Meet Sekhmet, The Ancient Egyptian Cat Goddess And Possibly The World's First Vampire

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.

  • Her Blood Lust And Its Association Served To Explain Life In Ancient Egypt

    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.

  • She Saved Humanity By Drinking The Blood-Red Water Of The Nile

    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.  

  • Ra Defeated Her By Giving Her Blood-Colored Beer

    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. 

  • The Bloodthirsty Goddess Was Also A Sun Deity

    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.   

  • A Pacification Festival Was Held To End Wars And Satisfy Her Blood-Lust
    Photo: anjan58 / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    A Pacification Festival Was Held To End Wars And Satisfy Her Blood-Lust

    Sekhmet's role as the goddess of war fits well with her desire for human blood. During a time of war, having a bloodthirsty deity on your side sounds like the way to go. Getting her to stop after each war ended proved a completely different matter, and Ra wasn't always waiting to get her drunk on red-colored beer. Ancient Egyptians solved this problem by holding a special festival to signal the end of every war. They believed this would pacify Sekhmet, and they drank wine to symbolize her blood lust.

    Ancient records document tens of thousands of people attending these pacification festivals. Over time, they became an annual event to give recognition to the goddess and express gratitude for their lives. In a funny side note, some historians have likened these festivals to an ancient version of Girls Gone Wild because they featured so much drinking, sex, and music. Even Herodotus himself noted "More grape wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of the year besides."

  • Her Dual Nature Included War, Healing, Fertility, And Fire

    Can vampires be just as good as they are bad? Regardless of whether Sekhmet's blood lust came from vampirism, she definitely possessed a confusing mixture of positive and negative qualities. Not only was she a sun deity who drank blood, she also held roles as the goddess of war, healing, fertility, and fire. In other words, Sekhmet was equally likely to kill or help each human she encountered. This sounds similar to the charming but deadly nature of the modern interpretation of a vampire, who often fills the duel role of killer and seducer.

    Additionally, many legends of Sekhmet say she began as Ra's daughter Hathor, and turned bloodthirsty in her rage. Vampires, similar to Sekhmet, begin as good-natured beings (humans) before they become monsters. Like Bram Stoker's Lucy Westenra, she begins as a being of peace before being corrupted into a being of destruction. Even if Sekhmet wasn't the first vampire in history, her simultaneous blood lust and benevolence provided ample foundations upon which the complicated vampire legend could build on.