"The vulture is a prime example of the lesson of life, death and rebirth. It may be a scavenger, but by cleaning up after death, it prevents disease from infecting other animals and the environment. It thus sustains life and enables rebirth".
`Ted Andrews, Animal Speak
In contemporary western society the vulture has become a symbol of the dirty, vile, ugly and of those who prey on the weakness of others. The vulture, however, has been a powerful symbol and totem for a myriad of cultures throught ancient history. in fact, the scientific name of the Turkey Vulture is Cathartes Aura which mean "Golden Purifier". Ignorance of the cycles of natural world, death &decay, and predator-prey relationship have contributed to this misaligned perception of the vulture in the modern world.
The first recorded instance of a vulture in ancient mythology/religion is the Stele of Vultures designed in Tello, Iraq [Early dynastic III Period (2600 - 2350 BCE ) ] of the Assyrian culture.
The vulture is a very important symbol in the Egyptian culture.
Nekhbet was the vulture goddesses and the protector of childbirth.
The goddesses of truth Maat is depicted holding a vuture feather, outstretched.
In the Pyramid Texts Isis is identified with the vulture. The dead had to know the mysterious utterances of Isis which endowed them with life: 'possession of the vulture's prayer will be a blessing to you in the land of a thousand fields'.
There is a sculptural relief depicting Isis with a vulture offering her breast to Horus at Isis' Temple of Philae. The collection of symbols associated with Isis in this relief represents the eternal feminine - a personification of the birth process throughout the universe.
If the vulture is seated upon a basket, or hamper it is symbolic of conception within the womb.
In the Greco-Roman tradition the vulture was also a prominent symol and was known as The Bird of Augury (the practice of interpreting omens in nature). The vulture was sacred to both Apollo and Mars.
According to mythology twin brothers Remus & Romulus founded the city of Rome upon the spot were it is said that the two bothers witnessed an omen: Remus saw six vultures and Romulus saw twelve vultures.
The Greeks believed the vulture to be descended from the Griffon, a mythical creature usually depicted as an amalgam of two different animals. These fanicful combinations were symbolic of the universal law of polarity: spirit/matter; night/day; earth/heaven/...etc. The vulture straddles the polarity life and death consuming that which is dead so that new life may live again. It is nature's mortician who silently disposes of the dead so that the living can focus on life.
There is even a species of vulture named after the Griffon.
The Bambara Tribe of Mali, Africa have a grade of mystical initation known as the "Vultures"
"The Kore Vulture is an initiate, who is dead to the profane world and who, cleaned and scorched by the ordeals of initation has penetrated the wisdom of the god head, IN public appearances of his cofraternity, he takes the clown part or more especially, that of the child, for he is in fact new-born or rather reborn, but into the transcendental realms of god whose wisdom seems to the eyes of the profane, like folly or innocence. Like a baby he crawls on the ground, eating whatever he finds, even including his own excrement. This is because he as conquered earthly death and has the power to translate filth into philosophers" (1074 PDS).
Tibetan Sky burial
(Tibetan: བྱ་གཏོར་, w bya gtor), lit. ”alms for the birds” is a funerary practice in the Chinese provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia and in Mongolia proper wherein a human corpse is incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements (mahabhuta) and animals – especially predatory birds. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the Vajrayana traditions as charnel grounds.
The majority of Tibetans and many Mongolians adhere to Vajrayana Buddhism, which teaches the transmigration of spirits. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it or nature may cause it to decompose. The function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains in as generous a way as possible (the source of the practice’s Tibetan name). In much of Tibet and Qinghai, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials were typically more practical than the traditional Buddhist practice of cremation. In the past, cremation was limited to high lamas and some other dignitaries, but modern technology and difficulties with sky burial have led to its increasing use by commoners.
The vulture as a symbol can also be found in the alchemical tradition.
According to ted Andrews:
"In alchemy, the vulture was a symol of sublimation...a sign of confirmation of a new relationship between the volatile aspects of life and the fixed, the pyhsic energies and the cosmic forces. It was a promise that the suffering of the immediate was temporary and necessary for a higher purpose was at work, even if not understood at the time. It reflects that no matter how difficult the life conditions rescue is as imminent in your life as was the rescue of Prometheus by Hercules" (205).
The vulture has the ability to soar and glide for long periods of time (up to two hours ) with a few flaps of it's magnificent wings. It is able to achieve this by utilizing thermal updrafts, pockets of rising heat in the air. In Animal Speak, author Ted Andrews explains that this ability to soar is extremely symbolic and an important lesson for those with the vulture totem:
"The vulture denies the material. It's ability to float, rise and soar has been seen as a symbol of movement away from the mundane. It is a symbol of the distributing one's energy so that gravity does not weigh and hole one down - be it the actual gravity of the earth or the gravity of mundane situations and experiences".
The vulture is considered a predatory bird, but it must rely on other predators to do the actually killing. The beak, and talons are only suitable for ripping and tearing. The vulture is bilogically suited t its position as a scavengar of corpses. Most notably its digestive system can safely handle the digestion of bacteria laden decompsing flesh that would kill other animals and birds. Additionally, the vulture often urinates on its own legs to kill bacteria from walking among animal corpses. If the vulture is your animal totem attention should be placed on your digestive and eliminative systems, as well as taking care to flush toxins from the body.
Lessons of Vulture Medicine
Purification ~ Death & Rebirth ~ New Vision ~ Never-Ending Vigilance ~ Guardian of Mysteries
1. Acting without talking; doing rather than talking about doing
2. Efficent and powerful use of energy
3. "death" and purification as a necessity for rebirth
4. The two-fold importance of the sense of smell. First, cultivating the ability to "sniff" out when something is not right. Secondly, using aromatherapy as a holistic health technique.
5. Sublimation to cosmic forces & laws
6. The young do not learn to fly, or leave the nest for three months. Three is a sacred number in mystical/occult knowledge representative of rebirth, resurrection, and magic/creativity.
Those with the vulture as a totem may need a period of three months to resurect from their symbolic death and be reborn anew to soar on the thermal updrafts of their awakened internal SUN.
"Although homely in appearance when just standing, in flight these raptors are magnificent specimens. They soar with a grace and an ease that is thrilling for those with this totem, it speaks of a coming time when you will be noticed more for what you do than how you appear" (203, Animal-Speak).
Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews
Nature Speak, by Ted Andrews
The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols