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Nephthys and Isis. A Tale of Two Sisters

Author: Heather Belt
Posted: October 2nd. 2011
Times Viewed: 4,717

In ancient Egyptian lore, there lies a tale of two sisters. One dark and one light. Nephthys, sister to Isis, Mother of the house and funerals, could not be any different from her sister. While Isis' function in the Egyptian pantheon is that of re-birth, and is obviously the more popular of the two, their bond was deep and unbreakable…even through infidelity on the part of Nephthys with Isis’ husband, which is told in one Egyptian story. If it was Isis’ job to bring the re-birth experience, it was Nephthys’ role to encompass all things related to the death experience.

Little is truly known about this dark sister, and there are many "stories" surrounding her mystique. After learning about their respective roles in mythology, I found it very easy to correlate the tale of the two sisters, not only with their roles as Goddesses, but also as an allegory for spiritual death and re-birth as it relates to ones spiritual journey.

Nephthys was clearly viewed as sometimes morbid, but always crucial force of heavenly transition from life to death. While Isis is always correlated with that which precludes death, re-birth. It is said that Egyptian Pharaohs become stronger for their journeys to the afterlife through the intervention of Isis and Nephthys, working together. 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” ( .

Applying this to the train of thought that they were indeed one in the same, it makes me think about the aspects of the triple moon. Mother, Maiden and Crone. All three aspects, while represented by different Goddesses, are really just the progression of the cycle of life and death. Maybe Nephthys and Isis are really just an expression of Isis in her dark phase of accompanying one on their journey of death in the beginning before they can be re-born. An analogy for the journey we take as humans not only in physical death, but also spiritual death and re-birth.

For this reason, I found myself quite drawn to Nephthys in the aspect that before ones spiritual journey can begin, you first must "die". Dying implies letting go of negative/baneful habits to make way for the new ways of living life more positively. Dying implies surrendering yourself to the universe and letting what will happen...just be. We mortals are more enamored with the idea that re-birth is more fundamental than death because re-birth is a more desired aspect of spirituality. We often overlook, I feel, the most important first step of surrendering to the Divines true will. Is this, as it is sometimes referred to, rock bottom? Well yes and no. It doesn't have to be rock bottom in the sense that you submit to defeat of your "demons" and give up all hope. Rock bottom means you have exhausted all of your negative mental and physical injuries and there is nowhere else to go. The choice is in the heart of the person as to whether or not he/she will reach for the dark or go towards the light. Going towards the light is like walking towards Isis. You have reached a place where you are now ready to lay all of that stuff at the feet of the Goddess and move on to the next chapter of your life a free soul…reborn.

Nephthys helped Isis gather the dismembered body parts of her husband Osiris after he had been murdered by envious Set. Stories of funeral ceremonies abound in stories of Nephthys. Nephthys was known as the ruler over one of the darker aspects of Egyptian death ceremonies, the Canopic jars. These jars were the keepers of the vital organs of those who were deceased. While you will find she has many functions in Egyptian entomology, her most prominent is leading those on their journey to the underworld after their mortal lives have ended. For these reasons I have to say she is indeed the Goddess to look to when you are at that place in your life when you are ready to take her hand, and let her lead you down the path of spiritual death, to anew. And then Isis, her sister, will be there waiting for you to help you start your new life.

I have such a different outlook on the journey of spiritual death after really taking the time to explore this story. The message is as old as time in the text of pagan annals, but to me the story of Nephthys and Isis gives is a new, more tangible, context in which to place the practice.

One of my favorite poems and what inspired on of my tattoos is from The Book of Lies by Aleister Crowley. In this poem, he speaks of the Stag Beetles, known throughout Egypt as a symbol of bringing the darkness into light, just as the beetle pushes the dung over the horizon, the sun will also rise and bring anew. Known by the names, #16 ΚΕΦΑΛΗ ΙΣ or THE Stag-Beetle, I can think of no better way to sum up the story of Nephthys and Isis as two sisters, interlinked together in life and death, helping us find our way to spiritual enlightenment. The poem is as follows:

Death implies change and individuality if thou be THAT which hath no person, which is beyond the changing, even beyond changelessness, what hast thou to do with death? The birth of individuality is ecstasy; so also is its death. In love the individuality is slain; who loves not love? Love death therefore, and long eagerly for it. Die Daily.

The Book of Lies, Aleister Crowley

Copyright: This article is the sole property and work of Heather S. Douglas


Heather Belt

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

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