Lady of the South
Also known as: Nekhebet
Although in modern Western culture, vultures are commonly perceived as harbingers of death, in traditional African cosmology, vultures are symbols of motherhood—no joke or sarcasm intended. A vulture’s huge wingspan was associated with a mother’s sheltering arms. Despite their fierce appearance, vultures are gentle birds that do not kill but eat carrion. Their inclination to stand vigil by the dying was not perceived as gruesome but as protective: vultures drive away malicious, harmful spirits and then, by devouring the corpse, perform the necessary clean up. What appear to be vulture goddesses are among the earliest documented sacred images.
Nekhebet, primordial vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, presides over maternity, childbirth, life, and death. Nekhebet is the guardian of infants. She was eventually incorporated into the official state solar pantheon as Ra’s daughter and right eye. Her protective capacities were so admired that Nekhebet was enlisted as the pharaoh’s own guardian. Nekhebet guarded the royal children in the palace; she hovered over the pharaoh during battle.
Nekhebet is the Great Mother who vigilantly protects her children. She gives birth to them, supervises them carefully, and then attends them in death, finally removing the body. Nekhbet presides over natron salt, an integral component of the Egyptian mummification process. She may be invoked to enhance the protective and magical capacities of salt.
Manifestation: Nekhbet is a woman with a vulture’s head but also appears as a complete vulture, especially a white one or as a complete woman.
Iconography: Envisioned as the pharaoh’s guardian, Nekhebet shields him with her outstretched wings. She wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt.
Attributes: Bow and arrows; Nekhbet carries a long-stemmed water lily with a winged serpent entwined around it
Creature: Vulture, snake
Spirit allies: Set,Wadjet
See also: Harpies; Set; Wadjet
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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