Hathor

Hathor illustration from Pantheon Egyptien (1823-1825) by Leon Jean Joseph Dubois (1780-1846). Original from The New York Public Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Hathor (Hwt-Hrt or Hwt-Hr) meaning “House of Horus” was one of Egypt’s most beloved Goddesses for more than 3,000 years until she was inevitably eclipsed by the Goddess Isis. The oldest information about her comes from the fourth dynasty (C. 2613 - 2494 B.C.) but her worship may extend beyond that. Egyptian deities, unlike those of the west, were thought to possess inexhaustible power that could fulfill any desire as opposed to simply having dominion over a single area of life. Hathor was the embodiment of pleasure, those who worshipped her could look forward to a life filled with bliss.


Cow, Sky, Solar Goddess


As the Celestial Cow, she was responsible for nurturing and protecting the King as well as all of Egypt. Her four legs formed the pillars of the sky marking the cardinal points, her speckled-belly formed the Milky Way and her long-horns carried the Sun God Ra. Ancient Egyptians had various ways of depicting the sky and they were always Goddesses. As a Goddess of dual nature, Hathor was also responsible for the dead, as the physical sky she housed the souls of deities and deceased royalty. As the daughter and “mother” of the Sun God Ra, she was a solar Goddess.


Iconography


Her hieroglyph is that of a seated woman wearing a tight dress with a crown of cow horns supporting a sun disc atop her head. There are two standard manners in which she is depicted, one portrayal shows her in cow form and the other as a woman with cow ears. In both, she wears a crown of cow horns that support a red sun disc. In human form she is a beautiful young woman wearing a long wig bound by a fillet, her sheath dress is usually turquoise (sky aspect), red (Solar aspect) or a combination of the two colors. On one hand, she holds her ‘was’ sceptre and in the other her cult sistrum. In animal form, she is the Tjentet cow with a sun disc between her horns.


Worship


Highly favored among royalty Hathor was considered the mother of the king in the old kingdom. As the celestial cow, she nursed the royal baby who could not become the true king until he received her milk. She was also closely linked to queenship as she acted as a divine wife as well. Often the wife of the king would be a High Priestess of Hathor. In this way, the royal women related to the king as Hathor related to Ra. Though a protectress of Egypt, Hathor’s love transcended all borders and social classes. She was the Goddess of Egyptians, foreigners, women, laborers, commoners, royals and craftsmen. Women were particularly active in her cult as she helped them attain love and restore fertility. At this time women were expected to marry young and bear many children.


Temples and Cult Centres


Temples were the Earthly residences of the Gods. They acted as portals into the divine in which human prayers and offerings flowed in and divine power flowed out. The cult centre at Dendera was amongst the most important locations. In the role of priestess or priest, ones only duty was that of a servant. Duties consisted of opening the shrine, introducing offerings, and cleansing the statues. By the Dynastic period, women began to play a less active role in the temples. Priestesses of Hathor were drawn exclusively from elite families, more than four hundred women were recorded as holding the title.


Festivals


Public festivals were the only time in which ordinary people could visit most temples and participate in rituals. Meat was a delicacy for most people not born into a royal family, festivals were one of the few occasions in which they were able to consume it. Hathor was present at most major festivals.


Quick Reference


Goddess of Joy, Romantic Love, Fertility, Childbirth and Rebirth

Goddess Forms: Sekhmet, Bast, Mehet-Weret, Nut, Ihet,

Animal Forms: Tjentet Cow, Gazelle, Vulture, Serpent, Lion, Hippo, Cat

Colors: Turquoise, Red, Gold

Cult Centres: Dendera, Abu Simbel, Asyut, Cusae, Deir el-Bahri, Edfu, Gebel el-Zeit, Heliopolis, Hiw

Offerings: Bread, Cake, Geese, Gazelle, Antelope, Oryx, Ibex, Incense, Wine, Sistra, Menats

Festivals / Feast: Wepet-Renpet, Feast of Drunkenness, Pulling Papyrus


Citation


Carabas, Markus. Hathor: The History of the Ancient Egyptian Sky Goddess and Symbolic Mother of the Pharaohs. Charles River Editors, 2019.


Graves-Brown, Carolyn. Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt. Vol. 1, Continuum, 2010.


Jackson, Lesley. Hathor: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess. Avalonia, 2014.


Ozaniec, Naomi. Becoming Hathor: A Rite of Passage into the Retinue of Het-Her. House of Life, 2015.

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