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Definition: Sekhmet from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Ancient Egyptian goddess of heat and fire; as the eye of the sun god Ra, she was the symbol of the sun's destructive rays. She was represented with the head of a lioness, and worshipped at Memphis as the wife of Ptah. She was also patroness of doctors.


Summary Article: Sekhmet
from Encyclopedia of African Religion

In ancient Egypt, there was a lioness goddess named Sekhmet. The meaning of her name was “the Powerful One.” She was represented as a woman with the head of a lioness “whose back was the color of blood with fire emanating from her mane and eyes.” Her fiery body would glow when she used her weapons of arrows piercing the hearts of her enemies. Her hot breath came from the desert winds of Egypt.

Figure 1Lion-headed Sekhmet, goddess of war. Statue from the temple of Mut, wife of god Amun (Amen) ofThebes. The temple was built under Amenophis III (1403-1365 BC, 18th dynasty, New Kingdom).

Source: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York.

For it was written that the creator god Ra, in his declining years, had become grieved by a decline of respect for him in the world he had created, and especially by a few among the human race, the product of his own tears. He reached out to his closest followers to convene a divine assembly of his nearest relatives. Messengers were sent out quietly to the gods and especially to his daughter, Hathor. He addressed the gods as to what they felt should be the punishment for those tormentors. Nun, the eldest of the gods, suggested that Ra's eye in the form of Hathor be sent out to kill those who attacked the great god. The other gods quickly agreed to this strategy, and Hathor, in the manifestation of the enraged Eye of the sun god, Ra, became Sekhmet, a fierce and ferocious lion, to seek revenge. Sekhmet quickly set out to attack the tormentors and found that she took delight in the slaughter. Her taste for blood was overwhelming, so much so that she raced over the extent of the land, consuming the people in her pleasure for more. Ra observed Sekhmet and was pleased with her work and called to her to stop before she performed the total destruction of humankind. “Come in peace, Hathor. Have you not done that which I gave you to do?” But her thirst for blood was greater than her father's plea. Due to her divine power, no one could stop Sekhmet, not even Ra himself. The cries of the people were heard everywhere.

As Sekhmet rested, Ra and the gods, seeing the despair of the people and the Nile River flowing with the blood of humanity, thought to devise a plan that would cease the lioness's whirl of destruction. They ordered the brewing of 7,000 jars of beer, to which red ochre from the ground was added to give it the color of blood. Ra told his messengers to spread the beer all over the Earth. Shortly, Sekhmet arose to continue her enjoyable task of looking for more prey. Instead, she saw the blood-like liquid over the land and rejoiced, drinking all that she wanted. Finally, the mixture caused her to sink into a peaceful slumber. While in her slumber, her father, Ra, quickly called to her: “Come, come in peace, O fair and gracious goddess.” Sekhmet, the lioness, was then transformed again into the goddess Hathor, and the world began to heal. The Nile River ran blue, and thus humanity was saved.

See also

Ra

Further Readings
  • Armour, R. A. (2003).. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt (2nd rev. ed.). Cairo, Egypt: American University Cairo Press.
  • Meeks, D., & Favard-Meeks, C. (1996).. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Hubbard, LaRese
    Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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