Monday, 4 September 2017


“We are born of love; Love is our mother.” - Rumi 

Sheshmetet (šsm.t.t: Shesmet, Shesemtet, or spellings with Shez-; Hellenised as Smithis) is an ancient Egyptian goddess mentioned in the Pyramid Texts and was usually referred to as the deceased’s mother. She was depicted as a lion or a woman with a lion’s head, and thus was sometimes considered a form of Sekhmet or Bastet, but one of her epithets “Lady of Punt”, differentiates her from them and may refer to a possible African origin.

Originally she seems to have had the shape of a woman, but since the fifth dynasty, under the influence of her association with Bastet she became a lion-headed deity. At times she was shown sporting four heads, apart from her own, those of Wadjet, Bastet and Sekhmet. Her major attribute is that of a maternal and protectress goddess.

Her name is derived from a ritual girdle or apron called a shesmet, her name meaning ‘She of the shesmet’. The shesmet is described by P. E.Newberry as “a leather belt from which were suspended narrow strips of hide ending in tassels; sometimes the girdle was ornamented with beads and cowries; sometimes the hanging pieces were decorated with Hathor-heads”.

The shesmet, which is worn by Gods such as Horus, Seth, Thoth, Sepa, and Amun, but which is particularly characteristic of Soped, was perhaps originally a garment for unmarried girls. Similar garments (called rahat or hauf) exist among several East African peoples to the south of Egypt, which are broken by the bridegroom to complete the wedding ceremony. Moreover, Herodotus compares the aegis worn by the Greek Goddess Athena to such garments, worn by Libyan women. 

Shesmet is also the name in Egyptian for the green mineral malachite, which was used by Egyptians as an eye paint. ‘Shesmet-land’ is also an Egyptian name for an area in the eastern part of Egypt centering around Per-Soped, ‘the House of Soped’, modern Saft el Henneh, a few miles to the east of Bubastis. Significantly, this area was known in early Arab times as El-Hauf, a virtually direct translation of the Egyptian ‘Shesmet-land’.

Shesmetet is paired with Sekhmet, a Goddess also depicted as a lioness, in a formula from the Pyramid Texts which was to be reused in the Coffin Texts and finally in the Book of the Dead, where it is affirmed that the deceased king “was conceived by Sekhmet, and it was Shesmetet who bore the king”. In a passage where the wrathful aspect of Hathor is described, it is said of of those s/he smites, “I make warmth for them in this my name of Shesmetet.’

Shesmetet was a protective deity, at times called upon to perform magic in order to combat death causing demons. As a maternal deity Shesmetet she was referred to as “the mother of the Pharaoh”. As the formerly royal beliefs about life and death became widespread among the population at large, she became mother and protector of all the deceased. In a spell to be recited on the last day of the year the name of Shesmetet is invoked as a magical force against demons of slaughter.

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