THE WAS SCEPTRE
Would you like to know more about the legendary Was sceptre and the myths surrounding it? Would you like to discover the different functions of this mythological sceptre?
We are here to answer these questions as experts in Egyptian mythology.
The sceptre Was is one of the most important symbols of ancient Egypt. Because of its true usefulness as a snake hunter or because of its link with Set, the god of chaos, the Was sceptre is an unavoidable element of Egyptian mythology.
In this article you will discover:
- What is the true meaning of the Was sceptre
- What is its purpose
- Why he is attached to the god of chaos, Set
The myths and legends surrounding this sceptre will soon hold no more secrets for you.
We can now discover all this together!
1) The Was scepter
In this part, we will first look at the meaning of the sceptre Was, then we will explain its role in ancient Egypt, and finally we will see how it has its origins in Egyptian mythology.
A) The meaning of the Was sceptre
The Was sceptre has its origins in the traditional sticks used to capture poisonous snakes. These long-stemmed sticks had one end equipped with a fork with two spikes to capture them safely.
Later, in the history of ancient Egypt, it is assumed that the sceptre Was became famous due to its direct link to the myth of the solar boat of Ra.
Indeed, in this chapter of Egyptian mythology, Ra (the Egyptian sun god) and his grandson Set (the god of chaos and Egyptian storms) repel the divine serpent Apep with their godlike powers but also with an enchanted spear, which may be similar to this famous sceptre.
You can well imagine that an association was very quickly made between these two sticks, each one having the purpose of preventing dangerous reptiles from harming (although to a lesser extent than the sceptre Was, Men not having the pretension of catching snakes as giant as Apep!).
Thus, the sceptre Was has the head of the animal lending its face to the god Set.
The Was sceptre was thus popularised by its association with Set, the famous god of chaos. It has made such a mark on history that it can be found in our modern culture in numerous comic strips, films, books and video games (it appears as a legendary object in one of the recent instalments of the Assassin's Creed saga set in ancient Egypt).
B) The use of the Was sceptre in ancient Egypt
For the pharaohs, the sceptre Was served as a symbolic shepherd's staff: it was to guide the people of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is one of the many attributes of the pharaoh granting him his presumed divine power.
The sceptre Was is an essential part of the Pharaoh's panoply. But it can be noted that it is almost always associated with other pharaonic attributes:
- The false beard (which by its rigidity remains straight even when the pharaoh is lying down or raising his head, which contributes to the attachment of divine characteristics to the monarchs of Egypt).
- The red crown and the white crown (called the Hedjet and Deshret crowns respectively, together forming the Pshent, a replica of the crown of Osiris, Atef).
On this papyrus, we see a pharaoh with the scepter Was in his hand, on his head the two crowns forming the Pshent and on his chin the beard hairpiece.
The sceptre Was also appears among the objects carried by the gods that can be seen on hieroglyphs or statues. Thus, it is not uncommon to find this sceptre with a head of Set on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs.
Moreover, it should be noted that in this case the sceptre Was is not represented with the attributes of the pharaoh but with the Egyptian symbols of the gods such as:
- The Jed pillar (the symbol representing the pillars supporting the world placed at the four corners of the world according to Egyptian mythology).
- The sceptre sekhem (the sceptre derived from the name of the goddess Sekhmet whose name means "power").
- The knot of Isis (this knot was named in reference to the goddess of fertility and magic, it is the symbol representing the fertility of women but also that of the Nile).
- The ankh cross (the Egyptian cross of hopeful life also called the ankh cross).
- The divine solar discs (the small suns that can be seen above certain gods and goddesses such as Ra, Horus, Sekhmet and sometimes Hathor).
- The wide ousekh necklaces (the necklaces that can be seen around the neck of the gods and that were worn by rich Egyptians).
Later, the sceptre Was will figure among the paraphernalia of the god Ptah. The god Ptah is famous for his three symbols: the sceptre Was, the pillar Djed and the cross ankh. Through these three objects, Ptah alone represents power, stability and life. He is the god of creation and one of the founding gods.
2) A sceptre strongly attached to the god Set
Over the course of history, by its origin, this sceptre gradually became associated only with Set and much less with the other Egyptian gods. Attached to the god of evil and chaos, this sceptre gradually became the emblem par excellence of Set.
