Ask anyone who their favorite Egyptian goddess is, and most people would probably say Isis or Hathor. These dieties known for motherhood, healing, love, and protection long outlasted their original culture and continue to be an important part of spirituality and feminity to this day. This is an impressive achievement when you consider that they were competing with hundreds of other gods and goddesses. Throughout 4000 years of Ancient Egyptian culture, many religions, cults, and legends were incorporated into the pantheon and worshipped in the home, alongside the same dieties that we can still see depicted on the walls of ancient tombs. The names and identities of many Egyptian goddesses have been lost to time, but the daughters of Ra, and the children of Nut and Geb continue to thrive in their own way.
My favorite goddess is Nephthys - sister of Isis and wife of Set. Her name means "Lady of the Mansion" and she was the Ancient Egyptian goddess of death. Not to be confused with Anubis, the god of embalming, or other death gods with morbid and shadowy backstories, Nephthys was as much a goddess of healing and protection as her sister. In Ancient Egypt, life, death, and rebirth were all linked; Nephthys represented the realm were all things living and dead are one. This concept can be very comforting, especially when one feels disconnected from their peers or the world around them. We are all made from the same atoms, and Nephthys embodies that notion perfectly.
The realm of Nephthys was the place where the fertile waters and silt of the Nile met the harsh and inhospitable desert - a margin between abundant life and bleak death. She was the place were bodies become soil, and soil nourishes bodies in a neverending circle. When I picture Nephthys I always think of a goddess that is poised and regal, while also having a smoldering vitality. She is the combination of solemn death and the never ending resilience of life. She is birth, death, regeneration, and evolution all rolled into one.
In making a new tribute piece to Nephthys, I wanted to incorprate the earthy colors of biomass such as greens, browns, and black. This time I also wanted some rich blue to represent the water that connects all living things. For this project I started by combing through my stash to find pieces that had the right look to represent the lady of death, and tried to picture them together until a design took shape. I also wanted to be sure that the piece would turn out right on the first try, so I decided to go with my favorite fringe. This would allow me to pull lots of different accents together, and add some stripe patterns to keep things looking Egyptian.
For the base beadwork I chose transparent dark topaz and Montana blue sapphire seed beads in size 8/o. These were my earth and water elements, and they contrast each other with perfect sophistication. I also included some black and white seed beads for borders and stripes, though I hadn't yet decided what type of pattern I wanted to use.
For accents I had so many wonderful choices, but in the end I went with bone tubes, crackle finish wood, amber horn heishi beads, and sono wood tubes. These beads all had the color, texture, and light that I wanted in this piece. I was particlarly exited to use the green wood beads from Blueberry Cove, which so perfectly represented Nephthys' home on the Nile. I was in the mood for even more texture, so I later added batik bone beads in black, jet black druks, and some tiny natural coconut rounds to the mix.
Few things are easier than creating something from your favorite inspiration, and this project certainly fits that description. The pattern and the fringe just came together, and the work seemed to go by in a flash.
For the rope, I used black to border the brown sections, and white to border the slightly darker blue portions. To break up the rope a little, I added smaller blocks of brown between each of the striped sections. This is a little bit different from any of the patterns that I've used before, and not exactly traditional, but I love how it turned out. I repeated the pattern somewhat for the fringe, connecting it at the edge with brown, then finishing with a cascade of more Montanta blue sapphire. I really love working with this color in any type of bead, and it never disappoints.
Do you have a favorite figure from mythology? How do they inspire your work?
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