(Shesmet, Shesemtet, or spellings with Shez-; Hellenized as Smithis) Shesmetet is depicted as a lioness or lioness-headed woman, and is associated with a ritual girdle or apron called a shesmet, her name meaning ‘She of the shesmet‘. The shesmet is described by P. E. Newberry as “a leather belt from which were suspended narrow strips of hide ending in tassels; sometimes the girdle was ornamented with beads and cowries; sometimes the hanging pieces were decorated with Hathor-heads,” (316). The shesmet, which is worn by Gods such as Horus, Seth, Thoth, Sepa, and Amun, but which is particularly characteristic of Soped, was perhaps originally a garment for unmarried girls. Newberry cites similar garments (called rahat or hauf) among several East African peoples to the south of Egypt, which are broken by the bridegroom to complete the wedding ceremony. Moreover, Herodotus (IV. 189) compares the aegis worn by the Greek Goddess Athena to such garments, worn by Libyan women, and similar garments were once worn, according to Newberry, “by Arab girls, by women in their courses, and also, it is said, by worshipers at the Caaba,” (317). Shesmet is also the name in Egyptian for the green mineral malachite, which was used by Egyptians as an eye paint. ‘Shesmet-land’ is also an Egyptian name for an area in the eastern part of Egypt centering around Per-Soped, ‘the House of Soped’, modern Saft el Henneh, a few miles to the east of Bubastis. Significantly, this area was known in early Arab times as El-Hauf, a virtually direct translation of the Egyptian ‘Shesmet-land’ (323).

Shesmetet is paired with Sekhmet, a Goddess also depicted as a lioness, in a formula from the Pyramid Texts which was to be reused in the Coffin Texts and finally in the Book of the Dead. In PT utterances 248 and 704, it is affirmed that the deceased king “was conceived by Sekhmet, and it was Shesmetet who bore the king,” the formula going on to describe the king as “a star brilliant and far-travelling, who brings distant products to Re daily.” The operator similarly identifies himself as “the son of Shesmetet” in CT spell 310, a spell in which the operator otherwise identifies with Khonsu, suggesting some link between Shesmetet and Khonsu. In CT spell 173, the “mat of Shesmetet” is something the deceased refuses to accept, indicating that it represents some kind of corruption; it is clearly not the same as the shesmet (but recall above, the use of the rahat or hauf by menstruating women (Newberry, 317)). In CT spell 331, for “Becoming Hathor,” in a passage in which the operator assumes the wrathful aspect of Hathor, the operator states of those s/he smites, “I make warmth for them in this my name of Shesmetet,” an ironic reference to blasting them with flames. The formula from PT utterances 248 and 704 concerning having been born from Shesmetet is attached, in CT spell 485, to a spell for being in the retinue of Hathor, albeit the reference to Sekhmet has dropped out; the formula returns to its original form, however, in BD spell 66, “Spell for going forth by day,” in which the operator affirms, “I know that I was conceived by Sekhmet and born of Shesmetet,” and the whole formula, including its astral context, is carried over unaltered from PT utterance 248 to BD spell 174. Sekhmet and Shesmetet are also invoked together in a spell to protect against pestilence associated with the transition to the new year, the Book of the Last Day of the Year (no. 13 in Borghouts).

Newberry, Percy E. “Shesmet.” Pp. 316-323 in S. R. K. Glanville, ed., Studies Presented to F. Ll. Griffith.

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