IARET
Cobra


   That image which is for us the stuff of nightmare and fascination—the cobra rearing up and spreading its hood (the cobra in this pose is called a "uraeus")—was a rich and widespread symbol for the Egyptians. Since the principle goddess of Lower (northern) Egypt was the serpent-goddess, Wadjet, the rearing cobra, just as the shrine to Wadjat, Per-nu, symbolized the whole of Upper Egypt. But the uraeus symbolized many other things: other gods, the sun itself, and the body and spirit of the king. The uraeus accompanies the sun-god Re in his journey both in this world and the Underworld; in this capacity, the cobra's function is to protect Re from his enemies. As a result, one of the principle symbols of the sun is a solar disk with a uraeus protruding from the lower end of the disk, as you can see in the solar disk atop Re's head in our picture. In later Egypt, uraei actually tow the solar barque through the Underworld. This particular function of the cobra eventually gave it the general symbolic meaning of "protection."

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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 4-8-97