The Role of Nephthys Within The Ancient Egyptian Religion
Nephthys is first mentioned within the ancient Egyptian religious texts known as the Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts. It is here that she is directly referred to as a prominent Heliopolitan Ennead goddess. These texts mention that not only is Nephthys the sister of Isis, but that she is also the dedicated and loyal companion of the warrior deity known as Set. In addition to being the sister of Isis, Nephthys is also the sister of Osiris. The three goddesses represent and symbolize the experience of death, where they act as protectors of the resting mummies and the souls of these mummies. Egyptian texts often refer to Nephthys as an “Excellent Goddess” or “Useful Goddess” due to her role as a divine assistant and renowned protector.
Within some Egyptian religious texts, the funerary deity Anubis is listed as the son of Nephthys. This conflicts with other texts that describe Anubis as the son of Isis or Bastet. Additionally, Nephthys is usually noted as being the “nursing mother” to the powerful deity and Pharaonic-god Horus. Due to her role and connection to Horus, Nephthys was considered to be the primary nurse of any reigning Pharaoh of the time. It is common in Egyptian art for other goddesses to be portrayed in the Pharoah’s nurse role, however, this role primarily belonged to Nephthys. Despite her motherly and protective role towards any Pharoah, the goddess is sometimes described as being rage-filled and dangerous to deal with. It is said that she would instantly kill any of the Pharoah’s enemies with one swift fiery breath.
With the New Kingdom Pharaohs of Ramesside, Nephthys was particularly celebrated and is often referred to as “Mother Nephthys”. Her role as a celebrated figure can be seen on many famous Ramesside inscriptions at Luxor and Karnak. These ancients cities possess huge altars dedicated to Nephthys where Egyptian priests would present her with great offerings.
The Egyptian Symbolism Related to Nephthys
When serving in a funerary role, the goddess Nephthys is quite often depicted as a woman with large outstretched falcon wings or as a kite. These two symbolic depictions represent the goddess’ role as protector. It is thought by scholars that Nephthys’ association with the Egyptian hawk or kite also reminded the ancient people of the lamentations given by women who were wailing and morning the dead. It is these first artistic depictions of Nephthys that lead early scholars to realize that she was directly associated with death and putrefaction, as shown in most of the Pyramid Texts. In many depictions of Nephthys, she is also shown wearing the prestigious Egyptian crown, which is thought to symbolize her high rank amongst all other Egyptian deities.
The symbolic link between Nephthys and the passage of death within ancient Egyptian religious beliefs is so intertwined that it could be argued that Nephthys is the greatest symbol of death itself within the culture. Ancient Egyptian texts state that even the Pharoah himself receives a tremendous amount of strength from Nephthys during his journey through the afterlife. In ancient Egypt Nephthys was seen as not just helping the Pharoah during death, but that she helped all who died and journeyed into the afterlife. The old Egyptian mythology states that evil spirits and demons of the underworld are terrified of Nephthys, making her the most suitable companion for anyone entering death.
Nephthys and The Egyptian New Kingdom Cult
The pharoahs of Ramesside within the 19th Egyptian Dynasty were extremely fond of Nephthys’ husband, the fierce warrior Set. Due to that link, Nephthys was also extremely celebrated during this dynasty. An entire temple was built for the goddess, called the House of Nephthys of Meriamun-Ramesses, which was located in the Egyptian town of Sepermeru. This House of Nephthys was one of fifty different temples that owned lands, all of which formed a greater area referred to as Papyrus Wilbour. The temple was managed and maintained by two prophets of Nephthys and one wa’ab priest.
Out of all of the Egyptian Pharaohs that adored Nephthys, Ramesses II of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty was the pharaoh that honored her the most. Ramesses II is said to have lavished the goddess’ temple with extravagant amounts of wealth and resources, as is detailed in ancient Egyptian scripts. In 1980 archaeologists discovered and correctly identified the temple, noting that it was as lavish as was described in the ancient texts. It is said that the temple was completely self-sustaining, meaning that it grew its own food, drew its own water from nearby sources, and it housed many servants and pheasant workers in order to maintain the ancient temple grounds.
Nephthys in Popular Culture
The ancient Egyptian goddess Nephthys is a world-renowned figure in modern times. She is most often featured in various artworks such as sculptures, oil paintings, drawings, and computer animations. The goddess has even been portrayed in a 2016 film called Gods of Egypt, where Nephthys’ character was played by the beautiful Australian actress, Emma Booth. Outside of film, the character of Nephthys has also been reenacted across various Egyptian themed Broadway plays.