When we think of Egyptian mythology, surely gods like Ra, Osiris and Anubis are the first names that come to mind. That said, there is much more to it than that and it certainly is very rich of interesting figures and stories. In this article, we will try to inform you about another prominent but lesser-known Egyptian god; Sekhmet the Egyptian goddess of war and healing.
Sekhmet is an ancient and revered deity in ancient Egyptian mythology. Her name, Sekhmet originates from the Egyptian word “Sekhem,” which roughly translates as ‘power’, ‘strength’, or ‘might’. If we go a little bit beyond a literal translation, the name Sekhmet is mostly translated as “The Powerful One” or also as “She Who Is Powerful.”
Just like with most or all other Egyptian gods and deities, she is not depicted completely as a human. Sekhmet has the body of a human with the head of a lion, thus often referred to as “The Lion-headed Woman.”
There are many artworks depicting Sekhmet including hieroglyphs and statues. She is shown in both seated and standing form in these works. Seated depictions of Sekhmet shows her holding the Ankh of Life, a very important symbol in Egyptian mythology. However, her standing depictions, or the ones where she is in stride, usually depict her holding a scepter made of papyrus. Experts have been discussing that Sekhmet is a symbol of the north because papyrus came from the north, while some also say that she is a symbol of the south as many more lions lived in the southern parts of ancient Egypt.
Sekhmet’s Association with Other Gods/Goddesses
Sekhmet was closely associated with Hathor, who was the goddess of joy, music, dance, relaxation, sexual love, pregnancy, and a few other things too. Why exactly these two goddesses were associated with each other remains somewhat unclear; Hathor was seen as a kind and benevolent goddess, whereas Sekhmet was seen as a more brutal and harsh goddess.
There was a temple built by Amenemhet II at the Imau in the western Delta, which honored Sekhmet and Hathor. Together, at this temple, they were referred to as the “Mistress of Imau.” To clarify, Imau was located by a branch of the eastern Nile river, one that has since shifted to the east. However, in ancient times, this was situated on the desert’s edge on the route to Libya. The hope was that this temple of Sekhmet would protect Egypt from invaders and enemies. That being said, the main following or cult center of Sekhmet was in Men Nefer, now known as Memphis. There she was worshipped as being “the destroyer.” She was worshipped along with Ptah the creator and Nefertum the healer there.
Sekhmet was seen as a truly terrifying and scary goddess, being represented by the heat and brightness of the sun at midday. This is why she was sometimes called “Nesert,” which translates as “the flame.” This illustrates just how much the ancient people feared and revered her.
She was feared by her enemies and those who did not follow her, often being called the “lady of terror.” However, her friends and followers called her “the lady of life.” It was said that she could cure plagues and heal disease, with her priests and priestesses becoming very skilled healers and doctors. In the ancient Egyptian book of death, she is simultaneously known as a creator and a destructive force, with her main job being “the protector of balance and justice.”
Furthermore, she was seen as a force to be reckoned with. It was said that she could summon storms, plagues, and other unholy destructive forces against her enemies. Sekhmet was often referred to as “the red lady” indicating her connection with the desert, as well as the “lady of pestilence,” an indication of her fierce and ruthless nature.
Sekhmet is also known as the mother of Maahes, who was the lion god, the patron of the pharaoh and of pyramid texts. This would suggest that the pharaoh was created by Sekhmet. Many pharaohs including Ramesses II used Sekhmet as a symbol of strength and power when going into battle. There was one pharaoh, Amenhotep III, who had a particular obsession with Sekhmet and had hundreds of statues built to honor her. It was said that he built enough of these statues so that people could honor her every day of the year with a different statue.
Festivals of Sekhmet
There were many different ways Sekhmet was celebrated and various festivals dedicated to her. One of the most common was the celebration which would take place at the end of a battle, with the aim of pacifying her and stopping her from carrying out any more destruction.
There was also a festival which would take place at the beginning of each year, one where Egyptians would play soothing music and get extremely intoxicated. This was in order to imitate the extreme drunken stupor Sekhmet was in, the stupor which stopped her from wiping humanity off the face of the earth. It is theorized that this festival was also meant to stave off the yearly flooding of the Nile and to stop Sekhmet from flooding and killing vast portions of Egypt.
The story of Sekhmet almost wiping out humanity is related to the end of Ra the Sun God’s rule. It is said that Ra sent Sekhmet to destroy all of the mortals in the world who conspired against him. However, at the end of this battle, which Sekhmet won, her lust for death and blood was still not quenched, thus she went on a murderous tirade against mankind. Ra then poured out beer which was dyed blood red making Sekhmet think it was all blood. She then drank this red-dyed beer, became drunk, slept for 3 days, and then returned to Ra. It is said that her 3-day long sleep had dissipated her lust and thirst for blood; thus humanity had been spared. The end of her murderous tirade, which almost killed all mortals, is now celebrated at the beginning of each year.
In this post, we tried to tell the story of Sekhmet the Egyptian Goddess of war, destruction and healing. Share the article if you liked it please, thanks!