Snakes and Egyptian Gods

ancient blur close up egyptian

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The most venomous of the naja cobras, the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is not afraid of people. She enters their houses and gardens at will. Hunting at night, the Egyptian cobra looks for a tasty rat or toad for her meal.

One of the largest cobras in Africa, the Egyptian cobra has a wide hood and a full-bodied build. Unlike other cobras, She has neither the distinctive eye spots nor does She spit. Said to be relatively docile, the Egyptian cobra is often the choice of snake charmers and pet owners.

Ranging from North Africa to the Congo River Basin, the Egyptian cobra prefers to be near water. She can be found in water ditches near fields, where She hunt for vermin. In fact, people have reported seeing the Egyptian cobra swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.

The snake whose bite is supposed to have killed Cleopatra was called the “asp.” (Venomous snakes in antiquity were usually referred to as “asp,” regardless of their species.) Since asps do not live in North Africa, the snake is believed to be the Egyptian cobra. Nobody really knows for sure. Adding to the mystery is that the venom of this cobra is deadly but slow acting.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh’s crown featured the Uraeus, which was a striking cobra. This particular cobra is thought to be the Eye of Ra. As the Eye, this Goddess is Ra’s Daughter and Protector. With her fiery glance, the Eye of Ra destroys the enemies of Ra (and hence the Pharaoh, who is Ra’s representative). Meanwhile, her tears create life.

In addition, the Egyptians have other important Cobra Goddesses. Wadjet of the Marshes is the Protector and Guardian of Lower Egypt. As one of the “Two Ladies,” Wadjet, with Nekhbet, the White Vulture of Upper Egypt, are the joint protectors of United Egypt. Wadjet is also thought to be represented by the Uraeus, which is also the crown of Lower Egypt.

Meanwhile, Renenutet of the Cornfields is the “Nourishing Snake.” She guards the fields and granaries to ensure a good harvest. As the Lady of the Granaries, Renenutet protects the crops and is the mother of the Corn God, Neper. In the Underworld, She feeds and watches over the Pharaoh.

Meretseger of the Desert Hills watches over the tombs of the Pharaohs. Her mountain in Thebes is one of the entrances to the Egyptian Underworld. She and her cobras guard the Twelve Gates of the Underworld. Spitting fire, They punish evil souls.

The Egyptian cobra imbues power. As She defended the Pharaoh and Egypt, She did so with her own power. Like all snakes, the Egyptian cobra is to be respected instead of feared.

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