Egyptian Goddess Serqet | Ancient Scorpion Deity
Table Of Contents
Who is Serqet?
Serqet goes back to the earliest period of recorded Ancient Egyptian history.
The scorpion is a fierce creature, always ready to attack. Not surprisingly, the scorpion goddess was considered to be a protector in various situations. Less obvious are her associations with sacred marriage and the fact that she can be considered the patron of clinical toxicologists.
Serqet’s relationship to other goddesses of Ancient Egypt is another interesting question. Finally, she can still have much significance for those walk the ways of the Goddess today.
The more I researched about Serqet, the more fascinating I found her. I hope you find her fascinating too! My drawing of her is based on photos of small bronze finials produced around 600 BC.
Names and images
Serqet is also spelled as Selket, her full Egyptian name is Srkt-Htw, and the Ancient Greeks called her Selchis.
She is generally shown as a woman with a scorpion on her head, although there are bronze figures showing her with the lower body of a scorpion and upper body of a woman with a solar disc on her head.
In some underworld scenes in royal tombs, she appears as a rearing snake. In one of the “mythological papyri” from the 21st dynasty (c. 1000 BC), she has a lioness head, is armed with knives, and a crocodile sprouts from her back.
The most beautiful image of Serqet is the gilded wooden statue found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (c. 1325 BC). She forms one of a set of four statues, the others being Isis (Aset), Nephthys (Nebhet) and Neith (Nit). They guard the canopic shrine, also of gilded wood, in which some of the dead pharaoh’s organs were placed. Their forms are delicate and the slight rotation of the body adds a fluidity not seen in most Ancient Egyptian statues.
Origin and spread of the cult of Serqet
The earliest written mention of Serqet appears on a panel produced towards the end of the First Dynasty (around 2900 BC) and dedicated to a nobleman called Merika. It was found in a mastaba (tomb) in Saqqara, one of the oldest burial sites in Egypt.
It is thought that her cult first started in the Delta, the northernmost region of Egypt. It spread southwards to Edfu and then as far as Pselqet (el Dakka, or Pselchis to the Greeks and Romans) in Lower Nubia, about 65 miles south of Aswan, now under the waters of Lake Nasser.
Although the name Pselqet derives from her name, no temple dedicated to Serqet been found there or anywhere else. Nevertheless, she was an important goddess to the Egyptians for a number of reasons as described below.
Funerary deity and protector of the dead
With Isis, Nephthys and Neith, Serqet was associated with the four Sons of Horus, is particularly related to the falcon-headed Qebehsenuef, who guarded the canopic jar containing the mummy’s intestines.
She played an important role in protecting the newly dead as they navigated the Duat (underworld).
In the Egyptian Book of the Dead (in use from about 1550 BC and actually called Pert Em Hru = the Book of Coming Forth by Day) Serqet joins with Mafdet, fierce feline goddess, in protecting the dead man from the dangerous Rerek snake, which devours the spirits. The snake is told: “Your heart is cut out by Mafdet, you are put into bonds by the Scorpion-goddess” (chapter 39, Theban recension).
The Pyramid Texts, produced about 800-900 years earlier see the house of Serqet as being the final destination of the now immortal and deified pharaoh: “For the King is an Imperishable Star, son of the sky-goddess who dwells in the Mansion of Selket” (Pyramid Texts, utterance 571).
Initially being seen as exclusively for the pharaoh, the concept of the afterlife was gradually extended to nobles and then to anyone, who could afford at least the minimal correct form of burial.
The village of Deir el Medina on the West Bank opposite Luxor housed the artists who created the royal tombs. They also built their own tombs within their settlement. The tomb of the artist Khabekhenet shows Neith and Serqet protecting the dead man.
Protector of the living
The scorpion is a symbol of motherhood in many sources from the Ancient Near East, possibly because the female carries her young on her back.
Ancient Egypt took over these concepts in seeing Serqet as a protector of mothers, children and pregnant women.
This is primarily expressed in the story of Serqet helping to protect Isis and her baby son Horus when they flee into the Delta to escape Seth. Seth killed Osiris, husband of Isis, and wished to make Isis his own.
In addition, all people would ask for Serqet’s protection against venomous creatures. In the Pyramid Texts, she is called the mother of the snake deity Nehebkau, who protected Pharaoh from snakes.
Thus, while there might not have been any temples specific to Serqet, many would have carried amulets of the goddess and honored her in their own homes
Patron of clinical toxicologists
Serqet was the patron of those doctors, who specialized in treating poisonings, especially from venomous stings and bites; she can thus be called the patron of clinical toxicologists.
The name Srkt-Htw translates as “She Who Causes the Throat to Breathe”, which can be seen as referring to her help in fighting the loss of breath that can occur scorpion stings and snake bites.
Interestingly, the scorpion has again become associated with medicine in very recent times. Chlortoxin, derived from scorpion venom, targets a certain type of brain tumor and can be used to direct chemotherapy specifically at the tumor. Another peptide derived from scorpion venom has recently been reported to show potent antibacterial activity, including against MRSA, in laboratory studies.
