Hathor: The Egyptian Goddess of the Sky, Music, Dance, Love, Beauty, Fertility, and Cows

Hathor is a major goddess in ancient Egyptian mythology, associated with love, beauty, music, dance, motherhood, and joy. Often depicted as a cow, a woman with cow’s ears, or a woman wearing a headdress of cow horns and a sun disk, she embodies nurturing and protective qualities. Hathor is the daughter of the sun god Ra and is sometimes considered the mother or consort of Horus. She plays a vital role in welcoming souls to the afterlife and providing comfort to the deceased. Revered across Egypt, Hathor was worshiped in numerous temples and celebrated for her benevolent and joyous nature.

Attributes and Iconography

Hathor was often depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, or simply as a woman with cow’s ears. In her most recognizable form, she wears a headdress consisting of a sun disk encircled by cow horns. This iconography underscores her association with both the celestial and the bovine. The cow was sacred to Hathor, symbolizing motherhood and nourishment. Her representations also include the sistrum, a musical instrument she was closely associated with, emphasizing her role in music and dance.

Mythological Role

Hathor’s mythological narratives are rich and varied. She was considered the daughter of Ra, the sun god, and was often associated with Horus, the falcon-headed god of kingship and the sky. This connection to Horus is evident in her name, which translates to “House of Horus,” signifying her role as a protective and nurturing deity.

One of the central myths involving Hathor is her role as the Eye of Ra. In this story, Ra sends Hathor, in the form of the fierce lioness Sekhmet, to punish humanity for their rebellion. However, as Sekhmet’s wrath becomes uncontrollable, Ra tricks her into drinking beer dyed to look like blood, which calms her fury and transforms her back into the benevolent Hathor. This myth highlights her dual nature as both a nurturing and destructive force.

Goddess of the Sky

As a sky goddess, Hathor was often linked with the Milky Way, which was considered the celestial representation of her divine milk. This association connects her with creation and the nurturing of the cosmos. In some traditions, she was also seen as the mother of the sky god Horus, further solidifying her celestial connections.

Music, Dance, and Joy

Hathor’s domain over music, dance, and joy made her one of the most beloved deities. She was the patroness of musicians, dancers, and all those who sought happiness and pleasure. The sistrum, a rattle-like musical instrument, was often used in her worship. Hathor’s festivals were marked by music, dancing, and feasting, reflecting her joyous nature. Temples dedicated to her, such as the one at Dendera, were centers of artistic expression and cultural activities.

Love, Beauty, and Fertility

Hathor’s role as a goddess of love, beauty, and fertility made her an essential deity in matters of romance and procreation. She was invoked by couples seeking love and by women desiring children. Her presence was believed to ensure beauty and grace, and she was often called upon to assist in childbirth and to protect mothers and infants.

Cows and Agriculture

Hathor’s connection to cows is one of her most enduring attributes. Cows were highly valued in ancient Egypt, representing wealth, fertility, and sustenance. Hathor, as the divine cow, symbolized the nurturing and sustaining aspects of life. She was often depicted with cow horns and ears, and her role as a motherly figure extended to the agricultural sphere. Farmers prayed to Hathor for bountiful harvests and the health of their livestock.

Worship and Temples

Hathor was worshipped throughout Egypt, with numerous temples dedicated to her. One of the most famous is the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, a vast complex that highlights her significance. The temple’s beautifully preserved reliefs depict various aspects of Hathor’s worship, including rituals, festivals, and offerings. Pilgrims visited Dendera to seek Hathor’s blessings and to participate in the vibrant religious life centered around her.

Another important site of Hathor’s worship was the Serabit el-Khadim temple in the Sinai Peninsula, where she was venerated as the “Lady of Turquoise.” This temple underscores her connection to mining and valuable resources, further illustrating her wide-ranging influence.

Festivals and Celebrations

Festivals dedicated to Hathor were joyous occasions marked by music, dance, and feasting. One of the most notable was the “Beautiful Festival of the Valley,” held annually in Thebes. During this festival, statues of Hathor were carried in procession across the Nile to visit the mortuary temples on the west bank, symbolizing the goddess’s role in the afterlife and her connection to rebirth and renewal.

The Festival of Drunkenness, another significant celebration, commemorated the myth of Hathor-Sekhmet and the beer that pacified her. Participants would drink copious amounts of beer, dance, and make merry, reenacting the joyous aspect of the myth and invoking Hathor’s blessings.

Hathor in the Afterlife

Hathor’s influence extended into the afterlife, where she was seen as a guide and protector of the deceased. She was often depicted welcoming the dead into the afterlife, offering them sustenance and ensuring their safe passage. Tomb inscriptions and funerary texts frequently invoked Hathor’s protection, highlighting her role in the journey to the afterlife.

Hathor and Syncretism

Hathor’s identity and attributes were often syncretized with other deities. She was closely linked with Isis, another major goddess, and their roles and symbols frequently overlapped. Hathor’s nurturing and motherly aspects were akin to those of Isis, and they were both seen as protectors of the dead and patrons of motherhood.

During the Greco-Roman period, Hathor was associated with the goddess Aphrodite, reflecting the blending of Egyptian and Greco-Roman religious traditions. This syncretism illustrates Hathor’s adaptability and the enduring appeal of her attributes.


Hathor’s legacy is evident in the numerous artifacts, temples, and texts that have survived from ancient Egypt. Her image appears on amulets, jewelry, and artworks, signifying her widespread veneration. The Temple of Hathor at Dendera remains one of the best-preserved examples of ancient Egyptian temple architecture, offering valuable insights into her worship and cultural significance.

Hathor’s influence persisted even beyond the decline of ancient Egyptian religion. Her attributes and symbols continued to be revered in various forms, and her legacy can be seen in modern interest in ancient Egyptian mythology and art.