The story of Hathor’s Rage and the Destruction of Mankind perfectly illustrates the complexities of the Egyptian deities, and how they function together both in combination and separately and can also undergo a process of polymorphism. This story begins with the sun god Re who has become old and feeble during his long reign. Humankind becomes aware of Re’s predicament, and some of them begin to wonder if they can seize his power from his weakened form and keep it for themselves. When Re hears whispers of these traitorous intentions he becomes angry and assembles the other gods and goddesses before him to ask for their advice. The counsel tells Re that he must punish the dissenters for their arrogance and suggest that he sends The Eye of Re after them to kill them. Re agrees and sends his Eye, the goddess Hathor, deep into the desert to find and smite those responsible.
Hathor is mostly known as a benevolent goddess, channeling motherhood and nurturing in the form of the celestial cow, but she also had a destructive side. In this tale Hathor takes on a warrior goddess aspect in the form of Sekhmet as she heads down the Nile to find those responsible. She finds the men camped by the river and slaughters them all, tearing them to shreds. It is during this process that Hathor, in the role of the Eye of Re and borrowing the attributes of Sekhmet, develops an unquenchable blood-lust that she can no longer control. Instead of just pursuing those responsible she continues on her rampage, going from village to village along the Nile, continuing her massacre among the innocent.
Re becomes aware of the carnage, and attempts to recall Hathor, but it is to no avail, so he is forced to take action to stop her before all humankind is wiped from the earth. Re summons the other deities, asking them to bring him all the barrels of beer they can find. Re dyes the contents red to make the beer look like blood and floats the barrels down the Nile to where Hathor is still rampaging. Hathor mistakes the barrels for blood offerings and quickly guzzles them all, promptly passing out from intoxication. When she awakes the next day, her blood-lust has abated and she returns to normal.
While Hathor is still her embodied self in this story, she is also the Eye of Re and Sekhmet, and she is all three simultaneously. The Eye of Re aspect makes her the dutiful daughter, bound to avenge her father, while the Sekhmet element allows her to channel her inner warrior to complete the task, but ultimately she is still the goddess Hathor that these forces are working through. It is important to note that both the Eye of Re and Sekhmet continues to exist in their independent forms concurrently while all this is going on and these independent forms are not impacted by this story, as it is not theirs. While Hathor may be partly Sekhmet during this myth, Sekhmet is not Hathor.
To put it in archetypal psychological terms, Hathor is behaving under the influence of the Sekhmet archetype, but the archetype is not the sum total of the goddess Sekhmet. Sekhmet herself will incorporate the archetypes of other deities and change her behavior accordingly. The Egyptian deities embodied are completely separate from their archetypal characters. They are more akin to the multi-faceted behavior of the humans they watch over as they themselves are subject to the archetypal forces which their flexible nature allows them to experience and incorporate.
So what can we take away from this story?
A.) The Egyptian deities flow freely, taking on attributes of one another interchangeably;
B.) Re (sometimes spelled Ra) is not a god to mess around with; then again, Sun gods rarely are. The same should be said for Hathor/Sekhmet;
C.) Mythologists like the word archetype, almost as much as Jungian depth psychologists;
D.) Sometimes, beer (in this case blood red beer) is the answer.