“Eye of Ra”
In Egyptian mythology, the goddess Sekhmet was the fierce warrior goddess and protector of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. She was the goddess who led them in warfare and upon death, she protected them in the afterlife. She, as a solar deity, was sometimes called the daughter or the eye of Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bastet. Sekhmet symbolises the destructive heat of the Sun while Bastet is the mild heat from the Sun. The warrior goddess Sekhmet is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a lioness, wearing the sun disk and uraeus. Her name is derived from the Egyptian word “sekhem” which means “power” or “might” and therefore Sekhmet was also called the “Powerful One” or “She who is Powerful.” Her cult centre was in the oldest ancient Egyptian capital Memphis where she was known as “the destroyer” alongside her companion Ptah, the creator god of Memphis, and the youthful god Nefertem, the healer. Together with Ptah and Nefertem, she was one of the Memphite triad of deities. Sekhmet was sometimes identified with other Egyptian goddesses, such as Hathor, Bastet, and Mut and associated both with destruction and disease and with healing and medicine.
The goddess Sekhmet was considered the daughter of the sun god, Ra, and was among the more important of the goddesses who acted as the vengeful manifestation of Ra’s power, the Eye of Ra. Sekhmet was said to breathe fire, and the hot winds of the desert were likened to her breath. She was also believed to cause plagues, which were called her servants or messengers, although she was also called upon to ward off disease.
In a myth about the end of Ra’s rule on the earth, Ra sends the goddess Hathor, in the form of Sekhmet, to destroy mortals who conspired against him. In the myth, Sekhmet’s blood-lust was not quelled at the end of battle and led to her destroying almost all of humanity. To stop her Ra poured out beer dyed with red ochre or hematite so that it resembled blood. Mistaking the beer for blood, she became so drunk that she gave up the slaughter and returned peacefully to Ra.
Sekhmet was considered the wife of the god Ptah and mother of his son Nefertum. She was also said to be the mother of a lion god, Maahes.
“She who is Powerful”
As a healer, she was also known as the lion-headed goddess Werethekau (Weret-hekau) who was sometimes depicted as a snake with the head of a woman. The name Werethekau means “Great Magician” or “She who is rich in Magic Spells.” She took the form of a lion or a snake or a lion-headed snake using her power for healing. It is suggested that there is also an independent goddess called Werethekau, often depicted as a human-headed cobra and associated with the king. There is a pendant of Werethekau from Tutankhamun’s grave with a human head and a cobra body nursing the child Tutankhamun.
Pendant of Werethekau from Tutankhamun’s grave
A rare depiction of Werethekau – Photo: Antoon Verwer