Come! Listen! I shall tell you a tale from days long ago, so long ago that not only was it before your mother was born, but also before the birth of her mother and her mother’s mother too.
And in those days the gods lived amongst men, and there was not the separation that there is now. Re ruled over the towns of mankind and the greatest of men was to Re as the meanest peasant is to our own Pharaoh. For many long years there was peace & plenty: the flood waters rose, the harvests ripened and the people grew fat off the land. But even Re himself is not immune to the passage of time and the god became old, his bones turned to silver, his flesh to gold and his hair to the bluest of lapis lazuli. The ageing of a god is not like that of mortal man, yet still the people murmured amongst themselves. “He is too old to rule!” “He is surely weak and cannot protect us!” and other such lies & calumnies.
So it came to pass that mortal men plotted and schemed amongst themselves and rose up against Re, pursuing rebellion even at the the gates of his palace walls. And fearsome was his wrath and the people fled before him, fleeing into the desert. Yet Re was not satisfied with this terror and fearing that the people would rise up again he took secret council amongst the oldest of gods. Nun, the chief amongst them, advised his king that there would be no peace until the rebellious ones were destroyed. So Re called his daughter, his Eye, to attend him: “Hathor, come! I have a task for you”. On hearing the insult done to her father, Hathor too became full of rage and gladly accepted his commandment. In her rage she took on her most terrible aspect, Sekhmet, She Who Is Powerful, the lioness of the desert. And she armed herself with plague and with pestilence and took up her bow. First to the desert she went, and there she slew those who had fled. But her wrath was not yet sated; she turned towards the river.
And she blew through the towns like the hot desert wind.
Where she looked, men sickened. Where she walked, men were injured. The arrows she shot met their marks, and the people died of wounds, and of sickness. Death stalked through the land in her wake and the bodies lay thick on the ground. The river ran red with blood, and as the day drew to a close Sekhmet returned to Re. Her muzzle red with the blood of mortal men she proclaimed to Re “I have begun my task, and I find it pleases me! The mortals shall trouble you no further for tomorrow I shall bring all to an end”.
As Sekhmet rested to gather her strength, Re found that he was troubled. Not all men had rebelled, and those wrongdoers were long since dead. His anger had faded, his thirst for vengeance satisfied, and he was moved to protect what remained of his creation for those men still alive had done him no wrong. But he knew Sekhmet would not be so easily turned aside now that she had tasted blood. So Re ordered his servants to fetch him many barrels of beer, and he ordered his servants to bring vast quantities of red ochre. And they mixed the ochre into the beer until it was the colour of blood, and poured it out on the fields by the river where Sekhmet would pass by in the morning.
And when she went forth she saw this pool, this glistening pool, this deep red blood-coloured pool, and she could not resist drinking for she had a taste for the blood of men. The goddess drank, she drank deep, and she drank until the fields were dry.
And when she had finished, the beer had done its work and cat-like she curled up where she was and she slept the sleep of the drunk. In her sleep a change took place and she rose as Hathor once more, her thirst quenched and the fire of her fury diminished. And she returned to the side of her father.
But Re was no longer content to remain amongst men, for he feared that this cycle would return again and again as he grew older and men grew more restless. And so he resolved to leave this world behind him. He designated a Pharaoh, a Son of Re to rule in his place and he ascended to the heavens on the back of Nut, she of the sky.
And that, my friends, is why the gods no longer walk among us as they once did.
“The Egyptian Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods & Legends” Garry Shaw
“The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt” Ian Shaw & Paul Nicholson
“Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt” Joyce Tyldesley
I took the plot of the legend from “The Destruction of Mankind” which is part of the New Kingdom royal funerary text “The Book of the Cow of Heaven”, as described in both Tyldesley & Shaw’s books. I have then retold it in my own style combining Egyptian imagery (in particular that associated with Sekhmet) with my own cultural references.
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