I.”Who fills the earth with golden motes of sunlight, who comes alive in the liminal east and sets in the liminal west.”
II.”I give thee everything that the sky provides, that the earth creates, and the Nile brings from his source.”
III.”O perfect, O luminous, O venerable!
O great sorceress!
O luminous mistress,
O gold of the gods!”
IV.“We laud thee with delightful songs,
For thou art the mistress of jubilation,
The mistress of music, the queen of harp-playing.
The lady of the dance,
The mistress of the chorus-dance,
The queen of wreath-weaving.”
V:”I am the one who guides the great ones who are lost and exhausted on the roads of the reborn…
Who guides those who are lost in the underworld,
I am Hathor, Queen of the northern sky,
Who watches over the reborn,
I am a haven of tranquility for the just,
A ferry for the chosen.”
From Hymns to Hathor, quoted after Lesley Jackson, “Hathor: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess,” published by Avalonia, Kindle edition
The Egyptian calendar started around 21 June with the star Sirius (Sothis) rising on the horizon, announcing the start of the inundation of the Nile. This annual spectacle always amazed the Egyptians: the river started swelling in its banks first turning red from the silt, then green because of vegetation floating on top of it. This was seen as equally magical as the daily eastern rising of another star – the Sun, which travelled across the sky to set over the western horizon every evening amidst a spectacular symphony of colors. Two deities ruled these two magical occurrences: Hathor and the sun god Ra. New Year’s Day in Egypt was also Hathor’s birthday. Egyptians believed that on that day she returned from her self-imposed exile. The Distant Goddess was back and celebrations could start. At the break of dawn, the priests carried her statue to the rooftop Chapel of the Union with the Sun Disc, where the rising sun bathed it in its light, rejuvenating the goddess believed to be present in the statue. This was the signal to start ecstatic New Year celebrations full of dance, laughter and wine. Hathor was celebrated as mistress of drunkenness and the fertility of the soil due to the silt carried during the inundation promised abundant grape harvest.
Hathor was the greatest goddess of Egypt (before Isis took over in that role much later); originally she was called HetHert (“the House or Womb Above), later her name became the familiar Hat-Hor (“the House or Womb of Horus”). She was the sky in which the Great Falcon – Horus, the original sun god – lived; she was the womb from which he was born. She was a sky goddess of the primeval sky waters and a solar goddess, thus a bringer of all life. She was the Source of the Nile. In her Handbook of Egyptian Mythology, Geraldine Pinch thus summarizes her role: “Hathor was the golden goddess who helped women to give birth, the dead to be reborn, and the cosmos to be renewed. This complex deity could function as the mother, consort, and daughter of the creator sun god. As Lady of the Stars, Hathor was associated with the nocturnal sky. As the Eye of Ra, she could be identified with the solar disk or the morning or evening star (Venus). By the Greco-Roman Period, Hathor was honored as a moon deity. She was the goddess of all precious metals, gemstones, and materials that shared the radiant qualities of celestial bodies, such as gold, silver, copper, turquoise, lapis-lazuli, and faience.” Naturally, because of her connection with the sun god, she was mostly associated with gold. In fact, she was seen as almost a personification of gold, which was the metal most valued by the Egyptians. Her most notable epithets included:
Beautiful of Face
Eye of Ra upon his disk
Goddess of drunkenness
Lady of All
Lady of Heaven
Lady of Horns
Lady of the Sky
Mistress of all the Gods
The Great One
The Hand of Atum
Great Female Hawk in the House-of-the-Falcon
God’s mother of the Falcon of Gold
The Egyptians believed that the sun god was lifted up into the heavens on the head of the celestial cow. As Pinch summarizes, “the union of Hathor and the creator could be thought of in sexual terms or, more abstractly, as a merging of the creator with his own active power. Hathor was the goddess who personified both the hand that made Atum ejaculate and the divine ‘seed’ itself.” As the solar goddess, she took the weary sun god in his arms in the West. As a symbolic extension of that role, she was also the Lady of the Necropolis, who eased the transition from death to new life. She offered the newly dead nourishment under the shade of the sycamore tree. As Lesley Jackson points out, for the Egyptians shades and shadows were not sinister but benevolent, offering protection from the relentless desert sun. The canopy of the sycamore tree was a sacred space where Hathor offered refuge to her followers, also after their death. The presence of trees marked a change in the landscape and the much awaited presence of water.
Hathor, the Cow goddess was not named after a domesticated cow but after a wild cow which lived in the marshes where papyrus grew – a plant sacred to her and extremely important to the daily survival of the Egyptians. A hieroglyph in the form of a papyrus plant meant “fresh, flourishing, and green.” As Jackson explains: “In ancient Egyptian cosmology, the world was created when the first god stood on a mound that emerged from limitless and undifferentiated darkness and water, a mythical echo of the moment each year when the land began to reappear from beneath the annual floodwaters. Papyrus marshes were thus seen as fecund, fertile regions that contained the germs of creation. Papyrus thickets were seen as liminal zones at the edges of the ordered cosmos, symbols of the untamed chaos that surrounded and perpetually threatened the Egyptian world.”
For the Egyptians, cows symbolized loving care, nourishment and fertility. Significantly, the verb “to be joyful” was connected with a hieroglyph showing “a cow turning round to the calf at her side,” explains Jackson. Women were often depicted with their arms upraised to resemble the horns of a cow, the lunar crescent and the protective embrace of the goddess. The Celestial Cow who straddled the earth was the embodiment of the Milky Way. On this primeval ocean the solar barque guided by Hathor travelled each night. Each morning the sun was born and placed between the horns of Hathor. For the Egyptians, the sky was feminine and the mother. The goddess Nut represented the abstract, divine sky while Hathor its visible, physical and life giving aspect.
