V is for Vulture
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
The vulture is the king of birds much like the lion is the king of beasts in West Africa. Fene-Ma-So is the god over all those vultures. The lack of feathers on the vulture’s head seemed to be a lack of this crown though I certainly respect what the vulture stands for in many cultures.
In fact, the Assyrian and Persian armies used the image of the vulture for royalty. The head of the vulture was part of the pharaoh’s headpiece of the Upper Egypt area. The vulture represented the goddess Nekhbet, over childbirth. Many people see the vulture always associated with death though birth and life could also come from that image.
Zoroastrians as well as Tibetan Buddhists have used “sky burials” where dead bodies are placed on top of mounds or a special spot outside and the vultures dispose of the body. This allows for death to be transformed into life.
The Greeks also had harpies that had the body of vultures and the head and breast of women.
Several gods and goddesses have used the vulture or honored the vulture besides Fene-Ma-So and Nekhbet: Athena (Greek goddess of wisdom), Buto (Egyptian snake goddess), Hathor (Egyptian goddess of love), Isis (Egyptian goddess of life and healing), Juno (Roman goddess of the goddesses), Mut(Egyptian sky goddess), Nasr (Middle Eastern vulture/eagle god), Neith (Egyptian goddess of war), Osiris (Egyptian god of underworld), and Saturn (Roman god like Greek Cronus). Most of the deities associated with vultures were female. In Egypt, the vulture connected more with females while the scarab connected more with males. Both were important with royalty.
The vulture did not receive high status in the Native American lore. Sometimes vultures and buzzards were lumped together in their meanings. Vulture and eagles are also interchanged such as with the Prometheus story.
For the Greeks, a vulture claw could detect poison. The claws and sharp beak of a certain vulture ate the liver of Prometheus. The vulture was honored by Prometheus and the gods purposely chose his own bird to punish him for eternity until Hercules came along and killed the vulture. This part of the story is often forgotten in that story.
Stories that feature a vulture:
- “The Blind Vulture,” Indian tale of Hitopadesha Collection, a blind vulture is cared for by other kinds of birds as he is old and so the vulture offers to care for their little ones while they hunt though there is a cat who wants to take advantage
- “Urubutsin and the Stealing of Fire,” Amazon/Brazilian tale, two brothers hide in a corpse to come upon the vulture god Urubutsin to steal fire and light from this god who is over that gift
- “Hercules and the Fourth Labor,” while needing to capture the Erymanthian Boar, Hercules had Chiron, a friend touched by one of the poisoned arrows in Hercules possession, when then wishes to take the place of Prometheus whose liver is eaten every day by a vulture
What stories do you know that feature a vulture? A buzzard? A deity that uses or is much like a vulture? Please comment below and share with others.
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