With the exciting news that (fingers crossed) we will be able to stream Black Widow in July, I thought it would be great for my first post to be a short piece I wrote about Black Widow about a year ago, when I was doing an EdX Course on Superheroes.
Black Widow as Hathor/Sekhmet (2 May 2020)
One of the building blocks of Ancient Egyptian mythology is the principle of duality. We are familiar with this concept, for example: good/evil, chaos/order. However, “… the pairs do not cancel each other out; they complement each other” (Hornung, 1996, p.240). Hornung points out that while this seems instinctively to be impossible, there are parallels to be found physics; Bohr’s Theory of Complementarity, for example (Hornung, 1996, p.241). Bohr says, there are
“ … two kinds of truth. To the one kind belong statements so simple and clear that the opposite assertion obviously could not be defended. The other kind, the so-called “deep truths,” are statements in which the opposite also contains deep truth. (Bohr, 1949, online).
The structure of Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses is formed of doubles and/or triples which follow this concept of simultaneous and complementary existance. For example, Isis/ Osiris/Horus; Osiris/Set.
Hathor/Sekhmet is an example of such duality. Hathor has many different origin stories, including one that she was created by the tears of Re falling on the earth or on a lotus flower (Tyldesley, 2011, p.179). Alternatively, she was the “hand” of Atum, the first creator god, as he brought the world into existance through his masturbation (Wilkinson, 2017, p.141). She is creditted with being the wife of Horus, the mother of Horus, the daughter of Re, the consort of Re. In other words, the wife and mother of the king/god. She has many other roles as a goddess: she is the goddess of the sky; the cow goddess; the goddess of women, sexuality, motherhood; the goddess of the afterlife; the goddess of joy, music, happiness; the goddess of foreign lands (Wilkinson, 2017, pp.140-143). These roles are all to do with creativity, sexuality, love, harmony, happiness, and female strength.
Sekhmet is the other side of the coin. She is Hathor when she takes on the persona of the “eye of Re”. The Book of the Cow of Heaven describes how Sekhmet comes into being, as the instrument of Re’s vengeance upon mankind’s mutiny against him (van den Dungen, 2010, online). She kills many people and then returns home, sated, and having developed a taste for human blood. She is happy that she has done as Re commanded. Thus she became the protector of the kings, with epithets such as “smiter of the Nubians” (Wilkinson, 2017, p.181). She was associated with plagues, which again referred back to the king’s power. She also has a nurturing side and is associated with healing (Wilkinson, 2017, p.181).
She is a powerful, dual-aspect goddess. She could be perceived as the archetypal Mother, as described by Jung: “These are three essential aspects of the mother: her cherishing and nourishing goodness, her orgiastic emotionality, and her Stygian depths.” (Jung, 1980, online). The first two of these aspects can be represented in Hathor with the Stygian depths reserved for Sekhmet, although the demarcation is not exact and there are overlaps between the two (for example, Sekhmet is a goddess of healing and Hathor is the initial destroyer of mankind as the Eye of Re). She is strong, fearless, loving, sensual, sexual, healing, nurturing, as well as fierce, protective, warrier-like, merciless.
Black Widow (in the MCU for the purposes of this piece of work) has a little-known origin story. Her training and indoctrination in the infamous Red Room is revealed a little in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), where it is clear she underwent brutal and rigorous training from a very early age, culminating in her being sterilised. Her history prior to that is unknown; perhaps she is an orphan. The trailers for the new Black Widow (2020) movie show a family, but it is seems probable that this is a “Red Room” created family, rather than a biological one. The Red Room training seems designed to bring out the Sekhmet aspect of the trainee, subverting any Hathor-type instincts, the sterilisation being the ultimate action designed to finally suppress motherhood/nurture once and for all, and ensure the acendency of Sekhmet-like behaviour.
Black Widow’s first appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010) shows her making full use of her wiles of seduction and beauty (from the Hathor side) but subverting them to insinuate her way into Tony Stark’s inner circle, so she could do her job as a spy. This is an aspect that continues throughout her earlier appearances especially, for example, near the beginning of Avengers: Assemble (2012), where she is shown apparently being interrogated in skimpy clothing, tied to a chair, while at the same time manipulating the situation to get the data she wants.
While she does not have super-powers, like many of her colleagues (both male and female), she is highly trained and skilled as a spy and assassin. Later she reveals herself to be a skilful warrier and also leader. She develops through her experiences to becoming more aware of the bad she has done in the past, and a desire to shed that persona and try to redress the “red in her ledger”. She has a true redemption arc in this respect, moving from the Sekhmet aspect, of pure order-following destruction, to the Hathor aspect, of compassion, morality and leadership. She shows that someone who has had their compassionate side removed/destroyed, may yet redeem themselves and redress the imbalance.
At the beginning of Avengers: Endgame (2019), she displays real vulnerability for the first time, while also successfully leading the new Avengers. She has become their mother as well as their leader. She makes the ultimate sacrifice on Vormir to afford Clint Barton/Hawkeye the opportunity to be reunited with his family. At this point she has fully reverted to Hathor, and laid Sekhmet to rest.
Bohr, N. (1949) “Discussions with Einstein on Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher Scientist, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press [online]
Hornung, E. (1996) transl. Baines, J. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, New York, Cornell University Press.
Jung, C.J. (1980) The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious 2nd Edition, Princeton, Princeton University Press [online]
Wilkinson, R.W. (2017) The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, London, Thames & Hudson.
transl. van den Dungen, W. (2010) The Book of the Cow of Heaven [online]
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Directed and Written by Joss Whedon [DVD], Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Avengers: Assemble (2012) Directed and Written by Joss Whedon [DVD], Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Avengers: Endgame (2019) Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo; Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely [DVD] Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
trailer for Black Widow (2020) [online]
(Accessed 2 May 2020)
Iron Man 2 (2010) Directed by Jon Favreau; Written by Justin Theroux [DVD] Paramount Home Entertainment.
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