Hathor’s role was invariably of the one who regenerated, rejuvenated, and infused with life energy. She was fertility embodied. Very popular votive offerings she rejoiced in accepting were wooden and stone phalluses symbolizing abundance and fertility. Women would visit the crypts of her temple in Dendera if they had difficulty conceiving. She brought joy and ecstasy to her followers. As the Eye of Ra she embodied the active feminine principle, since the Egyptian word for eye, irt, sounded like the verb “to do.” Hathor had the power to revitalize anything and anybody that felt listless or stagnant. An instrument sacred to her was the sistrum, whose rattle was believed to promote fertility and scare the powers of evil. The shaking of sistrum brought about revitalizing powers and was used in all major rites of passage. Hathor was so closely associated with the sistrum that her face usually formed the handle. Also the menat, whose sound resembled the rustling of papyrus, was thought to make a revitalizing sound. Another object sacred to the goddess was the mirror, which was called “a living one.” It was regarded as “an active object, illuminating rather than merely reflecting as we would understand it now, and so was compared to the Eye of the Sun,” writes Jackson. Tomb paintings often show mirror dances dedicated to Hathor. Their significance is not clear, though perhaps they were associated with a play of lights and Hathor’s solar power. Aside from their role as an obvious symbol of eroticism and beauty, mirrors may have also been viewed as portals to other worlds. Hathor was after all a midwife assisiting women in labor but also by natural extension she was the one who assisted the deceased in their in the transition between death and rebirth. As Jackson says: “In many ways Hathor is a link to other worlds; those of the distant mines and foreign places, the otherworldly experiences of ecstasy and drunkenness and the afterworld of death and rebirth.”
One of the most important festivals dedicated to Hathor was the Festival of Drunkenness. To achieve a state of ecstasy meant to honor the goddess. Hathor was the one who got the largest number of votive offerings, which she was more fond of than of hymns, and wine was a particularly suitable gift for her. The sacred state of drunkenness was believed to help her followers to get rid of anger and all negativity. Hathor had a dual nature as a benevolent goddess but with periodical bouts of anger in her Angry Eye aspect during which she withdrew and was referred to as the Distant Goddess. The god Thoth would bring her wine and calming words during these times in order to appease her. The angry side of Hathor was connected with Sekhmet, one of the aspects of Hathor.
Although it was Isis who had the most heka (magic power) and was known as the Great One of Magic, Hathor had at her disposal infinite energy and strength due to her solar aspect. After the younger Horus (son of Isis) escaped to the desert having been blinded by Seth, Hathor healed his eyes with the milk of a gazelle. Jackson saw this magic healing act as restoring the sun and the moon and ensuring the survival of all creation. Hathor buried the damaged eyes, which grew back as lotus flowers. The lotus was a sacred plant of Hathor dedicated to her son Nefertum, god of perfume, portrayed as a lion-headed man with a lotus headdress (in other versions Nefertum was son of Sekhmet or Nut). One of the Egyptian myths of creation tells about a giant lotus which emerged from primordial waters of Nun and which brought forth the sun god.
The magic powers of Hathor did not end with healing Horus. In her guise as the Seven Hathors she determined the destinies of all newborns in Egypt, weaving their fate with a scarlet thread. The Seven Hathors had a very strong magical aspect and would be frequently invoked in love charms. They were also able to predict a manner of a person’s death. In fact, as is stated in the Coffin Texts, Hathor was the goddess who held keys to the afterlife. She was “the doorkeeper of the house of life … she in whose hand are the keys to the West, to whom the portal has been assigned, without whom they do not close, nor do they open without her knowing.” On the prow of the solar barque she was the mistress of was the scarab – a symbol representing “the plenitude of life and its continual renewal.”
Hathor was the main Egyptian goddess in the Old and Middle Kingdom but by the end of the Greco-Roman era she had been overshadowed by and eventually assimilated with Isis. This marked a clear cultural and archetypal shift and was a very significant occurrence. Hathor was the goddess who existed in her own right, which meant that all her relationships or offspring were secondary. Isis, on the other hand, was committed to and entangled with her spouse Osiris and their son Horus. The festivals of Hathor were full of joy and celebration, festivals of Isis focused on her mourning the death of her husband. Just as Isis lovingly collected all the pieces of his dead body, so she encompassed all Egyptian goddesses into her. She wore the cow horn sun disc of Hathor. She took over her epithets. As Jackson sums up, “By late antiquity Isis was the unrivaled Great Goddess of Egypt and her cult spread across the Roman Empire and reached Britain.” What was the reason of Isis prevailing over all other goddesses? I suspect it was the dawn of the Age of Pisces which brought about the archetype of wholeness. Isis epitomized “loss, suffering, compassion, healing and wholeness.” She was a savior goddess who brought hope to all those who suffered. What was lost at this juncture, however, was the angry and dangerous side of the feminine principle, which was highly pronounced in Hathor as Sekhmet and as the Distant Goddess. Isis, as Jackson puts it, was “the more socially acceptable face of the female divine.” Another aspect of Isis that was the sign of the coming times was the secrecy and exclusivity of her cult. With Isis the esoteric knowledge went underground.
This does not change the fact that the Summer Solstice carries the energy of Hathor who says in one of the hymns: “I am the Woman who lightens darkness.”
Beautiful images of Hathor: