The god of death, Anubis, is one of the most powerful deities in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. Ancient texts refer to him as the god of mummification, embalming, cemetery, tombs, the afterlife and the underworld. Recently, his depiction as a canine or a man with a wolf’s head is a famous symbol in Pop’s culture.
Archaeologists identified the African golden wolf as Anubis’s sacred animal. His roles shifted in different contexts. Thus, we can note that the First Dynasty depicted him as a protector of graves. Later, the ancient Egyptians also recognised him as an embalmer. However, in the Middle Kingdom, Osiris replaced Anubis as the god of the underworld. Despite the god’s power, he was rarely an integral part of Egyptian mythologies.
Anubis’s name comes from a Greek translation of his Egyptian name. Initially, the ancient Egyptians named this god Anpu or Inpu. The root of his name translates to “a royal child”. The god has several other epithets such as:
- Lord of the Mummy Wrapping.
- Chief of the Necropolis.
- And Prince of the Court of Justice.
- The First of the Westerners.
- Chief of the Western Highland.
- And, Counter of Hearts.
- Master of Secrets.
- The Dog Who Swallows Millions.
- And, The One Who Eats His Father.
- Also, Lord of the Sacred Land.
Representation and Symbolism of Anubis
A complete animal form depicted Anubis during the Early Dynastic Period. He had a jackal head and body. Rock engravings from the reigns of Hor-Aha Djer show a jackal god that we can assume to be Anubis.
Since the early times of Predynastic history, the ancient Egyptians strongly associated the jackals with cemeteries. Since scavengers uncovered bodies in shallow graves, they thought the jackal protected the dead from countering this problem.
Typically the ancient Egyptians depicted the god in a black seated position. Another famous quality of Anubis was the ability to shapeshift. Tales claim that Osiris’s dead body sight shocked him that instantly transformed him into a lizard.
Since the Old Kingdom, Anubis became the most important god of the dead. Later, the era of the Roman paintings showed him holding the hand of the dead to guide them towards Osiris.
The Parentage of Anubis
An exciting part of the mythology regarding the god is the different versions of his parentage. Early mythology depicts the god as a son of Ra. However, the Coffin Texts written in the First Intermediate Period portray Anubis as the son of either Hesat or Bastet. Moreover, another tale depicts him as the son of Ra and Nephthys.
Additionally, the Greek Plutarch states that Anubis was the illegitimate son of Osiris and Nephthys. Later, Isis, the wife of Osiris, adopted him. According to this tale, Nephthys seduced Osiris by pretending to be Isisi. Later, she gave birth to Anubis and immediately abandoned him in fear of Set, her husband.
Isis looked for the baby with the assistance of dods, and with great difficulties, she found Anubis. Later, she raised him, and he became her ally and guard. However, many historians state that people formulated this story to include the independent deity Anubis into the legends of Osiris. Moreover, an Egyptian papyrus from the Roman Period calls Anubis the “son of Isis”.
During the Ptolemaic Period, the people merged Anubis with the Greek god Hermes, called Hermanubis. They considered these gods similar since both of them were guides for the afterlife. Moreover, Hermanubis made continued appearances in the alchemical and hermetic literature of the Middle Ages.
The Roles Of Anubis
Who was the Protector of Dead
Protector of graves and cemeteries is one of the primary roles of Anubis. Jumilhac Papyrus recounts the tale of how Anubis protected the body of Osiris from Set. The evil god transformed himself into a leopard and attempted to attack the body of Set. However, Anubis stopped and calmed Set before branding his skin with a hot iron rod.
Later, Anubis flayed the skin of Set and wore it as a coat. It was a warning to evil-doers who vilify the tomb of the dead. Priests attending the dead wore leopard skins to celebrate the victory of Anubis over Set. Moreover, people used the legend of Anubis branding Set to explain how the leopard got its spots.
Who was the God of Embalming
Texts often associate Anubis with mummification. Moreover, in the famous Osiris myth, Anubis helped Isis in embalming Osiris. Some versions also state that after Set murdered Osiris, Anubis received Osiris’s organs. Hence, with the emergence of this tale, Anubis became the patron god of embalmers. Paintings from the Book of the Dead often present him as a wolf-mask-wearing priest supporting the mummy.
The Late Pharaonic era (664-332 BC) started depicting Anubis as an afterlife guide. He was the god who guided souls from the world of living into the afterlife. Cow-headed Hathor performed a similar role, but Anubis played the prime position in this function. Art from the Roman Period of Egyptian history depicts Anubis guiding people dressed in Greek clothes into the afterlife.
Guardian of Scales
The Guardian of Scales is another famous role of Anubis. The Book of Dead depicts a vital scene of Anubis and shows the importance of function. In this scene, Anubis weighs the heart on scales to determine who deserves to get to the Osirian paradise. As a procedure, Anubis dictated the fate of souls by considering the dead’s heart toward a feather. This feather referred to Ma’at/truth (an ostrich feather). Thus, God Anubis checked if the person is worthy of entering the realm of death.
Ammit would devour the souls who were heavier than the feather. Whereas souls lighter than the feather would ascend to the heavens. God Thoth often scrutinised this process.
The Worship of Anubis
Anubis does not appear significantly in Ancient Egyptian mythology. However, the god was extremely popular amongst the Egyptians and other cultures. Thus, through Anubis, people found hope that a powerful deity would guard even their dead bodies.
The cult centre at Cynopolis in Upper Egypt had several depictions of this god. Moreover, he also had several other memorials all over the land.
Anubis is easily one of the most recognisable gods of Egypt due to his continuous portrayal in pop culture. However, popular culture depicts him with evil powers and a dangerous army. The god of death remains a famous figurine today, with his legends outliving the god himself.