Nephthys – Lady of the House
Although Nephthys is part of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis and part of one of the greatest myths in ancient Egyptian mythology, she herself does not have a separate role or worship from her brothers and sisters.
As the youngest child of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut, and the sister of Osiris, Set and Isis, she is the last of the Great Ennead.
But as we will learn, she was seen as a counterpart to her more famous sister Isis, rather than a stand-alone goddess.
In ancient Egypt, female deities were seen as opposites – and so while Isis was the goddess of light and life, she was associated with darkness and death. But not in a bad way. In fact, they just complimented each other.
The ancient Egyptians did not believe darkness or shadow to be evil, just a component of life as important as the light.
As Isis was Ra’s guide as he rose as the shining sun each day, Nephthys was his guide as he would dive into Duat with the setting sun. Both important components of the daily journey of the sun.
Here is the excerpt from the Pyramid Texts that illustrates the roles of the two sisters in the sun’s journey:
Nephthys as Mother
Although wife to Set, there is a myth that tells of her great love for her brother Osiris. She invited Osiris into her bed one day and in a moment of weakness, they succumbed.
Out of that affair she conceived the god Anubis, but out of fear of her husband’s anger, she abandoned Anubis who was then saved by a pack of wild dogs.
Although Set killed Osiris, Nephthys confessed her affair and the resulting child to Isis. Isis forgave her and adopted Anubis as her own son, and the two sisters went looking for the body of Osiris.
At that point, she had grown distant from Set and then changed loyalties completely.
During the hunt for the body of Osiris, the two sisters sang songs of lamentations that are said to have been some of ancient Egypt’s most beautiful.
Depictions and Functions
Nephthys was depicted as a woman, and nothing about her form really stands out. The only thing that shows who she is is that she wears her name’s hieroglyph on top of her head. It kind of looks like a bowl or a cup.
Nephthys is actually the Greek name – the ancient Egyptian name of the goddess is Neb-Het.
Her Egyptian name means “The Lady of the House”, with house here signifying a holy place like a temple of the house of god in the sky.
She had no cult or temple dedicated to her, but she is shown on tomb and temple walls, usually alongside her sister Isis.
One of her only known functions is that of protector of the deceased’s organs. She watched over the Canopic Jars that contained them and also the coffin that had the body.
She is one of the Canopic Jars of Tutankhamun, as seen in the Egyptian Museum.
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