Nephthys, the goddess of death

NEPHTHYS

Would you like to know more about Nephthys, the protective goddess of the dead? Understand the myths and legends surrounding her? Or to find out about her symbols and objects of worship?

Passionate about the legends of ancient Egypt, our team has prepared an article for you so that you can discover everything about the myth of Nephthys.

Nephthys (or Nephthys), wife of Set, lover of Osiris, mother of Anubis and sister of Isis, is an inescapable goddess of Egyptian mythology. Her key role in the myth of Osiris places her among the most important goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The usefulness of Nephthyhs in Egyptian Mythology
  • Her role in the myth of Osiris
  • The cults dedicated to him in ancient Egypt

The story of the goddess Nephtyhs will soon have no more secrets for you.

I now invite you to follow us in this exciting tale!

1) Nephthys in ancient Egypt

In the time of ancient Egypt, Nephthys (or Nephthys according to the translations) was a goddess known to all. Nephthys played a crucial role for the Egyptians because of her usefulness and her importance in the cycle of life and death.

A) Who is Nephthys, the protective goddess of the dead?

Nephthys is a goddess in Egyptian mythology and is the guarantor of the protection of the dead. She is responsible for guarding the sarcophagi and the lungs of the dead. She is accompanied in her mission by Hâpi, the goddess who protects the lungs of the dead. Hâpi, depicted with a baboon head, is one of the four funerary geniuses. Hâpi, depicted with a baboon head, is one of the four funerary geniuses whose mission is to protect the organs of the deceased (such as heart, lungs, brain, etc.). In this task, Nephthys and Hâpi are complementary and inseparable: for Hâpi's powers to work, she must associate with another goddess, in this case Nephthys. Together they watch over the canopic vases containing the lungs of the deceased.

Nephthys, translated literally as "Mistress of the Castle", is a very popular goddess of ancient Egypt. She symbolises death, darkness, the invisible and the night. In some ancient texts she is even depicted as the goddess of divination and magic. Her name was given to the oldest woman in the Egyptian family.

Nephthys

Nephthys, represented here with a Was scepter, a falcon, and with his magic wings spread. As a descendant of Ra, she carries a solar disc on her head.

2) Nephthys, between myth and legend

Nephthys is part of the holy Ennead, composed of the nine gods from the sun god Ra. We find Ra (creator sun-god), Shu (god of air), Tefnut (god of humidity), Geb (god of the Earth), Nut (goddess of the Milky Way), Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys. In this part we will tell you about the role of Nephthys in the myth of Osiris, one of the most important legends of the polytheistic Egyptian religion.

A) Nephthys in the Osirian myth

Before starting to talk to you about the role of Nephthys in the myth of Osiris, it seems to me that a brief contextualization is necessary.

The first Egyptian God to appear is Ra, the Sun God. He is at the origin of all the gods including Nut (the goddess of Heaven) and Geb (the god of Earth). From their union, Nout and Geb gave birth to two daughters, Isis and Nephthys, and two sons, Osiris and Set. Nephthys took her brother Set as his husband, while Osiris married Isis.

The Osirian myth rests largely on the fraternal jealousy of Set towards Osiris. The various documentations dating from ancient Egypt draw a very laudatory portrait of Osiris placing him on a pedestal in relation to his brother. While Set represents Evil, Osiris will represent Good and success.

Two events in particular fuelled this jealousy:

- Firstly, Nephthys, bewitched by the presence of Osiris, disguised himself as Isis in order to charm him and have a child with him, as Set could not have one. From this adultery was born Anubis, illegitimate son of Osiris and Nephthys. The latter, fearing the anger of her husband Set, abandoned her child in the desert. It was finally Isis, afflicted by the unfortunate fate of the newborn, who found him and brought him up as her own child.

- According to the ancient texts, Osiris is a profoundly just and wise person. His father decided to appoint him as successor to the throne of Egypt at the expense of his brother, Set. Osiris therefore came to power and is represented as a benevolent and civilising king who succeeds in everything he undertakes.

