Garbing a Goddess: Refitting Hathor

My bestest friends Jon and Tamzen bought me a lovely Christmas present a couple of years ago: the Hathor doll from Stuffe & Nonsense, who make a variety of lovely dolls and stuffed animals. She's occupied a proud place on my dresser since then. But since she first came to live with me, I've learned a lot more about Egyptian clothing and jewelry styles, and the anachronisms started to get on my nerves. So I'm re-dressing her in more authentic Ancient Egyptian style.

The project has five major phases, once I'd taken off the original headpiece, wig, jewelry and dress:

Here's what Hathor looked like when she came to live with me.

I don't mean to criticize the quality of the work from Stuffe & Nonsense -- their pieces are amazing. Each of their dolls are made by hand, with unique accessories and the natural variations introduced by artistic manufacturing. But I know more about Ancient Egypt than many folks do, and I want to see if I can make her look a little more recognizable to the goddess of the ancient Egyptians themselves.

For the record, in several extant Egyptian Books of the Dead, one of the Seven Hathors is shown as a white cow with black spots.

Although the pleats in Hathor's dress are appropriate for some periods of clothing worn by ancient Egyptians themselves, goddesses are almost never shown in this style -- and the polyester or whatever it is is clearly not in period. The visible wires seem a bit careless. And the bangs are just wrong. If you look closely at this depiction of Hathor, dating from the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom, you'll see that although from a distance the front of her hair may resemble bangs, it's actually parted down the center and pulled to the sides. That style of wig is one of the most distinctive pieces of Hathor's iconography.

Click here for more images of Hathor (with references).

My sheath dress is extremely simple -- a rectangle of gauze-weight linen wrapped just below Hathor's breasts, and roughly fitted to her lower body. This doll's much curvier than most Egyptian females, so the sheath needs a little more adjustment, and I ended up sewing it together after the pieces were arranged how I wanted them on her body. It's not coming off!.

One of the charming touches Stuffe & Nonsense included was Hathor's tail -- male rulers and high priests often wore bull's tails as part of their regalia, but females generally didn't. The original dress covered up Hathor's tail. Mine's got a gap in the back seam so her anatomy can be fully appreciated, as shown below.

The menet (also spelled menat, menyit due to the lack of written vowels in Egyptian writing) necklace Hathor wears is the single most important part of her regalia. In art, it represents her ability to transmit life, health and charisma to her followers. Her priestesses are frequently shown wearing the necklace, or using it as a percussion instrument by rattling the multiple strands of beads to make a shhh-shhh-shhh sort of sound.

My menet is made of turquoise, because amongst her other titles, Hathor was called the "Lady of Turquoise," the goddess who was responsible for the successful mining of the precious stone from its sources in the Sinai. She's also the "Lady of Lapis," which was imported from further east, so her choker is made of lapis, with a gold scarab. The scarab is a powerful Ancient Egyptian amulet, representing the life-giving power of the sun. As a sky goddess and the mother of Horus, one manifestation of the male solar deity, Hathor is frequently associated with solar symbolism.

For more information on the menet, please read Jimmy Dunn's article on touregypt.net.

The menet counterpoise. In real life, these necklaces included a large pendant that hung down the back. The handle enabled the menet to be used as a percussion instrument; shaking the strands of beads creates a shoof-shoof-shoof sort of noise that may resemble the sound of wind (or animals) moving through papyrus. More practically, because the menet could be very heavy, the counterpoise's weight makes the ritual necklace more comfortable to wear.
I scavenged most of my gold Egyptian jewelry for this project, since I almost exclusively wear silver. The scarab in this armband is the other half of the pair of earrings that contributed to the lapis choker. The other stones are lapis, turquoise and carnelian.
The centerpiece for Hathor's belt is an enamel-and-gold Horus falcon I received as a Christmas present from my Aunt Kate, in 1976 (when the King Tut exhibit was sweeping the U.S.). Hathor's close association with Horus made this seem like a reasonable choice. The belt is made from lapis and red jasper beads.

The original headpiece was too small, relative to the size of Hathor's head; the disk was silver, as if it was intended to be lunar, whereas Hathor is a solar deity and should therefore be portrayed with a golden disk; and the wires visible on the original were less than elegent. On the other hand, the original headpiece was also very stable, and would likely survive transport far more easily than what I've come up with.

I decided that when Hathor needs to travel, she'll take off her crown -- who wants to risk those pointy horns through airport security, anyhow?

The headpiece is made out of gold metallic Primo clay. I added armature wire (well, okay, I used an old coat hanger) to give the horns some stability. The blue oval visible here is the setting for a rutilated quartz cabochon I decided to add -- the only "non-authentic" embellishment I added to the piece.

This closeup of the crown shows the cabochon in place. It's a little hard to tell, but the inclusions in the quartz form a six-rayed star, which I decided made an appropriate symbol for Hathor to wear, even though I've never seen rutilated quartz in use in Egyptian jewelry.

I painted the horns in a thin wash of black acrylic to make them more distinct from the disk, and to make them look a little more like cow horns.

Finally I added the wig. I cut off all the braids from the original Stuffe wig, and then hand sewed them onto pieces of black ribbon. This was by far the most tedious (and painful) bit of the project -- but the results were worth it.

It's hard to tell from the photo, but the wig provides additional front-and-back stability to the headpiece.

My crocheted lotus blossom.
At last! With the exception of the stone set into her solar disk, Hathor's garb is consistent with the portrayals created by the ancient Egyptians themselves. And I finally justified hanging on to a lot of jewelry and beads I haven't worn in years, by using them in Hathor's regalia!

Last modified: 8 Oct 2007 by tbird -- Return to tbird's home page