ or to ‘noble ladies as well as poor girls’. The Thinis statue simply addresses the women of the town of Pi-Mehyt. This indicates that women of all kinds were expected to visit these temples, not just those who served the goddess on a regular basis.
– Geraldine Pinch: Votive Offerings to Hathor. Griffith Institute, 1993 pp342-343.
This seems to me clear evidence that, in ancient times, the cult of Hat-hor appealed strongly to women and girls.
The origins of Hat-hor’s worship vanish into the mists of early history, but are perhaps not of the essence. Rather, I note with pleasure that when the goddess steps out clearly for the first time, in the age of the pyramids, she does so in a magnificent manner. Her image emerged in a series of the finest statues ever carved. The sculptures represent triads of Hat-hor, King Men-Kau-Re, and in each case a local divinity from a place associated with the Hat-hor cult.
The beautiful figures appear from a smooth surface representing the primal waters the Egyptians conceptualised as Naunet (female – goddess of the primal waters) and Nun (male). The King strides purposefully, but the goddesses are at rest – and strike me as more powerful for being so. The primal waters continue, and continue to bear fruit, in the amniotic fluid contained within the female. It is a statement specifically of Hat-hor’s power and majesty, but has much to say of female power and divinity in general.
Hat-hor could have originally been a sky goddess with strong associations with fertility. Her name means Mansion of Horus (the us is a termination added by the Hellenes). That is to say the enclosure of the sacred falcon. The hieroglyph that forms her name (the one visible on a supposed image of Isis in Professor Petrie’s article in Wonders of the Past) is of the sacred falcon in an enclosure.
If one imagines a clear blue sky in which a falcon circles, one will surely be close to the significance of her name. The name is, itself, poetry. Her aspect as a sky goddess is emphasised in her title Mistress of Heaven.
The Hat-hor hieroglyph – of the enclosed falcon – has sexual reference, obvious once one has seen it. The idea came to me in contemplating the hieroglyph during my devotions. The falcon (Horus) is the penis and the enclosure (Hat-hor) the vagina. Alternatively, the falcon (Horus) is the fetus and the enclosure (Hat-hor) the womb. The alternatives are the sexual act and its consequent (divine) creation.
When one first sees the hieroglyph, inevitably, the falcon forms the foreground and the framing enclosure the background. During my devotions, looking at the divine name, I deliberately reverse this – focusing on the enclosure rather than the enclosed.
The process is akin to looking at one of the double images so beloved of gestalt theorists – switching, for example, between the two faces and the vase:
In making this shift, I hope to focus upon the all too often overlooked female aspect of deity.
It occurs to me that the Hat-hor hieroglyph is, essentially, a falcon in a box. One of the senses of box is a slang term for the female genitals.
Hat-hor is associated with (amongst other things) erotic love, intoxication, music and dance. She is a patroness of women in childbirth, and of children. Indeed, she goes beyond being a patroness of women in childbirth – every woman actually becomes Hat-hor at the moment of giving birth. Hat-hor is the female creator. The seven Hat-hors (each an aspect of Hat-hor) are present at each birth and are (in some ways) akin to the Hellenic Fates.
The goddess has strong associations with healing, and her temple at Dendera – her chief cult centre – included a sanatorium.
She also has a terrible face. The Book of the Cow of Heaven relates a myth in which Ra, the sun god, ordered the destruction of the human race. It was Hat-hor who performed the slaughter. Nor would she relent when the sun god changed his mind. So he commanded that the earth be covered with a mixture of beer and red dye. Hat-hor took the red beer for blood, drank it and became intoxicated. When she awoke, the blood-lust had passed. I think it is important to distinguish between this blood-lust, which lies within the nature of Hat-hor, and calculated cruelty, which does not. My remarks on the tarot card, nine of swords, once more have bearing here. Nature is often bloody, but not truly cruel. The Nazis (for example) were cruel, as are those who abuse children. Hat-hor – like a predator (I think, for example, of a fox in a chicken coop) – may be subject to blood-lust, but not to cruelty.
I am aware that the common idea of foxes’ blood-lust in chicken coops is based upon faulty observation. It is true that the fox will kill (or attempt to kill) every chicken in the coop – and will usually leave most of the corpses. But the fox will take all of the corpses, burying them for future consumption, if the animal is not disturbed.
Just as the fox’s blood-lust is based on faulty observation, so may that of the goddess. The motivations of deities are more difficult to fathom than those of animals. With the caveat that the fox’s blood-lust is not what we think it is, the analogy may be allowed to stand. Doubtless the goddess’ rage is also different from the way it may seem.
The myth of Hat-hor’s destruction of mankind (as narrated in The Book of the Cow of Heaven) is sometimes compared with the Noah myth. A difference between the two – that strikes me as important – is that in the Noah myth destruction is more indiscriminate. In both myths, the gods are enraged by the actions of humanity. In The Book of the Cow of Heaven, the wrath is firmly directed at our species. By contrast, Noah’s flood also drowns large numbers of unoffending creatures. Only a pair of each species is saved, with the clear implication that the survival of individual animals is of no account, only the survival of the species matters.
We see Hat-hor more usually in her nurturing role – but she who can nurture can also destroy. There are important lessons in this – and life should show us that creating the new goes hand in hand with destroying the old. The healer is a destroyer, although the destroyer is not necessarily a healer.
Hat-hor is also the deity whom the Egyptians most often associated with foreign countries. We all, I suppose, live under the Mistress of Heaven. I see this aspect of Hat-hor as especially fitting her for worship in a foreign place and a foreign time. That said, her associations with erotic love, intoxication, music and dance are also ubiquitous. If every woman becomes Hat-hor at the moment of giving birth – and the seven Hat-hors attend each child – these too are matters that remain unaltered and that engage every country.
The association of erotic love, intoxication, music and dance in Hat-hor is noteworthy. If we consider the lives of musicians, for example, how often are their weaknesses to be found in erotic love and/or intoxication? Such names as Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin come instantly to mind in this context.The mention of Hat-hor’s association with erotic love brings us to the central place assigned to sex in Kemetic religion.