Hathor

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Hathor
Goddess of joy, music and feminine love
Hathor.svg
The goddess Hathor wearing her headdress, a sun disk with Uraeus set between the cow-horns
Name in hieroglyphs
O10
Major cult center Dendera
Symbol the cow, lioness, falcon, cobra, hippopotamus, Sistrum, musical instruments, drums, pregnant women, mirrors, cosmetics
Personal information
Consort Ra or Horus
Offspring Ihy, Amentet[1]
Parents Ra
Siblings Ra

Hathor (/ˈhæθɔːr/ or /ˈhæθər/;[2] Egyptian: ḥwt-ḥr; in Greek: Ἅθωρ, meaning "mansion of Horus")[1] is an ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, music, feminine love, and motherhood.[3] 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.[4] She was also believed to be the patron goddess of miners.[5]

The cult of Hathor predates the historic period, and the roots of devotion to her are therefore difficult to trace. Though it may be a development of predynastic cults that venerated fertility, and nature in general, represented by cows.[6]

But Hathor has been interpreted as a foreign God to Egypt, by way of the Land of Punt, or the land of Somalis, through the inscriptions of Hatshepsut, and is widely known as the "Lady of Punt"[7][8][9][10]

Hathor is commonly depicted as a cow goddess with horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus. Twin feathers are also sometimes shown in later periods as well as a menat necklace. Hathor may be the cow goddess who is depicted from an early date on the Narmer Palette and on a stone urn dating from the 1st dynasty that suggests a role as sky-goddess and a relationship to Horus who, as a sun god, is "housed" in her.[6]

The ancient Egyptians viewed reality as multi-layered, and saw deities who merged while retaining divergent attributes and myths as complementary rather than contradictory.[11] Hathor's relationship with Ra is complicated - she is described as his mother, daughter, and wife (though not necessarily simultaneously,) and like Isis, is at times described as the mother of Horus, she is also associated with Bast.[6]

The cult of Osiris promised eternal life to those deemed morally worthy. Originally, the justified dead became an Osiris regardless of gender, but by early Roman times only men were identified with Osiris, with women being identified with Hathor.[12]

The ancient Greeks, meanwhile, sometimes identified Hathor with the goddess Aphrodite.[13]

Early depictions[edit]

Cow deities appear on the Kings belt and the top of the Narmer Palette

Hathor is ambiguously depicted until the fourth dynasty;[14][15] in the historical era Hathor is shown using the imagery of a cow deity. Artifacts from pre-dynastic times depict cow deities using the same symbolism as used in later times for Hathor and Egyptologists speculate that these deities may be one and the same or precursors to Hathor.[16]

A cow deity appears on the belt of the King on the Narmer Palette dated to the pre-dynastic era, and this may be Hathor or, in another guise, the goddess Bat with whom she is linked and later supplanted, at times they are regarded as one and the same goddess, though likely having separate origins, and reflections of the same divine concept. The evidence pointing to the deity being Hathor in particular is based on a passage from the Pyramid texts which states that the King's apron comes from Hathor.[17]

A stone urn recovered from Hierakonpolis and dated to the first dynasty has on its rim the face of a cow deity with stars on its ears and horns that may relate to Hathor's, or Bat's, role as a sky-goddess. Another artifact from the first dynasty shows a cow lying down on an ivory engraving with the inscription "Hathor in the Marshes" indicating her association with vegetation and the papyrus marsh in particular, from the Old Kingdom she was also called Lady of the Sycamore in her capacity as a tree deity.[6]

Relationships, associations, images, and symbols[edit]

Hathor's head. Faience, from a sistrum's handle. 18th Dynasty. From Thebes, Egypt, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Hathor as a cow, wearing her necklace and showing her sacred eyePapyrus of Ani.

Hathor had a complex relationship with Ra, at times she is the eye of Ra and considered his daughter, but she is also considered Ra's mother. She absorbed this role from another cow goddess Mehet-Weret ("Great flood") who was the mother of Ra in a creation myth and carried him between her horns, as a mother she gave birth to Ra each morning on the eastern horizon and as wife she conceives through union with him each day.[6]

Hathor's maternal nature stems in part from the myth The Contendings of Horus and Seth. In the story, Hathor found Horus after being blinded by his brother, Seth, she then used a gazelle's milk to return Horus' sight. In other texts, however, she was said to have nursed Horus herself in place of taking the milk of a gazelle. Hathor was often depicted in cow form nursing pharaohs in reference to this myth. [18]

