Serket: the Scorpion-headed goddess of Ancient Egypt
Serket, the Egyptian goddess who has a scorpion on her head, was venerated as the protector against venomous creatures. She was also seen as a deity that possessed the power to strike down evil spirits, particularly the snake Apep (or Apophis). During funeral and embalming rituals, Serket was seen as the protector of the hawk-headed canopic jar (Qebehseneuef) that housed the intestine of the dead person.
Take an in-depth look at the major myths and facts surrounding Egyptian goddess Serket, including her powers, worship and symbols.
Myths and Facts about Serket
Goddess of: medicine, magic, healing, fertility, and animals
Mother: Neith – the creator goddess
Father: Khnum – god of the source of the Nile River
Offspring: Qebehsenuef – one of the four sons of the falcon god Horus
Symbols: Scorpion, ankh, was– scepter
Other names: Selkis, Serqet, Selket, Selqet, Selcis
Meaning and Epithet
The name “Serket” means “the one who causes the throat to breathe”. Serket’s name stemmed from the fact that the stings of scorpions paralyzed the body, making breathing very difficult.
Birth and Family
Not much detail exists about Serket’s family; however, it’s been stated that Serket’s parents were Neith, the creator goddess, and Khnum, the god of the source of the Nile.
Serket’s siblings were the ancient Egyptian embodiment of chaos, Apep (Apophis), and the crocodile-headed god, Sobek. Serket’s consort was either Horus the Elder or Horus the Younger. Together with Horus, she bore a son called Qebehsenuef, the falcon-headed god of protection.
Son of Serket – Qebehsenuef
Serket’s son Qebehsenuef – one of four sons of Horus – was revered as the protector deity of the West. His canopic jar was used to store the intestines of the dead during mummification. Qebehsenuef was protected by his mother Serket. Some Egyptians believed that the intestines of a dead could be used to predict the future.
The four sons of Horus, along with Kheri-beq-f, Maa-atef-f, and Horus-Khenti-maa, were responsible for the body of Osiris, Lord of the Afterlife.
Serket was said to have dominion over fertility, medicine, nature, animals, and magic. She also had the ability to heal people that suffered from lethal stings and bites from scorpions and other venomous snakes.
Ancient Egyptians believed that Serket had the ability to inflict scorpion stings on those that sought to do harm. She was prayed to rejuvenate the body of someone who had been paralyzed by the stings of scorpions.
Serket and the four canopic jars
Along with goddesses like Isis, Nephthys and Neith, Serket guarded the royal coffins and canopic chests and jars. Ancient Egyptians used four canopic jars to house the internal organs of the dead during the mummification process. Subsequently, the jars were placed inside a chest. The four canopic jars were considered the embodiment of the four sons of Horus – Imsety, Duamutef, Hapi, and Qebehsenuef. As stated above, Qebehsenuef, who was the god of protection, is generally held as the son of Serket. Qebehsenuef, in turn, is protected by Serket.
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Worship of Serket
Serket’s worship was not as widespread as other mainstream Egyptian gods. Furthermore, temples devoted to her were not common either. However, she did have quite a number of priests who served her across Egypt.
Depictions and Symbols
Ancient Egyptians depicted Serket as a young woman with a scorpion on top of her head. In both hands were the ankh (ancient Egyptian symbol of life) and a was-scepter (a symbol of dominion or power). Alternatively, she was depicted as a full scorpion.
Importance of Serket in ancient Egypt
Egyptian pharaohs, particularly those from the Protodynastic Period of Upper Egypt (c. 3200-3000 BCE), revered her as the patron goddess of the throne. They offered her prayers in order to ward off evil spirits from the royal family. She is said to protect several Egyptian deities from Apep (Apophis), who by the way is her said to be her brother.
Egyptians believed that Serket’s protection extended to the underworld, thus she was responsible for protecting the souls of the dead. She was linked to the embalming process, particularly the canopic jar that housed the intestine of the dead person. Due to this role of hers, she has been associated with deities such as Isis, Nephthys, and Neith.