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Sunday, December 18, 2011

scent of a woman

Hail to thee, Lady of Fragrance,
Great Sekhmet, Sovereign Lady
Worshiped one,
Serpent who is upon her father…
Your rays illumine the Two Lands,
The two Regions are beneath your sway.

Al Pacino's performance as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in the movie "Scent of a Woman" is one of my favourites of all time.  This blog entry will not be about the movie but instead will be about Hathor, the greatest goddess to come out of Egypt.

Until the Late Period Hathor was the only goddess to possess temples of her own throughout the country, with a major sanctuary as the goddess of the southern sycamore at Memphis.
Ancient Egyptian Religion, Stephen Quirke, page 126

I cannot do justice to Hathor in a blog entry so it is necessary to concentrate on an aspect of the great lady, and that aspect I wish to write about is the Lady of Fragrance.  First let's examine the name Hathor and get a handle on its meaning.  The ancient Egyptians called Hathor Hwt-Har .  Hwt means house and Har is referring to Horus; Horus being the enlightened Ba who is destined to become a glorious, imperishable, transfigured soul.  House of Horus could mean that Hathor represents the abode of Horus in the sky and as the Lady of Turquoise Hathor plays that role.  However the Pharaoh of Egypt, known as the living Horus, is said to be the son of Hathor.  As I've mentioned before Horus is also the son of Isis.  Were the ancient Egyptians confused or did they have disparate beliefs that were melded into an official religion that then had to account for Horus having multiple mothers?  I've read a few books by Egyptologists that say that is the case.  However what does 'house' mean in this regard.  We live in a house so sure it can mean a dwelling place but we also know from the royalty we studied in history class that house can mean a dynasty or a genealogy such as the "House of Windsor" or the "House of Saud".  This meaning is rather enlightening then.  Horus then becomes the offspring of the line of gods and goddesses of which Hathor is the matriarch.


Hathor, being the consort of Re, is responsible for the Ennead of Iunu (Heliopolis).  Shu (air/light), Tefnut (moisture/heat), Geb (earth), Nut (sky), Osiris (Ba/soul) and then Isis (womb of the incarnated Ba/spiritual mother), who gives birth to Horus in the material plane, are the direct ancestors of Horus.  

Are you Horus, son of Osiris? Are you the god, the eldest one, the son of Hathor? Are you the seed of Geb?
The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, R.O. Faulkner, Utterance 303, Paragraph 466

Hathor is the mother of the Ennead and therefore the great mother of the all important Horus.  The ancient Egyptians rather than being confused about who was the mother of Horus, were in giving Horus two mothers, being clear of his origins.  The confusion of Isis-Hathor is a product of modern scholars attempting to make sense of something for which they do not as of yet have a complete understanding.  The same could be said about the Greeks and their propagation of a Hellenistic Isis that embodies all the attributes of the great goddesses of ancient Egypt. 

With that out of the way, let's investigate my aromatic mistress!  Hathor is present at all scenes of birth and death in ancient Egypt.  To the ancient Egyptians there was no real death or finality in the way we would think of death.  Death was a re-birth or a changing of state.  The spirit is entombed in matter in the west mirroring the sun's descent into the waters in the evening and the spirit is re-born in the east as is the sun on the occasion of our material death in the west when we give up the ghost; ghost being our word for the ancient Egyptians' concept of the life force which they called Ka.

The truth is seen by those who travel in the sun-boat through the gateways of the raging-beneficent goddess in the night.  And it is seen by the ritualists in the temple when they extinguish their flames  for the ancestral dead in the Ancestor Ritual and utter their great prayer of trust in the returning goddess.  Glittering in the dawning sky, she is praised both by the living on earth and by those in the Dwat, the goddess who brings to birth a new world at dawn.  A glorious moment of cosmic unity is experienced as these worlds of the living and the dead merge and meet in the ninth hour of the night.
It is important to realize that Hathor herself manifests differently in this crucial transition zone, depending on whether she is to be seen as a night or day goddess.  From the perspective of those living on earth in the daytime cycle, she appears bearing the young sun child in her womb, nurturing his Ka-life in the secrecy of the eastern horizon.  To those Bas making their night journey through the Dwat she appears as the celestial cow of the starry night heavens, the returning Eye goddess emerging from the Western mountain wearing her symbolic menit-necklace of attraction, the vital goddess of desire, through whom life is continually born anew at the close of the night.
My Heart My Mother, Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt, Alison Roberts, pages 182 to 184.


