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The Feast of Hathor

I built a house for the Goddess,
Made of the wood of the sycamore tree.

Under the leaves of the palm tree,

I eat bread in honor of her.

Hathor, Hawk of the Sky,
Rest in the limbs of my tree.

Hathor, House of the Sun,

Live in my house forever.

— Egyptian Book of the Dead

Today is an ancient Egyptian celebration honoring the Goddess Hathor. Hathor is an extremely important and multi-faceted deity of ancient Egypt. She was the supreme Goddess of sexual love, a Goddess of heavenly charm, and later the Greeks linked Her to Aphrodite, their Goddess of Love.

In very ancient times, Hathor was a cow Goddess. As the “Mistress of Heaven,” the celestial cow’s four legs supported the vault of heaven and Her star-spangled belly was the sky itself. This is Her benevolent Mother Goddess aspect, by which She offers Her nurturing and protection, and all life flourishes.

And as a Goddess of fertility and moisture, She was associated with the annual inundation of the Nile, so in this aspect she is linked to Sothis (the Dog-star Sirius). As those who receive my newsletter know, it was the dawn rising of the Dog-star every year that heralded the dog days — the life-giving flooding of the Nile.

She protected women during pregnancy and childbirth and was also a Goddess of the dead. And as the Goddess of music and dancing, Her symbol is the sistrum, which is often depicted in Her images. On the column capitals of Her shrines, She appears with the ears of a cow and a crown formed of horns supporting the disc of the Sun. This crown later was adopted by Isis.

But She has a darker side, too, for She is closely intertwined with the avenging, lion-bodied Goddess Sekhmet. Hathor was the daughter of Ra, the Sun God, and was the “Eye of Ra.” She would be sent out by Him, in the form of a large all-seeing eye, to watch over mankind. If She was offended by what She saw, She could become the savage and destructive Sekhmet. In fact, this day’s festival commemorates a time when humanity narrowly escaped extinction by Her vengeance.

There was time when the people began to drift away from the worship of the God. Ra, in vengeance, sent His daughter, Hathor, in the form of a lion, Sekhmet, to punish mankind. After a time, Ra decided that mankind had suffered enough and ordered Hathor to return. But She, being frenzied with blood lust refused.

Concerned for the survival of humanity, the Sun God ordered a vast quantity of beer to be made, colored with red ochre, which was then poured into the field where Hathor-Sekhmet lay sleeping. Upon waking, seeing the fields reddened with what She thought was blood, She began to gorge Herself. Thus, She fell at last into an intoxicated stupor and Ra was able to retrieve Her.

To mark the occasion, so that mankind would never forget their narrow escape from annihilation, Ra ordered a festival to be held each year in Hathor’s honor.

This was a very popular religious festival, thanks to the copious amounts of red beer flowing. It was celebrated on this day, August 7th, at the New Year (during the flooding of the Nile) at all the shrines dedicated to Hathor, throughout the kingdom. And from that time on, Hathor’s principle shrine was at Denderah, the “Place of Intoxication.”

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  • August 11, 2008, 6:04 pm Anonymous

    How do you know the date of the festival was August 7?

  • August 19, 2008, 12:12 pm Beth Owl's Daughter

    Good question!

    It might vary from year to year, and could also depend on what region and even village was observing it. It also would have changed over time, from ancient Egyptian periods to the more “modern” times of Rome.

    That’s because Julius Caesar revised the calendar’s reckoning to be by the sun, rather than the moon.

    But from what I can tell from various Egyptology websites, in 2008, Aug. 7 seems to be the agreed upon date for this.