Nehebkau “Guardian of Souls God” was the primordial snake god in ancient Egyptian mythology. Although originally considered an evil spirit, he later functions as a funerary god associated with the afterlife. As one of the forty-two assessors of Ma’at, Nehebkau was believed to judge the deceased after death and provide their souls with ka – the part of the soul that distinguished the living from the dead. Nehebkau was ultimately considered a powerful, benevolent and protective deity. In late mythology, he is described as a companion of the sun god Re and an attendant of the deceased King. As he is so closely associated with the sun god, his name was evoked in magical spells for protection. His festival was widely celebrated throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms.
Mythology Nehebkau is the “original snake” of Egyptian mythology and was believed to be both an ancient and eternal god. Although he is occasionally represented as a son of Serket, Renenutet or Geb, he is sometimes believed to have simply “emerged from the earth”. He was believed to have lived in the Great Temple of Heliopolis, which was also the centre of worship for Re and Atum. Nehebkau is a considerably powerful deity, which contemporary Egyptologist and author Richard Wilkinson credits to his demonic origins and snake-like qualities. After he swallows seven cobras in a myth, Nehebkau cannot be harmed by any magic, fire or water.
Roles As a funerary god and one of the forty-two judges in the Court of Maat, Nehebkau played a significant role in the Ancient Egyptian perception of the afterlife. As well as guarding the underworld, he was occasionally represented as a personal guard of Osiris. When a deceased spirit enters the afterlife in Ancient Egyptian mythology, the most important stage is their trial in the Court of Maat, also known as the Law-Court of Osiris or the Dead Court. This tribunal consisted of forty-two fearsome deities who represented all possible types of evil, and to whom the deceased had to declare their innocence. Nehebkau had a specific role in examining the individual’s purity and sinlessness, and he was specifically responsible for protecting the neck and throat of the deceased.