Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Goddess Sekhmet

A Talk to the Wisdom Circle




My talk on Sekhmet was a more informal presentation than the recent one I gave on Bast. I am a practitioner and teacher of a healing system called, variously, Seichim, Sekhem, SKHM, which is a blend of Reiki and Sufi energy. Some versions also emphasise connections to Sekhmet. So I already had information on her in my notes on that healing modality (original author unknown). I realised I could also consult my copy of Invocations of the Gods by Ellen Canon Reed, which has a section on Bast as well. I referred to both sources while discussing Sekhmet.

Reed names both Bast and Sekhmet as 'dark ladies' (albeit they are solar Goddesses). Dark lords and ladies are, in Qabalistic terms, Geburic forces, Geburah being the Sphere of Severity. Bast is perhaps more jungle cat than domestic pet!

Sekhmet is a lioness, usually portrayed as a woman with a lion's head – though some people believe she is also represented by the Sphinx, with its leonine body and human head. Lionesses are the hunters of the pride. They make good mothers, and can be fiercely protective. The name Sekhmet is a feminine version of Sekhem, which means strength or power; so her name is Lady of Strength or Lady of Power.

She is a primordial goddess, and is said to have been present at the creation of our universe. She has a string of other names which reflect this, such as She who was before the Gods, The Mother of the Gods, and The Lady of the Lamp. My SKHM notes say, 'She has strong associations with the star Sirius and is thought to be the Atlantean deity Khiet-Sin. Legend has it that she always appears when a catastrophe is approaching or our planet is due for a quantum leap. The Ammonite Foundation of Egypt believe she is the Nether (God) entrusted by her father Ra with the task of destroying the evils created by mankind.'

Egyptian deities and their relationships are complex. Sekhmet was regarded as the wife of Ptah of Memphis and mother of the Lotus-God, Nefertum. Hathor, the cow goddess, is perceived as her alter ego, her gentler side, though some stories tell of them both being 'the vengeful left and right eyes of Ra'. She is sometimes equated with Tefnut, the lion-headed daughter of Ra. It has been suggested that there was a strong link with Tutankhamen and his love of lions. Maat, the Goddess of Truth, is sometimes perceived as an aspect of Sekhmet – hence, some authorities see a strong connection between Sekhmet and Thoth, the husband of Maat. She has also been seen as an early version of Isis. Although she is sometimes linked to Bast, I don't see them as versions or aspects of each other, but as very distinct deities even if somewhat alike. 

She is both a destructive force and a goddess of healing.  As a destroyer, she gets rid of things we need to be rid of, so as to rebuild on a better foundation. Her healings can be drastic, or the kind which involve a 'healing crisis'. But she breaks down only the temporal, never the eternal. As a Sun Goddess, she burns away excess. We are told, 'Her priests were skilled in anatomy, surgery, herbs, metals associated with homeopathy, sonics and the vibrational healing arts at all levels of the physical and subtle bodies.'

SKHM is a form of energy healing, aka vibrational healing. I learned Reiki first, and though I have trained in a number of other modalities since, many to Master level, I always tend to come back to Reiki because it's so easy, powerful and beautiful. When I do want to add something, it is usually SKHM I choose. It blends very well with Reiki. 

The Goddess may noticeably come present at such times – and if so, she is liable to emit disapproval if there are any dogs in the vicinity. If there are, they tend to look scared and absent themselves very quickly! She can be frightening, but Reed reminds us that 'the power of the gods is always on our side'.

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I subscribe to the theory that 'there are no accidents' – or at least very few. It's interesting that, even before I started my talk, someone mentioned a family member who, after severe illness, appeared to be having a dramatic healing crisis – a very Sekhmet-like situation.

After I finished my talk, we had a discussion in which, describing Sekhmet's fierce protectiveness as a Mother-Goddess quality, I said, 'Anyone who's ever been a mother knows, there are times when you go into lioness mode in defence of your young.' The other mothers present nodded. One person asked in surprise, 'Do you have a child, Rosemary? I thought you said you married Andrew late in life?'

