Nephthys is one of the most famous Egyptian goddesses known for being ruthless, caring and ever-giving at the same time. Nephthys helped Isis put together the dismembered body of Osiris; her story is truly one of a kind. She was the sister-wife of Set, mother of Anubis, and so much more.
In this article, we bring you an in-depth analysis of Nephthys, her origin, powers, and relationships with her siblings.
Who Is Nephthys in Egyptian Mythology?
Goddess Nephthys is one of the four children of two important Egyptian deities. She is most famously known as the goddess of the air but also of the dead.
Her life events and stories have greatly influenced ancient and even modern Egyptian culture. To understand the role of Nephthys in Egyptian history and culture, we must first take a look at the Egyptian mythologies that governed the ancient Egyptian people to their core.
Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
The ancient Egyptians are regarded as one of the most religious people of the ancient world. From the very beginning of Egyptian culture, the Egyptians believed in many gods and goddesses, who were not fully human. They were mostly half-human and half-animal, and they were believed to have extraordinary powers with which they used to govern and care for the Egyptian people.
According to historians, the Egyptian religion has a pantheon of gods and goddesses that descended from the first Egyptian god, Atum. Atum created himself and then gave birth to all the other gods and goddesses. Among them, some deities were known to be ultimate and left an everlasting mark on Egyptian mythology.
Even though these gods and goddesses were celestial and did not live on Earth, many of their life events and feelings resembled the common people’s. The ancient scriptures and tablets narrate the stories of the Egyptian pantheon.
We can see love, hate, care, jealousy, spite, revenge and almost every common human feeling amongst these gods and goddesses. Maybe this is one of the reasons that the people felt close to these deities, because they could relate to their feelings and doings.
Osiris: The Most Popular Egyptian God
The most famous era of Egyptian mythology is the era of Osiris. Osiris was the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life and vegetation. He was widely famous in all of ancient Egypt, and every Egyptian religion was incomplete without a firm belief in Osiris and his powers. Nephthys was the sister of Osiris.
Egyptian god Nephthys is the daughter of the famous god, Geb, and the goddess Nut. Geb was the god of the Earth and Nut was the god of the Sky. Together, they bore two gods and two goddesses named Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys. They are the most famous group of siblings in Egyptian mythology, with each sibling having many unique powers.
Atum, the first god, gave these siblings the task of maintaining the world and its affairs, and Osiris was given the task of ruling over every living thing on Earth.
Nephthys, daughter of Nut, is one of the earliest gods of Egypt as she was part of the Ennead of Heliopolis, a tribunal of nine deities of immense power. She was immensely worshipped in Egyptian temples from the Predynastic period (6000 – 3150 BCE) until the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323 – 30 BCE). This shows her great popularity in Egyptian culture. She was a major Egyptian deity until the advent of Christianity and Islam in Egypt.
Nephthys: Name and Symbolism
The name Nephthys is the Latin version of the original Egyptian name “Nebthwt” (also known as Nebet-het and Nebt-het). In Egyptian theology, Nebthwt means Mistress of the House or Lady of the Temple Enclosure. Here, the house or the temple do not mean what they literally stand for. Nephthys was the mistress of the sky, the heavens, and the hells, as she was the god of air.
In ancient Egyptian scriptures and tablets, Nephthys is symbolized as a woman with wings or a kite. In many places, she is portrayed as a hawk or a falcon. In hieroglyphs, she is portrayed as a beautiful young woman, wearing a headdress in the shape of a house and basket. These symbols depict Nephthys’ many powers, attributes and faces.
Nephthys: Characteristics and Associations
Nephthys is most famously known as the god of the air, after being born through the gods of the Earth and the sky, Geb and Nut.
Here are some of the most important titles given to Nephthys:
- Goddess of Air
- Mistress of the House
- Lady of the Temple
- Protectress of the Dead
- Goddess of Mourning
- Goddess of Darkness
- Goddess of Mortuary (embalming)
- Goddess of Incarnation
- Goddess of Birth
Nephthys is widely associated with deaths and funerary rituals, and she is known to be the only goddess who was nice to the dead. She took care of them and helped them in the afterlife.
