Strolling with Sekhmet and Bast into the New Year by Jan Peppler


In my dream, two large cats are walking towards me on a sidewalk. They are large cats, not house cats, rather, lions or tigers and they are walking on two legs, standing up, like humans. Wait, their bodies are human, only their heads are feline.  As they come closer, they appear to have top hats on their heads. They look like twins. I step aside and they stroll past me.

Clearly Sekhmet and Bast have come to me in my dream. These goddesses are not part of my faith tradition. Yet depth psychology is my tool for understanding and dreams are the realm of life: animating the forces bubbling beneath the surface. I must turn my face to these feline goddesses, bow and listen, to hear what they may want to share.

Sekhmet and Bast derive from Net or Neith, the oldest Egyptian female deity. Both were considered daughters and consorts of Ra (or Re), the sun god. Bast was designated the mild eye of Ra, while Sekhmet was the sun’s scorching eye. As such, the two goddesses are both opposites and complements of each other.

Sekhmet is most commonly depicted with a solar disc on her head. Her name derives from the Egyptian word sekhem, meaning powerful. As a lioness, the fiercest of all animal hunters, she is a warrior goddess, associated with “the devouring, negative aspect of the sun-desert-fire, the solar eye that burns and judges” (Neumann, 220). Ra sent Sekhmet to punish the humans who had forgotten him and she nearly destroyed the entire human race. The more she killed, the more she enjoyed herself. Only Thoth, the god of wisdom, could stop her. He ordered red barley be crushed into beer and added pomegranate juice and magical ingredients. Mistaking the mixture for blood, Sekhmet lapped it up until it was gone and her ravaging heart was soothed. She lay down and purred, having been transformed into the gentle, loving cat goddess, Bast[1]. Eventually, Sekhmet came to be seen as a protective goddess of healing who could cure disease.

Bast, also known as Bastet, is the cat-bodied or cat-headed goddess of the east and of the moon. She is associated with pregnant women and making women fertile.  Consequently, she most often appears in green, the color of fecundity. Bast, like Sekhmet, was originally a wild lioness that softened into a benevolent cat over time.

Are they separate goddesses then, or the same goddess in different forms? Each contains balancing opposites within themselves. Together, they are two aspects of the same divine feminine: the light and the dark, night and day, the yin and the yang.  This balance of opposites exists not only in the goddesses of Ancient Egypt, but within each of us. We each are the balanced whole of our conscious and unconscious elements, our shadow and our Self. Sekhmet and Bast represent the divine archetype that punishes and rewards and the feminine archetype that nurtures and protects. Individually they embody the light and the dark within themselves while outwardly appearing as only one dominant trait, contrary to the other.  Yet, they are the same, not really opposites at all.

The divine feminine in Egyptian stories is a psychopomp who initiates the dead into the other world and who provides new life. In her exists the power of transformation. Sekhmet destroys and heals, Bast protects and creates. Both kill and both offer life.

What then is the message that Sekhmet and Bast have for me? Why did they appear in my dream? The answer, I think, lies in Maat. Notice the feather in the hand of Bast, similar to the feather typically depicted on the head of Maat. Maat is justice, truth, authenticity, the correct order of things. The realization of maat is the ultimate goal. Passively adapting to the order is not enough; instead,

“Individuals must do what is correct and reasonable, must speak with appropriate words.  This order… must be actively realized time and again. Only through proper behavior and active engagement is world order achieved”[2]. This is similar to Carl Jung’s idea of individuation or Joseph Campbell’s encouragement to “follow your bliss.” The development of the Self, of a proper balance of forces within the Psyche, achieved through personal truth, authenticity, and integrity and actively engaged in life instead of simply following the establishment, is the ultimate goal. Maat, like individuation or lived bliss, is the means by which order and balance is achieved in each of us. While the Egyptians did not expect to realize maat in their lifetime, they appreciated it as “the hope for another chance.” Today we know we can achieve individuation in our lifetime; we can achieve balance of the forces within our psyche.

And perhaps this is all I needed to remember, all that the feline goddesses wanted to share.

Sekhmet and Bast come to me in my dream. They stroll past me with top hats perched high. They are the ancient divine feminine archetype in twentieth century form, for their hats emphasize the mind: the containment of my over-active analyzing. As I step aside to allow them their stride, I see them wink at me. The message I hear is this: You are balanced, you are whole. Allow the destruction of what needs to die so that something new may be born. After your roar comes your purr. Contain your thoughts and embody me: I am what you seek and you are in me.

