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Monday, March 18, 2013

Nebet-Het: friend of the deceased


In utterance 553 of the Pyramid Texts the deceased is told to:

"Raise thyself up; shake off thy dust; remove the dirt which is on thy face; loose thy bandages. They are indeed not bandages; they are the locks of Nebet-Het."

Nebet-Het's hair wraps the body of the deceased, symbolizing the linen cloth that wraps the mummy. The pharaoh as Osiris, is encouraged to break free of her tresses in order to be re-born.

Nebet-Het, the ancient Egyptian goddess known in Greek as Nephthys, is the sister of the more popular goddess Aset. Aset is known as Isis in Greek and is the wife of the great Asar, who is known as Osiris in Greek. Nephthys' name means "Lady of the Temple Enclosure"; Lady from the Nebet part. Nebet is a designation given to an important female as Neb is the designation for an important man, a lord. The t designates a female is being referred to. The hieroglyphic for Neb is a semicircle, with the round part facing down or towards the ground.


Also it is interesting to note that the hieroglyphic for gold is similar yet more ornate and is transliterated as Nebu. It is the same semi-circle however it has rays shining downwards from the circular part as well as an enclosure over top suggesting that the gold is from the earth and shines like the rays of sunlight.

The god of eternity Heh kneeling on the hieroglyphic for Gold

The impression it gives is that gold is the moment before the sun appears at dawn and the sky is lit up in a golden colour. The ancient Egyptians referred to this most special time as the akhet and it is more specifically referring to the goddess Het-Har, Hathor in Greek. An epithet of Hathor is Lady of Gold. Gold is the flesh body of the gods.

The second part of the name is transliterated Het, Hut, or Hwt from the hieroglyphs. This refers to a palace or temple enclosure.

Nephthys wearing the hieroglyphic symbols of her name on her head

So clearly Nephthys was thought of as a woman of great stature who would be associated with the royal family and temples. No one is quite sure what temple enclosure this is referring to and with good reason. It is a figurative definition that is referring to the physical body as the temple that contains the soul, better known to casual observers as Osiris. The two sisters, Nephthys and Isis, are the great goddesses who are present to remember and make hale the great deceased Osiris in order to awaken him. These two are symbolized in the entrance to all temples in Egypt as the two sides, called pylons, of the entrance shaped like an akhet or horizon that allowed the rising sun to enter into the temple at dawn.

First pylon and entrance to temple of Heru-Behdety

In her role as the maker of the body that houses the great soul, Nephthys was given the epithet Nebet Khat, which means "Lady of the Body". Thinking about this designation a little further, Nephthys' role becomes clearer as it seems she is a mother type who makes and is present in the physical vehicle that houses the soul. Whether her role only concerns royalty is debatable. The language used to describe her role is very regal such as palace and she can be considered a queen. However there is the story related from the Greek historian Plutarch where in commenting on the love story of Isis and Osiris he tells of the time Nephthys impersonated Isis, as they are sisters both of great beauty, and tricked Osiris into sleeping with her. From this union was born the jackal Anpu, Anubis in Greek. So it seems that even though it may appear Nephthys has only royal connections she has the ability to make bodies for all, from the sacred soul Osiris to the profane jackal beast Anubis. This bit of information helps then to put her role more into context. To compare her to a more familiar archetype I would suggest a figure such as Eve in the first book of the Bible who is capable of making life that is not only profane, as in the birth of the beastly Cain, but also of the sacred that is represented as Abel and then Seth; Seth being born due directly to the death of Abel, as spelled out in Genesis 4:25, which is the Bible relating the resurrection of the soul in such an arcane way that no one will really ever figure out that passage. From Genesis 3:20 we learn that Eve, Chavvah in Hebrew, means life-giver and is the mother of all living; in essence the maker of bodies that we may figuratively call temples or tabernacles that can house the life force, Ka in ancient Egypt, that animates life forms as well as housing the immortal soul, the Ba in ancient Egypt, which is dismembered upon entry into the physical plane in the west and must be remembered in order to engender rebirth. Armed with this understanding we can deduce that Nephthys is an aspect of the mother goddess in ancient Egypt, known as Hathor that manifests in the body with Isis to help wake up this immortal soul that is slumbering away in the darkness of our hearts. So before I detail her association to Hathor, the role of Isis should be clarified so we avoid confusion, or conflate the role of these two sister goddesses.

Isis is the wife of Osiris who upon his death at the hands of the strong and beastly Set, dedicates her life to finding and remembering Osiris. Being great of magic, once Isis recovered Osiris and made him hale she was able to impregnate herself with his seed. The child born is the born again soul of the father Osiris and this child is Horus (transliterated as Heru from the hieroglyphs). It is an elaborate story that mythicized the soul journeying in matter. Isis plays the role of the womb that in the physical realm will give birth to and nurture your reborn soul.

