Definitions

nursing mother

Nephthys

In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys is the Greek form of an epithet (correctly spelled Nebet-het, and Nebt-het, in transliteration from Egyptian hieroglyphs). Nephthys, therefore, is a member of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis, a daughter of Nut and Geb. Nephthys was the divine corresponding "power" (or completion) of her sister, Isis and, in a somewhat lesser fashion, the sister-wife of Set. Nephthys is only occasionally (and questionably), regarded as the mother of the funerary-deity Anubis.

Nephthys apparently was known in a wide spectrum of ancient Egyptian temple theologies and cosmologies as the "Useful Goddess" or the "Excellent Goddess" (cf. P. Wilson, 'A Ptolemaic Lexikon: A Lexicographical Study of the Texts in the Temple of Edfu', OLA 78, 1997). In this sense, late ancient Egyptian temple texts prove to be pointedly accurate depictions of a far more nuanced goddess, one who represented divine assistance and protective guardianship on a multitude of levels.

A more certain understanding in regard to this divinity has been hampered necessarily due to the fragmented aspect of ongoing efforts to document and publish specific temple (and other inscriptional) discoveries, excavations, and theologies, along with relatively few concerted attempts to draw various and disparate strands of evidence into some form of cohesive whole. In this regard, the work of E. Hornung (Versuch über Nephthys, in: A. B. Lloyd [Hrsg.], Studies in Pharaonic Religion and Society in Honour of J. G. Griffiths, London 1992, 186-188) has proved to be revelatory, along with the work of several noted scholars (see below, passim).

Perhaps most interestingly for our current consideration, Nephthys was not at all restricted to the purely passive or formless status so often accorded to her by various commentators.

On the contrary, Nephthys quite often is featured as a rather ferocious and dangerous divinity, capable of incinerating the enemies of the Pharaoh with her fiery breath (cf. Sauneron, Elephantine, Beitrage Bf. 6, 46 n.d.; Traunecker, Karnak VII, 184 n. 2; Cauville, 'Essai,' 152 n.7). As the primary "nursing mother" of the incarnate Pharaonic-god, Horus, Nephthys also was considered to be, de facto, the mightiest nurse of the reigning Pharaoh himself (cf. K.A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, 1993, Blackwell). Though many goddesses could arbitrarily assume this role, depending upon the local setting, Nephthys was ostensibly and nationally, irreplaceable in this function. It is important, within this framework, to appreciate the potency of the Osirian Royal-Mortuary-Deity cults (and their primacy) in understanding exactly how the chief Osirian deities exercised enormous influence in widespread, fundamentally crucial temple rituals and practices from Dynasty V and beyond.

Certainly with the coming of the New Kingdom Ramesside Pharaohs, in particular, one witnesses a royal lineage enamored of Mother Nephthys, as is attested in various stelae and a wealth of inscriptions at Karnak and Luxor. Nephthys was a member of that great city's Ennead—just as she was in Heliopolis—and her altars were present in the massive complex (cf. B. Porter/R. Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings. II. Theban Temples. Oxford Second Edition). An inherited reverence for protective qualities made Nephthys a goddess of notable flexibility who did not, as is often stated, live constantly in the shadow of her great sister, Isis. Moreover, Nephthys was one of the few national goddesses to serve as tutelary divinity of her own district, or nome, in Ancient Egyptian history. Indeed, Upper Egyptian Nome VII and its city, Hwt-Sekhem, were considered (at least by Greco-Roman times) to be the unique fiefdom of Nephthys (cf. Sauneron, Beitrage Bf. 6, 46; C. Traunecker, Le temple d'El-Qal'a. Relevés des scènes et des textes. I' Sanctuaire central. Sanctuaire nord. Salle des offrandes 1 à 112).

Etymology

Nephthys is a goddess of undetermined origin, but contrary to many erroneous claims, her ancient Egyptian name did not, in any way, mean "Lady of the House," as if referring to an ordinary human home. She was not in any way to be identified with some notion of a "housewife," nor as the primary lady who ruled the common domestic household. This is a pervasive and egregious error, oft-repeated, in very many commentaries concerning this deity. Rather, her name means quite specifically, Lady of the [Temple] Enclosure.

