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The goddess Wadjet as a winged cobra

Wadjet, Goddess of Lower Egypt, Papyrus, and Protector of Pharaoh

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: November 29, 2012

 

Wadjet as a cobra wadjtcobra on a basket determinative

Wadjet (Wadjyt, Wadjit, Uto, Uatchet, Edjo, Buto) was the predynastic cobra goddess of Lower Egypt, a goddess originally of a city who grew to become the goddess of Lower Egypt, took the title 'The Eye of Ra', and one of the nebty (the 'two ladies') of the pharaoh. 'She of Papyrus/Freshness' rose from being the local goddess of Per-Wadjet (Buto) prwadjt town determinative ("The House of Wadjet (Papyrus/Freshness)") to becoming the patron goddess of all of Lower Egypt and 'twin' in the guardianship of Egypt with the vulture goddess Nekhbet. These two were the nebty (the 'two ladies') of the pharaoh and were an example of Egyptian duality - each of the two lands had to have its own patron goddess. Wadjet was the personification of the north.

Often shown as a rearing cobra, Wadjet was a protector of the pharaoh, ready to strike and kill his enemies. She was also depicted as a woman-headed cobra, a winged cobra, a lion-headed woman, or a woman wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. She was often shown together with Nekhbet who was in an identical form - as a snake or woman - or paired together with Wadjet as a snake and Nekhbet as a vulture. A carving of the conflated goddess Wadjet-Bast

The goddess Wadjet cometh to thee in the form of the living Uraeus to anoint thy head with their flames. She riseth up on the left side of thy head and she shineth from the right side of thy temples without speech; they rise up on thy head during each and every hour of the day, even as they do for their father Ra, and through them the terror which thou inspirest in the holy spirits is increased ... they never leave thee, awe of thee striketh into the souls which are made perfect.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 2003, The Gods of the Egyptians: Volume 1, pp. 443-444

Wadjet became a deity of heat and fire and this enhanced her role as a protector - with such fierce powers she could use not only poison but flames against the enemies of the pharaoh. In this, she was called the lady of the Houes of Flame (Perneser, pr nsr). Along with her link to this power, she became connected with the wdjat Wedjat (the Eye of Ra), and was thus also connected to the other goddesses who took this title - Bast, Tefnut, Sekhmet, Hathor, Isis, and her 'twin' in duality, Nekhbet. Along with this form, she took the form of a lioness, as did many of the other 'Eye of Ra' goddesses. In this form she wore the solar disk of Ra - linking her to the sun - with the uraeus (the rearing cobra) as her headdress.

In the story of Horus and Set, when Horus is trying to find and rout the followers of Set, Horus pursued them in the form of a burning, winged disk, attended by both Nekhbet and Wadjet as crowned snakes, one on each side of him. This, too, linked her with the pharaoh, as the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the living Horus. She not only protected Horus in his fight, but she also protected the pharaoh from childhood until death. As protector, she was known as "The August One, the Mighty One". An Egyptian statue of an ichneumon

Her main sacred animal was the cobra, but by the Late Period she was assigned yet another sacred animal - the ichneumon, a mongoose-like creature known for its ability to kill snakes and crush crocodile eggs. There are examples of a Late Period coffin of an ichneumon with an image of Wadjet seated on top of the coffin:

The ichneumon became a sacred animal of the lion-headed goddess Wadjet as a result of religious developments of the Late Period, when local traditions were frequently linked, and new mythic associations were established. The deities of the Delta cities of Khem (Letopolis) and Per-Wadjet became associated through myth, and the ichneumon - a sacred animal of Horus of Khem - became a sacred animal of the goddess Wadjet of Per-Wadjet.

Unlike other sacred animals ... ichneumons were occasionally placed in statuettes of the lion-headed goddess Wadjet. The most common type depicts the goddess seated on a throne, usually crowned by the uraeus - the rearing fire-spewing cobra at the king's brow, with which Wadjet was identified. The throne, or a base attached to it, which was usually hollow, contained the mummified ichneumon.