From Karnak there is an inscription calling Osiris 'he who resides in the house of conception' alluding to the impregnation of Isis and the consequent birth of Horus.
The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, by George Hart, pg. 120

This inscription is telling us that the soul, Osiris, resides in Isis; Isis is the womb, i.e. the genetrix of the newborn soul. This soul in ancient Egypt is referred to as the Ba.

So now that we have narrowed down the role of Isis and knowing Nephthys is a "Lady of the Temple" we can make the claim Nephthys is concerned with your life force of the physical body and which the ancient Egyptians called the Ka. Now this is important because it will help me explain some of the connections that are part of the goddess Nephthys. Her husband is the beastly Set, with whom it is said she is childless. However why the seemingly arbitrary connection to Set? Well, I wrote a blog post awhile back called iconoclastic Cain and Abel that contained the ground breaking assertion that Osiris is representing the concept of the Ba and Set is representing the concept of the Ka here in the material realm. After coming to this realization and gaining an understanding of what these ancient Egyptian myths are trying to convey, you gain a whole new perspective and are then able to interprete these old world stories with context and greater understanding. Nephthys is the wife of Set because they are both connected to the concept of the Ka. The Ka is not a concept that is too difficult to understand regardless of what you may read. Most definitions in books and on the internet will try to explain it as a force that leaves the body at physical death and then the body has to be mummified or a Ka statue has to be placed in the tomb as a substitute so that the Ka has some place to go. The definitions usually include the caveat that we don't really have a full understanding of what is meant by the Ka. I don't think it is too difficult to grasp as long as you have an open mind; you don't box yourself into an intellectual corner; and realize that not everything the ancient Egyptians did revolved around the funerary sphere. The Ka is the life force that animates the physical body. Upon death, the Ka has left as your body lies there lifeless. When you are younger you are full of the Ka; I like to think of a puppy that is full of what we would call spunk or life. As we age this force wanes. The hieroglyphic for the Ka is a bull; an apt symbol for the untamed, wildness of this force. It is animal instinct that lives on desire, preys on the weak, and does not think of consequences. As parents we try to tame and civilize our children who are full of this instinct by teaching them about right and wrong and consequences. Furthermore the Ka was depicted as food offerings. 

Offering of food as Ka

In order to survive in the physical realm we need to constantly ingest the life force of other living material on the earth. So Ka was represented this way as well. When we die the Ka does not die rather it leaves your body; it is still an entity that exists therefore you will see in tombs figurative offerings on the wall to the Ka of the deceased. The easy way to explain this part of the Ka is through the concept of the ghost. What we think of a ghost, is the ancient Egyptian concept of the Ka that has left the body and is unsatisfied. So it remains in this physical world unattached, becoming a general nuisance to those still living in the physical realm. Call them superstitious, but the ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to prevent this from happening by trying to satiate the Ka and by making replicas or a mummy that it could visit and thereby leave everyone else alone. As well the Ka is connected with the concept of reincarnation. In this regard think of it as a manifestation of your unique soul in another guise. You have just the one immortal soul, the Ba, but your Ka will shape shift into many different forms in the material realm in order that it experiences and is no longer dragged into physical incarnation. So that is the Ka. The ram god Khnum is the potter god who constructs these Kas.

The potter Khnum presenting a double of the Ka

You will see him constructing a new Ka always in multiples; in essence telling us that he is making another replica manifestation of your Ka from a master record. The ultimate provider of life and food substances here in this world, that fits with the ancient Egyptian definition of Ka as food stuff, is the power of the sun. This power, represented as the god Re, is celebrated in many hymns with a great many written in devotion of the the sun disk Aten by the iconoclastic pharaoh Akhenaten who is mistakenly called the world's first monotheist. Aten is the actual sun disk that housed the light rays that would stream to earth and provide for all. The famous female pharaoh of the early 18th dynasty, Hatshepsut, had as one of her names Ma'at Ka Re.

Ma'at Ka Re

This is translated as "truth is the soul of the sun". Close but leaves me wanting. How about "the natural order is the life providing power of the light of the sun"? Anyway from this moniker it can be understood that Re is the ultimate provider of this power. In the material realm here on earth it is the beastly Set who then demonstrates this power untamed. Even though he is a murderer of the Ba soul Osiris, and he constantly battles with the avenging son Horus, this does not deter Re from having a soft spot for this crimson beast.

Red and Set go together

In the story of The Contendings of Horus and Set, Re is constantly advocating Set's case to become the king of all Egypt despite his trickery, lying, and general despicable behaviour. In the end when it is determined Horus deserves the united crown, Re places Set aboard his sun boat in order to take advantage of his awesome strength. So there is quite the connection here between the life giving power of the sun and the power manifesting on earth. It is understood by the ancient Egyptians that without this awesome power that physical creation would cease to exist. The serpent Apophis is always at the ready to strike to stop the sun boat of Re. It is the strength of Set at the prow of the boat that beats the devourer into submission.

