||In ancient myth she was the Celestial Cow, the mother of the
sun-god, raising the youthful sun to the sky with the horns of her bovine form. However,
when Aset later took on the role, Het-Hert became known as the daughter of Ra and the
consort of Heru. She was associated with the protection of the solar deity pictured as a
falcon and represented by the living king. As Heru was patron of kings, so Het-Hert was
patroness of the queens.
Het-Hert assimilated the earlier, predynastic goddess Bat, who
was associated with the sky, cows, and fertility, and was represented by a cow-eared human
face with the curls of a wig hanging on each side.
The earliest representation we have is on the Narmer Palette (ca. 3000 BCE) from the
Old Kingdom. This becomes ubiquitous in later periods, appearing on the capitals of
columns in her temples, on the handles of the sistra, the sacred rattles, and other items
used in her worship.
Though she is most often represented as a slim, beautiful woman wearing
cow horns and disk atop a wig, she is also seen in her cow-form with the sun disk and
horns, often protecting or suckling the Pharoah. In her vengeful aspect as the Eye of Ra,
she is a powerful lioness, and as a cobra, the sacred uraeus symbol of protection.
Less frequently, she is depicted as a hippopotamus. Somewhat after the
original idea of the celestial cow, the sycamore tree became sacred to her, and as the
Lady of the Southern Sycamore in New Kingdom tomb paintings at Thebes, she is a nourishing
and protective tree or tree-spirit seen offering milk and water, shade and rest, to the
deceased. These are all simply different ways of depicting her, and in fact occasionally
she is depicted in several forms side by side.
In western Waset (Thebes), she was known as Lady
of the West, the guardian of the necropolis who helps the deceased
in the Underworld. Originally, in her cow-form she was only shown suckling
the king, but eventually her help extended to all the dead, and the
Celestial Cow is seen emerging from the nearby hills of the Theban necropolis
to welcome all of them to the West. Once in the Underworld, the deceased
could be assured of safe passage through the demons of the Island of
Fire by possessing her tjesten (which scholars suggest is either her
outer garment, or a Hathor-headed pendant, representing her incarnation).
At the dawn of the New Year during the popular Festival of the Valley at
Thebes, when the kas of the blessed dead were revived, a
lighted torch was extinguished in a bowl of cow's milk, symbolizing rebirth and the
successful return of the dead to Het-Hert. Het-Hert is traditionally associated with
motherhood, childbirth and healing. This healing aspect is recalled in the myth of the
struggle between Heru and Set when they were vying for the throne and Het-Hert restored
sight to Heru after his eyes were torn out.
Reference for Image:
Het-Hert emerging from the papyrus swamps in her form as a Celestial Cow
from The Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by Raymond Faulkner
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