Sekhmet (Sakhmet) is one of the oldest known Egyptian deities. Her name is derived from the Egyptian word “Sekhem” (which means “power” or “might”) and is often translated as the “Powerful One”. She is depicted as a lion-headed woman, sometimes with the addition of a sun disc on her head. Her seated statues show her holding the ankh of life, but when she is shown striding or standing she usually holds a sceptre formed from papyrus (the symbol of northern or Lower Egypt) suggesting that she was associated primarily with the north. However, some scholars argue that the deity was introduced from Sudan (south of Egypt) where lions are more plentiful.
She was often closely associated with Hathor (the goddess of joy, music, dance, sexual love, pregnancy and birth). In this partnership, she was seen as the harsh aspect of the friendly Hathor. A temple was constructed by Amenemhet II to Sekhmet-Hathor at Kom el Hisn (Imau in the western Delta) in which she and Hathor are referred to as the “Mistress of Imau”. Imau was situated near a branch of the Nile that has since shifted eastwards, but in ancient times the town was right on the edge of the desert on the route to the Libyan frontier. Clearly it was hoped that Sekhmet would protect the border.
Sekhmet’s main cult centre was in Memphis (Men Nefer) where she was worshipped as “the destroyer” alongside her consort Ptah (the creator) and Nefertum (the healer).
Sekhmet was represented by the searing heat of the mid-day sun (in this aspect she was sometimes called “Nesert”, the flame) and was a terrifying goddess. However, for her friends she could avert plague and cure disease. She was the patron of Physicians, and Healers and her priests became known as skilled doctors. As a result, the fearsome deity sometimes called the “lady of terror” was also known as “lady of life”. Sekhmet was mentioned a number of times in the spells of The Book of the Dead as both a creative and destructive force, but above all, she is the protector of Ma’at (balance or justice) named “The One Who Loves Ma’at and Who Detests Evil”.