The Egyptian Goddess Hathor

Lisa Baird, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Lisa Baird

    Lisa Baird is a writer who teaches writing. After receiving her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition from Texas Christian University, she has been developing writing curriculum for over twenty years.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Hathor was the ancient Egyptian goddess of the sky, women, fertility, and love. Learn about the story of Hathor, her symbols, characteristics, and facts. Updated: 11/08/2021

Table of Contents


Who is Hathor?

Egyptian deity Hathor was the goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. Her name means "Temple of Horus," but she had many epithets, including "Eye of Re," "Goddess of the West" (when Egyptians died, they went to the West), and "Lady of the Southern Sycamore"; in fact, she was called "The Great One of Many Names." The Greeks called her Aphrodite, and the Romans referred to her as Venus. She was the consort of Horus, the sky god; therefore, Egyptians held her in reverence for her association with the sky.

Associated with the joy of celebration and childbirth, she symbolized fertility and took many forms, as a female, for instance, but also as a cow. Her likeness as a female with cow ears was used in Egyptian architecture, for she appeared as a column in some temples and buildings.

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  • 0:04 Who Is Hathor?
  • 0:51 Hathor in Egyptian Mythology
  • 2:34 Role of Hathor
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Inscribed stone of Hathor depicted as a cow

Inscribed stone of Hathor depicted as a cow

Origins of Hathor

Hathor's origins were told in two contradictory stories, though Egyptians did not seem to mind contradiction. The two stories are the following:

In one story related in the ancient text, The Book of the Heavenly Cow, Hathor was the goddess Sekhmet sent by the god Re, or Ra, to wreak judgment on humans for their ingratitude. Evidently, Sekhmet carried out the sentence too well, and Re decided to sate her blood lust by having Tenenet, goddess of beer, brew up a blood-red concoction to make Sekhmet drunk. Upon waking, Sekhmet was transformed into the benevolent Hathor who bestowed gifts on humans. Her status as a beloved goddess of beneficent gifts established her so firmly in Egyptian religion that most later goddesses took on some of her characteristics.

In another story, the divine battle between Horus and Set, the goddess Isis became Hathor. According to the myth, Horus and Set contended for the throne of Osiris. During the battle, Isis was decapitated, and when she picked up a new head for herself, it was the head of a cow; thus, she became Hathor. Throughout Egyptian history, as Mother Goddess, Hathor was associated with many deities, such as the Seven Hathors attending mothers during childbirth.

Ra and Hathor

Hathor, a solar deity, was the consort and the daughter of Re, the Sun disc. As such, she was the feminine counterpart to Re's male characteristics. Hathor accompanied Re on his daily journey across the sky and was a member of the entourage who sailed with him on his boat, the Sun.

Horus and Hathor

Hathor was also the feminine counterpart to the god Horus. In some representations, she is the wife and mother of Horus. In fact, the dutiful wife, Hathor, like all the gods who enjoyed visiting each other, sometimes left her temple at Denderah to visit Horus at his Temple in Edfu.

Isis and Hathor

Hathor took on many forms throughout Egyptian history and was associated with different goddesses, initially with Sekhmet and then with Isis. Eventually, she became the primeval goddess responsible for the origin of all other goddesses. Over the years, the veneration of Hathor eventually shifted to the veneration of Isis, though the two goddesses are closely related.

Osiris and Hathor

Hathor was primarily associated with Osiris since she and Osiris, along with Anubis, were the three deities that played a role in the funerary ritual. Hathor was the goddess who helped the soul make its transition into eternity. Isis/Hathor played a role in the Osiris myth of a dead god who was resurrected. The myth went something like this:

Beloved king Osiris was tricked by Set, his jealous brother, to lie inside a chest. Unfortunately, Set nailed the chest shut and cast it into the river. The grieving wife of Osiris, Isis, searched for her husband's body and found it at Byblos. The gods took pity on the prostrate widow, calling for Anubis to embalm the body of her husband. Miraculously, Osiris revived enough to impregnate Isis, who gave birth to Horus.

Stories and Myths of Hathor

The mythology of Hathor had variations; in one version, Hathor was the mother of the Sun god, Re, while in another, she was his daughter. In either case, she was the sky goddess. Because of her connection to Re, whose daily journey across the sky depicted the pharaoh's resurrection, she was associated with the afterlife as the goddess; the latter sustained the dead in the Western land.

Eye of Ra

As the wife/daughter of Re, Hathor was the "Eye of Re." From her vantage point in the sky, she was ideally situated to oversee what happened to humans. In Egyptian thought, the eye had great power, especially the power of divine oversight.

In one story, Hathor's oversight was represented by her position in the bow of the boat of Re as the boat underwent its transit through the heavens. She stood watching for the Great Serpent Apophis, Re's chief enemy.

Role as the Sky and Solar Goddess

As "The Mistress of Heaven," Hathor was responsible for giving birth to the sun each day. Her place in the sky meant that she was also "Lady of the Stars." In fact, the Milky Way was her milk flowing from her udders as a heavenly cow. Her milk succored the pharaoh. This image linked her to the goddess Nut, who arched herself across the sky while Shu supported her from below; Nut is a cow in some versions.

Role in the Destruction of the Human Race

As the "Eye of Re," Hathor was the solar god's staunch defender. When Re sent her to punish ungrateful humans, Hathor (as Sekhmet) was a bit too zealous and developed a taste for human blood. The only way to staunch her thirst was to brew blood-red beer that made her drunk. Afterward, she became the benevolent Hathor.

Five Gifts of Hathor

Because Re punished human ingratitude, Egyptians respected thankfulness. Egyptians, especially workers who harvested grain, gave thanks to Hathor for their wives, children, beer, their dog, and the river, the five gifts of Hathor they could count on the fingers of their left hand. As they harvested grain, each time they grasped stalks in their left hand, they could remember the five gifts of Hathor.

Hathor Characteristics

The many names given to Hathor indicate the extent of her attributes. She expressed the highest ideals of Egyptian motherhood depicted in her role as the goddess who brought forth the sun each day. She was also a sustainer of life in the way she provided milk that nourished the pharaoh. In many ways, she was the quintessential mother who watched out for possible harm, a watchfulness expressed in her role as 'The Eye of Re.'

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why was Hathor represented as a cow?

Hathor was represented as a cow because, as the sky goddess, she was associated with the Milky Way. Its light was the milk from Hathor, the heavenly cow that sustained all human life, but especially the life of the pharaoh.

What is the power of Hathor?

One of the names of Hathor was the Eye of Re. Part of her characteristics included watchfulness over the solar deity, Re, to protect him from his great enemy, Apophis. To the Egyptians, the eye was a powerful source of watchfulness.

Did Horus marry Hathor?

Hathor was the consort to the sky god, Horus, and the sun god, Ra. Both were powerful deities connected to the sun's daily passage through the sky, a picture of the death and rebirth of the god.

What was Hathor responsible for?

Hathor was the goddess of motherhood, love, joy, and fertility. She was also helped the soul make a smooth transition to the afterlife.

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