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Hathor, frequently known as the Egyptian Cow Goddess, was a Goddess who encompassed so many different qualities and roles that it is almost impossible to list them all. She has been known as a Sky Goddess, a Sun Goddess, a Moon Goddess, the Goddess of the East, and the Goddess of the West. She was also known as a Goddess of Moisture, and of Fertility, Agriculture and Motherhood; a Goddess of the Underworld, Mistress of the Necropolis and, in her role as the Protectress of the City of the Dead at Thebes, she became the Goddess of the Dead.
She was also worshipped as a Goddess of Love and Beauty, and enriched the lives of her followers as a Goddess of Music, Dance, Drinking and Joy. She was known, as well, as the Patron of Women and Marriage and as the Protectress of Pregnant Women. Hathor actually became a Special Guardian Spirit for all women, and for all female animals as well, and she was known by such titles as the "Lady of the Turquoise" and the "Lady of the Sycamore."
In her connection with the Sun God Ra, Hathor was granted the titles "The Gold that is Hathor" and "The Golden One," while also sharing the title, the “Eye of Ra,” with the Goddesses Sekhmet and Bast. Hathor was believed to be the Protectress of Horus, and she was called a wide variety of names regarding that. Having so many names can often appear to be conflicting, as well as being extremely confusing and, since Hathor was a Mother Goddess, she was also confused with both Isis and Nut. What makes that confusion even greater is the fact that she has so frequently been confused with Isis who, in a later period, absorbed and acquired many of the aspects that previously had belonged to Hathor.
Indeed, Hathor is one of those deities that frequently played opposing roles. She has a multitude of different aspects and, since some of them merged with other deities, in order to see them clearly, we must look at each one very specifically, so that we can see exactly at what point in time that particular aspect was.
The following are some examples of the many opposing roles that Hathor has played. She was known as the Mother of Ra, but at another point in time she was known as the Daughter of Ra. This can possibly be explained, because when she was seen as the Mother of Ra, she was wearing the solar disc between her cow’s horns. Then, when she took on the qualities of the Daughter of Ra, she became a part of the greater cosmic whole, or of the stars in the heavens, which were known as the "Children of Ra." It was because of this, that Hathor gained many similar names, such as the "Queen of Heaven," "Lady of Heaven," "Mistress of Heaven," or "Lady of the Stars.”
Over time, Hathor's main qualities become more like those of a Moon Goddess, and her headpiece frequently consisted of an ancient lunar symbol, a pair of horns, with the lunar disc placed between them. As the Goddess of Moisture and Vegetation, Hathor was seen as both a giver of life, and a taker of life, since life springs up, only to wither away with the changing of the seasons. It was because of her all-encompassing roles that Hathor also became known as a Goddess of the Cycle.
When we look upon Hathor the Sky Goddess, it is then that she becomes the Great Mother Goddess, in the form of the Celestial Cow who gives birth to the universe, and to everything within it while, in her aspect as Sekhmet, she takes on the role of a fierce destroyer.
In earlier times, Hathor only had two major aspects to her personality. One was the Hathor who represented music, dance, sexuality and joy. Then, when Hathor became the "Eye of Ra," she was transformed into the dangerous and aggressive Sekhmet, the lion-headed Goddess, who could destroy the enemies of Ra, or to be more exact, who could destroy all of mankind. The story, known as "The Myth of the Destruction of Mankind", is also mentioned in the chapter on Sekhmet.
The story of "The Myth of the Destruction of Mankind" is basically the same, with regard to Hathor and Sekhmet, although when Hathor replaced Sekhmet, the Myth took on a much happier ending. This version of the Myth, in regard to Hathor, tells how Sekhmet stumbled back to Ra after ingested the artificial and drugged blood, and when she finally awakened, she had totally forgotten the reason for her voyage to Earth, and her enormous bloodlust; never realizing, as well, that she had not killed anyone on that day. Ra then took Sekhmet into his arms and she changed back into Hathor. What is so interesting in this particular version of the Myth, is that when Sekhmet changed back into Hathor, she actually became a totally different Hathor; a Hathor without the fierce and violent nature of Sekhmet. Instead, she became a Hathor whose very being had been changed into the sweetness of love and the strength and power of desire. The people of Egypt had been saved, and from that time forward Hathor shed nothing but love upon the people of the Earth in her truly joyous ways.
Hathor was worshiped widely throughout Egypt, and she was frequently depicted as a cow. Other variations have shown her as a cow who was sometimes covered with stars, or as a woman with the head or ears of a cow. She was sometimes shown, as well, suckling a child, which exemplified her fertile and procreative abilities.
As a Goddess of the Dead, and of the Underworld, Hathor has also been depicted as a cow suckling the souls of the dead. By performing that particular action, Hathor gave them sustenance, so that the souls could survive while they were mummified, through the journey that brought them to the judgment hall, and then on to the time when they were finally weighed in. Continuing in this particular mode, Hathor was sometimes seen in the form of a cow, standing in a boat surrounded by tall papyrus reeds. It was then that she was depicted wearing a menat necklace, which represents rebirth.
The most popular view regarding Hathor's own birth is that she was the daughter of Nut and Ra. Other sources claim that she was the daughter of Ra, but that she had been born solely from his own secretions. There are also those who believe that Hathor was the wife of Ra and the mother of Ihy.
Hathor has also been known as the wife of Horus. There is even confusion in that, because we first need to surmise exactly which Horus was actually meant. Had she been married to Horus of Edfu, and through that union produced Horus the Younger, or had she been married to Horus the Younger? Then, again, she was also regarded as the mother of the Egyptian pharaoh who styled himself the ‘Son of Hathor,” but who was also considered to be Horus, the son of Isis.
