Hathor – Egyptian Goddess of Love and Fertility

Hathor was an important goddess in ancient Egyptian mythology, revered as a mother goddess and a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. She was also associated with the dead and the afterlife and was seen as a protector and guide to the dead.

Hathor had various relationships with other deities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. She was seen as a daughter of the sun god Ra and a consort of the god Osiris, and was the mother of the god Horus. In this way, Hathor was connected to the concepts of kingship and the divine right of the pharaohs.

Hathor was also closely associated with the concept of the divine feminine and was seen as a symbol of femininity and the female body in ancient Egypt. She was revered as a mother goddess and a protector of the pharaoh and the Egyptian people and was thought to embody the nurturing and caring aspects of the feminine principle. Overall, Hathor played a central role in ancient Egyptian mythology and belief systems and was revered as an important and powerful deity.

Origins and Family

Hathor
Eternal Space, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to ancient Egyptian myth, the sun god Ra, was her father, and the god Osiris, was her husband. Hathor was also sometimes depicted as the mother of the god Horus. 

While stating the various family ties of any Egyptian deity I want to point out that there are usually several myths. Often somewhat contradictory or otherwise not especially aligned. This is a great part of my fascination with the ancient Egyptian goddesses. Their histories are thousands of years old already, and they continue to live and evolve even today. 

There are various myths and stories surrounding the creation of Hathor in ancient Egyptian mythology. In some versions, Hathor was said to have been created by Ra, who created her as the Eye of Ra, the powerful feminine principle in the cosmos that represented the sun god’s destructive power. In other versions, Hathor was said to have been born from the union of Ra and the sky goddess Nut.

Hathor as the eye of ra

According to the first myth, Ra had become angry with the people of Egypt. He then created Hathor and sent her, in the form of a cow, to punish them. Hathor, as the Eye of Ra, destroyed the people and their crops, causing great suffering and devastation. However, after realizing the extent of the destruction she had caused, Hathor relented and returned to Ra, who reconciled with the people of Egypt.

Other versions of her origins myth state that Hathor was born from the union of Ra and the sky goddess Nut. In these versions of the myth, Hathor is not depicted as the Eye of Ra, but rather as a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility who was revered as a mother goddess and a protector of the pharaoh and the Egyptian people. 

Hathor is also sometimes seen as the mother to Horus, but not always. Other myths see Isis as the mother of Horus and Hathor as his lover. Overall, the details of the myth of Hathor’s creation and family ties vary. She is however generally seen as a powerful and important deity in ancient Egyptian mythology.

Names and Epithets for Hathor

Like all the major deities, Hathor too was known by a long range of names and epithets. These were associated with everything from familial ties to more practical roles. Some of her epithets were:

  1. The Golden One
  2. The Great Cow
  3. The Lady of Heaven
  4. The Mistress of the Horizon
  5. The Eye of Ra
  6. The Lady of the Sycamore
  7. The Lady of the West
  8. The Lady of the Turquoise
  9. The Lady of the Two Lands
  10. The Lady of the House of Jubilation
  11. The Lady of the Dance
  12. The Lady of the Sistrum
  13. The Lady of the Ointment Jar
  14. The Lady of the Offerings
  15. The Lady of Love and Beauty

Now, calling some woman a great cow today might not be received as well as it would have been in ancient Egypt. A safer bet would be to try Lady of Love and Beauty, just as a piece of advice!

All the names had their own significance, the meaning of a few of them are as follows: 

The Golden One: 

This epithet refers to Hathor’s association with gold and precious metals, which were seen as symbols of divine power and wealth in ancient Egypt. Hathor was often depicted wearing gold jewelry and holding a golden sistrum, a musical instrument that was used in her cult.

The Mistress of the Horizon

This epithet refers to Hathor’s association with the horizon, which was seen as a sacred place in ancient Egyptian belief systems. The horizon was thought to be the place where the sun god Ra rose and set each day, and it was also seen as the boundary between the earthly world and the afterlife. As a result, Hathor, as the Mistress of the Horizon, was seen as a guardian of the afterlife and a guide to the dead.

The Eye of Ra

In some myths, Hathor was seen as the “Eye of Ra,” the powerful feminine principle in the cosmos that represented the sun god’s destructive power. As the Eye of Ra, Hathor was depicted as a cow, and was sometimes referred to as the “Great Cow.” 

The role of the Eye of Ra, acting as the feminine counterpart to the sun god Ra was shared among several Egyptian goddesses. While Hathor was often one, others were Sekhmet, daughter of Ra, and Bast (Bastet) protector of Lower Egypt and goddess of cats.

