(Nekhabit) Depicted either as a vulture or anthropomorphically, wearing a vulture headdress, Nekhbet is the Goddess of Upper (that is, southern) Egypt, counterpart of Wadjet, Goddess of Lower (northern) Egypt. The two Goddesses together thus represent the sovereignty of Egypt united and are often juxtaposed in heraldic fashion. Nekhbet has an independent set of associations as well, however. Some of these derive from the ideas Egyptians had about the vulture. In PT utterance 570, for instance, the deceased king places himself under the protection of Nekhbet with an unusual appeal: “I will never swallow the Eye of Horus so that men may say: ‘He [Horus] is dead because of it.’ I will never swallow a limb of Osiris so that men may say: ‘He [Osiris] is dead because of it.” The vulture, because it feeds on carrion, is, so to speak, a predator free from blame, a condition which the king wishes to share (compare J. Gwyn Griffiths’ remarks, in relation to PT utterance 270, on “the hostile interpretation of animal sacrifices which was so marked a feature of Egyptian religious thought,” in Griffiths 1991, 153). The association of the vulture with purity of food underlies the identification of the deceased with Nekhbet with regard to nourishment in CT spell 863: “If N. be hungry, Nekhbet will be hungry; if N. be thirsty, Nekhbet will be thirsty.” That the role of Nekhbet here follows from the nature of the vulture is clear from the spell’s opening line, “The dead are swallowed for you,” as well as from a passage near the end which refers to “the vulture of whom the Gods are afraid and whom the souls fear in N.’s abode, just as they are afraid of the Eye of Horus.” The hieroglyphic sign of the vulture stands for the word mut, ‘mother’. This symbolism bears especially upon the Goddess Mut, of course, but it affects Nekhbet as well, who is more closely identified with the vulture than Mut is. Nekhbet’s maternal quality is manifest in her role as the nurse of Horus. CT spell 16 says of Horus, for instance, “Isis bore him, Khabet [Nekhbet] brought him up,” while the ferry-boat of CT spell 398 has for its aft mooring-post “Nekhbet with her arms about Horus.” A spell to ease childbirth (no. 61 in Borghouts) invokes “Nekhbet the Nubian,” among other deities, in order to charge a clay figure of a dwarf (cf. Bes) which the operator uses to conjure the woman giving birth. Nekhbet is also spoken of as the “guide of Re” on his daily journey to the west, rising opposite him at the sunrise and hovering over him at what is his daily birth (P. Carlsberg I, B. I, 24-27/Neugebauer and Parker vol. I, pp. 45-46). Since the sun was thought of as rising opposite the land of Punt (Somalia), this might explain Nekhbet’s association with Nubia in the childbirth spell.
CT spells 956 and 957 are, effectively, spells for ‘transforming into’ or invoking Nekhbet, albeit spell 957, which is much better preserved than 956, bears the title “To become Ma’et“. In both spells the operator affirms “I have ascended to the upper sky, and I have fashioned Nekhbet; I have descended to the lower sky, and I have fashioned Sekhmet,” but in 957 has been inserted “I have traversed the middle sky … because I am Ma’et in these manifestations of hers which are upon and in the middle of Nekhbet, the complete Vulture.” Ma’et’s inhabitation within Nekhbet seems to parallel the operator’s statement in both spells that “Nekhbet has installed me in the midst of herself <lest> Seth should see me when I reappear.” Nekhbet seems to mediate here between Ma’et’s function, which pertains to the order and harmony of the cosmos, and the personal protection afforded to mortals by Sekhmet in the so-called ‘lower sky’, i.e., the sky of the underworld. A spell to ward off infectious diseases (no. 14 in Borghouts) invokes Nekhbet, “who lifted up the earth unto the sky for her father.” Nekhbet’s ‘father’ here is presumably Re. “Do come,” the spell continues, “that you may tie the two plumes closely around me. Then I will live on and be sound.” The spell is to be said over a pair of vulture plumes and the person to receive protection is to be stroked by them.
At Nekhbet’s cult center Nekheb (el-Kab; known to the Greeks as Eileithyiaspolis), inscriptions make reference to seven “arrows” of Nekhbet, these being the same “arrows”—that is, demonic potencies—wielded at other places by Bast or Tutu. At el-Kab, Nekhbet delivers seven speeches charging each “arrow” to the protection of the pharaoh. These “arrows” are, in effect, forces normally malevolent, but whom the Goddess is able to enlist to act according to her own will. Several of the demons shown at el-Kab have the head of the animal associated with Seth, showing the ability of Nekhbet to marshal Seth’s powers against, among others, the demons of disease and misfortune under the control of Sekhmet and known as her “murderers” (for a complete account of the arrows of Nekhbet at el-Kab, see Capart 1940).
Borghouts, J. F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Capart, Jean. 1940. “Les Sept Paroles de Nekhabit.” Chronique d’Égypte 15/29: 21-29.
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]
Griffiths, J. Gwyn. 1991. “The Accusing Animals.” In Ursula Verhoeven and Erhart Graefe, eds. Religion und Philosophie im alten Ägypten. Leuven: Peeters.
Neugebauer, Otto, and Richard A. Parker. 1960-9. Egyptian Astronomical Texts. Providence: Brown University Press.