Sekhmet, Lioness of the Sun
Sekhmet is the most well-known of the lioness deities. Her name, , sxmt "The Powerful One," has it its origin's in the distant past before man appeared, referring to the manifestations of power diffused throughout the universe as defined at the first time. This power is a complimentary and necessary duality - the creation and development of life as well as life's destruction and death.
Although traditionally depicted as a goddess of war and destruction, Sekhmet, solar deity par excellence, as "Lady of Ma'at," symbolizes the visible manifestation of the original cosmic order. In this aspect she deploys all her war-like resources to maintain the universal harmony defined at the first time.
xp xrjw wjA.sn mi nn sxmt nw ra m zp-tpj m rn.T pfy n sxmt
When you encounter enemies in their barque, like those (you have), you will prevail over the enemies of Re in the First Time in this your name of Sekhmet.
-Edfu Temple inscription
Sekhmet symbolizes the struggle of the positive and negative elements of the universe. By appeasing her, victory of Harmony over Disorder, and Life over Death is assured. As with the powerful, little understood forces of nature, Sekhmet is feared.
wnnw snD.f xt xAswt mi sxmt rnpt jdw
Whose fear permeated the hill lands like Sekhmet in a year of plague.
-Tale of Sinuhe
The passage of one year to another is a time of imbalance. The ceremonies of the New Year could only assure the inheritor of Horus the continuation of the original work if Sekhmet was properly appeased. Without the appeasement, the king and the land were in peril.
xw.j Hm.k r xt nbt Dwt awt r Ssr
I protect Your Incarnation from every evil thing and (I protect) your limbs from the arrows (of pestilence).
mj.t(w) n axm bjk [sfxt] sw.t dj mk.t HA (sw) Hw.t m Ssr nb jAdw rnpt nb
Come to the Living Image of the Falcon! Protect him, put your protection around him! Protect him from all arrows and from pestilence every year.
As Stephen Quirke so eloquently put it in "the Cult of Re," "The incantations to appease the Furious Goddess Sekhmet at the end of the year became the greatest litany every sung: a chorus of perhaps 730 images of the goddess."
As "Eye of Re," Sekhmet is designated as a solar goddess. She protects the sun, therefore protecting the order of the first time. The Eye, a feminine word in Ancient Egyptian, is also identified with Tefnut, Hathor and Mut. syncretized with Sekhmet.
dmDt m mwt
united with Mut
-from a Statue of Amenemhat II and Sekhmet
j sxmt jrt rA aA nsr nb(t) nrw Ha jt.s
Oh! Sekhmet, Eye of Re, Great of Flame, Lady of Terror, who surrounds her creator.
-Temple of Edfu
sxm jrt.f jm.tn jm.s tn swnw.s tn
His eye is powerful over you(Aphophis). It devours you. It punishes you
m rn.s pwy n jmy wnmyt.(t) sxm.s n jm.tn m rn.s
in this Her name of "Devouring Flame." Her power is over you in this Her name
pwy n sxmt xr.tn n hh.s
of Sekhmet. You fall because of Her blast (fiery breath).
The king was the final beneficiary of Atum's evolution. Cycling through formation from Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Isis, Osiris, Nepthys and Seth, the "becoming's" culmination was Horus, the personification Kingship itself. As the sun manifest its dominion over all nature, the King, the living Horus, officiated over the earth. To assure Sekhmet's protection, the king took as one of his epithets the name 'son of Sekhmet.' One of the first instances known is from a relief now in the Staaltiche Museum in Berlin depicting the 5th dynasty king, Niussere, suckling from Sekhmet's breast.
pA mAiw Hsjw sA sxmt
Look at the fierce looking lion, son of Sekhmet.
-Thotmose III in the Taking of Joppa
Hnk Hn mwt.f sxmt
Jn nswt maat-mn-re
offering the temple vase to his mother, Sekhmet, by the King, Ma'at Men Re (Seti I)
In the hymn "The Destruction of Mankind," Re sends his Eye, in the name of Hathor, forth to destroy, with the burning solar rays, the rebellious humans who have fled to the desert. To the Ancient Egyptians, the word had creative power and by Re proclaiming the goddess to be 'powerful,' Hathor could henceforth manifest as the fearful aspect of the sun's rays in the form of rageful Sekhmet. The sun's rays gave life, but also could sear life away.
