A friend was asking about Sakhmet today, and so here’s a little something about Isis and Sakhmet…
Many are the modern devotees who are attracted to Sakhmet, ancient Egypt’s fierce Lioness Goddess. Her name means The Powerful One, the Mighty One, or the Female Power. And She is powerful indeed.
Quite a few images of the Goddess remain to us, for hundreds of them were set up at the Temple of Mut at Karnak. The Vatican Museum has about a half dozen of these and has created a semi-circle of the bigger-than-human-sized Sakhmet images in an outdoor area that is part of the “profane” section of the museum. (Yes, of course, I headed straight to the profane section.) I have also been fortunate to have seen several of these beautiful statues here in Portland as part of traveling museum shows.
But it was a smaller image of Sakhmet in one of these shows that literally blew my astral hair back. All that was left was the head, about eight inches high. It was made of a yellow, semi-translucent stone and it quite simply hummed with magical power. After all these years. Still. Powerful. I was mesmerized. It’s probably a good thing the image was behind glass because I certainly would have touched it—and probably gotten tossed out on my tushie as I had already been tut-tutted at for almost touching one of the larger Sakhmets. Such is Her power.
If you’ve been following along, you’ll already have noted that Isis has Her fierce aspects, too. And in the typical fluid way of the ancient Egyptian Deities, Isis and Sakhmet can become One. One of the places where this is true is in the Isis temple at Philae where Isis and Sakhmet are specifically identified. Here’s one of the hymns to Isis from that temple, translated by Louis Zabkar:
Giver of Life, Lady of the Sacred Mound,
Lady and Mistress of Philae,
August and mighty one,
Lady of the southern lands;
Sakhmet, the fiery one, who destroys the enemies of her brother,
Those disaffected of heart, the enemies of Hor-ankhti;
Princess, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt,
Mighty one, foremost of the Goddesses;
Ruler in Heaven, queen on earth,
Sun-goddess in the circuit of the sun-disc;
Mistress of battle, Montu of combat,
One to whom one cries out on the day of encounter;
Mighty protectress without her equal,
Who saves all those she loves on the battlefield;
Whatever comes forth from her mouth is accomplished immediately,
All the gods are under her command;
Great of magic, when she is in the palace,
Great one upon whose command the king gloriously appears on the throne.
As we see here, Isis is specifically called Sakhmet, as well as being described as “mighty,” and “the mighty one,” the very meaning of Sakhmet’s name. You’ll also recall that in the Jumilhac papyrus, Isis is said to have transformed Herself “into Her mother Sakhmet.”
In this hymn, Isis appears as a strong battle leader, destroying enemies, protecting Her people and their king through Her powerful magic. For the Egyptians, this type of power was often expressed using fiery imagery. Thus, in the hymn above, Isis-Sakhmet is “the fiery one.” Elsewhere at Philae, Isis is called Lady of Flame. She is also the fiery Sun Goddess. And She is one of the fire-spitting Uraeus Goddesses Who sits on the brow of Re as one of His Eyes. As the Eye of Re, She is the fiery Power That Goes Forth and “slays Apophis in an instant,” according to another Philae hymn.
At Her great temple at Philae, we see many sides of the Great Goddess Isis. She is at once the beautiful Cow Mother, watering the sarcophagus of Osiris so that new life sprouts from His dead body, and the fierce-faced Isis-Sakhmet, Isis the Powerful One, the Great Female Power. May Her strength always protect you.