Hathor has also been linked to cats, especially within New Kingdom Egypt. Often, Ra was depicted as “The Great Cat”, a large cat which fought and killed one of the Sun God’s rivals, Apep. However, other texts suggest that gods closely associated with Ra, including Hathor herself, assumed this role. Hathor was also associated with Tefnut, who was also depicted as the Eye of Ra at times, as well as a lioness and the “Distant Goddess”; in the “Distant Goddess” myth, Tefnut takes the form of a lioness, as well as a cat in other translations. She is sought out in the desert and convinced to return to Egypt, where she transforms into Hathor once back. [19]

Hathor, along with the goddess Nut, was associated with the Milky Way during the third millennium B.C. when, during the fall and spring equinoxes, the Milky Way aligned over and touched the earth where the sun rose and fell.[20] The four legs of the celestial cow represented by Nut or Hathor could, in one account, be seen as the pillars on which the sky was supported with the stars on their bellies constituting the Milky Way on which the solar barque of Ra, representing the sun, sailed.[21]

The Milky Way seen as it may have appeared to ancient Egyptians

The Milky Way was seen as a waterway in the heavens, sailed upon by both the sun deity and the moon, leading the ancient Egyptians to describe it as The Nile in the Sky.[22]

Hathor also was favoured as a protector in desert regions (see Serabit el-Khadim), as Serabit el-Khadim was where turquoise was mined, Hathor's titles included "Lady of Turquoise", "Mistress of Turquoise", and "Lady of Turquoise Country".[23]

Sculpture of Hathor as a cow, with all of her symbols, the sun disk, the cobra, as well as her necklace and crown.

Hathor was also associated with the afterlife. Due to her maternal nature, she was believed to greet the souls of the dead, sometimes offering refreshments to help them reach the afterlife, and many would pray to her for prosperity once passing on. Depictions of Hathor guiding rulers into the afterlife exist, but some scholars believe that lower-class Egyptians would also seek her favor, suggesting she would help any who were worthy. [24]

Hathor also became associated with the menat, the turquoise musical necklace often worn by women. 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.[citation needed]


Hathor was depicted as Nebethetepet in Heliopolis (Ancient Egypt). She was associated with the sun-god Atum, her name means mistress of the offering.[25]

Festivals and Worship[edit]

Hathor was often invoked for successful pregnancies. Being the Goddess of Fertility, many would pray to her and leave offerings of fruits and wooden phalli. Small statuettes similar to venus figurines were also found left at some of Hathor’s temples, although excavators and historians differ on what these could have represented, some believed they were fertility statues left to gain the goddess’s favor, while others have suggested they served as children’s dolls.[26]

Hathor was also associated with drunkenness and revelry, which was often a characteristic of her festivals. [27] [28] Hathor's priestesses would often travel around town, singing and dancing while giving civilians her blessing. [29]

There is some debate over the difference between Hathor in Dendera and Mistress of the Sycamore Shrine Hathor, some scholars believe that there were differences in worshipping the two Hathors, while others believe this is a matter of local cults using different terms for the same goddess.[30]

Temples[edit]

Dendera Temple, showing Hathor on the capitals of a column.

As Hathor's cult developed from prehistoric cow cults it is not possible to say conclusively where devotion to her first took place. Dendera in Upper Egypt was a significant early site where she was worshiped as "Mistress of Dendera". From the Old Kingdom era she had cult sites in Meir and Kusae with the Giza-Saqqara area perhaps being the centre of devotion, at the start of the first Intermediate period Dendera appears to have become the main cult site where she was considered to be the mother as well as the consort of "Horus of Edfu". Deir el-Bahri, on the west bank of Thebes, was also an important site of Hathor that developed from a pre-existing cow cult.[6]

Temples (and chapels) dedicated to Hathor:

Hathor as bloodthirsty warrior[edit]

Hathor among the deities greeting the newly dead pharaoh, Thutmose IV, from his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt.

The Book of the Heavenly Cow states that while Ra was ruling the earth, humans began plotting against him. Ra sent Hathor, in the form of the warlike goddess Sekhmet, to destroy them. Hathor (as Sekhmet) became bloodthirsty and the slaughter was great because she could not be stopped, as the slaughter continued, Ra saw the chaos down below and decided to stop the blood-thirsty goddess. So he poured huge quantities of blood-coloured beer on the ground to trick Sekhmet, she drank so much of it—thinking it to be blood—that she became drunk and returned to her former gentle self as Hathor.


Hathor outside the Nile river in Egypt[edit]

Hathor was worshipped in Canaan in the eleventh century BC.

Temple to Hathor at Timna.

