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Nefertem, god of the water lily

Nefertem, God of Perfume, Water Lily of the Sun

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: November 29, 2012


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Rise like Nefertem from the water lily to the nostrils of Ra!

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 1913, The Papyrus of Ani: A Reproduction in Facsimile, Volume 1, p. 187

Nefertem as a Lion, with a Falcon, Wearing a Blue Water Lily, on His Head Nefertem (Nefertum, Nefertemu, Nefer-Temu) means 'The Beauty of Tem', he was shown to be a beautiful young man with a water lily (lotus) flower on his head, or holding water lily flowers. Sometimes his body was shown wrapped up like a mummy, with his arms and face free of bindings. He also had a lion or cat form, attributed to his mother. He was also depicted as a human head emerging from a large water lily. This brings to mind the creation myth of the child-god who rose out of the primeval waters, sitting inside a huge water lily flower. He was, occasionally, also shown as a lion-headed sun god.

Nefertem's parentage was rather ill-defined by the ancient Egyptians - Ptah was his father, that much is clear. His mother, though, was thought to be either Sekhmet (by the people of Mennefer (Hikuptah, Memphis)), Wadjet (Edjo) (at Per-Wadjet (Buto)) or Bast (at Per-Bast (Bubastis)). The Egyptians themselves had differing opinions on this.

The Mennefer Triad - Nefertem, Sekhmet and Ptah

I am going to Mennefer (Hikuptah, Memphis)
To tell Ptah, Lord of Truth:
"Give me my sister tonight!"
The river is as of wine.
Its rushes are Ptah,
Sekhmet is its foliage,
[The goddess] Yadyt its [water lily] bud,
Nefertem its water lily blossoms.
[The Golden] is in joy,
When earth brightens in her beauty.

-- Miriam Lichtheim (1978), Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom, p. 189

Nefertem was the god of both healing and beautification, perfumes and aromatherapy. In Egypt, perfume wasn't like the perfume of today - perfume was holistic, much as aromatherapy today. As a god of the water lily (specifically, the blue water lily), he used its narcotic qualities for medicinal purposes as well as for perfumes and adornment. Votive offerings to Nefertem were primarily water lily and other flowers. Nefertem with the Blue Water Lily Emblem on his Head

His function as a solar god was that of the sunrise. Nefertem was the god who helped raise the sun into the sky, passing it to Ra as one would give a flower to a guest at an ancient Egyptian party. In the mornings, the water lily flower opens up with the sun, giving the Egyptians a strong connection between the plant and the heavenly body. In earlier times, Nefertem was a self-created god known as 'the young Tem', an aspect of Atem.

Since the sun was believed to have arisen from a water lily, Nefertem was linked with the sun-god, as described in the Pyramid Texts utterance 266 as 'the water lily blossom which is before the nose of Ra', probably an allusion to the use of this scented flower by guests at banquets and making Nefertum the god of fragrance.

-- Nefeti Meritamen, Nefertem

As to his role as a lion-headed god, Nefertem could be more war-like. He was known as khnr t3wy (khnrtwt3wy), 'Restrainer of the Two Lands', giving him an identity as a guardian-protector of both Upper and Lower Egypt.

Nefertem from the Tomb of Ramses I In one myth, showing Nefertem's healing powers, Nefertem was said to have brought a water lily to Ra, to help ease the suffering of Ra's wounds as he aged. The water lily became one of Egypt's few sacred flowers.

Nefertem had no formal cult or temple, though he was worshipped as part of the triad of Mennefer (Hikuptah, Memphis). His primary devotion seems to have been in the form of little, portable faience talismans:

The ancient Egyptians often carried small statuettes of him as good-luck charms.

-- Wikipedia, Nefertem

He was not worshipped at a temple, but Nefertem was an aspect of the sun god himself, the god who created himself and rose out of the waters of Nun inside a giant water lily. He was a protector of Egypt, a god with the power to both destroy and heal. His flower was one of the favourite flowers of Egypt, shown on tomb walls as a possible symbol for fertility and rebith. Despite the trivial sounding title of a god of perfume, Nefertem was a god who healed the people of Egypt, and who could heal the gods themselves.

Further Information about Nefertem

Video of Nefertem

A video filled with images of the god Nefertem (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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