For a long time I have been wanting to write something about my Matron Deity, but where to start? The more I think about it, the more I feel I could write a book… So I will start with a basic introduction and go into more details about particular aspects of her and my relationship with her in future posts. Some pagans have a particular deity that they worship, honour or work with; some don’t. I do. Her name is Hathor (Greek) or Het Hert (Original Egyptian name).
Perhaps I should begin by explaining what I mean by deity (which isn’t necessarily how other pagans see deity). I believe there is an eternal, intelligent and creative force in the universe which we can call God. I believe that this force can make itself known to us directly or through the personalities of the prophets and gods of all religions old and new. This is is very gross over-simplification, but I don’t want to get bogged down in this subject at this point. But I will say that the best analogy I know is that God is like a huge diamond and that the gods and goddesses are like facets of the diamond. That analogy also goes much deeper than it first appears!
The facet of deity that I relate best to, that I see most clearly and which projects the Whole most comprehensively to me is Hathor.
Hathor is one of the most ancient and popular Egyptian deities and in my view she is also one of the most modern and empowering goddesses of any tradition. I don’t want to write a “Hathor 101” here as there is plenty of information about her available on the net and in books; but I will give a brief description. Hathor is most often depicted as the Cow goddess, either as a cow or as a woman with cow-like ears and eyes. However she comes in many other guises such as lion, cobra and hippopotamus. She is associated with just about every aspect of life and death but most famously she is connected with sex, childbirth, motherhood, protection, music, dance, creativity, drunkenness and pleasure in general. However once you get to know and love her vivacious life affirming nature you also begin to learn and appreciate the deeper and darker aspects of her persona including her wisdom and guidance at life’s end.
I first found Hathor by accident while doing some research on Isis. Perhaps it would be more true to say that she found me. Like many things in life, you don’t really know what you are looking for untill it finds you. I didn’t particularly feel the need to have a matron deity but since Hathor revealed herself to me I wouldn’t want to be without her. In many ways she feels like a friend or an older, wiser sister; yet she also has tremendous power and authority that engenders natural respect.
I think there is a very masculine side to Hathor in some ways which makes her approachable to both sexes, but undoubtedly it is as the embodiment of female power and womanly wisdom that she is best known and experienced. She is not only an embodiment of these things; she is a living celebration of them. And celebration is itself a key aspect of Hathor’s power and personality.
Like Wiccans and many other pagans I tend to see the Goddess in three aspects; maiden, mother and crone, and Hathor certainly exemplifies these three stages of feminine life.
The “Maiden” Hathor is a party girl who loves life, music and dance. She loves sensual and sexual pleasure and is not shy about expressing and fulfilling her desires. She is playful and passionate in equal measure. There is some evidence that some of Hathor’s priestesses in Ancient Egypt may have been what we’d call today “sacred prostitutes”. This has to be seen in the context of sexual morals of the time which were very different to present times. There is also some evidence, for example, that young women from well to do families were encouraged to join traveling bands of musicians and dancers to experience and learn about the joys of sex before they were married. To me this aspect of Hathor symbolises the independence that the modern woman can aspire to and enjoy. She asserts the ownership of our own bodies and our own pleasures. However the maiden Hathor is not only about hedonistic pleasure, there is always a sense that with independence comes responsibility. And this comes even more to the fore in the next stage.
Hathor the Mother is fiercely protective. She was said to rule over the birth of every pharaoh. She was the Goddess of childbirth that pregnant mothers prayed to and according to some texts she was said to be present at the birth of every child. Some texts hold that “The Seven Hathors” visited every new born child in disguise and prophesied various aspects of the child’s fate. As mother she is often depicted as the sacred golden cow, suckling the pharaoh and indeed the whole of humanity. So as mother, Hathor is both protective and nurturing. Perhaps it is this aspect that I relate to most strongly in the stage of life I find myself in. Yes, Hathor is the friend; the older sister who enjoys a good time out, but she is also older and much wiser with many lessons to teach. She can transform the pure and innocent joy of sensual pleasure and self knowledge into the wisdom and maturity of motherhood. The passion that produces a child or a new idea is redoubled in protecting and guiding it and encouraging it to become all it can be. There is a well known story of Hathor in which she is transformed into the Lion Goddess Sekhmet and goes on the rampage. I am not going to recount the details of that story here but it does serve as a warning that Hathor is not always sweetness and light and it wouldn’t be wise to endanger anybody or anything that is under her protection!
I have never known Hathor to be depicted as “old” (as a woman she is always portrayed as young and beautiful) but she does have an older more crone like aspect to her. For example The Seven Hathors who could predict each child’s future also visited the souls of the recently departed to question them on their way to the land of the dead. As Lady of the West it was her role to help and protect the dead on their final journey (which according to Egyptian religion was also their most important journey; all of life was in many ways a preparation for death). Thus Hathor is mistress of the deepest mysteries and she is present at all the most significant landmarks of life and death. In terms of magic and the supernatural Hathor is closely associated with all forms of prediction and divination. More obviously she inspires sex magic and to me she embodies the everyday joy and magic of life itself.
To finish this brief introduction to Hathor and my relationship with her I want to just give a summary of why she is important to me. There are many pagans who don’t believe in deity or who don’t feel the need to have a relationship with a particular deity. I respect and understand those views and indeed my own views are quite pantheistic in nature; which is to say I can see and feel the creative force and intelligence of the Universe in all aspects of the world around me. However, I have always been a ‘people person’ and perhaps that is why I am drawn to seeing deity most strongly manifest through a person.
I suppose there are some parallels between the way I see Hathor and the way Christians see Jesus; perhaps that goes back to my Catholic upbringing… The main similarity is that Christians see the whole of God expressed in the person of Jesus and many Christian denominations emphasise the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus. In the same way I have been able to have a fuller understanding off the whole of God through my relationship with Hathor and I have grown into a meaningful and emotional relationship with her that might be similar to the way that Christians feel about Jesus. But that is where the similarity ends because, quite simply, Hathor and Jesus are very different personalities.
To me Hathor is a positive, life affirming force. While I have no desire to evangelise, I must admit I do sometimes think that the world would probably be a much nicer place if more people found and invited Hathor into their hearts. She has qualities of wisdom and compassion that I aspire to and an outlook on life I find easy to relate to. She represents the woman (or the man) happy in her own skin (whatever colour or shape that might be). She invites us to respect and celebrate the gift of life and all the pleasures being incarnate in a body can bring. She exemplifies the miracle of creation both in the procreation of new life and in the production of new music and art. I am not Kemetic or Tameran (which means I don’t claim to follow or recreate the religion of Ancient Egypt) but I try to learn about the context in which Hathor was first known and worshipped; yet above all I find Hathor eternal and particularly relevant to modern times. And as a mentor I can say from experience that she is both patient and persistent, for which I thank her deeply and apologise for my frequent slowness in understanding the things she has been trying to show me.
There are many themes and aspects of Hathor that I would like to come back to and say much more about, but for now I hope the above will suffice as a decent introduction. For more factual information there is plenty to be found on the web; a quick google search would be the best way to start.