Sidetracked by Sekhmet (only two days left!)
I was going to write today's update about the Five Gods Upon the Year, but another deity's got me sidetracked.
There's been news this week about more statues of Sekhmet, uncovered at the mortuary temple of Amunhotep III on the West Bank of Luxor, in Upper Egypt:
Here's a video from a few years ago with Dr. Hourig Sourouzian about the site, along with images of another gorgeous stone Sekhmet. (Many thanks to our friends at Heritage Key for taping this!)
Sekhmet statues from Amunhotep III's reign number in the thousands. A number of intact statues are on display in museums in and outside of Egypt. If you've ever seen a well-carved stone Sekhmet, close to or larger than life size, it's a good bet that it's part of Nebma'atra Amunhotep's collection.
So why did Amunhotep III create so many statues of Sekhmet? Some people think it was because Sekhmet was a goddess of destruction (and counterpart to her husband, Ptah the Creator, similar to the relationship between Kali and Shiva in Hinduism). As the destructive power of the sun's heat, Sekhmet had small temples in Egyptian fortresses and military barracks, and She was venerated as a war goddess during the hypermilitary New Kingdom empire.
Others point to Sekhmet's associations with both plagues and healing, and wonder if the king installed so many statues to scare away illness during his reign. Plagues have been documented in Egypt and surrounding countries during the New Kingdom, and ancient Egyptian magic encourages images of "scary" gods and goddesses to be used this way. Some also note the fact that Amunhotep's mummy shows advanced age and ill health, and wonder if he wasn't just asking the Lady of the Blood Red Garment for his own healing.
Sekhmet can be all these things. As "The Powerful Female," the literal meaning of Her name, Sekhmet nearly destroys mankind in the Myth of the Divine Cow. Her swath of carnage is only stopped by the timely application of red beer.
Beer, you say? Yes. Beer.
The short version of the myth: Mankind rebelled against Ra, Who decided after consulting the other gods to punish the evildoers. Ra sends His daughter, Hathor, to destroy them. To do this, Hathor transforms Herself into a lioness called Sekhmet. Once the bad guys are dead, Ra tells Sekhmet to come home, except there's one problem.
Blood tastes good, Sekhmet tells Ra, and it's fun to kill people. And She runs off to the next city to find more prey.
Ra realizes that if His Daughter isn't stopped...there won't be any humans left to rule, and comes up with a plan. He commands Hathor's priestesses to brew thousands of jars of beer, and mix it with hematite ore to make the beer red. Then He tells them to pour the beer on the sand outside the city where the goddess is rampaging. When Sekhmet comes to the lake, She sees her reflection in what She thinks is blood, and jumps in. She drinks up the lake, falls asleep, and returns to being Hathor, the Divine Cow, the goddess of love, passion, art, music, beauty, dancing, and a good life.
Every year, in honor of mankind's being spared from Sekhmet's wrath, "as many jars of beer as there are priestesses of Sekhmet" were set out at a public festival in Her honor during the month of Tekhy, or "Drunkenness," the first month of the ancient civil year.
That's right. Ancient Egyptian religion has an official day for celebrating how the end of the world was prevented…with beer.
You can see a suitably gory cartoon version of the myth here, where the beer's been mysteriously replaced with wine:
There are many Sekhmet festivals in the ancient Egyptian calendars. The one I just mentioned is formally named The Feast of Drunkenness of Sekhmet-Hathor and occurs on the 18th day of the first month (I Akhet 18). Sekhmet gets an entire month to Herself as well. The month of Sekhmet is the fourth month of the year (also called Ka-her-ka or Khoiak), and is the final month of the Inundation season.
Other notable Sekhmet festivals include:
- I Akhet 3 The Feast of Sekhmet in Darkness
- I Akhet 21 The Feast of Drunkenness of Hathor-Sekhmet (Egyptian religion is nothing if not symmetrical)
- III Akhet 1 Feast and Procession of Sekhmet
- I Peret 5 Sekhmet Placing the Flame Before the Great Ones
- I Peret 12 The Day of Answering All of Sekhmet's Words
- I Peret 29 Bast and Sekhmet Guard the Two Lands
- II Peret 13 Sekhmet's Procession with Her Executioners
- II Shomu 7 Day of the Executioners of Sekhmet, "counting names"
- II Shomu 16 Purifying Sekhmet
- II Shomu 30 Pacifying Sekhmet
- III Shomu 14 Feast of Chewing Cucumbers for Sekhmet
Details (and fully sourced translations) for all these festivals, and more, will be in the Ancient Egyptian Daybook, but I thought I'd share some of the interesting festival names. Sekhmet was as loved as well as feared, and through ancient writings and modern archaeological discoveries like Amunhotep's Sekhmet statues, She continues to be a powerful presence in Egypt and the world today.
We've got two days left to this Kickstarter campaign. TWO DAYS! The Kickstarter countdown clock has switched from days to hours. It's really happening. And we're still working toward those final two stretch goals! There's been much more interest, and I know there are more people sharing the page and getting the word out. Thank you so much.
I want to give special thanks to Mona Eltahawy (@Monaeltahawy on Twitter) for RTing information about the Daybook campaign to her many followers, and also for reminding me about Sekhmet today. The Great Lady Lioness is definitely worth thinking about!