Dd.jn nTrt tn anx.k n.j Then is Goddess said: You live because of me.
jw sxm.n.i m r(m)T jw nDm Hr jb.j
I have power over the people. It is sweet upon my heart.
Sekhmet was associated with the wadis near the desert's edge. The hot desert winds were likened to her fiery breath. Lions were most frequently seen at the water holes and this iconography was brought into the temples as the Asheru, the sacred lakes that were primarily associated with lioness goddesses.
The tale of The Distant Goddess, describes how, in a rage, Sekhmet leaves Egypt and travels south to Nubia. She remains there until appeased and coaxed into returning, stopping to rest in Mut's temple in Karnak. The Eye's distant journey could be a metaphor for the sun's passage southward in winter and return in spring.
jrt ra jj.n.Hmt st m wDat Axt jr r Tz tA jm st Hna
Her Majesty, the Eye of Re, has returned as the beneficent Udjat Eye. Uniting the land together with
kA Htp tj xnw.tj m ASrw xprw.s tn sxmt Hnwt tAwy.
the divine Ka. She has rested and stopped in Asheru in this her form of Sekhmet, Mistress of the Two Lands.
-Leiden I 350
Sekhmet was 'Lady of the Messengers of Death,' but as forcefully as she could loose her arrows of plague and pestilence throughout the Two Lands, with precise, accurate litanies she could be persuaded to remove them. These rites were the domain of the Priests of Sekhmet, the wabw sxmt. . By knowing the formulas and proper practices to appease the irascible goddess, they could also use this power, as well as their growing medical knowledge, for healing. The papyroid wAD scepter, ,Sekhmet carries is a symbol of the 'greening' or life-giving power she possesses when appeased.
In her dual aspects, both benevolent and malevolent, Sekhmet worked to maintain Ma'at, the universal order. She protected the sun, thereby maintaining cyclical time. She protected the king, assuring the inheritance of the creator to his created. She protected the Two Lands, assuring harmony between its people. The name of one of Sekhmet's priests in the reign of Sahure summarizes the above themes perfectly:
-Life belongs to Sekhmet.
Sekhmet is the creative fire, the energizing the life force within the creation. In her name of Eye of Re, she wears the solar serpent, symbol of regeneration and life-giving current, upon her brow. She is the materialization of universal force manifested in immanently tangible for. In her name of Lady of the Place of the Beginning of Time, she is the receptacle of the potentiality of positive and negative forces revealed at zp-tpy, The First Time, the Creation of the World.
The Powerful One symbolizes the struggle of the positive and negative elements of the universe. As 'She who surrounds her creator with her flame.' She is protector of the divine cosmic order, defender of Ma'at, the fixed, unchanging, eternal pattern of existence, the universal order and harmony of both celestial and terrestrial worlds.
As a female warrior Sekhmet is the masculine/feminine, performing the dance of life and death, creation and destruction. Annihilating the enemies of Re, she wipes the slate clean for creation to begin anew. She destroys with no thought to consequence of action, merely following her inherent character. The Khamsin wind, her fiery breath, singes the land at summer's climax, for the fire of the sun's rays, which she personifies, can both give life and sear life away. In this respect, Sekhmet symbolizes the struggle of the positive and negative elements of the universe.
In the cosmic sphere, Sekhmet energized Ptah's inert form, giving force to his power of creative speech. Together with Ptah she represents the desire of Netjer to know matter and the desire of substance to know divine spirit. Through alternating currents, the divine pair transpose impulse and idea into function and form.
In the terrestrial sphere, Sekhmet is the personification of rage and power manifesting within the office of Kingship itself. If properly appeased, through litany and offerings, She protects the king in all times of transition such as the changing of one year to another and the changing of one monarchy to another.
Her form of Lioness is perfectly appropriate for the lion represented, to the Ancient Egyptians, fear and power. Thus Sekhmet represents the awe and force of the original Cosmic Power. Her double nature, both malevolent and beneficent was apparent. At the same time that she worked to maintain the universal order, effectively supported the king, and with proper litany and appeasement would remove disease and help the poor and sick, she was responsible for annual scourges, sent her destructive messengers against the land and spread terror and desolation across the country.
One of the names of the Lioness is Nesert, the royal serpent. Understanding the relationship between similar words with a common root allows one to appreciate the characteristics that are the force of nature inherent in Sekhmet as the Eye of Re, the Uraus upon the brow of her creator.
nsrt, the royal serpent.
nsry, flame of the Uraeus
to flame against (the king's enemies)
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