(Uadjet, Wedjoyet, Edjo, Uto) The deity emblematic of Lower (Northern) Egypt as Nekhbet is emblematic of Upper (Southern) Egypt, Wadjet is paradigmatically depicted as a cobra, erect, with hood flared, ready to strike. This cobra, known as the uraeus, the Latinized form of the Greek ouraios, from Egyptian iaret, ‘the Risen One’, is the symbol of royal power, vested in the sun on the cosmic plane and in the Egyptian sovereign in the mundane world; hence uraei encircle the solar disk atop the heads of deities channeling the solar potency and adorn the pharaoh’s headdress. Uraei are frequently shown in multiples, but two uraei—especially coiled atop wickerwork baskets which are the sign for neb, ‘lord’ or ‘totality’—symbolize sovereignty over the Two Lands, Egyptian sovereignty always being conceived as dual. Since Upper and Lower Egypt are both represented by uraei, Wadjet sometimes incorporates aspects of Nekhbet, appearing as a cobra with vulture’s wings, or in anthropomorphic form as a woman wearing a vulture headdress from which projects the head of a cobra. Sometimes Wadjet is depicted as an enthroned, lioness-headed woman; for reasons which remain obscure, a number of hollow statues of this type have been found to contain a mummified ichneumon (mongoose). Wadjet’s name comes from the word wadj, which means papyrus, the characteristic vegetation of the marshes of Lower Egypt; but wadj also means ‘green’, which had a broad range of connotations in Egyptian, especially ‘fortunate’, ‘flourishing’ or ‘healthy’. Hence the ‘healthy’ Eye of Horus, having been healed from the injury it sustained from Seth, is called the wedjat, also from wadj. Wadjet is often characterized as wp tawy, “the one who delimits the [Two] Lands,” from the verb wpi meaning to separate, judge, or delimit. The uraeus blasts the enemies of the cosmic order with a mystical flame called nesery, and Wadjet is hence sometimes called Neseret, ‘the Fiery One’ or ‘Fiery Serpent’.
The uraeus is considered the personified ‘Eye’ of Re, based upon a pun on the word irt, which means both ‘eye’ and ‘doing’ or ‘one who does’. The ‘Eye’ of Re enacts his will in the world, hence it is his agent or ‘doer’. In the Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, the depiction of the ‘Eye’ as a cobra at the forehead is explained as follows. Atum sends his Eye forth to bring back to him his children Shu and Tefnut, with whom he has lost contact in the precosmic abyss, the Nun. The Eye returns, angry because Atum has made another in its place; to appease it, Atum explains, “I advanced its place on my head” (xvii), that is, he placed it upon his forehead as a third eye. The appearance of this third eye on the God’s forehead thus manifests the reunion of Atum with Shu and Tefnut, a reunion which is also marked, in the Bremner-Rhind account, by the creation of humans (romi) from the joyful tears (remi) shed by Atum. The symbol of sovereignty, the uraeus, thus emerges simultaneously with the human race, the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy being part of the essence of humanity in the Egyptian worldview.
Wadjet is often thought of as particularly embodied in the crown of Lower Egypt, the Red Crown or Net. PT utterance 220/221 is an address, first by a priest, then by the king, to the Lower Egyptian crown, which is called both Neseret and Weret-Hekau, ‘Great of Magic’, another common epithet of Wadjet and Goddesses performing her function. The king prays of the crown to “Grant that the dread of me be like the dread of you; grant that the acclaim of me be like the acclaim of you; grant that the love of me be like the love of you.” The power embodied in the crown, the power of the uraeus and of Wadjet, is thus a power of charisma as much as it is the capacity for violent mastery. It should be noted in this connection that the Egyptian cobra was not known for inflicting many human fatalities, unlike the asp, and so the attitude of reverence and awe for the uraeus is not primarily driven by fear, but by its large size (up to nine feet) and vivid markings. The Egyptian cobra does protect itself by spitting venom to a distance of six to eight feet, however (Johnson 1990, 12ff), probably the source of the image of the uraeus spitting fire. The Red Crown and Wadjet are linked again in PT utterance 273/4, in which it is said of the deceased king that “He has eaten the Red, swallowed the Green,” referring to the Red Crown and to Wadjet. The Red Crown features a projecting coil which perhaps represents the coiled cobra; later in PT utterance 273/4, it is said that the king “abhors licking the coils of the Red, but delights to have their magic in his belly.”
