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Serqet as a scorpion with the torso of a woman, wearing the headdress of Hathor

Serqet, Goddess of Scorpions and Venemous Creatures, Magical Protection and the Afterlife

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: July 1, 2013

 

Golden statue of Serqet from the tomb of Tutankhamen srqtscorpion determinative

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.

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 21st Dynasty, she was sometimes shown with the head of a lioness, with a protective crocodile at the back of her neck. She could also be depicted as a lioness or as a serpent. Sometimes, in her capacity as a guardian of the innards of the dead with Isis, Nephthys and Nit, she is given wings with which to protect the deceased. She was mentioned in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, and appears in the Book of the Dead of the New Kingdom. She was an important goddess to the ancient Egyptians, who had venerated the scorpion since predynastic times. Serqet as a human woman, holding an ankh and scepter

Image © Ramsès2archi

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.

Serqet's connections with Nephthys and Isis are close; and with Nit, the four are said to keep watch around the byre of Osiris. However, Nit should not be equated with Isis parallel with our identification of Nephthys with Serqet. Many characteristics of Nit (weaving, justice, war [trial by ordeal], arrows, bee) suggest that she was originally a sun-goddess whose presence in the annual renewal has been usurped by Horus/Osiris.

-- Ryan, P.C., The Animals of Creation: Part Two

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 water 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. Painting of Serqet with the emblem of the scorpion on her head

Image © Tangient LLC

"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. Amen then summoned to "Khunm", his representative and the fashioner, to create a body with two Kaut (pleural Ka) of a male, but given female names.

-- Arab, S., The Queens of Egypt: Part One of Three

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.

Fragment of a ring with the scorpion of Serqet

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.

-- McDonald, J.K. 1996, House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari, p. 69

Originally she was worshipped in the Delta, but her cult spread throughout the land of Egypt, with cult centres 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. She was given the titles of kherep Serqet, 'Sceptre of Serqet', and sa Serqet, 'Protection of Serqet', in this role of patroness of the healing arts. 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. Serqet from the tomb of Nefertari

Image © Mirjam Nebet

A second title appearing in the texts, sau, derived from sa, the Egyptian word for "amulet" or "protection." Because of this, the translation of sau as "magician" has come under question. More recent suggestions for a translation are "protector" or "amulet-man." The term "amulet-man" may not be accurate as it implies the sau only worked with amulets rather than the other types of therapies outlined in the medical papyri. The title sau typically appears in conjunction with Serqet, the scorpion goddess. Like Sekhmet, Serqet embodied both the dangerous aspect of the scorpion as well as the ability to heal the scorpion's sting. The protective role of Serqet is attested as early as the Old Kingdom in the Pyramid texts (PT 1375). By the Middle Kingdom, her protective role expanded to include guarding the canopic jar holding the intestines of the deceased. Perhaps it is best to translate sau as "protector," highlighting the healer as an extension of Serqet's protective role without limiting his therapeutic strategies.

-- Zucconi, L.M. 2007, 'Medicine and Religion in Ancient Egypt', Religion Compass, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 34-35

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. Serqet, as a woman representing a constellation, on the astronomical ceiling of the tomb of the pharaoh Seti I

Image © William Petty

Serqet's help is required in the Underworld where, according to the Middle Kingdom coffin composition known as the Book of Two Ways, she watches over a dangerous twist in the pathway.

-- Hart, G. 2005, A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, p. 142

She was also a goddess depicted in the constellations:

The goddess Serqet also had its place in the sky of the ancient Egyptians, among circumpolar stars.

-- El-Hennawy, H.K. 2011, 'Scorpions in ancient Egypt', Euscorpius: Occasional Publications in Scorpiology, no. 119, p. 1

Egypt was a land of snakes and scorpions, so it is only natural that the worship of this goddess spread through Egypt. The people worshipped Serqet 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 water serpent-demon, Apep. Although having no temples, she was worshipped throughout the land of Egypt.


Further Information about Serqet


Video of Serqet

A video filled with images of Serqet (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2002 - present

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