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Seshat (also given as Sefkhet-Abwy and Seshet) is the Egyptian goddess of the written word. Her name literally means “female scribe” and she is regularly depicted as a woman wearing a leopard skin draped over her robe with a headdress of a seven-pointed star arched by a crescent in the form of a bow. This iconography has been interpreted as symbolizing supreme authority in that it is common in Egyptian legend and mythology for one to wear the skin of a defeated enemy to take on the foe’s powers, stars were closely associated with the realm of the gods and their actions, and the number seven symbolized perfection and completeness. The leopard skin would represent her power over, and protection from, danger as leopards were a common predator. The crescent above her headdress, resembling a bow, could represent dexterity and precision, if one interprets it along the lines of archery, or simply divinity if one takes the symbol as representing light, along the lines of later depictions of saints with halos.

A relief from the back of the throne of a seated statue of Ramesses II depicting the Egyptian goddess of writing Seshat. 13th century BCE, Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Among her responsibilities were record keeping, accounting, measurements, census-taking, patroness of libraries and librarians, keeper of the House of Life (temple library, scriptorium, writer’s workshop), Celestial Librarian, Mistress of builders (patroness of construction), and friend of the dead in the afterlife. She is often depicted as the consort (either wife or daughter) of Thoth, god of wisdom, writing, and various branches of knowledge. She first appears in the 2nd Dynasty (c. 2890- c. 2670 BCE) of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 – c. 2613 BCE) as a goddess of writing and measurements assisting the king in the ritual known as “stretching of the cord” which preceeded the construction of a building, most often a temple.

The ancient Egyptians believed that what was done on earth was mirrored in the celestial realm of the gods. The daily life of an individual was only part of an eternal journey which would continue on past death. Seshat featured prominently in the concept of the eternal life granted to scribes through their works. When an author created a story, inscription, or book on earth, an ethereal copy was transferred to Seshat who placed it in the library of the gods; mortal writings were therefore also immortal. Seshat was also sometimes depicted helping Nephthys revive the deceased in the afterlife in prepration for their judgment by Osiris in the Hall of Truth. In this capacity, the goddess would have helped the new arrival recognize the spells of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, enabling the soul to move on toward the hope of paradise.

Unlike the major gods of Egypt, Seshat never had her own temples, cult, or formal worship. Owing to the great value Egyptians placed on writing, however, and her part in the construction of temples and the afterlife, she was venerated widely through commonplace acts and daily rituals from the Early Dynastic Period to the last dynasty to rule Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty of 323-30 BCE. Seshat is not as well known today as many of the other deities of ancient Egypt but, in her time, she was among the most important and widely recognized of the Egyptian pantheon.

Responsibilities & Duties

According to one myth, the god Thoth was self-created at the beginning of time and, in his form as an ibis, lay the primordial egg which hatched creation. There are other versions of Thoth’s birth as well but they all make mention of his vast knowledge and the great gift of writing he offered to humanity. Thoth was worshipped as early as the Pre-Dynastic Period (c. 6000- c. 3150 BCE) at a time when Egyptian writing consisted of pictographs, images representing specific objects, prior to their development into hieroglyphics, symbols representing sounds and concepts. At this time, Thoth seems to have been considered a god of wisdom and knowledge – as he remained – and once a writing system was developed it was attributed to him.

A limestone relief slab depicting Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing. ca. 1919-1875 BCE. (Brooklyn Museum, USA).


Perhaps because Thoth already had so many responsibilities, the Egyptians transferred the supervision of writing to the goddess Seshat. Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson notes how Seshat appears in reliefs and inscriptions in the Early Dynastic Period as a goddess of measurements and writing, clearly indicating she was already an important deity at that time:

Representations show the king involved in a foundation ritual known as “stretching the cord” which probably took place before work began on the construction of a temple or of any addition. These depictions usually show the king performing the rite with the help of Seshat, the goddess of writing and measurement, a mythical aspect which reinforced the king’s central and unique role in the temple construction (Symbol & Magic, 174).

Seshat’s responsibilities were many. As record-keeper she documented everyday events but, beginning in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2613-c. 2181 BCE), she also recorded the spoils of war in the form of animals and captives. She also kept track of tribute owed and tribute paid to the king and, beginning in the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE), was closely associated with the pharaoh recording the years of his reign and his jubilee festivals. Egyptologist Rosalie David notes how she “wrote the king’s name on the Persea tree, each leaf representing a year in his allotted lifespan” (Religion and Magic, 411). Throughout all these periods, and later, her most important role was always as the goddess of precise measurements and all forms of the written word. The Egyptians placed great value on attention to detail and this was as true, if not more so, in writing as any other aspect of their lives.

Importance of Writing in Egypt

The written word was considered a sacred art. The Greek designation hieroglyphics for the Egyptian writing system means “sacred carvings” and is a translation from the Egyptian phrase medu-netjer, “the god’s words”. Thoth had given the gift of writing to humanity and it was a mortal’s responsibility to honor that gift by practicing the craft as precisely as possible. Rosalie David comments on the Egyptian ideal of writing:

The main purpose of writing was not decorative and it was not originally intended for literary or commercial use. Its most important function was to provide a means by which certain concepts or events could be brought into existence. The Egyptians believed that if something were comitted to writing it could be repeatedly “made to happen” by means of magic (Handbook,199).

The spells of The Egyptian Book of the Dead are the best examples of this concept. The Book of the Dead is a guide through the afterlife written for the deceased. The spells the soul speaks help one to navigate through assorted dangers to arrive at the perfect paradise of the Field of Reeds. One needed to know how to avoid demons, how to transform one’s self into various animals, and how to address the entities one would meet in the next world and so the spells had to be precise in order to work.

