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Sekhmet and the Happy Fluffy Sex Goddess
Bast has been associated with Het-hert [GR: Hathor] since the Old Kingdom; toward the Middle Kingdom, Bast also became associated with Mut (Who has a leonine depiction) and, even later, Aset [GR: Isis]. Images of Bast have been found in Memphis (the city of Sekhmet, Ptah, and Nefertem); likewise, images of Sekhmet have been found in Bubastis.
Like Sekhmet, Het-hert, and dozens of other goddesses, Bast is an Eye of Ra. One passage has her ripping out the hearts of the transgressors of ma'at and delivering them to the feet of the Pharaoh and Her father.
As one can see, this is far from a "happy fluffy sex goddess".
While Bast and Sekhmet have been paired together since as early as 1850 BCE , Their relationship is not that of the pacified goddess paired with an angrier goddess. Bast clearly has a role in antiquity as an avenger, and even in the very later periods She was still depicted bearing the divine eye of Ra and Heru [GR: Horus] and wearing Wadjet -- symbols of the creator god's presence and just retribution.
Sekhmet is no more the "angry" side of Bast than Bast is the "pacified" side of Sekhmet; if any Egyptian deity occupies this role, it would be Het-hert, Who clearly becomes Sekhmet after She has gone forth to slaughter those who disobeyed the will of the Creator (Ra or Tem).
The true foil to Sekhmet as divine destroyer, however, is the one the ancient Egyptians themselves came up with. That of Ptah, the master craftsman and world-creator. In Memphis, Their city, the two are considered married with a child, usually the god Nefertem.
That said, Bast and Sekhmet were paired, but not as foils. The main place of Bast's worship was in Lower Egypt, while Sekhmet (as a form of Het-hert) was a Southern god. Just as Nekhbet and Wadjet are paired (Nekhbet being the vulture and Wadjet the royal cobra) as the Two Ladies, so Bast and Sekhmet are paired, one representing Lower Egypt (Bast) and the other representing Upper Egypt (Sekhmet). This is traditionally a "She of the North and She of the South" representation, and not necessarily a "She of the Content and She of the Really Ticked Off" kind.
Testimonies to Bast's protective nature can be found in the dozens of war shields with Her device on them that have been unearthed in excavations. However, at no time in the history of Kemetic religion were Sekhmet and Bast associated in a "sister-sister", "mother-daughter", "aunt-niece" or "big bad lioness/nice kitty" context. The phrase, "She rages as Sekhmet, She is pacified as Bast." is a fairly late one (150 BCE ), and in specifying "Kemetic religion", one is implying the state of the theology previous to the Third Intermediate/Late Period.
Sisters in ancient Egyptian theology did exist, but were extremely important and rare occurences, and Bast and Sekhmet in particular are simply not mentioned in this sort of relationship. Aset [GR: Isis] and Nebt-het [GR: Nephthys], Who are sisters, share a distinctive relationship that carries through into Their iconography and depictions. Rarely do you see one without the other in funerary scenes, and there are numerous paired statues of the two, as well as extant mythology relating Them as born of the same parents.
The same is not true in antiquity with Bast and Sekhmet, aside from references of Ra as Their father -- a designation that rings true at one time or another for nearly every ancient Egyptian goddess.
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Essay copyright © 1996-2010, S.D. Cass; Site copyright © 2013, N. Baan
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