Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Isis and the Seven Scorpions

This is one of the stories of the Delta Cycle, a group of tales from the mythical period called the 'First Time', when the gods wandered upon the earth and ruled it. They are stories about the childhood of Horus as he grew up, hidden and protected by his mother Isis in Chemmis, an area of marshes in the Lower Egypt northeast delta, said to be near the ancient city of Buto. His childhood was dangerous and he was exposed for all kinds of dangers.

Already in the 5th Dynasty there are different versions of these stories. Spells for snake bites are found in the Pyramid Texts from this time, and two large fragments have been preserved during the Late Period, written on various supports for statues of Horus as curative spells against poisonous bites. Obviously they stem from earlier sources, and they are also to be found on medical papyrii.

It is carved on the Metternich Stela in Metropolitan Museum, N.Y., where it probably was included as a protection against venomous bites.

After the murder of Osiris, Isis was taken prisoner by Seth and put in a weaving house. As she sits and weaves the mummy wrappings for Osiris, Thoth liberates her and advises her to find a hidingplace for her young son Horus. Isis wanders, looking for a hidingplace from Set, carrying her baby son in her arms. For her protection Thoth sent seven scorpions to go in front of her. (Seven was a number of great power in ancient Egypt.) Three scorpions go in front of her: Petet, Tjetet and Matet. The next two: Mesetet and Mesetef go under her palanquin, and Tefen and Befen bring up the rear. Isis warns them to be careful and keep quiet so as to not alert Seth to their whereabouts.

One day she reached the Town of the Two Sisters in the Nile Delta, where she stopped by a big, wealthy-looking house to ask for food and a resting-place. But the rich woman living there was scared by the sight of the seven scorpions and closed the door on Isis. When she wearily prepared to walk on, a poor fisher woman approached them and offered them to share her meager meal. While Isis rested, Tefen and the rest of the scorpions decided to take their revenge on the rich woman who had denied them help, and during the night they all loaded their poison onto Tefen who crept into the wealthy house and stung the child. The mother woke up by the cries of her son and ran in search of help, carrying the small child in her arms, but noone offered her help or knew what to do.

Her cries woke up Isis, who soon found out what had been done, and, looking down at her own child, who slept calmly, she felt pity for the rich mother and decided not to let an innocent child die. And Isis uttered words of great power, named each of the scorpions by their names, which meant that she dominated them. Thereby she ordered the poison of Tefen to leave the body of the boy who soon could breathe again. This meant that the spell could be used for any child who got stung by a venomous bite, together with a medical prescription of barley-bread, garlic and salt.

When the mother understood whom she had refused, she became very regretful, collected all her possessions and carried them over to the poor woman´s house, trying to make amends for her pride. Isis rejoiced on behalf of the poor woman, and the next day she resumed her journey.

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