A detail from the Book of the Dead of Aaneru from Thebes, Third Intermediate Period, XXI Dynasty, 1070-946 BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

The Book of the Dead evolved from the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom but, even before this time, one can see the Egyptian precision in writing at work in the Offering Lists and Autobiographies of tombs in the latter part of the Early Dynastic Period. Writing, as David notes, could bring concepts or events into existence – from a king’s decree to a mythological tale to a law, a ritual, or an answered prayer – but it also held and made permanent that which had passed out of existence. Writing made the transitory world of change into one everlasting and eternal. The dead were not gone as long as their stories could be read in stone; nothing was ever really lost. The sacred carvings of the Egyptians were so important to them that they dedicated whole sections of temples or temple complexes to a literary institution known as The House of Life.

House of Life

The House of Life was a combination library, scriptorium, institute of higher learning, writer’s workshop, print shop/copy center, publisher, and distributor. The Egyptians referred to the institution as Per-Ankh (literally “House of Life”) and it is first mentioned in inscriptions from the Middle Kingdom. These were located in temples or temple complexes and would have been presided over by Seshat and Thoth no matter which god the temple was dedicated to. Since the gods were thought to literally reside in their temples, this arrangement would be comparable to having a permanent house-guest in one’s home who takes care of responsibilities one may value but simply has not time for. Wilkinson notes how “by virtue of her role in the foundation ceremony [Seshat] was a part of every temple building” (Complete Gods, 167). She was also an integral part of the temple through her supervision of the House of Life. Historian and Egyptologist Margaret Bunson describes their function:

Research was conducted in the House of Life because medical, astronomical, and mathematical texts perhaps were maintained there and copied by scribes. The institution served as a workshop where sacred books were composed and written by the ranking scholars of the times. It is possible that many of the texts were not kept in the Per-Ankh but discussed there and debated. The members of the institution’s staff, all scribes, were considered the learned men of their age. Many were ranking priests in the various temples or noted physicians and served the various kings in many administrative capacities (204-205).

The scribes were most commonly associated with the sun god Ra in earlier times and with Osiris in later periods no matter which god resided in a particular temple. Bunson claims that probably only very important cities could support a Per-Ankh but other scholars, Rosalie David among them, cite evidence that “every sizable town had one” (Handbook, 203). Bunson’s theory is substantiated by the known structures identified as a Per-Ankh at Amarna, Edfu, and Abydos, all important cities in ancient Egypt, but this does not mean there were not others elsewhere; only that these have not been positively identified as yet.

The Papyrus Lansing is an anthology of texts praising the profession of the scribe, dating to the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Seshat’s role at the House of Life would have been the same as anywhere else: she would have received a copy of the texts written there for the library of the gods where it would be kept eternally. Rosalie David writes:

It would seem that the House of Life had both a practical use and a deeply religious significance. Its very title may reflect the power of life that was believed to exist in the divinely inspired writings composed, copied, and often stored there…In one ancient text the books in the House of Life are claimed not only to have the ability to renew life but actually to be able to provide the food and sustenance needed for the continuation of life (Handbook, 203-204).

It is a certainty that the majority of the priests and scribes of the Per-Ankh were men but some scholars have pointed to evidence for female scribes. Since Seshat was herself a divine female scribe it would make sense that women practiced the art of writing as well as men.

Female Scribes

Women in ancient Egypt enjoyed a level of equality unmatched in the ancient world. It is well substantiated that women could be, and were, scribes in that we have names of female physicians and images of women in important religious posts such as God’s Wife of Amun; both of these occupations required literacy. Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley writes:

Although the only Egyptian woman to be depicted actually putting pen to paper was Seshat, the goddess of writing, several ladies were illustrated in close association with the traditional scribe’s writing kit of palette and brushes. It is certainly beyond doubt that at least some of the daughters of the king were educated and the position of private tutor to a royal princess could be one of the highest honour.

It is known, for example, that the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) hired a tutor for her daughter Neferu-Ra and that Queen Nefertiti (c. 1370- c. 1336 BCE) was literate as was her mother-in-law, Queen Tiye (1398-1338 BCE). Still, when it comes to the majority of women in Egypt, images and inscriptions leave some doubt as to how many could actually read and write. Egyptologist Gay Robins explains:

In a few New Kingdom scenes, women are depicted with scribal kits under their chairs and it has been suggested that the women were commemorating their ability to read and write. Unfortunately, in all cases but one, the woman is sitting with her husband or son in such a way that it would cramp the available space to put the kit under the man’s chair, and so it may have been moved back to a place under the woman’s. This happens in a similar scene when the man’s dog is put under the woman’s chair. So one cannot be sure that the scribal kit belonged to the woman. If there was a large group of literate women in ancient Egypt, they do not seem to have developed any surviving literary genres unique to themselves (113).

While this may be true, one cannot discount the possibility that female scribes were responsible for works of literature, either in creating or copying them. Egyptian society was quite conservative and written works generally adhered to a set structure and theme throughout the various periods of history. Even in the New Kingdom, where literature was more cosmopolitan, literature still adhered to a basic form which elevated Egyptian cultural values. Arguing that there were few female scribes based on there being no “women’s literature” in ancient Egypt seems in error as the literature of the culture could hardly be considered “masculine” in any respect save for the kings’ monumental inscriptions.

In the famous story of Osiris and his murder by Set it is not Osiris who is the hero of the tale but his sister-wife Isis. Although the best-known creation myth features the god Atum standing on the ben-ben at the beginning of time, an equally popular one in Egypt has the goddess Neith creating the world. Bastet, goddess of the hearth, home, women’s health and secrets, was popular among both men and women and the goddess Hathor was regularly invoked by both at festivals, parties, and family gatherings. The deity who presided over the brewing of beer, the most popular drink in Egypt, was not male but the goddess Tenenet and the primary protector and defender of Isis when she was a single mother safe-guarding Horus was the goddess Serket. Seshat is only one of a number of female deities venerated in ancient Egypt reflecting the high degree of respect given to women and their abilities in a number of different areas of daily life.

