I love to explore the Divine Feminine and write about Goddesses. For a list of those, click on the link: Goddesses. In order to become more balanced within ourselves and, through that, to bring greater balance and harmony to the world around us, we must find greater balance between the masculine and feminine energies within ourselves that each one of us possesses, regardless of physical gender or any other ways of self-identification.
The Sting of Lethal Venom & Motherhood
Serket, also known as Serqet, Selkis, and Selket, is an Ancient Egyptian Scorpion Goddess. She rules not only over the healing of venomous bites and stings but also fertility, nature, animals, medicine and magic. A scorpion’s sting leads to paralysis and her name actually means She Who Tightens the Throat, but it can also mean She Who Causes the Throat to Breathe. Thus, we have two aspects of the Goddess, the one who strikes down the unrighteous with her sting, as well as the healer who cures venomous bites and stings.
Unsurprisingly, in art, Serket is depicted as either a scorpion or a woman with a scorpion on her head. Because there is a scorpion type in North Africa whose sting can kill, Serket was often considered to be the patron of a pharaoh and an important Goddess in general. She was also seen as the protector from the great evil demon-snake Apep. In fact, there were many lethally venomous creatures in the region and Serket was therefore also considered a Goddess of Death, especially where fluids and liquids that stiffen the body were concerned and was the protector of the embalmers’ tents and canopic jars of the intestines.
This connection also caused her to be associated with the Goddesses Neith, Isis and Nephthys who were described as holding similar functions. And this led to her eventually being usurped into the cult of Isis as being merely an aspect of her.
There is a theory that Serket’s association with scorpions is a misinterpretation and it is the water scorpion, she was associated which. In this case, her name would also mean She Who Gives Breath because of the water scorpion’s seeming ability to breathe underwater. From this, her association with venomous creatures may then have arisen through the physical similarity between water scorpion and scorpion or because “she causes to breathe,” and not because of said physical parallels.
A Volatile Protector
Serket was originally worshipped as a great Mothergoddess in the predynastic period and is thus one of the oldest deities of Ancient Egypt. When she is depicted as a woman with arms outstretched and a scorpion on her head without a stinger or claws, which is purposefully done as a reminder of her role as protector against venomous stings. Apart from her being mentioned in the creation story, which reiterates that she was present during the creation of the world, there are no other mythological stories giving us more information about this mysterious, yet powerful Goddess.
As she was already associated with the scorpion in prehistoric times, she was revered as a Mothergoddess, as this animal was a symbol of motherhood in the Near East already. She is depicted as nursing the kings in the pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom and one of the protective spells, known as PT 1375, reads, “My mother is Isis, my nurse is Nephthys...Neith is behind me, and Serket is before me." (Wilkingson, 233)
This tells us that Serket is the one who forges the path, the one in whose footsteps we can walk in safety. Where she leads, we are protected and nurtured. And she is a leader, not a follower, but a powerful Goddess with power over magic, life and death and the most lethal creatures. In the myth of Osiris and Isis, when Isis conceived Horus and has to hide in the swamps of the Delta, Serket is oftentimes included at this part of the story in her role as protector of the innocent.
Isis has a difficult labour and gives birth to Horus in the swamps of the Delta. During this, Serket is present and keeps venomous scorpions and snakes away from the new mother and child. This also gave Serket the role as protector of women in childbirth and of mothers and children. After Horus' birth, Isis had to continue to hide in the marshes from Set and only went out at night for food. At these times, Serket guarded the baby and sent her scorpions with Isis as her bodyguards.
In one particular story, which was quite popular with the Egyptians, Isis went to a town to ask for alms, concealed as a poor older woman with the seven scorpions that Serket had given her as bodyguards. Petet, Tjetet, and Matet - would go before her to make sure the path ahead was safe and Set was not waiting in ambush, two were on either side of her, Mesetet and Mesetetef, and two brought up the rear, Tefen and Befen, who were the most fierce, in case Set would attempt an attack from behind.
