Who were the Kites of Nephthys in ancient Egypt?

The term “Kites of Nephthys” refers to a particular representation and role of the goddess Nephthys, one of the chief deities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon.

The “Kites of Nephthys” refers to the female mourners in ancient Egyptian funerary traditions who emulated the mourning and lamentation of the goddess Nephthys for her brother, Osiris. Image: Egyptian goddesses Nephthys and Isis stand vigil in kite form Tomb of Nefertari Valley of the Queens.

Below, World History Edu provides a quick explanation of these figures in ancient Egypt:

Nephthys in Egyptian Mythology

Nephthys is often identified as the sister of Isis, Osiris, and Set, and she played significant roles in various myths, particularly in the Osiris myth where she assists Isis in mourning and searching for the dismembered body of Osiris.

READ MORE: The Myth of Isis and Osiris


The word “kite” in this context does not refer to the flying object, but rather to a type of bird, specifically a type of hawk or falcon. Both Isis and Nephthys were sometimes depicted as these birds, hovering over the body of Osiris or other deceased individuals, symbolizing protection, revitalization, and mourning.

Nephthys winged

Role and Symbolism

As “Kites,” both Isis and Nephthys were seen as protective mourners. They would be depicted as birds flanking the deceased, often shown either hovering over or closely associated with mummies, providing protection and ensuring a safe passage to the afterlife.

Funerary Context

Images of Isis and Nephthys as Kites were common in funerary contexts. Their protective role was believed to be vital for the deceased’s rebirth in the afterlife.

While their lamentations had a significant symbolic value, there was also a practical aspect to their role. Their wailing and grieving were believed to “awaken” the deceased and guide their souls toward the afterlife. Image: Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood, protection, healing, childbirth and magic

Connection with Rituals

Ritual lamentations performed by priestesses during funerary rites might have been associated with the mourning roles of Isis and Nephthys. The wailing and protective actions of these priestesses could have been seen as an earthly manifestation of the protective Kites of Nephthys and Isis.

While these mourners were often hired, and their lamentations might be seen as a ‘performance,’ the emotions they conveyed were genuine and deeply rooted in cultural and religious beliefs. The louder and more profound the mourning, the better it was considered for aiding the deceased in their journey. Image: Osiris, the lord of the dead, agriculture, fertility, and rebirth. His green skin symbolizes rebirth. 

Questions and Answers

The “Kites of Nephthys” concept underscores the goddess’s protective and mourning roles, ensuring that the deceased were adequately guarded and guided in the afterlife. Image: Ancient Egyptian goddesses Nephthys (L) and Isis (R) in a protective embrace. Tomb of Nefertari Taylor, J., 2010. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. London: The British Museum Press. Page 22

What did the Kites of Nephthys do?

After mummification and tomb preparation, the funeral celebrated the deceased’s life and mourned their loss. Regardless of the deceased’s popularity, the funeral procession always included paid female mourners known as Kites of Nephthys.

These women loudly sang The Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys, a song rooted in the myth of the two goddesses mourning Osiris’s death. Their lamentations aimed to evoke emotional outpouring from other funeral attendees, facilitating genuine expressions of grief.

In ancient Egyptian beliefs, actively remembering and mourning the deceased was crucial, as it was thought that such profound sorrow on Earth might resonate in the Hall of Truth (or Hall of Osiris), the destination of the departed soul.

READ MORE: How did Osiris die in Egyptian Religion and Mythology?

What are the lamentations of Isis and Nephthys?

“The Lamentation of Isis and Nephthys” is an ancient Egyptian text that captures the mourning and grieving of the two goddesses, Isis and Nephthys, over the death of their brother, Osiris. Osiris, in Egyptian mythology, was a major god associated with death, rebirth, and fertility, who was murdered and dismembered by his brother Set. His wife, Isis, and sister, Nephthys, went in search of his body parts and played a pivotal role in his resurrection.

The lamentation was believed to “awaken the deceased” to the realm of the afterlife. When an individual passed away, their soul was perceived to be ensnared within their familiar bodily vessel. The Lamentations aimed to rouse this confined soul and aid its onward journey.

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