The Great Cow 

As mentioned previously, the cow was an important symbol in ancient Egyptian culture, and Hathor was often depicted as a cow or a woman with the head of a cow. This epithet emphasizes Hathor’s connection to this symbol of fertility and abundance.

The Lady of the Turquoise

Hathor was associated with turquoise, a blue stone that was highly prized in ancient Egypt. This epithet emphasizes Hathor’s connection to this precious stone and the wealth and prosperity it represented.

The Lady of the Two Lands

This epithet refers to the ancient Egyptian concept of the “Two Lands,” which represented the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt. Hathor, as the Lady of the Two Lands, was seen as a guardian of the unity and prosperity of the Egyptian nation.

Responsibilities and associated powers

Being a central goddess in ancient Egyptian mythology, Hathor was revered for her many roles and responsibilities. In fact, she had several other roles in addition to her roles as a mother goddess, and a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. She was also a protector of the dead and a guide to the afterlife and associated with music, dance, and joy. In addition, she was seen as the protector of the unified Egypt, which was divided into an Upper-  and Lower part. 

Some of her roles and responsibilities are explained:

Mother goddess

Hathor was revered as a mother goddess and was seen as a protector and nurturer of the pharaoh and the Egyptian people. She was particularly associated with fertility and motherhood and was thought to embody the nurturing and caring aspects of the feminine principle.

This responsibility is one she shared with the goddess Isis who was also worshiped as a Mother goddess.

Goddess of love, beauty, music and dance

She was seen as a goddess of sensuality and passion, and was often depicted as a beautiful woman wearing gold jewelry and holding a golden sistrum. a musical instrument that was used in her cult. The sistrum was a type of rattle that was used to produce a clashing sound and was thought to be a powerful tool for invoking the goddess’s presence and bringing about joy and celebration.

Protector of the Egyptian nation

Hathor was also seen as a guardian of the unity and prosperity of the Egyptian nation. As the Lady of the Two Lands, Hathor was revered as a protector of the unity and harmony of Upper and Lower Egypt and was thought to embody the ideals of unity, harmony, and prosperity that were central to the ancient Egyptian worldview.

Goddess of fertility and balance

Hathor was often depicted as a cow. It was seen as a symbol of fertility and abundance in ancient Egypt and was associated with the earth and the power of the earth to nourish and sustain life. As a result, the cow was often associated with motherhood and fertility as well, making it a fitting symbol for Hathor, who was revered as a mother goddess and a protector of the pharaoh and the Egyptian people.

Protector of the dead and guide to the afterlife

Hathor was also associated with the dead and the afterlife. She was seen as a protector of the dead and was thought to guide the souls of the deceased to the afterlife. Hathor was also sometimes depicted as a cow, which was seen as a symbol of the afterlife in ancient Egyptian mythology.

Sharing responsibilities with other goddesses

Hathor shared several of the responsibilities that were associated with her with other ancient Egyptian goddesses. The Egyptian civilization went on for three thousand years. At that time it is not that strange that goddesses and their association would evolve.

Isis, as mentioned above, was another goddess strongly associated with the mother goddess role. She was also associated with fertility and death, just like Hathor.

This is very similar to what we see in ancient Greek mythology. Their roles and responsibilities were passed down through the three generations of Greek gods. Starting with the primordial gods, followed by the Titans and the Olympians.

In that manner, Gaia was the primordial mother goddess. She was followed by Titanide Rhea who could be said to have been sharing that role with another Titanide Leto. Then among the Olympian gods both Hera and Demeter were associated with motherhood and fertility.

The same is seen with the goddesses of the Old Norse as well. There you find several overlapping responsibilities and associations both through generations and across goddesses.

Hathor and the Divine Feminine

Hathor, as an important goddess in ancient Egyptian mythology, has had a significant influence on modern spirituality and the concept of the divine feminine. In modern times, Hathor has continued to be revered as a powerful and important deity, and her symbolism and significance have been embraced by those interested in ancient Egyptian mythology, goddess worship, and spirituality.

One of the ways in which Hathor’s influence can be seen in modern spirituality is in the way that ancient Egyptian mythology has shaped contemporary ideas about goddess worship. Ancient Egyptian mythology is rich and complex, and it includes many different deities and belief systems. Hathor, as a mother goddess and a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, has played a central role in this mythology and has continued to be revered as an important and powerful deity in modern times.

