Hathor, Vulvas and Belly Laughs

'The Fullness of Life' by Mara Berendt Friedman

I have been hormone free for a few days now – I have stopped taking Utovlan and so far (fingers crossed!) no nasty symptoms: no pain, blood or moods swings. Gradually, I can feel my brain sparking to life once more. It has been the most challenging six months and yet, as I have felt myself at last move more clearly into view, I can begin to acknowledge that this whole experience has helped to put certain things into perspective. As I start to feel myself surface, the family angst and loss – even my original menstrual problems – now feel like a picnic; the emotional energy that simmered beneath these seems to have fizzled rather. I can now see more clearly that pre-implant, I had been so punishing of myself; beating myself psychologically with the guilt I felt over my sister’s death; wearing myself out with anger at my family and the changes that had rampaged through my life, so much so, that I was denying myself pleasure and joy, convinced that I was undeserving of such. Having spent months struggling with awful side-effects that I had no control over, I now realise that, with regard to the responses to life that I do have a choice in, it seems incredible that I should want to hold on to so much negativity. As is often the case, amongst the worst of it all, there has been a blessing. 

The impact of the implant – despite being a horrendous experience – has been a wake up call: the realisation dawns that my life has become incredible imbalanced. After months of feeling poorly, it is clear to me now that the antidote to overdosing on crisis is to expose oneself to an ample dose of joy and pleasure. I have made a decision to court my own pleasure unashamedly. Being drug free, this aim now feels an attainable goal at last.

For the first time in weeks I attended my poor, neglected shrine, covering it with fresh flowers, lighting candles and incense and spending some quiet time there. Sitting at my shrine and thinking how pretty it looked, my thoughts were drawn to Hathor. My Druidry has never been solely about the Celtic world. There are Celtic and British gods whom I feel greatly drawn to but I have always been very eclectic in my approach to the Divine. I feel it is best to go where you feel called and so there are gods and goddesses from many different pantheons that are special to me. As with many pagans, Egypt holds a great fascination, as does it gods. I have already written here about Sekhmet and Bast but I also feel a huge affection for Hathor.

In her book Gods of Ancient Egypt, Barbara Watterson describes Hathor as ‘Golden One, the joyous goddess of love, music and intoxication, the bringer of happiness’. Music and dance were very much a part of her worship; the Greeks associated her with their own lusty Aphrodite, understanding that Hathor puts us firmly in touch with the pleasures and needs of the body; we ignore her to our own cost and a lack of her in our lives can leave us feeling painfully dry and empty.

Hathor is a cow Goddess, often depicted as a woman with the ears and horns of a cow, the sun disk resting between these. Watterson writes,

In predynastic times, the cow represented fertility; she was the great mother. Statuettes of naked woman with arms upraised in imitation of cow’s horns have been found in graves of the period, placed there presumably because they had been used as votive offerings to the mother goddess…Other predynastic vases are painted with arms holding breasts, or figures of women dancing with their arms held up and curved towards their heads.

On my left arm I have a tattoo based upon one of these ancient votive figurines that have been found on the banks of the Nile. From a distance, the tattoo actually looks like the head of a cow with horns! I feel rather pleased that this in some way links me with Hathor, her image indelibly drawn beneath my skin as a constant reminding to honour the sweetness that she so generously offers each of us.

There is a myth concerning Hathor that mirrors almost exactly a moment in the Persephone story. In the Greek myth, some versions tell that when Demeter is deeply grieving the loss of Kore, she is approached by Baubo who proceeds to cheer Demeter up by flashing her vulva. A similar tale is told of Hathor, Watterson writes,

The story goes that Re, having been insulted by one of the lesser gods, retired to his booth to sulk. And Hathor came and stood before him and uncovered her vagina in front of his face; an act that cheered up the Lord of the Universe so much that he laughed and rejoined his company of Gods.

Both Baubo and Hathor’s story remind us of the value of joy when we have come to take our lives and our pain too seriously. This is not to devalue the meaning of our struggles or the right of any of us to express anguish at our losses but rather this approach helps us to remember that the power of laughter can enable us to overcome our darkest times and to place our angst into perspective within the wider scheme of our lives. When Baubo and Hathor expose themselves with such glee – very much as the Sheila na Gig does also – it is an act that is in such contrast to the moment that a shift in feeling is inevitable: both Demeter and Re are playfully shocked out of their mood and life suddenly looks very different.

We can become so internalised by our struggles, allowing these to distort our perception. Having others act as a useful sounding board can draw us out of this narrow self-focus, enabling us to see the bigger picture. In Japanese mythology, the Shaman Goddess Uzume provides a similar function as Baubo and Hathor for the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omi Kami. Like Re, Amaterasu has been insulted by her brother the moon and is hiding in a cave. No amount of pleading by the gods will entice her out. Uzume successfully lures the Sun Goddess from the darkness by performing a comic dance, whereby she exposes and plays with her vulva and breasts and makes the assembled company of gods laugh so much that the curious Amaterasu cannot help but emerge.

The gift of Hathor, Baubo and Uzume is that they place us in touch with the wisdom of the belly and the healing impact of laughter and joy. In depression or sadness, we can so often retire to our heads, leaving our bodies in an apathetic and neglected state. When we laugh, we are drawn straight back into the body in a very physical way, right down into the belly, rooting ourselves once more in the world around us, and in doing so, giving us the opportunity to view things in a different light. Laughter changes our brain and body chemistry; joy is a must.

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