All this arouses in Set a deep feeling of jealousy which leads him to murder his own brother.

This premeditated murder was perfectly orchestrated. At a banquet, Set promised to offer a priceless sarcophagus to the person who would be most comfortable in it. Cut to the size of Osiris, he was the only one who could fit inside it.

As soon as Osiris was inside, Set closed the lid and threw the coffin into the water, causing his brother to drown. After an attempt by Isis to bring the coffin back, Set cut his brother's body into fourteen separate pieces and scattered them throughout the kingdom. Set then seized power and thus became king of Egypt!

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However, Isis, accompanied by Nephthys and Anubis, went in search of the pieces of her husband's body and made every effort to find them. They succeeded in gathering all the pieces and putting them together. Using their powers, Isis and Nephthys brought Osiris back to life, showing the Egyptians that any form of renewal of life is possible.

But the story does not end there because Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, will seek to avenge his father and recover power.

B) The continuation of the myth of Osiris: The battle between Set and Horus for the throne of Egypt

Horus, being the son of Osiris, considers himself the legitimate heir to the throne of Egypt. But his uncle Set does not agree and wishes to keep his throne. They therefore asked the opinion of a divine jury composed of Ra (the god of the Sun), Thoth (the god of wisdom) and Shu (the deity of the air). But this divine advice is uncertain and the clash between Set and Horus became inevitable. The two protagonists faced each other in different trials to decide between them.

In the end it was Horus who won the approval of the three deities thanks to the help of his father, Osiris, who swung the verdict of the jurors in his favour. For Osiris, Set had no right to reign because he came to power by committing fratricide, which deprived him of all legitimacy.

Thus, the story has a happy ending: Horus then became king of Egypt and later married the goddess of beauty and love Hathor. Set, no longer possessing the immunity conferred by his status as king, was banished to the desert, his original kingdom. He then found repentance in his task of night protector on the solar boat alongside Ra.

Horus versus Seth

Horus finally triumphed over the evil husband of Nephthys, which in turn allowed him to accede to the throne of Egypt.

3) Nephthys, symbols and objects of worship

We will now see how Nephthys is represented in ancient Egypt and the different cults attributed to him.

A) Symbols and representations

The representations of Nephthys are multiple. The most common one represents Nephthys as a winged woman wearing two hieroglyphs meaning her name. Her large, dark wings spread out recall her function as a transporter of the dead to the afterlife. She can also be depicted with a hawk's head or a kite's head, whose strident cries recall the laments usually offered to the dead by crying women.

Milan

The kite is one of the symbols associated with the goddess Nephthys. It is a hunting bird of prey of the raptor family, just like the falcon.

Numerous engravings of Nephthys are found on the sarcophagi at the level of the head, so that the protective goddess of the dead watches over the deceased.

B) The cult of the protective goddess of the dead

The Egyptians associated Nephthys very much with his sister Isis, both protectors of the dead. Nephthys, accompanied by Isis, is a force before which the demons trembled with fear and whose magical spells were necessary to navigate through the different levels of the "Duat", as the region of the beyond is called.

The main sanctuary of Nephthys was in Heliopolis, located in the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt. She was also worshipped at the temple of Edfu where festivals were specially organised in her honour.

Pharaoh Ramses II was particularly attached to the prerogatives of Set and a temple of Nephthys was built in the city of Sepermeru, located close to the modern site of Deshasheh.

To the north of Sepermeru, is the city of Heracleopolis. The cult of Nephthys was very present in this city and archaeologists have found a life-size statue of the goddess which is now exhibited in the Louvre museum.

Nephthys: a goddess who knew how to impose herself in time

As you have seen, Nephthys is a goddess with many facets: guardian of sarcophagi, symbol of death and night and of course playing an important role in the myth of Osiris. All these elements make her a key figure in Egyptian mythology.

Thanks to our article, the secrets of the protective goddess of the dead no longer hold any mystery for you!

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