The Hathor Cow Goddess in Facsimile #2

by Kerry Shirts

I have taken issue with Stephen Thompson's article on the Book of Abraham concerning several figures in Facsimile #2, called the Hypocephalus.1 I now turn to his discussion of the Hathor Cow in Facsimile #2 in the Book of Abraham. Thompson says:

"This figure actually depicts the celestial cow-goddess known as "Ih.t-wrt," or "Mh.t-wr.t" (the great flood), or Hathor. Varga has identified this figure as 'the most important in a hypocephalus.' These goddesses were thought of as the mother of Re, the sun-god, with Mh.t-wr.t representing the flood from which he arises daily. It is important to note that while this figure is associated with the sun, i.e., as the mother of the sun-god, it is never equated with the sun. The sun is always a masculine deity in Egyptian religion. Joseph Smith's interpretation might be adjudged as close by some, but in my opinion it cannot be judged as 'generally correct.'"2

I believe that Thompson is incorrect, because many modern day Egyptologists certainly do equate Hathor directly with the sun. Thompson apparently ignored any of the relevant sources contradicting his view that Joseph Smith completely missed the boat with his interpretations of the facsimiles. On the contrary, it is Thompson who has missed the boat here as he has with the other figures he discusses. In particular, I believe Thompson's argument that the Hathor Cow cannot be the sun because the sun was a masculine deity to the ancient Egyptians is faulty, because surely Thompson, as an Egyptologist, is aware that many Egyptian deities played many roles, sometimes all at once regardless of gender. The fact that Thompson ignores this demonstrates that he is force-fitting the facts into a mold of his own making.

The Hathor Cow Is The Sun and other Heavenly Bodies as well as the Sky:

Hans Bonnet shows that Hathor is the mother of Horus3, and this indicates that Hathor is associated with the Sun. "Die Sonne reift in Schože der hathor." The sun ripens in the lap of Hathor. We also are told "Nach ihr ist Hathor das Sonnen auge, also die Sonne selbst." Hathor is the sun because she was the sun's eye, hence the sun.4 Manfred Lurker tells us that in an ancient myth of Hathor she was supposed to have taken the youthful sun up to heaven by means of her horns. In the end the goddess who bore the sun was herself equated with the sun, being regarded as the Solar Eye.5 Interestingly, Hathor is also the tree-goddess and helper of the dead.6 This demonstrates that she can play many roles at once, including that of the Sun, without any a contradiction. While this may seem strange to the modern mind, it was not strange to the ancient Egyptian mind. Sir Alan Gardiner has noted this type of mixed imagery quite frequently in his writings. He says:

"For example the cow-goddess Hathor of Dendera was really none other than the Hathor worshipped near Memphis in a sycamore. The instability of form shown by some deities was extraordinary; Thoth was indeed as a rule an ibis or had an ibis head on a human body, but he might also be a cynocephalus ape, or else manifest himself in the moon... the earth god Geb took the form of the Ram Chnum at Hypselis... the sun is assuredly that which exhibits the greatest constancy and is least in need of changing imagery; yet at Heliopolis (the Egyptian On) he was enivsaged as the falcon-headed Harakhti (Horus on the Horizon) or else as a human king bearing the name Atum; or else he might even be conceived of as a beetle rolling its ball of dung in front of it (Khopri)."7

In the same way, Hathor could be depicted as a cow, while representing either the sun or a tree-goddess! She also has the epithet "lady of the turquoise."8 We also learn that she is "Falkenweibchen ist darum ein haufiges Beiwort her Hathor von Punt." That is, she is the falcon female of Punt. But each of her various forms and aspects do not rule out the others. In fact, Hathor is called "the great enchantress" 9,"Mistress of the sky, and wife of Horus"10. Is it forbidden to be the wife as well as mother to Horus? Not to the Egyptians! We even read that a certain 'Ihy, the son of Hathor and Re is said to be the son of Isis as well as the son of Nephthys!11 Things like this didn't bother the Egyptians. Gardiner also noted this:

"If the usually accepted theory of Egyptian kingship is correct, the divine nature of the falcon-god Horus descended from son to son, the sying monarch relinquishing that attribute in order to become an Osiris. An act of association which resulted in two Horuses functioning simultaneously made nonsense of this doctrine, but there is no hint that the Egyptians ever felt scruples on this score. In matters of religion logic played no great part, and the assimilation or duplication of deities doubtless added a mystic charm to their theology."12

