Hekate, Sekhmet, & Lions

Before COVID took over our corner of the Earth, my daughters and I visited the Albany Institute of History and Art near our home. On the third floor, they have an amazing exhibit dedicated to Ancient Egypt, with many artifacts and two preserved mummies of Egyptian Priests from the Ptolemaic Period (c. 305 BCE).

Almost everything on display was safely stored behind protective glass, except for the bust of the Goddess Sekhmet (see photo below). Seeing this bust of the great Lioness was breathtaking. It was displayed on a heavy stand, with a simple sign asking visitors not to touch it.

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Bust of the Goddess Sekhmet from the Temple of Mut at Karnak, dated between 1388-1350 BCE / Albany Institute of History and Art  © 2020 Melissa McNair / The Torch and Key

This particular bust of Sekhmet was commissioned by Amenhotep III for the Temple of Mut at Karnak, and is believed to be dated from about 1388-1350 BCE. The temple of Mut was located in the present city of Luxor, Egypt on the banks of the Nile River.  The Goddess Mut was the consort of the God Amun-Ra, and was known as a Mother Goddess, a Sky Goddess, and was the mother of Khonsu, a Moon God.

Amenhotep III commissioned more than 500 statues of Sekhmet for the Temple of Mut, and it is believed that his intention was to have a “forest” of Sekhmet statues.

Sekhmet is a complex Goddess who embodies many different qualities. She is a terribly fierce defender of Ma’at (justice or balance), who is known to show her wrath when Ma’at is threatened. Sekhmet also has a nurturing side due to her role as healer and patroness of physicians –  but that gift of healing can also be used to harm by sending disease to those who offend her. She holds life and death in her hands.

Sekhmet and the Goddess Hekate do share similar qualities such as being mistresses of life and death, and as protectresses of justice and balance.

Hekate & Lions

Hekate is linked to lions through the Chaldean Oracles, temple remains found at Lagina, temple remains found near Syracuse (Sicily), various ancient coins showing Hekate with lions, and spells from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM).

Chaldean Oracles

In the Chaldean Oracles, Hekate is seen as the Cosmic World Soul. She is the Anima Mundi; the mediator / messenger between the intellectual and material realms and within Her Cosmic Womb is where creation begins, with the paternal intellect planting the ideas within that womb. The Epiphany of Hekate in the Chaldean Oracles mentions lions in some translations:

“If you say this to me many times, you will observe all things to be a lion”

Meaning, if you called upon Hekate correctly, She will appear in lion form as a result.

Lagina

The Temple of Hekate in Lagina, Turkey is an ancient temple that was built around the 2nd century BCE. It was a sacred site dedicated to Hekate and was an important center of worship. There are preserved temple remains still there today, and one of them is a frieze containing lion heads (see below photo).

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Lion heads at the Temple of Hekate at Lagina / photo © Slow Travel Guide

 

Sicily

In the ancient Greek colony of Akrai in modern day Sicily, there once stood a great temple to the Magna Mater (“Great Mother”). This temple is believed to have been built to worship the goddess Cybele. Many of the carvings / statues depict Cybele with lions.  Hekate and Cybele are closely related and some statues and carvings from the temple in Akrai depict Hekate either alone or alongside Cybele.

Ancient Coins

There are many ancient coins that depict Hekate either alone or with another deity. One particular coin from the region of Stratonikeia, near Lagina, shows Zeus on one side on horseback, with Hekate on the other side sitting atop a lion (see photo below).

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Coin depicting Zeus (left) and Hekate (right), CARIA, Stratonikeia. 1st-2nd Century AD. Image © WildWinds

Another coin from Thessaly, dated to about 400 BCE, depicts Hekate’s head with a torch on one side and a lion on the other side (see below photo).

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Hekate / Lion coin from Thessaly, 400 BCE Image © WorthPoint

 


 

Sources:

  1. “Hekate Soteira” by Sarah Iles Johnston
  2. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/pherai-thessaly-404bc-hekate-1826761086
  3. https://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/caria/stratonikeia/i.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precinct_of_Mut

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