PER MESUT: for younger readers
Ancient Egypt|July/ August 2021
She Who Loves Silence
Hilary Wilson

Towering above the Workmen’s Village of Deir el Medina is a mountain roughly shaped like a pyramid (see above). Today this is called el-Qurn, ‘the Horn’. In ancient times it was known as ‘The Great Peak of the West’ and was thought to be the home of Meretseger, a goddess who was worshipped as the local protector of the workmen’s community. Meretseger, like many Egyptian goddesses, was represented as a cobra (below), often with a woman’s head (opposite, top left), or by a female human body with a snake’s head (opposite top right). Occasionally she is shown as a scorpion, linking her with Serket, one of the divine guardians of the sarcophagus. Wearing the horned sun-disc crown (above right) emphasised Meretseger’s association with other goddesses such as Hathor, who was known as ‘Mistress of the West’ in her role as a funerary deity. The shape of the Western Mountain overlooking the great royal cemetery, which included the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, was thought to resemble a coiled serpent, the goddess guarding her realm.

Snakes and scorpions were typical inhabitants of the desert regions where any small sound, like the clatter of pebbles underfoot or loud voices, would disturb the natural quiet. The royal workmen understood the dangers posed by the creatures who shared their environment. Among the many documents surviving from Deir el-Medina are records of villagers suffering scorpion stings and snake bites, which apart from being painful could cause serious illness, even death. Meretseger’s worshippers respected the sacred nature of the area in which they lived and worked. Her name means ‘She Who Loves Silence’.

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