Wadjet Goddess of Ancient Egypt: Origin Story, Meaning, Symbols & Eye
Shown as a cobra curled around a papyrus stem, Wadjet, also known as Buto, Edjo, or Wadjit, is the ancient Egyptian goddess of protection. She was predominantly worshiped in Lower Egypt, serving in the pantheon as the protector goddess of the region. Along with Nekhbet, the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, the goddess Wadjet was revered as the joint protector of Egyptian kings.
Continue reading to learn more about famous myths and facts surrounding the meaning, symbols, powers and eye of Wadjet goddess.
Wadjet’s Origin Story
Wadjet’s worship started in a local area called Per-Wadjet (Buto); however, over time, she became the patron deity of the whole of Lower Egypt. By the Old Kingdom Era, Wadjet perfectly embodied the affairs of Lower Egypt. Around this same time, her sister, the vulture goddess Nekhbet, was worshiped as the patron and protector goddess of Upper Egypt. Thus Wadjet and Nekhbet came to be the tutelary deities of the whole Egypt.
With regard to the family of Wadjet, another myth states that she was the daughter of the sun god Ra (or Atum). In that myth, her father sends her, in the the personification of his “eye”, to find the goddess Tefnut (moisture) and the god Shu (air). Wadjet successfully brings the two gods from the waters of Nun (a primordial water that existed before creation). Ra was so pleased with Wadjet’s work that he bestowed an enormous honor upon her. He commanded her to be beside him in the form of cobra in order to keep him safe.
According to some ancient Egyptian beliefs, the goddess Wadjet took fellow Lower Egypt deity, Hapi, as her consort. Hapi is the ancient Egyptian god of water and fertility. According to another myth, she was associated with Set or Ptah. The latter is the god of creation and craftsmen.
Role of Wadjet in ancient Egyptian mythology and religion
Wadjet was a very important deity in ancient Egypt, particularly in Lower Egypt where she was revered as the protector goddess. She maintained this role of hers long after the unification of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt. Wadjet and the vulture goddess Nekhbet became the protector deities of all of Egypt following the unification.
Wadjet’s protection also extended beyond the Egyptian ruler and his/her household. It was believed that the goddess protected women, particularly those in childbirth. This was evident when she offered her protection to the goddess Isis and the infant god Horus. Wadjet kept the mother and child safe in the Nile Delta. This kept them away from the evil actions of Horus’ uncle Set, the god of destruction and chaos.
Wadjet’s Uraeus symbol
As a tutelary deity of Lower Egypt, Wadjet was often depicted with the sun disk that has a rearing cobra. Known as the uraeus, the symbol has the image of Nekhbet, making it a representation of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, The uraeus was used to show royalty, sovereignty and divinity of the Egyptian ruler. By combining protector deities of Lower and Upper Egypt, the king was communicating his complete sovereignty over all of Egypt.
Importance of the Uraeus
Ancient Egyptians believed that the Uraeus symbol kept the pharaoh safe by spitting out fire on those that attempted to harm the king. Therefore, the Uraeus symbol (the eye of Wadjet) plays a similar role as the ancient Egyptian symbol the eye of Ra.
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Per-Wadjet – the goddess Wadjet’s most famous worship place
Located about 95 km east of the Nile Delta, Per-Wadjet (known in Greek as Buto) was an ancient Egyptian city famous for the worship of the goddess Wadjet.
Per-Wadjet, a city that originally merged with the cities of Pe and Dep, had very famous temples, including an oracle, dedicated to Wadjet. However, deities like Bast, the cat goddess, and Horus, the sky god, had some number of places of worship at Per-Wadjet.
According to some accounts, the goddess Wadjet watched over the infant Horus while Horus’ mother Isis searched for her husband’s (Osiris) dismembered body.
Wadjet Goddess and the sanctuary of Horus
In the ancient Egyptian city of Per-Wadjet, worshipers of Wadjet had a sanctuary of Horus, the falcon-headed god of the sun. Wadjet’s close association with Horus stems from the helping hand she gave to Horus and his mother. Because ancient Egyptians regarded their pharaohs as the physical manifestation of Horus, Wadjet became the protector of the pharaohs.
Wadjet and Nekhbet
Nekhbet was one of the most frequently mentioned Egyptian deities that was generally associated with the goddess Nekhbet.
While Wadjet was the protector and matron goddess of Lower Egypt, Nekhbet served as the patron goddess of Upper Egypt. The two deities were patron deities of all of a unified ancient Egypt.