Set's strength keeping back Apophis, the destructive force

This whole scene is depicting creation as moving forward, as life is properly a verb. Once we stop moving and growing we die. Re's boat and his cyclical journey must continue on. It is also telling that the ancient Egyptians realized that although this Set can at times be despicable, he is needed and is a power to subdue and use for strength in order to be successful in your spiritual journey. This coming together of Horus and Set is depicted in monuments where they are shown together uniting Upper and Lower Egypt by tying the papyrus and lotus around the sema-sign, and in the serekh of pharaoh Khasekhemwy of the 2nd dynasty.

Serekh of Khasekhemwy

Where the two combatants are shown united is shown also as the two headed falcon Hrwyfy which is communicating that the two combatants have made peace and now have an understanding.


Now with a better idea of the role of the life force, known as Ka, we can see then the natural relationship of Nephthys to Set. Extrapolating from this idea further, the relationship of Isis to Osiris is then connected to the soul, known as the Ba. In the mythology of Set his consort is not limited to just Nephthys. Another of his consorts is a female hippopotamus known as Tauret (Taweret).

The Great Lady Tauret

The meaning of the name is "great lady", the great from the ur or wer and the idea of female from the t determinate that denotes female at the end of the name. However we should not ignore the Ta at the beginning of the name that is suggesting that this great lady is of the land or earth. In other words this material plane is where you find the great birth mother. She will get you in and out of this plane of existence. We will get back to the idea of the great material woman in a bit. Tauret has the face of a hippopotamus, the hind legs of a lion, and the tail of a crocodile. She is depicted as pregnant with large pendulous breasts and wears the cow horns that cradle a sun disk on her head which is the headdress of the mother goddess Hathor. As well she has the bovine ears that you find associated with Hathor as well as the long tresses of hair that is another feature of Hathor. The association of Tauret with the aspect of Hathor where she is an archetypal mother goddess is undeniable. Set can be referred to as the "beast of the reeds", a male hippopotamus which is one of the most territorial and aggressive beasts on earth and is apt iconography for the wild untamed Set. On the other hand a female hippopotamus, though quite aggressive, will usually only show that behaviour when she is with her offspring. Tauret being so protective of the young, has pregnant women and those in childbirth summon her to protect and guide them. Tauret is sometimes depicted with seven stars on her back which gives the idea that she can be found in the night sky as a recognizable constellation as determined by ancient Egyptian astronomers. The constellation we call Draco that contains the ancient polestar from 5000 years ago called Thuban, is the area of the sky that was personified by the hippopotamus goddess Tauret. The polestar within this constellation was the star that all the other constellations revolved around. She can be depicted holding a mooring post in the shape of a crocodile that is tethered to a northern circumpolar constellation in the form of an ox and also depicted holding a rope attached to the foreleg of this constellation. Given my connection of the Ka to Set, I would guess the meaning here is the connection between Tauret and Set as her consort, as Set has been identified as the Big Dipper constellation in ancient Egypt known as Maskheti, the foreleg of the ox and this foreleg is prominent in the ceremony of Opening the Mouth and Eyes. In essence this foreleg, called the Khepesh, opens the mummified in order to receive the Ka into it. Tauret was also given the title Nebetakhet, which is once again giving us the connection to the morning dawn, birth of the rising sun, and Hathor. As one of the imperishable northern constellations she would be present in the magical moment at dawn just prior to the sun making its grand entrance in the east from the akhet. Other consorts of Set are the west Semitic goddesses Anat and Astarte who were awarded to him after the decision to give Horus sole rulership of Egypt. These goddesses share the attributes of Hathor: Anat a beautiful woman depicted with the Hathor hair-do who embodies beauty, sexuality, and fertility and Astarte is beautiful as well with the Hathor hair-do who exudes sexuality as well as motherhood traits. Both these goddesses also have warrior like attributes in the vein of Hathor's alter ego Sekhemet. 

The last connection with aspects of Hathor having Set as their consort are the group of seven Hathors that are found in the Book of the Dead and on temple walls.

The seven Hathors vignette from Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead

Spell 148 from the R.O. Faulkner translation has the aspirant saying: 
I know the names of the seven cows and their bull who give bread and beer, who are beneficial to souls and who provide daily portions; may you give bread and beer and make provision for me, so that I may serve you, and may I come into being under your hinder-parts.