Seshat the Foundation

As noted, although Seshat never had a temple of her own, she was the foundation of the temples constructed in her role as Mistress of Builders and her participation in the ritual ceremony of “stretching the cord” which measured the dimensions of the structure to be raised. The floor plan of the temple was laid out through the “stretching the cord” ceremony after an appropriate area of land had been decided upon. Wilkinson comments on the process of situating a temple and Seshat’s ritual role in this:

The rite involved the careful orientation of the temple by astronomical observation and measurement. Apparently this was usually accomplished by sighting the stars of a northern circumpolar constellation through a notched wooden instrument called a merkhet and thus acquiring a true north-south orientation which was commonly used for the temple’s short axis. According to the texts, the king was assisted in this ritual by Seshat (or Sefkhet-Abwy), the scribal goddess of writing and measurement (Temples, 38).

In addition to setting the foundation of the temple, Seshat also was responsible for the written works that temple produced and housed in its House of Life and, further, for gathering these works into her eternal library in the realm of the gods. Although Thoth was responsible for the initial gift of writing, his consort Seshat lovingly gathered the works that gift produced, presided over them in the libraries on earth, and kept them eternally safe on her shelves in the heavens. As writing was both a creative and preserving art, one which brought concepts to life and caused them to endure, which bestowed eternal life on both the writer and the subject, Seshat would be considered by the ancient Egyptians as the goddess responsible for the preservation of Egyptian culture and its enduring fascination among the people of the present day.


Hathor and the Osiris Myth

Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated, later, with Isis and, earlier, with Sekhmet but eventually was considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or simply in cow form. In her form as Hesat she is shown as a pure white cow carrying a tray of food on her head as her udders flow with milk. She is closely associated with the primeval divine cow Mehet-Weret, a sky goddess whose name means “Great Flood” and who was thought to bring the inundation of the Nile River which fertilized the land.

After Set murdered Osiris and then hacked him into pieces, he scattered the body parts all across the land and flung some into the Nile. Isis gathered all the parts of her husband back together with the help of her sister Nephthys and brought Osiris back to life but he was incomplete because a fish had eaten his penis and it could not be restored. Isis then transformed herself into a kite (a falcon) and flew around Osiris’ body, drawing his seed into her and becoming pregnant with Horus. Osiris then descended into the underworld to become Lord of the Dead while Isis was left alone to raise her son and Set usurped Osiris’ place as king of the land.

Isis hid Horus from Set until the boy was grown; at which point Horus challenged Set for rule of the land. This struggle is sometimes represented as a battle but, in the story known as The Contendings of Horus and Set, it is a trial overseen by the Ennead, a tribunal of nine powerful gods, who are to decide who is rightful king. Chief among these gods is Hathor’s father Ra who, at one point becomes so upset with the proceedings, he refuses to participate. Geraldine Pinch relates the rest of the story:

Ra becomes angry when he is insulted by the baboon god Babi and lies down on his back. This implies that the creator sun god was sinking back into the inert state that would mean the end of the world. Hathor, Lady of the Southern Sycamore, visits her father and shows him her genitals. He immediately laughs, gets up, and goes back to administering justice. Hathor has aroused the sun god and driven away his evil mood (138).

Although clearly a sexual gesture, the abstract interpretation is of the importance of balance between the feminine and the masculine principles in maintaining order and harmony. Hathor reveals herself to her father in an unexpected gesture which lightens his mood and puts things in perspective. The balance between the duality of feminine and the masculine, between light and dark, fertility and aridity is emphasized throughout Egyptian culture in the gods and the myths relating to them.

The Temple of Hathor at Dendera, Egypt, a famous center of her cult.

Another Myth… Hathor and the Eye of RA

This balance is seen in the concept of the Eye of Ra, the female counterpart to the male aspect of creation embodied in Ra. The Eye of Ra, like the Distant Goddess, was associated with a number of female deities but, again, often Hathor. Geraldine Pinch notes that “the ancient Egyptian word for eye (irt) sounded like a word for “doing” or “acting”. This may be why the eyes of a deity are associated with divine power at its most interventional. Since the word irt was feminine in gender, divine eyes were personified as goddesses” (128). The Distant Goddess story is actually an Eye of Ra story in that the feminine aspect of the divine goes forth, acts upon its environment, and returns to bring transformation.

This same pattern is seen in the creation tale featuring Atum (Ra) and the ben-ben when he sends his children out with his eye to create the world. Hathor was often referred to as “The Eye of Ra” or “The Eye of Atum” and her sun disk is often represented as an eye from which the sun is born. In the story of the sun god’s voyage through the night sky and the underworld, Hathor stands in the prow keeping watch for any sign of danger from Apophis. Throughout Egyptian history she was known as the daughter of Nut and Ra, Wife of Ra, mother of gods, and great Mother Goddess (perhaps related to the even older goddess Neith) so it is no surprise that popular stories such as the Distant Goddess or concepts like the Eye of Ra would tend to feature her.

Horembheb facing the goddess of Hathor from Horembheb’s tomb, Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt, ca. 1300 BCE.

Some ancient stories depict her as the mother of Horus the Elder and others as the wife of Horus of Edfu, resulting in the birth of Horus the Younger who was later regarded as the son of Osiris and Isis. Hathor’s early identification as the mother of Horus, the god most closely associated with the ruler of Egypt, attests clearly to her importance prior to the rise in popularity of the Myth of Osiris when Isis became Horus’ mother. Hathor was worshipped in every region of Egypt before the ascent of Isis and her cult was popular with both the poor working class of Egypt and the ruling elite.

Source and Images: wikipedia,



Hathor (/ˈhæθɔːr/ or /ˈhæθər/;[2] Egyptian: ḥwt-ḥr; in Greek: Ἅθωρ, meaning “mansion of Horus”) is an ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. She was one of the most important and popular deities throughout the history of ancient Egypt. Hathor was worshipped by royalty and common people alike. In tomb paintings, she is often depicted as “Mistress of the West”, welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles, she was a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands, and fertility. She was believed to assist women in childbirth. She was also believed to be the patron goddess of miners.

Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated, later, with Isis and, earlier, with Sekhmet but eventually was considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or simply in cow form. In her form as Hesat she is shown as a pure white cow carrying a tray of food on her head as her udders flow with milk. She is closely associated with the primeval divine cow Mehet-Weret, a sky goddess whose name means “Great Flood” and who was thought to bring the inundation of the Nile River which fertilized the land.

Head of the ‘cow goddess’ Hathor, 1417-1379 BCE. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Through this association, Hathor came to be regarded as the mother of the sun god Ra and held a prominent place in his barge as it sailed across the night sky, into the underworld, and rose again at dawn. Her name means “Domain of Horus” or “Temple of Horus” which alludes to two concepts. The first allusion is to the part of the sky where the king (or dead king) could be rejuvenated and continue rule (or live again) while the second is to the myth that Horus, as sun god, entered her mouth each night to rest and returned with the dawn. In both cases, her name has to do with rebirth, rejuvenation, inspiration, and light. Her relationship with the sky identified her with Venus, the evening and morning star.

The sistrum is her instrument which she used to drive evil from the land and inspire goodness. She is the patron goddess of joy, celebration, and love and was associated with Aphrodite by the Greeks and with Venus by the Romans. She was always, from the earliest times, associated with women and women’s health in body and in mind. In time, women came to identify with Hathor in the afterlife the same way that, previously, all people identified with the god Osiris. She was an immensely popular and influential goddess. Scholar Geraldine Pinch comments on this, writing:

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 god. Many lesser goddesses came to be regarded as “names” of Hathor in her contrasting benevolent and destructive aspects. She was most commonly shown as a beautiful woman wearing a red solar disk between a pair of cow’s horns (137).

The red solar disk, as well as a number of Hathor’s personal attributes, would come to be associated with the later goddess Isis. In time, Isis absorbed more and more of the characteristics of Hathor until she supplanted her as the most popular and widely worshipped in Egypt.

Mythical Origins

Although in time she came to be considered the ultimate personification of kindness and love, she was initially literally a blood-thirsty deity unleashed on mankind to punish humans for their sins. An ancient tale similar to that of the biblical flood tells of the great god Ra becoming enraged at human ingratitude and evil and releasing Sekhmet upon humanity to destroy them. Sekhmet descends on the world in a fury of destruction, killing everyone she finds and toppling their cities, crushing their homes and tearing up fields and gardens. At first, Ra is pleased because humanity had forgotten him and the gifts of the gods and had turned to only thinking of themselves and following after their own pleasure. He watches Sekhmet’s swath of destruction with satisfaction until the other gods intervene and ask him to show mercy. They point out that Sekhmet is going too far in teaching this “lesson” to humanity and how, soon, there will be no human beings left on earth to benefit from it.

This bust comes from a triad statue that showed King Amenhotep III flanked by the god Osiris and the goddess Hathor.

Ra regrets his decision and devises a plan to stop Sekhmet’s bloodlust. He orders Tenenet, the Egyptian goddess of beer, to brew a particularly strong batch and then has the beer dyed red and delivered to Dendera. Sekhmet, by this time, is crazed with the thirst for more blood and, when she comes upon the blood-red beer, she quickly seizes it and begins drinking.

She becomes drunk, falls asleep, and wakes up as Hathor the benevolent. Humanity was spared destruction and their former tormentor became their greatest benefactress. Following her transformation, Hathor bestowed only beautiful and uplifting gifts on the children of the earth and assumed such high status that all the later goddesses of Egypt can be considered forms of Hathor. She was the primordial Mother Goddess, ruler of the sky, the sun, the moon, agriculture, fertility, the east, the west, moisture, and childbirth. Further, she was associated with joy, music, love, motherhood, dance, drunkenness and, above all, gratitude.

Worship of Hathor

Unlike other deities of ancient Egypt, whose clergy needed to be of the same sex as the deity they served, those who served Hathor could be men or women. Hathor’s cult center was at Dendera, Egypt, but she was widely regarded and worshipped throughout Egypt to the extent that she was also honored as a goddess of the afterlife in the Field of Reeds (the Egyptian land of the dead). Originally, when one died in ancient Egypt, whether male or female, one assumed the likeness of Osiris (lord and judge of the dead) and was blessed by his qualities of moral integrity. So popular was Hathor, however, that, in time, the female dead who were deemed worthy to cross into the Field of Reeds assumed Hathor’s likeness and qualities while the male dead continued to be associated with Osiris. Geraldine Pinch writes:

The Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead have spells to help the deceased live forever as a follower of Hathor. In a Late Period story, Hathor rules the underworld, emerging to punish those who behave unjustly on earth. By the Greco-Roman period, dead women in the afterlife identified themselves with Hathor instead of Osiris. It was only after Isis took over many of her attributes that Hathor lost her place as the most important of Egyptian goddesses (139).

Hathor’s popularity is attested to by the number of minor goddesses who shared her attributes and were considered aspects of the Mother Goddess. The most important of these were the Seven Hathors who were present at the birth of a human being and decreed their fate. Hathor was, in early times, worshipped in the form of a cow or as a cow with stars above her. Later she was pictured as a woman with the head of a cow and, later still, as a woman complete with a human face but sometimes with the ears or horns of a cow. The Seven Hathors shared these attributes but also had a red ribbon which they used to bind evil forces and dark demons. The Seven Hathors were venerated highly in life for their ability to assist in matters of love and protection from harm and, after death, for their protective abilities against the forces of darkness.

Golden chain links in the shape of Hathor heads. From the treasure of the Nubian queen Amanishakheto, pyramid N6, Meroe, modern-day northern Sudan. Meroitic period, around 1 CE. (State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich, Germany).