Hathor and the divine feminine

Another way in which Hathor’s influence can be seen in modern spirituality is in the connection between her and contemporary concepts of the divine feminine. In ancient Egyptian mythology, Hathor was closely associated with the concept of the divine feminine and was seen as a symbol of femininity and the female body. This association has continued to be important in modern times, and Hathor is often seen as a powerful and inspiring symbol of the divine feminine.

For many people, Hathor represents a powerful and inspiring symbol of the divine feminine, and her association with love, beauty, and fertility has made her particularly popular among those interested in goddess worship and spiritual practices.

In addition to her role as a symbol of the divine feminine, Hathor’s association with the cow has also made her a popular figure in modern spirituality. The cow is seen as a symbol of fertility, abundance, and nourishment, and Hathor’s association with this animal has helped to make her a powerful and inspiring symbol of these qualities. 

Myths associated with Hathor

Hathor
British Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hathor played parts in several ancient Egyptian myths as befitting a major goddess that evolved through three millennia. Rather than list many, I have decided to dive into one about the “Seven Hathors”.

The “Seven Hathors” were seen as incarnations or aspects of Hathor and were believed to have certain powers and responsibilities that were associated with the goddess. The Seven Hathors were seven sisters who were born to Hathor and the god Horus. They were seen as protectors of women and children and were believed to be able to influence the outcome of childbirth.

In terms of their role in childbirth, the Seven Hathors were often invoked in rituals and ceremonies that were designed to ensure a safe and successful delivery. These rituals could include offerings of food, drink, and other items that were believed to be pleasing to the Seven Hathors, as well as incantations and spells that were designed to invoke their presence and seek their blessings.

They could Predict the future

The Seven Hathors were also believed to be able to predict the future and were often consulted by expectant mothers who sought to know the outcome of their pregnancy. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, the Seven Hathors were able to reveal the sex of the unborn child and predict any potential complications that might arise during childbirth.

The Seven Hathors were often depicted in art and literature as being associated with the cow, which was seen as a symbol of Hathor. They were also associated with the stars and were believed to have the power to predict the future and guide individuals through life.

In terms of worship, the Seven Hathors were often invoked in rituals and ceremonies that were designed to honor Hathor. They were also sometimes depicted in temple decorations and other religious artifacts as a way of honoring the goddess and seeking her blessings.

Worship and cult of Hathor

Hathor was worshiped throughout the ancient Egyptian civilization,. Lasting over three thousand years, from around 3150 BC to 30 BC. During this time, Hathor was revered as an important and powerful deity, and her cult was widespread throughout the country. 

Hathor was particularly popular in the New Kingdom period (1550-1070 BC). Then she was seen as the patron goddess of music, dance, and joy. Hathor continued to be revered and worshiped in ancient Egypt until the end of the pharaonic era in 30 BC. After which the country was conquered by the Roman Empire.

Temples of Hathor

There are several known temples of Hathor that have been discovered by archaeologists and historians in modern times. These temples were built during the ancient Egyptian civilization and were dedicated to the worship of Hathor.

One of the most famous temples and the center for the cult of Hathor is the Temple of Dendera. This temple was built during the New Kingdom period of ancient Egypt. It is known for its beautiful and well-preserved decorations, which depict scenes from the cult of Hathor.

Another well-known temple of Hathor is the Temple of Kom Ombo. This temple was built during the Ptolemaic period of ancient Egypt. It is known for its elaborate decorations and carvings, which depict scenes from the cult of Hathor.

There are also several other temples of Hathor that have been discovered in various locations throughout Egypt. This includes the Temple of Deir el-Medina, the Temple of Esna, and the Temple of Philae. These temples were built at different times throughout the ancient Egyptian civilization. 

Overall, these temples and others where Hathor was one of several deities worshiped all attest to her popularity. 

Festivals in honor of Hathor

There were several yearly festivals in honor of Hathor, and her cult was supported by a large following of devotees.

One of the major festivals in honor of Hathor was the Festival of the Valleys. It was held annually at the Temple of Dendera. During this festival, devotees of Hathor would gather to celebrate the goddess and offer her sacrifices and gifts. The Festival of the Valleys was a major event in ancient Egypt. It was attended by people from all walks of life, including even the pharaohs and the common people.

In addition to the Festival of the Valleys, there were also several other festivals and occasions in honor of Hathor. These included the Festival of the Sistrum, which was held in the city of Heliopolis. As well as the Festival of the Cow, which was held in the city of Memphis. These festivals were also major events, attended by large crowds of devotees and were marked by music, dance, and feasting.