This title (which seems to be more of an epithet, rather than a goddess-name) likely indicates the association of Nephthys with one particular temple or some specific aspect of the Egyptian temple that is now partially lost to modern understanding. We do know, from a wealth of sources (cf. P. Wilson, above), that (along with her sister Isis) Nephthys represented the temple pylon or the great flagstaff heralding the Divine Dwelling. Due to her very streamlined role as a protective entity, we may even consider the simplest explanation in which Nephthys truly lives-up to her unique epithet and is to be identified with the fundamentally protective temple enclosure-wall itself. All other efforts to determine the exact origin of this goddess remain speculative. To reiterate, her name seems to be an epithet masking the original, sacred name of this divinity (whatever it was). Sacred names were kept secret. She may well have been artificially created by Heliopolitan theologians to serve as a counterpart or doppelganger of Isis, but the specific nature of her epithet "Mistress of the [Temple] Enclosure" mitigates against this, and the idea remains speculative.

Function

By the time of the Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts, Nephthys appears as a goddess of the Heliopolis cosmic family. She is the counterpart, or twin, of Isis and, in more surprisingly cursory fashion, features as an almost nominal companion of the war-like deity, Set. As sister of Isis and especially Osiris, Nephthys is a blatantly protective goddess who symbolized the transitional death experience, just as Isis represented the transitional birth experience. In the funerary role, Nephthys often was depicted as a kite or falcon, or as a woman with falcon wings, usually outstretched as a symbol of her protective proclivities. She was, almost without fail, depicted as crowned by the hieroglyphics signifying her name, which were a combination of signs for the sacred temple enclosure (hwt), along with the sign for neb, or mistress (Lady), atop the enclosure.

In the Pyramid Texts Nephthys is unquestionably a great, ubiquitous, and yet enigmatic presence. Normally she appears in potent congress with her sister, Isis, as a fortifying entity. She is one of the Nine Great Ones of Heliopolis. Nevertheless, she also turns up as the companion of Set in a few key passages. Because Set represented the stark aridity of the desert in ancient Egypt, he was generally viewed as a sterile deity in myth and in temple cult. Therefore, Nephthys was, in most districts, seen as a childless entity as well. Myths that portray Nephthys as the mother of Anubis are either latecomers to the body of ancient Egyptian lore or vague allusions.

Nephthys's early association with the kite or the Egyptian hawk (and its piercing, mournful cries) evidently reminded the ancients of the lamentations usually offered for the dead by wailing women. In this capacity, it is easy to see how Nephthys could be associated with death and putrefaction in the Pyramid Texts.

Even so, in the Pyramid Texts, Nephthys possesses attributes of an ominous nature that make of her personality something occasionally unique, in comparison to Isis. Indeed, the hair of Nephthys is compared, in one curious passage, to the strips of linen that enshroud the deceased Pharaoh's mummy. These "tresses," however, are not considered to be bonds. On the contrary, they appear as life-giving and temporary impediments from which the Pharaoh is encouraged to "break free" and ascend to the afterlife. It is no great leap (in terms of symbolism) to see that the "tresses of Nephthys" here assume a role very much akin to the chrysalis-shell that simultaneously immobilizes and yet protectively transforms the caterpillar before it bursts forth into new life. To be certain, there is absolutely no overt comparison, in the Pyramid Texts, between this function of Nephthys and the chrysalis, but the symbolism is one that may merit further exploration of Nephthys's unique domain, since the aforementioned passage is one of only eight (in the Pyramid Texts) wherein this goddess appears independent of her complementary power, Isis.

Whatever the scenario, Nephthys was clearly viewed (in the above-noted example) as a morbid-but-crucial force of heavenly transition, ie., the Pharaoh becomes strong for his journey to the afterlife by breaking free from Nephthys. The same divine power could be applied later to all of the dead, who were advised to consider Nephthys a necessary companion. According to the Pyramid Texts, Nephthys, along with Isis, was a force before whom demons trembled in fear, and whose magical spells were necessary for navigating the various levels of Duat, as the region of the afterlife was termed.