Wadjet and Nekhbet later became known as the ‘Two Ladies’ in the Egyptian pantheon. The symbols of the two deities are what formed the Uraeus, an important cobra image used by ancient Egyptian pharaohs that ruled over all of Egypt.
Why didn’t Wadjet merge with Nekhbet?
Following the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, it was common phenomenon for deities from the Upper and Lower Egypt to merge if they had similar roles and identities. Why didn’t Wadjet merge with Nekhbet?
Wadjet, the patron deity of Lower Egypt, did not merge with Nekhbet, the patron deity of Upper Egypt. It’s been stated that the reason they did not merge was due to how culturally important both deities were to their respective regions.
What was Wadjet often represented as?
Without any doubt, the cobra was the commonest symbol of the goddess Wadjet. That symbol is evident in the Uraeus, a depiction of Wadjet and the sun disk.
In terms of appearance, the goddess was shown as a snake-headed woman with the ankh (the ancient Egyptian symbol of life). On some occasions she was depicted as a snake, particularly a cobra which many Egyptians believed was anything but venomous.
There are also some depictions of Wadjet that show her with two snake heads. Other times, she was shown as a woman with a snake’s head.
The Uraeus symbol, a cobra coiled around the goddess’ body, was a common feature of depictions of the Egyptian goddess Wadjet.
To symbolize her protection of the pharaoh, the cobra was shown in art works coiled around the head of the pharaoh or another Egyptian god, for example the sun god Ra or the sky god Horus.
The Predynastic era (before 3100 BC) depiction of Wadget coiled around a papyrus stem later influenced religious images not just in Egypt but also around the Mediterranean. Some scholars have stated that Greek god Hermes staff (i.e. the caduceus), which has two snakes curled around a staff, may have been borrowed from the symbolism of Wadjet and the Uraeus.
The Wadjet Eye
Similar to the Eye of Ra or the Eye of Horus, the Wadjet Eye was believed to grant the wearer the protection of the goddess Wadjet. It’s been stated the eye of Wadjet kept the individual safe both in the land of the living and the land of dead. The latter explains why amulets of the Wadjet Eye were placed on the body of the deceased. It, therefore, became a symbol of not just protection but for rebirth or regeneration.
In some cases, the Wadjet Eye was seen as the healed eye of the falcon god Horus. According to the myths, Horus’ eye was plucked out or injured by his evil uncle Set, the god of chaos and the desert regions. The eye was later restored by Thoth, god of wisdom, time and knowledge. Horus’ restored eye thus became the Wadjet Eye.
Wadjet and the Eye of Ra
Wadjet, along with deities such as Bast, Sekhmet, Tefnut, and Hathor, received the title “Eye of Ra”. This allowed her to protect her father, sun god Ra, as well to avenge her father.
As the “Eye of Ra”, Wadjet was sometimes depicted as a lion-headed deity with a sun disk and cobra atop her head.
Together with the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, Nekhbet, Wadjet was known as the “Two Ladies”. She also had the epithet the “Lady of Imet”. This stems from her worship place at Imet in the Nile Delta. At Imet, Wadjet, Horus and the fertility god Min formed the triad of Imet.
Meaning of Wadjet
The goddess’ name evokes a meaning of protection as she was the patron goddess and protector of Lower Egypt. This explains why she was often times depicted wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt.
Other Major Facts about Wadjet
Below, we have put together 9 important facts about Wadjet:
- Unlike deities like Nephthys, Wadjet’s sphere of influence was mainly in the land of the living. It was said that her abode was in the Nile Delta region.
- The interpretation of Egyptian Zodiac sign Wadjet says that the individual is cautious and maintains a level head in all actions.
- She is one of the oldest Egyptian gods as her myths go back to the Predynastic Era (before 3100 BC).
- In some myths (according to the Pyramid Texts), it was said that she was the deity who created the papyrus plant. This explains why a cobra is shown coiled around a papyrus plant.
- Over time, her function and identity came to be incorporated into the role of Bast (Bastet) and later Mut, the mother goddess of ancient Egypt.
- Another popular epithet of Wadjet was the “Green One”
- To the ancient Greeks, Wadjet was known as Uto or Buto. The Greeks developed this name during the Ptolemaic Era (305 BC – 30 BC).
- Wadjet was a deity of an ancient city called Dep. That city later became part of the ancient Egyptian city Per Wadjet. The name translates to “House of Wadjet”.
- She is generally considered as one of the earliest ancient Egyptian deities.