Table of Contents
- Who is Hathor?
- Origins of Hathor
- Stories and Myths of Hathor
- Hathor Characteristics
- Hathor Facts
- Hathor Symbols
- Hathor Worship
- Lesson Summary
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
Egyptians depicted Hathor's characteristics in the reliefs and statues they created to represent Hathor. Although she took many forms, such as a woman, goose, cat, or lion, she was most often depicted as a cow or a female with horns with the solar disc of Horus between them. She is the only female deity whom Egyptian artists sometimes painted as a portrait rather than a profile.
The pharaohs wore a uraeus, a stylized cobra crown that portrayed their power and authority. In some myths, the sun god's eyes were uraei, origins of the titles the 'Eye of Hathor' and the 'Eye of Horus.'
Symbolically, Hathor embodied all the feminine qualities, especially motherhood, because she produced all life and succored the pharaoh, the king. Thus, symbolically, she was the mother of each Egyptian king. She was also the mother of Horus, whose right eye was the sun.
One of Hathor's names is 'Lady of the Southern Sycamore, ' a tree known for its milky sap. As a nurse to the pharaohs, Hathor took on the guise of a cow or sycamore to fulfill her duty as a nurse to the king. Thus, she was also known as "Mistress of Heaven."
Hathor Egyptian goddess facts include these points:
Hathor was symbolized in many ways, including:
The popularity of Hathor is attested to by many festivals dedicated to her, more than any other goddess. Her worship extended throughout Egypt, into Nubia, and beyond. Queen Hatshepsut may have been one of Hathor's followers for the queen's tomb at Deir el-Bahari has a temple of Hathor. Egyptian commoners also worshipped Hathor and made pilgrimages to her small shrine at Deir el-Bahari, where archeologists uncovered hundreds of broken faience (glazed) objects offered to her.
Hathor, Egyptian god, was a prominent goddess of Egypt and had many epithets like "Lady of the Stars" and "Mistress of Heaven" that characterized her association with Horus and Re, the solar deities. She was often depicted as a woman, cow, or a female with cow's ears. As the primeval goddess, she was responsible for succoring the pharaohs. She was also the "Goddess of the Western Land" because she helped the deceased make a smooth transition to eternity.
Although the two myths of Hathor's origins are contradictory, the myths describe a goddess who was transformed from the destructive goddess Sekhmet to Hathor in one story and from decapitated Isis to Hathor, the cow-headed deity, in another. The myths show her two sides, a protective goddess who, as the "Eye of Re," watches out for evil even as she was seen as a benevolent goddess who watches over childbirth and bestows five gifts to humans. Egyptian artists depict her ferocious side by casting her as a Uraeus (cobra) and lioness. They also cast her like a cow with horns bearing the solar disk between them. Her worship extended throughout Egypt and even into Greece as the goddess Aphrodite and Rome as the goddess Venus.
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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.
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.
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.
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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