After Seth had killed Osiris, Isis had given birth to her son, Horus, and the sun god Ra had made Osiris lord of the Underworld, Isis began weaving a shroud to place around her husband’s mummy. Although Osiris’s spirit now reigned beneath the horizon, his lifeless body still required preparation for burial, as well as burial itself.
The infant Horus lay in a crib beside Isis as she worked. Soon Thoth, the god of wisdom, approached the new mother and warned, “Take care, Isis. Seth is looking for you and your son. I fear he means to kill you both.”
“I must protect my son at all costs,” she said. “That is my primary task, since I am his mother. But what can I do? Where can I hide? Seth knows every rock, cave, and bush for miles around. He is sure to find us.”
Thoth told Isis not to despair. He pointed out that Seth was unfamiliar with certain marshes located far to the north in the Nile delta, and that if she and Horus hid there Seth would not be able to find them. “Go there,” Thoth urged, “raise Horus well, and when he is old enough, he can return to avenge Osiris and take the throne from Seth.”
Isis followed Thoth’s instructions. Before he departed, Thoth left seven huge scorpions to accompany and protect Isis and her son on their perilous journey. Three of the scorpions – Petet, Tjetet, and Matet – walked along in front of Isis, keeping a wary eye out for Seth or any other threatening presences.
Two more scorpions, Mesetet and Mesetetef, positioned themselves under her cart; while the other two, Tefen and Befen, guarded the rear. Luckily, the travelers did not encounter any trouble during the trip.
The Scorpions’ Revenge
Eventually, the party neared the delta region that Thoth had recommended as a hiding place. By this time, the loving mother, still cradling her baby, was exhausted and desperately in need of food and rest. They came to a village, and there they approached a large, splendid-looking house, hoping that the owner might offer them hospitality.
At that very moment, the owner, a woman dressed in fine clothes, was standing in her doorway. However, when she caught sight of the seven scorpions, she became terrified and slammed the door, refusing any help to the mother and child.
Disappointed and forlorn, Isis decided that there was nothing she could do but continue on toward the marshes. She had walked on a few hundred feet, when to her surprise a poor fisherman’s daughter approached her.
The girl did not recognize Isis as a goddess and, though she kept a cautious eye on the scorpions, she did not shy away. “I could not help but notice how tired and hungry you look,” said the girl in a kindly voice. “Please, you must come with me to my house and let me give you and your child something to eat.” Then the girl led Isis to a tiny, spare, one-room hut and there gave her most of what little food she had.
Meanwhile, the scorpions were angry at the rich woman who had so rudely refused to help Isis and her son. Therefore, they decided to teach the woman a hard lesson. Tefen raised up his stinger, and his six companions loaded their poisons onto it. Then he stealthily crept under the rich woman’s door, found where her young son was sleeping, and stung him. Just as the boy’s mother was entering the room, Tefen scurried away.
Distraught, the woman carried her child’s limp, swollen body through the streets, desperately seeking help. But everyone was afraid of the scorpions and their poison, and all the townspeople shut their doors in her face, just as she had recently done to another mother and son in need. Sobbing, the woman sank to the ground, cradling the boy’s body in her arms.
The Power of Isis’s Magic
Isis soon learned what had happened. Despite having been treated so rudely, she could not bear to allow an innocent child to die and its mother to suffer so cruelly. So Isis went to the rich woman and said, “Fear not. I am the goddess Isis. Give me your son and I will heal him.”
Overcome with awe, the woman quickly handed over the boy, and Isis held him tenderly. The goddess then proceeded to recite various spells, in the process naming each of the seven scorpions, and thereby establishing her power over them and their poisons.
For several moments a great hush gripped the village as everyone peeked out from their houses to watch the drama unfolding in the street. At first, the boy’s body remained limp and pale. But then, little by little, his color began to return, his breathing became normal, and he opened his eyes.
Recognizing his mother, he reached out for her, and Isis delivered him into her arms. The rich woman thanked the goddess, but seemed to sense that words were not enough to repay the kindness Isis had done. Without hesitation, the woman returned home, gathered a major portion of her gold, jewels, and other wealth, carried the treasure to the poor fisherman’s hut, and bestowed it on the poor young girl who had earlier helped the goddess.
In the end, things worked out well for everyone involved: Isis went on to avoid Seth and to raise Horus. The fisherman’s daughter enjoyed material comforts she would otherwise never have known. And the rich woman, who was now considerably less rich than before, learned the true value of kindness and hospitality.