In terms of offerings and sacrifices, the ancient Egyptians made a wide range of offerings to Hathor. These offerings could include food, drink, incense, and other items that were seen as being pleasing to the goddess.

Goddess and protector of the dead

The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary texts that were written on the inner surfaces of coffins. This practice was common during the Middle Kingdom period of ancient Egypt. These texts contain spells and incantations that were believed to protect the deceased and guide them through the afterlife.

Hathor is mentioned in several of the Coffin Texts, where she is associated with the concept of the “great cow”. In these texts, Hathor is described as a powerful and benevolent deity. Able to provide protection and guidance to the deceased as they journey through the afterlife.

In addition to being mentioned in the Coffin Texts, Hathor was also associated with the Coffin Texts in other ways. The Coffin Texts were often inscribed with images of Hathor and were sometimes adorned with images of the cow.

Overall, Hathor was an important deity in the ancient Egyptian belief system. Her role in the Coffin Texts reflects the central role that she played in ancient Egyptian funerary practices. These texts also provide a fascinating insight into the ancient Egyptian understanding of death and the afterlife. As well as offering a glimpse into the importance of Hathor in their culture.

Symbols and symbolism

Hathor
I, Rémih, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers 

Hathor was often associated with the lotus flower. It was seen as a symbol of fertility and rebirth in ancient Egyptian mythology. As such it was a common symbol of Hathor and was used in her festivals and rituals.

Gemstones

Hathor was also associated with certain gemstones, including turquoise, which was seen as a symbol of the goddess. It was often used in jewelry and other decorative items that were associated with Hathor.

Colors

In art and literature HAthor would often be associated with the color gold. It was seen as a symbol of both the sun and the divine and was highly prized. It would often be used in the construction of temples and other sacred buildings that were associated with Hathor. Being closely associated with the gemstone turquoise, that color should also be pleasing to the goddess.

Animals

Hathor was often depicted as being associated with the cow. This was because it was seen as a symbol of fertility and abundance in ancient Egyptian mythology. The cow was even a central figure in Hathor’s cult. A cow was often depicted in art and literature as a symbol of the goddess.

Fragrances

Hathor was also associated with certain fragrances. Including the scent of incense, which was often used in her festivals and rituals. Incense was seen as a symbol of the divine in ancient Egypt. This made it popular to use for honoring the gods and goddesses, including Hathor.

Meditation

The ritual known as the Five gifts of Hathor was one where her worshipers would show themselves to be grateful. In the ancient Egyptian culture gratitude was central and key to happiness in life and likely peace in the afterlife. 

Performing the ritual, followers would look at their left hand. Then count off five things they were grateful for in their life, one for each digit. This is a practice you could easily incorporate into your own life and see how it makes you feel.

Frequently asked questions about Hathor

What is the relationship between Hathor and the cow?

Hathor is often associated with the cow and is sometimes depicted as a cow or as having the head of a cow. The cow was seen as a symbol of the goddess and was associated with fertility, nourishment, and abundance. Hathor was also sometimes referred to as “the Great Cow,” which was seen as a symbol of her power and majesty.

Is Hathor the daughter of Ra?

Yes, Hathor is the daughter of Ra in ancient Egyptian mythology. According to some myths, Hathor was born from the union of Ra and the sky goddess Nut.

What are the Seven Hathors?

The Seven Hathors were seen as incarnations or aspects of Hathor and were believed to have certain powers and responsibilities that were associated with the goddess. Especially associated with childbirth, the Seven Hathors were worshiped for their role as protectors of mothers and their ability to influence the outcome of childbirth.

What is the power of Hathor?

Hathor was associated with a number of powers and responsibilities in ancient Egyptian mythology. Some of the powers that were attributed to Hathor included the ability to bring blessings and prosperity, the ability to predict the future, and the ability to provide protection and guidance to those who invoked her.

Sources

“Life of the Ancient Egyptians” by Eugen Strouhal
“Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt” by Pierre Monte
“Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation” by Barry J. Kemp
“The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt” by Richard Wilkinson

Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of author

Zeljka Stanic

Growing up, Željka was quite tomboyish and not really in touch with her feminine side. However, in her 20s, Željka not only became more feminine, but she also discovered the power of femininity that's often overlooked in the patriarchal society. Fast forward a few years, and Željka continues exploring divine feminine energy. By paying tributes to various goddesses through her writing, she tries to honor the natural forces responsible for the creation and nurturing of life. Apart from trying to awaken her Divine Feminine, Željka is also interested in astrology and tarot, using them to learn more about herself and the world around her.