(Serqet, as well as Selkis/Selqis/Selket) Serket is depicted as a woman with the sign of a water scorpion or, later, a true or land scorpion atop her head. The ‘scorpion’ atop Serket’s head, if it is a scorpion at all, is usually represented without stinger, or even evident legs. It is often claimed that the scorpion is thus rendered symbolically harmless in order to indicate Serket’s beneficence; it has been convincingly established, however, that the animal originally associated with Serket is not a scorpion proper, but the so-called water scorpion, or nepa, which despite its name is not an arachnid like a true scorpion, but an insect. The stingerless tail of the ersatz ‘scorpion’ depicted atop Serket’s head would thus in fact be the caudal siphon or breathing tube of the water scorpion. Starting in the 19th Dynasty, however, whether due to syncretism or simple confusion, Serket begins to be associated with the arachnid scorpion. Serket’s primary role appears to be as a sort of divine physician; sometimes her name is rendered more fully as ‘Serket-Hetu’ or ‘Serket-Hetyt’, which seems to mean ‘opener of the windpipe’, i.e., giver of breath (might the Egyptians successfully discerned the function of the water scorpion’s breathing tube?). A class of priests known as the kherepu, or ‘conjurors’, of Serket were apparently physicians specializing in the treatment of stings and bites of venomous animals (F. von Känel, Les prêtres-ouâb de Sekhmet et les conjurateurs de Serket). Serket is paired with Neith in the group of four Goddesses positioned protectively around the sarcophagus (the “throne” of PT utterance 362), the others being Isis and Nephthys. Serket also plays a role in the fight against the serpent Apophis, the divine embodiment of entropy; in CT spell 752, the deceased states “I am skilled in the craft of Serket-Hetyt; therefore I will drive off Apophis, ferrying across the firmament.” She is regarded as the mother of Nehebkau as early as the Pyramid Texts (utterance 308).
Despite her helpful nature Serket retains an element of danger, as indicated by the reference in PT utterance 385 to a snake, “Dedy son of Serket-Hetu,” against whom other Gods are mobilized to defend the deceased. More typical, however, is CT spell 885 where the deceased states, “My cavern is that of Serket, the snake is in my hand and cannot bite me.” In a spell identifying the deceased with Osiris (PT utterance 219), Osiris/the deceased is called “Dweller in the Mansion of Serket, a contented spirit.” The “mansion” of Serket is probably an astronomical reference (see below); in PT utterance 571 the deceased king is said to be “an imperishable star … who dwells in the Mansion of Serket,” and the plural “Mansions of Serket” are referred to in utterance 534 as a place to which Nephthys is sent if she “comes with evil.” This latter spell contains a series of formulae for repelling a host of ordinarily beneficent Gods (Horus, Thoth, Isis) in case they should come attempting to appropriate the tomb for themselves; the formula involving Nephthys and Serket is interesting inasmuch as it is the only one of the repulsion formulae which pits one deity against another, not to mention two deities so often grouped together. CT spells 1069 and 1176 share a common formula, in which the deceased, at a certain bend in a netherworld waterway, calls out “O Serket, I shall exist forever!”
Serket is often involved in magical spells protecting against snakes and scorpions or curing their bites and stings. Serket is the narrator—thus, in effect, the operator—of a well-known spell which recounts a myth involving Isis and Re (no. 84 in Borghouts). In the latter, Isis fashions a serpent out of earth mixed with Re’s saliva; in a spell for warding off a snake (Borghouts no. 137), a wad of clay in which is embedded a knife and a bundle of herbs in order to magically absorb the snake’s attack is called “this clay of Isis that has come forth from under the armpit of Serket.” In another spell involving Isis, Serket advises Isis, when the infant Horus has been poisoned by a venomous creature in the marsh, to call to heaven: “Then the crew of Re will come to a standstill and the boat of Re will not sail on as long as the boy Horus is lying on his side,” i.e., unconscious. Serket is also named as the operator of another spell against snake bite or scorpion sting (Borghouts no. 112).
One version of CT spell 84, for “Becoming Nehebkau,” mentions Serket. The other version mentions Seshat instead, but the reference to Nehebkau makes Serket more likely to be correct. The operator states, “I have presented offerings before Isis and Nephthys, that they may place holy things upon the arms of Serket, who is pregnant with me and holds back from me. She is angry with me and she stabs at me. I have made the front which is between her thighs as Him-whose-head-is-raised,” an epithet of a serpent, perhaps alluding at once to sexual excitation and to a threat to strike. A curious formula occurs in certain versions of BD spell 32, for “driving off the four crocodiles that come to take a man’s magic away from him in the God’s domain [or, ‘that come to take a blessed one’s heart away from him in the God’s domain]”: the four crocodiles are identified with the four cardinal points, and the formula against the crocodile from the north states that “Serket is in my belly, unborn [or, ‘unbegotten’].”
Serket’s ‘birth’ is spoken of in PT utterance 569, among a list of cosmic events which shall be prevented if the deceased king cannot reach the sky, in a context implying that Serket is to be identified with some particular star or constellation. Egyptian star maps do show Serket among the northern constellations, either on the same plane as the Big Dipper (meskhetiu in Egyptian) and behind it, or at right angles and before it (Egyptian Astronomical Texts, vol. 3, p. 183). Egyptian star maps vary so much in their arrangement and are so fanciful in their presentation, however, that it has proven impossible to securely identify any of the northern constellations other than the Big Dipper. From the reference to ‘birth’, moreover, one would expect the passage from the Pyramid Texts to be referring to a constellation which rises and sets, which means that if Serket’s constellation is the same in the Pyramid Texts and in the later star charts, it is probably further from the Dipper than the charts depict it.
Neugebauer, Otto, and Richard A. Parker. 1960-9. Egyptian Astronomical Texts. Providence: Brown University Press.