Meretseger Goddess

Meretseger Goddess

Meretseger (also known as Mersegrit or Mertseger) was a Theban cobra-goddess in ancient Egyptian religion, in charge of guarding and protecting the vast Theban Necropolis – on the west bank of the Nile, in front of Thebes – and especially the heavily guarded Valley of the Kings. Her cult was typical of the New Kingdom of Egypt (1550–1070 BC).

Role of Meretseger

Meretseger’s name means “She Who Loves Silence”, about the silence of the desert cemetery area she kept or, according to another interpretation, “Beloved of Him Who Makes Silence (Osiris)”.

Meretseger was the patron of the artisans and workers of the village of Deir el-Medina, who built and decorated the grand royal and noble tombs. Desecrations of rich royal burials were already in progress from the Old Kingdom of Egypt (27th/22nd century BC), sometimes by the workers themselves: the genesis of Meretseger was the spontaneous need to identify a guardian goddess, both dangerous and merciful, of the tombs of sovereigns and aristocrats.

A royal wife of the Middle Kingdom, pharaoh Senusret III (c. 1878–1839 BC), carried the same name Meretseger. She was the first to bear the title Great Royal Wife (which became the standard title for chief wives of Pharaohs). The first whose name was written in a cartouche. However, as there are no contemporary sources relating to the Great Royal Wife Meretseger, this homonym of the goddess is most likely a creation of the New Kingdom. Her cult, also present in Esna (near Luxor), reached its peak during the 18th Dynasty.

The workers’ guild worshipped the goddess Meretseger, who feared her wrath. Although a local deity, ancient Egyptians dedicated only small rock temples to her. Also, they devoted some stelae with prayers and poignant requests for forgiveness and various cappelletti right at the foot of the hill to her — which was her embodiment. Ancient Egyptians dedicated the temple on the path leading to the Valley of the Queens to this goddess. She was sometimes associated with Hathor: even the latter was a protector of the graves in her funerary aspects of “Lady Of The West” and “Lady Of The Necropolis”, who opened the underworld’s gates. Her close association with the Valley of the Kings prevented her from becoming anything more than a local deity. When Pharaohs ceased using the Valley of the Kings and Thebes lost its role as a capital, Egyptians stopped worshipping her in the 11th/10th century BC.

Meretseger’s hill

Meretseger was significantly associated with the hill now called el Qurn “The Horn” (Ancient Egyptian: tꜣ-dhnt “The Peak”), a natural peak, the highest point (420 m) in the Theban Hills, which dramatically overlooks the Valley of the Kings. It has an almost pyramidal shape when viewed from the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. Therefore some Egyptologists believe it may have been the reason for choosing the location as a royal necropolis.

El Qurn, also thought to be one of the entrances to the Duat (underworld), was sacred to Meretseger and Hathor, but the former was considered its absolute personification. For this reason, two of Meretseger’s many epithets were “Peak of the West” (Dehent-Imentet) and “Lady Of The Peak”. Many small stelae created by artisans and workers have been found as evidence of devotion to their favourite deities: beside Meretseger, Ptah, Amun, Hathor, Thoth and the deified pharaoh Amenhotep I (c. 1525–1504 BC), whose cult was prevalent in Deir el-Medina.

Stela of Neferabu

It was believed that Meretseger punished the workers who committed a sacrilege (by stealing something from the royal graves or the building sites — copper instruments were particularly precious — as well as those who failed in an oath), poisoning them with her bite. But she was also considered generous in forgiving those who repented to her and, in this case, would heal him from physical evil. This example was the case of the draftsman Neferabu, who would have been cured of blindness after having begged Meretseger, as he was able to attest on a limestone stela (Museo egizio, Turin) dedicated to her.

Concerning the Egyptians with their divinities, the concepts of sin, repentance and forgiveness were very unusual; these characteristics of Meretseger’s cult appear to be a unicum.

Rock shrine in Deir el-Medina

Meretseger’s rock shrine in Deir el-Medina was formed by a series of caves placed in a semicircle, whose vaults, however, collapsed due to earthquakes, and the outer walls still retain many steles. At the same time, many fragments have been inventoried and distributed to various museums. It was also dedicated to the most revered Ptah, god of craftsmen and artisans. Overlying the temple, there is a rock with the shape of a snake’s head. Many materials found confirms that the temple was very popular and famous — locally.


Ancient Egyptians sometimes portrayed Meretseger as a cobra-headed woman. However, this iconography is relatively rare: in this case, she could hold the was-sceptre and have her head surmounted by a feather and armed with two knives. Egyptians depicted her as a woman-headed snake or scorpion, a cobra-headed sphinx, a lion-headed cobra, or a three-headed (woman, snake and vulture) cobra. On various steles, she wears a modius surmounted by the solar disk and by two feathers, or the hathoric crown (the solar disk between two bovine horns). Her prominent artistic depictions are inside lavish royal tombs, for example:

  • the tomb (TT56) of Userhat, “Scribe who Counts the Bread for Upper And Lower Egypt” under Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1427–1401 BC), where she appears with Montu;
  • the tomb (KV14) of Queen Twosret (c. 1191–1189 BC) and Pharaoh Setnakhte (c. 1189–1186 BC), where she appears genuflected;
  • the tomb (KV9) of Pharaoh Ramesses VI (c. 1144–1136 BC), where she appears, along with Khonsu, Amun-Ra, Ptah-Sokar and Ra-Horakhty, receiving offerings by the King himself;
  • the tomb (KV18) of Pharaoh Ramesses X (c. 1111–1107 BC), where she appears with Ra-Horakhty;
  • the tomb (KV4) of Pharaoh Ramesses XI (c. 1107–1077 BC), where she appears with many deities.