As a goddess who transcended life and death, Hathor was widely worshipped and came to be identified with a deity inscriptions call The Distant Goddess. This is a goddess who abandons her father Ra and assumes the form of a wild feline to elude any attempts to find her or catch her. She vanishes into the distant desert and hides in the arid plains. This goddess was identified with Mehit, a protective goddess, with Sekhmet, Bastet, Mut, and others but quite often with Hathor. A god is sent forth by Ra to find his daughter and bring her home and, when this happens, she brings with her the inundation of the Nile River which overflowed its banks and brought life to the people. Before she released the life-giving waters, however, she had to be placated and shown appreciation. Geraldine Pinch writes:

When the Distant Goddess returned, she brought the inundation with her, but she had to be pacified with music, dancing, feasting, and drunkenness. This was the mythical justification for the wild, ecstatic elements in Hathor’s cult. It was proper for the whole of creation to rejoice when Hathor appeared again in all her radiant beauty and joined forces with her father (138).

Pinch notes that this union of Hathor and her creator-father “could be thought of in sexual terms or, more abstractly, as a merging of the creator with his own active power” (138). An example of this is the role Hathor plays in one of the versions of the story of The Contendings of Horus and Set which continues the tale of the Osiris Myth.

The five Gifts of Hathor

A part of the initiation into her cult appears to have been a ritual known as The Five Gifts of Hathor in which a communicant would be asked to name the five things they were most grateful for while looking at the fingers of their left hand. As the poor of Egypt did not own their own land, but labored for others in the fields, their left hand was always visible to them as they reached out to harvest grain which would then be cut by the blade in their right hand. By naming the five things one was grateful for, and identifying them with the fingers of the left hand, one was constantly reminded of the good things in one’s life and this kept one from the `gateway sin’ of ingratitude from which, it was thought, all other sins followed. For the more affluent of Egypt, considering the Five Gifts would have been a way to keep from envying those more prosperous than oneself and a means by which one was reminded to be humble in the face of the gods. This humility would show itself by one’s service to others. Historian Margaret Bunson comments on this:

In the Daily Royal Rites, as shown on temple reliefs, Hathor nursed the king or his priestly representative from her breasts, thus giving him the grace of office and the supernatural powers to protect Egypt (107).

She served the king and his court as nurse and, by doing so, fed all the people of Egypt as the prosperity of the land was intimately tied to the health, well-being, and stability of the king. If a goddess of Hathor’s stature could freely serve others, it was thought, so could anyone else. Hathor continued this service to humanity after death as Geraldine Pinch notes:

As the goddess of the West, Hathor welcomes the setting sun into her outstretched arms. For both gods and peole, Hathor eased the transition from death to new life. The time and manner of a person’s death was decreed by a sevenfold form of Hathor. As Lady of the Necropolis, she opened the gates of the underworld. As a tree goddess, she revived the newly dead with shade, air, water, and food. The spirits of the dead could imbibe eternal life from the milk of the seven Hathor cows (138-139).

Hathor’s humble service is depicted through inscriptions and texts throughout Egypt’s history from the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BCE) through the last dynasty to rule Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE). In her earthly form as a dairy cow, Hathor was known as Hesat, the wet-nurse to the gods, and is always associated with motherhood, motherly instincts, and the care of others. Milk was known as `The beer of Hesat’ and The Milky Way as seen in the night sky also came to be associated with her as it was considered a heavenly Nile River, the giver and sustainer of all life. As mistress of song and dance, of celebration and gratitude, bringer of life and comforter in death, Hathor embodied the heavenly Nile in all ways as she brought the best gifts of the gods to the people of earth.

Source and Images: wikipedia,


Ships of the Gods in Ancient Egypt

The Nile River was the source of life for the ancient Egyptians and so figured prominently in their religious beliefs. At night, the Milky Way was considered a heavenly Nile, associated with Hathor, and provider of all good things. The Nile was also linked to Uat-Ur, the Egyptian name for the Mediterranean Sea, which stretched out to unknown lands from the Delta and brought goods through trade with foreign ports.

Watercrafts were no doubt among the earliest conveyances built in Egypt, with small boats appearing in inscriptions in the Predynastic Period (c. 6000 – c. 3150 BCE). These boats were made of woven papyrus reeds but later were made of wood, grew larger, and became ships.

The ships of the Egyptians were used for commercial ventures like fishing, trade, and travel and also in warfare, but from at least the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE), they also feature in religious beliefs and practices. Ships known as Barques of the Gods are associated with a number of different Egyptian deities and, although each had its own significance, their common importance was in linking the mortal world with the divine.

The Barque of RA

Easily the most important divine vessel was the Barque of Ra which sailed across the sky each day as the sun. In one religious tale, Ra becomes enraged with humanity and their ceaseless stupidity and decides to destroy them by sending Sekhmet to devour them and crush their cities. He repents and stops her by sending her a vat of beer, which she drinks, passes out from, and wakes up later as Hathor, the friend to humans. In some versions, the story ends there, but in others, Ra is still not satisfied with humanity and so boards his great barge and sails away into the heavens. Still, since he cannot completely distance himself from the world, he appears each day watching over it as the sun. The solar barque the people saw during the day was called the Mandjet, and the one which navigated through the underworld was known as the Meseket.

By the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE), this myth included the added dimension of the Great Serpent known as Apophis. As the Barque of Ra descended into the west in the evening, it entered the underworld where Apophis waited to attack it. Apophis was present at the beginning of creation when, in one myth, Ra is the god who stands on the primordial mound and raises order out of chaos. Apophis wanted to return the universe to its original undifferentiated state and could do this if he destroyed the barge of the sun god and the sun god with it.

Ra travelling through the underworld in his barque, from the copy of the Book of Gates in the tomb of Ramses I, Egypt, c. 1290 BCE.

Other gods, as well as the souls of the justified dead, would travel on the barge with Ra to protect him and his ship from Apophis during its journey through the underworld. A number of paintings and inscriptions depict all of the most famous gods, at one time or another, fending off the Great Serpent either alone, in groups, or in the presence of the justified dead.

Mortals were encouraged to participate in this struggle from their homes and temples on earth. Rituals such as The Overthrowing of Apophis were observed in which figures and images of Apophis were made of wax and then ritually mutilated, spat on, urinated on, and burned. This was among the most widely practiced execration rituals in Egypt and linked the living with the souls of those who had passed on and with the gods.