-- The Israel Museum, Coffin of an Ichneumon in the Form of the Goddess Wadjet

Nekhbet and Wadjet on Tutankhamen's crown By dynastic times, Wadjet was more a personification than an actual goddess and so she was often used (with Nekhbet) as a heraldic device around the sun disk or the royal name and were part of the royal insignia. The earliest found representation of the nebty title was in the reign of Anedjib, a pharaoh of the 1st Dynasty. From the 18th Dynasty onwards, she began to be represented as protecting the royal women in the form of one of the twin uraei on the headdresses of the queens.

Isis retreated to the papyrus swamps after she has conceived her child, and she remained hidden in them until her months were fulfilled, when she brought forth Horus, who afterwards became the "avenger of his father"; Set never succeeded in finding her hiding place, because the great goddess had found some means whereby she caused the papyrus and other plants to screen her from his view, and the goddess Wadjet visited her and helped her retreat.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 2003, The Gods of the Egyptians: Volume 1, pp. 442

Yet Wadjet also had a nurturing side, as did Nekhbet. Wadjet was believed to have helped Isis nurse the young Horus as well as help hide them in the swampy delta area of the Nile - as the goddess of Lower Egypt, she was also a personification of the papyrus-filled delta - and helped to keep the two safe from Set, who wanted to kill Horus and claim the throne for himself.

The cobra goddess of Lower Egypt (north), Wadjet protected the Delta and was the patron goddess of the town of Per-Wadjet (Buto), which was also the mythological location where Isis gave birth to her son, Horus. Mythology tells us that Wadjet wove stalks of papyrus into a screen in order to hide Isis and her child from the evil got Set.

-- Remler, P. 2010, Egyptian Mythology A to Z, p. 199

Wadjet as a lion-headed goddess with twin cobras on her headdresses Another link to her more gentle side was her link with nature - in the Pyramid Texts it said that the papyrus plant emerged from her, and that she was connected to the forces of growth. It was also believed that she created the papyrus swamps herself.

Wadjet was thought to be the wife of Hapi, in his Lower Egyptian aspect. She was also linked to Set in his role of god of Lower Egypt. She was also believed to be the wife of Ptah and mother of Nefertem (in place of Sekhmet or Bast), by the people of Per-Wadjet, probably because of her later form of a lioness. She was the goddess of the eleventh month of the Egyptian calendar, by Greek times known as Epipi.

She was worshipped at the Temple of Wadjet, which was referenced to by the name 'Pe-Dep', in the Pyramid Texts, and was by that time believed to be both very old and famous. One of her titles was 'Mistress of Pe and Dep'. It was believed that even at early times, the Egyptians linked Wadjet with Isis and the god Horus, and that both of these deities were also worshipped in the town of Per-Wadjet, which was divided into two parts - Pe and Dep:

... Pe-Dep was a city with two distinct divisions, in one of which Wadjet-Isis was worshipped, and in the other Horus, and that Horus dwelt in Pe, and Wadjet-Isis in Dep.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 2003, The Gods of the Egyptians: Volume 1, pp. 442

Wadjet wearing the Red Crown and Nekhbet wearing the White Crown, blessing the Pharaoh

From local goddess of a predynastic town to the goddess of Lower Egypt, Wadjet became one of the symbols of Egypt. From the personal protector of the pharaoh and she who bestowed the red crown to the pharaoh, she also became the symbol of rulership. From the deity of papyrus and the Delta to the 'Eye of Ra', she took on the role of protector of the ruler. Wadjet was worshipped as a goddess as well as being the personification of the north, and the cobra goddess was one half of the concept of duality made manifest, Nekhbet making the whole. She was known as one who upheld ma'at: "which the goddess Wadjet worketh". She was one part of the land of Egypt itself.


Further Information about Wadjet


Video of Wadjet

A video filled with images of the goddess Wadjet (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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