Isis and the seven scorpions

After the murder of Osiris, Isis tried to hide from Set, but he found her and imprisoned her in a spinning-mill and left her to weave her husband’s funeral linen. Thoth realised that Isis would be in danger if Set realised she was pregnant and came to her aid. He freed Isis from the mill and advised her to go into hiding in the marshes with seven scorpions named Tefen, Masetetef, Petet, Tjetet, Matet, Mesetet, and Befen who swore to protect her and her unborn son.

The goddess disguised her true form and began her journey. It was a long journey to the marshes and so she decided to stop at the house of a rich woman named Usert to ask for sustenance and a place to sleep for the night.

When the rich woman saw Isis (in the guise of an old beggar woman) and the scorpions, she rudely slammed the door in her face, enraging the scorpions.

Isis continued on to the house of a poor fisher-girl who welcomed her warmly and invited the goddess into her home, and offered her food and shelter.

Scepter topped with Isis in the form of a scorpion
Scepter topped with Isis in the form of a scorpion, Late Period

However, the scorpions were not about to forget the rich woman’s cruel actions and so they put all of their combined poison into their leader, Tefen, and he bit the woman’s child.

The poison racked the poor boy’s body and his distraught mother ran into the town with her child looking for help, but no-one could aid her. Thankfully, Isis heard the cries of the child and overcome with pity for the boy she returned. She called out the name of each scorpion and commanded the poison to leave the child’s body. The rich woman was overcome with remorse when she realised that she had snubbed the goddess while the poor girl had invited her into her home. To make amends she took all of her own property and gave it to the poor fisher-girl, causing the goddess to rejoice.

This story and the spell to cure scorpion stings were inscribed on numerous stelae and “cippi”, the most famous of which is the Metternich Stela (composed during the reign of Nectanebo II during the Thirtieth Dynasty).

Copyright J Hill 2010