Birds served a variety of roles in Egyptian mythology; the Nile valley was rife with all sizes and shapes of wings. Flocks of migratory birds could lay waste to fields and orchards, consuming the crops, so netting swarms of birds in art or act could be symbolic of ma’at (rightness) conquering isfet (uncreation) or of ancient Egyptians defeating foreign invaders. Depictions of imprisoned enemies at Kom Ombo included captured flocks, and the swallow was a hieroglyph frequently used to write the names of undesirable things.
But Kemetic myths are also populated with solar hawks, maternal vultures, a wise ibis, and a great goose Who brought the world into being. The eternal soul, the ba, is shown as a human-headed bird. And, far from least, is the subject of today’s post: kites and the goddesses Who took on their form, Nebt-het (Nephthys) and Aset (Isis).
Nebt-het (left) and Aset (right)
Red kites, which are my best guess at the particular species of kite that Nebt-het and Aset are depicted as, are medium-sized raptors with forked tails and an amiability to both live prey (from rabbits to earthworms) and carrion. They have a high, thin cry, which relate them neatly to Nebt-het and Aset when They were mourning Wesir (Osiris), the dead god. In searching out Wesir’s body after He was killed, Aset was the one Who sought, and Nebt-het was the one Who found, aloft on swift wings with long-reaching eyes.
So kites became symbols of grief, of loss—and of finding again. Wesir rose up when Nebt-het and Aset recovered His body and restored His limbs, and though He was never “alive” again, not like the rest of the Netjeru, He was not wholly undone and vanquished. Kites, with their shrill calls, took in both living and dead sustenance to survive, and so Nebt-het and Aset are Netjeru with a hand extended towards Their dead lord and the blessed dead that He caretakes… and a hand extended towards the living gods and we living mortals.
- Egyptian Mythology (Geraldine Pinch)
- Nebt-het: Lady of the House (Tamara Siuda)
Last year’s first K post was on Khepri, Khepera, Kheperu.