            Ah, the feminine divine is on a roll and taking a stroll.

[1] See Normandi Ellis’s essay “Sekhmet, Bast, and Hathor: Power, Passion, and Transformation through the Egyptian Goddess Trinity” in Goddesses in World Culture, Ed. Patricia Monaghan (Praeger, 2010).

[2] See “The Concept of Maat” in Erik Hornung’s Idea Into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian Thought, trans. Elizabeth Bredeck (Timken, 1992).

 

Jan Peppler, Ph.D., is a writer, lecturer, and adjunct professor of humanities. Founder of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable of Ketchum, ID, she received her doctorate in Mythological Studies and Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. In addition to her research on the archetypal psychology of home, her writing focuses primarily on the hero and the goddess as disguised in popular culture and in religion. In private practice since 1994, her work helps others understand life stories that shape physical and emotional patterns, heal old wounds, embrace their potential, and become the hero of their own mythic journey. 

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Categories: General, Goddess, Goddess feminism

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16 replies

  1. A friend and I have been talking (via email) about Sekhmet. Thanks for the information you give here. My friend and I both think she should be sent to visit the Troll-in-Chief and his enablers. Maybe Bast should also go along. The country needs what these two goddesses can give.

    Thanks for writing this blog. (I was the fourth reader for a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica a couple years ago.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting, Barbara. Yes, our country could definitely benefit from more awareness of these feline goddesses. Sekhmet, in her original destructive form, seems embodied in many of this administration’s policies; almost drunk on blood, terror, and chaos. As we embrace the Feminine Divine within ourselves, Bast helps us birth something new: a new possibility and new life. Birthing, however, always comes with blood. It’s a messy and painful business giving birth and we are clearly in the throes of labor!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love a good story, images and dreams! Thanks for sharing yours, Jan. It brought back to memory some of my more powerful dreams which usually come during times of intense change and growth.
    Do you think it’s an age difference that the “top hats”, for me, symbolize rich men. Did the lioness take them as “trophies” after a defeat? If I had one, I might wear it to the Women’s March tomorrow! Grrrr!

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    • Barbara, I love the idea of transforming an old symbol into one of personal power! I agree, top hats DO symbolize rich men – particularly in an era where it was believed that only men were blessed with intellect and, consequently, superior to women. It’s time for us to claim this outdated symbol as a trophy and imbue it with new meaning. I’d love to see us all marching with top hats – preferably in fun and vibrant colors! We are sisters, hear us roar!

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  3. Thanks Barbara Cooper for reminding us regards the Women’s March today — some great photos at the NYTimes — very enjoyable. Linked my name here to the Times coverage —

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your essay Jan. As a priestess of Sekhmet I always love when she’s acknowledged and her relevance today shared and understood. I wonder if you’ve seen the Sekhmet statue at the Museum of Woman/Goddess Temple of Orange County in Irvine, CA? She’s about 9′ tall if standing, seated on her 4′ tall pyramid throne. She’s truly grand.

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    • Karen, I didn’t know that about you! As Sekhmet is not very familiar to me, I am glad to know my essay respectfully represented Her. I have not yet seen her statue, but I look forward to seeing Her and You on March 10th!!

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  5. “dreams are the realm of life: animating the forces bubbling beneath the surface.”
    For sure, an as a former Jungian analyst these two remind us of the positive and negative aspects of Nature and archetypal reality. I don’t know what the context of this dream is but the fact that these two stroll by with top hots worries me a bit… maybe you are too much in your head as you suggested. All I know is that dreams speak truths and that sometimes it takes years to understand the power behind a dream – they are so multi- valenced.

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    • Dear Sara, Indeed – powerful dreams such as this one can unfold like a flower or peel away like an onion over time. The hats do resonate as an emphasis on the intellect: that’s the symbolism that spoke to me. And yet I love Barbara Cooper’s interpretation (above) that they may also symbolize “trophies”. Since our interpretations shape our realities, and everything is a story, I’m going to muse on this and other possible meanings, allowing them to reveal whatever more this dream needs to share with me. Thank you for writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. PS in my life these forces of positive and negative are always part of the same whole – it strikes me as funny that even now I try sometimes to separate the two.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely. What fascinates me still is that, in this case, the image was clearly two. And two not as opposites, rather two individual wholes, yet only fully whole together. A bit like yin/yang, I suppose.

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  7. My daughter once gave me a cat named Bast, so of course I had to read this post.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge, it is something I will be thinking about.

    Liked by 1 person

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