Sekhmet (Sakhmet, Sekhet) is one of the oldest of the Egyptian deities (Netjer) in Egyptian history. Daughter of Ra, the Sun God and King of the Gods, some of Her titles reflect her great antiquity. (Lady at the Beginning of Time and One Who Was Before The Gods Were.) As a form of the Great Mother, Sekhmet was known as the Mother of the Gods.
Sekhmet is wife and sister of Ptah who created the world through His thought and His word, and She is mother to Nefertem, a healer deity and patron God of physicians. Together the three comprise the Memphis Triad.
Sekhmets worship may have been introduced into Egypt from the Sudan where lions are plentiful. Her primary worship center was located in Memphis (Mennefer) in Upper Egypt. When the center of political power shifted to Thebes during the New Kingdom (1500-1069 BCE) Sekhmet's attributes were assumed by the Goddess Mut as part of the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Khons.
While Sekhmet was the primary early Goddess of Upper Egypt, the cat-headed Goddess, Bast, was the primary Goddess of Lower Egypt. In the Book of the Dead there is text which suggests that Bast was considered a sister to Sekhmet. These two distinct Goddesses were certainly linked by geography, much as in the way that Pharaoh was of both Upper and Lower Egypt.
Although Sekhmet's cult center was in Memphis, Her worship extended over both Upper and Lower Egypt, particularly in those places where a wadi opened into the desert. In such places lions were frequently seen as they came for water, and there Her temples and statuary were erected in Her honor.
The best known tale of Sekhmet is that in which Ra, Her Father, becomes angry with mankind and seeks vengeance upon them. Ra had created mankind and now mankind plotted to overthrow the Gods and destroy them. Ra called upon Sekhmet, The Force Upon Which No Other Force Prevails, and sent Her to end the rebellion. Sekhmet reveled in Her slaughter until the Gods became afraid that She would destroy all life on earth. Finally through trickery the Gods were able to stop the destruction. In this form Sekhmet represents the destructive power of the Sun, and because of this She is often seen solely as a Goddess of destruction.
As with many of the ancient Goddesses, Sekhmet was a far more complex being than simply a Goddess of destruction. According to tradition there are some four thousand names for the Goddess Sekhmet, each name (epithet) describing an attribute of the Goddess. Of these names one thousand were known only to the Gods, and another one thousand known only to the Gods and other higher spiritual beings. One thousand names were known only to the priests of Sekhmet depending on their level of initiation. Five hundred names were known only to Her priests and others on the Way of the Goddess, again depending on their standing upon Her path. The remaining five hundred names were for the people. It was also written that one name was known as the Highest and was known only to the Goddess and a few other Gods, and to the Pharaoh. And a final name was known only to the Goddess and which was a means by which She could change her form or even cease to be.
As a destroyer Goddess, Sekhmet utilized fire, pestilence, plague, and drought against Her enemies. But it is important to understand that Her actions were never done without cause. Sekhmet is a protector of the Divine Order, including the ruling Pharaoh, and She utilized her powers of destruction only to destroy the enemies of the Gods.
Sekhmet was feared as a bringer of pestilence which came on the hot winds of the desert, but She was also a Goddess of healing. Her temples trained fine physicians and surgeons. The Pharaoh, Amenhotep III, who suffered from a number of maladies, was so grateful for Her intercession that he erected thousands of statues in Her honor during his reign. Some 572 figures of Sekhmet attributed to Amenhotep III have been found in the temple complexes at Karnak.
Further aspects of Her duality note that She is not only the Goddess who destroys, but She is also associated with fertility, and as One Who Controls the Waters of Life. Sekhmet can with Her fire burn away the soul of a transgressor, therefore depriving it of rebirth. But she is also one of the fiercest protectors of the soul on its journey through the Afterlife.
Sekhmet was also known as the great protector of the Goddess, Ma'at, the Goddess who weighed the souls of men as they entered the Afterlife and determined whether their soul would survive the journey. And like Ma'at, Sekhmet looks into the hearts and souls of men and knows their inner thoughts and fears.
Sekhmet's priests were also trained in magical techniques, particularly in inner journeying. She is therefore associated with magic, trance work, and transformation.
Sekhmet is not a comfortable Goddess with whom to work. Her law is strict and her punishment for transgression is swift. Even today she is feared in Egypt. A statue of Her was destroyed by local villagers in recent years because they feared Her action against them.
A number of years ago Sekhmet came to me during a meditation. In the meditation I was standing within the red sandstone pillars of a temple looking our across the sands of a boundless desert and feeling the hot winds blow on my face. As I turned back into the shade of the forest of columns I found myself suddenly face to face with an enormous lioness. I lay prostrate on the floor of the temple, my eyes closed, my face feeling the grit of windblown sand upon the tiles of the floor. Slowly the lioness paced completely around me as I lay there. And as She did I could feel her sift through all of my thoughts and all of the deeds that I had ever done, weighing them against Her scales. I confess to a feeling of terror and awe in Her presence. This was no fluffy, all-loving Goddess. This was one who held the power of existence or destruction within Her paws. When She finished moving around my body She stopped before my head, and I felt the hot breath from Her mouth upon me. Then She reached out a paw and with one claw drew a single drop of blood from the back of my hand.
Was this a claiming? Was it a form of initiation into Her path? Or was this a form of judgment in which She made a choice as to whether my soul was worthy? I'm not certain. However, after that moment She became a powerful energy in my life and I am always conscious of Her presence in all that I do. Her altar stands in my temple and on it I place offerings and tribute to Her. I believe that She has called me to serve Her as Her priestess.