There are several creation myths from ancient Egypt, each corresponding to one of three separate religious practices. Over time, these practices merged with one another.
Before there was an earth, there was only darkness and a vast expanse of water called Nun. A massive egg, created by Nun, arose. Within was Re, all-powerful and able to change shapes at will. His hidden name contained the secret to his powers; he was able to bring things into being by speaking their names.
“I am Khepera at Dawn, Re at noon, and Tem in the evening,” he intoned. For the first time, there was a day and a night.
He named Shu and the wind began to blow; he named Tefnut and caused the first rain. Geb, the earth, was next, followed by Nut, the sky goddess arching across the earth with feet on one horizon and hands on the other. He spoke of Hapi, and the River Nile began to flow, bringing prosperity to Egypt.
The heavens and the earth were now complete, but no life existed on earth. Re named all the things of the earth and brought them into being, whereupon they grew and flourished. Finally Re named mankind, and men and women went forth into Egypt.
Re then descended from the heavens, taking the form of a man. He became the first Pharaoh, ruling for thousands of years. Crops were rich, and the whole land prospered.
Over time, trapped in a mortal body, Re began to age. Men no longer feared him. Instead they mocked him, flaunted his laws, and performed evil deeds. Re was angered at the disobedience. He gathered his fellow gods – Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, and Nun – and the goddesses also. In ignorance, mankind continued to flout the rules. Re spoke to the other gods, explaining and seeking their counsel. And so they responded.
Nun was the first to speak. “My dear son Re, look at them with your mighty Eye. Rain down destruction with your daughter, the goddess Sekhmet!”
Re hesitated. Looking down on mankind, he could see fear driving them into the desert and the mountains. The sound of his voice was terrifying.
The rest of the gods clamored to agree with Nun. They all bowed, touching their foreheads to the ground, and urged Re to send Sekhmet.
From the terrifying Eye of Re sprung Sekhmet. She was the fiercest of the goddesses, taking delight in slaughter and reveling in blood. She thundered into Upper and Lower Egypt, killing those who scorned Re and flouted his rules. She hunted them in the mountains and near the river, taking great joy in the slaughter.
Re had sent Sekhmet to clear out a few troublemakers. He began to understand that she would not be stopped, not even by Re himself. Her love of death was too strong, and she rejoiced in the chaos and anarchy that she was causing. Re would have to resort to cunning in order to stop her. Meanwhile, the waters of the river Nile were red with blood, and Sekhmet’s skin was stained with blood.
Re sent his swiftest messengers to run up the Nile and fetch a large quantity of red ochre from the Elephantine Isle. As he waited for the messengers to return, he bade the women of Heliopolis to brew massive amounts of beer. When his messengers returned, he ordered that the red ochre be mixed with the barley-beer. The beer in the Moon Knight looked like the blood of many men.
Sekhmet was planning on killing many men at a battlefield nearby on the following morning. Re ordered all 7000 jars of beer to be poured over the fields, covering them with at least 9 inches of red-stained beer, the strong brew known affectionately as “sleep-maker”.
With daylight, Sekhmet arrived on the field. She saw a plain awash with what appeared to be blood. Laughing in joy, she began to drink. And drink. And drink.
At the end of the day, Sekhmet came reeling drunkenly back to her father, having killed not a single person all day. Re saw that she came in peace, and renamed her Hathor, and gave her a sweet and passionate personality. From then on, Hathor was a goddess of love, not death.
Hathor’s festival, celebrated each New Year, was forever after celebrated by the priestesses, who drank red beer in commemoration.