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In her role as a goddess of death and the afterlife, she was also responsible for guarding the internal organs of the dead king as it was thought he would need them again once he was reborn after death. She was the protector-goddess of one of the Four Sons of Horus, Qebhesenuef, who guarded the intestines in the canopic jar. Serket was the goddess of poisons and the Egyptians associated the intestines with poison, thus she was given charge over the safety and well-being of Qebhesenuef.
The most significant way in which the Osiris Myth transformed Serket was to attribute her earlier manifestations of power to Isis. She remained a very popular goddess, however, and should not be considered a "lesser goddess" as so many writers on Egyptian mythology refer to her. Although she did not have official temples in her honor, her priests and priestesses were highly sought after and valued greatly for one simple reason: they were doctors.
The clergy of the Cult of Serket were all physicians known as Followers of Serket. Men and women could practice medicine and perform the Rites of Serket. According to historian Margaret Bunson, the practice of medicine was "the science conducted by the priests of the Per-Ankh, the House of Life. The Egyptians termed it the "necessary art" ".
The House of Life was not a physical location, though it could be, but was a concept of healing. The priests and priestesses of Serket carried the House of Life within them in their knowledge of how to heal. Bunson writes:. Diagnostic procedures for injuries and diseases were common and extensive in Egyptian medical practice. The physicians consulted texts and made their own observations.
Each physician listed the symptoms evident in a patient and then decided whether he had the skill to treat the condition.
5 thoughts on “The Unsung Serpent”
If a priest determined that a cure was possible, he reconsidered the remedies or therapeutic regimens available and proceeeded accordingly. This required, naturally, a remarkable awareness of the functions of the human body. The physicians understood that the pulse was the "speaker of the heart" and they interpreted the condition now known as angina. They were also aware of the relationship between the nervous system and voluntary movements Not every physician in Egypt was a Follower of Serket but a good many were. Serket, as goddess of healing and protector against poison and venomous stings, was naturally the patron of doctors, even those who were not directly involved in her cult.
Spells invoking Serket for healing were widely used throughout Egypt. The scholar John F. Nunn notes this, writing :. The recto of the Chester Beatty papyrus VII, written in the reign of Ramesses II , contains a number of magical spells for protection against scorpions. Most invoke various wives of Horus whom Gardiner [the Egyptologist, in ] suggested might be merely appelations of Serqet who is actually named in the eighth spell:. In this spell, the physician would recite the lines as though the patient were having a dialogue with the goddess or goddesses.
When 'Serket' said her final line, the poisons were supposed to leave the body of the sick person. Although she is not mentioned by name in every papyrus or inscription, her powers of healing would have been invoked no matter which aspect she was named as or what other goddesses were called upon. In her role as patron of physicians and healing goddess, she helped the people of Egypt from their birth, through their lives, and even into the afterlife. Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.
We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Become a Member. Mark, J. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Mark, Joshua J. Last modified March 21, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 21 Mar Written by Joshua J. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.
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He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level. Related Content Filters: All. Egyptian Mythology was the belief structure and underlying form When Osiris becomes equated with the dead king, the living king, Horus, comes to be thought of as the son of Osiris, since the dead king was usually the father of the living ruler. The conflict between Horus and Seth then shifts to become a conflict between Osiris and Seth and serves to explain why Osiris is dead he was killed by his brother Seth.
Horus then assumes the role of a son avenging the wrong done to his father and fighting for his rightful inheritance, which in this instance is the throne of Egypt. The trial before the gods becomes one of punishing Seth for the murder of Osiris and awarding Horus his inheritance. The New Kingdom circa b. Each god has his supporters, and the tribunal sways first one way and then the other.
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The gods are depicted as petty, petulant bickerers who cannot make up their minds. Finally, Seth suggests a contest between the two. They are to transform themselves into hippopotamuses to see who can stay submerged longer. In desperation, Seth suggests the two gods build and race boats of stone, with the winner being declared the rightful heir. Seth proceeds to build a boat of stone, while Horus builds his boat of pine wood plastered over with gypsum, to give it the appearance of stone.
Again, there is no clear winner. Finally, the judges decide to write a letter to Osiris and ask him who he would have as his heir. Osiris chooses Horus, who becomes the ruler of all Egypt. As a consolation prize, Seth is sent to live in the sky with Re, where he becomes the god of storms and thunder. Poisoned Child. After Isis finds herself pregnant by Osiris, Re-Atum suggests she hide this fact from Seth, lest he try to destroy the infant Horus.
When Horus is born, Isis hides him in the marsh at Khemmis. Isis leaves the infant alone while she goes in search of food. When she returns, she finds the baby weak and unable to suckle. A local wise woman diagnoses the child as suffering from a poisonous sting, either of a scorpion or snake.
Isis cries out for help, and the sound of her anguish brings even Re in his solar bark to a stop. The god Thoth arrives to aid Isis and recites spells that remove the poison from the child. Texts describing such events in the life of the infant Horus were carved on stone stelae known as cippi. These stelae depicted the infant Horus standing on the backs of crocodiles, grasping snakes, scorpions, and other dangerous animals by the tails.
Water poured over the stelae was thought to absorb the power of the spells and was drunk by those seeking a cure for snake bite or scorpion sting. He was originally portrayed as a hawk or falcon and worshipped as a sun god and creator of the sky. When they conquered northern Egypt and reunited the two lands around bce , Horus became the symbol of the newly unified country, and the pharaoh, or leader of Egypt, was considered the earthly form of Horus. In time, the worship of Horus—under his various names— spread to many places.
Horus ended up killing Set, and the gods named Horus ruler of Egypt.
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Serpent-worship
The restored eye, called the udjat or wedjat , became a powerful magical symbol of protection in ancient Egypt. In another account of the conflict between Horus and Set, the two came before a council of the gods to decide who would inherit Osiris's throne. On one occasion, both gods turned themselves into hippopotamuses to see who could stay underwater longer. Set found him and put out his eyes, but the goddess Hathor pronounced HATH-or repaired them with the milk of a small antelope. In ancient Egypt, more than most other cultures, the deities being worshipped—and the qualities represented by those deities—changed frequently with the changing rulers of the land.
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Because of this, many gods became absorbed or merged into other gods. Horus, for example, was originally worshipped as a sky god and later assumed the roles of sun and moon god as well. For some time his identity was combined with the sun god Ra. As another example, Horus was associated with leaders of Lower Egypt, while Set was associated with leaders of Upper Egypt.
When Egypt became united after violent conflicts between the two sides, Horus—the god worshipped by the victors, the Lower Egyptians— became the mythical ruler of Egypt over Set. Horus represents the power and importance of the sun and sky in all aspects of ancient Egyptian life. He serves as provider and protector of the Egyptian people, especially the pharaohs.
One of the most important symbols associated with Horus is the Eye of Horus, a symbol meant to offer the protection of the gods. The falcon's head that he is often depicted with is a symbol of both the sky and an all-seeing presence.