Johns Hopkins expert discusses ritual public drunkenness in ancient Egypt

Betsy Bryan specializes in art, history, archaeology of New Kingdom

Earlier this week, Betsy Bryan, who specializes in the history, art, and archaeology of Egypt's New Kingdom (ca. 1600-1000 B.C.), participated in a lecture series under the auspices of the California Museum of Ancient Art, where she spoke about ancient Egyptian ritual celebrations that centered around public drunkenness and sex.

These Festivals of Drunkenness, which Bryan has uncovered during her ongoing excavation of the temple complex of the Egyptian goddess Mut in modern-day Luxor, were celebrated throughout ancient Egypt at least once a year. She described the rituals in an interview with the Los Angeles Times before her lecture series appearance:

These rituals were related to the cult of the Egyptian lion goddess. In ancient Egyptian myth, the sun god is unhappy with mankind. He finds they are rebellious. And he orders, together with the Council of Gods, mankind's destruction. He calls on his daughter, Hathor, to become a lion, whereupon she turns into Sakhnet (which simply means magical power — female power). The sun god sends her down to kill mankind, which she does in this lion form, running up and down the Nile River Valley eating people.

Eventually her father tells her to stop. But by this time, she has developed a lust for blood and she won't stop killing. To foil her, the Council of Gods floods the fields of the valley with beer that has been tinted red, to look like blood, with ocher. Blood-thirsty Hathor drinks it, becomes inebriated and falls asleep, and mankind is safe.

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