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Anubis performing a ritual over the deceased

Anubis, God of Embalming and Guide and Friend of the Dead

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: December 19, 2012


ynpwcanid god determinative

Anubis in full canine form, seaed on a shrine Anubis (Inpew, Yinepu, Anpu) was an ancient Egyptian god of the underworld who guided and protected the spirits of the dead. He was known as the 'Lord of the Hallowed Land' - the necropolis - and Khentamentiu, 'Foremost of the Westerners' - the Land of the Dead was thought to be to the west, where the Egyptians buried their dead. (Khentamentiu was the name of a previous canine deity who was superseded by Anubis.) The worship of Anubis was an ancient one - it was probably even older than the worship of Osiris. In the pyramid texts of Unas, his role was already very clear - he was associated with the Eye of Horus and he was already thought to be the guide of the dead in the afterlife, showing them the way to Osiris. In these text, according to E. A. Wallis Budge, it says that "Unas standeth with the Spirits, get thee onwards, Anubis, into Amenti, onwards, onwards to Osiris."

He was generally depicted as a black jackal-headed man, or as a black jackal. The Egyptians would have noticed these animals prowling around the graveyards, and so the link between the animal and the dead was formed in their minds. (It has been noticed by Flinders Petrie that the best guides to Egyptian tombs are the jackal-trails.) Anubis was painted black to further link him with the deceased - a body that has been embalmed became a pitch black colour. Black was also the colour of fertility, and thus linked to death and rebirth in the afterlife. Anubis was also seen as the deity of embalming, as well as a god of the dead. To the Egyptians, Anubis was the protector of embalming and guardian of both the mummy and the necropolis.

Golden jackal; jackal-like; intermediate canid; wolf-like; the African wolf

Image © C. Bloch
Anubis was often identified by the word sab, which has been translated as 'jackal'. 'Dog' (iwiw), was not generally used to detail this god. Though, to the Egyptians, there was not a great deal of difference between the different canines, so there is some confusion over which animal Anubis actually was. The animal is sometimes referred to as the 'Anubis animal' as it is unknown which exact species of canine that Anubis actually was based on.

In their article, 'The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster Is Not a Golden Jackal and Is Not Endemic to Egypt', Eli Knispel Rueness et. al. (2011) note that the animal known as the Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster), as identified by Hemprich and Ehrenberg in 1833, is not a "large, rare subspecies of the golden jackal (C. aureus)". The group's mitochondrial DNA evidence, in the form of 2055 base pairs from some "larger, more slender and sometimes with a more whitish" Ethiopian golden jackals - a description representative of the Egyptian jackal, over the regular golden jackals.

Their results indicate that "C. a. lupaster shows closer resemblance to wolves than to jackals":

The Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster) has hitherto been considered a large, rare subspecies of the golden jackal (C. aureus). It has maintained its taxonomical status to date, despite studies demonstrating morphological similarities to the grey wolf (C. lupus). We have analyzed 2055 bp of mitochondrial DNA from C. a. lupaster and investigated the similarity to C. aureus and C. lupus. Through phylogenetic comparison with all wild wolf-like canids (based on 726 bp of the Cytochrome b gene) we conclusively (100% bootstrap support) place the Egyptian jackal within the grey wolf species complex, together with the Holarctic wolf, the Indian wolf and the Himalayan wolf. Like the two latter taxa, C. a. lupaster seems to represent an ancient wolf lineage which most likely colonized Africa prior to the northern hemisphere radiation. We thus refer to C. a. lupaster as the African wolf. Furthermore, we have detected C. a. lupaster individuals at two localities in the Ethiopian highlands, extending the distribution by at least 2,500 km southeast. The only grey wolf species to inhabit the African continent is a cryptic species for which the conservation status urgently needs assessment.


Our results show that C. a. lupaster should no longer be accepted as a monophyletic subspecies of C. aureus but represents the only grey wolf taxon known to inhabit the African continent.

-- Rueness, K., et. al. 2011, The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster Is Not a Golden Jackal and Is Not Endemic to Egypt

A further study, 'Reviving the African Wolf Canis lupus lupaster in North and West Africa: A Mitochondrial Lineage Ranging More than 6,000 km Wide' by Philippe Gaubert et. al. (2012), notes that, "it has long been emphasized that the so-called Egyptian jackal C. aureus lupaster Hemprich & Ehrenberg, 1832, distributed in North Africa, had cranial and dental sizes that overlapped with the smaller-sized wolves from Arabia and India, but clearly separated from the even smaller golden jackal. On these morphological grounds, Ferguson proposed to consider lupaster as a subspecies of gray wolf, with a distribution restricted to Egypt and Libya. Supporting this view, two recent studies detected a divergent mitochondrial lineage of gray wolf in northern Egypt and Ethiopia that was eventually designated as the African wolf C. lupus lupaster. Wolves (from Ethiopia) were larger - but slender-looking - than the usual golden jackal phenotype, expanding the gray wolf's range more than 2500 km south-east into the African continent." A Late Period mask of Anubis

The confusion over the animal is quite understandable, but this mtDNA evidence goes a long way towards clearing it up. The 'jackal god' should really be referred to as a 'wolf god'. However, 'canid god' will suffice until further studies related to the ancient Egyptian depiction of the Anubis animal, and the "cryptic African wolf", are published.