A major temple to Hathor was constructed by Seti II at the copper mines at Timna in Edomite Seir. Serabit el-Khadim (Arabic: سرابيط الخادم, also transliterated Serabit el-Khadem) is a locality in the south-west Sinai Peninsula where turquoise was mined extensively in antiquity, mainly by the ancient Egyptians. Archaeological excavation, initially by Sir Flinders Petrie, revealed the ancient mining camps and a long-lived temple of Hathor, the Greeks, who became rulers of Egypt for three hundred years before the Roman domination in 31 BC, equated Hathor with their own goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hathor and Thoth: two key figures of the ancient Egyptian religion, Claas Jouco Bleeker, pp. 22–102, BRILL, 1973, ISBN 978-90-04-03734-2
  2. ^ "the definition of Hathor". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2018-03-19. 
  3. ^ The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts, Peter Der Manuelian, translated by James P. Allen, p. 432, BRILL, 2005, ISBN 90-04-13777-7 (also commonly translated as "House of Horus")
  4. ^ The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Lorna Oakes, Southwater, pp. 157–159, ISBN 1-84476-279-3
  5. ^ "Spotlights on the Exploitation and Use of Minerals and Rocks through the Egyptian Civilization". Egypt State Information Service. 2005. Archived from the original on November 20, 2008. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, Donald B. Redford (Editor), pp. 157–161, Berkley Reference, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-X
  7. ^ Stanley Davis, Charles Henry (1894). Biblia, Volume 6. The University of Wisconsin - Madison. p. 36. 
  8. ^ Wilson, Sir Erasmus (1893). Egypt of the Past. Harrison & Sons. 
  9. ^ Abdurahman, Abdullahi (2017-09-18). Making Sense of Somali History: Volume 1. Adonis and Abbey Publishers. ISBN 9781909112797. “Hatshepsut's inscriptions claim that her divine mother, Hathor, was from Punt and other inscriptions indicate that Egyptians in the 18th Dynasty considered Punt the origin of their culture. 
  10. ^ Sweeney, Emmet John (2006). Empire of Thebes, Or, Ages in Chaos Revisited. Algora Publishing. ISBN 9780875864808. 
  11. ^ Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, Donald B. Redford (Editor), p. 106, Berkley Reference, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-X
  12. ^ Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, Donald B. Redford (Editor), p. 172, Berkley Reference, 2003, ISBN 0-425-19096-X
  13. ^ "Isis in the Ancient World", Reginald Eldred Witt, p. 125, JHU Press, 1997 ISBN 0-8018-5642-6
  14. ^ Early Dynastic Egypt: Strategies, Society and Security, Toby A. H. Wilkinson, p. 312, Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-26011-6
  15. ^ Gillam, Robyn A (1995). "Priestesses of Hathor: Their Function, Decline and Disappearance". Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. 32: 214. doi:10.2307/40000840. 
  16. ^ Religion in ancient Egypt: gods, myths, and personal practice, Byron Esely Shafer, John Baines, Leonard H. Lesko, David P. Silverman, p. 24 Fordham University, Taylor & Francis, 1991, ISBN 0-415-07030-9
  17. ^ Early Dynastic Egypt: Strategies, Society and Security, Toby A. H. Wilkinson, p. 283, Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-26011-6
  18. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (1982). "Offerings to Hathor". Folklore. 93 (2): 142. 
  19. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (1982). "Offerings to Hathor". Folklore. 93 (2): 143. 
  20. ^ Searching for ancient Egypt: art, architecture, and artifacts from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, David P. Silverman, Edward Brovarski, p. 41, Cornell University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8014-3482-3
  21. ^ The tree of life: an archaeological study, E. O. James, p. 66, BRILL, 1967, ISBN 90-04-01612-0
  22. ^ Changing position of the Milky Way in Luxor (Thebes), Egypt: 6,500 BCE to 19,300 CE Regular Years and the Precessional Cycle
  23. ^ Bulletin of the Egyptian Museum 2007, By The Supreme Council of Antiquities p.24
  24. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (1982). "Offerings to Hathor". Folklore. 93 (2): 142. 
  25. ^ George Hart, The Routledge dictionary of Egyptian gods and goddesses, Psychology Press, 2005, via Google Books
  26. ^ Pinch, Geraldine (1982). "Offerings to Hathor". Folklore. 93 (2): 146. 
  27. ^ "The Legend of the Destruction of Mankind". Internet Sacred Text Archive. 
  28. ^ Miniaci, Gianluca; Grajetzki, Wolfram. The World of Middle Kingdom Egypt (2000-1550 BC): Volume 1: Contributions on Archaeology, Art, Religion, and Written Sources (Middle Kingdom Studies). p. 138. ISBN 1906137439. 
  29. ^ Mace, A.C. (1920). "Hathor Dances". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 6 (4): 297. doi:10.2307/3853808. 
  30. ^ Wood, Wendy (1974). "A Reconstruction of the Triads of King Mycerinus". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 60: 82. doi:10.2307/3856174. 

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