In Egyptian mythology, Sekhmet or Sachmis; also spelled Sakhmet, Sekhet, or Sakhet, among other spellings) was originally the warrior goddess as well as goddess of healing for Upper Egypt, when the kingdom of Egypt was divided.
She is depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians. It was said that her breath formed the desert. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare.
Her cult was so dominant in the culture that when the first pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty, Amenemhat I, moved the capital of Egypt to Itjtawy, the centre for her cult was moved as well. Religion, the royal lineage, and the authority to govern were intrinsically interwoven in Ancient Egypt during its approximately three millennia of existence.
Sekhmet also is a Solar deity, sometimes called the daughter of the sun god Ra and often associated with the goddesses Hathor and Bast. She bears the Solar disk and the uraeuswhich associates her with Wadjet and royalty. With these associations she can be construed as being a divine arbiter of the goddess Ma'at (Justice, or Order) in the Judgment Hall of Osiris, associating her with the Wedjat (later the Eye of Ra), and connecting her with Tefnut as well.
Festivals and evolution
To pacify Sekhmet, festivals were celebrated at the end of battle, so that the destruction would come to an end. During an annual festival held at the beginning of the year, a festival of intoxication, the Egyptians danced and played music to soothe the wildness of the goddess and drank great quantities of wine ritually to imitate the extreme drunkenness that stopped the wrath of the goddess—when she almost destroyed humanity. This may relate to averting excessive flooding during the inundation at the beginning of each year as well, when the Nile ran blood-red with the silt from up-stream and Sekhmet had to swallow the overflow to save humankind.
In 2006, Betsy Bryan, an archaeologist with Johns Hopkins University excavating at the temple of Mut presented her findings about the festival that included illustrations of the priestesses being served to excess and its adverse effects being ministered to by temple attendants. Participation in the festival was great, including the priestesses and the population. Historical records of tens of thousands attending the festival exist. These findings were made in the temple of Mut because when Thebes rose to greater prominence, Mut absorbed some characteristics of Sekhmet. These temple excavations at Luxor discovered a "porch of drunkenness" built onto the temple by the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, during the height of her twenty-year reign.
In a myth about the end of Ra's rule on the earth, Ra sends Hathor or 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, so 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 later was considered to be the mother of Maahes, a deity who appeared during the New Kingdom period. He was seen as a lion prince, the son of the goddess. The late origin of Maahes in the Egyptian pantheon may be the incorporation of a Nubian deity of ancient origin in that culture, arriving during trade and warfare or even, during a period of domination by Nubia. During the Greek dominance in Egypt, note was made of a temple for Maahes that was an auxiliary facility to a large temple to Sekhmet at Taremu in the delta region (likely a temple for Bast originally), a city which the Greeks called Leontopolis, where by that time, an enclosure was provided to house lions.
She was also known as the "Lady of Pestilence" and the "Red Lady" (indicating her alignment with the desert) and it was thought that she could send plagues against those who angered her. When the centre of power shifted from Memphis to Thebes during the New Kingdom the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut, and Khonsu), Sekhmet's attributes were absorbed into that of Mut (who sometimes took the form of a lion).
She was associated with the goddesses given the title "Eye of Ra". According to myth, Ra became angry because mankind was not following his laws and preserving Ma'at (justice or balance). He decided to punish mankind by sending an aspect of his daughter, the"Eye of Ra". He plucked Hathor from Ureas on his brow, and sent her to earth in the form of a lion. She became Sekhmet, the "Eye of Ra" and began her rampage. The fields ran with human blood. However, Ra was not a cruel deity, and the sight of the carnage caused him to repent. He ordered her to stop, but she was in a blood lust and would not listen. So Ra poured 7,000 jugs of beer and pomegranate juice (which stained the beer blood red) in her path. She gorged on the "blood" and became so drunk she slept for three days. When she awoke, her blood lust had dissipated, and humanity was saved. In one version of the myth, Ptah is the first thing she sees on awaking and she instantly fell in love with him. Their union (creation and destruction) created Nefertum (healing) and so re-established Ma'at.
The saving of mankind was commemorated every year on the feast day of Hathor/Sekhmet. Everyone drank beer stained with pomegranate juice and worshipped "the Mistress and lady of the tomb, gracious one, destroyer of rebellion, mighty one of enchantments". A statue of Sekhmet was dressed in red facing west, while Bast was dressed in green and faced east. Bast was sometimes considered to be Sekhmet´s counterpart (or twin depending on the legend), and in the festival of Hathor they embodied the duality central to Egyptian mythology. Sekhmet represented Upper Egypt while Bast represented Lower Egypt.
Sekhmet was closely associated with Kingship. She was often described as the mother of Maahes, the lion god who was a patron of the pharaoh and the pyramid texts (from dynasty five) suggest that the Pharaoh was conceived by Sekhmet. For example, one relief depicts the Pharaoh Niuserre being suckled by Sekhmet. This ancient myth is echoed in the New Kingdom reliefs in the temple of Seti I which depict the Pharaoh being suckled by Hathor whose title is "mistress of the mansion of Sekhmet". Ramesses II (Seti's son) adopted her as a symbol of his power in battle. In friezes depicting the Battle of Kadesh, Sekhmet appears on his horse, her flames scorching the bodies of enemy soldiers. But, one Pharaoh in particular seems to have had an obsession with Sekhmet. Amenhotep III (father of Akhenaten, Dynasty Eighteen) built hundreds of statues of Sekhmet in the precinct of Mut's temple (known as "Isheru") south of the Great Temple of Amun in Karnak. It is thought that there was one for every day of the year and that offerings were made every day.