If you’ve done much Isiac reading, you probably come across something called, The Songs of Isis and Nephthys.” You may also know that these songs are the ritual lamentations of the Two Goddesses for Their brother, Osiris. This is also the text that tells us that the priestesses who played Isis and Nephthys are supposed to be “pure of body and virgin” and that they are to have their body hair removed, wigs on their heads, tambourines in their hands, and their names (Isis and Nephthys) inscribed on their arms. Then the priestesses sing their roles, or perhaps chant them.
Knowing where the texts come from helps us understand a bit more about the information in the texts. So I wanted to share a little background on this particular text. The Songs of Isis and Nephthys comes from a papyrus known as the Bremner-Rhind papyrus. In addition to the Songs, the papyrus contains three other ritual-type texts: the Ritual of Bringing in Sokar, the Book of Overthrowing Apep, and a list of The Names of Apep That Shall Not Be. The papyrus is dated to the Greco-Roman period and, because one of the papyrus’ owners added a date to the papyrus, we know that it was written in 312-311 BCE. Scholars are not sure of the complete provenance of the papyrus. They know that the priest who added the date note was named Nasmin, who was probably from Thebes, judging by the priestly titles he held. It is likely that this was a papyrus originally in the temple library, but came into Nasmin’s possession. Possibly, it was in his tomb. The text is written in hieroglyphs.
R.O. Faulkner studied and translated the papyrus and notes something of interest to Isiacs. In this particular text, Isis is the main singer and Nephthys takes a secondary place. This is in contrast to another text known as The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys in which the Two Goddesses have more equal roles and which is dated to roughly the same period. Perhaps this reflected the greater status of Isis in Thebes?
With that bit of background, here are some of the more interesting bits and lines from The Songs of Isis and Nephthys:
• The Two Goddesses are called the Two Long-Haired Ones, the Two Widows, the Songstresses, the Two Sisters, the Two Ladies, and the Two Women in the course of the Songs
• Osiris is called “the mysterious seed that issued from Atum” (this traces the God’s parentage beyond His usual parents, Heaven and Earth, Nuet and Geb, and takes Him all the way back to the One Creator)
• Isis and Nephthys ask Osiris to “come to us in Thy former shape that we may embrace Thee” (and They’re not kidding, because later They say that Osiris should “consort with us after the manner of a male”), and later Isis asks Osiris to “lie Thou with Thy sister Isis to remove the pain that is in Her” (This may show how aware the Egyptians were that the mummified form was not the one they wanted to resurrect.)
• Osiris is called youthful, the Sistrum Player (usually an epithet of Hathor’s son), and His beauty is stressed—so that He is desirable to the Goddesses
• Isis describes Her heart being “hot” with the pain of Osiris’ loss and that “fire is in Me for love of Thee”
• Osiris is said to be “at the left hand of Atum”
• And it ends with a praise of Isis: ”Isis comes to Thee, 0 Lord of the Horizon, inasmuch as She begat the Unique One, the Guide of the Gods; She will protect Thee, She will guard Thee, She will guard Horus, even the woman who created a male for Her father, Mistress of the Universe, Who came forth from the Eye of Horus, Noble Serpent which issued from Re and which came forth from the pupil in the eye of Atum when Re arose on the First Occasion. It is at an end.”