Meretseger – she who loves silence

Having the epithet ‘she who loves silence’ depending on what mood you are in could be a good thing if say you wanted to be left alone or it could be a foreboding sense of building tension. But the silence referred to by this title is more likely a mixture of contemplative silence with a hint of fury. My topic this week is the Theban cobra Godesses Meretseger, whose name means, you guessed it, She who loves silence.

Figure 1:Ostrocon with he workman Pennub adoring the goddess Meretsger in the shape of a woman-headed snake EA8508

Meresetseger is one of three prominent snake goddesses within the ancient Egyptian pantheon each connected to the environment where snakes were found; marshes Wadjyt, cornfields Renenutet and desert hills Meretseger. Wadjyt’s name linked her to embodying the constantly renewed vitality of the marches vegetation, Renenutet ‘ the good snake’ was associated with grainfields and bountiful harvest for the living and nourishment for the dead [1]. Then, there was Meretseger who was not always as benevolent as her counterparts. The goddess of the pyramid-shaped peak that overlooked the Valley of the King and the Valley of the Queens at Thebes. Artists and craftsmen that worked on the tombs within the valley felt they needed to appease Meretseger before they stepped foot into her realm and begin their work[2]. She was usually shown as a coiled cobra, a snake-headed woman, a cobra with a woman’s head, and occasionally as a female-headed scorpion (Figure 1). Meretseger’s peak was believed to be one of the entrances to the underworld where snakes were said to sleep below the earth like the dead every night and come alive again during the day[3](Figure 2).  The images of writhing masses of snakes were plastered onto walls of tombs with snake-headed demons and fire-spitting snakes among them all lashing out at evil souls[4].

Figure 2: The peak near to the valley of the Kings nd the Valley of the queens that Meretseger was believed to inhabit.
Figure 3: Stela of Amennakht, dedicated to the Peak of the West. The valley is represented by the wavey lines with Amenakht shown worshipping in the small chapel of Meretseger. She is also shown as the woman standing on top of this square.

Meretseger was mostly worshipped in the Theban area that she was believed to inhabit, this is reflected in one of her names being the ‘Peak of the West’[5]. This local connection gave rise to her appeasement and worship is a mainstay for the workmen of Deir el-Medina who worked on the tombs of the Valley of the King and Queens respectively – a small temple to her and the god Ptah was located near Deir El-Medina. She was believed to watch over the deceased in their tombs, protecting them and their belonging from tomb robbers. She would then punish those who steal and commit crimes by causing them to go blind or striking them down with her bite. Of course, to a modern reader is very much was cobras do spit venom and so the idea of wanting to avoid the risks of snake bites, scorpion stings and other injuries the threat was personified and so could be appealed/appeased. Ancient remedies for snakebites offered relief only to a certain extent, so utilizing magic and praying to Meretseger served as a powerful psychological security system. Snakes were such a constant threat to the workmen that their attacks seemed to have such unusually sinister effects that these creatures acted as representatives of chaotic supernatural involvement, thus rendering their bites virtually incurable without additional mythological assistance[6]. The workmen of Deir el-Medina feared her wrath, begging for her forgiveness and a cure for blindness or venomous bites, believing that she had struck them down believing that she would be merciful and cure them if they were repentant[7].  

Figure 4: Stela of Neferabu inscribed with his warning to others who would transgress and feel Neretseger’s wrath.

An example of a repentant worshiper can be seen clearly in the Stela of Neferabu, now in the Turin Museum. According to the stela, Meretseger saw that the draftsman Neferabu committed a transgressive act and struck him blind. So, after begging for forgiveness, she restored his sight and Neferabu erected this stela to honour her and warn others of her might and to not do the same as him[8]. His inscription reads ;

“Giving praise to the Peak of the West, Kissing the ground to her ka. I give praise, hear (my) call, I was a truthful man on earth! Made by the servant in the Place-of-Truth, Neferabu, justified. (I was) an ignorant man and foolish, Who knew not good from evil. I did the transgression against the Peak, And she taught me a lesson to me. I was in her hand by night as by day, I sat on bricks like the woman in labour, I called to the wind, it came not to me, I libated to the Peak of the West, great of strength, And to every god and goddess. Behold, I will say to the great and small, Who are in the troop: Beware the Peak! For there is a lion within her! The Peak strikes with the stroke of a savage lion, She is after him who offends her! I called upon my Mistress, I found her coming to me as a sweet breeze; She was merciful to me, Having made me see her hand. She returned to me appeased, She made my malady forgotten; For the Peak of the West is appeased, If one calls upon her. So says Neferabu, justified. He says: Behold, let hear every ear, That lives upon earth: Beware the Peak of the West!”[9]

In conclusion, you would not want to cross Meretseger but you would also want to do your best to get her on your side as the consequences could be dire. I always enjoy looking at Egyptian mythology as it is so varied and is suffused with ancient Egyptian culture and psych I find it fascinating. I hope you have enjoyed finding out more about this fearsome goddess.

References


[1] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 199

[2] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 200

[3] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 200

[4] Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian mythology A guide to the Gods and Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press Page 200

[5] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 205

[6] https://www.thecollector.com/meretseger/

[7] http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/meretseger.htm

[8] https://www.thecollector.com/meretseger/

[9] https://www.thecollector.com/meretseger/

Figures

Figure 1 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA8508

Figure 2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meretseger#/media/File:S_F-E-CAMERON_2006-10-EGYPT-WESTBANK-0064.JPG

Figure 3 https://collezioni.museoegizio.it/en-GB/material/Cat_1521/?description=Stela+dedicated+by+Amennakht+to+the+Peak+of+the+West&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

Figure 4 https://collezioni.museoegizio.it/en-GB/material/Cat_1593/?description=Stela+of+Neferabu&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

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