Nekhbet (pron.: //; also spelt Nekhebit) was an early predynastic local goddess in Egyptian mythology who was the patron of the city of Nekheb, her name meaning of Nekheb. Ultimately, she became the patron of Upper Egypt and one of the two patron deities for all of Ancient Egypt when it was unified.
She was seen as a goddess who had chosen to adopt the city, and consequently depicted as the Egyptian white vulture, a creature that the Egyptians thought only existed as females (not knowing that, lacking sexual dimorphism, the males are identical). They were presumed to be reproducing via parthenogenesis.
Egypt’s oldest oracle was the shrine of Nekhbet at Nekheb, the original necropolis or city of the dead. It was the companion city to Nekhen, the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of the Predynastic period (c. 3200–3100 BC) and probably, also during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100–2686 BC). The original settlement on the Nekhen site dates from Naqada I or the late Badarian cultures. At its height, from about 3400 BC, Nekhen had at least 5,000 and possibly as many as 10,000 inhabitants.
The priestesses of Nekhbet were called muu (mothers) and wore robes of Egyptian vulture feathers.
Later, as with Wadjet, Nekhbet's sister, became patron of the pharaohs, in her case becoming the personification of Upper Egypt. The images of these two primal goddesses became the protecting deities for all of Egypt, also known as the "Two Ladies" and one of the titles of each ruler was the Nebty name, which was associated with these goddesses and beginning as [s/he] of the Two Ladies... with the remainder of that title.
In art, Nekhbet was depicted as the white vulture (representing purification), always seen on the front of pharaoh’s double crown along with Wadjet. Nekhbet usually was depicted hovering, with her wings spread above the royal image, clutching a shen symbol (representing infinity, all, or everything), frequently in both of her claws. As patron of the pharaoh, she was sometimes seen to be the mother of the divine aspect of the pharaoh, and it was in this capacity that she was Mother of Mothers, and the Great White Cow of Nekheb.
The vulture hieroglyph was the uniliteral sign used for the glottal sound (3) including words such as mother, prosperous, grandmother, and ruler. In some late texts of the Book of the Dead, Nekhbet is referred to as Father of Fathers, Mother of Mothers, who hath existed from the Beginning, and is Creatrix of this World.
When pairing began to occur in the Egyptian pantheon, giving most of the goddesses a husband, Nekhbet was said to become the wife of Hapy, a deity of the inundation of the Nile. Given the early and constant association of Nekhbet with being a good mother, in later myths she was said to have adopted children.
- "Nekhbet". Dictionary.com. Random House. 2012.
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