Have you ever looked into the warm, earth-brown eyes of a cow? Not in a video or a photo, but right there with the living cow, as her body heat radiates upon you and you share her grassy breath? Huge, dark pools of calm, those eyes with their long lashes. Up close and personal, cows are impressive creatures. With their placid strength and ready supply of milk and meat, it’s no wonder human beings have almost always considered them holy in one way or another.
The lovely Cow Goddess you see in the image above is Akhet. The stone is from Isis’ temple at Isiopolis. It had been chipped off a larger block and sold on the antiquities market, but was recently returned to Egypt. You can read the whole story here.
Akhet means “Appearance” and refers to the annual appearance of the all-important Nile flood, thus Akhet was also the name of the Egyptian season of Inundation. In ancient Egypt, both cows and bulls were associated with the flood, no doubt because of the vital fluids they both gave forth, nourishing milk and fertilizing semen.
The most famous of the Egyptian Cow Goddesses is, of course, Hathor. Yet Isis, too, is a Cow Goddess—most notably at Her Philae temple where She is called, yes, Akhet—and in the area of the delta where Isiopolis was located. The nome (an ancient Egyptian governmental division, like a state or province) in which the Isiopolis temple stood was called “Calf and Cow,” doubtless because of the famous cult honoring the bovine holy mother and child that existed there as well.
If it turns out that the Isiopolis area, with its cult of the Calf and Cow, is one of the oldest sites of Isis worship, then we may need to reassess our notion that Isis’ connection with the cow came later in Her worship, when She was identified with Hathor, and that it is only through Hathor that Isis could claim to be one of the Cow Goddesses. It may turn out that Isis is and was—from Day One—a Lady of the Beasts, and that one of those sacred beasts has always been the beautiful, life-giving cow.
Notice Akhet’s ears. They don’t stand up like a “normal” cow’s.
I’d always wondered about that until we went to Egypt.
All the cows there have Akhet’s and Hathor’s ears.
Or is it the other way around?