Sekhmet’s appearance in Egyptian mythology is that of a lioness, similar to that of Bast, who first appeared as a lion goddess, and whose appearance diminished to the domesticated cat, after Sekhmet’s cult grew. The difference in the two was the ferocity of Sekhmet, called as in the title, The Scarlet Lady or Avenger of Wrongs. As the Egyptians faced more threats to their civilization, and as their own social natures changed, some would say for the worse, they desired a more bloodthirsty goddess, –it helped explain the savagery of wars and battles.
Sekhmet protected the pharaohs, and led them to battle; but she was also the protector of women, particularly during childbirth or the menstrual cycle. her lioness form was chosen because it is the female lion who hunts, –the most aggressive gender in many species is the female. Egyptians believed the scorching wind in the desert was the breath of Sekhmet; the death and destruction of enemies were soothing to her heart.
Sekhmet’s bloodthirsty nature was celebrated; great festivals were held after battles to soothe her, and tame her wildness. The festivals were also held in order to avert the flooding of the Nile. When the Nile flooded, it turned red from the silt, –it looked like blood, and the Egyptians prayed that she would drink the excess to keep the Nile from overflowing and destroying crops and homes along the river.
A later myth about Sekhmet surfaced when the Egyptian god Ra became the primary religious cult. Ra created Sekhmet from an eye of fire, given to him by his mother, in order to destroy mortals who threatened Upper Egypt, –these mortals being Lower Egypt. But in the myth, she was not satisfied by the bloodshed after the battle, and instead went on destroying and killing mortals. Ra tricked her by turning the Nile red as blood, so that she would drink it; he used beer tinted red with pomegranate juice. Sekhmet became so drunk that she gave up slaughter and became an aspect of Hathor, the goddess of love, mothers, and joy.