Sanctifier of the sacred marriage and divine birth
In Mesopotamian art, scorpions are symbols of sacred marriage between gods and humans and thus are shown in the marriage bed. The Egyptians saw Serqet having a role in this context.
In the temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank, Neith and Selket support the bodies of Amun Ra and Hatshepsut’s mother in a scene of Hatshepsut’s divine conception.
Both are also present at a similar scene of the divine conception of Amenhotep III in Luxor Temple.
Solar goddess, daughter of Ra
Serqet was associated with the scorching heat of the sun and thus was considered the daughter of Ra, the Egyptian sun god. In the Book of the Dead, the dead person identifies with her, saying: “I am that Scorpion-goddess, the daughter of Ra” (Chapter 86).
The barque of Ra was believed to travel a perilous journey through the underworld each night. In some representations, Serqet is shown on the barque protecting her father, particularly by fighting the Apep serpent (Apophis), who represents totally evil chaos.
Association with other goddesses
Of the other three goddesses guarding the canopic jars with her, Serqet seems to be particularly paired with Neith. Neith was a major creator goddess (Weaver) and warrior goddess (Archer) worshipped from very early times at her cult center of Sais in the Delta.
As mentioned above, these two goddesses appear together in scenes of sacred marriage and divine conception. They are also pictured together protecting the dead (as in the tomb of Khabekhbet mentioned above) and appear together with some funerary texts. For example, utterance 539 of the Pyramid Texts says “I will ascend and rise up the sky. My thighs are Neith and Selket.”
Like Hathor, Serqet is described as being the daughter of Ra. The horned solar disc seen on the half-scorpion statue of Serqet in the Louvre is generally associated with Hathor (also with later representations of Isis).
Serqet, together with Qebehsenuef is associated with the cardinal point West. One of Hathor’s main titles is “Lady of the West”.
Edfu became known as a cult center of Serqet. It is mainly known for being the cult center of Horus. In Edfu, there are references to Serqet as the wife of Horus. Some spells against poisonous bites mention a scorpion goddess called Ta-Bitjet, who again is referred to as the wife of Horus. However, the consort of Horus was generally considered to be Hathor. Her actual name in Egyptian is Hwt-Heru, which means “house of Horus”.
Some versions of the story about Serqet protecting Isis and the baby Horus refer to the goddess as taking on a sevenfold aspect of seven scorpions. It is therefore interesting to note that Hathor also has a sevenfold aspect. The “seven Hathors” appear in stories as a collective group that parallels the “good fairies” in fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty. They predict the fate of a new baby and give it gifts to help the child achieve good fortune and have good luck.
The attribute of Great Goddess, held by Hathor in later periods in Egypt, and by Isis in the Graco-Roman world, is also given to Serqet. For example, in the mythological papyrus showing here with a lioness head, she is called “Serqet the great, the divine mother”
In the tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramses II, an inscription reads:
“I, Serqet, mistress of heaven and lady of all the gods have come before you Great Wife, Mistress of the Two Lands, Lady of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nefertari, Beloved of Mut, Justified Before Osiris Who Resides in Abtu and have given you a place in the sacred land, so that you may appear gloriously in heaven like Ra.”
The Egyptians had very fluid concepts of deity. At various periods, one God took over the function of another. Sometimes, two or even three gods became merged into composite forms. I believe they may view their god as emanations or aspects of a Unity, which in itself is beyond human comprehension.
Serqet in Nefertari’s tomb
You can see two different pictures of Serqet in this short video showing the interior of Nefertari’s tomb.
The first starts at 41 seconds and shows Serqet in a red dress standing on the left hand. To her right, Nefertari in a white dress is being led by Isis in a red dress, with the horned solar disc on her head.
The second starts at 1 minute 24 seconds. This time, Serqet in a blue dress is the second of the two seated goddesses. Behind her, kneeling on the floor is the winged Maat (goddess of truth and balance), with a feather on her head. In front of Serqet sits Hathor, with a horned solar disc on her head. Nefertari, holding offerings, faces the goddesses.
Incidentally, when Isis is shown with the horned solar disc, the only way to distinguish between her and Hathor is by the hieroglyphs for their names. The hieroglyphs for Isis, consisting of a throne shape, a semicircle and an angled oval shape appear just to the right of her face. The hieroglyph for Hathor, a hawk inside a square enclosure is to the upper right of Hathor.
Those in our times, who choose to follow the path of the Goddess or approach spirituality/magic with a focus on Egyptian deities, may choose to turn to Serqet in a variety of situations.
1. Protection for mothers, children and pregnant women.
2. Healing from bites, stings and other forms of poisoning.
3. Strength in withdrawal/detox from alcohol or drug abuse.
4. As a matter of last resort, calling on the ferocity of Serqet as a warrior goddess to deal with enemies who have become a serious threat to self or loved ones.
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Please also let me know if there are other aspects of Ancient Egypt, or deities / mythologies from Egypt or elsewhere you would like to read about.