The Egyptian goddess Hathor is one of the most contradictory deities: She is the goddess of beauty, love & festivities, and described as a “heavenly cow”. But in her most famous story, she massacres rebellous humans and drinks what she thinks is their blood. As usual, the explanation is punnery: Hathor puns with ḫwt-wr
“heavenly cow”, but also with ḫȝyt-ḫrw
“slaughtering rebels”. Hathor was created from puns, and very different things often sound similar.
The Egyptian goddess Hathor is one of the most contradictory deities: She is the goddess of beauty, love & festivities, and described as a “heavenly cow”. But in her most famous story, she massacres rebellous humans and drinks what she thinks is their blood. As usual, the explanation is punnery: Hathor puns with ḫwt-wr “heavenly cow”, but also with ḫȝyt-ḫrw “slaughtering rebels”. Hathor was created from puns, and very different things often sound similar.
Hathor’s puns in a nutshell
The name Hathor is written ḥwt-ḥr , either with the glyphs 𓉗𓁷 house-face, or with the combined glyphs 𓉡 house-Horus. Both spellings are interpreted to mean “house of Horus” (Horus puns with “face”). But that explanation is garbage: Hathor is not associated or depicted with Horus anywhere. And why would a goddess be called a “house”, if she has nothing to do with houses?
Rather, all aspects and attributes of Hathor are puns with her name. Like all gods, she was created from puns. In Hathor’s case, all her attributes follow the pattern H-T-H-R. Because the 2nd component H-R puns with “Horus”, Hathor borrows many attributes from Horus.
- Hathor is written with the glyphs house-Horus, simply because that spells her name. The glyphs are phonograms.
- Hathor is called heavenly cow, because ỉḥt-ḥrw / ȝht-ḥrw literally means “heavenly cow” (Horus puns with “sky”). ↓
- Hathor is called heavenly cow, also because ḫwt-wr also means “heavenly cow”, only with different words for “cow” & “heaven”. Note that the word for “heaven” comes first here, which is not standard Egyptian grammar. It would work with glyphs though, which were sometimes written in a non-linear fashion. ↓
- Hathor is the goddes of beauty, depicted on and as a mirror, because ḫtỉ-ḥr means “looking at a mirror”, and also “returned face” (as Horus puns with “face”, which also means “mirror”). ↓
- Hathor is the goddess of love, because ḥȝwt-hrw means “naked pleasures”. ↓
- Hathor is associated with festivities, because hȝy.t-hrw means “joyful festivities”. ↓
- Hathor is associated with child care, perhaps because ḥṯ-ḥry means “nursing a child” (as Horus puns with “child”).
- Hathor is the eye of Ra, because ḫtỉ-hrw means “beholder of the day”, which is a garbled synonym for “eye of Ra” (as Ra means “day” and Horus also puns with “day”).
- Hathor helps Ra to slaughter rebellous humans as a Heavenly Cow, because ḫȝyt-ḫrw means “slaughter the rebels”. ↓
- Hathor is a spook symbol, perhaps because ḥȝyt-ḥr means “veiled face”, and ḥȝwt-ḥr also means “veiled face”. (Horus puns with “mask” & “veil”.) ↓
- Hathor is a spook symbol, perhaps because ḥȝty-ḥr means “masked prince”
- Hathor is a spook symbol, perhaps because ḥwwtỉ-ḥr means “masked messenger”, i.e. secret agent. This may be the true meaning of the Heavenly Cow: uprisings being defeated by secret agents within the ranks of the rebels. We’ll need a more in-depth analysis to confirm this though. ↓
Hathor as pun with “heavenly cow”
Hathor is identified with the so-called Heavenly Cow. The Book of the Heavenly Cow is a story found on several tomb walls. In this story, humans plot against Ra, and he has them slaughtered by the cow. To end the slaughtering, Ra has beer dyed red like blood, which is then drunk by the cow, getting her drunk.
Very little in this story seems to match Hathor’s other attributes as goddess of love & festivities. Why is Hathor a heavenly cow which butchers human rebels?
It’s not a pun, but 4 puns:
- ỉḥt-ḥrw means “cow of heaven”, and puns with Hathor.
- ȝht-ḥrw means “cow of heaven”, and puns with Hathor.
- ḫwt-wr means “heaven-cow”, and puns with Hathor.
- ḫȝyt-ḫrw means “slaughtering rebels”, and puns with Hathor.