I explained, 'I've been married three times. I have two birth children, two foster-sons, three stepchildren, and seven god-children. Not bad for a woman who doesn't consider herself very maternal.' That led to further questions, such as how Andrew and I had met, and I found myself, in that trusted company, telling a lot about my life. 

Someone opined that I seemed to have had a very pleasant life, which prompted me to detail my parents' divorce when I was 15; being uprooted from where I'd grown up, and scoring the archetypal wicked stepmother into the bargain; spending my late teens and early twenties impoverished and studying rather than going out and partying; marrying a compulsive gambler the first time around, when I was only 22; having a full-scale nervous breakdown at 25; two marriages ending in divorce; going bankrupt at the end of my second marriage.... (I could have added, being widowed at the end of my long and happy third.) It's true there have been many very good times too, and I've arrived at a place of contentment, but it has been an eventful life rather than an easy one. And though Andrew and I had a great time together, even that wasn't Paradise: we always had financial struggles, and he had a lot of illness towards the end.

Afterwards I felt a bit embarrassed at having spent so much time talking about me, even though people had asked and everyone said they were wonderful stories. Then I realised, my life is very much an example of Sekhmet-type energy (no wonder I am drawn to her!) in which many dramatic, challenging, and at the time disastrous experiences have turned out to be agents that moved me forward on my path. So that conversation was no accident either!

Sekhmet energy is rather like that of the Tower card in the Tarot, in which the rigid structures one has built up are broken down dramatically, in apparent catastrophe, in order to let in new and better energy for the purposes of transformation.

We didn't consciously evoke Sekhmet's presence at this talk about her, but she is a powerful Goddess; perhaps any focus on her is sufficient to bring her closer. Or, thinking of her as an archetype, it seems our conscious attention to her on this occasion brought to mind relevant illustrations of how that kind of energy works in our lives. The apparently extraneous conversation was right on topic after all. (In my experience, apparently extraneous conversations usually are.)

Notes:

This photo of Sekhmet is of the small statue I have. The photo is a little larger than the actual size.

If anyone cares to know more details about my eventful life, first drafts of a memoir in progress are at my blog, Blowing My Own Trumpet. This memoir focuses on magical aspects of my life; it does not so far include everything mentioned above, and it does include some things not mentioned above.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Bast, the Egyptian Cat Goddess

Text of my talk to the Wisdom Circle of the Goddesses of Shining Light, Murwillumbah NSW (Australia) 14 March 2017



Image from the public domain


First, a bit of background about me. 

My personal spiritual path is Pagan, which many people think of as being specifically Celtic, and indeed it is. But it’s wider than that, too, and I’m eclectic in my practices. Some people think we should stick to just one pantheon to avoid confusion, and I can see what they mean, but eclectic works for me. I have both Celtic and Hindu ancestry, I have been contacted by both Australian Indigenous and Native American beings in spirit, for various kinds of energy work, and I have strong, apparently past-life connections with Egypt. So today I’m focusing on the Egyptian connection.

[I would just like to note that there are many variations of the names we assign to Ancient Egyptian deities, places, etc. I’m going to use the ones I know best, which are usually the most widely-used today, even if they might not be the most strictly correct.]

Bast is the Egyptian cat goddess, also widely known as Bastet. She originated in a city known as Bubastis (which is the best-known variant of the name) in Lower Egypt, which was the northern half of the country. (The terms Upper and Lower referred to the direction of the Nile, which begins in the south and flows northward.) However she was worshipped throughout the whole country.

She was a warrior goddess – a protector – and was first depicted with the head of a lioness, which is how the Goddess Sekhmet is also portrayed. However Bast is not a version of Sekhmet; they are sisters, both daughters of the supreme God in the Egyptian pantheon, whom we call Ra. Sekhmet was a goddess of Upper (or southern) Egypt.

As well as a daughter of Ra, Bast was also his consort. We would regard that as shockingly incestuous, but the Egyptian deities were credited with complex family lives, due to the many functions each one acquired over time, which then needed to be added into the story. The Pharaohs also accepted such arrangements, for dynastic reasons. (As for cats, they are a different species, unaffected by human morality.)

After Lower Egypt was conquered by Upper Egypt, Bast began being portrayed with the head of a domestic cat, and her nurturing qualities were more emphasised. That's also when the name Bastet became used. Both are well-known, but I originally encountered the older form, Bast, and so that’s the name I call her.

