Egyptian Gods: Meretseger

Meretseger is the ancient Egyptian goddess of the Valley of the Kings, the primordial necropolis in Thebes where pharaohs were entombed especially during the New Kingdom. She lived by nearby pyramid-shaped mountains overlooking the tomb. In fact, these mountains are named after her – “Dehenet Imentet”, which means “Peak of the West” making her “The Lady of the Peak”. She is believed to be the guardian deity of those who were buried there, protecting them from sacrilegious acts like stealing and vandalism. She is also the patron of tomb builders who painstakingly made the royal burial place. Her name may also be spelled as Mertseger, Merseger or Mereseger, and means “she who loves silence”

She is depicted as a woman with a head of the cobra of just a coiled cobra. In cobra form, her head and arms and projected from the hood of the snake. Less commonly, she is seen as a snake with three heads – one of a cobra, another of a woman and the last of a vulture. Infrequently, she is just a full-blown woman. Very rarely, she is a scorpion with the head of a woman.

As a deity, she is described a merciful yet feared goddess. She exacts punishment on tomb raiders who steals jewels through venomous bites from snakes, stings from scorpions or immediate blindness, especially the unscrupulous workers who carve secret passages to steal treasures. The same fate came to those who committed crimes or those who swore in false oaths. However, she is very quick to take back her punishment for repentant sinners by curing them from the results of her wrath. She was a goddess that most people stepped lightly around. Most tomb workers would offer numerous stelae to appease and please the goddess.

During the New Kingdom, her following was centered on the city of Waset (4th nome, Upper Egypt), and the village of workers of Deir el Medina.  Because of this, she was associated with Ptah – the god of artisans who cut and decorate royal tombs. Two small temples to honor Ptah and Meretseger were built around the valley.

She had a huge impact on Egyptian mythology, as she is the only goddess who was involved with the repentance of sins. Ancient Egyptians only followed the principles of Ma’at and were never oriented to the idea of sin. Meretseger was a very special goddess as she is the only one whom Egyptians asked for mercy and forgiveness of their sins. However, during the 21st dynasty, the necropolis in Thebes ceased to be of use as a tomb. Meretseger lost her area of protection and her cult following rapidly declined. Since she was fixated on that specific geographic location, her worship eventually faded as well.