Set, god of chaos, made the sceptre Was the emblem of his power. He also holds the ankh cross in his right hand, the complementary element of the Was sceptre.
So, in order for you to fully understand what is behind this famous instrument of power of the pharaohs, it is important that you understand the story of the god who lent him his head.
A) The sceptre of a repentant god of chaos
In Egyptian mythology, the first Egyptian god to appear is Ra, the sun god. After feeling the call of life, Ra created himself and then created the universe.
Ra's role was then to illuminate his creation by sailing calmly in the heavens on his celestial boat to illuminate the whole of Egypt. Every night, when humanity thinks the Sun sets, Ra crosses the world of the dead below the Earth on his solar boat. Sunrise is thus a true victory of Ra over the "underworld".
The main problem he has to face in the limbo of the night is Apep, a giant snake, god of the dark forces of darkness. In Egyptian mythology, he is the personification of evil and goes every night to try to prevent Ra from fulfilling his duty on the solar boat.
In this relentless fight, Ra can count on the help of various deities including Set, the god of lightning and storms.
Set, equipped with the Was sceptre, is in charge of defending the boat so that the expedition is a success every night. Ra can also rely on the powers of Isis and on the dexterity of the goddess Bastet (often represented with a cat's head).
B) The sceptre of a god who murdered Osiris
We have seen that Set plays an essential role in the process of sunrise and sunset and is therefore capable of the best. However, in Egyptian mythology, it is rare for Set to incarnate the Good and it must be understood that if he is present on the solar boat, it is because he repents of some of his actions.
I) The origin of Set's repentance: the myth of Osiris
To begin with, it seems to me that a brief contextualization is in order.
As we have seen, Ra is the first God to appear. It is he who is at the origin of all the gods, including Geb, the god of the Earth and Nut, the goddess of Heaven. By their union, Geb and Nut gave birth to two boys, Osiris and Set, and two girls, Isis and Nephthys. Osiris took his sister Isis as his wife and Set married Nephthys.
Osiris succeeded his father's reign over Egypt, which aroused great jealousy on the part of his brother Set.
According to the ancient texts, Osiris is a just and wise man and it is precisely for these reasons that his grandfather placed him at the head of the kingdom. However, this arouses in his brother a deep feeling of jealousy which leads him to murder him.
This famous premeditated murder was then majestically orchestrated. At a banquet, Set promised to offer a magnificent sarcophagus to the person who would be most comfortable in it.
But carved to the dimensions of Osiris, he was naturally the only one who could fit inside it. But as soon as Osiris was inside, Set closed the lid and threw the coffin into the water, causing his brother to drown. After an attempt by Isis to bring the coffin back, Set cut his brother's body into fourteen separate pieces and scattered them throughout the kingdom.
Set then seized power and became king of all Egypt.
But before Osiris was cut into pieces, Isis had already united with him to give birth to Horus (depicted with a bird's head), a key figure in the rest of our story ...
Horus, falcon-headed god, son of Osiris and Isis.
II) The continuation of this myth: the fight of Set against Horus
Horus, son of Osiris, considers himself the legitimate heir to the throne of Egypt. But his uncle Set does not agree. They therefore asked the opinion of a jury composed of different deities: Ra, the creator god with the solar disc, Thoth, the god of wisdom, and Shu, the god of the air.
But this divine advice was undecided and the confrontation between Set and Horus became inevitable. The two protagonists faced each other in different trials to decide between them.
It was finally Horus who won the approval of the deities thanks to the help of his father, Osiris, who swung the decision of the jurors in his favour. For Osiris, Set has no right to reign because he came to power by committing a murder, which must take away all his legitimacy.
Horus became king of Egypt and later married the goddess of love and beauty Hathor. Set, for his part, no longer possessing the immunity conferred by his status as king, was banished to the desert, his original kingdom. He then found repentance in his task as night protector (as we have seen earlier in this article).
A myth worthy of being engraved in your memory
As you have seen, the sceptre of Was is an object full of history and legend.
Thanks to this article, you are now able to explain to those around you the meaning of this particular stick, its use in the time of the pharaohs and its link with Set, the controversial god of chaos.
If you would like to keep the myth alive with a remarkable symbol that is more than 4000 years old, we invite you to take a look at our extensive collection of necklaces, bracelets and rings.
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