Striking Cobra, Spitting Fire – Kasia Szpakowska
Firstly many thank to Kasia performing under difficult circumstances, the venue was changed with minutes to go and we lost the projector for a few seconds half way through, nothing fazed her. Secondly I had no light for note taking so it was tricky but I did my best. Corrections welcome as always.
The cult of the snake in Ancient Egypt
The cobra was an important symbol throughout Egyptian history. One of the earliest representations shows King Den of Dynasty 1 with a cobra or uraeus on his brow. However in the early times it does not seem to have a cult associated with it. The same image is show on Tutankamun’s death mask and an image of Emperor Hadrian Ad 133-134, so a huge span as an emblem but actual worship seems to be confined to a smaller period.
The cobra is associated with a variety of female deities Wadjet the delta/Lower Egypt lady and Meretsegner, the rearing cobra associated with Thebes.
Although snakes are abudndant in Egypt they are not worshipped in themselves. However they do appear twine as hieroglyphics both f the horned viper and dj the cobra. Aside of symbols is there any evidence of cult worship. We see the king pouring libations to gods and non royal like the lady pouring a libation to her ancestor but do we see any evidence of anyone worshiping a cobra.
Mostly we have objects, Dr Kasia then showed several slides of cobra objects and pointed out that they were not easy to identify and often missed. Originally she started with 2 one in Bolton museum and one in the British Museum now she has over 650 and is still finding more, most of these are fragments . This is a bit of chunky link http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/13%20Plates%20NEW%20total%20pages%20rreduced%20file%20size%20pp210-214%20pls%201.pdf but it does have some pictures of the objects she was talking about on pages 4 and 5 plates 156 -167. The fragments can be divided into head, torso and base. There are also a range of shapes. They are found in a variety of places e.g. Zur, Akoris, Amarna, Sakkara (a burial).
They are often found in domestic situations similar to the female figurines. They are found in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, mostly in the period of the empire Tuthmosis III to Ramses II although there are some Third intermediate Period examples. They are also found in the area or influence of the empire. Often in coastal area, from Lebanon to Libya and less often down to Thebes. They are mostly of fired clay but can occasionally be of mud. At Beth Shan although they look Egyptian and are made in the Egyptian way they are made of local materials.
Found in both domestic and military sites like garrisons they seem to be domestic and a cult object that did not need a priest to channel worship through. It was something you could use at home. Sometimes they appear to have a headdress. Petrie actually give the site places he found them at 8 long street and 9 main street, one in a living room and the other on a shelf. So very domestic, at Amarna female figurines, Bes, Tawsret and cobra were found. The objects found with them are also interesting, hair balls and spindles amongst others.
So what did the ancient Egyptian do with these figurines?
Decoration gives a bit of a clue, they seem to have spotted backs like that shown by Meretsegner in an offering scene and could have offering tables in front. Possible a votive object for Wadjet who being a delta goddess where there is a high occurrence. This object http://petriecat.museums.ucl.ac.uk/detail/details/index_no_login.php?objectid=UC14439&accesscheck=%2Fdetail%2Fdetails%2Findex.php UC14439 shows a big snake with two little snakes in front and it is possible these objects are a 3d version of this picture.
Interestingly there have been none found at Deir el Medina so that does confuse the issue a little.
Possible these were representations of Renenutet or the combination goddess Renenutet/Meretsegner. She is a harvest goddess and these can be depicted around granaries.
Also possible is Neith as her emblem often appears inside the hood of the Uraeus and there is a warrior connection with the garrisons.
One object shows Tjawy a priest of Weret-hekau who is another contender she is mentioned depicted with garlands of flowers and there is decoration on them that could be garlands.
Interestingly there is a spell that calls upon cats to protect against scorpions and snakes. Scorpions are sometimes called the wives of snakes. Nightmares are blamed on evil entering and this could be warded off by putting in each corner of the room ‘four uraei made of pure clay’.
The cobra also represented the sun for the king and its action is to spit fire which is shown as dots. The non elite used them as protection. The venom is like fire when it lands in the eyes so a powerful goddess could take this form. Kasia showed a spitting cobra which can send out its venom for 3 meters and the real picture looked just like the representations in the reliefs.