And exactly so in the case of Hathor's relationship to Horus, with whom she is intimately acquainted and associated. Horus, we are told, is a heavenly body. "The idea that Horus appears in the horizon and on heaven obviously means that he is a celestial body. He is evidently in some cases the sun, in other cases, a star... Horus was the sun, and the evidence that he was a star, indications seem to exist that Horus was also the moon."13 Even Hathor, we are informed, took many forms, usually associated with the Egyptian Sed-Festival Rites.14 Further, just to drive the point home against Thompson's argument that Hathor cannot be the sun because she is the sky, we are informed that "a god is not confined to one external manifestation but can assume the form of another god or of a fetish."15 This fact becomes apparent very quickly even in a quite superficial study the ancient Egyptians, so it surprises me that Thompson argues against it. Concerning Horus again, we know he was manifested as the different planets, thus as Mercury he was "Hr-st"; as Saturn he was "Hr-K3", as Jupiter he was "Hr-wp-st", as the 7th star in the constellation of the Great Bear he was "Hr-mhntj-n-irtj", and Orion was his father. "Indeed, being so closely associated with the stars, it was the night-sky which was especially his."16 Horus is specifically Sirius, a most important star to the ancient Egyptians.17 The hieroglyphic name for Hathor, in fact, is a falcon (the Horus falcon) in a house!18 Hathor herself is identified with Sothis (Sirius), the star Sept.19 Hathor is even a Lion Goddess, as well as a wind goddess.20 There just doesn't seem to be any end of the various forms she can take. In other words, she can represent the sky, but this does nothing to stop her from also being the sun as Thompson argues. The seven Hathors, we are even told, were involved in Music and dance, and in the Coffin Texts are mentioned sistrum players of the goddess.21

Hathor is also called "Hathor die Kuh von Gold.", Hathor the Cow of gold.22 Why gold if she was not the sun? In the Book of the Dead, the chapter of transformation into the Golden Falcon is considered as "clearly a designation of the sun."23 If the falcon as "Golden" is the sun, why is not Hathor, also "Gold", the sun? Clearly Gold is the color associated with the sun. She is the "Wrt Hk3w", crowned with the sun disc, also called "The Great Enchantress, another epithet of Hathor as we have seen.24 We know there were four goddesses on the "first occassion", the "Urzeit." These goddesses were depicted as cows!25 Also they were the Eye of Re, which is the sun.26 The Eye of Horus, is defined as "bright" (b3qt), probably because it is the sun and has its properties.27 In the Coffin Texts Hathor is actually said to be shining herself!28 Not only Hathor, but Tefnut, the wild lioness, was also the Sun's eye, clearly showing that Thompson's idea of the sun as strictly male is not true.28 In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, chapter 17 Hathor is described as the sacred Eye, which represents the "waters of the sky. It is the image of the Eye of Re on the morning of its daily birth [the sun]. As for the Celestial Cow, she is the sacred Eye of Re."29 In fact, the property of the sun as dying in the west and resurrecting into a new life in the East gives the Hathor Cow the power to feed the dead and nurse them preparing them for their resurrection.30 The sun travels along her belly throughout the day.31 The cosmology as obvious. Interestingly, Joseph Smith also said that this figure is involved with the number 15, which, as we all know, is half the moons appearance in the sky. For 15 days it waxes, then for 15 days it wanes. Interestingly, the Coffin Texts speak of Hathor rising within the horizon, strange language if she was the sky, and not the sun.32


So what have we seen? For one thing the Hathor Cow most definitely represents the sun, as do many other Egyptian deities. For another thing there is no one-to-one correspondence with gods and their functions or forms in Egyptian religion or history or philosophy. There are many variagated forms, functions, and roles played by the major gods of Egypt. So the argument that Hathor cannot be the sun because it is the sky, or because it is female as opposed to being male is clearly *our* conception, not the ancient Egyptian view. To fault the ancient cultures based on our modern views is obviously not correct. I believe, though, that this is exactly what Stephen Thompson has done with this figure on the Hypocephalus. Indeed, she is the one necessary figure in order to have a real hypocephalus! She is the one indispensible figure, the most important one as Varga (whom Thompson quotes) notes. In fact, in the collection of Hypocephali I own, every one has the Hathor Cow, and one is nothing but the Hathor cow! Another one shows just Hathor in front of the Four sons of Horus. Clearly she is important. Joseph Smith, so far as I can tell from the sources I have quoted, was correct in noting Hathor's connection to the Sun. Therefore, Joseph Smith's interpretation of the Hathor Cow certainly cannot be summarily dismissed as "incorrect", and it seems to be a point in favor of his prophetic calling. Who would have guessed that a cow to the ancient Egyptians would be the sun?