Almost all Egyptian death cults name Nephthys as their one true god. Interestingly, in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, the image of Nephthys was found right beside his canopic vessels.
She was also associated with embalming and mummifying the dead. In many instances in the later scriptures of the Pharaohs, Nephthys is shown as a huge figure with open wings. These wings were spread out above the dead when they were undergoing embalming and the mummification process.
Hawks of Nephthys
In ancient Egypt, there was a tradition of inviting professional mourners in the event of someone’s death or great loss. These mourners were called Hawks of Nephthys as Nephthys was the Goddess of Mourning.
Nephthys was fairly scary and was feared most of the time, hence the title of Goddess of Darkness. She did not spare anyone who did wrong by her, and she is known to always take full revenge, not one to give second chances.
The most important character of Nephthys is probably her ability to perform incarnations. Nephthys helped Isis in incarnating Osiris after Set murdered him and dismembered his body into many pieces (an interesting tale we will discuss later in the article). If Nephthys had not helped Isis, Set would have won and the course of Egyptian mythology and its gods would have been very different.
Goddess of Birth
Lastly, Nephthys is also known as the Goddess of Birth because she gave birth to Anubis, the god of death. Because she gave birth to a great god, she was bestowed with the title of the Goddess of Birth.
Nephthys and her many avatars made her one of the most famous goddesses not just in Egyptian mythology but throughout the world. Many non-Egyptian religious cults also pay her respects and homages due to her versatility and powers. She was also very famous because of her associations with Isis, Osiris, Set and Anubis.
Nephthys and Isis
Nephthys and Isis were both sisters and looked exactly alike. They were only identified as themselves by their unique headdresses, otherwise, no one could tell them apart.
It is also said that Nephthys was the mirror image of Isis in powers too, in the sense that Isis was light while Nephthys was darkness. Their sisterly love grew even stronger when they worked together to bring their brother Osiris, also the husband of Isis, back to life.
At the festival of Osiris, the most famous Egyptian festival, Isis and Nephthys are portrayed as two virgins reading the “Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys.” These Lamentations are the words that Isis and Nephthys read while incarnating Osiris. These lines later became part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and were recited religiously during funeral services.
Isis was the sister-wife of Osiris and Nephthys was the sister-wife of Set. Even though Nephthys was unique in her way and a good sister to Isis, many deities tried to put them against each other. When Osiris and Isis bore Horus, Nephthys fed Horus her milk and took care of Horus like her own son. She was a caring goddess with much regard for her siblings and their children.
Nephthys was married to Set, who killed Osiris out of sheer jealousy. He wanted to be the King of mankind like Osiris was. Even though she loved Set, Nephthys still helped Isis to bring their brother back to life.
Nephthys and Osiris
Nephthys and Osiris were siblings. She is most famously known for her role as a betrayer and then as a helper in the Osiris myth, which is the most famous tale in Egyptian mythology. She seduced Osiris and gave Set a justified reason for murdering their brother.
As the story of Nephthys won’t be complete without the Osiris myth, let us look at it in detail:
Osiris, sometimes also referred to as Usir, was the first child of Geb and Nut. He was considered the supreme Egyptian deity because Atum chose him as the king of mankind. He was also the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life and vegetation. He married his sister Isis and the couple was loved and worshipped immensely.
Osiris and Isis taught humans art and taught them the skills of agriculture and ways of living, making them well-loved among the people. On the other hand, the other sibling couple, Set and Nephthys, were not loved or worshipped as much. This made them jealous of Osiris and Isis.
Nephthys Seduces Osiris
Osiris was always nice to Nephthys because of many relations they both shared, but Nephthys betrayed him. After the evil deed, she felt really bad for being the reason her brother was killed. Isis came to Nephthys for help as she was the Goddess of Incarnation and the Dead. Nephthys helped Isis bring Osiris back.
She used magical spells to bring together his dismembered body and made him into one being again. Isis was eternally grateful to Nephthys. When Osiris woke up, he was first very angry at Nephthys as she had helped Set to kill him, but when Osiris discovered that she had helped Isis bring him back, he forgave her.
