Typically, when it comes to Sekhmet, there isn’t too much discussion going on. It’s not that people don’t want to discuss her, but I think that since there doesn’t seem to be much mythology outside of the Destruction of Mankind myth, people don’t seem interested in engaging. This upsets me a bit because I have a lot of thoughts regarding Sekhmet (of course) and I want to talk about it. I have a project planned for this year about her various aspects that I’ve come into contact with, but before I get started on that, I think I need to talk about the syncretism of Sekhmet-Min.
Now, anyone who hasn’t been following me on Tumblr or seen my comments about it on my personal Facebook may not be aware of this. And that actually makes sense because it doesn’t seem as though this particular syncretism bares more than a footnote or three in the books. Another reason it’s not so common knowledge is because there appears to be a large debate within the Egyptological community with regard to whether a Sekhmet and Min syncretism even existed.
Let me give you some background before I start talking about how I see and feel regarding this.
This all started, actually, when I found this post and was like, “what the hell is this?” The Tumblr user, intaier, posted another version of this image and tagged me in it so I could see the image more clearly as the original post had cropped out something important: the phallus. I took to Google, of course, to try and figure out what was happening because I couldn’t understand the lack of second arm and I had never seen Sekhmet with a phallus before. It was through Devo and another Tumblr user that I was made aware that imagery depicted thus is usually related to Min in some way. And of course, I found multiple images on Flickr which named this image as “Sekhmet-Min.”
I was completely floored. I had never heard of this syncretism before and I wanted to know more. Google searches for “Sekhmet-Min” came up with nothing besides those Flickr accounts, though. In my off time, I began looking for “ithyphallic Sekhmet.” I found two blog posts on LJ (here and here), which seemed to indicate the images were Mut. However, I found a few books through Google that mention ithyphallic Sekhmet. I decided to leave it alone for a while so I could mull this all over.
I also looked briefly into Min and found this quote: “While earlier generations of scholars inferred from Min’s erect penis that his principal function was fertility, it has recently been argued that Min’s upraised arm and erect penis are, in fact, both manifestations of his protective function, a form of display known as ‘phallic intimidation’ (Ogdon 1985).” All very interesting but I didn’t have anything definitive. While I mulled on it, I began to recognize that it would make a certain kind of sense for Sekhmet to have been syncretized with Min. But I left it at that because I didn’t really understand why it seemed “right” to me to have this syncretism.
A few days later, intaier posted this image where she clearly designates it as Mut. I came back and was like, “No, no. This was the Sekhmet-Min we talked about a few days ago.” And since then, things have rather degenerated. I wouldn’t call it a debate or anything because it’s not actually a debate.
However, people have weighed in with their opinions that the Egyptologists know what they’re talking about so if they call the image Mut, then so be it. I came back with evidence of Egyptologists who had named the syncretism as Sekhmet-Min. Based on my brief Twitter back and forth with Tamara (of KO fame), it would seem that there is no popular consensus within the Egyptological community on the status of these ithyphallic leonine deities. I left it alone until I was tagged again in another picture of the ithyphallic leonine deity, which seemed to indicate (again) that this was a “unique” representation of Mut (based on a quote from Te Velde in Mut and Other Ancient Egyptian Goddesses that intaier provided).
By this time, I was kind of tired of the conversation. I will admit that I am still very tired of the conversation, but I feel the need to put everything in a single place.
And Egyptologists like Budge used to think this way… and look where they’ve ended up.
It feels to me that we’re getting stuck on the prospect that this ithyphallic image is Mut because a bunch of people who may be wrong (because let’s face it, there’s always the possibility of discovering something new that will force Egyptologists to reevaluate their knowledge) said so. And while I definitely tell people that those sources are pretty fucking good to have, I also don’t want us to get stuck in a particular mindset when there is still, clearly, a lot of things that we simply don’t know.
To be perfectly frank, I honestly feel like my thoughts on the subject are being completely ignored in the face of statements made by Egyptologists. I think we’re falling into some mistaken belief that what the Egyptologists say on any given matter is holy writ and that’s something that we definitely need to steer clear from, especially as it pertains to our personal relationships with the gods. “But, Sat,” someone will say, “that’s blasphemy to the historically informed!”
But is it?
How many times have either I or TTR gone off about how Budge should not be used or cited as a resource? His translations have been proved to be inaccurate; he wrote entirely through the lens of a conservative Protestantism in order to garner more funds; he ignored his German contemporaries’ advances in the field; etc. As a resource, he is persona non grata.
Egyptology has come a long way, but there are still issues within the Egyptological community. While reading the problematically titled book, Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts, Jeremy Naydler highlights many of these issues. For the most part, the author goes on and on for many, many pages about how the Egyptological community seems hell-bent on maintaining the belief that the ancient Egyptians were a “practical” people, denying any possibility of mysticism within their religious realm, in a seeming need to distance themselves as much as humanly possible from the poor pseudoscience that infiltrated Egyptological circles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
All well and good – let’s absolutely distance ourselves from malarkey. But from a Kemetic standpoint, this leaves the resources we value so highly devoid of feeling and devoid of what I would like to see: a representation of my religion as it was when it was lived and breathed in its heyday.
But let’s look at this argument as logically as possible.
Let’s start off with the two images’ locations (I’m sorry, but I cannot find the image from the Hibis Temple so I cannot, in all honesty say, how closely related the images are).