The seven Hathors and their bull provide the life force necessary for the Ba soul in what is called the realm of the dead. The bull is the great sky-bull called the "Bull of the West". The seven Hathors are also related to the seven Hathors of human form that show up in scenes of birth to pronounce the fate of the child. The bull and his concubines are symbolizing the Ka needed by the Ba in its material incarnation that has left it latent; this latency connects to the death of the soul. So when you read of the "realm of the dead" it is important that you read it in context so that it doesn't trip you up and lead you to think it only refers to the body and not the soul. In this day and age we only attend funerals for the life force - Ka, and not the soul - Ba, so that is the way we are conditioned to think. However this is referring to the death of the soul and then providing nourishment to it so that eventually it may experience re-birth. To the ancients death is a transition not a finality so though to us it is hard to understand your soul dying because we think that's a finality, to the ancient Egyptian it would be a perfectly logical concept and one that with the proper context they could ascertain whether it is referring to the body or the soul. Death takes place in the west, whether that is your soul or your body. Osiris enters his place of darkness in the west and is dismembered by the animal instinct of the Ka. However it is this Ka that then carries the Ba. It is the Bata bull, Set's glorious role that he is even unaware of, that carries the Ba through its successive incarnations as this illustration from the Papyrus Jumilhac indicates:


Bata has the markings of the Apis bull; the celebrated bull which is the Ka of Osiris that the later Greek rulers of Egypt synthesized into the god Serapis. As well as I have written in the blog post the ancient egyptian story of Anpu and Bata, it is the character of Bata that keeps reappearing in different guises after previously thought to be dead and eventually he becomes pharaoh. This is symbolizing his resurrection as the re-born Ba soul Horus here in the material world after successive incarnations.

Well that has been a long winded exposition of goddesses that are aspects of Hathor having a connection to Set as their consort much like Nephthys. It leads into the next characteristics of Nephthys that I'd like to examine now that we have some background.  She was one of the few goddesses with a direct connection to the sistrum; the rattle that is used to call upon Hathor. Nephthys was the patron of the seventh nome of Upper Egypt called Sheshesh, which is the transliteration from the hieroglyphics that denote the sistrum. The Mansion of the Sistrum in the largest city in this nome, and this city Hwt-Sekhem had Nephthys as its patron goddess. She was also protectress of the Osirian relic at this locale, the Bennu bird. The Bennu bird or Phoenix, is a symbol of the resurrection. Just like Hathor, Nephthys' temple rites and feasts contained the excessive imbibing of beer and at a ruined sanctuary at Komir there is an elaborate "Hymn to Nephthys" from the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. Nephthys is described as the "Mistress of many festivals...who loves the day of festival, the goddess for whom men and women play the tambourine." So it can be seen that like the other goddesses mentioned above, Nephthys as well had quite the connection to the all encompassing mother goddess Hathor. Nephthys' role is concerned with the dead soul and protecting it in its journey into darkness. In the Pyramid Texts, utterance 505, the aspirant says “Isis is before me and Nephthys is behind me.” This is referring to the journey of the soul and its destiny that the two goddesses play a major role in. Nephthys is yesterday, the goddess who transitions the soul into the west and Isis is the goddess who tomorrow will re-birth the soul as the enlightened Horus.

So to wrap this up and indulge in a little speculation I'd like to return to the topic of the hippopotamus goddess Tauret and the meaning of her name as the great material lady. Presumably her spouse Set would be the great material man or male principle in matter. Set is the beastly male principle that instinctually rules this plane of material existence, especially if you look upon the power of the sun as the fatherly provider in this material world. So it is these aspects of the Ka or life force that are most powerful in this realm. Why I find this fascinating is that as a consort of Tauret in the heavens I'd expect to find Set. He has been identified in the northern sky as a larger iteration of the constellation we call the Big Dipper. However I have reason to believe you can find him in the southern night sky as well. The great material man would be called Ta-ur and I think this bull came down to us as the the great bull in the sky - the constellation Taurus, and also of the half man and half beast of Cretan legend - the Minotaur. 

Theseus in the classic Horus the striker pose whacking the Minotaur

So let's take a look at the constellation of Taurus. In it is the seven sisters called the Pleiades, this group of seven being an allusion to the seven Hathors and their bull of the sky as Taurus. Bulls, Set, and Hathor all maintain a connection to the colour red. Matadors use a red muleta to symbolically inflame the passions of a bull; Set is the red beast; and the seven Hathors all wore red hair-ribbons. Taurus is shown charging at the constellation of Orion. 

Taurus as the Ka bull charging at Orion the Ba soul

Orion, who is the great Osiris of ancient Egypt, has to somehow overcome the anger and attack of this rampaging bull. All this is the story of the Ka and the Ba and how the Ka attacks the unprepared Ba at first sending him to his death in matter all torn asunder as Osiris is mythicized to be consigned to prior to his remembering by Isis.

I have a good idea I can find this ancient motif elsewhere in conjunction with the character of the benevolent lady of the temple enclosure and friend of the deceased, Nephthys, that I will explore in future blog posts.