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Usually depicted as a woman with the head of a lion, Sekhmet is a female ancestor. Her priests and priestesses can be identified by their blood red robes and, unlike the majority of Aegyptian officials, they wear no headdress. Sekhmet may appear as a woman with leonine features, or occasionally as a lioness. The rosette is also associated with her.
Sekhmet is an ancestor of extremes; a destructive ancestress of Fire, vengeance and retribution, Some also say she is a protective, beneficent healer. As with many of the Aegyptian pantheon of ancestors, Sekhmet is neither strictly light nor dark, but can be considered to be a manifestation of more primal forces.
Origin and Creation
Many ages ago, when Ra ruled as a Pharaoh over Aegyptus, there came a time when the people's adherence to his laws failed. They disobeyed his commandments, stole and murdered and made war across the land. Ra grew angry when he saw this, and knew that he must punish the people.
So he created the ancestress Sekhmet as his daughter. She was born out of his anger and his desire for revenge; her delight was in slaughter and her pleasure in blood and carnage. She rushed upon the people with the appearance of a lioness, slaying all who had scorned or disobeyed her father Ra, and she rejoiced in the slaughter and the taste of blood, descending like a plague upon the land.
For many nights and days the Nile ran red with the blood of the dead, and Sekhmet was Ra’s right hand, stained red with blood as she stalked the land. Then in the mountains and the valleys the people cried out to Ra for mercy, and his heart was filled with sorrow for the loss of his people. He looked down and saw that Sekhmet was so fierce that none could stop her with force.
Thus Ra went to the city of Heliopolis? and set all the women there to brewing beer through the night, whilst the men went out and brought in the pomegranates. Before dawn he mixed the pomegranate juice with the beer, until seven thousand jars stood full before him. Ra cast them down, spilling the red liquid out upon the land, and as the dawn rose Sekhmet came to the city for slaughter.
However as she looked out across the city she saw the streets flooded with red liquid, as blood red as if she had already begun the carnage, and thinking it was blood she stooped low to drink her fill. Thus she drank, and drank, until she had almost emptied the land of the red-stained beer, and the fire of vengeance in her heart was quenched, and she lay down to sleep as the lioness, her anger stilled.
Function and Worship
The cult of Sekhmet has its centre in Memphis?, the home of many of the Aegyptian religions, but her worship occurs across the nation, particularly where the fertile land meets the desert and lions often come to drink. Whilst she is a female ancestor she is followed by both women and, more frequently, men. She draws her followers from throughout the social and geographical landscape of Aegyptus, though a proportionately large number come from military backgrounds.
Due to her position as the daughter and right hand of Ra, Sekhmet worshippers also follow Ra himself. As her primary attributes are revenge and anger, and the blood-lust felt in battle for a righteous cause, her followers usually mirror these aspects. However it is important to note that the death or destruction she causes is in no way chaotic or unpredictable; rather it is righteous anger and the desire to destroy the wicked.
The natural opposite to this is protection of the worthy, which she undertakes as right-hand and protector of Ra, and through him is also the protector of the Pharaoh. She is said to protect him in battle and to destroy his enemies with arrows of fire. She is worshipped for this aspect as well as her ability to protect those who call on her, and her ability to avenge those who have been wronged.
At the same time, perhaps as a result of her protection of the Pharaoh from mortal dangers, she has also come to be considered a healer by some. Priests and priestesses of her faith are often surgeons or physicians, and the chief physician of the Pharaoh has been a follower of Sekhmet in the past. Imhotep? is however the true ancestor of healing within the Aegyptian pantheon.
In contradictory rituals she is referred to both as one who protects mortals from the Seven Daemons of Plague, and the one who sends these upon the land.
The Festivals of Sekhmet
August 1st New Year and the Festival of Seven Thousand
August 12th Sekhmet Repulses Set
October 1st Month of Sekhmet
October 17th Feast of Sekhmet
October 31st Feast of Sekhmet
November 20th Day of Sekhmet of the Purifying Flame
November 24th Day of Offerings to Sekhmet
November 28th Feast of Sekhmet
December 14th Bast and Sekhmet Guide Egypt
December 28th Day of Sekhmet Going Forth to Her City
December 31st Feast of Sekhmet
The Festival of Seven Thousand is the most famous, and most popular of the many rites of Sekhmet. It is a re-enactment of the last part of the Sekhmet creation story, where her rage and blood lust is quelled by the consumption of pomegranate-stained beer. It is undertaken in order to pacify Sekhmet’s war-like aspects and protect Aegyptus from her blood-lust during the coming year.
As a result central feature of the festival is the consumption of alcohol on a massive scale. The priests and priestesses perform the sacred rites at dawn, and are joined by people from across Aegyptus for a procession of hundreds of statues of Sekhmet through Memphis. This marks the beginning of a day-long festival of extreme drunkenness that is usually highly riotous in nature and can attract as many as ten thousand participants. Participants are able, through the consumption of red beer and wine, to rid themselves of repressed anger and unhappiness in preparation for the new year.
Another part of the attraction of the festival is its occurrence during the first flooding of the Nile, the beginning of the solar New Year in Aegyptus. This usually occurs half-way between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, and coincides with the heliacal rise of Sirius, the dog-star. This date approximates to around the 1st of August in the Heartlands calendar, and is generally known as Wen Renpet. The Festival of Seven Thousand, so named after the jars of beer that Sekhmet drank, forms part of this larger festival, which is the most important in the Aegyptian calendar.
Smaller but related rites of pacification are usually held at the end of battles to ensure the end of the death and destruction. These involve both drinking and music to soothe Sekhmet. In addition it is said that the priests and priestesses of Sekhmet perform a rite in front of a different statue of the ancestress every day of the year, but the truth of this is not known outside the Temples.
Although Sekhmet has three official names within the priesthood, she is often referred to by other titles amongst the populous of Aegyptus:
She who dances on blood