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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 said to be the daughter of the sky goddess, Nut, and the earth god, Geb. Her sister was Isis. Some Late Period myths describe her as a companion of Set, and at this period it was thought that together they 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 into 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.
She was also tasked with protecting the tomb of the deceased, and so it was common to place statuettes of Nephthys in the tomb to protect both the coffin and the canopic jars, where some of the tomb owner’s organs were stored. Although she was specifically the guardian of the Canopic jar of Hapi, where the lungs were kept, Nephthys embraces the container where all the Canopic jars were stored in the tomb of Tutankhamun.
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 marsh. 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, protectress, 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 is portrayed as a benevolent goddess who disapproves of Set’s malicious plans.
Symbolic Meanings 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 marsh.
- Nephthys was a symbol of mummification and embalming. 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 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.