Bat was a cow goddess in Egyptian mythology depicted as a human face with cow ears and horns. By the time of the Middle Kingdom, her identity and attributes were subsumed within the goddess Hathor.
The worship of Bat dates to earliest times and may have its origins in Late Paleolithic cattle herding. Bat was the chief goddess of Seshesh, otherwise known as Hu or Diospolis Parva, the 7th nome of Upper Egypt.
The epithet Bat may be linked to the word ba with the feminine suffix 't'. A person's ba roughly equates to his or her personality or emanation and is often translated as 'soul'. The word can also be read as 'power' or 'god'.
Depictions in ancient Egyptian culture
Although it was rare for Bat to be clearly depicted in painting or sculpture, some notable artifacts (like the upper portions of the Narmer Palette) include depictions of the goddess in bovine form. In other instances she was pictured as a celestial bovine creature surrounded by stars or as a human woman. 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.
Bat became strongly associated with the sistrum, and the center of her cult was known as the 'Mansion of the Sistrum'. The sistrum is a musical instrument, shaped like an ankh, that was one of the most frequently used sacred instruments in ancient Egyptian temples. Some instruments would include depictions of Bat, with her head and neck as the handle and base and rattles placed between her horns. The imagery is repeated on each side, having two faces, as mentioned in the Pyramid Texts:.
- I am Praise; I am Majesty; I am Bat with Her Two Faces; I am the One Who Is Saved, and I have saved myself from all things evil.
Relation to Hathor
The imagery of Bat as a divine cow was remarkably similar to that of Hathor, a parallel goddess from Lower Egypt. In two dimensional images, both goddesses often are depicted straight on, facing the onlooker and not in profile in accordance with the usual Egyptian convention. The significant difference in their depictions is that Bat's horns curve inward and Hathor's curve outward slightly. It is possible that this could be based in the different breeds of cattle herded at different times.
Hathor's cult center was in the 6th Nome of Upper Egypt, adjacent to the 7th where Bat was the cow goddess, which may indicate that they were once the same goddess in Predynastic Egypt. By the Middle Kingdom, the cult of Hathor had again absorbed that of Bat in a manner similar to other mergers in the Egyptian pantheon.
- Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, p.172 Thames & Hudson. 2003. ISBN 0-500-05120-8
- Hart, George. The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, p. 47 2nd Edition Routledge. 2005. ISBN 0-415-34495-6
- R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Oxford 1969, p. 181, Utterance 506
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