Nephthys - The Saving Sister of Osiris

The Saving Sister of Osiris

Nephthys plays an important role in the Osirian myth-cycle.

It is Nephthys who assists Isis in gathering and mourning the dismembered portions of the body of Osiris, after his murder by the envious Set. Nephthys also serves as the nursemaid and watchful guardian of the infant Horus. The Pyramid Texts refer to Isis as the "birth-mother" and to Nephthys as the "nursing-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 occupied an honorary position at the holy city of Abydos. No cult is attested for her there, though she certainly figured as a goddess of great importance in the annual rites conducted, wherein two chosen females or priestesses played the roles of Isis and Nephthys and performed the elaborate 'Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys'. There, at Abydos, Nephthys joined Isis as a mourner in the shrine known as the Osireion. These "Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys" were ritual elements of many such Osirian rites in major ancient Egyptian cult-centers.

As a mortuary goddess (along with Isis, Neith, and Serqet), Nephthys was one of the protectresses of the Canopic jars of the Hapi. Hapi, one of the Sons of Horus, guarded the embalmed lungs. Thus we find Nephthys endowed with the epithet, "Nephthys of the Bed of Life," in direct reference to her regenerative priorities on the embalming table. In the city of Memphis, Nephthys was duly honored with the title "Queen of the Embalmer's Shop," and there associated with the jackal-headed god Anubis as patron.

Nephthys was also considered a festive deity whose rites could mandate the liberal consumption of beer. In various reliefs at Edfu, Dendera, and Behbeit, Nephthys is depicted receiving lavish beer-offerings from the Pharaoh, which she would "return", using her power as a beer-goddess "that may have joy with no hangover." Elsewhere at Edfu, for example, Nephthys is a goddess who gives the Pharaoh power to see "that which is hidden by moonlight." This fits well with more general textual themes that consider Nephthys to be a goddess whose unique domain was darkness, or the perilous edges of the desert.

Nephthys could also appear as one of the goddesses who assists at childbirth. One ancient Egyptian myth preserved in the Papyrus Westcar recounts the story of Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet, and Heqet as traveling dancers in disguise, assisting the wife of a priest of Amun-Re as she prepares to bring forth sons who are destined for fame and fortune.

Nephthys's healing skills and status as direct counterpart of Isis, steeped, as her sister in "words of power," are evidenced by the abundance of faience amulets carved in her likeness, and by her presence in a variety of magical papyri that sought to summon her famously altruistic qualities to the aid of mortals.

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