This brings us to the point in time when Isis began to take over many of the different aspects that had previously belonged solely to Hathor. In early Egyptian mythology, Hathor was the mother of the Sky God, Horus. Eventually, Isis replaced Hathor in that role. Continuing on with this assumption, while Isis was considered to be the mother of all the Pharaohs to come, so was Hathor.
When she was at her principal place of worship at Dandarah, Hathor’s role as the Goddess of Fertility, Women and Childbirth was specifically worshipped. Her temple there Dandarah was completely filled with intoxication and pleasure. Hwever, when she was at her other temple in Thebes, Hathor changed into her robes as the Goddess of the Dead, and she became known as the "Lady of the West." It was in Thebes that she was associated with the Sun God Ra, as he descended below the horizon in the west.
Hathor has also been known to represent the erotic part of femininity and procreation, and she was frequently identified with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite. In her role as a Goddess of Fertility, Hathor represented the creative abilities found in nature, and in her role as the Goddess of Moisture, she became associated with the inundation of the Nile River. It was when she was in this aspect, that Hathor was associated with the dog shaped star named Sothis which, when it rose above the horizon, announced the arrival of the annual flooding of the Nile River.
Eventually, in a later period, Hathor's role began to change, when the Isis/Osiris (Serapis) cults gained great popularity throughout Egypt, and then spread throughout the Roman Empire and Greece. Because she was known to have such a fertile and life-bringing nature, Hathor was considered to be a Goddess who revived the deceased, welcomed them to the Underworld, dispensed water to them from the branches of a Sycamore Tree, and who then offered them food. Hathor was also frequently depicted embracing the dead in the various New Kingdom Theban tombs.
Possibly in Pre-Dynastic times, and definitely in Early Dynastic times, Hathor is believed to have been the consort of the "Bull of Amenti," who was the original deity of the Necropolis. She was also known as the “Queen of the West,” which was considered to be a mortuary title, and which made her the Protectress of the Necropolis Region of the Nile.
It is truly amazing that Hathor, one of the world's greatest Goddesses, was worshiped for a longer period of time then Christianity has actually existed. Indeed, Hathor’s religion of joy continued to be strong throughout Egypt, and the many other lands that it had spread to, for over 3,000 years.
Hathor's symbols included the papyrus reed and a snake. A rattle, which is known as a sistrum, or Seseheshet, was one of several ritual items that were sacred to her. The sistrum represented life, pleasure and rebirth, and it was used to ceremonially cleanse areas of worship by driving any negative forces away. When it was used to bestow blessings and life, it was also used to set the pace or beat of chants and songs, which also made Hathor a Goddess of Music and of Dance. The Sycamore Tree was also sacred to Hathor, and it was for that reason that she was given the title, the "Lady of the Southern Sycamore."
The Menat Necklace was another ritual item that was used in worshipping Hathor. The Menat Necklace was a beaded necklace that had many strands, and which ended in a counter piece which, when worn properly, would hang at the back. While the Mentat may have been a necklace, it was never used as a decoration or ornament. Instead, it was actually used as a rattle, but only for ceremonial purposes such as rituals and conveyed the blessings of the Goddess. The Menat also symbolized fertility, and there are some experts who look upon the offering of the Menat as a way of representing the “mystical union” between the Goddess and her followers.
Much like the Goddess Ishtar, Hathor was a complex combination of the Sacred Feminine and death. The reason for that was because she bore the bodies of the dead to the Underworld, and in a strange way she actually owned them. That was why Hathor acquired the role of the “Queen of the Underworld.”
A popular story exists, which tells how Hathor appeared at a child's birth, disguised as seven young women who were wearing cow horns and playing tambourines, and who went by the name “the Seven Hathors.” These Hathors were able to foretell a child's destiny; similar in many ways to the weaving of the Tapestry of Life by the Fates, the Norns or the Disir. These Hathors were more then just people who had the ability to see into a person's future. They were actually questioners of the soul as it made its way to the Land of the West. Rather then simply knowing the child's destiny, the Seven Hathors would also know the exact hour at which the child would die.
It was believed that a person's destiny was decided by the hour of his death and therefore his luck, or his lack of it, stayed with him throughout his entire life. The Hathors were known to have extremely great powers, and they were able to replace a prince, who had been born with a bad fortune, with a child who had been born with good one. That was why they had the ability to protect both the Dynasty and the Nation.
It has also been said that those seven Goddesses were worshiped in seven different cities: Thebes, Heliopolis, Aphroditopolis, Sinai, Momemphis, Herakleopolis and Keset. It was during the Ptolemaic Period, when Egypt fell under Greek rule, that the Seven Hathors became identified with the Pleiades.
Hathor was a patron of everything that was pleasurable, whether it was related to bodily pleasure, music, art or love. Everything that was pleasurable was said to be "of Hathor." Her Priestesses were always joyful, whether they happened to be dancing, or playing their tambourines in her temples. They were also well known for sharing the pleasures of the flesh with Hathor’s multitude of worshippers.
Hathor was a greatly loved Goddess, and her followers continued her rites of pleasure long into the future. She was also an extremely ancient Goddess, who had a million and one titles, and names, and who held control over almost every part of life, death and everything that might happen beyond. Hathor was the combination of many other Goddesses, and she wore her power well, bringing great happiness and joy to all the people who worshipped her. She was also a fair and loving Goddess, and it is inconceivable to think that she could ever be forgotten. Whenever people think of Hathor, they automatically think of joy, because that was, indeed, a great part of who and what she was. Let us all give praise to Hathor, the amazing Goddess of Joy.