When the Osiris worship came to power, Osiris took over many of Anubis' jobs as caretaker and protector of the dead. As this happened, Anubis became 'He Who is Before the Divine Booth', the god of embalming who presided over the funerary rituals. The funerary stm priests would wear a mask of the canid god during the mummification process, symbolically becoming the god for the rituals.

The preliminary stages of mummification involved the opening - the violation - of the body, an action that only Anubis himself would have been allowed to perform. The priest who took on this role was called the 'Overseer of the Mysteries' (hery seshta). It was thought that he would be magically become the funerary god himself and so be able to legitimately cut open the corpse for the mummification process.

He is sometimes called the son of Nephthys and Set or of Nephthys and Osiris. In the second version of his origins, it was believed that his aunt Isis raised him, rather than his mother Nephthys, as Set might murder his wife's illegitimate son. Thus he grew up as a friend and follower of Osiris.

Qebehet as a snake with a feather, sitting on top of a standard He was thought to have a daughter known as qbht (qbhtcobra determinative feather determinative standard determinative) Qebehet (Qebehout, Kebehut, Kebhut, Kebechet, Kabechet, Kebecht), who was depicted as a snake or ostrich carrying water. She was the goddess of freshness and purification (by water) who washed the entrails of the deceased and brought the sacred water to Anubis for his tasks. She was thought to give water to the spirits of the dead while they waited for the mummification process to be complete. She was probably related to mummification where she would fortify the body against corruption, so it would stay fresh for reanimation by the deceased's ka.

The goddess Qebehet first appears in the Fifth Dynasty and is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts of Pepi I: "Qebehet, the daughter of Anubis, goes forth to meet Pepi, with four nemset vases. She refreshes the breast of the Great God on the day of his watch, and she refreshes the breast of Pepi with life. She washes Pepi, she censes Pepi."

-- Remler, P. 2010, Egyptian Mythology, A to Z, p. 103

At temples throughout Egypt, some of the priests had a special job as part of the daily ritual - that of purifying the temple deity. Using incense to purify the air, the deity was lifted out of his or her shrine, was washed, anointed with oils, dressed in white, green, red and blue cloths and fed. Qebehet washing of Pepi seems to relate to the priestly ritual of serving the gods. Because of her connection with water and purification, she is sometimes linked with the goddess Iabet. Anput, the personification of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt, with Menkaure

The goddess Anput (Anupet, Input, Inpewt, Yineput) - ynpwt inpwt - was the goddess of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt, who was depicted as a woman wearing the canid standard of her nome or a woman with the head of this jackal-like animal. She was believed to have been the wife of Anubis, and possibly the mother of Qebehet. Anubis was originally the god of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt. The symbol for this nome was, as per Anput's headdress, a canid on top of a standard.

In the Ptolemaic temples, Anput takes the form of a jackal or similar canid and is shown carrying sharp knives. It would appear that she has a role in the protection of the dead Osiris, and therefore of deceased humans too.

-- DuQuesne, T. 2007, Anubis, Upwawet, and Other Deities: Personal Worship and Official Religion in Ancient Egypt, p. 20

It was believed that Anubis was the one who invented the process of mummification. Anubis helped Isis bring her husband back to life again after Set had killed him. He embalmed the body of the god, swathed it in the linen cloths that had been woven by the twin goddesses, Isis and Nephthys, making sure that the body would never decay or rot.

The wakening of the dead was also thought to be a function of Anubis. He would appear by the mummy, and awaken the soul. The mummy was removed from the sarcophagus when it arrived at the door of the tomb and was placed upright against the wall by a priest wearing the mask of Anubis, thought to have become the god himself. The 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony was then performed. It consisted of a number of rituals that would turn the mummy (or a statue of the dead) into an inhabitable vessel for the deceased's ka. The ceremonies involved purification, censing and anointing of the mummy along with incantations. The mummy was touched by ritual objects on various body parts to restore the senses - the spirit would then be able to see, hear, speak and eat as a living being. Some of the tools for this ritual have been found in predynastic Amratian graves, so it is probable that at least some of the rituals involved in the 'Opening of the Mouth' had evolved from this early time. An ancient Opening of the Mouth tool kit

After the the deceased had been placed into the tomb and sealed up, it was thought that Anubis would lead the deceased to the afterlife, along with another god, Wepwawet (Upuaut). The two are very similar, though Wepwawet was also another ancient jackal or wolf god, appearing on the Narmer palette. He was not just a god of the dead, but he was a warrior god who opened the way to victory for the pharaoh. The 'Opener of the Ways' helped Anubis to guide the dead to the Halls of Ma'ati. It was here that Anubis, as 'He Who Counts the Hearts', watched over of the weighing of the heart and the judging of the deceased. Here it was his duty to see that the beam of the scales was in its proper place, and that the weighing was done correctly. He would then pass judgement on the deceased and Thoth would record the pronouncement. Anubis would protect the innocent from the jaws of Ammut, but would give the guilty to her to meet the final death.