1. Stephen Thompson, "Egytpology and the Book of Abraham," in "Dialogue", Spring 1995, pp. 143-160.

2. "Ibid.", p. 150.

3. Hans Bonnet, "Reallexicon der Agyptischen Religionsgeschichte," Walter De Gruyter & Co., 1952, p. 280.

4. "Ibid.", p. 280.

5. Manfred Lurker, "The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt," Thames & Hudson, 1974, p. 59. The Eye of Horus we know was presented to his father Osiris, thereby helping him to attain new life. The presentation of the eye was regarded as the archtype of every offering ceremony., p. 67. We are further informed that The Wedjat Eye was a symbol of power of the god of light. With the Ankh sign it means "to flourish." It was also a protection against the evil eye, p. 128. Cf. Sir Alan Gardiner, "Egyptian Grammar," Griffith Institute, 3rd Revised Edition, 1994, p. 111 - "thou hast placed it (the Eye of Horus) in thy head, that thou mayest be eminent by means of it, that thou mayest be exalted by means of it, that thy estimation may be great by means of it." It is called "the sound eye", p. 197. The Eye of Horus is even equated on some ocassions with the uraeus (i.e. the cobra), p. 421 bottom note. So it is also connected with that goddess as well.

6. Bonnet, "Ibid.", p. 279.

7. Alan Gardiner, "Egypt of the Pharoahs," Oxford Univ. Press, 1964, p. 216.

8. Gardiner, "Ibid.", p. 137. Perhaps because the Eye of Horus (which she also was), was made of the precious stone? See Margaret Bunson, "The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt," Facts on File, 1991, p. 118.

9. Kate Bosse-Griffiths, "The Great Enchantress in the Little Golden Shrine of Tut'ankhamun," in "Journal of Egyptian Archaeology," 1973, p. 101, (Hereafter cited as JEA) where we are told that the "Urt Hekau" (The Great Enchantress) can be Isis, Hathor, or Mut!

10. Samuel A.B. Mercer. "Horus Royal God of Egypt," Society of Oriental Research, 1942, p. 107. Cf. Leonard Cottrell, "Egypt", Oxford Univ. Press, 1966, p. 49 - "Hathor Goddess of Love and Beauty." In the Coffin Texts, Hathor is called the mistress of the rams, CT 2:199, Spell 612.

11. Walter Federn, ""The 'Transformations' in the Coffin Texts A New Approach," in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, (Hereafter cited as JNES), Oct. 1960, p. 254, footnote 139. Coffin Texts, (hereafter cited as CT) 1:206, where Ihy is the naked sistrum player.

12. Alan Gardiner, "Egypt of the Pharoahs," p. 129f.

13. Rudolf Anthes, "Egyptian Theology in the Third Millenium B.C.," in "JNES," July, 1959, pp. 185f.

14. Eric Uphill, "The Egyptian Sed-Festival Rites," in "JNES" 1965, p. 376. Cf. Walter Federn, "The 'Transformations' in the Coffin Texts A New Approach," in JNES, Oct. 1960, p. 254, where we are told that Hathor is "the 'Bull of Heliopolis' being evidently the counterpart of the 'Bull of the west', the appellation of Osiris..." Her heading is "wnn m ss n Htr".

15. J. Gwyn Griffiths, "Motivation in Early Egyptian Syncretism", in "Gegengabe Festschrift fur Emma Brunner-Traut", Verlag Tubingen, 1992, p. 48

16. Mercer, "Ibid.", p. 111. "To Horus then was attatched much of the myth which centered around the sun. Horus was the sun, especially in rising, so he became, too, the god of the Eastern Horizon. But he was also god of the Two Horizons, in general. Now, he became the winged sun-disc, so characteristic of Horus of Edfu..." p. 191.

17. Rudolf Anthes, "Harachti und Re in den Pyramidentexten", in "Zeitschrift fur Agyptische Sprach," (Hereafter cited as ZAS), 1974, p. 78. Faulkner notes that the stars can be the souls of the dead as far as that goes, in "The King and the Star-Religion in the Pyramid Texts," in "JNES", Vol. 25, 1966, pp. 153f. On p. 159 he notes the importance of Sirius (Sothis). Cf. Kurt Sethe, "Urgeschichte und Alteste Religion der Agypter," Kunde des Morgenlands, Leipzig, 1930, p. 126 for discussion of the gold falcon, Hathor, and the Gold Isis.

