Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Goddess Who Would Be Isis: Summary so far.

In the previous parts of this essay, it has been argued that there is a patriarchal myth of unity. That myth is that for their to be political unity, there must be a violent military manhood, who deserve, by right of necessity, all political power. Women must either be subservient house goddesses, or they become unlovable bitches. In support of this idea the language of the myth of the Goddess Hathor/Sekhmet from Old Kingdom Egypt was compared with the language of anti-suffrage writers Elihu Root and Helen Kendrick Johnson from late 19th century America.

The Hathor myth focuses on the period of transition from scattered settlements to unified Kingdom. It is related to the use of castration and destruction in the establishing of kingship, as can be seen in the Narmer Palette from Egypt. Which matches well with the reunification of the United States after the Civil War, and the crushing of native nations by the United States. Unity, in the Hathor myth, comes from men accepting a domestic sphere for women, but asserting that women are, by nature, unsuited to the political realm.

The contrasting myth is that of Eeset, or the Egyptian goddess who would become Isis later, and her absorbing of the Hathor cult. Eeset's myth is a pre-feminist assertion of the role of women in political power.

Unification in these myths is not just of men and women, nor even just of land, but of time. Time is essential for unification, because time organizes. In the agrarian era, time determined when to perform essential functions. The Hathor myth unifies agricultural time, with sexual time. Sekhmet is drunk for three days, after menstruation, and becomes turned back into the domestic goddess Hathor afterwards. This is, as far as I can tell, the earliest myth of PMS.

The Eeset myth is a more sophisticated union of solar and lunar time, or of the calendar of the stars, which is solar, and the calendar of fertility, which is lunar. There is another lunar calendar, and that is the calendar of trade. Or more precisely, the tides. Boats and women both are controlled, by the moon.

That trade is important in the unification of Egypt can be seen from the archeology, where previously cultures were centered around particular settlements, and had limited foreign goods, to the proto-Dynastic, and Old Kingdom, when goods from a wider region were available. The evidence indicates towards the conclusion that Upper Egypt was part of the Saharan physical and agrarian culture, and that Lower Egypt influenced by the physical culture of the fertile crescent.

The Narmer Palatte provides a further evidence for the impact of the fertile crescent culture on Egypt, in that the palette itself, is housed between two long necked lion creatures, which are clearly from the Fertile Crescent's artistic culture. It also has foreigners being beheaded and castrated who are portrayed as being different in their beards and physics from the Egyptian monarch. These figures are of a pattern that would be seen for three thousand years, including into the Early greek age. It is impossible to tell what or who they reference from the context. They could be defeated lower Egyptians, but they could, as well, be foreigners. The assertion that any of these figures may have had accidental meaning, on a religious palette, s not credible given the importance of symbol in the object.

This level of unification, however, is not enough for Middle Kingdom and later Egypt. While Egypt is protected from invasion from some areas, it is still open to attack from North and South. It is also open to internal dissent. Monarchies also have the problem of fertility. Family lines die out, and there are squabbles over who is to take power.

In this context: of a trading society that needs more people, more surplus, and more legitimacy, Eeset becomes a more important goddess.

So what of the role of an ancient female ruler, or monarch? A good place to start with recent scholarship is Ancient Queens edited by Sarah Milledge Nelson. In her introduction, after the usual noting of the obvious fact that male dominated eras did a pitifully poor job of looking at women who ruled in earlier periods, digs deeper into the roles of women in ancient rulership. Specifically she notes:

• Woman as ruler. That is, as the monarch.
• Woman as consert. That is, as consort to the ruler.
• Women as legitimizers of the Line or property.
• Women as mythic pillars.

In the Hathor period, women could rule. In the Second Dynasty, Merineith ruled as regent, and in the sixth dynasty, it was decided that women could directly. Later dynasties would have women rulers. There are also some interesting cases of male kings who were transformed in the historical record to women, or who took on women's epitaphs after death. Neithiqerti was probably Siptah, and a later king was made divine, as Sekhmet, the goddess associated with Hathor.

These realities show that even in the period of myth of male dominance, women could rule. This reality is clear by the reality that when it comes to keeping power in the family, or keeping it in the gender, those in power will keep it to the family. While women rulers might not be the preferred state, it was better than having an infant king, or a king of a new dynasty.

However, the ability of the Ra/Hathor myth to work as myth is, eventually reached. A different kind of state needs a different kind of queen. With that, a different story.

That is why I am writing this: where we find a Ra/Hathor myth, or it's outline, it is a sign of a society where the feminine is being harnessed for political important, and, literally, subdued out of the myth of power growing out of the barrel of a gun. The challenge is to change, as Eeset's cult did, the Hathor myth, to something else, a myth of magic and union.

In the above volume is an essay by the most prolific scholar of Egyptian dynastic ideology, Lana Troy, and it is through the lens of her work that it is best to take up the creation of the Eeset myth.

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