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Deities & Heros >> Egyptian
goddess of war, sun goddess, destructive heat, black granite


Author: Lynn Bellair

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Goddess of war and battles, consort of Ptah. Hathor took Sekhmet's shape when she made war on men. Sekhmet is usually portrayed as a woman with the head of a lioness, sometimes brandishing a knife in an upraised hand. Her name means the powerful.

Sekhmet's action is always the right, or appropriate action. When She destroys it is an appropriate destruction or vengence. It is never chaotic or random. It is always what is needed at the time. Even though Sekhmet is not intimately linked with the aspect of destruction, as Netjer Set is, She removes threats and punishes those who do wrong against Ma'at.

There is still disagreement among scholars about the actual location of her temple, however all agree that the temple was located somewhere in Thebes and that it contained 730 individual statues of Sekhmet, some enthroned others standing. The reason there were so many statutes of the goddess was due to her power, which if left unchecked, could be unleashed to the detriment of Egypt and pharaoh himself.

Sistra were used to calm Sekhmet as their sound was considered pleasing to Her.

A sun goddess. She represents the scorching, burning, destructive heat of the sun. Although she was the malignant sun, Sekhmet attracted many physicians to her cult. She was a fierce goddess of war, the destroyer of the enemies of Ra and Osiris. Her temper was uncontrollable. In the legend of Ra and Hathor, Sekhmet's anger became so great, she would have destroyed all of mankind if Ra had not taken pity on us and made her drunk.

Sometimes the linen dress she wears exhibits a rosetta pattern over each nipple, an ancient leonine motif that can be traced to observation of the shoulder-knot hairs on lions. She is daughter of the sun-god Re.

Sekhmet's black granite statues either show her seated holding the sign of life ('ankh') in her hand or standing with a sceptre in the shape of the papyrus, heraldic plant of north Egypt. Inscriptions on these statues emphasise her warlike aspect, e.g., 'smiter of the Nubians'.

The goddess is adopted by the pharaohs as a symbol of their own unvanquishable heroism in battle. She breathes fire against the king's enemies, such as in the Battle of Kadesh when she is visualised on the horses of Ramesses II, her flames scorching the bodies of enemy soldiers. The wrath of the pharaoh towards those who rebel against his rule is compared by a Middle Kingdom treatise on kingship to the rage of Sakhmet.

In a passage intended to flatter the pharaoh in the story of Sinuhe, it is said that the fear of the king pervades foreign countries like Sekhmet in a year of pestilence. Her title 'lady of bright red linen', which on the surface is a reference to the colour of her homeland of Lower Egypt, carries, from her warlike nature, the secondary force of meaning the blood-soaked garments of her enemies. One myth in particular reveals the bloodthirsty side of Sakhmet. it is found in a number of cersions in royal tombs at Thebes. It involves also the goddess Hathor in her vengeful aspect. The two goddesses are both 'Eyes of Re', agents of his punishment.

There was a temple to Sekhmet-Hathor at Kom el-Hisn in the western Delta, and in his temple at Abydos Sety I (Dynasty XIX) is suckled by Hathor whose title is 'mistress of the mansion of Sakhmet'. In this legend the sun-god Re fears that mankind plots against him. The gods urge him to call down retribution on men by sending his avenging Eye down to Egypt as Hathor. As the goddess slays men, leaving them in pools of blood in the deserts where they fled, she transforms into the 'powerful'.

During the night the god Re, trying to avert a total massacre of the human race by the goddess who clearly has become unstoppable in her bloodlust, orders his high priest at Heliopolis to obtain red ochre from Elephantine and grind it with beer mash. Secen thousand jars of red beer are spread over the land of Egypt. in the morning Sekhmet returns to finish her task of destroying the human race, drinks what she assumes is blood and goes away intoxicated, unable to complete her slaughter.

Spells exist that regard plagues as brought by the 'messengers' of Sekhmet. On the assumption that the goddess could ward off pestilence as well as bring it, the Egyptians adopted Sakhmet 'lady of life' as a beneficial force in their attempts to counteract illness. her priesthood seems to have had a preventative role in medicine.

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