Hathor, Egypt’s Milky Way

This article originally appeared in the August, 2007 issue of Immanence.

Hathor, ancient Egyptian cow-goddess, was seen as the personification of the Milky Way. She stood in cow form upon the earth, Her four legs holding up the firmament, which was Her belly.

The name Hathor literally means “house of Horus”, and Horus, as the sun god, was seen to enter Her mouth each night and be reborn again in the morning. Consequently He was seen as both Her husband and son.

Hathor maintained the living with Her milk and provided food for the dead in Tuat, the underworld. She was a cosmic primal mother goddess, and is one of Egypt’s oldest known deities.

Hathor also had Her destructive, angry side. After being convinced by a sun god to kill off the human race, She so enjoyed the slaughter that the rest of the gods had to give Her a draught that made Her unable to see humans.

Hathor’s main temple was at Dendera, where She was worshipped with Horus of Edfu and Their son Ihi, portrayed as an infant playing the sistrum. Great festivals were celebrated in Hathor’s name, especially Her birth festival at the new year, which ended with a drunken orgy. (Much like modern New Year’s festivities.) Hathor thus became known as the Mistress of Merriment, Dance, and Love.

Later in Egyptian mythology, Hathor came to represent all great Egyptian goddesses. Shrines in Her honor appeared across the land, the most famous being the Seven Hathors (at Thebes, Heliopolis, Aphroditopolis, Sinaitic Peninsula, Momemphis, Heraklespolis, and Keset).

As the cow goddess of Tuat She is portrayed as wearing a long pendant collar and the Menait, emblem of love and pleasure, on Her back. She is also depicted as a woman with a solar disk between two horns on Her head, as a woman with a cow’s head, and as a cow walking out of a funeral mountain.