It should here be noted that Nephthys was not necessarily viewed as the polar opposite of Isis, but rather as a different reflection of the same reality: eternal life in transition. Thus, Nephthys was also seen in the Pyramid Texts as a supportive cosmic force occupying the night-bark on the journey of Ra, the majestic sun god, particularly when he entered Duat at the transitional time of dusk, or twilight. Isis was Ra's companion at the coming of dawn. The union between the Two Sisters cannot be overemphasized. At the same time, their distinct polarities cannot be dismissed.

Nephthys and Set

Though it commonly has been assumed that Nepthys was married to Set, recent Egyptological research has called this into question. Levai notes that while Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride mentions the deity's marriage, there is very little specifically linking Nephthys and Set in the original early Egyption sources. She argues that the later evidence suggests that:

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

The Saving Sister of Osiris

Nephthys plays an important role in the rudimentary Osirian myth-cycle (as delineated in the Pyramid Texts) and even more so in the temple cults that steadily arose across the length and breadth of ancient Egypt from this particular body of myth.

It is Nephthys who appears as the force of dual completion, assisting Isis in gathering and mourning the dismembered portions of the body of Osiris, after his murder by the envious Set. These acts of "gathering" and "mourning" were not mere pedantic motifs, much in the same way that Osiris's role as a scattered corpse cannot be seen as an entirely passive or meaningless divine emblem. On the contrary, these acts on the part of Nephthys and Isis were inordinately powerful and effectual: the "gathering" and "mourning" were efforts that genuinely altered the chasm between Life and Death—these acts energized and empowered "The God" (Osiris), and hence the complete life-cycle of the Nile, for the preservation of the very balance between Order and Chaos.

Why Nephthys was so firmly entrenched in Osirian loyalties (when she also is clearly associated with Set) is a conundrum. Her original prerogatives may indeed, have been sequestered within the framework of a sort of power-dyad with Isis for the ritual gathering, unification, and magical resurrection of Osiris, but the ancient Egyptian lore masters apparently were not afraid of contrast. Nephthys is the companion of Set, yet she is also the interested, reliable, and devoted "Saving Sister of the God [Osiris]", who completes the resurrectional equation with Isis. (In a most basic fashion, the abundant information regarding the Osirian myth-cycle, whether from the Pyramid Texts, the Metternich Stela, or the musings of Plutarch, and such, should be considered as pertinent sources for the first three portions of this article).

Thereafter, Nephthys also serves as the primary nursemaid and watchful guardian of the infant Horus, often in the absence of (or in apposition to) Isis herself. It is no small matter that the above-mentioned sources (including the Pyramid texts) refer to Isis as the "birth-mother" and to Nephthys as the "nursing-mother" of the totemic Pharaonic deity (Horus). Above all else, the magical power of Nephthys was viewed as the necessary fulfillment of the power of Isis, and vice versa. Interestingly, though Nephthys was attested as one of the four "Great Chiefs" ruling in the Osirian cult-center of Busiris, in the Delta (cf. The Book of the Dead, Theban Recension), she appears to have occupied only 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—an almost liturgical collection of songs that formed a crucial part of a sort of Passion Play in honor of the God. There, at Abydos, Nephthys joined Isis as a mourner in the hallowed cenotaph shrine known as the Osireion (cf.Byron Esely Shafer, Dieter Arnold, Temples in Ancient Egypt, p.112, 2005). Moreover, these "Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys" were ritual elements of many such Osirian rites in major ancient Egyptian cult-centers.

Without doubt, in fundamental ancient Egyptian myth and temple cult, it is only as a duo that the "Two Sisters" (Isis and Nephthys) are equipped to reunite, reconstitute, and resurrect the body of Osiris. Thereafter, both goddesses (or one in place of the other) are called upon to protect fiercely and nurture the Osirian mummy (along with the child Horus) in various temples and ostensibly in the life-cycle of the Pharaoh. Within such cultic framework, the magical powers of Isis and Nephthys were seen as a primary, united force keeping chaos at bay. As part of this indispensable protective dyad, Nephthys was essential to the maintenance of ma'at, or "balance," for the good of temple, town, kingdom, and royal household.

