Through a Jungian Lens

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Nekhbet – Vulture Symbolism

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Black Vulture in Corozal, Belize - February 2013

Black Vulture in Corozal, Belize – February 2013

I took this photo a few days ago, late in the afternoon, a chance photo. I know that I wrote before about the Black Vulture, but I find that I have more to say. As I searched back into the symbolism of the vulture, I found Nekhbet, a primal goddess from ancient Egypt.

References in the Pyramid Texts (from the Fifth Dynasty) confirm that Nekhbet was also considered to be a creator goddess with the epithet “Father of Fathers, Mother of Mothers, who has existed from the beginning, and is Creator of this World”. [Ancient Egypt Online, Nekhbet]

It is amazing how things appear if front of one’s eyes. I have recently been writing about creation myths and had not found this reference, one that has a symbol of male and female, masculine and feminine, united in a unity like some holy marriage of body and spirit. But of course, I had to keep looking for more.

I want to put the rest of this post in context. I am in Mayan country. Not too distant from where I am writing this post are the Mayan ruins of Cerros, pre-classical Mayan ruin.

The Black Vulture appears in a variety of Maya hieroglyphics in Mayan codices. It is normally connected with either death or as a bird of prey. The vulture’s glyph is often shown attacking humans.” [Wikipedia, Black Vulture]

Vultures feed on death, on carrion, on shit. They somehow transform that which is putrid and gross into something of value. Here I am thinking in alchemic terms, the turning of base material into precious material. As I put the idea of alchemy together with the union of opposites (masculine and feminine) there is no doubt in my mind that the vulture is a worthy symbol of individuation.  Now, for a bit more on the vulture:

“Vultures have been called masters of two disciplines: soaring and sanitation (Dunne et al. 1988:136). In towns, villages, and rural communities where there is no modern plumbing or garbage disposal, they provide the only sanitation services. “They eat anything, but especially they like the shit,” observed a worker in a slaughterhouse in Guatemala, who also noted that the vultures showed up only on Thursdays and Saturdays, the two days of slaughter (Maslow 1986:200). The black vulture particularly tends to live close to humans and their waste. Vultures lack feathers around their heads and legs, where they have contact with carrion and feces, so the ultraviolet rays of the sun come down directly on their flesh, discouraging bacteria and parasites. Vultures spread their wings after feeding and the sun disinfects them. Their digestive system is so remarkable that the ejecta may kill germs. Moreover, vultures make the environment healthy (see Reichel-Dolmatoff 1985, II:132; Salinas Pedraza and Bernard 1978:132). They turn the vile into something white that glistens in the sun. In a Chorti Maya narrative, the black vulture is a mason with lime on his apron (Fought 1972:180-181). He boasts that he can make lime and that the white houses in the town look beautiful and he alone has plastered them. Vultures make dark things bright. They are associated not only with death b” ut with transformation of the dead.” [Benson, The Vulture: The Sky and the Earth]


Written by Robert G. Longpré

February 8, 2013 at 10:46 am

2 Responses

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  1. I did not know this; I learned something there; thank you.
    Often I read your entries and delight in the ‘refresher’ course therein, but I like these types of entries more viz. when i encounter something novel. cool beans.


    February 8, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    • Every once in a rare while I find the means to write something of value. Thanks good doctor. 🙂 PS Enjoy Mexico.


      February 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm

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