Weekly Deity: Pakhet


Pakhet was worshiped in ancient Egypt (primarily in Middle Egypt) as the goddess of inner strength, particularly for women.  It’s likely that she was a combination of Bast (goddess of sun/moon/cats/women/secrets) and Sekhmet (goddess of divine retribution).  Her name was also spelled Pachet, Pehkhet, and Phastet, and meant “she who scratches.”

Attributes

Her form was usually that of a human, but her head was that of a lioness.  On her head is normally a sun-disk as well.  She carried an ankh in one hand and a staff in the other.  At times she has been depicted as an actual cat, killing snakes with her claws.

Mythology

Pakhet is a mix of protector, war goddess, and goddess of strength.  She is thought to be originally a regional lioness deity who became merged with Sekhmet and Bast, and took on properties of both but in terms of her ferocity claimed the middle ground between the two goddess.  Bast took on the qualities of an indoor, more tamed cat over time, while Sekhmet was something more of the fierce lioness, while Pakhet stood between the two extremes.   Though her strength is of an inner quality, Pakhet retained the potential to be as fierce and strong as any war goddess.

Because of her association with Bast and Sekhmet, who in turn are associated with Hathor, Pakhet is also a sun deity–hence the sun-disk on her head in some pictures.  She retained more qualities from her two contributing goddesses: from Bast she retained the quality of being a protector of motherhood; from Sekhmet came the associations with the desert and desert storms.

When the Greeks ruled Egypt, Pakhet’s huntress qualities led the Greeks to identify her with Artemis.  Later, the Romans continued the association during their occupation of Egypt.

Light and Dark Sides

Pakhet is relatively easy to pin down in what she governs: she is protector of motherhood, a huntress, a goddess of inner strength and the fierce desert.  But what is difficult to identify is her personality.  As a protector, we can assume that she protected all mothers, and likely children.  But was she said to be the kind of protector who kept their charges too close, smothering them, or was her control too loose?  As a huntress, we can assume she was fierce, which aligns as well with her main function as the goddess of (woman’s) inner strength.  But what other things did she do?  How did she interact with other deities, how was she said to have treated the mortals in her care and her fellow gods?  Since there are no myths about her, this is unknown.  We only know her functions in the scheme of deities.

However, knowing those functions allows certain assumptions.  Pakhet was a fierce goddess, a protector, rather like a lioness protecting her cubs.  Lionesses are strong, loyal, and willing to fight when necessary.  Pakhet, then, sounds like a goddess on the Lighter side of the deity spectrum.  Her Dark sides would occur if she were over protective–but since we have no evidence for this…it’s difficult to say.

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