The Eye of Ra and the Destruction of Mankind
The Eye of Ra had many roles and functions. It was thought to give protection, and was associated with the sun like the Eye of Horus. But there was also a destructive and aggressive side to it, which is represented in detail in the story about the Destruction of Mankind.
This story is part of a text called The Book of the Heavenly Cow. It found on the wall in one of the chambers in king Seti I’s tomb, as well as chambers in the tombs of Ramesses II, Ramesses III and Ramesses IV.
It is the story takes place in mythical times and talks of humanity’s rebellion against the Sun God, the chaos that ensued, the fury of vengeance, and the reordering of the cosmos.
It may have served many functions, including showing the consequences of rebellion against the legitimate ruler.
Hathor as The Eye of Ra
The legend begins with the god Ra’s aging. He has been ruling the gods and mankind for a long time. The humans took notice of his aging and started to make fun of him.
“His Majesty hath become old. His bones have turned into silver, his flesh into gold, and his hair into real lapis-lazuli.” They would say.
Ra heard these complaints and they pained him. He summoned gods and goddesses to discuss the problem and come up with the solution.
Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut came along with the god of the watery abyss Nun from where Ra had arisen in the creation myth. He also summoned The Eye of Ra, who took the form of the goddess Hathor, his fiery daughter and protectress.
This divine meeting took place in secret so that mankind would not get the hint that something was happening. After taking counsel, the gods and goddesses present gave their advice to the Sun God and asked him to send his great Eye in the form of Hathor to take vengeance on the rebellious men.
The Destruction of Mankind
Hathor went into hot pursuit of the men, slaughtering them indiscriminately.
She had taken the form of the lioness Sekhmet and began her destruction in the town of Hensu.
For three days Hathor-Sekhmet killed and drank the blood of men. She had become blood-thirsty.
And although avenging her father was an important mission for her, it had turned into a rampage. All of mankind was about to be wiped out.
At this point, Ra began to feel sorry for them and realized he didn’t want them destroyed completely…
But Sekhmet’s frenzy was unstoppable even by the gods. She could not be summoned back with reason or order. She was bent on killing all men and drinking their blood.
The gods decided the only way to get her back was to trick her. While she was asleep, they mixed beer with the red juice or red pigment and spilled it all over the land.
When she awoke, she thought this red liquid was blood and drank it.
Dizzied with beer, her rage and blood-thirst calmed and she became much more docile. She forgot about the destruction and the rest of mankind was saved, and once again the Eye of Ra returned.
But things did not go back to how they were…
Even though the Eye of Ra was able to take great vengeance on the blasphemous men, Ra was still weary of his role as their master. He decided that he would resign his post on earth and retire to the heavens.
The Goddess Nut took the form of a cow and carried the grandfather god on her back to leave the earth. When the men who had survived saw that the Sun God was leaving them, they repented their sins and showed their respects. But even though Ra forgave them, he still decided to leave.
He ascended upwards on the back of Nut as the Heavenly Cow. At one point, they had gone up so high that her legs began to shake. And so two gods had to support each of her legs and the god Shu came underneath her body to lift her with his arms.
Ra leaves instructions to Geb, Thoth and Osiris on how to rule in his place.
*It is interesting to note that many protection symbols in Egypt were feminine, perhaps reflecting the fierce protective roles the ancient Egyptians noticed maternal animals took to protect their offspring.
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