Thursday, March 17, 2016

Symbolism Of Vultures In Egyptian Mythology

Edited by Azizi Powell

In the United States and other Western cultures, crows and vultures are rarely considered positive symbols. However, in some African nations and elsewhere in the world vultures had and/or still have spiritual and/or positive connotations.

This is Part III of a three part series on spiritual and/or positive symbolism of vultures or crows in certain traditional African cultures.Part III provides some information about the spiritual significance of vultures in traditional Egyptian culture.

Click for Part I of this series. Part I provides some information about the crow totem in Akan culture (Ghana, Ivory Coast).

Click Part II of this post. Part II provides some information about the spiritual significance of vultures in traditional Yoruba culture and traditional Edo culture (Nigeria).

Click for a related post. I believe that it's likely that 18th century and 19th century representations of buzzards or crows in Jamaica and among Black Americans (in the United States) were greatly influenced by the West African positive/spiritual connotations of vultures & crows.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These excerpts are presented in no particular order. I assigned numbers for referencing purposes only.

Excerpt #1
From "Sacred Symbolism of Birds" Posted on September 13, 2012 by Aimee Rebekah Shea in Divine Feminine Wisdom
"Birds hold a sacred spiritual significance, like all animals. The sacred symbolism of birds is seen clearly through observation of the spiritual practices of early African tribes and in Egyptian civilization.* These ancient tribes studied the sacred symbolism of birds because they were thought to express the divine will and expression of God.

The sacred symbolism of birds is interwoven into the mythology and spirituality of early African tribes. Early Egyptian gods were zoomorphic; they had animal characteristics. The Egyptian god Horus was known as the Sky God. He is usually shown with hawk\’s head. The pronunciation of his name in the Egyptian hieroglyphs was Haru, meaning falcon, brother to the hawk. The Egyptian goddess Nekhbet was the protectress of the king and goddess of heaven. She is depicted as a woman with the head of a white vulture. Early African tribes worshiped these birdlike gods and honored their feathers as a means of sacred ritual.

Symbolism of Birds: The Meanings

In African Tribes, many birds embody the qualities of God\’s. These birds are seen as symbols or signs of a sacred presence in nature. I\’ve compiled a list that is by no means inclusive, as there are over 10,000 different bird species that have been identified today. The birds that follow are also not exclusive to Africa, but fly over every continent on earth :)...

Vulture: believed to be the original great earth mother and the ultimate symbol of fertility, The vulture is the bringer of truth and transmutes lower energies. Vultures are a sign of safety and purity, the elements necessary for life to begin."
*Since Egypt is located in the African continent, the phrase "early African tribes and in Egyptian civilization" is redundant.

Excerpt #2
From Vultures in Symbolism, Myth and Lore Posted by Carolyn Merino Mullin on September 3, 2011
"Ancient Egyptians viewed vultures, who are very protective and nurturing of their young, as wonderful mothers. In Egyptian mythology, Nekhbet, a local goddess of childbirth and feminine energies, is usually illustrated as an Egyptian white vulture. Also known as Mother of Mothers and the Great White Cow of Nekheb, she is considered the mother of the godly aspect of the pharaoh. In fact, the priestesses of the city of Nekhbet were called mothers, or muu, and sported robes made of vulture feathers."

Excerpt #3
"Vulture (neret)
Appearance: At least five different species of vulture lived in ancient Egypt. The particular species shown in the hieroglyph was the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus).

Meaning: The vulture was typically associated with the goddess Nekhebet who was the patroness of the city of El-Kab in Upper Egypt. When El-Kab became important early in ancient Egyptian history, the vulture soon became a heraldic creature for all of Upper Egypt. As such, the vulture was often shown with the cobra (the herald of Lower Egypt) wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt. She also appeared in the nebty or "Two Ladies" name of the pharaoh.

The vulture was also a symbol of the goddess Mut, as well as Isis and Hathor. The bird also served as a symbol of the feminine, often in opposition to the scarab who signified the male principle."

Excerpt #4
From The Significance of Vultures on Egyptian Headdresses by Shannon Leigh O'Neil
"The ancient Egyptians depicted deities wearing headdresses, which often can be used to identify gods and goddesses. The headdress appears to have signified qualities or powers belonging to that specific deity. Vultures are among the most common symbols featured in Egyptian headdresses. A number of vulture species lived in ancient Egypt, so the bird was a recognizable image. In Egyptian mythology, vultures were not just scavenging birds, but symbols of femininity and maternal protection. When the goddess Nekhebet of Upper Egypt became associated with the vulture headdress, the bird evolved into a heraldic symbol for all of Upper Egypt."

This concluded Part III of this series.

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  1. Here's an online quote that I found about spiritual connotations of vultures that refers to East Africa:
    From African Symbols Heike Owusu (Sterling Publishing Company, 2007), page 49 [Google Book]
    ”Many tribes revere the wisdom of the vulture, who is able to gain life from death. They are also referred to as soul birds since some East African tribes believe that vultures carry within them the souls of the bodies that they have consumed. Hence, they are also seen as deliverers of offerings to the gods. Without vultures, no offerings can successfully be carried out."

  2. It's important to note that the oral histories of the Akan ethnic group (who were the focus of Part I of this series) and the Yoruba ethnic group & the Edo ethnic group [who were the focus of Part II of this series) indicate that their ancestors migrated from Nubia-Egypt.

    Here's a quote regarding the Akan migration from
    "Oral traditions of the ruling Abrade (Aduana) Clan relate that they originated from ancient Ghana. They migrated from the north, they went through Egypt and settled in Nubia (Sudan). Around 500AD (5th century), due to the pressure exerted on Nubia by Axumite kingdom of Ethiopia, Nubia was shattered, and the Akans moved to the west and established small trading kingdoms which later grew and around 750AD it became an Empire called Ghana."
    Here are two quotes that refer to the Nubian-Egyptian origin of the Yoruba people in Nigeria:
    "Some scholars, impressed by the similarities between Yoruba and ancient Egyptian culture – religious observation, works of art, burial and other customs – speak of a possible migration of the ancestors of the Yoruba from the upper Nile (as early as 2000BC – 1000BC) as a result of some upheavals in ancient Egypt”. (AB ADERIBIGBE 1976). Unlike Conton, Aderibigbe was able to pinpoint a cause for the Yoruban migration – war.

    Olumide Lucas did a lot of job to show similarities and identities between the ancient Egyptians and the Yoruban peoples. The date that Aderibigbe gave (2000BC – 1000BC) is much earlier than that given by Conton. Aderibigbe’s date corresponds to that of the Hyksos invasion of Egypt 2000-1500BC...

    According to Olumide J. Lucas, “the Yoruba, during antiquity, lived in ancient Egypt before migrating to the Atlantic coast”.
    He uses as demonstration the similarity or identity of languages, religious beliefs, customs and names of persons, places and things. In addition, many ancient papyri discovered by archaeologists point at an Egyptian origin” (Tariqh Sawandi: ”Yorubic medicine: The Art of divine herbology)."
    By:Pianke Nubiyang, Date: 1/31/2002,
    "One fact must be realized by Blacks in the Americas. That fact is that Blacks West Africa who are not of the Pygmy tribes (where there are few if any) are of the same origins as Africans in Sudan. In fact, among many Yorubas and others, there is the belief that Nubians migrated from Egypt during the Exodus and settled in Mali, then moved southward into Nigeria and the region. There are other sources that point to the coming of groups from Egypt and sudan about 1100 to 1500 B.C. from the Nubia region of Sudan and Southern Egypt."