Isis the Scorpion

I think this is the last installment about Scorpion Goddesses, at least for now…

You may recall from last time that the Scorpion Wives of Horus were sometimes invoked during childbirth. You may also remember that one of the types of bloodshed associated with Them is “the first blood of childbirth.” And that further, They may be connected to the Seven Hathors, Who are clearly Ladies of Love and its frequent result, children—for They are the Goddesses Who arrive to foretell the fate of newborns (most especially royal ones).

Here’s an example of a spell where all our Goddesses come together. This rite is to assist a woman in the throes of childbirth who is experiencing a difficult birth. Here, the physician/magician takes on the Godform of Horus to call upon His Scorpion Wife, Sepertuenes, as well as Nekhbet, the Vulture Mother Goddess, and a prehistoric Serpent Goddess named Wenut or Unut. Finally, Hathor is invoked to give the birthing mother health:

Come down, placenta! Come down, placenta, come down! I am Horus the Conjurer! And the one who is giving birth is [already] better than she was, as if she were delivered. O Sepertuenes, wife of Horus, O Nekhbet the Nubian One and the Eastern One, Wenut, Lady of Wenu [Hermopolis]! Come, please, act for the one who is in Your power! See, Hathor will place Her hand on her as an amulet of health. I am Horus Who saves her!

Borghouts, spell 61, my capitalization

So, here we have Horus calling one of His Scorpion Wives, the great Vulture Goddess of Egypt, a Serpent Goddess, and Hathor (Who, in other contexts, is also a wife or consort of Horus) to help a woman in labor. Why these Goddesses?

Nekhbet in Her vulture form

The vulture hieroglyph is the Egyptian word for mother, mut. So naturally, the Vulture Goddess Nekhbet is associated with mothers, children, and childbirth. This idea persisted so strongly that in the 5th century CE, a Greek writer known as Horapollo noted that when the Egyptians wanted to say “a mother,” they would draw a vulture. He tells us that, since there are no male vultures, when a vulture wishes to conceive, she exposes her vulva to the North Wind for five days…specifically, during the five epagomenal days at the end of (or outside of) the Egyptian year. He tells us that the vulture is a devoted mother, for if she cannot find food for her young, she will tear her own thighs so that the chicks may feed on her blood (not unlike the European legend of the self-sacrificing mother pelican). The Greeks, too, understood Nekhbet’s connection with childbirth for they referred to Her main temple/city, Nekheb, as Eileithyiaspolis. Eileithyia is the Greek Goddess of Childbirth.

Nekhbet is also connected with the number seven (seven Scorpion Wives, seven Hathors). She has Seven Arrows—powerful, sometimes malevolent, forces that the Goddess can turn to good in order to protect the king (and perhaps us, too, if we conjure nicely).

Wenut in Her hare form

The Serpent Goddess Wenut’s name means “the Swift One.” So it makes sense to invoke the Swift One to bring about a swift birth. We can certainly imagine the quick strike of a snake leading to such a name. But the serpent isn’t Wenut’s only animal. She is also, even more strongly, connected with the hare. Hares, too, are notably swift, regularly eluding larger, fierce predators. They are also, like rabbits, associated with fecundity. The name Wenut may also be related to a word meaning “to exist,” and so, after death, the Goddess offers ongoing existence and rebirth in the otherworld. Wenut shows up in many of the most well-known funerary texts, such as the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, though not as often as some other Deities. Generally, She is an Upper Egyptian Goddess, Who could sometimes be identified with Nekhbet.

How do our Scorpion Goddesses fit in? First of all, pain and blood; the pain and blood of childbirth. You might recall that the ancient Egyptians conceived of the pain of poisoning as burning. The idea of a burning pain can easily be extended to the pain of birth. (And they weren’t the only ones who conceived of birth pain like this. The Greek Goddess Eileithyia carries burning torches as a symbol of the burning pains of childbirth.) So, it may be that both the Serpent and Scorpion Goddesses are associated with birth pains due to the important ability of these Goddesses to remove such pain.

Mama scorpion and her scorplings

If you recall some of the scorpion spells from last week, you might remember that the poison is commanded to “flow out” or “flow down;” this would be a very appropriate magical command for birth, too. In the spell above, it is the placenta that is commanded to come down.

