Nephthys: Meet the Goddess of Death in Egyptian Mythology


     Nephthys is, in Egyptian Mythology, the Goddess of Death (in addition to the sister of Isis). This deity is also associated with funerary rites. By herself, this goddess was not evil and was highly adored by the Egyptians.

Nephthys in Egyptian Mythology:

     Nephthys was a goddess in ancient Egyptian religion. A member of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis in Egyptian Mythology, she was a daughter of Nut and Geb. Nephthys was typically paired with her sister Isis in funerary rites because of her role as protector of the mummy and god Osiris and as sister-wife of Set. She was associated with mourning, night, darkness, service (specifically temples), childbirth, with the dead, protection, magic, health, embalming and beer.

Nephthys was the Goddess of Death, but not of violent death, but of natural death.

Function of Nephthys:

     At the time of the Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts, Nephthys appears as a goddess of the Heliopolitan Ennead. She is the sister of Isis and companion of the warrior deity, Set (also, the god of death and storms in ancient Egypt). As a sister of Isis and especially of Osiris, Nephthys is a protective goddess who symbolizes the experience of death, just as Isis represented the experience of birth. Nephthys was known in some ancient Egyptian temple theologies and cosmologies as the "Useful Goddess" or the "Excellent Goddess". These ancient texts from ancient Egyptian temples describe a goddess who represented divine assistance and protective guardianship.

     Nephthys is considered the mother of the funerary deity Anubis (Inpu) in some myths. Alternatively, Anubis appears as the son of Bastet or Isis. In Nubia, Nephthys was considered the wife of Anubis.

     Though generally considered the aunt of Horus, she often appears as his mother. She is also seen as a wife of Horus.

     As the chief "suckling mother" of the incarnate pharaonic god Horus, Nephthys was also considered the nanny of the reigning pharaoh himself. Although other goddesses could assume this role, Nephthys was more commonly portrayed in this role. In contrast, she is sometimes presented as a rather fierce and dangerous deity, capable of incinerating Pharaoh's enemies with her fiery breath.

Mythology of Nephthys and Set:

     Although it is commonly assumed that Nephthys was married to Set and they have a son, Anubis, recent Egyptological research questions this. Take notes that while Plutarch mentions the deities of marriage, there is very little that specifically links Nephthys and Set in the early original Egyptian sources. He argues that later evidence suggests that:

Although Nephthys' marriage to Set was part of Egyptian mythology, it was not part of the myth of the murder and resurrection of Osiris. She wasn't paired with Set, the villain, but with the other aspect of Set, the benevolent figure who was Apophis's killer. This was the aspect of Set worshiped in western oases during the Roman period, where he is portrayed with Nephthys as co-ruler.

     It is Nephthys who helps Isis gather and mourn the dismembered body parts of Osiris after his murder by the envious Set. Nephthys also serves as the nanny and watchful guardian of baby Horus. The Pyramid Texts refer to Isis as the "biological mother" and Nephthys as the "lactating mother" of Horus. Nephthys was attested as one of the four "Great Chiefs" ruling in the Osirian cult center of Busiris in the Delta and she appears to have held an honorary position in the holy city of Abydos.

     No cult is attested to her there, though she certainly figured as a goddess of great importance in the annual rites performed, in which two chosen women or priestesses played the roles of Isis and Nephthys and performed the elaborate "Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys." There, on Abydos, Nephthys joined Isis as a mourner in the shrine known as Osireion. These "festive songs of Isis and Nephthys" were ritual elements of many of these Osirian rites in the main centers of ancient Egyptian worship.

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