As a chief mortuary goddess (along with Isis, Neith, and Serqet), Nephthys was one of the protectresses of the sacred Canopic jars and of the genii Hapi, in particular. Hapi (one of the Sons of Horus) guarded the embalmed lungs and, as his Mistress, Nephthys was a goddess capable of delivering the "breath of life" to the deceased via her wings. Thus, we find Nephthys endowed with the epithet, "Nephthys of the Bed of Life," (cf. tomb of Tuthmosis III, Dynasty XVIII) 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 dog-headed god Anubis as patron (J. Berlandini, p. 41-62, Varia Memphitica, VI - La stèle de Parâherounemyef, BIFAO 82).

Nephthys' greatest role was clearly as the stalwart companion and reflection of her sister Isis. Because of the power shared between the two sisters, Egyptologist Claude Traunecker reminds us that "...it is indeed not astonishing that the ancient Egyptians had recourse to Nephthys" (cf. El-Qa'la Temple, Traunecker, Ed. Quirke, 'The Temple in Ancient Egypt' Reeves C.N. 1996). In an abundance of temple texts and inscriptions, Nephthys quite often was described as a youthful, nubile, and exceedingly beautiful goddess—attributes which would facilitate her later identification with Hathor (or perhaps proceed from that identification). While intrinsically related to Isis in almost every aspect, Nephthys yet retained certain qualities that differentiated her from her sister: she was, seemingly deliberately, the more intangible, unpredictable half of the dyad.

At the same time, Nephthys was considered a festive deity whose rites (in various locales) could mandate the liberal consumption of beer. In various reliefs at Edfu, Dendera, and Behbeit (q.v.), Nephthys is depicted receiving lavish beer-offerings from the Pharaoh, which she would "return", using her power as a beer-goddess "that [the pharaoh] 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.

Rarely, Nephthys could appear as one of the goddesses who assists at childbirth. One ancient Egyptian myth (preserved in the beloved 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. This "fairy godmother" role would not, however, prove to be a prominent motif in the general perception of Nephthys; she remained a deity far more associated with the final stages of life than with its beginnings.

Even so, 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 (cf. A. Gutbub, J. Bergman, Nephthys découverte dans un papyrus magique in Mélanges, Publications de la recherche, université de Montpellier, Montpellier, FRANCE, 1984).

Cults of Nephthys

Contrary to the majority of commentators, Nephthys was not a neglected goddess in ancient Egypt who possessed no temple, nor worship of her own. As Chief Counterpart of Isis, member of the Great Ennead, and mighty guardian of Osiris and Horus, Nephthys was considered to be a rather formidable member of the wider pantheon. Within the realm of myth and temple cult, ancient Egyptian deities ultimately were defined by the company they kept and, in this case, Nephthys was undeniably a very major divinity. She was one of the few deities known and revered by all Egyptians, in virtually all territories. Relatively recent archaeological excavations corroborate ancient papyri and temple texts, shedding new light upon this heretofore underrated goddess.

For example, the Ramesside Pharaohs were particularly devoted to Set's prerogatives and, in the 19th Dynasty , a temple of Nephthys called the "House of Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun" was built or refurbished in the town of Sepermeru, midway between Oxyrhynchos and Herakleopolis, on the outskirts of the Fayyum and quite near to the modern site of Deshasheh. Here, as Papyrus Wilbour notes in its wealth of taxation records and land assessments, the temple of Nephthys was a specific foundation by Ramesses II, located in close proximity to (or within) the precinct of the enclosure of Set. To be certain, the House of Nephthys was one of fifty individual, land-owning temples delineated for this portion of the Middle Egyptian district in Papyrus Wilbour. The fields and other holdings belonging to Nephthys's temple were under the authority of two Nephthys-prophets (named Penpmer and Merybarse) and one (mentioned) wa'ab priest of the goddess.

While certainly affiliated with the "House of Set," the Nephthys temple at Sepermeru and its apportioned lands (several acres) clearly were under administration distinct from the Set institution (cf. 'Land Tenure in the Ramesside Period' by S. Katary, 1989). The Nephthys temple was a unique establishment in its own right, an independent entity. According to Papyrus Wilbour (Section 1. 28), another "House of Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun" seems to have existed to the north, in the town of Su, closer to the Fayyum region.