18. Peter Kaplony, "Eine Schminkpalette von Konig Skorpion aus Abu Umuri", in "Orientalia", 34 (1965), pp. 161f.

19. Lewis Spence, "Egypt," Studio editions, 1994, p. 168.

20. Torgny Save-Soderbergh, "Pharaohs and Mortals," P.A. Norstedt & Soners Forlag, 1958, p. 243, which lion form she apparently dawned in order to destroy mankind for the main god. On the wind, G. A. Wainwright, "The Sky Religion In Egypt," Cambridge Univ. Press, 1938, p. 15. Cf. Adolf Erman, "Life in Ancient Egypt," Dover, 1971, p. 268.

21. Adolf Erman, "Die Religion der Agypter," Walter de Gruyter, 1934, p. 31. CT 1:123. Cf. CT 1:169 where someone is described as the scribe of Hathor. CT 2:128; 2:155

22. Bonnet, "Ibid.", p. 279.

23. Walter Federn, "Ibid.", in "JNES", Oct. 1960, p. 249, footnote 92; also p. 253 "the golden falcon, i.e., the sun.".

24. Kate Bosse-Griffiths, "The Great Enchantress in the Little Golden Shrine of Tut'ankhamun", in "JEA," 1973, p. 103.

25. Sir Alan Gardiner, "Hymns to Amon from a Leiden Papyrus," in "ZAS", 1905, p. 37, where we are told that Mon in his form of great bull, is the bull, the father of fathers, the mother of mothers of those four cow goddesses. See also, Klaus Koch, "Das Wesen altagyptischer Religion im Spiegel agyptologischer Forschung", Hamburg, 1989, p. 5f where Hathor is said to be the cow on the top corners of the Narmer Palette, and who grants the King his power to reign.

26. Gardiner, "Ibid." p. 41 - "She is the Eye of Re: She is not repulsed." Cf. p. 20 where the description of the God Re, is the beneficient influence of the sun-god. The City of Thebes itself is called the Wedjat Eye! Re's right eye which is in his disk, see p. 21. The Cow-goddess is the Eye of Re, which is the sun, exactly as Joseph Smith had said in Facsimile #2. Cf. Adolf Erman, "Life in Ancient Egypt," Dover, 1971, p. 267, where Re says "Call to me my Eye (i.e. the goddess Hathor)."

27. Hans Goedicke, "The Bright Eye of Horus: Pyr. Spell 204", in "Gegengabe Festschrift fur Emma Brunner-Traut," Verlag Tubingen, 1992, p. 98.

28. Raymond Faulkner, "The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts", Aris & Phillips, 3 vols., 1973, Vol. 1, p. 56, 91.

28. Wilhelm Spiegelberg, "Der Agyptische Mythus vom Sonnenauge in einem demotischen Papyrus der romischen Kaiserzeit," Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1915, p. 879, "Tefnut = Sonnenauge", and p. 880, "Sie ist die grosse Sonnenscheibe." She is the Great Sun Disk. P. 882, as the Sun Eye she became the mistress over the whole earth! (als Sonnenauge zur Herrin uber die ganz Erde gemacht hatte).

29. Carol Andrews, ed., "The Egyptian Book of the Dead," Chronicle Books, 1994, under plate 9.

30. See Wolfhart Westendorf, "Die Geteilte Himmelsgottin", in "Gegengabe Festschrift fur Emma Brunner-Traut," Verlag Tubingen, 1992, p. 341 for discussion of sun dying and rising again.See Hilary Wilson, "Understanding Hieroglyphs", Passport Books, 1995, p. 82 where she discusses Hathors' role as guardian of the tree which shades the dead and offers them refreshment. As a funerary deity she was noted as "Chieftainess of the West". See E.A.W. Budge, "The Egyptian Book of the Dead:The Papyrus of Ani," Dover editions, 1967, p. cxx, "...she provides meat and drink for the deceased." In Raymond Faulkner "Ibid," 1:37, we see Hathor provides clothing. 1:42 - she gives myrrh. At 1:256,257, Hathor is the mistress of the northern sky, who strengthens the bonds of the wakeful. CT 2:269, Spell 710.

31. Westendorf, "Ibid.", p. 341, The Heaven god appeared in historic times under the name of Hathor. See Eric Hornung, "Der Agyptische Mythos von der Himmelskuh", Universitatsverlag Freiburg, 1982, p. 55 for his idea that Hathor as bearer of the Sun Eye was not clearly identified until the New Kingdom.

32. CT 2:127.

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