This week let’s do something a little different. How about we discuss an ancient Egyptian goddess. And I couldn’t pick a better one first choice as Sekhmet!
Sekhmet’s name has been spelled in a variety of ways from Sachmis, Sakhmet, Sekhet, or Scheme. Her name comes from the Egyptian word sxm, which means “power” or “might.” It is typically translated as “The One who is Powerful.”
She has a large range of titles. She was the “One Before Whom Evil Trembles,” “Mistress of Dread,” “Lady of Slaughter,” “She Who Mauls,” “One Who Loved Maat,” and sometimes even the “Lady of Life.”
Now Sekhmet was the goddess of war, chaos, the hot desert sun, and even healing. She is the protector of the pharaohs and protected them in the afterlife. She was said to breathe fire, and the hot winds of the desert were likened to her breath. She also caused plagues, which were called her servants or her messengers. Even though she has all these terrifying characteristics, she was also the patron of physicians and healers, because to her friends, she could cure all diseases.
There is not always a clear family tree of Egyptian gods and goddesses, but Sekhmet was sometimes considered the wife of Ptah and the mother of his son Nefertum. She also may have been the mother of another lion god called Maahes. And her parents are sometimes considered to be Geb, who was the earth, and Nut, who was the sky.
She was a solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of Ra. It was said that she was created from the fire of the sun god Ra’s eye when he looked upon the earth. He apparently created her as a weapon to destroy humans for their disobedience. In one myth about the end of Ra’s rule on Earth, Ra sends the goddess Hathor in the form of Sekhmet to destroy humans. After the battle, which Ra quickly realized had gotten out of hand, Sekhmet’s bloodlust could not be quelled. To stop her, Ra poured out beer dyed with either pomegranate juice or red ochre so that it resembled blood. She became so drunk that she gave up the slaughter.
Sekhmet is depicted as a lioness or as a woman with the head of a lioness. Since she is a solar deity, she is depicted with a sun disk on her head and a uraeus, which associates her with Wadjet. She was often dressed in red, ie. the color of blood. Sometimes these dresses have a rosetta pattern over each breast, which is an ancient leonine motif that is traced to the observation of the shoulder knot hairs on lions. She is usually depicted holding a scepter in the form of papyrus, suggesting that she was associated primarily with the north. This is contradictory to the fact that she may have been associated with the south and the Sudan, where lions are much more plentiful.
When Sekhmet was in a calmer state, it was said she would take the form of the household cat goddess Bastet.
Again, even though she was, in general, a terrifying goddess, the ancient Egyptians believed that Sekhmet had a cure for every problem. To stay on her good side, they would offer her food and drink, play her music, and burn incense. They would also whisper prayers into the ears of cat mummies and offer them to Sekhmet.
Because she was closely associated with kingship, many kings in the New Kingdom worshiped her. Amenhotep II built almost 700 statues of her for his mortuary temple, as well as hundreds more for the temples in Karnak. Ramesses II also adopted Sekhmet as a symbol of his power in battle. During the Greek dominance of Egypt, there was a large temple of Sekhmet at Taremu in the Delta region in a city the Greeks called Leontopolis.
As I mentioned previously, Sekhmet was the main deity worshiped during the Festival of Intoxication, in which they recreate the Sekhmet’s drunkenness. I talked about this during a Fun Fact Friday post a couple of weeks ago!
Gold cultic Aegis – Wikimedia Commons (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)
Gilded bier from the tomb of Tut – Wikimedia Commons (Hans Ollermann)
Temple of Kom Ombo – Wikimedia Commons
Image from Menat necklace – Wikimedia Commons (Keith Schengili-Roberts)
Statue from Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow – Wikimedia Commons (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg))
Statue from Temple of Mut Luxor at the National Museum, Copenhagen – Wikimedia Commons (McLeod)
Sekhmet – Wikimedia Commons (Jeff Dahl)
Sekhmet in the entrance of the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, Medinet Habu – https://www.arce.org/resource/statues-sekhmet-mistress-dread
Sekhmet statues in the British Museum – https://thatmuse.com/2019/11/01/sekhmet-the-destroyer/