Every night the gods, souls, and humanity joined together to battle chaos and darkness and preserve life and light, and each time they won, the sun rose in the morning, and the dawn light was an assurance that all was well with Ra and life on earth would continue. As the barge sailed across the sky, however, Apophis returned to life in the underworld and would be waiting again once night fell; and so the battle would have to be fought again.

The Barque of AMUN

Ra’s barge existed in the spiritual realm but there were others which were built and maintained by human hands. The best known of these was the Barque of Amun constructed and kept at Thebes.

Amun’s Barque was known to the Egyptians as Userhetamon, ‘Mighty of Brow is Amun,’ and was a gift to the city from Ahmose I (c. 1570 – c.1544 BCE) following his victory over the Hyksos and ascension to the throne which initiated the era of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570-1069 BCE). Egyptologist Margaret Bunson writes, “It was covered in gold from the waterline up and was filled with cabins, obelisks, niches, and elaborate adornments” (21). There was a cabin for the shrine of the god, decorated with gold, silver, and precious gems, from which Amun, in the form of his statue, would preside over festivals and welcome the praise of his people.


During Amun’s annual festival, The Feast of Opet, the barque would move with great ceremony, carrying Amun’s statue from the Karnak temple downriver to the Luxor temple so the god could visit and then bringing him back again. At the ritual of the Wadi Festival (The Beautiful Feast of the Valley), one of the most significant of all Egyptian festivals, the statues of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu (the Theban triad) were transported on the barque from one side of the Nile to the other in order to participate in honoring the deceased and inviting their spirits back to earth to join in the festivities.

On other days the barque would be docked on the banks of the Nile or at Karnak’s sacred lake. When not in use, the ship would be housed in a special temple at Thebes built to its specifications, and every year the floating temple would be refurbished and repainted or rebuilt. Other barques of Amun were built elsewhere in Egypt, and there were other floating temples to other deities, but Amun’s Barque at Thebes was the most elaborate. The attention lavished on the ship reflected the status of the god who, by the time of the New Kingdom, was so widely venerated that his worship was almost monotheistic with other gods relegated nearly to the status of aspects of Amun.

The Barque of OSIRIS

Among his closest competitors for first place in the hearts of the people, however, was Osiris. Osiris was considered the first king of Egypt who, murdered by his brother Set and revived by his sister-wife Isis and her sister Nephthys, was the Lord and Judge of the Dead. Osiris’ son Horus was among the most important deities of the pantheon, associated with the just reign of the king and, in most eras, identified with the king himself.

When a person died, they expected to have to appear before Osiris for judgment concerning their deeds in life. Although the judgment of the soul would be influenced by the 42 Judges, Thoth, and Anubis who would participate in accepting or rejecting one’s Negative Confession and the weighing of the heart, it was Osiris’ word which would be final. Since one’s continued existence in the afterlife depended upon his mercy, he was perpetually venerated throughout Egypt’s history.

Osiris, seated on a throne, sails across the sky as the personification of the full moon, accompanied by the seated goddesses Nephthys on left and Isis on the right; Ma’at stands near the bow of the ship.

Worship of Osiris dates conclusively to the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt (c. 3150 – c. 2613 BCE) but no doubt originated in the Predynastic Period. The story of his death and resurrection by Isis became so popular that it pervaded Egyptian culture and, even when other gods might be honored more elaborately in state ceremonies, the festival of Osiris remained significant and his cult widespread. Mortuary rituals were based on the Osiris cult and the king was linked to Horus in life and Osiris in death. The king was, in fact, thought to travel to the land of the dead in his own barge which resembled the ship of Osiris.

Osiris’ barque was known as the Neshmet Barge which, though built by human hands, belonged to the primordial god Nun of the waters. Bunson writes, “An elaborate vessel, this bark had a cabin for the shrine and was decorated with gold and other precious metals and stones…it was refurbished or replaced by each king” (43). The Neshmet barge was considered so important that participation in its replacement or restoration was counted as one of the most significant good deeds in one’s life.

During the Festival of Osiris at Abydos, the Neshmet would transport Osiris’ statue from his temple to his tomb and back again, thus recreating the story of his life, death, and resurrection. At the beginning of the festival, two maidens of the temple would play the roles of the goddesses in reciting the call-and-response liturgy of The Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys which invited Osiris to participate in the ceremony while also ritually recreating his resurrection. Once he emerged from his temple in the form of his statue, the Neshmet Barge was waiting to transport him and the ceremony would be underway.

Ships of the Gods, Kings, & of the People

Many other gods and goddesses had their own ships which were all built along the same lines as the above. All were elaborately adorned and outfitted as floating temples. Bunson describes the barques of some of the other gods:

Other Egyptian deities sailed in their own barks on feast days with priests rowing the vessels on sacred lakes or on the Nile. Khons’ Bark was called “Brilliant of Brow” in some eras. The god Min’s boat was named “Great of Love”. The Hennu Bark of Sokar was kept at Medinet Habu and was paraded around the walls of the capital on holy days. This bark was highly ornamented and esteemed as a cultic object. The barks could be actual sailing vessels or carried on poles in festivals. The gods normally had both kinds of barks for different rituals. (43)

Hathor’s barque at Dendera was of similar opulence and the temples of major deities had a sacred lake on which the ship could sail during feast days or on special occasions. This association of the gods with watercraft led to the belief that the king departed his earthly life for the next world in a similar boat. Prayers and hymns for the deceased monarch include the hope that his ship will reach the afterlife without mishap and some spells indicate navigational instructions. For this reason, boats were often included among the grave goods of the deceased.

This boat was found practically intact; except for one oar, it was in remarkable condition. Built for Khufu, the ship was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The best known of these is the Ship of Khufu, but so-called Solar Barges were buried with many kings throughout Egypt’s history. Khufu (2589-2566 BCE), the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, had his barge buried near his tomb for use in the afterlife, as with any of his other grave goods. He was neither the first to do so nor, by far, the last and it became customary to include even a model boat among the grave goods in the tombs of the upper class.