What’s more, as a generally protective Goddess, Serket and Her sister Scorpion Goddesses, also protect children. Indeed, it is especially important for children to be so protected, then as now. With their smaller body size, a scorpion sting or snake bite can much more easily kill a child. On the other hand, it may have been the image of the prolific mother scorpion carrying her scorplings (don’t you adore that term?) on her back that so strongly connected the scorpion with birthing and motherhood.

Taweret, the Great One

Now, let’s bring in another Divine player Who we have not yet mentioned but Who is part of all this Egyptian birth magic, though not in this particular spell. She is the Goddess Taweret, the Great One. Taweret is the Hippopotamus Goddess of Birth, protectress of mothers and children. As a big-bellied hippo, She is (seemingly) forever pregnant; and hippos, like lions and raptors, were known to be especially fearsome when protecting their young. As She was envisioned in ancient Egypt, Taweret is a composite Goddess, having elements of hippo, lioness, and crocodile. And…yes…the Great One specifically protects against scorpion sting and snakebite, too.

Iset Djamet, lower right, Serket in the upper center with Her scorpion above Her. There is an iteration of Isis standing right behind Iset Djamet with Her throne above Her head. This is from the astronomical ceiling in Senenmut’s tomb.

If we look to the Egyptian skies at night, we can see Taweret and Serket together. The Great Hippo bears a crocodile on Her back (or sometimes just a croc’s tail), while Her (lioness?) paws drive in a mooring post and subdue a smaller crocodile.

Here is a slightly different arrangement of the constellations showing the connection between Iset Djamet, the Foreleg, and Serket. This one is from the tomb of Pademenope.

Sometimes, this constellation is called Reret, Female-Hippopotamus. Sometimes She is Reret Weret, Great Female Hippopotamus. But other times, this constellation is called Iset Djamet (“Isis of Djamet,” which is the ancient Egyptian name for Medinet Habu, where the Ogdoad is supposed to be buried. The Great God Google tells me Djamet means “males and mothers,” presumably referring to the four primordial male/female couples of the Ogdoad). The hippo Iset Djamet is said to hold a golden chain that secures Set’s leg (probably the constellation of the Bull’s Foreleg, Meskhetyu) to a mooring post so that He can’t roam about the skies causing problems for the Deities.

Isis with Taweret legs (?), serpents in hand, and crowned with scorpions on a Cippi of Horus

We find both the Scorpion Goddess and (perhaps) the Hippopotamus Goddess united in a very interesting and rare image of Our Lady Isis. Here, Isis (specifically labeled as Isis) stands upon a crocodile, with a serpent (or heka serpent wand?) in each hand. Above Her horns-and-disk crown is a scorpion, with another scorpion just behind Her head. But look at Her legs. Some scholars have guessed them as the legs of a deer or gazelle. But Robert Ritner suggests that they are Taweret’s legs. Now, I haven’t found a Taweret with hooves like this yet, but I’m going to bet Ritner has seen more examples of obscure Egyptian art than I have. Though I wonder whether they might be a misinterpretation of Taweret’s lioness legs, with their backward knee bend?

And we have now circled back to Isis, She to Whom this blog is dedicated. Isis is All Things, and All Things are Isis. Isis is the Goddess of Ten Thousand Names. She is the Delta Scorpion Goddess Iset Ta-Wahaet, the Upper Egyptian Scorpion Goddess Iset-Hededyt, and She is Isis-Serket. Since one of Her sacred birds is the vulture, She is easily connected to Nekhbet. And like many Goddesses and Queens, She often wears the vulture headdress. Like Wenut, She is a Serpent Goddess, a fire-spitting Uraeus Goddess—and Her husband is Usir Wennefer, “Osiris the Beautiful Being” or “Osiris Existing in Perfection,” an epithet that shares a root with Wenut’s name. Isis is a Healing and Magician Goddess, powerfully adept at laying down poisons and helping birthing mothers bring their children to the beautiful light of day. As we have just seen, Isis can be understood as one of the identities of Taweret, the Great One of Childbirth. And, of course, Great Isis and Great Hathor have been sharing a connection for millennia. Like all of these Goddesses, from Scorpion Wives to Reret Weret, Isis is the Lady of Protection—on earth, in the heavens, and in the otherworld—as She wraps Her wings around each one of us.

The Goddess in Her outdoor temple at the Hallows