Interestingly, yet another (probably contemporaneous) temple of Nephthys seems to have existed in the town of Punodjem. The Papyrus Bologna records a complaint lodged by a prophet of the temple of Set in that town regarding undue taxation in his regard. After making an introductory appeal to "Re-Horakhte, Set, and Nephthys" for the ultimate resolution of this issue by the royal Vizier, the prophet (named Pra'emhab) laments his workload. He notes his obvious administration of the "House of Set" and adds: "I am also responsible for the ship, and I am responsible likewise for the House of Nephthys, along with a heap of other temples." (Papyrus Bologna 1094, 5, 8-7, 1).

While the House-of-Nephthys in (ostensibly) Punodjem is not explicitly said to be a foundation of Ramesses II, it may be that Ramesses II founded a series of "temples of Nephthys" (as consort of Set) in order to complement the larger establishments dedicated to her spouse, much in the same way that the smaller temple of Nefertari at Abu Simbel was complementary to (and a dependency of) the "Great Temple" at Abu Simbel. In the roster provided by Papyrus Wilbour, no other divine-consort boasted a land-owning temple of their own within any particular town dominated by a male god. Apparently, Nephthys was deemed quite important enough to merit her own independent sanctuaries.

In any event, as "Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun," the goddess and her shrine(s) were under the particular endorsement of Ramesses II. The foundations of the Set and Nephthys temples at Sepermeru finally were discovered and identified in the 1980s, and the Nephthys temple was no mere chapel—rather, it was a notable, self-sustaining temple complex within the Set enclosure(cf. 'Les Deesses de l'Egypte Pharaonique', R. LaChaud, 1992, Durocher-Champollion).

Likewise, there can be little doubt that a cult of Nephthys existed in the temple and great town of Herakleopolis, north of Sepermeru. A near life-sized statue of Nephthys (currently housed in the Louvre) boasts a curiously altered inscription. The basalt image originally was stationed at Medinet-Habu, as part of the cultic celebration of the Pharaonic "Sed-Festival," but obviously was transferred at some point to Herakleopolis and the temple of Herishef therein. The cult-image's inscription originally pertained to "Nephthys, Foremost of the Sed [Festival] in the Booth of Annals" (at Medinet-Habu), but was re-inscribed or re-dedicated to "Nephthys, Foremost of the [Booths of] Herakleopolis."

This sort of opportunistic transfer of various cult images from one locale to another was not uncommon in ancient Egypt, and the installation of a cult statue of Nephthys at the temple of Harishef in Herakleopolis would have been fitting, since Nephthys already was a goddess with her own shrines in the immediate vicinity (i.e Sepermeru, Su, Punodjem). Moreover, a "prophet of Nephthys" is indeed attested for the town of Herakleopolis in the 30th Dynasty (cf. Forgeau, 'Pretres Isiaques,' BIFAO 84, 155-157).

Chief Goddess of Nome VII

Nephthys also was, in Egyptian mythology and temple rites, oft-considered the unique protectress of the Sacred Phoenix, or the Bennu Bird. This role may have stemmed from a specialized and early association in her native Heliopolis, which was renowned for its "House of the Bennu" temple. In this role, Nephthys was given the name "Nephthys-Kheresket," and a wealth of temple texts from Edfu, Dendara, Philae, Kom Ombo, El Qa'la, Esna, and others corroborate the late identification of Nephthys as the supreme goddess of UE Nome VII, where another shrine existed in honor of the Bennu. Nephthys also was the goddess of the "Mansion of the Sistrum" in Hwt-Sekhem (Gr. Diospolis Parva), the chief city of Nome VII. There, Nephthys was the primary protectress of the resident Osirian relic, of the Bennu Bird, and of the local Horus/Osiris manifestation, the god Neferhotep. (cf. Sauneron, Beitrage Bf. 6, 46; C. Traunecker, Le temple d'El-Qal'a. Relevés des scènes et des textes. I' Sanctuaire central. Sanctuaire nord. Salle des offrandes 1 à 112).