He also guided the souls of the dead through the underworld, being assisted in this duty by Wapwawet, another jackal-headed eity, whose name signifies 'Opener of the Ways.' These gods have sometimes been confounded with one another, but in certain texts they are separately alluded to. The name of the latter deity is significant of his probably early function. Anubis, thinks Dr. Budge, was the opener of the roads of the north, and Wapwawet of those of the south. "In fact," he says, "Anubis was the personification of the summer solstice, and Wapwawet of the winter solstice."

-- Spence, L. 2008, Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt, p. 105

Anubis measuring the heart in the Halls of Ma'ati

A golden imiut fetish A strange fetish, known as the imiut fetish, was linked to Anubis. It was a headless stuffed skin (usually of a great feline), tied by its tail to a pole which was planted in a pot. Known as the 'Son of the hesat-Cow' (the cow that produced the Mnevis bull was linked to the cow goddess Hesat), another title of Anubis, they is evidence of this fetish as early as the 1st Dynasty. They were linked to the funerary cult, depicted in the Chapel of Anubis at Hatshepsut's mortuary temple and actual golden fetishes being left in the tomb of Tutankhamen. These emblems of Anubis were placed at the western ends of the corridors, one on each side of the outermost shrine at Tutankhamen's tomb. The pots were made of calcite and the poles represented the water lily (lotus) stem and bud while the tip of the skin's tail had a papyrus flower attached and the pole and fetish itself were gilded. Other fetishes have been found made of real animal skin that have been wrapped in bandages. In early times there was a god, Imiut, who was known as 'He Who is in His Wrappings' who became a form of Anubis. The fetish was probably linked with mummy wrappings though it also appears to have been related to the royal jubilee festival. The face of the canid-headed god Anubis

Anubis the Dweller in the Mummy Chamber, Governor of the Divine House ... saith:- Homage to thee, thou happy one, lord! Thou seest the Wedjat (Eye of Horus or Ra). Ptah-Sokar hath bound thee up. Anubis hath exalted thee. Shu hath raised thee up, O Beautiful Face, thou governor of eternity. Thou hast thine eye, O scribe Nebseni, lord of fealty, and it is beautiful. Thy right eye is like the Sektet Boat, thy left eye is like the Atet Boat. Thine eyebrows are fair to see in the presence of the Company of the Gods. Thy brow is under the protection of Anubis, and thy head and face, O beautiful one, are before the holy Hawk. Thy fingers have been stablished by thy scribe's craft in the presence of the Lord of Khemenu (El Ashmunein), Thoth, who hath bestowed upon thee the knowledge of the speech of the holy books. Thy beard is beautiful in the sight of Ptah-Sokar, and thou, O scribe Nebseni, thou lord of fealty, art beautiful before the Great Company of the Gods. The Great God looketh upon thee, and he leadeth thee along the path of happiness. Sepulchral meals are bestowed upon thee, and he overthroweth for thee thine enemies, setting them under thy feet in the presence of the Great Company of the Gods who dwell in the House of the Great Aged One which is in Anu.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 1913, The Papyrus of Ani: A Reproduction in Facsimile, Volume 2, pp. 629-631

The seal of Anubis from the tomb of Tutankhamen To the east of Saqqara there was a place known as Anubeion, one of Anubis' cult centres. The burials of mummified dogs and jackals took place there. Although he was worshipped all over Egypt, he had other cult centres at Abt, the 12th Nome of Upper Egypt, Zawty (Asyut) and the city of Hardai (Cynopolis) in the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt where a vast number of dog mummies were buried at dog cemeteries.

As protector of the necropolis, Anubis was known as 'He Who is Upon the Mountain'. The Egyptians believed that the god would keep watch over the tombs and graves from a high vantage point in the desert, ready to rush down to protect the deceased from desecration. Images of Anubis as a seated canid above nine prisoners were stamped on many of the seals to tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They symbolise Anubis' protection against thieves and evil doers who entered the necropolis. He protected not only the souls of the dead, but their eternal resting place, too.

Further Information about Anubis

Video of Anubis

A video filled with images of Anubis (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:

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