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Illustrated Guide to Mythology

Sekhmet


Sekhmet is the goddess of war, battle, and fire. She is depicted with the head of a lion and in a red dress; her head usually incorporates a sun disk with a serpent, and sometimes she is holding a was-scepter.

Sekhmet
Sekhmet

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Sekhmet was the daughter of Ra, and another incarnation of the goddess Hathor. When Ra decided he was going to destroy mankind, Hathor turned into Sekhmet, a bloodthirsty being who unleashed her rage and violence on humans in return for their indifference and disobedience to the gods. She wrought havoc on the earth, almost destroying all of mankind, drinking the blood of the dead and dying as she went along. Finally, Ra realized that he made a mistake but he could stop Sekhmet. He devised a plan to turn a brew some beer and dye it red, and poured it onto the ground below. Sekhmet thought the beer was blood and drank it all, causing her to become drunk and eventually pass out. When she awoke, she was the kindly Hathor again. This episode is thought to explain the flooding of the Nile each year when it runs red with silt, and Sekhmet swallowing the river back to keep it from destroying Egypt. Many traditions of this story, however, separated the two beings from one another at this point. Hathor went back to Ra, but Sekhmet remained as well, continuing to cause war and fire wherever she can find an opportunity.

Sekhmet was also associated with desert winds, both pleasing and unpleasing, depending upon her moods. She was thought to bring natural disasters as well, and the ancient Egyptians often held festivals with lots of alcohol to keep her inebriated and thus, appeased. Festivals were often held at the end of a battle or war, too, in order to keep the bloodshed from beginning again.

Sekhmet Quick Reference

Parents

Ra


Power / Domain

War, battle, and fire


Symbols / Attributes

  • lioness head
  • sun disk with serpent
  • was-scepter
  • red dress

Notable Myths

  • Destruction of the World for Ra
  • The Red Beer
  • The Overflowing Nile

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