|The goddess Meretseger
Meretseger was a local goddess of the Theban necropolis. The evidence of her cult is prominent especially
during the New Kingdom. She was depicted as a cobra, a cobra with a female head or even a female with a
cobra’s head. Occasionally she was depicted as a scorpion with a female head.
literally means “She who loves silence”. She was thought to dwell on the 450-metre high pyramid shaped
mountain that dominates the valley. Through this topographic connection she was sometimes also known as
“The peak of the West” or “The Lady of the Peak”. (Shaw 1995, 184)
Meretseger was worshiped throughout the whole Theban necropolis but especially by the craftsmen of the
village that was situated in a barren pocket in the western hills to the south east of the Valley of the
kings (Reeves 1996, 22). The village is nowadays called Deir el-Medina. The community of craftsmen cut
and decorated the New Kingdom royal tombs. They worshiped a wide range of deities from national gods
such as Osiris, Ptah and Hathor, to deified kings and queens such as Amenhotep I. and Queen
Ahmose-Nefertari. They also worshiped Asian gods who became popular in Egypt after the kings’ conquests
in Asia – the war god Reshep and the fertility goddesses Kudshu, Anat and Astarte, who was also a goddess
of love (Tvurci hrobu 1992, 17).
But the ever present danger of being bitten by the cobra which were, and still are, plentiful in the Theban
desert made the veneration of a serpent a very important affair indeed. As in most cultures, the Egyptians
regarded the snake as a source of evil and danger. Meretseger, the serpent-goddess, was worshiped in
order to avert the danger posed by her physical manifestation. Prayers and offerings were made to her so
that snake bites could be avoided or cured (Shaw 1995, 262).
The villagers had numerous small temples, chapels and shrines. Any individual chapel would have provided a
local residence for the goddess and a locus for offerings to her (Pharaoh’s workers 1994, 90). The stelae
dedicated to Meretseger did not come from villager’s tombs but rather from these small temples in which
they offered their devotions to her.
One of the well-known votive stelae dedicated to Meretseger is the one of Neferabu with a Hymn to
Meretseger. Neferabu was a moderately wealthy artist from Deir el-Medina who raised a large family and
built a fine tomb for himself. The stela is a part of a collection at the Turin museum. Its number is 102.
On the right side of this rectangular stela there is the goddess Meretseger depicted as a serpent with one
human head and two serpent heads standing in front of an offering. On the left side of the stela there is
the Hymn written in 17 columns. It contains Neferabu’s warning of Meretseger's powers. At the head of
the hymn there is an expression of Neferabu’s thanks to Meretseger. Neferabu admits being ignorant and
unwise and not distinguishing between good and bad. He sinned against the Peak. It attracted the goddess’s
punishment. She had power over him. He promised to tell the workers to beware the Peak as the lion
resides within it. Now he understood that whoever sins against Meretseger was going to be pursued. As he
prayed to her, Meretseger came to Neferabu in the form of sweet wind and forgave him. Again he calls on
all ears to listen to his warning (Lexa 1920, 280-281).
"The Peak, she strikes with the strike of a fierce lion when she is after the one who transgresses against
her. I called out to my mistress and found her coming to me as a sweet wind, and she was merciful to me,
after she let me see her hand. She turned to me in peace, and she made me forget the sickness that was
in my heart. So the Peak of the West is merciful when one calls to her." (Lichtheim 1976, 107-108).
Votive stelae from Deir el-Medina came from several small temples in which the villagers had offered their
devotions. The themes of the hymns and prayers are crime and punishment, contrition and forgiveness.
These stelae are unusual, as their texts do not show just pride as texts from other parts of Egypt. Their
central concerns are humility and contrition. In the example of Neferabu’s stela, Meretseger is praised and
adored in the traditional manner of the hymn and also prayed to in specific and personal terms. These
personal prayers are an expression of the self-awareness of the individual person that comes to fruition in
the New Kingdom. The personal piety of the prayers from Deir el-Medina is not an isolated phenomenon of
the evolved individualism of the New Kingdom. Another example of conscious individualism is found for
example in the love poems preserved on papyri of the Ramesside age (Lichtheim 1976, 104).
There were many shrines erected to Meretseger in the worker’s village of Deir el-Medina. According to all
the archaeological evidence it would seem that for the ancient people living in the Theban necropolis the
local goddess Meretseger was at least as important as the great god of the dead, Osiris (Pharaoh’s
workers 1994, 90).
The cobra inspired awe through fear of its potential for inflicting great harm. It is difficult to distinguish
between Meretseger being a local goddess to the necropolis and her being a personal goddess to the people
who lived and worked among the rocks where cobras could be hiding (Watterson 1984, 35).
|Stele of Hay
From Hay's tomb no. 267
at Deir el-Medina.
Egyptian Museum, Turin
cat. 1606 = CGT 50062
|Stele to Meretseger
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Egyptian - Oriental Collection
From Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 19th-20th dynasty
Height: 20.7 cm
Width: 14.2 cm
Thickness: 3.3 cm
Meretseger was the goddess associated with the pyramidal peak of
al-Qurn. She presided over the whole Theban necropolis. Her name
means "she who loves silence". Meretseger was primarily worshipped
by the workmen of the royal necropolis.
The top register: remains of a male figure standing on the right
making an offering in front of an offering table. Meretseger, who is
depicted as a goddess with a female body and a cobra’s head, sits
on her throne on the left side of the table holding an ankh sign in
her right hand and a sceptre in her left hand. The inscription reads
"Merest[sic]eger, Mistress of the West. Made by the apprentice
The lower register: the ten serpents represent the cobra-goddess
Meretseger. Only seven snakes are visible as the stela is in
fragmental state - the bottom left part is broken off.
Provenance: 1824  gift of Carlo Antonio Fontana
|Figured ostrakon of the goddess Meretseger
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Egyptian -
19th-20th dynasty, about 1315-1081 BC
From Deir el-Medina (probably)
Height: 11.3 cm
Length: 16.6 cm
Thickness: 2.9 cm
Depicted on this piece of limestone is the
goddess Meretseger in the form of a coiled
serpent in front of an offering table flanked on
both sides by a jug with an entwined lotus on a
stand. Her head dress consists of two tall
plumes and a sun disk. Three tall papyrus stalks
are leaning above the rear part of the snake.
Provenance: 1948 Purchase