It has been a mystery how ancient Egypt and Sumeria flourished in the past. The civilizations of these two historical places are often associated with the legends of beings that held god-like abilities and who came from the stars. But one such being nearly destroyed humankind. Goddess Hathor, also known as Lady of Stars or Mistress of Heaven and Life, was worshipped in Nubia, Semitic West Asia, Ethiopia, and Libya.
Hathor is often overlooked in modern times. Many people have heard about Isis, the mother of Horus but eventually, Hathor was considered the primeval goddess from whom all others were derived. She was one of the most important goddesses in ancient Egypt and popular among royalty and common people alike. She was worshiped over several thousand years, from the early years of the ancient Egyptian religion (c. 4000 BC) until its end (c. 500 AD).
Dating back to the pre-dynastic era, the cow-headed goddess that appears on the Narmer Palette is said to be either Hathor or Bat (cow goddess in Egyptian mythology). The myth says Hathor was a sky goddess together with Goddess Nuit. They were associated with the Milky Way, which was seen as the milk flowing from the udders of a heavenly cow.
Hathor was associated with Venus, the morning star and goddess of the Romans. To the Greeks, she was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She was most often depicted as a cow or a woman with the horns or ears of a cow. She is closely associated with the primeval divine cow Mehet-Weret, a sky goddess whose name means “Great Flood,” and who was thought to bring the inundation of the Nile River which fertilized the land.
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Scholar Geraldine Harris stated: “Hathor was the golden goddess who helped women to give birth, the dead to be reborn, and the cosmos to be renewed. This complex deity could function as the mother, consort, and daughter of the creator god. Many lesser goddesses came to be regarded as “names” of Hathor in her contrasting benevolent and destructive aspects. She was most commonly shown as a beautiful woman wearing a red solar disk between a pair of cow horns.”
Although in time she was considered the ultimate personification of kindness and love, she was initially literally a blood-thirsty deity unleashed on mankind to punish humans for their sins.
Myth of the Heavenly Cow
The Myth of the Heavenly Cow, telling the tale of the near-destruction of humanity, was first discovered in the outermost of the four gilded shrines of Tutankhamun, but in incomplete form. Three completed versions of the text were found, however, in the tombs of Seti I, Ramesses I, and Ramesses II. The text forms part of a corpus of royal funerary compositions dating to the New Kingdom but was written in Middle Egyptian (the seminal form of the classical Egyptian language), and the ideas within it may date back as far as the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom.
The story begins in the mythical past, at the dawn of Egyptian history when the land was ruled by the sun god Ra. The sun god was very old, and his mortal subjects conspired against him, rebelling against his rule. Ra summoned his council in secret: the gods Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nun, and the primordial ‘mothers and fathers’ who were with him before the world was created. He also summoned his ‘Eye’, a fiery manifestation of his divine power, and retreated with his council to discuss what should be done about the rebellious hearts of men.
The council of gods suggested that Horus should ‘let [his] Eye go’, sending her down in the form of the goddess Hathor, to wreak vengeance on the disobedient humans below. With her power, she could smite the evildoers, preventing them from rebelling against the rule of the sun god.
According to Ancient History Encyclopedia, this is when the Mother Goddess changes entirely, due to what must be the most important beer in world history.
“Ra regrets his decision and devises a plan to stop Sekhmet’s blood lust. He orders Tenenet, the Egyptian goddess of beer, to brew a particularly strong batch and then has the beer dyed red and delivered to Dendera. Sekhmet, by this time, is crazed with the thirst for more blood and, when she comes upon the blood-red beer, she quickly seizes it and begins drinking.
She becomes drunk, falls asleep, and wakes up as Hathor the benevolent. Humanity was spared destruction and their former tormentor became their greatest benefactress. Following her transformation, Hathor bestowed only beautiful and uplifting gifts on the children of the earth and assumed such high status that all the later goddesses of Egypt can be considered forms of Hathor.
She was the primordial Mother Goddess, ruler of the sky, the sun, the moon, agriculture, fertility, the east, the west, moisture, and childbirth. Further, she was associated with joy, music, love, motherhood, dance, drunkenness, and, above all, gratitude.”
In the aftermath of the tale, Re leaves the earthly world behind forever, ascending to the heavens. The sky was created in the form of the Heavenly Cow, a manifestation of the goddess Nut, and the other gods joined him, separating themselves from the world of mortals. In future generations, the pharaoh would be a human – one who acted as an intermediary between the mortal world and the realm of the gods.
The story of Hathor is foundational to the beliefs of ancient Egypt. The goddess representing the Milky Way itself nearly wiped out the human race but then transformed into a beloved patron of joy, prosperity, and celebration.