How Fear, Sex And Power Shaped Ancient Mythology

As important as these modes of worship are, one can’t help but feel that men have endowed female deities with powers beyond their human counterparts to illustrate why female rule on Earth would be disastrous. While the Egyptian Sekhmet was upheld for her life-giving potential, like Shri-Lakshmi and Demeter, she could also deliver destruction. It was said that she was sent to plunder the Earth after mortals rebelled against her father, the sun god, Ra. Sekhmet did as she was told but got carried away. Ra was so ashamed by her bloodlust that he recalled her. Sekhmet would not give up. The only way Ra could stop her in her tracks was by disguising alcohol as blood so that she would become too inebriated to continue.

Still today, women in power are often as much feared as they are revered or, at least, are presented as threatening in their success and their ability to smash glass ceilings. If the examples of the past reveal anything, it is that female figures of authority are always at the ready to rise up and defy expectation. They are brilliant for being everything people assume they are not.    

Daisy Dunn’s new book, Not Far From Brideshead: Oxford between the Wars, is out now.

Feminine Power – the Divine to the Demonic is at the British Museum, London, until 25 September.

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