Nephthys and Seth
Set is one of the most evil gods in Egyptian mythology. He was the brother-husband of Nephthys, and this couple, along with their power and authority, were always overshadowed by Osiris and Isis as Atum chose Osiris to rule over mankind and the others were chosen to maintain life on Earth.
Osiris was surely a greater god than Set. Likewise, as Isis was the wife of Osiris, she received much more worship and praise than Nephthys ever did.
Jealousy took over Nephthys and Set so they set out to destroy their siblings Osiris and Isis. Nephthys seduced Osiris, giving Set a valid reason to murder Osiris, and this he did. He went a step further when he dismembered Osiris’ body into many pieces and hid them from Isis. Nephthys later helped Isis in the incarnation of Osiris and apologized to him.
Nephthys and Anubis
After Nephthys seduced Osiris, she found out that she was with child. In fear of Set finding out about the baby, she gave birth and hid him from Set.
Isis found out about the baby and found him after a great struggle, after which she became his ally and raised him as her own. The baby was named Anubis, the god of death.
According to some myths, Nephthys was considered barren and Anubis was the son of Isis and Osiris while Nephthys was only the nursing mother. But the more famous myth is that Anubis was the illegitimate son of Osiris and Nephthys. As Anubis was born out of jealousy and betrayal, his powers were also of the darker side: the god of death, mummification, embalming, the afterlife, cemeteries, tombs and the Underworld.
Nephthys and Ra
Ra was the god of all creations and the ultimate king of all deities, also known as the sun god. He governed the actions of the sun and could also physically transform into the sun and the day. This means that he was also the god of light because the sun is the ultimate source of light. As he was an elite god, he had enemies that wanted to destroy him and take his powers.
Even though Nephthys and Set played evil roles in the Osiris myth, the couple was bestowed with a very important duty: they were given the role of protecting the Sun god, Ra. Every night the sun god slept and the evil serpent Apophis set out to murder Ra so that the sun would not rise again. No sun meant no life on Earth.
So Nephthys and Set played a very important role in sustaining and protecting life on Earth. This was indeed a very big role, but Set and Nephthys were never given the same status as Osiris and Isis, to their great resentment
Legacy of Nephthys
Given the various characteristics and associations of Nephthys, ancient Egyptians erected many temples in her name, most of which were solely for worshipping her. Each temple was heavily decorated and bestowed with a huge statue of Nephthys. The common Egyptians were not permitted to see the actual statue, let alone worship in front of it, but the royalties and the priests and priestesses had full access to it.
Temples of Nephthys were present in every part of Egypt. Yearly festivals, sacrifices and donations were conducted at these temples to please their goddess Nephthys. She had become so famous that scriptures found from that time mention Nephthys alone at many places, without any relating context of Set, Isis or Osiris.
As Nephthys was the Goddess and the protector of the dead, she was very famous among many cults in ancient and later Egypt. She was painted near the mummies in the tombs in the hope that she would help the dead when they woke up. This practice was very widespread and was repeated by many famous Pharaohs. Nephthys was a very important deity of the Egyptian mythological pantheon and her legacy still lives on.
Nephthys was an important deity of ancient Egyptian mythology. She had an important role in the Osiris myth, but aside from that, she is also very well known for taking care of the dead in the afterlife.
- Nephthys is most famously known as the goddess of the air and the dead.
- She is the daughter of the famous Egyptian god Geb and the goddess Nut, and her brothers and sister were Osiris, Set and Isis.
- She was part of the Ennead of Heliopolis, a tribunal of nine deities of immense power.
- The name Nephthys is the Latin version of the original Egyptian name “Nebthwt,” which means Mistress of the House or Lady of the Temple Enclosure.
- Nephthys is symbolized as a woman with wings or a kite, as a hawk or a falcon, or as a beautiful young woman wearing a headdress in the shape of a house and basket.
- She gave birth to Anubis, the god of the dead.
- She is most famously known for her role as a betrayer and then as a helper in the Osiris myth, where she caused Set to kill Osiris then later helped Isis bring him back to life.
Nephthys’ powers, associations and characteristics are the reasons why even after thousands of years, she is still worshipped in some parts of Egypt. Knowing her life and actions makes us understand why her legacy continues to live on even now.