“Image by Hannah Pethen, via Flickr”
The first image we have is the unnamed deity in the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak. Based on my research, this image appears to have been commissioned for Ramesses IV during the New Kingdom. (Based off of this website; translation will be needed.) This would lead me to suspect that the imagery used is Mut, who rose to prominence as the consort of Amun-Re at the spiritual capital of the country, Thebes, during this time period. The fact that the image is found in a temple dedicated to Khonsu, the son of Mut and her consort, Amun-Re, would also lead anyone worth their weight to believe that this is Mut.
However, it is during this period that we see Mut absorbing and usurping aspects of well-known and well-established leonine deities, specifically in this case, Sekhmet. The syncretism makes a lot of sense from various different points of view, but to look at it based on these quotes I think will better assist us here.
The first quote discusses how it was the first name in the syncretism that provided the deity with a physical form to inhabit but it was the secondary name that indicates who the deity actually is supposed to be. The second quote discusses how the gods had limitations and, in order to breach those limitations, syncretism was necessary. Looking at these statements together with regarding to the syncretism of Sekhmet-Mut, we see that the bodily form is that of Sekhmet, I.E. a lioness, where it is the motherly aspect of Mut that provides the power.
The reason I mention this is because prior to Mut’s syncretism of Sekhmet, her bodily form was that of a human woman wearing the double crown and/or the vulture headdress. We see many images of Mut in this way, but it is only when she comes into contact with Sekhmet (and Bast, evidently, according to my research) that we see her as a lioness. This particularly syncretism seems to have been of particular importance during the time that the Khonsu temple image was commissioned…
And that leads me to suspect that it may not specifically be Sekhmet who is syncretized with Min here, but it is a sort of conglomerate Sekhmet-Mut mixed with Min. Taking the leonine features of the face mixed with the bodily form of Min, we have two deities known for protective functions (“…it has recently been argued that Min’s upraised arm and erect penis are, in fact, both manifestations of his protective function…” as quoted fully above) merged into a unified composite. If we add Mut into the mix here, it’s only to denote that she has protective features and as the mother of Khonsu… who has every right to be in a temple dedicated to her son.
But again, in looking at the image, I don’t see anything that would herald that this is Mut in any way. Just because the two had a syncretism doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that Sekhmet may have become of import within the temple precincts in her own right. Based on my understanding of syncretism as indicated by the two quotes linked to above, I have to wonder if we’re missing integral information (clearly, we are) regarding this syncretism and how Sekhmet came to play a role within the cult worship of Mut.
Now let’s look at the Hibis Temple. This temple was built in the Late Period by the Persian pharaohs. By this time, the flower of the religious institutions that we see so well in the earlier periods had reached heyday status. Based on my brief look into this temple, it was built for the purpose of honoring the Theban Triad. This would explain why the ithyphallic leonine deity is clearly designated as Mut-A’at or Mut the Great.
However, this doesn’t actually negate the possibility that this image is, as with my thoughts on the Karnak temple above, Sekhmet. As Pinch states in Egyptian Mythology: “From the New Kingdom onward, Sekhmet was mainly thought of as the aggressive aspect of greater goddesses: first of Hathor, then of Mut, and finally of Isis.” (Bolding mine.) My point being that Sekhmet had stopped, in a manner of speaking, being a goddess in her own right and was seen as merely a part of –insert goddess here–. (What a terrible idea!)
While I don’t know what functions she may have served in her own right by that point, this only seems to indicate that the leonine deities seen at both the Khonsu Temple and the Hibis Temple are, in fact, linked (heavily) to Sekhmet. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any images available online of the ithyphallic deity known as Mut-A’at, but if it bears any resemblance to the image at Karnak, then I have to assert that – as based on my arguments above regarding syncretism and how I see it – that, named otherwise or not at all, this is Sekhmet-Min.
Seeing that my opinion on the subject has been ignored and any points I may have made also have been ignored, I’m going to finish this off with a few further thoughts.
My issue with the ongoing “debate” is that it takes away from the point behind the images. Syncretism is all about inferring powers from one deity to another, a deity who does not have the abilities they require in order to complete a function. Sekhmet is a powerful and protective deity, but Min’s associations seem primarily with regard to fertility… or at least, some of his functions are about that. If we are basing this syncretism on the idea of fertility and creation, then I think it means that Sekhmet, and therefore Mut, had self-creation aspects that we need to look into.
It was this aspect that Ramesses IV was incensing and libating on the Karnak wall. It wasn’t Sekhmet by herself. It wasn’t Mut by herself. It was an ithyphallic representation of Sekhmet (and therefore, Mut, as based on the wonkiness of syncretism especially from that time period) that he was standing before. It was something about this syncretism that he felt the need to honor. Why? What is it about this particular syncretism that required that it be placed on the temple wall? Was it because he wanted to be able to self-create and was hoping that they would give him this ability? Was it just to make people, down the road, question what the fuck is happening in this scene? Was it some ancient scribe’s joke to the modern world, “haha, fuckers; good luck figuring out what this is about” and we’re all taken in by it?
These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves as devotees of Sekhmet. Why in the fuck did this representation end up on the wall? But more importantly, how does it impact us? We should stop worrying in some respects about what the scholars say and worry more about what our religion tells us. I fully plan on exploring how this impacts me and my relationship with Sekhmet (if at all) in the future and I invited everyone who has a relationship with her to do the same.