Hathor was the Egyptian goddess of the sky, music, dance, joy, love, sexuality and maternal care.

Symbols: Cow, cow horns, sun disk, sycamore tree, cobra.
Cult Centre: Dendera and Memphis
Parents: Ra
Consort: Ra, Horus, Atum, Amun, Khonsu
Children: Horus the child, Ihy and Neferhotep
Greek equivalent: Aphrodite
Roman equivalent: Venus

Statue of Hathor. Luxor Museum. (c) Olaf Tausch

Hathor was often depicted as a cow, symbolizing her maternal and celestial aspect, although her most common form was a woman wearing a headdress of cow horns and a sun disk.

Roles of the Goddess

Sky Goddess: Egyptians thought of the sky as a body of water through which the sun god sailed, and they connected it with the waters from which the sun emerged at the beginning of time. This cosmic mother goddess was often represented as a cow. Hathor was thought of as the cow who birthed the sun god and placed him between her horns. Like Nut, Hathor was said to give birth to the sun god each dawn.

Hathor emerges from a hill representing the Theban necropolis from the Book of the Dead of Ani.

Solar Goddess: She was one of many goddesses to take the role of the Eye of Ra, a feminine personification of the disk of the sun and an extension of Ra’s own power. Ra was sometimes portrayed inside the disk, which has been interpreted as meaning that the Eye goddess was thought of as a womb from which the sun god was born. Hathor’s seemingly contradictory roles as mother, wife, and daughter of Ra reflected the daily cycle of the sun.

Amulet of Hathor as a uraeus wearing a naos headdress. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Music, Dance and Joy: Egyptian religion celebrated the sensory pleasures of life, believed to be among the gods’ gifts to humanity. Egyptians ate, drank, danced, and played music at their religious festivals. They perfumed the air with flowers and incense. Many of Hathor’s epithets link her to celebration; she is called the mistress of music, dance, garlands, myrrh, and drunkenness. In hymns and temple reliefs, musicians play tambourines, harps, lyres and sistra in Hathor’s honour. The sistrum, a rattle-like instrument, was particularly important in Hathor’s worship. Sistra had erotic connotations and, by extension, alluded to the creation of new life.

Banquet scene from the Tomb of Nebamun, 14th c. BC. Its imagery of music and dancing alludes to Hathor. British Museum.

Maternal: she was considered the mother of various child deities. As suggested by her name, she was often thought of as both Horus’ mother and consort. As both the king’s wife and his heir’s mother, Hathor was the mythic counterpart of human queens. Hathor’s maternal aspects can be compared with those of Isis, yet there are many contrasts between them. Isis’ devotion to her husband and care for their child represented a more socially acceptable form of love than Hathor’s uninhibited sexuality.

Hathor as a cow suckling Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh, at Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahari, 15th c. BC.

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