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Scorpions and water scorpions

Superficially similar, scorpions are part of the Arachnida, while water


scorpions, (Nepidae), belong to the class of the Insecta. The Egyptians were probably
aware of the fact that the aquatic water scorpion could not endanger them, while the
poison of some of the true scorpions could kill. Still, they seem to have grouped them
together, apparently using the water scorpion hieroglyph as common determinative, the
name of the goddess Selket being written
, translit. srq.t or Isis' epithet
Hededet,
.

Scorpions
Scorpion
Tehenu palette

There are two kinds of scorpions endemic in Egypt: the dark


coloured Scorpionidae are less poisonous than the light
coloured Buthridae. Scorpions are nocturnal, hunting insects and the
like during the dark hours, while during the day they hide underground.
According to Diodorus Siculus the hawk was the natural
enemy of the scorpions:
Among birds the ibis serves against snakes, locust and
caterpillars, and the hawk against scorpions and horned
adders and other small poisonous animals whose venom is
especially dangerous to humans.
Diodorus Siculus: Historical Library, chapter 87

In the story of Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah a magic


book is inside a box which is especially well protected:
[There are six miles of] serpents, scorpions, and all kinds of
reptiles around the box in which the book is, and there is [an
eternal serpent around] this same box
M. Lichtheim: Ancient Egyptian Literature volume 3, p.129

Naneferkaptah used magic to dislodge the vermin:


He recited a spell to the six miles of serpents, scorpions, and all kinds of reptiles that
were around the box, and did not let them come up. [He went to the place where] the
eternal serpent was. He fought it and killed it.
M. Lichtheim: Ancient Egyptian Literature volume 3, p.130

The goddess Selket was worshipped in scorpion form as protectress of the living and
the dead. Often she was depicted as a woman with a scorpion on her head. She kept
guard over the body of Osiris together with Isis, Neith and Nephthys.
In the chapter of Casting a Spell on the Cat a charm describes the effects a scorpion
sting has:
Hail, Ra, come to thy daughter! A scorpion hath stung her on a lonely road. Her cry
hath penetrated the heights of heaven, and is heard along the paths. The poison hath

entered into her body, and circulateth through her flesh. She hath set her mouth against
it; verily the poison is in her members.
E. A. Wallis Budge: Book of Legends Of The Gods

There was no cure for scorpion stings which was not magical. Seven scorpions helped
Isis and were therefore often worn as amulets. Isis enlisted their support to save the son
of the lady Usert:
I came forth [from the dwelling] at the time of evening, and there came forth the Seven
Scorpions which were to accompany me and to strike(?) for me with [their] stings. Two
scorpions, Tefen and Befen, were behind me, two scorpions, Mestet and Mestetef, were
by my side, and three scorpions, Petet, Thetet, and Maatet (or, Martet), were for
preparing the road for me. I charged them very strictly (or, in a loud voice), and my
words penetrated into their ears: "Have no knowledge of [any], make no cry to the
Tesheru beings, and pay no attention to the 'son of a man' (i.e., anyone) who belongeth
to a man of no account," [and I said,] "Let your faces be turned towards the ground
[that ye may show me] the way." So the guardian of the company brought me to the
boundaries of the city of Pa-Sui, the city of the goddesses of the Divine Sandals, [which
was situated] in front of the Papyrus Swamps.
......
Then Isis placed her two hands on the child in order to make to live him whose throat
was stopped, [and she said], "O poison of the scorpion Tefent, come forth and appear on
the ground! Thou shalt neither enter nor penetrate [further into the body of the child]. O
poison of the scorpion Befent, come forth and appear on the ground! I am Isis, the
goddess, the lady (or, mistress) of words of power, and I am the maker of words of power
(i.e., spells), and I know how to utter words with magical effect. Hearken ye unto me, O
every reptile which possesseth the power to bite (i.e., to sting), and fall headlong to the
ground! O poison of the scorpion Mestet, make no advance [into his body]. O poison of
the scorpion Mestetef, rise not up [in his body]. O poison of the scorpions Petet and
Thetet, penetrate not [into his body]. [O poison of] the scorpion Maatet (or, Martet), fall
down on the ground."
The narrative of Isis
From E. A. Wallis Budge: Book of Legends Of The Gods
Horus the Child standing on two crocodiles, holding two snakes and a lion in his left hand, a gazelle and a
scorpion in his right. Above his head there is an image of the face of Bes, another protective deity but
having a much wider scope.
Source: Levinson, H. & Levinson, A.: ber altorientalische Skorpione in DGaaE Nachrichten,
20.Jahrgang, Heft 3, p.106

Later, Isis had to save her son Horus from a scorpion


sting which he received while his mother was away. Horus
the Child (Horpakhered) became a protective deity and
stelae were devoted to him. Other protective deities
were Shed, generally depicted as a child or youth fighting
dangerous animals, and Ta-bitjet, a consort of Horus.
Apart from chanting charms over the stricken body and
making him touch a Horpakhered stela with its magical
inscriptions, healers also used physical treatments such as
opening the sting wound in the hope the poison would be removed from the body by the
[2]

flow of blood, and causing the patient to move around to prevent him from being
suffocated .
[1]

Hieroglyph of a two tailed scorpion in the tomb of Seti I [3].

It happens, though very rarely, that a scorpion has two metastomas


(i.e. tails). The first to refer to this was possibly Aelian and Pliny who
quoted him thought that they belonged to different species. The ancient
Egyptians may have noticed this anomaly a millennium earlier when
they depicted a two-tailed scorpion in an inscription in the tomb of Seti I,
though of course this could simply be a picture of a water scorpion.

Water scorpions
An insect belonging to the Nepidae family, the water scorpion is an aquatic predator,
preying on small fish, tadpoles and the like. It is not harmful to humans. It was similar
enough in look and behaviour to the dangerous land scorpions for the Egyptians to group
them together. The stingless scorpion hieroglyph was often used to write the name of
the goddess Selket.