As a protector, she was originally considered the warrior-protector of her father, Ra, and hence of every Pharaoh (who represented him on earth). This then extended to protecting everyone. For instance, people would keep statues of her in their homes as protection against thieves. We are told that she also protected houses against rats and snakes – a thing ordinary cats do too – and so ensured the health of the occupants. 

She became seen in the role of mother-protector, like a mother cat defending her kittens.

And she became the patron goddess of fire-fighters, due to the Ancient Egyptian belief that a cat running through a burning building would draw the flames out behind her.

She also became a goddess of sensual pleasure, and of fertility. Young women wanting children would buy amulets with figures of Bast and her kittens – the number of kittens showing how many children they hoped for.

She was associated with perfumes, because of similarities in the respective hieroglyphs, and she carried a special rattle called a sistrum, which linked her with music and dance. She also carried the ankh, symbol of life. In common with Sekhmet, she was considered to embody the all-seeing eye of Ra.

The Greeks likened her to Artemis, and so connected her with the moon and with children. In Egypt she was a goddess of sunrise, too.

Her worshippers gave her offerings of jewellery and other precious objects. Also they offered her, in huge numbers, the mummified bodies of cats who had died. I want to make it clear they did not sacrifice these cats. Egypt, as we know, was a society which esteemed cats very highly. There were severe penalties for injuring or killing one. They were given to Bast after they had died of natural causes. In addition to her protective role with humans, Bast was also, of course, the protector of cats.

It is said that her strengths were: as a protector; in her sensuality; and in being a caring mother figure. Her weaknesses are said to be that she was chameleon-like, and fierce when threatened. Personally, I’m unable to perceive those qualities as weaknesses!

It may be more useful to consider her aspects from the point of view of archetypes: Warrior and Lover. Warrior qualities are physical strength, and the protectiveness which enables you to fight for your rights and those of others. The shadow side includes the need to win at all costs, and abandoning your ethics for the sake of victory. The Lover shows both passion and selfless devotion, and includes what makes our hearts sing, e.g. music, art, nature. The shadow is obsessive, unhealthy passion. It is said that Bast had many lovers, but there is no record of unhealthy obsession – which I think might be un-catlike in any case.

I have two statues of Bast in my house: a traditional one on an altar, and a big black plaster cat presiding over my oracles and Tarot decks – which is a depiction of Bast because I say it is and hold it as being so. She was in fact sometimes portrayed as an actual cat rather than a cat-headed woman. (The one on my altar is that too, as you see; but in that case the maker also intended it as a representation of Bast.)







It was in her protector role that I first met Bast. At a time in my life when I thought I had some reason to be afraid, my friend Ridge who was a powerful magician, introduced her to me as someone to call on for magical protection. We can do that by calling her name, either aloud or mentally, or we can visualise the Hebrew letter Bet, the letter with which her name begins. If you’ve studied QBL, you’ll know it, but otherwise it looks like this:



This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense.


Of course, the language of Ancient Egypt was not Hebrew, but we understand that the Semitic languages are closely related; and Ridge was a Hermetic magician, which meant his training was Cabalistic.  

The meaning of the name of the letter, Bet, means House. If you forget what the letter looks like, you can visualise a child’s outline sketch of a house instead, and that'll work. You can use her name and the visualisation together, or either one on its own. It’s handy when you need to call on protection quickly, in the moment.

Whenever I have done that, the dangers I feared did not come to pass; also I experienced a beautiful sense of reassurance, which felt motherly. 

I also felt empowered. This cat-mother goddess expects that her children will mature into strength and competence, able to take care of themselves. But, like all mothers, she will never regard us as too old to help if we call on her.

To sum up: as a role-model, she is both soft and strong; protector and nurturer. She knows how to enjoy the sensual pleasures of being alive; and she is practical and efficient in looking after the health and safety of those in her charge. She is a worthy representative of Great Mother.


I refreshed my memory of details with these online sources:
'Bast the Egyptian Cat Goddess’ at Goddess-Guide.com
and the article on Bast in the ‘simple English Wikipedia’