These full-sized or model boats were thought, like all grave goods, to serve the soul of the deceased in the afterlife. Even a model ship could be used to transport one safely from a certain point to another through the use of magical spells. Statuettes of various animals, like the hippopotamus, were often included in tombs for this same purpose: they would come to life when summoned by a spell to help the soul when required.

The ships, large or small, provided the same service and, by including them in one’s tomb, one was assured of easy travel in the realm of the gods. More importantly, though, one’s personal boat linked the soul with the divine in the same way the ships of the gods had done when one lived on the earth.



Goddess NUT

Nut (Egyptian: Nwt, Pronounced “newt”), also known by various other transcriptions, is the goddess of the sky in the Ennead of ancient Egyptian religion. She was seen as a star-covered nude woman arching over the earth, or as a cow.

Goddess of the sky

Nut is a daughter of Shu and Tefnut. Her brother and husband is Geb. She had four or five children: Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys, and—in early Egyptian sources—Horus. She is considered one of the oldest deities among the Egyptian pantheon, with her origin being found on the creation story of Heliopolis. She was originally the goddess of the nighttime sky, but eventually became referred to as simply the sky goddess. Her headdress was the hieroglyphic of part of her name, a pot, which may also symbolize the uterus. Mostly depicted in nude human form, Nut was also sometimes depicted in the form of a cow whose great body formed the sky and heavens, a sycamore tree, or as a giant sow, suckling many piglets (representing the stars).


A sacred symbol of Nut was the ladder used by Osiris to enter her heavenly skies. This ladder-symbol was called maqet and was placed in tombs to protect the deceased, and to invoke the aid of the deity of the dead. Nut and her brother, Geb, may be considered enigmas in the world of mythology. In direct contrast to most other mythologies which usually develop a sky father associated with an Earth mother (or Mother Nature), she personified the sky and he the Earth.

Great goddess Nut with her wings stretched across a coffin

Nut appears in the creation myth of Heliopolis which involves several goddesses who play important roles: Tefnut (Tefenet) is a personification of moisture, who mated with Shu (Air) and then gave birth to Sky as the goddess Nut, who mated with her brother Earth, as Geb. From the union of Geb and Nut came, among others, the most popular of Egyptian goddesses, Isis, the mother of Horus, whose story is central to that of her brother-husband, the resurrection god Osiris. Osiris is killed by his brother Set and scattered over the Earth in 14 pieces which Isis gathers up and puts back together. Osiris then climbs a ladder into his mother Nut for safety and eventually becomes king of the dead.

A huge cult developed about Osiris that lasted well into Roman times. Isis was her husband’s queen in the underworld and the theological basis for the role of the queen on earth. It can be said that she was a version of the great goddess Hathor. Like Hathor she not only had death and rebirth associations but was the protector of children and the goddess of childbirth.

Earth And Sky, GEB And NUT

Born as half a pair, locked with her brother and consort Geb, their embrace was so passionate that their own father, Shu the God of Air, had to separate them. And thus heaven and earth were created, with Nut the Sky, arched above her adoring husband, Geb the Earth.

Nut and Geb’s eternal love affair was consummated every night, when she would come down to earth for a few hours, causing darkness to fall.

From their love they spawned some of ancient Egypt’s greatest and most powerful deities, as well as the sun, the moon and the stars.

Nut, goddess of sky supported by Shu the god of air, and the ram-headed Heh deities, while the earth god Geb reclines beneath.

Myth of Nut and Ra

Ra, the sun god, was the second to rule the world, according to the reign of the gods. Ra was a strong ruler but he feared anyone taking his throne. When he discovered that Nut was to have children, he was furious. He decreed, “Nut shall not give birth any day of the year.” At that time, the year was only 360 days. Nut spoke to Thoth, god of wisdom, and he had a plan. Thoth gambled with Khonsu, god of the moon, whose light rivalled that of Ra’s. Every time Khonsu lost, he had to give Thoth some of his moonlight. Khonsu lost so many times that Thoth had enough moonlight to make 5 extra days. Since these days were not part of the year, Nut could have her children. She had five children: Osiris, later ruler of the gods and then god of the dead, Horus the Elder, god of war, Set, god of evil and wastelands, Isis, goddess of magic, and Nephthys, goddess of water. When Ra found out, he was furious. He separated Nut from her husband Geb for eternity. Her father, Shu, was to keep them apart. Nevertheless, Nut did not regret her decision.

Protectress Of the Journey to the AfterLife

Nut was the goddess of the sky and all heavenly bodies, a symbol of protecting the dead when they enter the afterlife. According to the Egyptians, during the day, the heavenly bodies—such as the sun and moon—would make their way across her body. Then, at dusk, they would be swallowed, pass through her belly during the night, and be reborn at dawn.

Nut is also the barrier separating the forces of chaos from the ordered cosmos in the world. She was pictured as a woman arched on her toes and fingertips over the earth; her body portrayed as a star-filled sky. Nut’s fingers and toes were believed to touch the four cardinal points or directions of north, south, east, and west.

Because of her role in saving Osiris, Nut was seen as a friend and protector of the dead, who appealed to her as a child appeals to its mother: “O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.” Nut was thought to draw the dead into her star-filled sky, and refresh them with food and wine: “I am Nut, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil.

Goddess NUT (Newt) is printed on the inside lid of this sarcophagus, protecting the deceased. The dead would lie down in her arms as they journeyed safely to the next world. Sarcophagus on display at the American Museum of Natural History – Mummies Exhibition (AMNH).

She was often painted on the inside lid of the sarcophagus, protecting the deceased. The vaults of tombs were often painted dark blue with many stars as a representation of Nut. The Book of the Dead says, “Hail, thou Sycamore Tree of the Goddess Nut! Give me of the water and of the air which is in thee. I embrace that throne which is in Unu, and I keep guard over the Egg of Nekek-ur. It flourisheth, and I flourish; it liveth, and I live; it snuffeth the air, and I snuff the air, I the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, in peace.”

