Egypt: Serqet, Goddess of Scorpions and Venomous Creatures, Magical Protection and the Afterlife
Serqet (Serket, Selqet, Selket, Selkit, Selkis) was the ancient Egyptian scorpion goddess of magic. As with other dangerous goddesses, she was both a protective goddess, and one who punished the wrong doers with her burning wrath. She could punish those with the poison of a scorpion or snake, causing breathlessness and death, or she could protect against the same venom. Yet just as she could kill, she was thought to give breath to the justified dead, helping them be reborn in the afterlife.
This Serqet statue protected Tutankhamun in his sarcophagus
As a protective goddess, she was called on by the people to protect and heal them from snake bites and scorpion stings. She was thought to be the one who helped Isis protect Horus from scorpions, either by providing the goddess with seven scorpions to protect her, or by calling to Isis for the royal barque of Ra to stop, forcing the other gods to help bring Horus back to life. She also joined Ra's solar journeys through the underworld each night, and helped to protect the barque from the attack of the snake-demon Apep. It was believed that she had power over all snakes, reptiles and poisonous animals. She was thought to especially protect children and pregnant women from these creatures.
"Rejoice, most fortunate of women, for you shall bear a daughter who shall be the child of Amen-Ra, who shall reign over the Two Lands of Egypt and be sovereign of the whole world."
The monument in the temple shows their bodies interlocked, the god offering her the ankh to breath life, and throwing some rituals on her foot. Nit, the goddess of life, and Serqet the protectoress of the living were holding the god and queen's feet.
Serqet was often shown as a woman with a scorpion on her head, and occasionally as a scorpion with the head of a woman, though this was rare. She was sometimes shown wearing the headdress of Hathor – a solar disk with cow horns – but this was after Isis started to be shown wearing it. (Serqet was closely connected with Isis and her twin sister Nephthys.) By the XXI Dynasty, she was sometimes shown with the head of a lioness, with a protective crocodile at the back of her neck.
The Egyptian scorpion-goddess is srq.(j)t … A fuller form, srq.(j)t-Ht.w exists, that has been rather surprisingly translated "She Who Lets Throats Breathe", a rather unusual role for a poisonous arachnid. I believe rather that srq is cognate with Indo-European streng/k-; and that it means "to tighten, stiffen" so that srq.(j)t-Ht.w should be translated as "She Who Stiffens (Paralyzes) the Throats", rather more keeping with the usually anticipated effects of a scorpion's bite. This is a suitable epithet for a deity that is so closely connected with seasonal death.
Close up of Serqet
Above: A fragment of a ring with the symbolic scorpion of Serqet
In the underworld, she helped in the process of rebirth of the newly deceased, and oriented them as they came to her, giving them the breath of life. She was given the title "Mistress of the Beautiful House", associating her with the Divine Booth where mummification took place. She was the protector of the canopic jar that held the intestines, along with Qebehsenuef – a falcon headed Son of Horus. She was associated with the western cardinal point.
Painting of Serqet with the symbol of the Scorpion on her Head
(I am) Serqet, mistress of heaven and lady of all the gods. I have come before you (Oh) King's Great Wife, Mistress of the Two Lands, Lady of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nefertari, Beloved of Mut, Justified Before Osiris Who Resides in Abtu (Abydos), and I have accorded you a place in the sacred land, so that you may appear gloriously in heaven like Ra.
— Inscription in the Tomb of Nefetari, Serqet speaking to Nefertari
Originally she was worshiped in the Delta, but her cult spread throughout the land of Egypt, with cult centers at Djeba and Per-Serqet (Pselkis, el Dakka). The priests of Serqet were doctors and magicians – in ancient Egypt, medicine was a mixture of folklore, magic and science – who dedicated themselves to healing venomous bites from poisonous creatures. The goddess herself was invoked by the people to both prevent and heal poisonous animal bites. Although she had a priesthood, there have been no temples to this goddess found as yet.
Close up of Serqet
She was believed to be either the mother or daughter of the sun god Ra, and thus her wrath was thought to be like the burning, noonday sun. It was probably because of her very close connection with Isis and her twin sister Nephthys that in Djeba (Utes-Hor, Behde, Edfu), she was believed to be the wife of Horus and the mother of Harakhety (Horus of the Horizon). The Pyramid Texts claim that she was the mother of Nehebkau, a snake god who protected the pharaoh from snakebites. She was also identified with Seshat, the goddess of writing. With Nit, she was a watcher of the sky who, in one story, was thought to stop Amen and his wife from being disturbed while they were together, making her a goddess of marriages.
Egypt was a land of snakes and scorpions, so it is only natural that the worship of this goddess spread through Egypt. The people worshiped her for her protection against these dangerous creatures, and revered her for her power and protective qualities. She guarded all of the people, including the pharaoh, mothers and children. Her followers were priestly doctors, healing the people affected by venom. She extended her protection from life into the land of the dead, not only helping to revive the dead, but to introduce them with the afterlife. She even protected the other gods from the serpent-demon, Apep. Although having no temples, she was worshiped throughout the land of Egypt.
— The Animals of Creation, Patrick C. Ryan
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