I've had Egyptomania for as long as I can remember. Growing up, the only video game I played was set in the Giza pyramids. My favorite evenings were spent watching documentaries with my father about ancient Egypt. I soaked up information about the pyramid's construction, the lengthy mummification process, and Egyptian mythology.
This year, I finally took my dream trip to Egypt to visit ancient sites. My trip took an unexpected turn when I was introduced to a goddess I wasn't familiar with, Hathor, whose worship originated in early dynastic times (3rd millennium B.C.). The first time I saw a statue of Hathor at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization kicked off an unintentional pilgrimage across Egypt to Hathor.
I saw Hathor next at The Egyptian Museum which displays a colorful shrine from 1400 BCE dedicated to her with a statue of Hathor in cow form in which Thutmosis III is suckling from her breast. More temples were dedicated to Hathor than to any other Egyptian goddess.
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"Hathor is an ancient Egyptian goddess whose form was bovine. She's celebrated as a goddess of love, fertility, drunkenness, music and dancing, female sexuality, motherhood and happiness," Missouri State University Egyptologist Julia Troche said.
At Nefertari's Abu Simbel temple I noticed a mesmerizing symmetrical woman's face carved in the columns. She was looking straightforward, rather than in profile as most ancient Egyptian motifs. I learned the face was the human form of Hathor. It became clear I was on a path of Hathoric worship.
Hathor was guiding me through Egypt
The goddess is often portrayed as a cow, a woman's head, or a woman with a cow's head. Hathor's mask-like female face features bovine ears and hair framing her face and curling into a loop. As a cow or a woman, Hathor wears a headdress of two cow horns with a sun disc.
It was as if Hathor was guiding me through Egypt. In the Valley of the Kings, she was in the tomb of Ramses IX. Nearby, Hatshepsut built a shrine to the goddess in her mortuary temple featuring four capital columns with the goddess' human face. Not far in Deir el-Medina, the Tomb of Inherkha includes a multicolored painting of a pattern of dozens of Hathor cow faces.
I visited the island temple of Philae where Hathor’s mask is perched atop several columns. There she was again at the Karnak, Kom Ombo, and Edfu (for the god Horus) temples.
"Hathor was the mother or wife of the god Horus. Her name means the enclosure of Horus," Troche explained.
Experiencing Egypt through my personal journey
Like many women before me, I was worshiping Hathor for fertility assistance. Every time I saw her image I took a few moments to meditate. Ancient Egyptian women who struggled with fertility made altars for Hathor, left her offerings, and prayed to her for support in childbearing.
I saved the temple erected in her honor for last.
"Dendera, Hathor's oldest temple in Upper Egypt, dates to at least the Fourth Dynasty. Many kings made additions to the temple complex throughout Egyptian history. The last version of the temple was built in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods and is today one of the best-preserved Egyptian temples from that time," Egyptologist Marwa Hafez says.
Dating back to the Ptolemaic Period in 300 B.C.E, the shrine remains one of the best-preserved temples from ancient Egypt. The intricately painted ceiling and 24 Hathoric pillars in the Hypostyle Hall are breathtaking with splendid 2,000-year-old turquoise paint. I took time soaking up the maternal energy in the temple, admiring each image of Hathor.
I left Dendera feeling empowered that Hathor would guide me towards motherhood.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How my Egyptian vacation empowered my path to motherhood