Hathor was a very important Egyptian goddess, who had more cult centres in Egypt than any other goddess. At Memphis she was known as ‘Lady of the Sycamore’ but her main cult centre was at Dendera. Until her role was taken over by that of Isis, she was considered as the divine mother of each reigning king and as the mother of Horus the sun god (Isis is also often shown wearing Hathor’s head-dress). Her name means ‘House of Horus’. She was also worshipped as a mortuary goddess and goddess of creation by large numbers of the populace. She was important in villages such as Deir el-Medina and in such places shrines were set up to her and offerings given.
She is shown in three main guises: as a woman with cow’s ears, as a cow, and as a woman wearing a head-dress of wig, horns and a sun disc. She is the only goddess shown full face in relief. In her vengeful form she also appeared as a lioness and as such was thought of as one of the eyes of the sun god Re. Re sent Hathor to destroy mankind in revenge for disrespect. In the story Hathor is enticed away from human blood by a lake of blood coloured beer. Festivals in honour of Hathor included drink.
She was associated with sexuality, joy and music. To show her sensual aspects she is shown as a beautiful woman. Her motherly aspects are brought out when she is shown as a cow tending her calf. Her association with music is strengthened by the sistrum. Sometimes a sistrum would be shaped like a Hathor head. We have a sistrum in the House of Death in the case called Gods and Kings. On one of the yellow coffin fragments you can see the owner of the coffin shaking a sistrum to placate a god. Hathor was also depicted on the ends of necklaces, known as the menat counterpoise.
Hathor also has funerary associations as ‘Lady of the West’ and was connected with birth and rebirth. The dying person wished to be ‘in the following of Hathor’ who received and protected the setting sun. As the ‘Lady of Byblos’ she was associated with foreign countries and in her role as the ‘Lady of Turquoise’ had a temple built to her at Sinai. In the Graeco-Roman period deceased women were sometimes associated with Hathor instead of Osiris.
Some of the items in the Egypt Centre related to Hathor are:
W1327 Ostracon showing Hathor
W283 Segmented faience balls
W1982 Scene from a coffin showing Hathor emerging from a mountain
Hathor headed columns at the temple at Philae