Indeed, a priest of "Nephthys of Hwt", Diospolis Parva, is mentioned in the Book of the Dead preserved at the Louvre in Paris. This Book of the Dead belonged to the mummy of a Theban-based priest named, Nes-Min. Another member of cult personnel, a male "Dancer of Nephthys", also is recorded for a Nome VII temple in Papyrus Moscou. Even more interesting, perhaps, we find that a female cult staff-member called the "hairdresser of Nephthys" (i.e. of her sacred image in the temple naos) is noted in the 30th Dynasty (cf. Forgeau, BIFAO 84, 155-157; Vienna Stela). This indicates that the overall cult of Nephthys must have been relatively elaborate in Diospolis Parva, particularly after the Late Period. As patron goddess of her own nome, this should not surprise the contemporary observer.

Though Nephthys was unquestionably the chief totemic goddess of Nome VII's district, city, and temple, it should be noted that she reigned there in a "first among equals" capacity connected with the usual Osirian college, and likewise through a close identification of her personality with that of Hathor, who reigned in nearby Dendera. In Hout-Sekhem and its nome, Nephthys (particularly in her guise as Kheresket) appears to have served as preeminent "Mistress" of the various Osirian ceremonies, much in the way that Isis served in such singular capacity at Behbeit, in the Delta. Moreover, the presence of Nephthys is not at all attested in association with Diospolis Parva until the Late Period and Greco-Roman times, leading us to believe that her particular prominence (though indisputable) was something of an innovation.(cf. P. Collombert, "Les stèles tardives de Hout-sekhem (Hout-sekhem et le septième nome de Haute-Égypte II)", RdE 48 (1997), pp. 15-70, pl. I-VII). It is important to mention that the goddess Anukis appears to have served as a cultic "bridge" to the eminence of Nephthys in her later incarnation as main tutelary and "protective" goddess of the region.

Related to this last aspect, there is at least one surviving temple of Nephthys at Komir in Upper Egypt, between Esna and El Kab. In this town, Nephthys was associated with the goddess Anukis. At Komir, Nephthys was honored especially for her role as the chief protectress of the standard Osirian relic residing at nearby Esna. The ruined sanctuary at Komir preserves two niches—one for Nephthys and one for Anukis, while the rear exterior wall of the temple preserves an elaborate "Hymn to Nephthys" from the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. In this hymn, the Emperor notes that Nephthys is the "Mistress of many festivals...who loves the day of festival, the goddess for whom men and women play the tambourine." There, too, Nephthys is called, "The very great Nephthys...Queen of human beings...Mistress of Drunkenness." She is identified closely with her alter-ego, Seshat, particularly as the entity who "establishes order for all the gods." This idea of Nephthys as the goddess who "organizes," or "makes whole" the entire divine pantheon is an ancient epithet stemming from the Pyramid Texts themselves. This epithet reinforces and elaborates upon the particularly unique (and enigmatic) role of Nephthys as a decidedly "Useful" cosmic force, one who apparently, acts for the organizational benefit of all deities. During the great Osirian festivals at Esna, associated with the temple of Khnum, it was specifically the cult-image of Nephthys that made the "journey" as official ambassador of Komir.

Most astonishing of all, the extant inscriptions of the Nephthys temple (and particularly her "hymn") at Komir make absolutely no mention of Isis whatsoever, despite references to a multitude of associated deities, including Osiris and Horus. This occurrence leads the observer to ponder the possibility that Nephthys was indeed a theologically specialized "alter ego" of Isis from the very beginning, or whether, in specific locales where the Two Sisters were not working in congress (as usual), the need to exalt Nephthys led to a determined effort to "oust" her greater sister from the scene entirely. As cited above (Traunecker), Nephthys was a goddess of much more clout than previously understood; in certain districts (Nome VII) she potentially could supersede her sister, though this was, by far, the exception rather than the proverbial "rule."