(Source on Into % Origins: wikipedia)



Ra – Egyptian Sun God. To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made the sun deity very important as the sun was seen as the ruler of all that he created. The sun disk was either seen as the body or eye of Ra.

Ra was thought to travel on two solar boats called the Mandjet (the Boat of Millions of Years), or morning boat and the Mesektet, or evening boat. These boats took him on his journey through the sky and the underworld. When Ra travelled in his sun boat he was accompanied by various other deities including Sia (perception) and Hu (command) as well as Heka (magic power). Sometimes members of the Ennead helped him on his journey, including Set who overcame the serpent Apophis and Mehen who defended against the monsters of the underworld.

Apophis, an enormous serpent tried to stop the sun boat’s journey every night by consuming it or by stopping it in its tracks with a hypnotic stare. In the evening the Egyptians believed that Ra set as Atum or in the form of a ram. The Mesektet or Night boat would carry him through the underworld and back towards the east in preparation for his rebirth. These myths of Ra represent the sunrise as the rebirth of the sun by the sky goddess Nut, thus attributing the concept of rebirth and renewal to Ra and strengthening his role as a creator god.

Ra (Re) was the primary name of the sun god of Ancient Egypt. He was often considered to be the King of the Gods and thus the patron of the pharaoh and one of the central gods of the Egyptian pantheon. He was also described as the creator of everything. Ra was so powerful and popular and his worship was so enduring that some modern commentators have argued that the Egyptian religion was, in fact, a form of veiled monotheism with Ra as the one god. This seems to be somewhat of an overstatement but underlines his primary position within religious texts throughout Egyptian history.

It is sometimes proposed that the pyramids represent the rays of light extending from the sun and thus these great monuments connected the king with Ra. The Egyptians also built solar temples in honour of Ra. Unlike the standard type of Egyptian temple, these temples were open to the sunlight and did not feature a statue of the god because he was represented by the sunlight itself. Instead, the temple centred on an obelisk and altar. The most significant early solar temple is thought to be the one erected in Heliopolis, sometimes known as “Benu-Phoenix”. Its location was thought to be the spot where Ra first emerged at the beginning of creation, and the city took its name (“Iwn”) from the word for a pillar.

Ra was an ancient god, but not the oldest of the gods; the first references to Ra date from the Second Dynasty. However, by the Fifth Dynasty, he was a powerful god who was closely associated with the pharaoh. The Pharaoh was already seen as the embodiment of Horus and so the two gods became linked, sometimes as the composite deity Ra-Horakhty (“Ra (is) Horus of the Horizon”). Ra also came to be associated with Atum (the creator god of the Ennead in Heliopolis) as Atum-Ra. By the Fifth Dynasty, the pharaoh was referred to as the son of Ra and the name of Ra was incorporated into the throne name of every king from that point onwards. Many Old Kingdom pharaohs built sun temples in which to worship Ra.

The Middle Kingdom saw the rise to prominence of Amun of Thebes. Although Ra kept his association with the pharaoh, he was to some degree absorbed by Amun as Amun-Ra. However, the priests of Amun became very wealthy and influential and so some of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom chose to elevate Ra in his stead, perhaps partly because he was already closely associated with the pharaoh. For example, Thuthmosis promoted Re-Horakhty as his favoured god while Amenhotep III took the epithet “the dazzling sun” and named his wife´s pleasure boat “the Aten Gleams”. His successor (and probable son) Akhenaten went one step further and rejected Amun and many of the other gods in favour of The Aten (a solar god).

The worship of the Egyptian God Ra was at its peak during the New Kingdom. Many of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings (dating from this period) included depictions of Ra’s journey through the underworld over twelve “hours” or stages. In the fifth hour, Ra dies and is reunited with Osiris in the underworld, but in the twelfth hour, he is reborn as the scarab (Khepri). Sun temples were again constructed during the New Kingdom (although those of the Armarna Period are dedicated to The Aten).

Amun-Ra was also popular in Nubia and was the chief deity of the Nubian Kingdom of Napata during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The Greeks associated Ra with Zeus and so he remained popular during the Ptolemaic Period. However, after this point, Egypt was governed by a series of foreign rulers who were not associated with the god of the pharaohs and so his popularity declined.

Associations with other gods

Ra was often described as the father of the gods. He was sometimes thought to be married to Hesat or Hathor although the latter is usually referred to as his daughter. As his worship was pre-dated by that of some of his “children” (such as Hathor and Horus) it seems likely that he took on this role when he was associated with the creator god Atum.

According to the Pyramid Texts, Ra (as Atum) emerged from the waters of Nun as a benben stone (an obelisk-like pillar). He then spat forth Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture), and Tefnut in turn gave birth to Geb (earth) and Nut (sky). Ra tried to separate Geb and Nut by placing Shu between them and decreed that Nut could not give birth on any day of the calendar. However, Thoth won an extra five days from the moon so that Nut could give birth to Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys and Horus the Elder.

It was thought that Ra “died” or was swallowed by Nut every evening as the sun dipped below the horizon. He travelled through the world of the dead by night and was then reborn in the morning (making Nut both his granddaughter and his mother). At sunset, he was linked to Horakhty (Horus on the Horizon) and Atum and at dawn, he was linked to the scarab beetle, Khepri (“the Emerging One”) and Nefertum

Ra-Horakhty-Atum was associated with Osiris as the manifestation of the sun at night. When Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, he became the God of the Underworld. Thus the Pharaoh was the son of Ra who ruled as the living Horus and who became Osiris on his death.

According to another myth, Ra ruled on earth as Pharaoh until he became old and weary. The people had lost respect for him and no longer obeyed his laws and so Ra decided that they should be punished. He sent his “Eye” to teach them a lesson but then had to arrange to get her drunk to prevent her killing everyone. Once the danger had been averted, Ra decided it was time for him to leave the world to Horus ( who took his place as the king) and travel across the sky on Nut’s back.