The ancient Egyptians traded extensively with the semitic Phoenician city state of Byblos, known in those days as Gubla/Gebal.  Today it is the city of Jubayl in modern Lebanon.  The inhabitants of Byblos worshipped a goddess, Astarte, who they would refer to as Ba'alat which means Lady.  This Queen of Heaven was the Phoenician Goddess of Love and Fertility and equated with the planet Venus.  Venus and Aphrodite being of course Roman and Greek iterations of Hathor.  A cylinder seal from Byblos shows Ba'alat with Hathor hair, wearing the headdress of Hathor as well.  Other representations of Ba'alat show her with a uraeus on her forehead and in another she is said to be "beloved of Hathor".

The Hebrew word for frankincense is lebona, which means pure or white and describes both the visual attributes of frankincense as well as the area, white snowcapped mountains of Lebanon, where it is grown.  The resin that flows from the frankincense bush is milky white.  

Since ancient times, frankincense resin has been used to manufacture incense, cosmetics, and perfumes. Arabian women still burn frankincense to perfume their bodies, in particular the vulva (Martinetz et al. 1989). This not only lends them a more pleasant scent but also is said to make them more erotic.
http://lucidconsciousness.com/psychotropia/?p=999

In the book of Jeremiah 44:17 (King James Version) we read Jeremiah commenting on the idolatrous practises of the cities of Judah in relation to our Queen of Heaven:

But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goes forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of food, and were well-off, and saw no evil.
Hathor would welcome the newly dead with food and drink, her role being one of an oasis in the hostile desert.  There were also wild celebrations of food and drink at Hathor's Festival of Drunkenness that would occur shortly after the cyclical inundation of the Nile in mid-late summer.
The Lady of Fragrance was also connected to the aromatic myrrh which was highly prized in ancient Egypt.  Queen Hatshepsut pictorially presents to us at her temple in Deir el-Bahri an expedition to the land of Punt in year 9 of her reign to procure among other things myrrh, frankincense and gold that were pleasing to the Mistress of Punt, Hathor.   


Hatshepsut's devotion to Hathor is shown in the chapel of Hathor at the site where she dances before Hathor as well as suckling an udder of Hathor.

"the best of myrrh is upon all her [Hatshepsut's] limbs, her fragrance is divine dew, her odour is mingled with that of Punt."
Ancient Records of Egypt, J.H. Breasted, Vol. 2, pg.274


The Online Etymological Dictionary gives the history of the word myrrh as such:

myrrh 

Old English myrre, from Latin myrrha, from Greek myrrha, from a Semitic source (confer Akkadian murru, Hebrew mor, Arabic murr "myrrh"), from a root meaning "was bitter."

From this we can take the greek word 'myrrha' and investigate its origin.  Myrrha is a goddess also known in greek as Smyrna.  She is the mother of Adonis, the result of an incestuous relationship with her father.  Her father Cinyras was tricked by Myrrha into sexual intercourse and this enraged him.  He pursues Myrrha intent on killing her until Myrrha petitions the gods to intervene.  They turn her into a myrrh tree.  The child Adonis would then eventually be slain by a wild boar, echoing the story of Osiris and Set (The Ka killing the Ba again.)  The legend of Adonis harkens back to the Phoenician Adon, the son of Ba'alat.  The theme of incest is also present in the kingship of ancient Egypt as the Pharaoh, who is the living Horus, must impregnate his mother Hathor as Kamutef, the bull of his mother, in order to engender his next incarnation as Pharaoh in the cyclical legitimacy of kingship.

The theme of incest that is connected here between Hathor and Myrrha reminds me of the story of Lot in the Bible - Genesis 19: 30-38.  Lot is tricked by his two daughters who get him drunk one night and then are impregnated by their father in order to continue their bloodline.  The justification would then be that the bloodline was too important to let perish so the act was condoned and tolerated.  I'm more interested in the name Lot here.  I've commented in this blog space before on the many inversions of ancient myths that are present in the Bible.  This is another one of them.  Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary gives us this information concerning Myrrh:

Another word lot is also translated “myrrh” (Gen. 37:25; 43:11; Revised Version, marginal note, “or ladanum”). What was meant by this word is uncertain. It has been thought to be the chestnut, mastich, stacte, balsam, turpentine, pistachio nut, or the lotus. It is probably correctly rendered by the Latin word ladanum, the Arabic ladan, an aromatic juice of a shrub called the Cistus or rock rose, which has the same qualities, though in a slight degree, of opium, whence a decoction of opium is called laudanum. This plant was indigenous to Syria and Arabia.

Lot is translated from myrrh!  There is also the claim that myrrh can also refer to the lotus.  The Online Etymological Dictionary says this about the lotus:

lotus

1540s, from Latin lotus, from Greek lotos, name used for several plants before it came to mean Egyptian white lotus (a sense attested in English from 1580s); perhaps from a Semitic source (confer Hebrew lot "myrrh"). 

