“Sekhmet is She of the blood-stained maw.” Sekhmet is a fearsome Goddess and this exploration of her character explores with open eyes her depiction as bloodthirsty, wrathful, protective and powerful. Although in other ancient texts there is syncretism with Sekhmet, Bastet and Hathor, here the intent is to explore Sekhmet separately. The scope is broad and includes discussion of the Egyptian mythology across dynasties, the ancients’ view of the goddess and her realm, and the how Sekhmet is currently viewed by modern pagan devotees. This may be an introduction to Sekhmet but readers should be generally familiar with Egyptian mythology as the level of scholarly analysis and assumption of prior knowledge makes this an intermediate level.
Author Olivia Church brings to life some wonderfully vivid imagery as she ties the Egyptian landscape and environment to the development of the conflictual nature of the Goddess Sekhmet. The violent nature of this Goddess is explained in terms of her nature as a lioness and protectress as opposed to an embodiment of human violence. The harsh environment of the Nile Valley and the floods, pandemics, baking sun and wild animals created the unique space early Egyptians sought to understand through myth. I got a real sense of how this natural landscape created a different worldview than that found in the myths of more temperate climates.
These early myths tell of Ra, the father, leaving earth due to the violence and sadness wrought by his children. Ra sent his eye (Sekhmet) to punish humanity because human enemies sought to destroy the balance of Ma’at. Sekhmet unleashes disease on humanity. The author sees Sekhmet as useful for transformative anger. Church points out how antiquarian powers in stripping Sekhmet of her anger and power, sought to defang female power so she prefers to see her as fierce like the ancient Egyptians did.
After an unswerving look at the ferocity of Sekhmet and the stories of her wrath, the book turns to her role in healing. As a war Netjeret, She metes out disease and daemonic entities. Her role in healing is the other side of the coin. She who gives illness can also cure it. Sekhmet’s priests became known as healers and doctors. In modern times, Sekmet worshippers have been teaching a form of healing known as Sekhem/Seichim. The idea of healing through destruction is explored.
Church states that ancient Egyptian religion allowed for multiple co-existing truths. This is helpful to know because there are contradictory stories and tremendous changes in the practice of the religion during the vast time that it was practiced as a state religion. The Egyptians believed that their Gods, called Netjeru, could merge with another Netjeru, to form a new deity. Some Gods may have different parents in different stories but this is not considered wrong but independently true. For people who like black and white, this can prove confusing.
No temples have been found to Sekhmet but her presence is evident through being called upon in ritual blood sacrifices to other deities. She was worshiped at the Temple of Amun, Karnak where her consort Ptah’s smaller temple is. Church talks about how this must have looked in ancient times and what reception modern worshipers can expect when they visit today. Church offers guidance on how to do rituals using adaptations of ancient texts.
This Pagan Portal book is informative but unless you have prior knowledge of Egyptian myth, it can be confusing. The Egyptian names and words are not easy to remember. The author’s deep interest in Sekhmet carries the book. The discussions of ancient versus modern viewpoint are going to be best appreciated by devotees. The devotion to scholarly research and the unflinching look at the less palatable, ancient, bloody imagery is admirable in a time when many authors would like to sugarcoat uncomfortable aspects of deities. If you love all things Egyptian, this is an interesting read.
Recommended for readers with an intermediate level of knowledge of Egyptian myth
~review by Larissa Carlson
Author: Olivia Church
Moon Books, 2021
pp. 98, $ 12.95/e-book $5.99