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The ancient Egyptian goddess Bat as she appears on the Narmer Palette.

Bat was the deification of the cosmos and the Milky Way within Egyptian mythology during the pre-dynastic and Old Kingdom periods of Ancient Egyptian history. She was a cow goddess/Bull (mythology), and was always depicted as having a human head with cow ears and horns. The Milky Way was considered to be a pool of cow's milk made by Bat. By the time of the later Middle Kingdom her identity and attributes were subsumed within the goddess Hathor.[1]

The ancient Egyptians were cattle herders dating back to Late Paleolithic times. Bat was originally worshipped as a fertility figure and the chief goddess of Seshesh, otherwise known as Hu or Diospolis Parva, the 7th nome of Upper Egypt.

As a representation of the cosmos she was also thought of as the essence of the human soul. Hence its name, the word ba, which is a derivative of her name. Ba is the spiritual element that Egyptians considered as one of the major parts of the soul. Bat became strongly associated with the ankh, a symbol that was associated with ba, as it represented life. Hu was known as the city of sistrum and as her cult spread, the imagery of her sistrum was carried with Bat.

The sistrum is a musical instrument whose shape is very similar to that of the ankh and which was thought to drive away evil. This instrument is depicted with her head and neck as the handle and base, with rattles placed between her horns. The imagery is repeated on each side, having two faces. The sistrum was displayed on top of her head when she was depicted as a woman. This rattle became one of the most frequently used sacred instruments in temples to any deities.

The Narmer Palette, one of the earliest palette artifacts from Egypt, where Bat flanks the top of both sides and on the obverse is at the bottom as well

Although it was rare for Bat to be clearly depicted in painting or sculpture, two exceptions are displayed below, one in bovine form and the other in human form. In rare instances she was pictured as a celestial bovine creature surrounded by stars. Often her eyes look out from the implied cosmos. More commonly, Bat was depicted on amulets, with a human face, but with bovine features, such as the ears of a cow and the inward-curving horns of the type of cattle first herded by the Egyptians.

She is found, on a significant Egyptian archaeological find shown to the right. This stone object is said to date from about the 31st century BC and to contain some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found. It is thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt during the first dynasty under the pharaoh Narmer and Bat is used as the images at the top of each side of the object. Since both countries, being cattle herding cultures that date to 8,000 BC, had primary cow deities who were seen as the mother and protector of the king, she became a creation and protector deity that was shared by both of the unified countries (along with the warrior lioness deity).

Although Bat's many titles include clearly bovine references such as She Who Lows, and Great Wild Cow, she also had the title Ba of two faces and sometimes, was depicted as such. Why she was said to have two faces is unclear, and there has been much debate about the descriptions. There is evidence that suggests that the faces symbolize Bat's power, as the divine ba, to see past and future. It also is possible that Bat's faces represented two more earthly sides, the two sides of the Nile riverbanks, or even the two constituents of a united Egypt, both the Upper and Lower. When depicted as a woman as below, there is a that face—plus the bovine one on her crown.

The imagery of Bat as a divine cow was remarkably similar to that of Hathor the parallel goddess from Lower Egypt. The significant difference in their depiction is that Bat's horns curve inward and Hathor's curve outward slightly. This could be based in the different breeds of cattle herded at different times. The breeds herded changed later in the history of Egypt, when the climate shifted. Temporal differences in the cults could be reflected in the imagery of the cattle depicted, Hathor resembling the leaner breeds of the later times.

Both Hathor on the left and Bat on the right flank Menkaure in this fourth Dynasty triad statue, the goddesses are providing the authority for him to be king; note the feather of Ma'at held by the emblem on Bat's crown - Cairo Museum

In two dimensional images, both goddesses often are depicted straight on, facing the onlooker, not viewed from one side or the other as the heads of most deities. This characteristic may be related to the role of these goddesses as all-seeing witnesses, sun goddesses, and protectors. Very early deities such as Wadjet were depicted full faced also, and most who were, share identification with the wadjet eye. Sometimes two (bilateral) eyes appear at the top of murals without any suggestion of the rest of the celestial animal or deity implied, so well was the understanding of the ancient imagery understood in the culture.

Predynastic Naqada fertility figurine holding her arms in a fashion that resembles the inward curving horns of Bat [1] [2] [3] [4]

The cow goddess was called upon to confer the office upon the king and to provide the authority to sit on the throne, as king. This role for the local cow deity would have existed in each kingdom, the small as well as the large, and their cults could have had minor differences from region to region. After unification the cults of Bat and Hathor almost merged and many aspects—and traditions were exchanged—although they diverged again over time, with Hathor becoming quite distinct and having a greater role in the later Egyptian pantheon. Centralisation to one deity conferring the office of the king was essential for the unified country, yet the differences kept them apart for a long time.

Hathor's cult centre happened to be in the 6th Nome of Upper Egypt, which lay next to the 7th where Bat was the cow goddess, which may indicate that they were once the same goddess, whose two different titles led to divergence of the goddess under each. In many cases the differences were so strong that, as a result, there has been considerable confusion of the goddesses amongst Egyptologists.

In the image to the right above, a king of the fourth dynasty is flanked by both goddesses. They are remarkably similar in this large sculpture, however, their crowns identify them clearly. The emblem on Bat repeats the sistrum imagery and her zoomorphic face is present upon it (wearing another sistrum). The image on her crown carries the feather of Ma'at as well.

Nethertheless, ultimately, as a more dominant and centralised religion grew up in the unified countries and a strong central administration developed for religious matters, Bat's shared characteristics with Hathor led to the two goddesses finally—during the Middle Kingdom—being identified as the same goddess, when, after thousands of years, Bat became described as an aspect of Hathor, never quite disappearing.

The Egyptian Pyramid Texts say:

I am Praise; I am Majesty; I am B3t (Bat) with Her Two Faces; I am the One Who Is Saved, and I have saved myself from all things evil. [2]

References

  1. ^ Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, p.172 Thames & Hudson. 2003. ISBN 0-500-05120-8
  2. ^ R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Oxford 1969, p. 181, Utterance 506
  • Henry G. Fischer in Lexikon der Ägyptologie, Wiesbaden 1975, 630-632 (Bat)

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