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The Seven Manifestations of Serket
A noble lady insulted Isis and Serket, who could see all her scorpions could see, got angry about this. So all other six scorpions gave Tefen their venom and he waited for an opportunity to sting the offensive woman. Meanwhile, a poorer woman had witnessed the incident and had offered Isis and her scorpions a place to sleep for the night and some food, even though she didn’t have much herself.
During the meal, Tefen went to the noble woman’s house and stung her child. The woman ran out into the streets with her boy, crying for help, as she could not revive the child. Isis forgave the woman and didn’t want the child to pay for his mother’s bad behaviour, so she cured him by speaking the scorpions’ secret names and thus ruling them and neutralising their poison. The mother was so ashamed of her earlier behaviour that she offered all her wealth to Isis and the poor woman and Serket regretted having sent Tefen to sting the child and decided to be the protector of children henceforth.
This story, as much as it highlights Serket’s powers, also takes away the mother role from her and it is at this point that Serket’s role as a Mothergoddess was assumed by Isis instead, leaving Serket as the protector and her role of Goddess of the Afterlife was amplified. She was the one who granted breath to the dead who were reborn from their bodies in the Afterlife, but also one of the punishers and tormentors who would unleash their wrath on those undeserving souls who had not honoured the gift of life by living according to the Rule of Ma’at but had led a bad life. Or she would send scorpions and snakes out to the wicked living to scare them with a milder bite or send them to death with a stronger one.
Physicians also used spells invoking the Goddess Serket to draw out poisons from a patient’s body. Thus, Serket was a powerful ally to have in the healing arts. The fact that her symbols are the Ankh and the Was sceptre are further evidence of her great power. The Ankh is the symbol of life, whereas the Was sceptre stands for power and rulership. Her animal familiar is Scorpion.
In my romance novel Badass Heroes, there is a person whose anger and wrath had caused a lot of lives being lost and in order to protect this secret, the person goes on another killing spree, thus going after an innocent woman who is nothing but collateral damage in the greater scheme of things. However, she is also the person who, unknowingly, could bring this entire house of cards to fall that had been constructed so many years ago even before her birth.
In this, the anger and defence mechanisms of the true culprit lashing out blindly in self-preservation, uncaring of who is being killed, is evident. And indeed, when our hero Cadda finally faces the truth, the choice she has to make is not an easy one because her own life will never be the same again when the truth is revealed. But she knows the secret names of the scorpions, and thus, she kills the lies in order for the truth to prevail and to lay bare the old wounds in order to be able to heal them. In this, Cadda shows her true power over the venom of the Goddess Serket within her. She utilises it to gain strength in order to heal and to protect the innocent, not to destroy and serve any selfish ends.
The scorpion is not an obvious, or comfortable, role model of a devoted mother to us, thus it may make you wonder why on earth the scorpion was associated with motherhood at all, let alone in a deified form, but the Egyptians saw the ever-vigilant scorpion carry her babies on her back and took that as a symbol of conscientious and protective motherhood.
The seven manifestations, the seven scorpions, of Serket reflect our own anger and venom. Without it, we are afraid to speak out or to fight oppression and we fade into weak victims. With too much, we are blinded by aggression and act with knee-jerk reactions, striking out without thought for the consequences of our actions, just like Tefen did in her fury at the bad mother in the story of Isis mentioned above, hurting an innocent.
To avoid causing collateral damages through our anger and venom spiralling out of control and wreaking havoc, and instead to find balance within ourselves, we must keep the scorpions under control by learning their true names. This means, we must know the root cause of our anger and our fear in order to effectively protect ourselves, those we love and be heard without burning the ground in our attempt to be noticed, heard and respected, in order to have our needs met and be taken seriously.
We are the magician healers of our own lives. We are the ones who must bring our deepest fear, our most tormenting demons under control in order to not become the tormentor ourselves, but instead, the protector, nurturer and healer of our own lives and that of those weaker than us who are under our care, in our vicinity, dependent on us using our power in a controlled manner and applying the correct dosage of our venom in order to heal, rather than to hurt and destroy.