Nevertheless, the association of Nephthys with Anukis extends beyond Komir to the First Cataract region near Aswan and Philae, where the resident divine triad composed of Khnum, Satis, and Anukis was identified with (and superseded by) Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys around the Late Period. (For all of the above references pertaining to Nephthys and Anukis at Komir, see the work of M. Es-Saghir and D. Valbelle: Komir. I. The Discovery of Komir Temple. Preliminary Report. II. Deux hymnes aux divinités de Komir : Anoukis et Nephthys [avec 2 dépliants et 4 planches]BIFAO 84).

There was also a cult of Nephthys at Qaw El Kebir or Antaeopolis, where the goddess was worshipped in the rather large temple as the companion of the warrior deity Antiwey, a fusion of Horus and Set (cf. E. Graefe, Nephthys, Lexikon der A, 457-460, 1975). A "prophet of Nephthys" is attested for this town by the Chicago Stela and though the massive Greco-Roman sanctuary was washed away by a flood in the 19th century, a noteworthy painted relief of Nephthys and "Antaeus" can still be found etched into the cliffside quarries near the site.

At Mo'Alla, Nephthys was worshipped as the consort of another war-like god, Hemen. In contrast to her general perception as a childless divinity, Nephthys gave birth to Hemen's daughter in this cult locale. There exist other toponyms in various papyri and temple inscriptions that allude to possibly unique cult-towns of Nephthys (e.g. "Nephthys of Ihy," "Pr-Nephthys"), but such examples cannot at this time be considered verifications of cult.

It merits note, however, that Nephthys was one of the chief deities at Edfu, where she was the object of her own festival day called, "The Heart of Nephthys Rejoices" (cf. P. Wilson, 'A Ptolemaic Lexikon: A Lexicographical Study of the Texts in the Temple of Edfu', OLA 78, 1997). The national Festival of Nephthys was held on her birthday—the last of the five "epagomenal" days at the end of the Egyptian calendar. Nephthys, meanwhile, was a particularly dangerous goddess at Edfu, and, in her form of "Merkhetes," was associated with the lioness-goddesses Mehyt and Sekhmet. Nephthys' fiery breath is one of the forces that serves to protect the sanctuary of this great complex. There exists a chapel at Edfu dedicated to the triad of Mehyt, Nephthys, and Nekhbet. Nephthys also is associated at Edfu with the goddess Seshat, Mistress of the Temple Library and Keeper of Royal Annals. Based upon this evidence (and testimony dating from as early as the Pyramid Texts), we may entertain the likelihood that Seshat was indeed a derivative "form" of Nephthys (or vice-versa). Elsewhere, we discover from inscriptions at Behbeit that Queen Berenike considered herself the "priestess of Isis and of Nephthys" (cf. Forgeau, above). Again, the union of the Two Sisters as powerful and almost inseparable complementary forces is underscored, both in the realm of myth and in the more crucial, daily domain of temple cult.

Basically, Nephthys was everywhere. Even considering the late aspect of her prominence in places such as Hwt-Sekhem, she was a goddess who could, within the history of ancient Egyptian religion, merit New Kingdom temples and shrines of her own, and patronize her own district (Nome VII), which is all the more intriguing, given the clear superiority of her sister, Isis. The relationship between the Two Sisters is thus worthy of further, deeper inspection and study.

Unique instances of cult being noted, it must nevertheless be remembered that Nephthys was most widely and usually worshipped in ancient Egypt as part of a consortium of temple deities. Therefore, it should not surprise us that her cult images could likely be found as part of the divine entourage in temples at Kharga, Kellis, Deir el-Hagar, Koptos, Dendereh, Philae, Sebennytos, Busiris, Shenhur, El Qa'la, Letopolis, Heliopolis, Abydos, Thebes, Dakleh Oasis, and indeed throughout Egypt (cf. the excellent and specific online search resources at the official BIFAO website regarding Nephthys). In most cases, Nephthys found her typical place as part of a triad alongside Osiris and Isis, or Isis and Horus, or Isis and Min, or as part of a quartet of deities. It is perhaps, in this way that Nephthys best fulfilled her role as an important national deity whose ideal function was to provide powerful assistance to her associates in a great variety of temple cults—a truly "Useful" and "Excellent" goddess, as her primary epithets reflect.

References

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