An adoration of Re in BD spell 15A2 says of Re, “Thou risest, thou growest remote in the sky, while the twin Wadjets abide on thy head,” while a hymn to Osiris in BD spell 185K says, “Hail to thee … lord of gladness … on whose brow have been fixed the twin Wadjets.” The twin Wadjets are the double crown, representing sovereignty over the idealized Egypt, the universal kingdom. PT utterance 662 addresses the papyrus, alluding to the other meanings of wadj: “O papyrus plant which issued from Wadjet, you have gone forth in the King, and the King has gone forth in you, the King is powerful through your strength.” In PT utterance 273, it is said of the deceased king that “The King’s powers are about him … his uraei are on the crown of his head, the King’s guiding serpent is on his brow, she who perceives the soul, she whose fire is effective.” The notion that Wadjet allows the soul to become visible seems to be echoed in a spell for “chasing away a terror which comes to fall upon a man in the night, with the face turned backwards” (no. 6 in Borghouts), that is, a persecutory figure in a nightmare whose identity is concealed. Wadjet is invoked here to use her flames to illuminate the true identity of the apparition: “The earth is afire, the sky is afire, men and Gods are afire—while you [the apparition] have said that you will hide yourself from it once it has come … Beware of the flame that has burst forth from the horizon!”
Wadjet’s role in the afterlife literature is somewhat modest; one interesting occurence, however, is in CT spell 773, in which the deceased prays, “O Wadjet who makes my neck firm, I am a loving son.” This reference to fastening the head onto the neck seems to allude to an occasional association between uraei and vertebrae which can also be seen in PT utterance 318, in which it is said of the deceased king that “The King is a serpent … who swallowed his seven uraei and his seven neck-vertebrae came into being, who gives orders to the seven Enneads [assemblages of Gods] which hear the word of the monarch … who gives orders to the seven Bows,” (hostile foreign nations represented by their archers). Similarly, in CT spell 612, “To become [invoke] Hathor,” the operator affirms, “I have swallowed the seven uraei, because I am Hathor … the serpent who laughs with Wadjet.” In BD spell 172, a spell for divinizing the parts of the body, the vertebrae of the deceased are “those of the twin Wadjets.” The protective function of Wadjet is invoked in BD spell 17, where the operator states, “I am a follower of Wadjet, lady of the sky and the devouring flames; but they [the flames] let few of them ascend to me,” to which an ancient commentary adds, “Wadjet, lady of the devouring flames, is the Eye of Re. ‘They let few of them ascend to me’ means when Seth‘s cronies were approaching her, since it was a searing approach.”
Wadjet sometimes appears in spells alongside Sekhmet where the two are pacified to prevent attack by infectious agents or other demonic miasma; hence in the Book of the Last Day of the Year (no. 13 in Borghouts), the operator states, “Wadjet is pacified! The attack of those who are among the wandering demons will pass over.” In a spell “for purifying anything during the plague” (no. 20 in Borghouts), which is used to empower an instrument that can be brushed over food or drink or in one’s living space to “ward off the passing of murderers,” i.e., infectious agents, the operator states, “I am your Horus, Sekhmet. I am your unique one [or, 'your lion'], Wadjet! I will not die on account of you—I am the rejoiced one.” The operator identifies with Horus here because Wadjet is among the Goddesses who feature as wet-nurses of the infant Horus during his occultation in the marshes of Khemmis.
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Borghouts, J. F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Johnson, Sally B. 1990. The Cobra Goddess of Ancient Egypt. London: Kegan Paul.