This is why a “heavenly cow” slaughters rebels, even though cows are not typically the ones doing the slaughtering. And it’s also why Hathor slaughters rebels, even though she is the goddess of love, festivities and childcare. Punnery always trumps logic.
Egyptian ỉḥt = cow; ḥrw = heaven
Egyptian ỉḥt = cow; ḥrw = heaven
Egyptian ḫwt = heaven; wr = cow
Egyptian ḫȝyt = slaughter, massacre; ḫrw = rebel, enemy
Hathor as pun with “mirror”
Hathor is often depicted from a front perspective, as if looking into a mirror, and actual mirrors were fashioned with her face on it. This is because her name puns with ḫtỉ-ḥr “looking at a mirror” / “returned face”.
Egyptian ḫtỉ, ḫtḫt = see, behold, return; ḥr = mirror, face
Hathor as pun with “festivities”
Hathor is the goddes of festivities, because her name puns with “festivities”: hȝy means “cheering”, and the T-nominalization hȝy.t is translated as “festivities”. hrw means “pleasing”, so hȝy.t-hrw are “joyful festivities”.
Egyptian hȝy.t = festivity; hrw = pleasing
Hathor as pun with “sexual pleasures”
Hathor is also the goddess of sexuality & love. That’s probably a pun with ḥˤwt-hrw “pleasing enjoyment” / ḥˤt-hrw “pleasures of the flesh” / ḥȝwt-hrw “naked pleasures”. I suppose the Ancient Egyptians were not as stiff as they’re depicted on the reliefs.
(Another Egyptian love goddess is Qetesh, who perhaps puns with ḥˤwt-sȝ “satisfying pleasures”.)
Egyptian ḥˤwt, ḥˤt, ḥwt, ḥȝt = pleasure, flesh, wife, desire; hr = pleasing, happy
𓇉𓄿𓇋𓇋𓏏𓋳𓏪 ḥȝwt : nakedness, nudity — Egyptian (Vygus)
𓎛𓂝𓏏𓏤𓄻𓏫 ḥˤt : body, flesh, frame, limbs, members, self — Egyptian (Vygus)
𓄂𓏏𓏭𓄣𓏤 ḥȝty : heart, wish, desire — Egyptian (Vygus)
𓎛𓂝𓄻𓄻𓄻 ḥˤt : body, flesh, frame — Egyptian (Vygus)
𓎛𓂝𓅱𓏏𓀠𓏪 ḥˤwt : pleasure, joy, jubilation — Egyptian (Vygus)
𓎛𓅱𓏏𓐎𓏥 ḥwt : wife, mistress — Egyptian (Vygus)
𓉔𓂋𓏛 hrw : to be pleased; to be pleasing; to be at peace; to be content — Egyptian (TLA)
𓉔𓂋𓏛 hr : to be pleasing, soothing, to be content, be happy — Egyptian (Vygus)
Hathor as pun with “veiled face”
Hathor puns with “veiled face” in 2 ways:
- ḥȝyt-ḥr means “veiled face” (with ḥr as “face”).
- ḥȝwt-ḥr also means “veiled face” (with ḥr as “veil”).
Egyptian ḥȝyt = covering; ḥr = face
Egyptian ḥȝwt = face; ḥr = mask
Hathor as pun with “secret agent”
This is very speculative, but Hathor may be a spook pun with ḥwwtỉ-ḥr “masked messenger”, which could have been another way to say “undercover agent” or “secret agent”.
In the Book of the Heavenly Cow, Ra defeats the rebellous humans by sending out a heavenly cow against them, who proceeds to butcher them. In reality there’s no such thing, so we have to wonder what the ancient spook authors meant by that parable. Most of Hathor’s other puns are also not suited for defeating rebels. However, secret agents amidst the population could easily turn rebels against each other. We see the very same strategy employed in the spooky parable beneath the story of Noah, where spies among the population are described to whip up a civil war in Genesis 7:11, Genesis 7:12, Genesis 8:2.
One additional hint may be that Hathor’s wpt-wrt “horns-Uraeus” headgear also puns with wpwty-hȝrṯṯ “secret agent”. (They also pun with wp.t-ȝrt “heavenly cow”, said in yet another way, though that doesn’t help.)
However, to really confirm or refute the suspected “secret agent” pun, an more in-depth analysis of the Heavenly Cow story would be needed.