Of the many ancient and freaky-faced Egyptian deities of old, the cat-faced goddess Sekhmet might possess one of Egyptian mythology's most enduring legacies, at least in the horror and pop culture genres. In addition to being the goddess of war, Sekhmet may also hold another important title: that of the first vampire in the world. Vampire legends trace back to various time periods in several areas of the world, but most agree that, in order to join the legions of these mythological creatures, you must drink blood, something Sekhmet did in abundance. In fact, Sekhmet's characterization as an Egyptian blood-sucking goddess provided one of the people's reasons for worshipping her in the first place.
The word 'vampire' first appeared in the 1700s, though numerous myths about vampire-like creatures existed well before this time. Given the fact ancient Egypt predates most other cultures, it stands to reason stories of Sekhmet's bloodthirsty nature possibly inspired the Carmillas, Draculas, and Nosferatus the world came to fear. While Sekhmet's influence upon vampirism and its depictions can only be speculated upon, it still provides a fascinating look at one of the ancient world's most ferocious deities.
The most obvious explanation for enjoying the act of drinking blood is vampirism. Though some medical and mental disorders induce bloodlust, the mythology of an Egyptian goddess makes an odd choice for exploring these themes. After all, the gods and goddesses served to explain natural phenomena; psychological disorders, not so much. Many believe Sekhmet's thirst for the red stuff stemmed from ancient people's attempt to explain and/or justify bloodshed and conflict.
Unsurprisingly, Sekhmet appears in red in most depictions, and her sanguinary lifestyle is a major focus of many myths, including drinking a river of blood and being easily fooled by alcohol disguised as blood. As a goddess of blood, she served as a war deity who protected pharaohs in battle, while conversely providing a guiding force to women during their menstrual cycles and pregnancies. A goddess with many different sides, much like vampires.
A prevalent story from ancient Egypt centers around the Nile's annual threat to overflow and drown everyone. Some historians and mythology experts theorize that Sekhmet's blood lust is a fable about the very real threat of red-colored water overflowing into villages and crops. During the flooding, the silt made the water turn blood red. Ancient Egyptians likely thought the water actually became blood and credited Sekhmet with drinking enough of it to remove the danger. An example of this historical belief reemerged in 2016 when the Nile's water turned the color of blood once again.
Sekhmet's love of war came as a side effect of her desire to drink copious amounts of blood. This proved to be bad news for ancient Egyptians, who remained at the mercy of a goddess whose blood lust never ceased. In one enduring legend, Ra intervened to prevent an enraged Sekhmet, who was originally his daughter, Hathor, from accidentally destroying all of humankind over a slight against the gods. Knowing her legendary love for blood gave Ra the necessary inspiration to stop the threat. Using red ochre to make 7,000 jars of beer blood red, Ra tricked Sekhmet into drinking an enormous amount of alcohol. The intoxicating effect of the beer eventually took hold and she stopped fighting.
One of the oddest contradictions in the Sekhmet story lies in her dual role as a sun deity. This seems out of line with the idea of her being the world's first vampire, but legends, like the depiction of vampiric entities, evolve over time. For example, so many ancient Egyptians worshipped Sekhmet that her cult of followers moved with Egypt's capital city when it changed locations. Meanwhile, vampires became relegated to the realm of darkness because they're terrifying. Although these ancient people looked at Sekhmet's blood lust as something to be feared as well, they also believed she had saved all of them when the Nile turned red. In many ways, Sekhmet represents the perfect balance of good and evil.