Egyptian Goddess Selket

     
 
 
Selket is the divine scorpion goddess of the Ancient Egyptians.
There are many alternate forms of her name: Selkit, Selkis, Selchis, Selkhet, Selquet, Serqet, Serket, Serket-hetyt, Serkhit.
Her name means “the one who causes the throat to breathe.”

“The teeth of the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, are the teeth of Serqet.”
-Egyptian Book of the Dead.

“I embrace with my two arms that which is in me. Everday I make protection for Qebehsenuef, which is in me. The protection of Osiris is the protection of Qebehsenuef, for Osiris is Qebehsenuef.”
-attributed to Selkit in an inscription of an ancient canopic jar.

 
She is referred to as having been the wife of Ra, but in his book”The Mummy,” E.A. Wallis Budge describes Selket as the daughter of Ra and Isis, wife of Horus. She is identified with Sesheta and Isis, and is the mother of Harakhte. She symbolized the scorching heat of the sun and her veneration center was most likely Tell El Amarna, the Sun City of the heretic pharoah, Akhneton. There is no historical evidence as to what date her feast or festival was held on, but a logical assumption would be October 23, the start of the astrological sign of Scorpio.

Her priesthood was connected to the healing of poisonous bites and she was frequently appealed to by magicians and others for protection from venomous bites.

Although Selket is a lesser known goddess in the Egyptian pantheon, she is nonetheless an important diety. She is sometimes called the goddess of magic, but her main role was that of a funerary goddess. She was the divine scorpion goddess who ruled over medicine, poisons, toxins and death. She was the goddess of fertility and the underworld, insects, family and tribes, and the protectress of marriage and conjugal union. She was also a helper of women in labor and childbirth.

She was associated early with the god Nun and originally adored in the southern lands. She was absorbed into the cult of Horus in time and then became a guardian of the dead. Selket was one of the Great Goddesses of the Delta. The others, Nephthys, Sekhat-Hor and Nor, joined Selket in watching over the infant Horus in the marshes. She also joins with Neith in their aspects as Sky Goddesses and watches over Amun and his wife, so that no one disturbs them in their marriage bed. She is depicted as binding up demons that would otherwise threaten Ra, and she sent seven of her scorpion goddesses (Tefen, Befen, Mestet, Mestetef, Petet, Theteth, Maatet), to protect Isis from Set. She was the protectress of Qebehsenuef, the son of Horus who guarded the intestines of the deceased. She is mentioned in the Pyramid and the Coffin Texts as one of the four goddesses (Isis, Neith and Nephthys being the other three), who protected the canopic jars that contained the viscera of the deceased. King Tutankamun’s Canopic Shrine and closeup of Selket at the shrine:


Her scorpion creature struck death to the wicked, (hence she was seen as a punisher of crimes), but she was also petitioned to save the lives of innocent people stung by scorpions. The effects of a scorpion’s sting causes rapid and shallow breathing and Selket’s help explains the meaning of her name, “She who causes the throat to breathe.” And when she kills with her scorpion’s poison, that poison preserves the internal organs “forever,” thus those dying by her hand, in a sense, live forever. The scorpion was worshipped as Selket, and specialized “exorcisers of Selket” were sent out into the desert to obtain stones, on which tomb workers would put pictures of scorpions and place them in front of their huts for protection.
She is usually pictured as a beautiful woman wearing a scorpion on her head or as a scorpion with a woman’s head. But at other times, she has been depicted as a lion, a crocodile, or as a scorpion holding an ankh. She was made famous to modern society by her statue that guarded the gold canopic shrine in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and was included in the collection that toured America in the 1970′s. The statue was made of wood, overlaid with gesso, and gilded. It was exceptionally exquisite and graceful, and although it has been suggested that the statue may have been modeled after Tutankamun’s wife, Ankhensanamun, we have no real proof of this.

The statue portrayed Selket with her scorpion emblem on her head, which was turned to the side, breaking the fundamental rule of frontality in Egyptian statuary art. Her arms were outstretched in a protective manner. The statue showed her wearing the royal afnet headress and garments of a narrow sheath dress and a wrapped dress that were worn by women of the New Kingdom. Both dresses were shown as pleated and of such transparently fine linen that the forms of the body were plainly visible. And over both garments, the statue was depicted as wearing a wesekh, an ornamental collar made of concentric rows of beads. (see note below).

The statues of the three other tutelary goddesses, Isis, Neith, and Nephthys, that surrounded Tutankhamun’s canopic shrine were virtually identical to Selket’s. Goddess Nephtys:

In the tomb of Queen Nefetari, wife of Rameses the Great, there is a beautiful painting of Selket, wearing a red beaded, tight fitting, ankle-length dress. In her right hand she holds an ankh, the symbol of life, and in her left hand, she holds the was scepter, the symbol of dominion, well being and prosperity. An inscription in the tomb has Selket speaking to Nefetari: “(I am) Selket, 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 Abydos, and I have accorded you a place in the sacred land, so that you may appear gloriously in heaven like Re.” As with all the gods who guide Nefertari (and all other deceased), and welcome them to the netherworld, Selket’s statement, “I have come before you,” shows that the goddess is there to help the deceased into the new realm that awaits them. painting of Selket from Nefartari’s tomb:
A bronze figure in the Louvre gives her the body of a scorpion and the head of a woman wearing the disk and horns of Isis, showing Selket’s close association with Isis.

note: for details on how dresses were wrapped, see pages 124-125, Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, by Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs, 1999 Greenwood Press

copyright by LadyMoondancer, Midnight and Mythos, and Ruth Pace 2001

 References, recommended reading:
House of Eternity – The Tomb of Nefertari – John K. McDonald, 1996 J. Paul Getty Trust

Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt – R. T. Rundle Clark, 1959, 1978 Thames and Hudson, London

Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians – Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs, 1999 Greenwood Press

A Dictionary of Ancient Egypt – Margaret Bunson, 1991 Oxford University Press

An Introduction to Ancient Egypt – T. G. H. James, 1987 Harper and Row, New York

The British Museum Book of Antiquities of Ancient Egypt – editors: Stephen Quick and Jeffrey Spencer

The Book of the Dead – E. A. Wallis Budge, 1960, 1972 University Books

The Mummy – E. A. Wallis Budge, 1974 Causeway Books

Osiris, The Egyptian Religion of Resurrection – E. A. Wallis Budge, 1961 University Books

A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in the Metropolitan Musuem of Art Part I – From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom – William C. Hayes, 1953, 1990 Metropolitan Musuem of Art, New York

Encyclopedia of Gods – Over 2,500 Dieties of the World – Michael Jordan, 1993 Facts on File Inc.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Mythology

4 responses to “Egyptian Goddess Selket

  1. joe

    Great article! Thanks for your information.

  2. Pingback: I guess a college professor who complimented my essay is uneducated too? right Brian? « Refuting a Book of Lies: Forbidden Family –

  3. I remember reading a copy of this that Ruth sent me. Excellent piece. I am a well-versed amateur of the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom and this is well researched and written.

    • thank you Gert. One of these days, I will scan and post the letter that Professor Bob Brier of Long Island University sent me back in 2000. I had written him asking his permission to use the description of the wrapped dresses in my essay. I sent him a copy of the essay. He wrote back, giving me permission to use the material, and he said my essay was good.

      Prof. Brier is a noted Egyptologist and host of The Great Egyptians television series that ran on The Discovery Channel in the late 1990′s – early 2000′s.

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