Nephthys, from “Handbook of Egyptian mythology”, by Geraldine Pinch
One of the Two Sisters who mourned for the murdered god Osiris, Nephthys was the youngest of the five children of the sky goddess and the unwilling part-ner of her brother Seth. She mainly features in myth as the devoted companion of her sister, Isis, but she was a popular protective goddess in funerary art.
Nephthys was usually shown as a woman wearing the signs that write her name (Lady of the Mansion) on her head.
Nephthys never enjoyed the high status of her sister, Isis. In spite of her nominal pairing with Seth, Nephthys seems to have lived with Isis and her hus-band Osiris. Perhaps because of her sham marriage, Nephthys is described in one of the Pyramid Texts as “an imitation woman with no vagina.” A few Egyptian texts allude to the distress of Isis on discovering that her husband has slept with Nephthys. The Greek writer Plutarch relates that Nephthys tricked Osiris into sleeping with her and then gave birth to a monstrous son, Anubis. Nephthys abandoned the child to die, but Isis found and saved him. Plutarch saw Osiris as representing the fertilizing Nile flood, Isis the cultivated land of the Nile valley, and Nephthys the usually barren desert.
After the murder of Osiris, Nephthys and Isis searched for his body or for the dismembered parts of that body. The two goddesses were present during the mummification of the body by Anubis. Isis and Nephthys are mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as part of the group of four goddesses who guarded the king’s mummified body and organs. As one of the goddesses of weaving, Nephthys was particularly associated with the linen bandages that wrapped a mummy.
These bandages were sometimes called the “tresses of Nephthys.” When it be-came common to identify all dead persons with Osiris, Isis and Nephthys were often shown standing at either end of the funeral bier.
The sisters, sometimes in the form of two kites (small birds of prey), were said to have kept a long vigil over the mummy of Osiris to protect him from further attacks by Seth. This vigil was reenacted by two young women, who represented Isis and Nephthys, at festivals of Osiris and at the funerals of important people and sacred animals. In the passionate laments sung during this ritual, Nephthys describes herself as the “beloved sister” of the “good king” Osiris.
Nephthys seems to play only a minor role in the bringing up of her nephew, Horus. She is usually shown watching in scenes in which Horus raises the djed pillar, a tableaux that symbolized the revival of Osiris. In the Book of the Dead, Nephthys often stands with her sister behind the throne of Osiris presiding over the judgment of the dead.
References and further reading:
C. J. Bleeker. “Isis and Nephthys as Wailing Women.” Numen 5 (1958): 1–18.
L. Troy. Patterns of Queenship in Ancient Egyptian Myth and History. Uppsala:
Quoted from: “Handbook of Egyptian mythology”, © Geraldine Pinch, 2002