There's the connection to lot again.  Why stop now, let's look up the name Lot from some trusted Bible sources:

Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary 
Lot
Lotan, wrapt up; hidden; covered; myrrh; rosin


King James Dictionary
Lot
Portion; destiny; fate.The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my LOT. (Psalm 16:5)

Hitchcock's dictionary gives us the myrrh connection again and the King James dictionary gives us an interesting definition of the name connecting it to fate and destiny.

In ancient Egypt it was said that whenever a child was born the seven Hathors would be present to announce the fate of the child.  It was believed that these ladies could exchange a prince born to ill-fortune with a child with a better fated outlook on life.

One other epithet of Hathor I'd like to mention now is "The Golden One".

Much farther north in Middle Egypt, and thus closer to the royal capital at Memphis, was the town of Kusae, where Hathor was the chief deity as Lady of Kusae, at least from the early Middle Kingdom.  The great tombs belonging to local princes at Meir testify to their devotion to this goddess, who was also referred to there by a priestess's text as The Gold. 
The Great Goddesses of Egypt, Barbara S. Lesko, page 96

In a private tomb from the reign of Thutmose III, the owner praises Hathor as the very sun itself: "When you rise you come in peace.  One is drunken because of your beautiful face, O Gold, O Hathor!"
The Great Goddesses of Egypt, Barbara S. Lesko, page 109

You may have guessed now why I've included the veneration of Hathor as 'The Gold' along with her fragrant attributes.  It is getting close to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ.  I had mentioned earlier that Hathor is present at all scenes of birth and death and this is one birth the Great Lady wouldn't miss for the world.  The story goes that the wise men bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Now we know what the real symbolism is behind these gifts.

We are a week away from Christmas so why stop now?  Let's look at chapter 2, verse 1 to 11 of the Book of Matthew (King James Version):

1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
 2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
 3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
 5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
 6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
 7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
 9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
 11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
Now it says in verse one that these wise men came from the east with the speculation being they may have been Persian Magi.  In any event they are from the east.  Verse two says they saw a star in the east announcing the saviour's birth.  Tradition has it that they followed the star as the famous song written in 1857 by Rev. John Henry Hopkins relates:

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav'n replies

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light 

However following a star in the east would not lead you west unless you are following the star from the moment it rises in the east until it sets in the west and is directly overhead - from which you would get an awful crick in your neck halfway through your journey.  If you are following a bright star such as Sirius you would be heading southeast at first and then eventually south and then southwest by your orientation to the star.  A more plausible explanation is that this 'star' they are following is the planet Venus.  Venus is our royal lady Hathor who will be visible in the west after the sun sets in the evening and then is visible in the east shortly before the sun rises in the morning.  Except for the moon, Venus is by far the brightest object in the night sky and it is a star of royal beauty bright.  Venus will guide you westward at night and then direct you towards the reborn sun in the east in the morning, 'thy perfect(ed) light'.  Hathor is the announcer of the birth in the morning of the sun as I wrote in this blog entry.  In Matthew 2:5 we learn of the prophecy being fulfilled of the messiah being born in Bethlehem and explains why the Magi are heading to that town.  Bethlehem means House of Bread.  Curiously the ennead in Egypt located in Iunu (Heliopolis of the Greeks and On of the Bible) of which Hathor is the matriarch, was also known in ancient times as a major storehouse of grain, i.e. the place of bread.  The result of the ennead of Iunu is the birth of Horus, our transfigured soul.  The pharaoh was known as the living Horus and would be an object of worship and even Hathor would worship the living Horus.  Here is a scene from Deir el-Bahri showing Hathor as the cow Mehet-Weret licking the hand of the pharaoh as a sign of reverence.  



Of a similar nature is the portrait found several times in the sanctuary of Hathor at Deir el-Bahri which depicts Hathor as cow-goddess licking the queen's hand.  This gesture can be interpreted either as a mark of favour or as a sign that the goddess recognizes the queen and wishes to give her power.
(Author cites E. Naville, The Temple of Deir el-Bahari, 1895, IV pl. LXXXVII, XCIV, XCVI.)
Hathor and Thoth, Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion, C.J. Bleeker, page 52

In Matthew 2:11 it is written that the wise men prior to giving Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, worshipped him.  What does worship mean in this case?

Strong's Concordance:
4352 proskuneo (pros-koo-neh'-o); from 4314 and a probable derivative of 2965 (meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): KJV-- worship.

The Magi in their travels along with their gifts and adulation of the king of kings give away who they really are representing.  This Lady of Gold, Lady of Fragrance is the greatest goddess of all; without her we are nothing.