Mafdet is depicted as a predator of uncertain species, with the cheetah, lynx, civet and mongoose all being candidates. Indeed, it may well be the case that at different times and in different places she was identified with different animals, all having the single quality in common of killing snakes. Spells which pit Mafdet against hostile netherworld snakes frequently associate her with the ‘Mansion of Life’, e.g., “pre-eminent in the Mansion of Life,” (PT utt. 297); “the Great Fetterer who dwells in the Mansion of Life,” (PT utt. 384). This term is usually taken as a designation for the scriptorium of a temple; however, it has been argued (Gardiner 1938) that in texts such as these the term actually refers to the royal residence, and that these spells reflect a conception of Mafdet as “either a real or imaginary creature kept for the purpose of hunting venomous snakes … in the living-rooms of the royal palace,” (p. 89). A text of uncertain interpretation may refer to Bast as Mafdet’s mother (Guilhou p. 59 and n. 35). Mafdet is associated with an instrument which appears to be a shepherd’s crook with a packet of some kind lashed to it and a projecting knife. The former design appears as a hieroglyph in words meaning ‘to follow’ or ‘accompany’, indicating that the object was perhaps carried by the attendants of early chieftains. It has been interpreted either as an expeditionary’s traveling kit, consisting of a portable tent and flint knife lashed to a staff, or as a symbolic device for punishing criminals, and its name, shemeset, is therefore sometimes translated as ‘the instrument of punishment’. Mafdet is occasionally depicted running up this instrument, which is referred to in PT utterance 230, where a snake is threatened: “your mouth is closed by the instrument of punishment, and the mouth of the instrument of punishment is closed by Mafdet.”
PT utterance 295 pits Mafdet against a netherworld snake, leaping at its neck as one would expect of a mongoose. In utterance 297, Mafdet’s claws strike the face of the unspecified attacker, while 298 says it is the knife in her hands which will decapitate the threatening serpent; in 385 she attacks the snake with her bare hands and in 390 steps on it. The manifold hostile snakes of the netherworld in the Pyramid Texts eventually become the Apophis or Rerek of the Book of the Dead, against whom Mafdet prevails in BD spells 39 and 149. In PT utterance 519 the points of a harpoon which is to be used to “cut off the heads of the adversaries who are in the Field of Offerings” are identified with the claws of Mafdet. In CT 479, a spell for evading capture by the ‘fishermen’ who ply the ‘waters’ of the netherworld with their nets, in which the various parts of the nets and the boat are identified with beneficent deities, the boat’s oars are said to be “the hand of Mafdet which rescued the leg from the rage of those who ate the Great Ones.” The leg may refer to the crescent moon; a “chapel of the leg” at Edfu is consecrated to Khonsu, a lunar God (La Lune, p. 44). Perhaps Mafdet rescues the moon from the darkness which threatens it, retrieving the crescent or ‘leg’. CT spell 663 says that the deceased “has abundance through the ‘fledgelings’ of Mafdet,” in which the ‘fledgelings’ are possibly the instrument associated with her, inasmuch as the deceased is said also here to have “power over him who escaped from those who follow him” and to “lasso him who would escape him,” the ‘abundance’ therefore being derived by the deceased from the followers or attendants whose service s/he is able to compel.
A curious spell (no. 59 in Borghouts) invokes Mafdet to cure a person of an illness attributed to the malicious spell-casting of an enemy. A cake is to be baked in the shape of a donkey’s phallus, inscribed with the name of the enemy and his parents, wrapped in fat and fed to a cat. The cat thus incarnates Mafdet, who is asked to “Open your mouth wide against that enemy, the male dead, the female dead and so on,” the attack having likely been carried out through necromancy. The spell refers to an unknown myth, calling upon “the ejaculation of the Furious One, which Mafdet seized in that room wherein Isis rejoiced when the testicles of Seth were cut off.” ‘The Furious One’ (imy-nehed-ef) is presumably Seth, the donkey phallus cake eaten by the cat evidently the embodiment of the ejaculation Mafdet seizes. Mafdet and Seth were pitted against one another in a myth of which we possess only a single fragment stating that Seth “intended to eat Mafdet in the presence of her mother Bast,” (Papyrus Louvre 3129); the latter part could also be read “in the presence of Mut and Bast.” Here Mafdet is clearly not an ally of Seth, but it is interesting that the ejaculation of ‘the Furious One’ is nevertheless, together with that of Horus, called upon in the spell to fight the demonic miasma afflicting the patient. There is possibly some reference here to the myth of a homosexual encounter between Horus and Seth, as recounted in the Conflict of Horus and Seth. Since ‘ejaculation’ is typically used in magical spells like this one to refer to the miasma itself (see, e.g., nos. 40 and 73 in Borghouts)—though this would never be the case with anything specifically linked to Horus—it would seem that Mafdet is here accorded the ability to turn a demonic agency to a beneficent purpose.
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Bernot, Denise et al., eds. 1962. La Lune: Mythes et Rites. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Borghouts, J. F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Gardiner, Alan. 1938. “The Mansion of Life and the Master of the King’s Largess.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 24: 83-91.