Nephthys – Egyptian Goddess of Darkness and Death

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In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys was a goddess of sunset, twilight, and death. Her name meant Lady of the Temple Enclosure. As a goddess of darkness, Nephthys had the power to reveal hidden objects by the light of the moon. Let’s take a closer look at Nephthys and her various roles in Egyptian mythology.

Origins of Nephthys

Nephthys was the daughter of the sky goddess, Nut, and the earth god, Geb. She was a companion of Set, and the sister of queen Isis. Nephthys and Set had Anubis, the lord and deity of the Underworld.

Nephthys as a Guardian of the Dead

Nephthys was a guardian and protector of the deceased. She transformed into a Kite to safeguard the dead from predators and evil spirits. When in the form of a Kite, Nephthys shrieked and wailed like a mourning woman to signal and symbolize death.  

Nephthys was called a friend of the dead as she aided deceased souls on their journey to the Afterlife. She also pacified living relatives and brought them news about their loved ones. 

Nephthys played a significant role in protecting and preserving the body of Osiris. By mummifying the king’s body, Nephthys and Isis were able to assist Osiris on his journey to the Underworld.

Nephthys is also said to have protected the canopic Jars of Hapi, and vessels of Tutankamun’s tomb.  

Nephthys and the Myth of Osiris

In several Egyptian myths, Nephthys caused the downfall and death of Osiris. By pretending to be her sister Isis, Nephthys seduced and bedded Osiris. When Nephthys’ companion, Set, found out about this affair, it triggered intense jealousy, and he strengthened his resolve to slay Osiris.  

Nephthys made up for this folly, by helping queen Isis after Osiris’ death, helping to gather his body parts and mourning for him. She guarded and protected Osiris’ body when Isis ventured to seek help. Nephthys also used her magical powers to help Osiris in his journey to the Underworld.

Nephthys as a Nurturer

Nephthys became the nursing mother of Horus, the heir of Osiris and Isis. She helped Isis nurse and raise Horus in a hidden and secluded forest. After Horus came of age, and ascended the throne, Nephthys became his chief counselor and the female head of the family.

Inspired by this myth, several Egyptian rulers made Nephthys their symbolic nursing mother, protector, and guide.

Nephthys and Ra

According to some Egyptian myths, Nephthys and Set protected the ship of Ra as it passed through the night sky each day. They defended Ra’s barge from Apophis, an evil serpent, who ventured to slay the sun god. Nephthys and Set defended Ra, in order for him to provide people with light and energy. 

Nephthys and Celebrations

Nephthys was a deity of festivals and celebrations. She had the power to grant permission to consume unlimited beer. As a beer goddess, she was offered various alcoholic beverages from the pharaoh himself. During festivities, Nephthys returned the beer to the pharaoh, and aided him in the prevention of hangovers.  

Nephthys in Popular Culture

Nephthys appears in the film Gods of Egypt as the wife and companion of Set. She’s portrayed as a benevolent goddess who disapproves of Set’s malicious plans.

In the game Age of Mythology and Age of Empires: Mythologies, Nephthys is depicted as a powerful goddess who can strengthen the priests and their healing abilities.

Symbolic Meanings of Nephthys

Symbolism of Nephthys
  • In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys symbolized feminine aspects such as nursing and nurturing. She was the nursing mother of Horus and raised him in a hidden forest.
  • Nephthys was a symbol of mummification and embalmment. She helped preserve the body of Osiris on his journey to the Underworld.
  • Nephthys was an emblem of protection, and she took on the form of a Kite to guard the bodies of the deceased.
  • In Egyptian culture, Nephthys represented celebration and festivities.  She was the goddess of beer and granted permission to the people for excessive drinking.

In Brief

In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys was mostly portrayed alongside Osiris and Isis. Despite this fact, she had distinct qualities of her own, and was venerated by the Egyptian people. Pharaohs and kings considered Nephthys as a powerful and magical goddess who could guide and protect them.