Hathor, The Divine "Flasher"

The Sun-God and the Stripper

Ra, the Sun-god was presiding over the Court of the Gods in the case of young Horus vs. his Uncle Set, in the matter of the inheritance of kingship of Egypt from the princeling's late father Osiris. The Court was about to grant Horus' petition and announce him King, when Ra disclosed his prejudice in favor of Set. Following a temporary suspension of the divine proceedings Ra seemed ready to decide the case in favor of the boy's wicked uncle.

At this point the god Babai arose and insulted the great Ra, mocking him with the words: "Thy shrine is empty!" Angered at Babai's impudent challenge to his dispensation of justice, Ra vacated his post, reclined on his back, and totally disrupted the proceedings.

The next day, Ra still lay upon his back ignoring everyone when his daughter Hathor, the Lady of the Sycamore Fig Tree, came into the court of his house and decided to attract his attention away from this angry sulking. Without any preliminaries she stripped off her clothing and exhibited her nude body to Ra. And, to make sure she had fully distracted the King of the Gods, Hathor exposed her vulva in front of his face and remained there until she got a response.

Well, her trick certainly worked. The Great God smiled and rose up to do his duty. The court was reconvened and eventually justice was carried out in the matter of Horus' kingship. The critical balance in the divine order had been restored and all of the credit for this great miracle must be given to the heavenly daughter who went down in history as Egypt's first divine flasher.

--==( O )==--

(Greatly abbreviated from Alan Gardiner's translation of
"The Contendings of Horus and Set")

Comments on Hathor the Flasher

Holy Text or Ancient Pornography?

What are we to make of Hathor's actions in this story? Is this scripture or erotica masquerading as sacred text? Perhaps the first thing to keep in mind while trying to understand such a story is that the ancient Egyptians had a religion and literary tradition quite different from anything of our own day. Before Hellenistic times they rarely wrote anything like scriptural narrative or theological explanations. Most of the knowledge we possess of their religious ideas comes from our piecing together of bits of mythological material connected with writings and illustrations regarding the cult of the dead and the role of divine kingship in Egypt. When the King fulfilled his high-priestly role correctly and the masses responded correctly, there was no need to speculate on religious matters; everyone simply experienced the harmonious result of divine kingship in action.

In this story the divine order has yet to be properly set in place. Only after Horus finally takes his rightful place as the demigod king of a united Egypt can life on earth continue as it was meant to. Most of the obstacles in Horus' path to this rightful end are placed there by the nemesis figure of Set, the fiery god of masculine passions and desert desolation. On the other hand, most of these obstacles are removed or overcome by the divine intervention of protective goddesses such as Isis and Hathor, exercising their compensating powers of feminine wisdom and fertility. In this story, not only is the earthly order in disarray, the heavenly order has also broken down and Ra must be restored to his correct duties as king of the gods. Ra's surly inactivity has placed the entire cosmos in a very dangerous situation and the remedy calls for some powerful feminine intervention.

--==( O )==--

Godly Wisdom or Child Abuse?

Once our modern minds get over their initial suspicions about the motives of the ancient writer in this tale of Hathor, they are still left uneasy with thoughts of the Divine Father smiling at his daughter's obscene display. Isn't this just some timeworn account of patriarchal child abuse? Certainly any modern attempt to recreate the scene would quickly run into all the laws intended to stop child pornography and molestation. Contemporary Hathor expert Alison Roberts has attempted to explain this display as "a gesture of humorous spontaneity" and a child's playful attempt to rouse her father to the laughter which brings about a jovial acceptance of the world around him. Roberts' reasoning is insightful and one can almost imagine one of the little naked daughters of some distraught Pharaoh gaining his attention through such an act. Still, this explanation leaves much unanswered and provides little help in our attempts to understand Hathor and her actions.

Another Hathor authority, Geraldine Pinch, sees Hathor's display as one whereby "the Sun God is sexually aroused." According to Pinch, Ra's arousal "banishes the negative and restores his positive aspect." It is true that Hathor was called The Lady of the Vulva and that her role in providing the sexual attraction which brought lovers together was central to her divine nature as the Goddess of Fertility and Childbirth. However, in the "flasher" story Hathor is pictured as the daughter of Ra and there is no indication that any sexual activity took place between celestial parent and child. If the sight of Hathor's vulva aroused Ra, it was not the arousal of the contemporary viewer of Penthouse and Hustler magazine photos, much less that of the furtive kiddy porn addict. Something is still missing from our analysis of the story thus far.

--==( O )==--

Symbols of Rebirth and Renewal

From very ancient times Hathor was identified with one or more of the Semitic fertility goddesses of ancient Syria-Palestine. This identification was especially strong in the case of Baalat Gebal, the Lady of Byblos, who was also worshipped in the Sinai at Hathor's Serabit el-Khadim temple. Is it possible that the nude Hathor was simply a manifestation of certain aspects shared with some Canaanite Sex Goddess? Not so, according to still another modern scholar of the Egyptian Goddess, Claes Bleeker. This writer notes that the "strong accent on sexuality found in the conventional image of the mother-goddess is absent" in the case of Hathor. Hathor is not an Earth Goddess; she is, rather, a Sky Goddess whose title can be translated as "The (Heavenly) House of Horus" or "The Womb of Horus." Since the heavenly Horus is the sun, he shares a considerable portion of his solar identity with the god Ra. In a simplistic view we might say that Horus was the young, rising sun and Ra was the mature noon-day sun. In that case, Hathor can be seen as being both the mother and the daughter of the Sun God. When seen from this perspective, Hathor and her womb might be seen as the heavenly boat in which the sun rides across the sky. Perhaps in displaying her genitals to Ra she was using a symbol to remind him of his role and duties as Chief of the Gods.

The magical vagina was symbolized in ancient Egypt as the "Sa sign" a closed oval loop which looks rather like the handle of the ankh cross. This sign of protection and benevolent power was modeled on a papyrus shelter, a fact which recalls Hathor's aspect as a wild marsh cow who protects the unborn Horus in her womb. The private parts of both sexes were thought to have powerful effects even over a considerable distance. Perhaps Hathor was displaying a living Sa sign to ward off the evil influences which Set had brought into Ra's presence.

This idea of a sacred feminine symbol having some special powers in relationship with the King can be seen in Hathor's role in the rebirth and rejuvenation of the King at his Sed festival(s). In pre-dawn rituals Hathor was called upon to give birth to both the Horus sun and to the divine nature of the King, who was Horus on earth. In these and other Hathor rituals her sacred rattles and symbolic necklaces were employed to summon, propitiate, and embody the power of the goddess. It is probably no coincidence that the both the sistrum rattles and the menat necklaces of Hathor have prominent vulvoid shapes. The rattles have a top-piece which takes the form of a shrine enclosure or a Sa loop. The necklaces evolved from concubine figurines interred with the dead King. Over time the figurine lost all of its form except for its vulva. When held by its counterweight the necklace dangles in the shape of exterior labia. When it is placed around the neck it becomes Hathor's birth canal and the wearer becomes the head of child being born from between her thighs.

While the story of Hathor the flasher is open to many explanations, its real interpretation is likely to be found in the mythology surrounding her role in the birth of the Sun God and in the preservation of a balance between his masculine powers and her feminine influences. As a piece of mythology the display scene is rooted in cyclical divine processes moreso than in any single event from cosmic or earthly history. Rather than attempting to isolate such an event and to apply some specific meaning to Hathor's genital display, modern readers would do better to allow themselves some visualization or feeling of the spiritual truths which underlie the story's symbolism.

--==( O )==--

Final Thoughts

Just as the story of the drunken Hathor swilling down vast quantities of red tinted beer had an application in her "beer festival," it is not unlikely that Hathor's genital display was echoed in some real ritual or sacred practice. The most likely place to look for such an acting out of Hathor's story would be in the more erotic portions of dances and mystery plays conducted in her honor. Enchanting music, consciousness altering percussion, and arousing rhythms played an important part in many Hathor rituals. In at least some of these activities the common people joined in with priests and priestesses to partake of the effects of The Lady's holy presence.

Today we can do little to recapture the experiences of Hathor's devotees. If some of her dances and plays included erotic displays, we can little appreciate what such things meant to her devout worshippers in ancient times. Perhaps a bit of appreciation for the powers of goddesses such as Hathor lingers on in Hinduism and a few other religions, but not much remains in the scientific humanism of modern times. Hopefully, however, we can still identify with the wonder of sexual attraction, feelings of awe at the birth of a child, and an appreciation for a compassionate divinity who will turn her face to hear our innermost thoughts and prayers.

Commentary by Dale Broadhurst

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last updated: Nov. 15, 2005